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August 31, 2006

More Trouble with Maps

During the Iraq invasion, I posted The Trouble with Maps, which pointed out that if you looked at a map and listened to the Iraqi spokemen's explanations of what was going on, you noticed that the Iraqis appeared to be defeating Americans at locations invariably closer to the capitol than the previous day's "defeat". Now Lorie Byrd graphically illustrates the progress in having the Iraqi army take control of Iraq. It is the kind of demonstration that just blows the media narrative into its component lies. Which is why you won't see these maps on news programs.

Posted by jeff at 9:46 PM | TrackBack

I bet "Fat Bottomed Girls" was the Last Straw

Apparently, some Muslims from Zanzibar are annoyed that Freddie Mercury will be honored next month on the 60th anniversary of his birth (in Zanzibar). Apparently, "[a]ssociating Mercury with Zanzibar degrades our island as a place of Islam."

Some thoughts:

1) Degrading any place as a place of Islam is good.
2) Mike's right twice: Mercury just rocks, and pissing off Islamists is a good thing. (These guys are real bastards, too.)
3) Wouldn't it be cool if Mazda made a car called the Ahura?

Posted by jeff at 4:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 30, 2006

One More Reason for Homeschooling

Textbooks with faked disabled kids to meet photo quotas is just the beginning of how bad textbooks can be. But why use textbooks for most subjects, when the original material is available? In schools with large classes (government or private), the real reason for using textbooks, I think, is that the material is predigested, so the teacher has to spend less time figuring out how to present the material: the choices are made for you. Yet that entire approach misses the fact that the process of learning how to extract meaning from data is thereby eliminated, and children do not learn how to extract meaning. I think that has something to do with why so many supposedly educated people are so easily fooled.

Posted by jeff at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

A Victory for Open Government

When the Senate brought up a bill that would have created a searchable online database of Federal contracts, grants, loans, insurance and financial assistance — in other words, a system that would allow ordinary citizens to watch for corruption and waste in government spending — it seemed assured of passing with overwhelming bipartisan support. But due to an obscure and somewhat recent (since the 1960s) Senate tradition, one Senator was able to stop the bill dead in its tracks, without revealing their identity except to their party leader in the Senate. Outraged bloggers — conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans and others, whose only commonality is that they are US citizens — came together to track down the Senator who placed the "secret hold" that stopped this worthwhile legislation. And they found him: Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), whose other sins include perpetuating the very pork this bill would make easier to stop, including the infamous "bridge to nowhere".

I am not ready to say that the "secret hold" is necessarily bad in all circumstances. Certainly, it gives a Senator time and space to quietly argue differences or get further information, before dragging any issues out in open session, and possibly causing political damage to himself or others. But it also, if abused, is a very powerful tool to allow a single Senator's preferences to override the will of the overwhelming majority of the chamber while suffering no personal repurcussions for doing so. This appears to have been such a case, the carping of Stevens' staffers notwithstanding. Bully for those who participated in this citizen action.

Posted by jeff at 5:23 PM | TrackBack

I Can't Believe I'm Defending the ACLU

For once, I'm actually posting about the ACLU in the Unamerican Activities category where the ACLU is fighting the freedom-destroying behavior, rather than promoting it.

Both The Jawa Report and Stop the ACLU (both in my blogroll) have posted in support of the government preventing two American citizens from entering the US. The ACLU is right: the government should not have such power. You, trust me, do not want the government to have such power.

The general principles at stake are freedom of movement, equal protection of the law, and due process. These are not "mere legalities", but very bedrock rights guaranteed to all American citizens.

In Kent v. Dulles, an issue similar to the current case (but in the opposite direction) was argued. Specifically, the government denied a US citizen a passport with which to travel to England, on the grounds that the citizen was possibly a Communist, and refused to sign an affadavit as to whether or not he was a Communist. The court reasoned that the freedom to travel is part of the "liberty" referred to in the 5th Amendment, and thus could not be abridged without due process of law (which generally is held to mean that the government cannot arbitrarily deprive you of rights; to do so requires a charge which you can contest in court, and a finding that the deprivation of rights is necessary to ensure the trial occurs or is an acceptable punishment as a result of a conviction at trial). Even if the Court's argument is not persuasive, consider the ramifications of granting such powers to the government. Without a law explicitly making a particular kind of conduct illegal, with only an allegation of such conduct, with no ability to challenge the allegation or the legality of any determination about the nature of the conduct — in other words, as an arbitrary exercise of naked power — the government could prevent any citizen from travelling freely on any ground they choose. And worse, in the case of a citizen who is being refused reentry into the US, they cannot even gain access to the courts to challenge any aspect of this, because they cannot regain entry into the jurisdiction of the courts. Would you really care to argue that "liberty" means the freedom of any person to do what you personally (or some anonymous government bureaucrat) like and to not do what you (or said bureaucrat) dislike? That is no meaning of "liberty" that I can accept: it is meaningless as a protection or a right, because it can be abridged or denied at any time without the victim having any defense. That, in fact, is the kind of tyranny seeks to prevent.

The right to equal protection of the law, that is, the right of all persons to have the same access to the law and courts, and to be treated equally by the law and courts, both in procedures and in the substance of the law, arises from the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution, and more broadly from the Declaration of Independence's statement that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ...." The idea is to prevent the government from creating laws that discriminate against people who are dispreferred, such as creating different legal penalties for black and white people for the same crime, or subjecting some people to a punitive law while others are exempted. This is the principle that keeps the government from deciding that people in possession of drugs or adhering to a certain ideology are so dangerous that special laws must apply to them, and not to others. It's what keeps the 1930's German racial purity laws from being possible here. It is what guarantees that we are, in fact, a nation governed by law and process, rather than the arbitrary preferences of bureaucrats and policemen.

"Due process" rights guarantee, in the simplest terms (and it's a quite complicated body of law), that a person cannot be deprived of his rights and liberties except by a process laid down by law, which law was passed according to the process laid down by the Constitution, and that such laws have to be just and reasonable. The classic example of the "just and reasonable" problem would be to pass a law assigning the death penalty for jaywalking. The harm caused by the penalty so far exceeds the harm caused by the offense that no just or reasonable person could relate the two. It is this right that prevents the government from simply taking your liberties away any time it wants for any reason it wants. There must be a good cause for the government to deprive you of your liberties; you must be able to challenge the deprivation in court; and that court must be conducted according to pre-determined processes and under pre-determined regulations.

These are such fundamental rights that I cannot conceive of an American challenging the rights themselves. So how might one argue, then, that the government is not violating those rights in this case?

One might argue that because one of the people in question is a naturalized citizen, rather than being born a citizen, and so the government can deprive them of their right to return to the US. There are two fatal weaknesses to this argument: a naturalized citizen cannot be treated differently from a non-naturalized citizen, and one of the men at issue is a citizen by birth.

One might arue that there is no right to return to the US, only a right to leave or to travel freely within the US. The largest problem with this argument is that it renders all other rights purportedly held by the citizen to be meaningless once the citizen leaves the US. If a person cannot return to the US, they cannot assert their rights in court (which is itself a due process right); they cannot enjoy their property rights because they cannot access their property; they cannot exercise any of their rights as citizens. Effectively, granting such an argument gives the government the power to arbitrarily deprive a citizen of everything about citizenship except the label "citizen", without any process of law to back taking such a drastic action.

One might argue that all the two men have to do is talk to the government, and they can get back in. But even ignoring Kent v. Dulles, this ignores the citizens' rights against self-incrimination, codified in the fifth amendment. What, under such a logic, would prevent the government from precluding re-entry to any citizen until they had signed a loyalty oath, discussed their sexual behavior in great detail, or any other arbitrary condition required by government bureaucrats? Again, this is merely a sophisticated way of arguing that the government should have the power to strip citizenship of all meaning for those citizens that some government bureaucrat decides he just doesn't like.

One could argue that the citizens are not being denied entry into the US, just the privilege of flying in US airspace. That would be true, if it were not for the fact that the government has arrangements with Mexico and Canada to honor the US government's no-fly list. Thus, the citizen could not fly to an adjacent country, then drive into the US to assert his rights.

One could, finally, argue that "these guys are terrorists!!!" And that is the "argument" I have seen most often. I am willing to grant that argument: these guys may very well be terrorists, or supporters or enablers of terrorists; there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to that effect and the government's designation of these men for the no-fly list is not without basis from what is currently known of their past and behavior. That does not give the government the power to deny them their rights as citizens. The proper behavior here is to charge them, bring them to the US (or allow them to re-enter), arrest them and try them.

The government's actions in this case are wrong. The ACLU is right. I cannot believe I am defending the ACLU.

Posted by jeff at 1:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 29, 2006

Every Once in a While, I can Call 'Em

I've been moving over and editing posts from my old blog, which died for lack of a backup, leaving only the HTML behind. In the process, reading some of my old posts, I've realized that a few predictions I had made have been startlingly accurate. For example, this one, on how Israel could isolate the Palestinians, has been pretty much exactly right. I guess that makes up for the more-frequent situation: very wrong predictions.

Posted by jeff at 5:48 PM | TrackBack

A Civic Duty

The McCain-Feingold abomination continues unabated. Let me be clear and concise: this law is blatantly unconstitutional. The fact that the Congress passed the law, the President signed it, and the Supreme Court upheld it does not show that the law is constitutionally valid, only that the Congress, President and Supreme Court have violated their oaths of office and their duty as citizens. It is my duty as a citizen to ignore this law, and I will; the law will have no effect on posts here except that I might feel a bit more inclined to name specific candidates I support or oppose and why. Further, if called to sit on a jury to decide a case against someone for violating this law, I will consider it my duty to vote to acquit regardless of other circumstances of the case on the grounds that the law is invalid.

It will have one effect: anyone within reason (ie, not NAMBLA) may run political ads here free of charge between now and election day, on the condition that those ads specifically mention a candidate for public office by name.

Posted by jeff at 4:57 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 26, 2006

What is Math for, Anyway?

Steph, in teaching Connor math, came across a problem that was difficult for her to solve. She did it, but it took a while. Mark's comments, too, are instructive. I learned a great deal of math calculation in school and college (side effect of engineering major), and it was only after I left college, and tried to explain math to people who didn't get it, that I finally realized that there are some fundamental truths about math that are generally not taught in school, but without which math makes almost no sense. Here they are:

Math is a tool for solving problems you encounter in life that are related to counting, comparison, estimation and the like. Problems come to you in life presented as fancy counting (everything up through algebra), like:

I have $23 and some change. Those pants cost $21, and tax is 8.5%. Do I have enough to buy the pants, or will I look like a fool at the register?

I have a quarter tank of gas. Each tank holds 12 gallons and I get 18 miles to the gallon. I'm tired and may or may not have remembered my credit card. Can I make it home and deal with this tomorrow, or must I stop at the gas station and deal with it now?

Or as geometry, like:

Do I have enough carpet to cover the living room? How about after I have to cut some out for the fireplace and add some for that odd corner?

Where can I put my garden where I have the most space for plants with the least inconvenience to mowing the lawn?

How far is it to that hill over there, and at what angle should I elevate my cannon to hit it?

Or in combinations, like:

What do I need to buy — how much wood, how many nails, etc — to build a shed in the back yard?

When you get an equation handed to you to solve, you are not doing a problem. The problem is already boiled down for you into an equation. Solving the equation is an exercise in applying mathematical rules; there is little creativity and thought required, just memory recall (or learning new rules if you don't already know them). Word problems are what matters about math, unless you are a theoretical mathematician developing new ways of solving equations that will help others solve their problems.

Posted by jeff at 12:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 25, 2006

Shaw's "But" Proves Him an Ass

Russell Shaw, writing at HuffPo (hat tip: Instapundit) has really, really set me off.

I hope and pray we don't get hit again, like we did on September 11. Even one life lost to the violence of terrorism is too much.

If I somehow knew an attack was coming, I wouldn't pause for a second to report it in order to prevent it from occuring.


So far, so good.
But

Oh, no! Here it comes...
on the other hand, I remind myself that without the ultimate sacrifice paid by 400,000 U.S. soldiers in World War II, tyranny could well have an iron grip on the world, and even on this nation.

If the Nazis had prevailed, tens, if not hundreds of millions more would have been killed.
That realization has led my brain to launch a political calculus 180 degrees removed from my pacifist-inclined leanings. An entirely hypothetical yet realpolitik calculus that is ugly, and cold-hearted but must be posited:

This is a type of calculus that Pentagon war games planners and political consultants do all the time- a combination of what-if actions and consequences that are unpleasant to consider but are in the realm of plausibility.


So, basically, as I see it, Shaw has attempted to rhetorically inoculate himself from the further comments of any decent person in two ways. First, Shaw has declared his opposition to deaths from terrorism. Second, Shaw has noted that he's really just playing games in his head, just like "Pentagon war games planners and political consultants do all the time."
What if another terror attack just before this fall's elections could save many thousand-times the lives lost?

I wonder what Shaw would think of this hypothetical: what if a bolt-from-the-blue nuclear strike on every town in Iran and Syria with a population of more than 5000 people could save many thousand times the number of lives lost in the nuclear attack? That is, in fact, not out of the question. Would Shaw then support such an attack? I am guessing not.
I start from the premise that there is already a substantial portion of the electorate that tends to vote GOP because they feel that Bush has "kept us safe," and that the Republicans do a better job combating terrorism.

Actually, as a non-Republican, I tend to vote GOP since 2001 because I believe that President Bush and many (certainly not all) of the Republicans want Americans to be safe, and their hypotheticals, unlike both Shaw and the national Democrats, don't apparently tend to involve theories about how great it would be for their party if only a few thousand more Americans would die.
If an attack occurred just before the elections, I have to think that at least a few of the voters who persist in this "Bush has kept us safe" thinking would realize the fallacy they have been under.

I think Shaw needs to realize that it is his reasoning that is fallacious. No one votes on past performance in the US, so far as I've ever been able to tell. Americans vote on future performance expectations. I suspect most of the voters Shaw is referring to have voted Republican because they've paid attention to the Democrats' alternative, and have decided that the Republicans would keep them safer in the future, not because they feel the Republicans kept them safe since 9/11.
If 5% of the "he's kept us safe" revise their thinking enough to vote Democrat, well, then, the Dems could recapture the House and the Senate and be in a position to:

OK, and now we get into the real meat of Shaw's fever dream. Shaw is uninterested in the Americans who would be killed. Note that the first eight of his nine points are purely about domestic policy. That is, Shaw's concern is with political power, which he wants to be wielded by those of the same mind as himself, rather than about any deaths or suffering that would be required to bring it about. Indeed, Shaw posits those deaths and suffering as a precondition of Democratic rule. And I use the word "rule" instead of "governance" quite deliberately.
Block the next Supreme Court appointment, one which would surely result in the overturning of Roe and the death of hundreds if not thousands of women from abortion-prohibiting states at the hands of back-alley abortionists;

I think that it's rich for a man arguing for the legal murder of millions of children (and even more entities that would become children if not aborted) argues that he's on the side of saving lives.
Be in a position to elevate the party's chances for a regime change in 2008. A regime change that would:

Yes, we've already established both that you want power and that words have no fixed meaning to you. Move along, nothing to see here.
Save hundreds of thousands of American lives by enacting universal health care;

Evidence? Any evidence? My understanding of both the British and Canadian experiences is that the results of "universal" health care are quite the opposite of "[s]av[ing] hundreds of thousands of ... lives". If anything, our health care is too regulated, rather than not regulated enough.
Save untold numbers of lives by pushing for cleaner air standards that would greatly reduce heart and lung diseases;

Evidence? Any evidence? Clean air standards currently are nearly at their maximum in practical terms. Enacting stricter regulation would cause the loss of jobs and prosperity, both of which would in fact imperil more lives than they would save. There may be fiddling at the margins that is possible, but in that case "untold" means "a very few, so we won't tell you how many".
More enthusiastically address the need for mass transit, the greater availability of which would surely cut highway deaths;

Not at all. Mass transit is wonderful where it works, and it likely saves some lives in those places simply by replacing a more dangerous mode of transportation (cars) with a less dangerous mode (trains). Where the meaningful replacement is "buses", however, the difference in accidents is somewhat smaller. In any case, these are not "highway deaths", because inherently mass transit runs in cities, not replacing highways. Something like the TGV would not work in the US, because of the distances involved. Either it only goes city to city where cities are quite close together, in which case in might replace short-haul air and auto transport, or it goes from point to point with no stops in between, forcing those who live in between to not use the trains. Otherwise, there is no way that people would take the trains, because they would be no faster than taking the car, which is generally far more convenient than taking a train. (For example, you don't have to rent a car on the other end of your trip.) Mass transit works in Europe. It works in Chicago, New York, Boston and a few other places in the US. It does not generally work in the US because of the sheer size of the US. But then, we've already established, I think, that Shaw is beyond economic arguments. What is economics to one with TRUTH on his side?
Enact meaningful gun control legislation that would reduce crime and cut fatalities by thousands a year;

From the history of English and Australian gun control efforts, I suspect we'd see the opposite: far more fatalities, and social dissolution as a side effect. Worse still, if the overbearing state Shaw seems to be hoping for comes about, it would leave us defenseless against the government. That may comfort Shaw, but I've read too much history of totalitarian states, and it scares the willies out of me.
Fund stem cell research that could result in cures saving millions of lives;

I don't suppose there's any point in noting that the first administration to provide any federal funding for stem cell research was the Bush administration? I don't suppose there's any point in noting that private stem cell research funding, or state stem cell research funding, are unhindered?
Boost the minimum wage, helping to cut down on poverty which helps spawn violent crime and the deaths that spring from those acts;

Basic law of economics: price is a regulatory mechanism that regulates supply and demand. If you fix the price artificially low and supply remains fixed, demand rises. If you fix the price artificially high and supply remains fixed, demand falls. Raising the minimum wage will encourage more cheating (including more use of illegal immigrant labor), will eliminate many of the entry-level jobs that kids in particular rely on to gain practical work experience, and will in general increase poverty levels, which in turn will increase violent crime and the resulting deaths. Once again Shaw is off on the completely wrong track. Can't let facts get in the way of TRUTH, apparently.
Be less inclined to launch foolish wars, absence of which would save thousands of soldiers' lives- and quite likely moderate the likelihood of further terror acts.

It's ironic that Shaw begins his essay with the notion of fighting the Nazis having prevented further deaths. Had France stood up to Germany in 1936 or 1937, Hitler would have been forced to back down, and WWII may well have been avoided. Yet Shaw seems to miss the point of his own analogy: sometimes wars save more lives than they cost. I suspect Iraq has already passed that threshold, and I am certain Afghanistan has. I suspect that going to war against Iran now would also save many lives later, more than would be lost now. Syria may be the same. North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, likely not. But Shaw also misses a larger point: it was the Clinton administration that turned Somalia into a war mission, instead of an aid mission, and the Clinton administration who launched wars in the Balkans when there was no US interest involved, and little possibility of stopping future violence. It was the Clinton administration that tried to get Israel to "lay back and take it" when under constant terrorist attacks, leading to the recent battles in Lebanon as well as far more terrorism than would have occurred if Israel had not relented on the occupation. It was Carter who let the Soviets invade Afghanistan without a meaningful response, and let the Iranians take American hostages with impunity. Frankly, I don't like our chances in military affairs with the Democrats in charge as a general rule. The party of Scoop Jackson and JFK died a lonely death in the rice paddies of SE Asia, and what's left of their spine is now in the Republican party.
I am not proud of myself for even considering the notion that another terror attack that costs even one American life could ever be considered anything else but evil and hurtful.

Yes you are. Were you not, you would never have published this. It may be a public shame for secret and perverse pleasure, but true shame this is not.
And I know that when I weigh the possibility that such an attack- that might, say, kill 100- would prevent hundreds of thousands of Americans from dying who otherwise would- I am exhibiting a calculating cold heart diametrically opposed to everything I stand for as a human being. A human being, who, just so you know, is opposed to most wars and to capital punishment.

More inoculation against accusations of what Shaw is really saying: he wants Americans to die in order for his preferred political party to gain power. He should be ashamed, but instead he glories in this. As noted by the second "but" of the article:
But in light of the very real potential of the next two American elections to solidify our growing American persona as a warlike, polluter-friendly nation with repressive domestic tendencies and inadequate health care for so many tens of millions, let me ask you this. Even if only from the standpoint of a purely intellectual exercise in alternative future history:

If you knew us getting hit again would launch a chain of transformative, cascading events that would enable a better nation where millions who would have died will live longer, would such a calculus have any moral validity?

Any at all?


First, Shaw sets up a false choice: either you are for Americans dying in large numbers, or you are for making America into "a warlike, polluter-friendly nation with repressive domestic tendencies and inadequate health care for ... tens of millions". Second, Shaw sets out a false premise: "Even if only from the standpoint of a purely intellectual exercise in alternative future history" — when Shaw clearly intends this not to be "a purely intellectual exercise", but rather a blueprint for his hopes, dreams, fantasies. Finally, Shaw dares us all to say that he is, in a moral sense, a monster.

Very well: Mr. Shaw, you are a monster. You are heinous and barbaric and I am ashamed to be from the same country as you. I dearly hope that you are forever frustrated from ever seeing your fantasies for the future of the United States put into practice, and I curse your name and all you stand for.

Posted by jeff at 8:27 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

August 24, 2006

Eppur si Muove

The Pope has sacked the Vatican astronomer, apparently because of his vigorous support of evolution against intelligent design.

(hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

Posted by jeff at 8:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 20, 2006

Wake me When we Get There

I've been looking at NASA's plans to get us back to the Moon, and prospectively on to Mars. A few thoughts:

1. So much for imagination. The Shuttle was imaginative; it was something new. Deeply flawed, as it turned out, because of politically-mandated compromises, but nonetheless new. This plan is, more or less, where we would have been in 1975-1980 if we had kept expanding Apollo and not gotten sidetracked by the Shuttle program.

2. I'm not convinced imagination is all it's cracked up to be. Certainly, for an engineer, it is better to build on what you know works than to start over. In that sense, I applaud NASA for putting aside Shuttle, which was a dead-end road because we could never get the launch rates to where they needed to be. It's a shame we wasted 30 years, but that time is sunk; let's get on with it.

3. But really, all that is fairly irrelevant these days. What NASA produces is plans and budgets and other useful artifacts; useful, that is, from the standpoint of guaranteeing future funding at a slightly declining rate (real terms) while not actually engaging in any risky endeavors. Bureaucracies are not well suited to exploration work. NASA was successful at Apollo because it had all of the characteristics that bureaucracies generally lack: minimal oversight, young average staff age, time-limited mission, clearly-defined and simple to gauge success criteria, driving ambition to reach a goal. I'm sorry, but those are gone now, and they won't be back to NASA any time soon. Or ever, probably.

4. So might it work anyway? Maybe. It's possible that we can get back to 1975 with some success. We might even land a few missions on the Moon. If we are successful, we might (at great cost) even land a few missions on Mars. But here's the thing: we aren't going to stay. And as long as we are going for flags and footprints, that is what we will get. The government is constrained by inclination and by treaty from doing more than that. Worse yet, you can't get elected spending money on the Moon, while the nice gentleman from the state Capitol will be happy to fund you generously if you would just consider a tiny investment in his home district, Senator.

5. So, how do we get into space to stay? Frankly, without government. We will do it with privately-funded ventures, going for self-aggradizement at first, and profit next. We will have companies that form for the sole purpose of going to the Moon and mining it of everything useful that it contains. And they will have competition. And those companies will establish company towns, and those towns will draw in the wretched refuse of humanity, because they won't have a way back (that's reserved for the precious cargo, not the expendable humans) and there's nothing for them to lose here on Earth. And in near-total freedom, they will build what we cannot now even imagine. At least, that's been the history of the West so far, and I see no reason why that should stop now.

Posted by jeff at 10:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 18, 2006

What do you want, a medal?

No further comment

Posted by jeff at 8:35 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Evidence Mounts

I realize that it is fashionable among many to believe that all the problems in the world are the fault of the Bush administration, or the Republicans, or the Americans, depending upon where those people come from and what their political leanings are. But you know, the evidence continues to mount that the Islamists really mean what they say, and that they really are at war against not Bush, or the Republicans, or even just the Americans (and Israelis), but against the entire non-Muslim world. Of course, if one can dismiss all the evidence of Islam's bloody borders and the large numbers and often massive scale of successful terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim jihadis, dismissing a failed bomb plot in Germany — failed because of incompetence, not police or military effort — should be child's play. And since the terrorists were not caught, they can learn from their experiences, and try again, giving the doubters yet another reason to say that there is not a war between the jihadis and the West. Well, unless they are on the wrong train...

Posted by jeff at 4:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2006

What Works is Replicated

The obvious result of rewarding methods of terrorism is that you get more of them. The real question is, will it be Hizb'ullah or the new group that is fighting for the Sheba'a Farms area? (hat tip: Pajamas Media)

Posted by jeff at 8:26 PM | TrackBack

August 16, 2006

Standards of Victory

Watching the political fallout of the war in Lebanon has been somewhat amusing. In particular, I note that the West and the Arabs have different standards for what constitutes a victory.

West

All enemy fighters are out of the field. A certain percentage, perhaps 5% may be killed or wounded. The others must be convinced to lay down their arms peacefully and go home.
No enemy civilians killed or wounded; no enemy infrastructure destroyed unless it is on a clearly marked military base; no civilian services in the enemy country interrupted.
The enemy's population comes to love us unreservedly, admits that we were fully justified, and joins future "peace" movements.

Arabs

We're not all dead.

Posted by jeff at 6:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 15, 2006

Exactly Backwards

Nadim Shehadi, in an editorial in Ha'aretz (hat tip: Pajamas Media), is completely off-base:

What is the logic that will emerge from this war? If Israel can exist only by destroying the neighborhood, then it's time to declare it a failed state. The Zionist dream has turned into a nightmare and is not viable. If the future holds more of the same, then the time has come to reconsider the whole project. Every state has a duty to defend its citizens, but also it has a duty to provide them with security and the two are different. The prospects are for more destruction, fanaticism, violence and hatred. No unilateral separation can isolate Israel from this, nor can the region or the world live with the consequences. This seems to be the only choice, and Israel must do itself and others a favor and go away.

This is yet another example of twisting terms out of all meaning for political ends. The term "failed state" specifically is used to refer to a state (that is, the government of a country) which is unable to govern its nation (that is, the people and territory). This is clearly not the case with Israel. Indeed, if this were the standard to be applied, that conflict with neighbors invalidates a state, then almost every state must have been a failed state for most of its existence. That clearly makes no sense.

No, it is the rest of the paragraph that sets out Shehadi's true political agenda: Israel's only legitimate option, per Shehadi, is to cease to exist. Again, he turns language on its head: "Every state has a duty to defend its citizens, but also it has a duty to provide them with security and the two are different." And so, of course, per Shehadi, any state that has enemies determined to kill it has already failed — indeed cannot but fail, as any conflict invalidates the state. Having enemies is in and of itself, Shehadi implies, sufficient to make a state "failed", unless that state can unilaterally solve the problem of its enemies (without, apparently, fighting them, as that would clearly involve "more destruction, fanaticism, violence and hatred"). Of course, Shehadi only applies this standard to Israel, and ignores the obviously failed state (in real terms) of Lebanon, the pseudo-states of Hizb'allah and Palestine which have also obviously failed, and much of Africa and southern Asia. Indeed, Shehadi describes Lebanon as "resiliant". No, it is only Israel who must disband because of her enemies. Asking the Jews to politely lay down their arms and accept slaughter, slavery or another millennia of stateless wandering strikes me as somewhat unrealistic, as well as morally abominable.

How this is "do[ing] itself ... a favor" is unclear to me, and I suspect to most Israelis. The editorial continues to go downhill from there, such as by admitting that there was deliberate targeting of civilians, but that it was by Israel. On the matter of Hizb'allah, Hamas and so on targeting civilians deliberately, and on their hiding among civilians in order to ensure civilian casualties should Israel respond to the terrorists' increasingly violent attacks, Shehadi is silent. Near the end, Shehadi delivers his verdict: "If the fundamental moral logic is flawed, then it is time to give up, pack up and go."

He's right, of course, about the consequences of flawed moral logic. He's just utterly, irredeemably wrong about morality and logic. It is not Israel, but Israel's enemies, that should knock it off. And that includes, apparently, Shehadi.

Posted by jeff at 5:46 PM | TrackBack

August 14, 2006

I Think I'm in Love

I like airplanes. A lot. I took pilot training, but never quite got the private pilot's cert (something about feeding children). But I'm in love.

Posted by jeff at 10:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 12, 2006

No Such Luck

Tigerhawk asks what it would take to militarize the West. No such luck, I think, and here is why:

There are only three conceivable military acts the jihadis and their supporters could take that would spark war beyond where we are now: invasion of another country, another attack on the scale of 9/11 or greater, or a nuclear/biological/chemical attack on a Western city. Anything short of these would not be considered sufficient to react to other than as we are now, or as a police matter, in the Western public opinion.

Now, invasion of another country wouldn't be seen as a reason to militarize. Israel and India and Turkey, the pro-Western countries actually threatened by Iran or Syria or Pakistan, are all capable of defending themselves. Wars in Russia — how would they differ from Chechnya? Wars in Lebanon or other Arab countries — how would they differ from the war ending now in Lebanon? Invasion or Iraq or Afghanistan would get our ire up, but let's face it, there are no conceivable conventional military scenarios in either country that couldn't be handled by our military as it now is.

An attack on the scale of 9/11 or greater might provide further impetus to the West to fight as it has been; or it might induce the will to surrender amongst a large percentage of the Western public. Unless it was obvious that the only way to root out such an attack were to heavily militarize and attack multiple Arab/Muslim countries simultaneously (that is, unless there were a large number of these attacks in very close proximity in time), I don't see how that changes the current assumptions. If anything, it should just harden current positions.

A WMD attack on a Western city would also not lead to militarization; it would lead to genocide. Having not taken the war seriously in its breadth (including the multiple lines of domestic political attack against operations in Iraq), we would have no other options than to use nuclear weapons against our attacker, if we could figure out whom our attacker was. If we could not, would we hesitate to respond at all, or would we use nuclear weapons against the various terror-supporting states in a spasm of fear and hate? I suspect the latter.

Frankly, absent a large series of large terror attacks, or a dynamic leader on the lines of Reagan or Thatcher, I simply do see militarization as a likely route in the West. I think, instead, we will muddle along until genocide (ours or theirs) is unavoidable.

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Antidote to Politics

Thanks, Fran: Cute Overload

Posted by jeff at 9:19 AM | TrackBack

August 11, 2006

Flypaper

Soon after 9/11, I came to the conclusion that there were three simultaneous conflicts driving world events. The obvious conflict is between the jihadis and the West. Less obvious was the conflict for control of the West, being argued mostly peacefully (since the end of the Soviet Union and their sponsorship of Leftist terrorist groups) between the statists and the individualists. Even less obvious to Western eyes was the Muslim civil war, which at the time looked to be between jihadis and Pan-Arab nationalists.

Well, the Muslim conflict has decisively altered: the Pan-Arab nationalists have lost. The Palestinians have gone over to Islamism; the Syrians have become little more than Iranian sock-puppets; the Egyptians and Libyans have abandoned Pan-Arabism for simple dictatorship; and the Jordanians seem to be Westernizing as an eventual constitutional monarchy. The battle within Muslim countries now seems to be whether fundamental Sunni jihadis like al Qaeda or fundamental Shi'a jihadis like Hizb'allah will lead the Muslim world. However, the outcome is still the same: each group is fighting against the West to score points with uncommitted Muslims, because Muslims killing Muslims is not seen as a good thing by uncommitted Muslims.

McQ and QandO makes the point that Hizb'allah has gained the upper hand in this struggle, and I think McQ is correct. Hizb'allah is after all killing Jews, and al Qaeda is largely hiding in caves, dying in Iraq, or being penetrated and taken apart in Britain and Europe generally. This gives Hizb'allah major mojo among Islamists, because to them it looks like Hizb'allah is making progress. The strong horse, as it were.

But this has another implication as well. If al Qaeda's role was diminished by a combination of removing their unfettered sanctuary in Afghanistan (despite the failure to subdue Waziristan in the Pakistani tribal areas) combined with al Qaeda's mistakes in Iraq (fighting against the US military directly, combined with killing a lot of uninvolved Muslim civilians), this means that we are winning against the Sunni brand of jihad. It also suggests a path to winning against the Shi'a brand of jihad: first, remove any sanctuaries; second, provide a battlefield where the enemy must fight and cannot win.

So here's my take: to defeat the Shi'a jihadis, we will likely have to take down Iranian and Syrian governments, and one of those two countries (my guess would be Syria) will have to be done in such a way as to ensure that the Shi'a see it as fight here or die.

Now for the bad news: we simply do not have the forces to do this without a massive mobilization of the National Guard and Reserves, or a sustained build-up of forces to the level we had at the end of the Cold War, and we don't have the public will to do either right now. Almost worse, the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq that have been so successful in marginalizing al Qaeda are constantly propagandized by the Left as failures, to the point that most Americans and Europeans seem to take that view as a given (see the note about the struggle between statists and individualists for control of the West). This makes it unlikely that, absent another massive terror attack on the US, we will recover our public will any time soon, and that should we do so, we will have learned the lessons of what can and should be done. I think that is much of what is behind Bill Quick's rant (hat tip: Instapundit) in which he says, among other things:

The first administration of the first century of the American Third Millennium will, in my estimation, be remembered as one of the biggest failures of that century. Bush's great failure was, not invading Iraq, but not weathering the adversity that followed through acts of real leadership, and then pressing on with the necessary military destruction of the other regimes he, himself, named as most dangerous five years ago.

I've been feeling pretty depressed about our mid-term prospects lately. While Bill Quick's hope of a "fast war" would have been possible after 9/11, even as late as early 2003, I don't believe that it is possible now, without greater changes than a single election can bring. We're winning now tactically, and I believe we'll win in the end strategically, but I think we are going to have to go through some very painful episodes before we actually begin as a nation to focus on "victory" instead of "peace" as the marker for when the war is over.

Posted by jeff at 6:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Essay Worth Reading on Muslims in Britain

Eteraz has an essay worth reading on his blog. (hat tip: The Glittering Eye) In it, he addresses the reasons as he perceives them for the radicalization of (some? many?) Muslims in Britain.

One thing that he addresses is the Romanticism of the nihilist imams that are radicalizing the young Muslim men. Yet more evidence for my contention that the most evil philosophy ever promulgated was Rousseau's version of the Enlightenment. (It has been the root for Marxism, Communism, Fascism, Naziism and apparently has featured heavily in Islamism.) The core point of Rousseau is that man can be perfected, if we just come up with the right system, and get rid of the unperfectable ones. It is a philosophy that is a recipe for mass murder, and has resulted in mass murder several times. When will we get a countervailing philosophy that effectively argues against Romanticism in all its variants?

Posted by jeff at 5:43 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 10, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Bush certainly seems to have hit the sweet spot -- prosecuting the war vigorously enough to anger the antiwar left, but not vigorously enough to please the prowar right." — Glenn Reynolds

That's about the size of it. At this point, we are in very near danger of losing the ability to defeat the enemy conventionally absent another successful enemy attack on the scale of 9/11 or worse. We have not built up the force structure or public will to fight a fast war, and we have been losing the propaganda and proxy battles so one-sidedly that our victory in Iraq is in danger of being rendered meaningless: even if we establish a successful democracy in Iraq, and even if (unlikely) it becomes a liberal democracy, it may still be taken as a reason not to democratize by the regimes in the region. So our options are narrowing dramatically, right about the time that Iran is reaching the critical points on its nuclear weapons development programs.

I think President Bush's strategy, as I understand it, was the right strategy to adopt, far better than either an outright fast war (invasion of all of our enemies, at once or in sequence, with possibly millions of dead enemy and tens of thousands of dead Americans) or doing nothing more than the minimum against the enemy (Afghanistan). If the President and the Iraqis succeed at making Iraq an example of the good that an Arab democracy could do, there is a chance that democratic revolutions could sweep through the Arab/Muslim world, and moderate Islam could neuter Islamism. If it works, this is probably the optimal result.

However, there is a very good chance that the President's strategy will fail; it has always been a high-risk strategy. If we fail to make Iraq a state that other Arabs/Muslims want to emulate, or if we fail to remain engaged against groups like al Qaeda and Hizb'allah everywhere in the world, there will be no real pressure on Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia to change their methods. In that case, we must either invade Iran and occupy it, removing its government and establishing a new one as we did in Iraq, or we must destroy the governments of Iran and Syria, and leave their people to clean up afterwards. We do not have enough unengaged forces for either of these strategies. That means that we are purely defensive: we have ceded the initiative to the enemy and must await his move before we can alter our posture. It should be fairly clear that that is no way to win a war.

I feel that it is likely that the President's strategy will fail, clearly, within the next 18 months. If so, I really, really hope that the President, and his successor, have a backup plan. Right now, the majority of the Democrats seem to have a plan: ensure that the President's strategy fails, and hope everything turns out well after that. The enemy seems to have a plan: keep fighting proxy wars and planning big terrorist strikes. Both of these strategies are bad for America and the West. I'd like to see evidence that there is an intent to fight the war more aggressively, should Iraq fail, but I've yet to see any such evidence.

Posted by jeff at 9:03 PM | TrackBack

Bad Timing, I Think

I wonder if the netroots folks think it was a good idea to oust one of the few Democrat office holders who was serious about the war against the jihadis the day before a major jihadi terrorism plot was foiled, apparently (from what we now know) with only a few days to go before execution. Actually, I'm sure they are fine with the outcome: the netroots movement is not about gaining power, or it would be inclusive instead of taqfiri. Instead, the netroots seeks to force their principles to the fore, to recenter the debate far to the left of where it has been since 1980 or so, and that requires both the excommunication of heretics and the spinning of every event into their political frame, regardless of whether it fits or not. So in the end, this bombing plot will be about Iraq (regardless of the echos to Operation Bojinka, which was foiled while Clinton was President) and Bush (regardless of its occurring in Britain) and will show how fighting terrorism is bad, though the netroots will present no options other than those that failed to prevent 9/11, the embassy bombings, the Cole attack and so on. In that case, maybe the timing is not so bad for the netroots after all.

For the Democrats, though, it's an unmitigated disaster.

Posted by jeff at 5:36 PM | TrackBack

August 9, 2006

156?! That's Arbitrarily Terrifying!

Jon Stewart has a laugh out loud funny bit.

Posted by jeff at 9:55 PM | TrackBack

Israel's Grand-Strategic Dilemma

Israel has been put into a quandary of vast proportions, and most of its ways out have been foreclosed. When your strategic goal is to live in peace, as I believe is Israel's goal, and your enemies' strategic goal is for you to die, your options are to convince your enemy to abandon their goal, to make it impossible for your enemy to carry out their goal, to destroy the enemy, or to abandon your own goal.

Israel's initial strategy was to prevent Israel's enemy from following through on their goal of the destruction of Israel, by handing the enemy several military defeats of stunning magnitude. In 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, Israel showed that Arab armies would not conquer Israel under any combination of circumstances. This finally led to Israel convincing both Egypt and Jordan to abandon their goal of destroying Israel. Israel discovered that, perhaps, under some circumstances, they could induce their enemies to abandon their goals.

Israel's earlier victories had two unfortunate outcomes for the long term: Israel had adopted a land-for-peace strategy after 1979, and Israel had taken charge of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, and the populations thereof. The first convinced the less sane of Israel's Arab enemies that they could get concessions from Israel until Israel succumbed, and the second convinced the Israelis that defense could be more trouble than it was worth. While laudable, land-for-peace failed. And the tar baby of the occupation reduced Israel's options dramatically, especially after Israel made a pair of strategic blunders.

In an attempt to pacify and abandon the occupied territories, Israel invited Arafat to take over territories under Israeli occupation. During the floundering peace process that followed this move, Israel abandoned their buffer zone in Lebanon. Those two blunders, which were really just attempts to get the Palestinians and Hizb'allah to abandon their goals, failed utterly, and came to their logical culmination when first the Palestinians, then the Hizb'allah, crossed into Israel from territory previously under Israeli control, but abandoned in the hope of peace, to kidnap and kill Israeli soldiers.

So Israel's options now are very, very limited: they cannot logically seek peace with the Palestinians and Hizb'allah; both have sworn to destroy Israel or die in the attempt, and have done everything in their power to follow through. Nor can Israel simply try to ignore the Palestinians and Hizb'allah: the kidnappings and rockets make that quite clear. So what can Israel do?

As I see it, Israel only has three options: ethnic cleansing, genocide, or a vastly risky war against Iran and Syria. Israel will morally (and correctly) shy away from genocide; the Israelis are not monsters, and know the meaning of genocide more than most. Israel could try ethnic cleansing, evicting the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and taking southern Lebanon and evicting everyone from there. But even were Israelis not to settle those areas, modern rockets have sufficient range that such a strategy is impractical: Israel would have to continually expand their buffer zone, and Israel cannot reasonably defend such a large area as would be needed to guarantee their safety. This only leaves, in practical terms, a very risky option: war against Iran and Syria.

In real terms, Iran and Syria are the only true enemies that still have power to hurt Israel. By working through proxies (the Palestinians and Hizb'allah), these two countries are pursuing a strategy of bleeding Israel, while simultaneously demonizing Israel for daring to respond, which inevitably (and by the design of the terror groups) results in some civilian casualties. For Syria and Iran, this is a low-risk strategy. Basically, Syria and Iran are banking on Israel's, and the West's, moral sense to keep Israel from defeating them. They may have overplayed their hand, though.

If Israel were to strike Syria, Syria would be defeated in short order. This would make it very difficult for Hizb'allah and the Palestinians to continue to operate, and Iran's logistics would become much more difficult. But Iran would still be able to get supplies through, and if Syria were allowed to recover, it too would eventually be able to resume proxy operations against Israel. While Israel could keep Syria down by force, it cannot do so to Iran, because Iran is too far away for sustained Israeli force projection.

And this leads to Israel's only option against Iran: nuclear genocide.

For Israelis, there is no strategic solution that is a permanent win, except to abandon morality for survival. Absent an American take-down of the Iranian regime, Israelis are in for years more war, and many more threats to their existence, no matter what they do in the short term.

Posted by jeff at 6:56 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Let me Get This Straight

So, in Massachusetts, the legislature denied state college tuition breaks to veterens from Massachusetts returning from the war, but extended state college tuition breaks to illegal aliens? If any further evidence were needed of the truly fucked-up state of American politics, particularly on the Left, there it is right out in the open. Shame, shame on the Massachusetts legislature.

(hat tip: The Jawa Report)

Posted by jeff at 6:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What Lieberman's Defeat Means

QandO and The Glittering Eye both have interesting posts on the meaning of Lieberman's primary loss to Ned Lamont. They are well-considered and worth reading. My take is somewhat different, though.

What interests me is that there could be a party realignment like that which destroyed the Whigs. While the political system in the US only supports two parties over the long term, and mandates that those parties, or at least any party capable of winning elections, must be a coalition of interests, there is no mandate that the parties remain the same over time. The Whigs exploded, and the Bull Moose movement could have (but did not) done the same thing to the Democrats in the early 20th century.

What it takes for a new party to rise to prominance are a significant number of voters not in either party coalition, prominent leaders who will bring their following into the new party, and a committed base of support for fundraising. At least two of those conditions currently exist, or may exist in the near future.

Currently, the Republicans represent those who are conservative on social policy, statist on economic policy, and aggressive on fighting the war (in broader terms, the Republicans don't have a coherent position on intervention generally, though President Bush has generally seemed to be minimalist in that sense). Currently, the Democrats represent those who are progressive on social policy, progressive on economic policy, and broadly against aggressive pursuit of the war (though ironically interventionist in every other way). Crime policy is not really much of a debate in the US any longer, so I've left it out of consideration. The broad swathe that is unrepresented are those who are generally liberal or libertarian on social policy, libertarian on economic policy, and committed to aggressively fighting the war (with a broad range of opinion on other interventions). So there is certainly an untapped consitutency. (I should note that if a party arises to meet this need, there is no guarantee that the whole agenda of such a constituency would be embraced, or even that any of it would. It is enough that there are a large number of voters willing to take the chance.)

If Lieberman loses in the general election, and McCain loses the Republican presidential primary race in 2008, they would have a powerful incentive to form a third party, for their own self-aggrandizement if nothing else. (Dave notes this in regard to Lieberman and his likely independant run for Senate.) Each has a following, and much of that following would transfer to the new party. In addition, as noted above, a significant number of voters could be swayed just to take the chance of getting something better. (The normal argument against third parties, that they are incapable of winning office, would certainly be less plausible with two such prominent politicians heading the party. If Hillary Clinton loses the Democratic presidential primary in 2008, she could potentially find common cause here as well, and that would further boost the party's credibility.) The unknown will be whether a large enough base comes along to make the party competitive.

In other words, what Lieberman's defeat could mean, provided other events fall out in not-unlikely ways, is that in three years we'll have a real third party to challenge the existing political order.

So let's say that a third party along these lines is formed, and has a general policy position of liberal socially, statist economically, and interventionist abroad, which would somewhat match the preferences of McCain and Lieberman so far as I can tell. What would happen then? There are two likely paths. The most likely is that the party will for all practical purposes disappear within two presidential election cycles. But it is possible that the party would do well enough to become kingmakers. If such a party were able to gain regional votes in both the northeast and southwest, it could prevent a first-ballot election of a president by the electoral college. That would in turn position the new third party (assuming they had the fewest electors) as kingmakers: they could promise their electors' votes in exchange for concessions in terms of cabinet positions (maybe even VP) and the like, concessions that would increase their odds of winning in the next general election.

If that were to happen, there would be a general realignment, and one of the three parties would be destroyed in the shuffle. I cannot do more than guess at what the alignments would be afterwards, though I suspect that the central dividing issues would not be economic, but social and national security issues. I suspect too that the extreme Left and extreme Right would end up in one party, with the two remaining parties being broadly centrist, both committed to aggressive conduct of the war, and differing on social issues. In other words, I suspect that we'd spin off the extremists and be back, more or less, to the political alignments of the early 1960s.

Posted by jeff at 6:00 PM | TrackBack

Taqfiri

Perhaps the reason that the Michael Moore/Markos Moulitsas wing of the Democratic Party is so uncomfortable with opposing the Islamists is that they recognize the similarities of approach, such as the practice of taqfir, the ostracism of the insufficiently pure. This is not meant as an equation of morality; for all their poor judgements and moral failures, neither Moore nor Moulitsas are murderers. But they are fanatics, and from a distance, most fanatics resemble each other. Maybe the real problem with Moore's and Moulitsas' approach to the enemy is that they've been too busy focusing on nearby Republicans to see that they (Moore and Moulitsas) have more in common with the Republicans than with the jihadis in the distance.

Posted by jeff at 5:25 PM | TrackBack

August 8, 2006

Levels of Organizational Power as Applied to the Israel/Hizb'allah Conflict

I just wanted to point out this insightful post by Dan at tdaxp. I missed it while I was out of town. Dan looks at the levels on which both Israel and Hizb'allah functions, and applies the power difference to strategy, demolishing in terms of Core/Gap theory many of the arguments commonly used against Israel lately. It's a really interesting read, and I'll have to think about this before I respond.

Posted by jeff at 10:44 PM | TrackBack

Conspiracy Theory

There has been a great deal of both smoke and fire lately about Reuters' use (and subsequent laudable retraction) of doctored photographs of fighting in Lebanon taken by Adnan Hajj, and of the possibility of much of the Qana photography (including photographs by Hajj) as probably being staged. I haven't really written about this much, other than to comment on others' blogs, but such lapses are of critical importance. The public's judgement is informed only to the extent that personal experience of the world or the testimony of others informs it. Since our personal ability to be wherever news is breaking is quite limited, and our capacity to directly connect to those who might be where news is breaking is also quite limited, the majority of the information we get about the world comes from the news media, either by watching/reading the news, or by talking to people who have. Indeed, in many cases, the news media barely reports the factual basis of the news at all these days, instead simply having on pundits who analyze the facts, complete with judging which facts are important and to what degree, for us and present us their digested and (theoretically) considered view of what those facts mean.

This is a dangerous situation for a free people, because we often think that we are being informed when we are actually being manipulated. Consider the infamous case of NBC's faked reporting on the "danger" of pickup trucks with side-mounted fuel tanks. This could easily have led to government-mandated safety standards which could have increased costs and decreased safety, because judgements would have been skewed by bad information. But this is only an example of news media being caught faking the news: how many times have they not been caught on issues where public policy was at stake? Or consider "Rathergate"; in an earlier age, without the blogs' fact-checking of the media, this kind of faked news could have changed the results of a presidential election, which no one can reasonably dismiss as small stakes. With that dynamic in mind, it is clear that faked news about the war in Lebanon could easily lead the public, because of its bad information, to pressure the government to make bad decisions about foreign policy. That is, in fact, almost certainly the goal of Hizb'allah.

After all, it's not as if Islamist groups have not been staging news for years. Staging news to create wrong impressions is the very basis of effective Islamist terrorism: create an outrage, manipulate public opinion, force the enemy (us) to retreat or withdraw from shame or fear, repeat. The goal is, eventually, to so weaken the West and Israel that we stop resisting the Islamists, at which point they can take over and establish the Caliphate (Muslim theocracy) and subject infidels (that's us again) to conversion, slavery or death. If this seems extreme, it is. But it's not me being extreme; it is the Islamists. Don't take my word for it: read their thoughts on the topic. (Hat tip and analysis: FrontPage Mag)

So Shane Richmond can make of The Telegraph insinuations or outright allegations of blogs succumbing to conspiracy theories akin to "the moon landing was fake" and "Bill Clinton was profiting from drug running, and had someone killed at the Mena airport to cover it up" or "the US government destroyed the World Trade Center on 9/11" (and sometimes, it does look that way), but that is missing the point. The whole basis of ridicule of such outlandish conspiracy theories is that they are so ludicrous: they rely on a massive cover-up by thousands of people, sometimes over decades, which only the intrepid conspiracy theorist has been able to unravel, due to the slight difference in shading in the bottom left corner of frame 184 of this film. No, really! Look closely! But conspiracy theories are not equally subject to ridicule when there really is a long-running, well-documented conspiracy afoot. And in this case, there is.

I do not believe the media is intentionally co-operating with terrorists. Amend that, I do not believe that most of the media is intentionally co-operating with terrorists. But I do believe that the terrorists have crafted a public relations campaign aimed at defanging Western resistance to the Islamist project to reestablish the Caliphate around the world; that that campaign is aimed at the needs, preferences and biases of Western media; and that Western media has, by and large, been unable or unwilling to see that they are being manipulated.

Posted by jeff at 8:39 AM | TrackBack

August 6, 2006

A Few Moral Questions

Let's say that a young person, Smith, were to get involved in gangs, and were to convince nine friends and acquaintances to agree to a scheme to defraud insurance companies. Let's say, further, that a tenth person didn't actually decide to go along, but was a room mate of one of the ten who did, and got caught up semi-unknowingly in the fraudulent scheme (that is, he knew that his room mate was a gang banger, and was involved in a insurance fraud, but did not do anything to stop it; however, he was not part of the origin of the scheme, nor did he benefit from it). Since this person is important to the questions, let's call him Jones. Let's further stipulate that Jones did not get involved to stop the scheme because he really needed a place to stay, and had no other options, and his room mate would have killed Jones if Jones had made any effective protest of the room mate's actions.

For one minor, fun addition, let us also suppose that Smith hates Jones' neighbor across the hall with all of his being, in part for thwarting some of Smith's previous schemes, and in part because the neighbor across the hall, Davis, is black, and Smith is a white supremacist who openly hates black people even when they weren't involved in thwarting his insurance scams. In fact, if Smith weren't a minor, he certainly would have done hard jail time. Worse still, though, there were some property disputes in the past between Smith and Davis, which resulted in fist fights and lawsuits, and while Davis eventually ceded the property to Smith, Davis was angry enough over the dispute that he (Davis) spent a great deal of time trying to figure out Smith's schemes and thwart them.

Now let's say that, after several different frauds, in which Smith profited handsomely, and Smith's nine acquaintances made tangible gains, that Smith, unbeknownst to his acquaintances, bought life insurance on them. Then let's say that Smith got all of the acquaintances together at Jones' apartment, and started throwing Molotov cocktails (incendiary devices) into the open door of the apartment across the hall (which Smith smashed down on the way in), in order to kill Davis. Now this is win-win for Smith, because he might kill Davis, and if he burns down the building and kills his (Smith's) acquaintances, he gets their insurance money as well. In fact, even if Davis escapes, Smith would still get the life insurance payoff on any of his acquaintances who were killed.

Now, as this is happening, let's say that Davis, instead of just trying to put out the fire in his apartment, first steps across the hall and shoots at Smith with a handgun he keeps. Now for the moral questions:

1. Has Smith done anything wrong? Have the acquaintances done anything wrong? Has Davis done anything wrong? Has Jones done anything wrong?
2. If Davis manages to kill Smith, without hurting anyone else, has Davis done wrong?
3. If Davis kills one of Smith's acquaintances, but misses Smith, has Davis done wrong?
4. If Davis kills one or more of Smith's acquaintances, wounds several others, but misses Smith, has Davis done wrong?
5. If Davis kills or wounds one or more of Smith's acquaintances, and wounds Smith, has Davis done wrong?
6. If Davis kills or wounds one or more of Smith's acquaintances, and kills Smith, has Davis done wrong?
7. Do the answers to any of these questions change is Jones, the semi-innocent room mate, is killed or injured?
8. Does the answer to any of the above questions change if Smith does not succeed in hurting any of Davis' family prior to Davis starting shooting?

Now, there is a ninth question, but it's important to write down the answers to the first eight before you answer the last question, so do that now.

OK, done?

Now, go back through the above questions and make these substitutions:

For Smith, substitute Hizb'allah.
For the acquaintances, substitute the Lebanese who support Hizb'allah.
For Jones, substitute the Lebanese who do not support Hizb'allah.
For Davis, substitute Israel.

9. If you answer the questions now, with the above substitutions, do your answers change? If so, why?

Posted by jeff at 11:17 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 3, 2006

The Possibility of Peace; The Possibility of Unending War

The Middle East is convulsing, with pressure applied by the US and coalition on the one hand, democratizing (though not liberalizing, which is likely a mistake) Afghanistan and particularly Iraq, and Iran on the other hand, both stirring the pot in Iraq and using its Hizb'allah proxy to attack Israel. These convulsions are large enough that the Middle East will not return to its former shape afterwards. The question remains open, whether the region will change to a more or less peaceful area, in the mold of, say, South America, or instead will change into a region dominated by Iran, exporting jihadis throughout the world from a restored Caliphate.

For a long time, the idea of Middle East peace was tied to Israel, and resolving its problems with its neighbors. And for a long time, no one had a reasonable plan for peace, because Israel's minimum condition is unthreatened existence and its enemies' minimum condition was Israel's elimination as a state, and the slaughter of the Israeli people. But the land-for-peace formula emerged, under which the Israelis would trade captured territory in exchange for peaceful relations, and the US would foster such agreements with bales of cash. This was first tried out in 1979, with the treaty between Egypt and Israel, under which Israel gave back the Sinai (not the Gaza strip, though: Egypt wouldn't take it) in exchange for Egypt not deploying its army into the Sinai. To help this out, the US gave bundles of cash to Israel and Egypt, and stationed troops along the border, inside the Sinai, to keep the armies apart. The stunning thing is that this actually worked, and Israel and Egypt have not fought directly, by proxy, or even by exchanging artillery fire since the agreement. This may have been the one and only true foreign policy success of the Carter administration.

And suddenly, when land-for-peace worked, it became the accepted formula for peace, except perhaps in Israel, where it was only tentatively accepted. But then something happened: Israel's occupation of Lebanon, and Hizb'allah's long war against Israel, was resulting in a constant trickle of Israeli soldiers dying. This was coincident with a maturing Israeli society, which had seen no realistic threats from its main enemies for more than a decade, and had no threat on the horizon, either. Left-wing Israeli peace groups like the "Four Mothers" and Peace Now actually succeeded in convincing Israelis that the occupation of Lebanon was morally wrong, and that land-for-peace would work for Israel. Israel pulled out of Lebanon, and for six or seven years, had relative quiet on the northern border.

While no agreement could be reached with Syria, it looked for some time like a solution could be found for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Until Arafat renounced not only Israel's best possible offer — essentially everything Arafat wanted except the "right of return" — but in the process started a terrorist campaign against Israel from within the occupied territories. That was, really, such a heavy blow to the idea of negotiating land-for-peace that the land-for-peace formula seemed unlikely to recover. But Ariel Sharon, a hardheaded warrior and Israeli hero, came up with a new idea: if Israel could not negotiate land-for-peace, and could not bring itself to slaughter the Palestinians, perhaps it would work if Israel simply disengaged. That is, Sharon built walls and fences along the border with the Gaza strip, and began doing the same with the West Bank. Israel dismantled the Israeli settlements in Gaza, and withdrew from the area, leaving it entirely in Palestinian hands.

And then came the second body blow to land-for-peace: the Palestinians converted Gaza into a full-scale base for terror and rocket attacks against Israel, utterly rejecting any efforts to improve their economic or political situation and essentially declaring that to the extent Gaza was a Palestinian nation, it was a nation at perpetual war with Israel.

But it was the one-two punch of first Hamas, then Hizb'allah, crossing the border into Israel and killing/capturing Israeli soldiers that has destroyed the land-for-peace formula, probably forever. It is absolutely clear that the Palestinians and Hizb'allah will not rest until they or Israel are destroyed utterly. It is likely that Syria will continue to foment action by Hamas and Hizb'allah until they are held accountable, likely by the destruction of their military (again) and their economy (again) by an outside attack. While Israel may have a cold peace with Egypt and Jordan, and might be able to get the same with Lebanon if Hizb'allah is destroyed, there is simply no point in giving up land, particularly strategic land like the Shebaa farms (a part of the Golan Heights) in exchange for empty promises and agreements that will never be implemented on the Arab side.

How far gone is the idea? Far enough that members of the Four Mothers agree it doesn't work. (Hat tip: Wretchard) Far enough that the defense minister prosecuting the war against Hizb'allah and Hamas, a former leader of Peace Now, is finally turning up the level of violence and realizing that this is an existential struggle for Israel. Far enough that Ehud Olmert is backing off, at least for now and under strong public pressure, on unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

So now what are the possibilities of obtaining peace in the Middle East? The only alternatives to obtain peace are the destruction of Israel, or the destruction of the Islamists. The main obstacle in the way of destroying Israel is that Israel is powerful enough that it cannot be destroyed by its enemies, absent their acquisition of nuclear weapons or Israel's acceptance of a Muslim majority with full citizenship. Israel would use its own nuclear weapons to prevent their enemies from obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel will never grant the "right of return" and attendant demograhic suicide. So the obvious logical conclusion is that Israel is not going to be destroyed.

But how to destroy the jihadis? The first thing that must be recognized is that the jihadis are really just one manifestation of a broader ideology: Islamism. Essentially, Islamism is the ideology of restoration of the Caliphate (Muslim equivalent of the Holy Roman Empire) by creating a single Muslim empire, and then the expansion of that empire to cover the whole world, with the emphasis on killing or converting non-Muslims, and imposing Sharia law universally. The jihadis are the "fast war" expression of Islamism: essentially this is a continuation of the violent conquest techniques pioneered by Mohammed, and long neglected by Muslims, who after being thrown back in Europe, and stopped Asia and Africa, resorted to petty barbarism, piracy and the like instead. The jihadis are out to conquer their enemies (moderate or somewhat-secular Muslims, Jews, atheists, Christians, Pagans, and, well, everyone but the Islamists really) by force of arms. The "slow war" version consists of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and a lot of the European and American groups (like CAIR, for example, or the Muslim Association of Britain). These groups have decided that creating a unified mindset among Muslims (by intimidation and terrorism, generally), and taking control of new areas by immigration and constant demands for more and more rights for themselves, and more and more restrictions for others, would be a more sure and less resisted route to establishing global Islamic hegemony. The Islamists have the same goals as the jihadis and no objection to the jihadis' methods; they simply believe there is a less risky way to obtain those goals. This is critical because the threat will not be ended until the Islamist ideology is ended; simply killing the terrorists is insufficient, because the Islamist groups will create new jihadis wherever and whenever they are useful.

The key to the jihadi groups is that they cannot be successful without the sponsorship of states. Afghanistan and Iraq were both sponsors of jihadis, and we have removed those countries' sponsorship of the jihadis. But they were not the only sponsors of jihadis; there are three others. Iran is probably the biggest sponsor of jihadi groups, giving training, equipment, money, cover and sanctuary to many jihadi groups. The combination of Iran's quest for nuclear weapons and its support of the jihadis is the largest obstacle to peace at present, and the largest threat to the other nations of the world (including the Russians, who for some reason won't stop arming people who are sworn to destroy them).

Syria and Pakistan are both sponsors of jihadi groups as well, but in a more specialized way than Iran. Syria sponsors Hamas and Hizb'allah, among others, who are specifically dedicated (for now) to attacking Israel. Pakistan, similarly, sponsors groups largely dedicated (for now) to attacking India. In addition, Pakistan gives sanctuary to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and parts of the Pakistani government almost certainly directly aid those groups.

In the short term, ending the jihadi threat will require destroying the government of Iran and preventing another Islamist government from taking their place. If this can be done prior to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, simply bringing down the government and making a peace with conditions about the type of government that Iran can have should be sufficient. "Simply" sounds like the wrong word until you consider what happens if we wait for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. In that case, either the US will have to invade and occupy Iran, which is a very much tougher problem than Iraq, or the US or Israel will have to destroy Iran. Israel would have to use nuclear weapons to do this. The US might have to do so, although the US has the option to use conventional bombing and limited invasions (of Khuzistan and the area around the Straits of Hormuz) as long as Iran doesn't have any nuclear weapons actually in its posession. (Once Iran obtains nuclear weapons, they would use them to defend against any US attack, and that would lead to an overwhelming nuclear response by the US.)

It might be necessary, in order to end the immediate threat, to destroy the government of Syria, and to pressure Pakistan into allowing the US to operate with impunity in the provinces bordering Afghanistan, or to actually take on and defeat the jihadis inside of Pakistan. If Iran were taken out, it is possible that the Syrians would seek a Libyan solution: surrender in exchange for integration and aid. Similarly, absent Iran, Pakistan might be more inclined to take on their internal jihadis, whose resources would be much diminished by the overthrow of the Ayatollahs.

Over the long term, the problem is largely Saudi funding of Islamist groups, mosques and madrassas outside of Saudi Arabia. To end this longer-term threat, though, there are three methods that can be applied short of war, and because of this I frankly do not think that we will need to use military means to resolve the longer term problem. The first alternative is pressuring Saudi Arabia to end its support and founding of Islamist groups; this will probably not work, because the world needs Saudi oil, and that gives them a vast ability to resist such pressure, and the Sauds know that doing this will mean their overthrow (many of the Saudi people are very, very fundamentalist). The second method would be to develop either alternate energy sources to oil for most purposes (nuclear is the big option here, and of course would be bitterly resisted, ironically, by Western environmentalists), or cheaper methods of extracting oil from oil sands and oil shales. Either of those would essentially bankrupt the Sauds in short order. Finally, we can develop antibodies within the liberal democratic societies. For example, the Islamists would find little ground in the US and Europe if we were to deport Islamists who were not citizens, not allow further Muslim immigration, and in general make it socially taboo to be an Islamist. This is actually fairly unlikely, absent another attack or five on the scale of 9/11, because tolerance of others' beliefs (even of violent beliefs, as long as the violence is never carried out) is a major keystone of liberal democratic societies. In any case, some combination of these three methods in some degree should be sufficient to end, mitigate or at least contain the long-term Islamist threat, so long as they do not revert to force.

It is also possible, although I now think it unlikely, that George Bush's gamble of bringing democracy to Iraq as a seed for democratizing the Middle East will actually work, and these cultures over time could learn to compromise and live with others peacefully. I think that, had we set about liberalizing Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of democratizing them, we would have had better long-term chances for peaceful change. On the other hand, this would likely be regarded by most Muslims (even moderate Muslims) as intolerable: it would require changing long-standing cultural practices and, more importantly, reinterpreting key parts of the Koran. Maybe after democratization we can try for liberalization, but I think it far more likely that the nascent democracies will return to strong-man rule fairly soon for cultural and religious reasons.

So there it is. In a nutshell, the price of peace in the Middle East is the destruction of Iran's government by force of arms, and possibly the destruction of Syria's government by force of arms, combined with the destruction of the (by then weakened) jihadi groups, and any new state sponsors who might be feeling lucky. The price of long-term peace is ending or containing Islamism. And the consequence of not doing this will be wars for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.

It is going to be a very violent, bloody and unpleasant couple of decades.

Posted by jeff at 1:30 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 1, 2006

Modern Miracles

Twenty-four hours ago, I was working at my desk when the Chief Architect, for whom I work, asked how fast I could get to Strasbourg, France. Since I already had a passport, and no visa is required for less than 90 days, I am posting this from Strasbourg. Here are the minor miracles of the last day of my life:

  • I paid about the same as a cup of coffee to send a package of books halfway across the United States. I have more than a 99% confidence that it will arrive within a week or two, and more than a 95% confidence that it will do so undamaged. Actually, it's about half of a price of a Starbucks coffee.
  • I booked a flight from Detroit, MI, USA to Strasbourg, France, for the same day I booked it.
  • I was able to get US currency after business hours in the US, and Euros without visiting a bank in France, through the magic of ATMs.
  • I had wireless internet connectivity at the airport after I landed, to find the hotel I had not even bothered to reserve before I left the US, and now at the hotel, where I am waiting for a call from a person who will be using a US cell phone to call me. He is in France, too.
  • Without talking to an operator or making any special arrangements, I was able to call the US and get a line as clear as if I had called from within the US.

Sometimes I forget how miraculous the world is. On-line travel booking, ATMs, an efficient postal service, globally-accessible credit cards, globally-usable phones — just the taken-for-granted tools of everyday life, but consider that none of this would have been possible for a private person for any amount of money just thirty years ago. Fifty years ago, I am not convinced that a government could have pulled that off on less than eight hours' notice. One hundred years ago, these things were impossible dreams, each and every one.

Posted by jeff at 9:27 AM | TrackBack