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September 24, 2003

The Outer Limits of Sadism

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

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Belmont Club has an interesting thesis on the nature of the suicide bombers, and why they hit the targets they do.

The War on Terror [from the point of view of the terrorist] has been a process of destroying all the remaining conventional taboos which by luck or decency, survived the totalitarian wars of the 20th century. It has become an exercise in discovering the outer limits of sadism.

Wretchard also poses a question:
All that is in doubt is whether it can vanquish the foe without becoming like him.

It's a good question. I think that the answer is 'yes'. I think that we can effectively eliminate the problem by democratizing and secularizing the Arab world, and potentially the wider Muslim world. That will be a very difficult task, and will take a generation, but it beats the alternative. Because, let's face it, the alternatives are genocide against the Arabs - nuclear or conventional - or the killing of all those who not only act out violence, but those who merely preach it. Neither of these would be good for the Western conscience, nor would either of them be preferable to giving the suicide bombers more reasons to live than they have to die.

That said, I have no doubt that the day a nuclear, chemical or biological attack happens on an American city is the day that millions of Arabs will die in a nuclear retaliatory strike. Americans are a gentle and peaceful people, but we are also the most vicious and dangerous enemies to have, once the wall of "fighting fair" has been breached.


Comments

I hope it can be done the way you suggest, Jeff, but I'm more inclined to think that a rigid quarantine of Islam, forcing its devotees to live with no one but themselves for company (and victims) until they grow up, will be required.

No one wants a genocide...but what alternatives will there be if the carnage being inflicted upon the Israelis should continue or, God forbid, intensify? It's subhuman to demand that they not act to protect their own against assaults by persons so savage that they'll blow themselves to bits for the chance to kill Israeli civilians.

The crux of the thing lies in the enthusiasm for the deeds of the terrorists felt by their concealing and nurturing populations -- their enablers, if you like. That enthusiasm has to be turned into revulsion. How can we do this? I can't prove it definitively, but I have a strong intuition that democratization and the increase of wealth will not solve a problem whose roots lie in religious fanaticism.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto on September 2, 2003 05:09 PM

I don't think that quarantine would be possible as a practical matter. I suspect that the radical Islamists would like it, but I don't think it's really possible.

I don't think anyone wants genocide, though I would not blame the Israelis at this point for ejecting and, if necessary, killing the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Hopefully the fence will make that unnecessary. Certainly the "road map" won't help any.

My real concern is whether or not we can survive without killing off millions of Arabs and Muslims. The only way I can think to do this is to democratize and secularize the Arab world, to remove the causes of and impetus to extremism. If this does not work, the alternatives are horriffic.

Posted by: Jeff on September 3, 2003 09:06 AM

Hmm.

While I have no doubt that a nuclear strike on the US would result in our use of nukes, I don't think we'd murder millions of innocent Arabs in response. Nukes on the military of a state held responsible--sure, but pure murder? No.

Even after 9-11, our response to 3,000 dead was pretty focused on the guilty party. Remember how many Europeans feared we'd pave Afghanistan?


Yeah, we are a terrible foe when attacked, but we will not murder like our enemies.

And we will win this.

Posted by: Brian J. Dunn on September 3, 2003 03:44 PM

The enemy is not an army. It is not true that our campaign in Afghanistan was to bring down the Taliban's fighters, nor was our campaign in Iraq aimed at destroying the Iraqi army. These are sidelines, necessary tasks on the way to the objective: destroying the sources of terror.

It may be that the sources of terror are the only organizations such as al Qaida, and the Taliban and the Iraqi government (and, I think obviously the Saudi government and the Iranian clerics and the Syrian government). It may be that destruction of these organizations, and provision of an alternative - free-market capitalism coupled with representative government - will be sufficient, over time, to reduce radical Islamism to the level of threat of the neo-Nazis.

However, it may be that the real source of terror is in the slums and the winding alleys, in the large mosques and the radical Islamic schools, in the silent acceptance and borderline sympathy of the Arab peoples themselves. If a nuclear weapon were set off in an American city, I suspect that the American people would stop assuming the former, and start assuming the latter. This could also happen if we manage to convert the Arab world to free-market, representatively-governed states who still turn out huge numbers of terrorists and apologists for terrorism.

In either case, once the US collectively makes the decision that the problem is the people, we will not stop with taking down governments, nor will we stop with taking down people known to have committed terrorist acts. We will start dismantling the culture and society until what is left is not inimical to us.

We'd much rather do this peacefully, and in ways that benefit the Arabs themselves. If necessary - and I think most Americans would begin to believe it necessary the moment an American city ceased to exist - if necessary we will destroy them.

And a note on murder. Murder is extra-judicial killing. It does not apply to acts of war committed against an enemy. I just hope that the enemy remains the radical Islamists and a few governments who support them, rather than becoming the Arabs and a vast swath of non-Arab Muslims.

Posted by: Jeff on September 3, 2003 04:21 PM

fantastic site..telling about the real basic nature of terrorism as part of the human psychological process of torturing and able torture..gr8!

Posted by: SHANTANU on March 2, 2004 01:40 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Why the UN? Why Now?

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

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Porphyrogenitus (here and here) and Armed Liberal (here and here) are both unhappy about the President's apparent decision to cave to the UN, and ask for "peacekeepers".

When I first heard about this, I too was deeply unhappy, because it seemed to me that the last thing we wanted to do was win the war in Iraq, over the strident objections of the UN, and particularly the Axis of Weasels, only to then give those same countries/organizations the power to derail the entire reformation of Iraqi society. If not for the reformation, why did we fight the war? Without the reformation, the war was just kicking the can downfield.

However, I've learned since the first Gulf War that the best way to treat media reports on political negotiations is in hindsight, and I'm not convinced that the media's portrayal of the Bush administration's position is correct. For one thing, it seems that the US is trying to get a force assembled more like the aftermath of Korea than the aftermath of the various Balkans wars. In other words, it appears that we are seeking a UN force under US command, which is quite different from the "peacekeeping" model. For another, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Boots on the ground are not in short supply; and while we want to rotate them home faster than we have been, and have more forces for contingencies elsewhere, what is really needed is not UN police and soldiers, but Iraqi police and soldiers. These we are making as fast as we can.

I've been trying to figure out exactly what's going on, and here are the possibilities I see, in no particular order:

We really did/will cave politically for foreign-policy reasons.

In this scenario, the Weasels have won. We have recognized that they were entirely right about the reconstruction, if not the war itself. We don't have the ability to do this without the UN, the NGOs and the French. From now on, we must realize our limitations and move only with the consent of other nations, even if their commercial interests oppose our interest in continuing to exist.

Needless to say, I find this extraordinarily unlikely, since it would mean that the Bush administration is even more crass, craven and opportunist than the Clinton administration; even more tone deaf on foreign policy than the Carter administration; and in fact was acting against their "better" judgement for the past 2 years.

The early signposts for this will be deligitimization of the Iraqi governing council, replacement of Bremer by a UN staffer, or failure to get US command authority over troops deployed to Iraq under UN auspices.

We really did/will cave politically for domestic reasons.

In this scenario, the Democrats have won. We have recognized that they were entirely right about the reconstruction, if not the war itself. We don't have the ability to do this without the Democrats. From now on, Republicans must realize their limitations and move only with the consent of the Democrats, even if Democrat electoral and policy interests oppose Republican electoral and policy interests or even the national interest.

This, too, is unlikely in the extreme. It would mean that the Republicans have given up on any independent existence, in the face of overwhelming public approval. It would mean that President Bush would rather be a Leftist than reelected. (It should be noted that some Democrats appear to believe this. In the Times article we find: "Democratic leaders and candidates for president seized on today's announcement as evidence that Mr. Bush was belatedly changing strategy and seeking help from Security Council members he had until now held at arm's length. "It's been a long time in coming," said Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the minority leader in the Senate.")

The early signposts for this would be a series of Republican policy shifts which effectively put the Democrat agenda in play, while blustering about increasing Republican influence.

We really don't think we can increase the size of the military.

It may be that we think that we need to have this level of force in Iraq for the next several years, and that we cannot (for fiscal or political reasons) increase the size of the active military, nor activate the Guard and Reserves more than they have already been called up. If so, then using foreign auxiliaries under US control makes sense. However, the underlying policy decision - that a broadly popular President in the midst of a long series of campaigns cannot afford the political capital to either raise taxes back up somewhat, or better yet cut non-defense spending (such as the prescription drugs plan), in order to increase the size of the military - is ludicrous.

This is certainly possible, though it would make me (and likely other conservative centrists) think less of the Bush administration. For one thing, it would mean that they don't realize that more boots on the ground won't help. It's the way those troops are employed that counts. For another, it would mean that they are politically craven.

I'm not sure that this would look like anything other than business as usual, actually. Domestic and international politics would basically continue unchanged, except that we'd be willing to give some small concessions to the UN (not political or military control over Iraq) in order to get international troops deployed.

We are preparing for action elsewhere.

It could also be that we have a new target, which we have to address with some immediacy. We could increase the size of our forces, but not in time to meet the expected contingency. This implies a definite target (not Korea, since we already have forces tasked for that), a clear casus belli and a short time frame. If these allegations are correct, it could be that the President feels that we will have to take on Saudi Arabia next year, for example. Because the timeframe is so short, there is limited ability to raise or deploy forces - with available assets mostly consisting of the Marines and whatever unit is about to be relieved by US-based units, or the relieving force itself (such as 1CAV, slated for Iraq in May, if I remember correctly). However, in a case where a small force/short war is all that's needed (again, using SA as an example, if we just want to sieze the oilfields to cut off the financing of terrorists), this might well be enough force. The problem would be that we would then have an additional occupation ongoing, and less forces than ever to patrol Iraq.

I actually think that this is possible. At least, it's not as unreasonable as either of the "cave-in" scenarios or the refusal to take political risks by increasing the military scenario. The early signpost of this would be if, after the deal with the UN were agreed and began to be implemented, the President were to call for increasing the size of forces, or activating more Reserve and Guard heavy units.

We are trying to make the UN irrelevant.

In this scenario, the administration has decided that the UN must go, but we don't feel we have the political capital to destroy the UN. We do, though, have the ability, the will and the desire to ensure that the UN is not even considered for any of the rest of the war on terror. To do this, we have to show that the UN is patently uninterested in anything other than full control and thwarting the US, while extracting as much money and concessions as possible from the US and Iraq. In order to do that, the plan is to negotiate with the stated aim of trading some control for some commitment of force. If the negotiations work, we can use the forces to relieve our own. If the negotiations don't work, we call the UN out on it, and publically state in explicit terms that the UN is incapable of being a vehicle for establishing world order, because of which the US now views the UN as a forum for discussion, but not an organization capable of acting in the interests of world peace.

This is not likely, most of all because it won't work. The reality is that the Left and anti-American forces overseas see the UN as the perfect place to tie down the US. As a result, constant pressure would be exercised on every American President to put the UN back in "its proper place". It doesn't take a lot of foresight to see that most Presidents would do so rather than fight the political battle over what they see as a side issue.

The signpost for this would be the reaction of the US at the conclusion of negotiations.

We are trying to destroy the UN.

This scenario is similar to the above, except we've realized that the UN won't go away if we sideline them, so we've got to destroy them instead. So we go about this the same way, but when the UN refuses to agree to anything that doesn't leave the Weasels in charge, we declare that the UN is no longer capable of acting as a force for good in the world, and therefore the US is withdrawing from the UN.

This scenario, too, is unlikely in the extreme. The US would lose a huge amount of political goodwill abroad for a measly financial gain and little more actual freedom of action.

The signpost for this would be the reaction of the US at the conclusion of negotiations.

We are trying to move towards the Afghan model.

It could be that we are trying to move Iraq towards the Afghan model, with effective local control being authorized by the Iraqis, UN cover and UN troops providing some of the police functions in major cities, and a smaller-than-current US troop level to train Iraqi forces, and provide muscle to the indigenous government. In consequence thereof, we are trying to set up the institutions now, so that we can make the transition more easily and more quickly later.

Actually, except for the UN involvement, this is already our announced plan. As a result, I think that this is a very likely scenario.

The signpost would be if a limited agreement is reached, giving political cover to the US (and keeping control with the US), legitimizing the Iraqi governing council and giving small concessions to the UN (particularly in freedom of action of the NGOs).

We are trying to create political cover for other nations.

This scenario, like the previous one, fits in well with currently-announced American policy. We want a division or two from nations like India and Brazil. This would significantly ease the strain on the US Army, without decreasing our control by any significant amount. Currently, it is difficult for these nations to aid us, because there is such an ingrained respect for the UN in the Third World (and with some cause, as the UN has consistently been on the side of Third World rulers, no matter how terrible they may be, against foreign powers (such as the US) and even their own people) that it is not possible for these nations to commit forces without UN authorization. With a resolution such as the one the US is apparently seeking, India, for example, would have the cover to put troops into Iraq without the current government suffering electorally for it.

This scenario is fairly likely. The signpost would be a UN resolution which is very bland and minimal, giving essentially no power to the UN and only a tepid authorization of deployment of international forces.

We are trying to lift the perception of weakness without making sacrifices.

Right now, a lot of forces in the world are looking at the US as overcommitted. As a result, our enemies (and even some of our putative friends) are being much more aggressive in attacking the US and trying to pull off things they couldn't otherwise. If the US wants to stop this, we will need to remove the perception that we don't have the capacity to act. One way to do this is by acting, and another way is to make the cause of the percieved weakness - overdeployment in Iraq - go away. By deploying additional foreign troops in Iraq, and rotating more of our units home, we would have additional forces on hand for immediate deployment, and thus would be able to better contain the brushfires currently cropping up unattended.

Certainly, we could also do this by simply mobilizing more forces, but this is potentially politically costly, and would certainly be an election issue. This is really just another variation on the "can't make a bigger military and save the tax cuts" issue, and has the same pitfalls and caveats. I don't think it's at all likely. The signpost would be the US acting more aggressively abroad as we replace US troops in Iraq with international troops.

This is one of those strange political circle jerks.

In the end, it is never unwise to assume that politics - especially foreign affairs - seem odd because politicians are playing large, high-stakes games with partial information and unclear end goals. This could all be one big masturbation session, where the UN tries to get concessions out of us, we try to get concessions out of the UN, everyone throws ideas around, and nothing comes of it.

Frankly, that's where I'd put my bet.

UPDATE (9/5): Stephen Den Beste relates this issue to ongoing US grand strategy.


Comments

That last possibility: LOL

Me, I'm liking the idea that this is a machiavelian scheme to make the UN irrelivant or to destroy it (prelude to replacing with something more grown-up and viable). That's my hope.

I may have over-reacted with my intitial reaction; we'll see what Bush does in response to the Franco-German rejection. If Bush starts bending over forward, then I'll be groaning again.

But for now, I'm going to move to a "wait and see" approach. It *COULD* be Resolution 1441 all over again, or this years "Nth Resolution" that got pre-vetoed by France all over again - we propose, act all reasonable, conceed nothing important, and either get what we want or walk away. Again, I would accept that (even though if the Res. passes it would tend to perpetuate a disfunctional institution - Repeat my various previous posts and A.L.s on the UN here).

Maybe this is a "don't throw us into that briar patch, France" situation (we're Brair Rabbit, *hoping* they Veto). Now I'm really thinking with my hopes. I guess it beats being overly pessimistic.

Again, time will tell. . .

Posted by: Porphyrogenitus on September 4, 2003 02:11 PM

My guess is that this is the Americans testing other countries, and especially India.

In this scenario, the Americans have been asking for help, and the other countries have been saying, well gee we'd love to if only we had a UN resolution, but as it is what can we do? America and its real allies respond by going OK, here is a new UN resolution, and now we will see if you are really interested or not.

This is like George W. Bush saying he would force a second UN Security Council vote just to make people declare themselves. When France did declare itself (because Chirac committed to veto any resolution that held Saddam Hussein to account), George W. Bush lost all interest in a second vote. He had learned what he wanted to.

Unfortunately, the likeliest indication of this scenario will be if some big country like India or Brazil acts unexpectedly very unhelpful in getting the resolution up, and George W. Bush loses all interest in it. At that point he would have learned what he wanted to know: that these alleged potential allies weren't looking for better terms, they were just making excuses and jerking him around.

Posted by: David Blue on September 5, 2003 08:21 AM

While I think the last possibility is always a possibility, my money is on the Afghan model/political cover for other nations duo.

Posted by: murdoc on September 6, 2003 12:24 AM

I doubt that this is an attempt to make potential allies show their hand. I would expect that GWB has already been informed whether a UN res would be enough to get them involved, the same as he was probably already aware that France would veto whatever he put forward.

While it might feel good to show them to be making empty promises, I can't see what we'd gain from it. With France, we had a definite motive to make them show their hand, especially since they declared so clearly that they would veto regardless of what the res actually said. It meant that Blair had enough to argue that the UN couldn't behave reasonably, so there was no point in involving them.

Same goes for showing the UN as irrelevent. Maybe we want to highlight it, but I think we can show better with actions than with words that we can do a better job of rebuilding a country.

Posted by: Dave on September 9, 2003 12:23 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 23, 2003

Thoughts on the President's Speech

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

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We were at a friend's house, so I did not watch the President's speech tonight. I did read it, though. The first thing that struck me is that the President and al Qaeda agree on the importance of Iraq to the war on terror. Here is the President:

The Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations. The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan and beyond would be a grave setback for international terrorism. The terrorists thrive on the support of tyrants and the resentments of oppressed peoples. When tyrants fall, and resentment gives way to hope, men and women in every culture reject the ideologies of terror, and turn to the pursuits of peace. Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat.

Our enemies understand this. They know that a free Iraq will be free of them -- free of assassins, and torturers, and secret police. They know that as democracy rises in Iraq, all of their hateful ambitions will fall like the statues of the former dictator. And that is why, five months after we liberated Iraq, a collection of killers is desperately trying to undermine Iraq's progress and throw the country into chaos.

Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime, who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows. Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists, who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations. We cannot be certain to what extent these groups work together. We do know they have a common goal -- reclaiming Iraq for tyranny.


And here is Amir Tehari, summarizing a new book by Yussuf al-Ayyeri, a senior al Qaeda operative until his death in a gun battle in June:
What Al-Ayyeri sees now is a "clean battlefield" in which Islam faces a new form of unbelief. This, he labels "secularist democracy." This threat is "far more dangerous to Islam" than all its predecessors combined. The reasons, he explains in a whole chapter, must be sought in democracy's "seductive capacities."

This form of "unbelief" persuades the people that they are in charge of their destiny and that, using their collective reasoning, they can shape policies and pass laws as they see fit. That leads them into ignoring the "unalterable laws" promulgated by God for the whole of mankind, and codified in the Islamic shariah (jurisprudence) until the end of time.

The goal of democracy, according to Al-Ayyeri, is to "make Muslims love this world, forget the next world and abandon jihad." If established in any Muslim country for a reasonably long time, democracy could lead to economic prosperity, which, in turn, would make Muslims "reluctant to die in martyrdom" in defense of their faith.

He says that it is vital to prevent any normalization and stabilization in Iraq. Muslim militants should make sure that the United States does not succeed in holding elections in Iraq and creating a democratic government. "If democracy comes to Iraq, the next target [for democratization] would be the whole of the Muslim world," Al-Ayyeri writes.


Well, if the Democrats won't believe President Bush, maybe they'll believe al Qaeda. Here is Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), Democrat candidate for President:
Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who opposed the war and is a candidate for his party's presidential nomination, said the $87 billion is "more than the federal government will spend on education this year, twice as much as the federal government will spend on our roads, bridges, highways and public transit systems."

"The president is clearly making a judgment that it is more important for us to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan than it is to deal with the very serious problems that we have in the United States," he said on "Larry King Live."


Ignoring the principles of federalism one would assume a Senator would be familiar with, it's interesting that the Senator believes that federal education spending (a very small fraction of education spending, mostly done at the local level and by States) is more important than winning the war on terror.

The President lays out a summary of our strategy in Iraq:

Our strategy in Iraq has three objectives: destroying the terrorists, enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense and their own future.

Then he discusses each in detail. First, the aim of destroying the terrorists:
First, we are taking direct action against the terrorists in the Iraqi theater, which is the surest way to prevent future attacks on coalition forces and the Iraqi people. We are staying on the offensive, with a series of precise strikes against enemy targets increasingly guided by intelligence given to us by Iraqi citizens.

This is key. The "flypaper strategy" - that of drawing terrorists in to fight our Army in Iraq, rather than our citizens in New York - even if originally unintended, seems to be working. Islamists are flooding into Iraq, and we are killing them in droves. This is crucial, because it makes all future battles easier, while at the same time distracting the terrorists from attacks on the US and the West. Likewise, engaging the Ba'athists in continued fighting, and destroying them, makes Iraq's future more secure. As these true believers are killed off, they are no longer capable of making trouble in a future free Iraq. It is crucial that we remain engaged militarily in Iraq, and use this opportunity to rid the Earth of some of its most destructive denizens.

The President then addresses the recent proposal the US put to the United Nations. He pegs the motivation for the US at providing cover for other nations (though I think France and Germany in particular want to make sure that this stays a diplomatic circle jerk.

Some countries have requested an explicit authorization of the United Nations Security Council before committing troops to Iraq. I have directed Secretary of State Colin Powell to introduce a new Security Council resolution, which would authorize the creation of a multinational force in Iraq, to be led by America.

In addition, the President is laying the groundwork for further distancing the US from the UN, should the UN prove as ineffective now as it has in the past:
I recognize that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.

As the third element of our strategy, the President recognizes the central role of Iraqis in creating a free and prosperous Iraq. The use of concepts from the preambe to the US Constitution ("secure the blessings of their own liberty") is interesting rhetorically:
Third, we are encouraging the orderly transfer of sovereignty and authority to the Iraqi people. Our coalition came to Iraq as liberators and we will depart as liberators. Right now Iraq has its own Governing Council, comprised of 25 leaders representing Iraq's diverse people. The Governing Council recently appointed cabinet ministers to run government departments. Already more than 90 percent of towns and cities have functioning local governments, which are restoring basic services. We're helping to train civil defense forces to keep order, and an Iraqi police service to enforce the law, a facilities protection service, Iraqi border guards to help secure the borders, and a new Iraqi army. In all these roles, there are now some 60,000 Iraqi citizens under arms, defending the security of their own country, and we are accelerating the training of more.

Iraq is ready to take the next steps toward self-government. The Security Council resolution we introduce will encourage Iraq's Governing Council to submit a plan and a timetable for the drafting of a constitution and for free elections. From the outset, I have expressed confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to govern themselves. Now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people and secure the blessings of their own liberty.


It seems that the President recognizes that more US troops in Iraq is not the problem, but I wish he had more clearly stated the need for Iraqis - more importantly than international forces - to take up the work of providing security in Iraq:
Second, we are committed to expanding international cooperation in the reconstruction and security of Iraq, just as we are in Afghanistan. Our military commanders in Iraq advise me that the current number of American troops -- nearly 130,000 -- is appropriate to their mission. They are joined by over 20,000 service members from 29 other countries. Two multinational divisions, led by the British and the Poles, are serving alongside our forces -- and in order to share the burden more broadly, our commanders have requested a third multinational division to serve in Iraq.

The keynote for the war is struck near the end (and the speech probably should have ended here):
The people of Iraq are emerging from a long trial. For them, there will be no going back to the days of the dictator, to the miseries and humiliation he inflicted on that good country. For the Middle East and the world, there will be no going back to the days of fear, when a brutal and aggressive tyrant possessed terrible weapons. And for America, there will be no going back to the era before September the 11th, 2001 -- to false comfort in a dangerous world. We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness. And the surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans. We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.

All-in-all, this was a good speech. In reality, the message given by the President and the major figures in his administration since 9/11 have been amazingly consistent, Leftist hand-waving and media misreporting aside. The message has been very simple: we are in this for the long haul, we are in great danger, and we will take this war to our enemies and their supporters until they die or give up the fight. "We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail."


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

What Lessons of 9/11 for our Children?

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One of the most difficult decisions that a homeschooler undertakes is what to teach their children. A part of this is what curricula to use and how to adapt it, and what supplementary texts and materials to use, and how much to use events like trips as educational fora as opposed to making them a kind of escape. But above everything else, the hardest part is figuring out what your goal is.

Simply being "educated" is insufficiently descriptive to form choices around. After all, a child who knows everything about pornography can be said to be educated in that subject, and I don't know of anyone who thinks that is an appropriate educational subject for, say, 13- and 14-year olds. In order to make choices about what subjects, and to what degree, you will educate your children on, you have to have a specific defined goal. For us, it is to give our children the tools, background and knowledge necessary to be productive citizens of a free Republic.

If you ask any given parent of a child in government schools, they would likely list job preparation, preparation for college, preparation for being a good citizen and the like. Even though the schools themselves have been trending more and more towards social activism and pop psychology, many teachers apparently still teach to goals more similar to those of the public at large.

Teachers' ability to teach to those goals, however, is more limited than that of a homeschooling family. The reason for this is that teachers by and large cannot choose which curriculum they will use, and in many cases cannot even choose how to apply it. These decisions are made by school administrators, school boards (and increasingly by State and Federal school bureaucracies). Inevitably, this reduces the ability of teachers to decide what to teach.

Given all this, what are teachers to teach about 9/11? Something must be taught, particularly in social studies (the modern substitute for history, geography, acculturation and civics) and particularly to students who have a very firm memory of the actual events. To the extent that we discuss those events with our children (particularly our eldest, who is seven), we focus on the horror of the attacks; the necessity to prevent their recurrence by actively waging war on the people who committed the attacks, those who supported them, and those who provide the ground for raising up new groups to attack us; the bravery of the rescue workers and the passengers of Flight 93; and the necessity of pre-planning for disasters. At least, I hope we are able to teach those things over time, in such a way that they will stick in the children's heads.

Apparently, some school administrators think that the best thing to teach about 9/11 is ... nothing at all. What's really annoying about this is the lurking suspicion that the same administrators trying to slip the horror of 9/11 down the memory hole are simultaneously (if in different contexts) telling students that they are unique, and therefore should have high self-esteem (regardless of merit), but they should also examine the reasons the terrorists hate them, because as Americans they must have done something wrong.

Yes, I know I'm reading an ideology into this that might not be there, and certainly that is not explicitly stated in the story, but I'm having a really hard time picturing an administrator pulling this kind of crap without also sharing the rest of the Leftist ideological basket. Drink the Kool-Aid, and it'll all be OK.

Maybe I should be more charitable, and assume that the administrator is so feckless, gutless and unimaginative that she simply feels anything stronger than pablum is "risky." Or maybe it's too late and I'm too grumpy.


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Well, I happen to think that we learn in everything we do, whether we mean to or not. Right now, I'm thankful for that, as the process of sitting down and educating isn't happening in our home much right now. OTOH, we (my 8 yo mostly) had some incredibly great conversations about 9/11 this last week in our home. These conversations may be due to our current situation with dh serving overseas with military, but I cannot imagine that there are not other children who have questions about 9/11. There were tv shows, radio broadcasts, etc. with information out there for our children to listen to and watch. To not discuss that at home and/or at school, IMHO, is sacriledge. If the children are not hearing it at home, they need to hear it at school. Now I also think they need to be hearing it at home, rather than at school, but that's another rant entirely. ;)

Posted by: Susie on September 16, 2003 03:51 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

On the Road Again

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I have been blogging fairly lightly lately, and that may continue for a bit. I'm not actually taking time off - it's just that I've been incredibly busy. I am in the process of leaving my current job, and starting a contract in Virginia. As a result, I've been pretty busy with family and work and getting things ready to go. Blogging will pick back up once life settles down a bit again.


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Good luck with your new contract!

Posted by: Robert Garcia Tagorda on September 25, 2003 10:58 PM
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Ummm...Unclear on the Concept?

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In this Editor and Publisher interview about at SFGate.com, there is some pretty clear evidence of lack of clue:

4. Is the Internet news audience becoming fragmented by political ideology? Why and what's the long-term impact? Will this affect print newspapers in any way?

VK: We've undoubtedly lost some of our audience to Web sites that specialize in politically tinted news. Not that it hurts us that much, but it makes political polarization even worse if people only read the opinions they already know they're going to agree with.

A lot of readers don't believe there's such a thing as journalistic objectivity and seek out news sources according to politics. During the Iraq war, some readers from outside our market area wrote to thank us for being an antidote to the TV networks' pro-war coverage, and I'd have to write back and say thanks, but as a news Web site we don't take sides. We reflect San Francisco's attitudes with colorful liberal columnists like Mark Morford, but we have conservative columnists too.

I suspect that print newspapers are also losing readers to overtly political Web sites and places like Fox News.


Actually, this is interesting on a couple of levels. First, it is interesting that the editor being questioned apparently equates "politically tinted" with "not Leftist." I suppose that's not too surprising considering that this is coming from San Francisco. Still, it's disappointing that the editor - symptomatic of a large part of the media, apparently - does not understand that the audience is not leaving a pristine and politically untinted source to find opinions that they agree with already. Rather, they are trying to find more balance and a position more realistic. You see, when a person can say, with a presumably straight face:
During the Iraq war, some readers from outside our market area wrote to thank us for being an antidote to the TV networks' pro-war coverage, and I'd have to write back and say thanks, but as a news Web site we don't take sides.

That is a little scary, really. It means that he doesn't realize that they were taking sides, and people noticed. Some of those people happened to agree with them, but others (the ones leaving SFGate and the rest of the Lefty media for FoxNews and other more balanced sources) don't agree with them.

The second interesting bit in the answer to the question is this:

... it makes political polarization even worse if people only read the opinions they already know they're going to agree with.

I agree with this. It does make polarization worse if people only read the opinions that they already know that they are going to agree with. The question I have is, coupled with the other statements about people choosing other news sources, that deep down the editor knows that most people don't agree with his opinions, but he just doesn't care? That is certainly the way this came across to me.

Really, I think that the editor is dead wrong: there is no such thing as politically unbiased news about the US and its actions at home and abroad from almost any source. The reason why is, there is no disinterested source. We are the 500lb. gorilla: US actions and policies affect virtually every nation on Earth, and most of all affect the ruling classes and intellectualist elites of every nation on Earth. As a result, there are no disinterested parties when it comes to US policy and national events.

I think that it is still possible for Americans to be disinterested about much of the world - particularly those places who are neither like us nor our enemies (sub-Saharan Africa comes to mind). But I'm not convinced that anyone can be disinterested about the US, because so large of a percentage of the world's population has a stake in American policy and actions.


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It always amazes me that anyone can say that TV news is "pro-war" when, obviously, the opposite is true. The only possible explanation is that these people consider anyone who's not foaming at the mouth with hatred for President Bush to be "pro-war" even if they really aren't.

Posted by: Lynn S on September 28, 2003 08:11 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

It Might Be...It Could Be...IT IS!

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Cubs win the pennant!

I have to find my brother and gloat, now. Heh heh heh.


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Cubs won their division. The pennant will be decided by the second round of the playoffs, the National League Championship Series (NLCS). Hence they need to win two rounds of playoffs to claim the pennant. Which they might.

I enjoy your pol commentary; not much of a baseball fan, though, are you?

Posted by: James on September 29, 2003 02:30 PM

I was just busy being all excited at the Cubbies winning the division. And no, I don't follow baseball obsessively.

Posted by: Jeff on September 29, 2003 02:38 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Criticism and Cause

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A large part of the criticism of the administration since the 9/11 attacks has been focused on how it is that our intelligence services failed to detect and prevent the attack. Well, here's part of the answer:

Frustration was growing at CIA headquarters. The Counter-Terrorism Center was kept away from the World Trade Center investigation--even though the CTC was designed to be the center of information on terrorist threats. The State Department, the FBI and the Secret Service had detailed personnel to the CTC to make sure that important information was shared, not hidden behind bureaucratic bulwarks. Indeed, one of the reasons that the deputy director of the CTC was an FBI official was to guarantee that information was shared among the institutions.

If the Clinton administration wanted to conduct a joint counterterrorism operation to discover the full breadth of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing conspiracy and to take action against the perpetrators overseas, the CTC would have been the perfect vehicle. That is what it was designed to do. It also had a secret presidential "finding," written by President Reagan and still in force, that specifically authorized covert operations to smash terrorist cells.

But the FBI, with the president's tacit acceptance, was treating the World Trade Center attack as a law-enforcement matter. That meant that everything the FBI gathered, every lab-test result, every scrap of paper, every interview, every lead, every clue from overseas was theirs alone. No one outside of the FBI's New York office would see it for years.

How could the FBI keep the evidence from other terror-fighting agencies? This was actually standard procedure when the FBI conducted criminal cases, as opposed to strictly counterterrorism investigations. The bureau invoked rule 6E of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. If the FBI shared the information with other federal agencies, then a judge could rule the evidence inadmissible in a court or require the government to share it with the accused terrorists, so that they could mount an effective legal defense. That would provide the accused terrorists with vital information about what the federal government knew and what it didn't. So Rule 6E was designed to prevent information sharing--and preserve the government's evidence for trial. "It is not that they [the FBI and CIA] don't get along--it's that they can't share information by legal statute" in criminal cases, said Christopher Whitcomb, an FBI veteran who worked on the 1993 World Trade Center bombing investigation.


That article is about the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and it does a lot to point out a pervasive problem with anti-terrorism efforts throughout the 1980's and 1990's: by and large the issue was not treated as a serious threat. Even after the 1993 bombing, which could have brought down one of the WTC towers had the bomb been larger, the Clinton administration not only failed to treat terrorism as a serious threat to national security, it sidelined the very organization designed to address this kind of threat. How long was it until that organization again became functional? I'm betting that the CTC didn't seriously function as a coordinated whole even after the attack on bin Laden which missed him by scant hours. In fact, I'm betting that the CTC didn't being to work until 9/12 or so.

You see, there are a few characteristics of large bureaucracies that impact on this. Such characteristics exist in large companies as well as in government agencies. The most pertinent is that the past is prologue: an established habit does not easily change. So once terrorism was designated as a criminal, rather than a security, threat, the agencies formed to fight terrorism as a security threat atrophied.

However, due to another characteristic of bureaucracies - the survival instict - those organizations did not go away. In fact, since clearly terrorism was increasing, those organizations most likely proliferated. Yet a third characteristic of bureaucracies - protection of one's own turf - most likely was the cause of these various organizations not communicating.

So the intelligence that would have indicated the 9/11 attack was coming would have been spread amongst multiple organizations, who did not share information, and would largely have been kept from the organization whose primary focus was indeed to fight terrorism as a security matter.

The one place the Congressional investigation didn't look, was the one place most critical to unravelling how we missed 9/11. The 9/11 attack was missed because of a failure of imagination on the part of the Clinton and later Bush administrations, certainly, but also with the numerous petty hand-tying rules and internecine funding battles and nasty sniping which all came from the Congress.

If we want to do our best to prevent another 9/11, we'd best look into that. Because right now, the biggest danger to the war effort is not al Qaeda or Iran or Syria - the biggest danger to the war effort is the unwillingness of Congress and the opposition parties to pull together and seriously address the nature and likely duration of this war. Until the Congress in particular is willing to do that, our gains in this war are in danger of being undone.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 21, 2003

An Alternative to the UN

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Let's say you started a book club with your friends, and over time the club grew quite large. In the process, you have a falling out with some of your friends - in fact you almost come to blows. Others who you still have a lot in common with just really want to hang out with different people, and tend to talk about you behind your back.

Over time, the rest of the club waits to see which book you want, then picks a different book deliberately to spite you. In fact, sometimes they stamp on the book in front of you just to show contempt.

The people who are particularly close to you - especially when they agree with you - are singled out for the same treatment, and some of them aren't even allowed to help decide which books are to be read by the club.

For all of this, you have the distinct privilege of paying 1/4 of the costs of the club. Would you stay in it?

So why do we stay in the UN? Steven Den Beste publishes an article translated from L'Express, which ends with this interesting paragraph:

In the name of their credibility, and of their diplomatic survival, the UN and its Security Council can't afford to miss the opportunity to bring back the all-powerful America into the fold and to retake some semblance of initiative on the critically important Iraq dossier. But it remains to measure their theoretical power, once more, by the measuring stick of concessions from Washington.

By this logic, the UN is powerful only when it makes the US weak. Accession to US wishes is ipso facto proof of UN weakness, even when US wishes comport with the establishment and maintenance of international order, for which purpose the UN was founded. This feeling appears to be very common in the UN and in Europe, and sadly is hardly unknown in the US.

I can see the benefits of this arrangement to the UN, which gains the moral authority, financial backing, political strength and military power of the US. I can see the benefits of the arrangement for second-tier states like France, which get to "punch above their weight." But I don't see where the US gains from having these leaches hanging off of us. The UN no longer provides us any mechanism for gaining the assistance of wavering states, nor does it provide us with moral cover for self-defense, nor does it provide us with other loci of stability and order (so as to reduce the amount of commitments we have to make, thus freeing up our troops for warfighting needs).

The run-up to the Iraq war has shown that the US needs to quit the UN, and the aftermath has proven the point. So what could the US do instead, in order to provide some measure of international security and order?

It's time for the US to form an association of like-minded states, exclusive of the UN and receiving the lion's share of our money and attention, with the following characteristics:


I'm sure that other such requirements could be crafted. The point is to ensure that the group is a group of free nations - both economically and personally. Such a group should supercede other treaties, organizations and arrangements, for the most part.

Right now, I could see this group consisting of the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Australia, perhaps India, Israel, Taiwan, perhaps S. Korea, perhaps Spain, perhaps Italy. Such a group - containing as it does the most important economies in the world with the exception of China - would be a wealth-creating and freedom-maintaining engine for all of its members. It would also, by its very nature, provide powerful incentives for borderline countries (the perhaps's mentioned above, plus countries such as Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Russia, continental Europe and so on) to change the conditions keeping them out, so that they could get in on the benefits of being in the group. In other words, even without robust intervention abroad to fix crises and prevent threats to world order, such an organization could act as a force for stability and peace.

It's worth a try - it certainly wouldn't be worse than the current situation.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 20, 2003

Transformation

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Foreign Affairs has an excellent article by Max Boot, which has a fantastic summary of combat operations in the Iraq campaign and draws lessons from this about transformation of the military. (Hat tip: Belmont Club) I can't really summarize by quoting a page and a half, so please read the entire article. I would like to quote the most important paragraph, though:

The army needs to tackle the task of "imperial" policing -- not a popular duty, but one that is as vital to safeguarding U.S. interests in the long run as are the more conventional war-fighting skills on display during the second Gulf War. The Army War College's decision to shut down its Peacekeeping Institute is not a good sign; it means that the army still wants to avoid focusing on noncombat missions. The army brass should realize that battlefield victories in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can easily be squandered if they do not do enough to win the peace.

Yes, the Air Force and Navy need to realize that a big part of their job - perhaps the biggest part after logisitical support - is combat air support of Army and Marine forces on the ground, including when those forces are in contact with the enemy. This cannot be done with seconded fighters with nearly the effectiveness that it can be done with dedicated attack aircraft (for close-contact fights) and bombers (for interdiction and strategic weakening). Certainly, fighters need to be dual-role, and need to be used for bomb delivery, but the heart of ground support should be dedicated aircraft.

But that is not the heart of the military's need, just an important issue. The heart of the need is to develop an understanding of, and force structure for, the policing of conquered nations and failed states. It is that which the Army needs to transform itself into being capable of. And that requires that we maintain our heavy forces - you have to conquer before you occupy - and add medium and light forces. In an occupation, the light forces, walking mostly, are the ones who really bring about the necessary order for political and infrastructural rebuilding to occur. The medium forces, in addition to being survivable quick reaction forces for strategic intervention, could also provide easy-to-support firepower to back up light forces in an occupation.

Right now, we seem to be trying to push off that mission on Third World forces, through some kind of UN umbrella or by getting those nations directly into "coalitions of the willing." We need to get serious, though, and realize that we will be occupying more than just Iraq and Afghanistan, and we (and by extension, our Army) will be bearing the major burden, and we will be doing it for a long time to come. We probably don't need to go back up to 18 divisions, but we certainly need more than ten.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

Then get a Backbone

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This is not the least bit surprising to me. The Republicans gave the Democrats a green light to kill the Estrada nomination on purely ideological grounds - not even the ideological positions of the candidate: many Democrats voting to kill the nomination had praised Estrada in earlier hearings; but the ideological positions of the President who nominated him. So now the Democrats, having gained much and suffered nothing, are going to repeat the tactic on any measure they can, because the exercise of power in Washington trumps the sense of the end result of exercising the power. If the Republicans aren't willing to make the Democrats actually filibuster nominations and other important votes, they'll need to accept that this tactic will be more widespread. Prediction: the rules will mysteriously change "in the best interests of the Nation and Democracy" as soon as there is a Democrat majority in the Senate.

It's not that the Republicans don't play politics, too; they're just not as good at it.


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Jeff, this was the Cass Sunstein strategy of Senate obstructionism on appointments advocated by that august example of Law school statism back in 2001

Posted by: MARK SAFRANSKI on September 8, 2003 05:30 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Not Dead Yet

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I had minor surgery on Friday, and recovery has resulted in me being a bit more down and out than expected. Everything is OK, though, and I'll probably start posting again some time next week.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Only in Alabama

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My wife was born in Alabama, and her mother always says that in some places, football is a religion, but in Alabama people take it more seriously than that. Apparently so.

PINSON, Ala. -- A Pinson man was charged with attempted murder for holding a gun to his son's head and pulling the trigger in the midst of a tantrum after Alabama's double overtime loss to Arkansas Saturday.

The bullet narrowly missed 20-year-old Seth Logan, who said he picked the wrong time to ask his dad for a car, sheriff's spokesman Deputy Randy Christian said Monday.

[...]

According to the police report, Joseph Logan had been drinking alcohol and began slamming doors, tossing boxes and throwing dishes in the sink after the Crimson Tide lost its football game to Arkansas, 34-31 in double overtime Saturday.

While Joseph Logan was throwing the tantrum, Seth Logan asked for a new car.

Joseph Logan then retrieved a 9 mm pistol from his car, grabbed his son by the collar and pressed the gun to his son's forehead, the report said.

Logan threatened to shoot his son in the head, then pulled the trigger.

Seth Logan moved his head just as his father fired and the bullet whizzed past him, the report said.


So on the downside, this guy'll be going to jail for attempted murder. But on the upside, he'll never have to worry about his kids asking for a car again.

Thanks to Brian for the link.


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I could say so much, but I think the story really says it better than anything I could.....

Posted by: Mark L on September 30, 2003 09:30 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 16, 2003

Good Comeback

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Brazos de Dios Cantina has the best comeback yet to Chrisitiane Amanpour's drivel about her misreporting of the situation in Iraq during the war. First, Ms. Amanpour's statement:

I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did.

And, from Fox News' Irena Briganti:
Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.

Heh.


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Considering CNN practiced "self-censorship" when Saddam was in power to keep their office open, I guess they are doing a bad job of being an open and honest news organization.

Not that this is a surprise, really.

Posted by: Mark L on September 17, 2003 07:39 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 15, 2003

Like Talking to Aidan

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This post at A Small Victory was so much like talking to my second son, I had to post it here for later reference.


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Except that, instead of "I see what you're getting at" it would have been "But what if he did?"

Other than that, the similarities are eeeerie :)

Posted by: Stephanie on September 16, 2003 11:51 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Too Much Information

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I got a vasectomy last Friday, and wanted to share a few things I learned, that may not be obvious to those considering the procedure.

I will now pause so that everyone who really doesn't want to see this can whistle on by.

OK, first, do not search Google for the terms "depilatory" and "scrotum." Especially not at work. You will learn way to much about lifestyle choices you likely have not made, since you are considering getting a vasectomy. Worse, this information will be useful. To summarize the useful bit: Nair works fine for this purpose, and if you are afraid of letting sharp blades anywhere near your genitals, it's a good choice. But it can give you a chemical burn, so be sure to rinse it off exactly when the directions recommend that you do so. Be thorough.

Do not mention the bit about Google searches while your doctor has sharp blades near your genitals. He will laugh. This is a bad thing.

Cauterization of the cut ends of the vas deferens produces a smell like burning plastic. That was odd.

They won't use stitches unless they have to make two separate incisions. This is a good thing, but it means that you need to be very sanitary until the hole closes up on its own. This takes about 24-48 hours. Sometimes a little longer.

If you send email to your team at the office, noting that you will be out Friday and for the weekend having and recovering from a minor surgery, you will be advised to walk slow and use ice packs. This is good advice, by the way. Everybody gets vasectomies done on Friday, apparently, and it generally takes over the weekend to be mostly recovered. If you don't feel like discussing it, send a more generic message than noted.

The ability to stand up and sit down without concentration is a great blessing.

Do not make a quip to your wife that this makes up for even one birth she's gone through. Just trust me on this one.

It's probably not as bad as you fear. It is as strange as you likely expect, though.


Comments

Stephanie, you are allowed to beat your husband for that quip - after he recovers a little, but before he can enjoy it :)

Posted by: Mark on September 15, 2003 04:54 PM

He toned it down, here, Mark. He said that it made up for TWO births. And, presumably, the pregnancies.

Beating is too good for him :)

Posted by: Stephanie on September 16, 2003 11:53 AM

Great post!

My wife and I speculated many years ago that there was a future for late-night Urologists. You know - snip-on-demand, 24 hours a day.

That way, dads driving around at 2AM trying to get a 2 year old to go back to sleep might just take the plunge.

So I take it that you won't be riding a horse anytime soon, Jeff?

Posted by: Adam Sullivan on September 18, 2003 01:51 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Class Sizes

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Joanne Jacobs reports a study which finds that lower class sizes (in this case, lowered from 28 to 20) don't have a large impact on student learning, and that other changes can have a larger impact. I'm certainly in favor of finding the most efficient ways to help kids learn, and there may be other interventions that do work. However, I wonder if this research is really complete enough?

After all, there's ample evidence that a ratio of 3 or 4 students per teacher is dramatically more effective than 30 students per teacher, even if the teacher of the smaller group is less qualified. I wonder, though, where the drop-off point is, where it is no longer better to increase class sizes. Just given human attention spans, time in the day, and such factors, I suspect that that point would be at less than 10 students. Clearly, there is no way to afford enough teachers, even less-qualified ones, to maintain that ratio in government schools.

However, I can think of two things that would improve the situation. First, there is no reason that the ratio needs to be constant across grades or educational needs. Fifty honors students, given a goal, a promise of tests, and the resources (books, supplies, etc) appropriate to the task, can learn just about anything in a year, with only one teacher to guide them. (While, for example, it may not be possible for one teacher to have more than 2 or 3 special-needs children and make any progress with them.) By giving students as much responsibility as they can handle, rather than treating all of them like little sponges incapable of learning on their own, more teachers would be freed up to deal with those students who need the additional help.

A second idea would be to reduce the number of children a school. If the schools were to allow homeschooling families to obtain up to, say, $1000 of educational supplies, books, curricula and the like through the school each year (or maybe some amount per child, instead of a fixed amount), this would provide a powerful incentive towards homeschooling for those on the fence. Since this would be a fraction of the money that the district is getting in tax revenue for that student, the additional money could go into hiring more teachers for the remainder of the students. If the average is 25 students per teacher, and only 5% of the children in a district would be homeschooled because of this, that's 50 kids - two additional teachers - in a 1000-student school. If the allowance for supplies were $1000 per child, that would be $25000 cost to get a new teacher - significantly less than the $80-90000 cost otherwise (assuming Texas-like first-year pay of $40000+, insurance, benefits and the like). Not a bad deal.

Of course, that would mean a reduction in power of the teachers' unions, which are more based on the number of students in school than the number of teachers, so that probably wouldn't fly. I don't see why the first idea would be unpalatable though.


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But then you're getting into the issue of homeschoolers getting money from the government to use on curricula, books, etc. Offering it might address the problem you're looking at, but I wouldn't take it. Nor would I advocate for it.

And aren't they getting all my money now, anyway? Or are you suggesting that they could use us for attendance purposes, get that money, and give us back some amount, keeping the rest for their own purposes?

Your first idea is better, but is less likely to ever be implemented. The student ratio should be SMALL at the elementary level; the younger the student, the smaller the ratio. Want every child to read by 3rd grade? That is the only way to do it.

Posted by: Stephanie on September 19, 2003 12:27 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

That's Different

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That wouldn't make sense, because that would be the Times' money being lost. It's completely different when it's public money. For some reason I can't think of right now. Read this Krugman column on taxes; then you'll understand. Ignore the lies and bias...drink the kool-aid...


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

How to Look at the War on Terror

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David Horowitz has a magnificent essay in FrontPageMag (hat tip: Mrs. du Toit), dealing with perceptions of the war on terror, the importance of being on the offense, and where help can be found. Apropos that last point:

The way to think about the war on terror is to ask yourself who is supporting President Bush and the American military in this life and death engagement, and who is not?


Help is certainly not coming from the European nations who armed and then appeased Saddam Hussein and opposed the liberation of Iraq and who now refuse to aid America in securing the peace.

Far worse, with exception of fading candidates like Joe Lieberman and John Edwards, it is certainly not coming from the leaders of the Democratic Party who from the moment Baghdad was liberated have with ferocious intensity attacked the credibility of America's commander-in-chief, the justification for our mission in Iraq, and the ability of our forces to prevail.

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September 14, 2003

Budgeting

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Somehow, I don't think Newsweek is very serious. After all, the money you spend on insurance against a house fire could be spent on food. The money you spend on health insurance could instead be spent on educating your children. And, yes, the money we spend occupying and reforming Iraq and Afghanistan could be spent on day care centers or hiring firemen.

The question that is reasonable is not, "How does this compare to other items in the budget?" (and note: they did not compare to other items in the budget larger than $87 billion, such as Medicare), but "How does this compare with national needs and goals?" Unless Newsweek intends to say - and they might - that we'd do better fighting the war on terrorism by using Federal money to fund community health care than we would by spending the money on the occupation and reformation of the nations at the heart of our enemies' territory, then these comparisons are meaningless. Worse than that, they do not even attempt to make a distinction between valid uses of Federal money (such as defense) and invalid uses (such as spending money on individual AIDS patients).

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September 13, 2003

Threshhold

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Required reading: Belmont Club on the nuclear threshhold in the age of terrorism. I've long felt, like James Lileks, that it is inevitable that we will lose a city to nuclear terrorist attack some time in the next 20 years. Wretchard follows the chain of logic to demonstrate why, once the Islamists demonstrate the capability, the rational response is the immediate and total destruction of the Muslim world.

Actually, I think that there is a more measured response that might avoid this. If you look at the Muslim countries, there are four basic tiers in which they fall: nations with intent against the West and with WMD capability in place or close (Iran, Syria, Pakistan?); nations with intent against the West but no WMD capability (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia); nations with no pronounced intent towards the West, but with WMD capability (Pakistan?); and nations with neither pronounced intent against the West, nor WMD capability, though often with insurgent anti-Western forces within the country (Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait). The question about Pakistan's intent is whether they will be able to resist the Islamists, or will give them help to keep them away from Pakistan itself, or will fall to the Islamists.

If a nuclear terrorist attack were launched within the US or Europe, every city in a first tier nation with more than 10000 people could be obliterated, along with their entire military and major economic targets (occupying those critical to us and destroying the rest). This would almost certainly remove their ability to strike at us again. Then we could watch the second tier countries, and let them know that any attempt to acquire WMDs would cause them to meet the same fate. At that point, it could either go towards an outright race to acquire WMDs to use against the West, or the moderates could take over and the Muslims could roll over. If the former, we could obliterate the second tier countries, and mop up anything left over in the first tier countries. If, at that point, there was still a valid attempt to acquire the means to act against the West, we could push to the extremity of the analysis and eliminate every Muslim nation - a nuclear genocide.

This would, needless to say, be very bad politically, economically and socially. However, it would still be better than being destroyed ourselves. By putting in detents in the escalation scheme, we could potentially avoid the worst-case scenario, though I don't hold great faith in the ability of extremists to see reason.

UPDATE (9/21): Belmont Club offers a postscript and some reader response. As clarification of my comments, I agree with Belmont Club's statement that "If Islam desires the secret of the stars it must embrace the kuffar as its brother -- or die." I am simply positing that it is not necessarily the case that, once nuclear exchanges start, they can only end with the destruction of every Muslim state. I believe that cutting the heart out of the Muslim states - the destruction of the radicalised Arab states in particular - would do it. If not, we would eventually get to Belmont Club's end state: Islam - and much else - would be gone.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Childish Politics

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Peeve Farm has an interesting post about how easy it is to come up with cute Lefty slogans, but how much harder it is to refute them or develop equivalent conservative or libertarian slogans. There is a reason for this, I think, and that reason is...reason.

It appears to me that there are certain default positions - intuitively arrived at if no external education intervenes - which are common across a large fraction of mankind. I think of these as being childish positions: most children would arrive at this position without external prompting. This is not meant as an insult, and many of these positions actually survive the application of logic, reason and experience.

The problem is that many of them don't. Part of the reason for this is that we have evolved socially and mentally in a very different environment than has existed for the past 150 years, and our modern world presents many problems that our intuition has not evolved to solve. The notion of fairness that seems common to humans, for example, is equality of results: a child doesn't expect to be treated differently than their siblings by their parents, regardless of the actions of the children involved; indeed a child who feels that their parents show preference to a sibling would be highly resentful. Adults, though, generally realize that a person who does not work hard does not make as much money as one who does work hard. We begin to learn that our actions have consequences.

There are similar notions about religion, economics and interpersonal relations which tend to take hold unless education or experience intervenes. Statism, for example, cannot survive any serious study of history; nor can Communism survive any serious study of economics. For that matter, logic and experience argue that welfare (a fairly central piece of the Peeve Spot post) has benefits over the short term, but massive costs over the long-term, if that welfare is sustained and large. Similarly, progressive taxation makes intuitive sense (the rich people have more money, so they can afford to pay more), but the counterintuitive notion of flatter taxes actually produces more revenue (ever notice that even the die-hard Left in Congress doesn't propose returning to a 70%+ tax at the high end?) is actually the correct one, if your goal is to raise revenue as efficiently as possible while not destroying the economy.

The best cure-all for incorrect intuition is education. This is one of the places where our public education system has failed miserably: it tends to reinforce our incorrect intuition, rather than to correct it. The second-best cure-all for incorrect intuition is logic and reason, but again this is not taught well in schools. The last resort for learning these lessons is experience, but experience has two flaws: it's frequently painful to acquire, and for some things (such as evaluating different economic systems) it takes more than a single lifetime to gain sufficient experience. As a result of this failing on the part of public schools, and the fact that most Americans are products of public schools, and the fact that colleges are increasingly dumbing down, and the further fact that most people never learn how to educate themselves; as a result of all of these acting in concert, it is very easy for an American or European to grow up basically uneducated. (Never, as Mark Twain asserted, confuse schooling and education.)

The result of this is that you tend to have two very vocal extremes, on the Left and the Right, who are philistines at best. These groups push for some of the most hare-brained schemes to become official and national policy: statism, isolationism, restrictions on liberty and the like. But most of the people fall in the middle, and by and large the dividing line between moderate conservatives and moderate leftists are those issues they have chosen to become educated about.

It would take more than a human lifetime to be educated about everything, so we pick and choose what we educate ourselves about. Those people who tend to educate themselves about economics, foreign policy, good governance and the like tend towards conservatism or libertarianism. Those people who do not (who choose, for example, to educate themselves primarily about sports, fashion, entertainment and the like) tend to remain in the somewhat leftist column, because that is where their intuition leads them.

I believe that this has also been a big reason why the country has been moving towards a more moderate-conservative view over the past 20 years, and particularly over the past 2: Viet Nam and the malaise afterwards forced an education on a great many people, and 9/11 has compelled an even more painful evaluation of ourselves and our society. This is why, since 9/11, there has been a large number of shifts to the right, most famously by Christopher Hitchens: forced to evaluate classical liberalism and the Enlightenment against statism and religious repression, honest classical liberals have gone from moderately (or even quite far) left to centrist.

But it is so much easier to chant, isn't it? Even if it is childish.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 12, 2003

In My World

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Right Wing News has compiled a great set of quotes from IMAO's "In My World" posts. He misses a couple of my favorites, so here they are:

"I would point out," said another reporter, "That just because someone has a Communist viewpoint, doesn't mean they should be shot."

Rice then pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger. "It works!"

"One less Commie," Rumsfeld laugh. "Damn, I hope we finish this Iraq thing soon; I miss killing Commies. Remember when I strangled one in Nam?"

"Yeah, that was last year," Rice answered, "Caused a bit of media firestorm."

"Hey, if God didn't want us killing Commies, he wouldn't have given them necks fit for strangling."

"We still have questions," interrupted one reporter.

Rice pointed the gun at the reporter and pulled the trigger - an empty click. "Fine, what?"

-----

"So you think this will bring peace to the Middle East?" Bush asked.

"I really don't give a rat's ass," Sharon answered, "I just wanted to see Arafat fired out of a cannon."

"We all did," Bush said with a smile as he patted Sharon on his back, "We all did."

-----

"In other news, North Korea is now actually launching nuclear missiles at us, and we still don't give a rats ass. We now turn to our expert..."

-----

"I just want assure everyone that the Belgians have not captured the president," White House Press Secretary announced.

"My question was about the tax cuts," said the befuddled reporter.

"Whatever." Ari took a big drink from his flask of whiskey. "Oh, and if anyone is mountain climbing and happens to see the vice president, please give us a call."

"You lost the vice president on some mountain top?" exclaimed one reporter.

"I did not say that," Ari answered, "Why do you people always have to read into everything I say?" Ari took another big drink of whiskey. "God, how many more days do I have to do this."

-----

"Do I have to sit next to Tom Daschle?" Bush complained.

"Yes," Laura answered, "if Donald's going to make the best effort not to strangle anyone, then the least I can do is not put him next to Tom Daschle."

-----

"Buck, why don't you tell them what you have to do to become a Marine," the teacher suggested.

"Certainly. You have to go through boot camp. There they will put you through hell. They will break down your body. They will break down your mind. They will break down your spirit. You will beg for mercy. You will not get it. You will beg for death. It will not come. If you survive - and I mean 'if' - you will be a Marine. Then you can kill foreigners. So who wants to be a Marine?"

The kids just stared at him bewildered, none of them raising their hands.

"What are you all? Fags?"

-----

"Alright. I have to keep the world from imploding, since the rest of the countries are a bunch of idiots. The worst is France. How can I describe this to you... France is kinda like that kid in class everyone hates who reminds the teacher to give out homework." He then pointed to a geeky looking kid wearing glasses. "Probably that kid; he's France."

"But without homework," the kid responded, "how are we going..."

"Quiet, France. I'm tired of dealing with you."

-----

All of sudden Laura started shivering. "Why does it suddenly feel so cold in here?"

"Hello," said Hillary Clinton, walking down the school hallway.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

That Figures

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If you know me - Hell, if you just read the blog! - and know Heinlein's books, you'll already know this:
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
You belong in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. You
value freedom above all else. You would fight
and die for your family and your home.


Which Heinlein Book Should You Have Been A Character In?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Incompetence This Great...

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Kim du Toit makes a great point:

The other day our Carpenter's helper heard me say something along the lines of, "it is difficult to conclude that incompetence is the reason why our public schools have deteriorated. There comes a point where you have to suspect sabotage, or a conspiracy."

He asked me if I really meant that. I gave him the five minute explanation of John Dewey's known affiliation with communists, his frequent essays and articles about the wonders of the Soviet education system, and his quote, "You can't make Socialists out of individualists. Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent."

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 11, 2003

Class Act

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This is the difference between the Germans and the French: the Germans have class. Even though the US and Germany currently disagree over some things, we still fundamentally remain friends. I'm not certain that the US and France have ever been of like mind, really.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The NEA

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Steph takes a look at recent resolutions from the NEA convention. The NEA are a bunch of parasitic, Leftist, America-hating bastards who want to force conformance to their views - and those of their supporting partners such as radical environmentalists, "peace" activists, unions, the transgendered community and the like - who in any decent society would be kept away from children for the children's (and society's) good, but who in our society are for some reason exalted as the only qualified agency on not only education, but child-care as well. Why this is I do not know.

Not that I'm bitter.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Personal Responsibility

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The Noble Pundit has an interesting post on how personal responsibility relates to good governance.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 9, 2003

Valerie Plame

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I haven't wanted to say anything about the whole Valerie Plame affair, because it seems so overblown, and because some people are being just a bit over the top about it. Fortunately, I don't have to write about it, because "Jane Galt" has said everything I would have said already.

Actually, there are two things I'll say briefly. The first is that, should it transpire that senior administration officials are actually blowing the cover of CIA agents - even desk analysts - those officials should be fired - not allowed to resign - and very publically, and the President should publically deliver an apology for the misdeeds of officials in his administration. The second is that, should it transpire that there is far more smoke than fire here, and that in fact nothing quite so dastardly as the intentional blowing of operatives' cover for petty political reasons actually happened, the critics who are all over the administration on this issue should apologize in the same fora where they are smearing the President.

Frankly, I don't expect either "should" to come about, though I think it very likely that this is a "more smoke than fire" issue by a long way.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

September 8, 2003

Memory is Precious

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Hold on to memory 9/11. Hold on tight. Because, for some, truth is a word to be put in quotes, and reality is a meaningless non-entity. But for a moment stop, now, and listen to the voices.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack