Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Just wanted to add my agreement to Martin Wisse and his condemnation of the recent decision by the Library of Congress saying that Internet radio stations should pay ruinous dues to the RIAA. (Is there anybody left who doesn't think that organization is about the lowest, scummiest group of sleazy bastards in America?) The only suggestion I can make is that they should get the hell out of dodge... after all, the Internet is an international medium, and it should be easy enough to relocate your server to another country that doesn't want to squash independent music.

I wonder if there's any space left on those Barbados gambling servers?

Monday, June 24, 2002

Max Sawicky, fresh from hammering Instapundit, has declared this moral clarity week, where he cites examples of man's inhumanity to man in the I/P conflict heading in the "other" direction in an attempt to point out the hypocrisy of the "jingoistic warbloggers".

Me, I'm staying out of it, at least for now, but follow the link if you wish.

Edit: Ok, I'm staying out except for this comment. One of the things I've been noticing about this conflict is that there seems to be a real dearth of honest and intelligent material online discussing the middle east conflict from a pro-palestinian perspective. I'm sure it exists, because I've seen Palestinian commentators on television and in print that have been reasonable and intelligent, yet any number of google searches for information on the region usually turns either a pro-Israeli organization or a site that links to them for supporting documentation. Leaving aside the "everybody who criticizes Israel and supports those murderous thugs is a bloody moron and evil to boot" argument that I'm sure is popping up in the minds of at least a few readers, I've still gotta ask... where is the "other side" for this?
I may have been critical of Winds of Change in the past, but I've gotta give props...anybody who records quotes like these for posterity deserves noisy applause.

"Come for the Haggis, stay for the anal probes."

Comedy Gorf.
Oddly enough, for some reason my comments about right-wing dominance have prompted a fair bit more discussion in the comments section than they usually do... I suppose because of the link from Den Beste, or possibly because "Dean" seems to spend as much time in comments sections as Instapundit does linking. Dean wonders why I should care about whether there's an "echo chamber" or not... after all, Glenn (and others) do link to left-wing sites, don't they? Sure, it's critical, but who doesn't? It doesn't affect my pocketbook, does it?

Well, for starters, my original post on the subject was actually my first post, which can be found here. I imagine most of my readers won't have read it yet, but it does a fairly good job of explaining the themes I cover, although I've naturally drifted a bit since I first started writing this. The term "Echo Chamber" for example, isn't my own, and it either wasn't around or I didn't know about it when I wrote this first post on the subject. Still, it's a useful guide to my POV on this subject, and I'd recommend it for anybody who wants to know my position and why I started the blog in the first place.


There is, of course, another purpose to bloggers and blogging (just as there is to any political debate) besides promulgating your opinion, possibly making a bit of pocket change (although, lacking a Paypal button, I don't yet benefit from that) and easing boredom... and that is to sway the opinions of those who read your site. That is the fundamental goal of any political writing, whether scholarly, newspaper "Op-Ed", talk show hosting, or blogging. This doesn't necessarily carry over to "diary" style blogs (although many online journals don't follow the weblog format.. Diaryland being one of the better examples), but definitely applies to the political arm of the "blogosphere" as I understand it.

The problem, as I mentioned earlier, is that the "crowding out" of other views can and does take place simply due to numbers and sources. That's why I don't argue that it's simply a case of the blogosphere ignoring left-wing views (which is not true in-and-of-itself), but that there tends to be a reinforcement effect, with links and articles being chosen depending on whether they support the argument being made. Glenn, for example, does link to left-wing sites, but usually only picks and chooses those that reinforce the points he's making (and often the stereotypes he's seeking to attribute to his political opponents), and if an audience member reads Glenns site, what reason does he have to disagree or dispute what Glenn's saying, especially considering that many other sites are saying the same thing, making the same arguments, and using the same links?

One of the earliest examples I noticed, and one I keep returning to, is Paul Krugman. There seems to be a subculture in Blogdom that is dedicated to word-for-word attacks on each and every article that Krugman writes, and there is a constant hue and cry from those who believe that he's "sold out", or is "incorrigably partisan" or even (amazingly) that he has a conflict of interest with Enron, or any other bit of nonsense that is demonstrably untrue (or at least debatable) . So why do people buy it? Because it's repeated over, and over, and over again, uncritically, by people using sources and making arguments that can be countered, but largely aren't... because who's going to link to a page that dispels one's own argument, even if the linker knows that such a page exists?

More than that, though, there's also a question of not just what answers are being argued, but what questions are being asked. Anybody who has spent any time on the Internet has noticed that it's neither conservatism or liberalism that drives debate here, but libertarianism (whether big or little "L"). Even if one isn't a liberatarian, it's libertarian ideas and libertarian interpretations that tend to form the basis for the topics of discussion, and nobody can get away with espousing any political opinion online without being able to either deal with or explain away the inevitable libertarian responses to any political discussion. It's said that in American politics "it's the conservatives with all the ideas", but I don't think that's because liberalism is empty of ideas- it's just that conservatism has managed to do an excellent job of pushing its ideas, far better than liberalism has- but online, it is libertarianism and the libertarians that play the 400lb gorillas. Instead of discussions about how to best govern, the discussions are about whether government is necessary or moral at all. Instead of discussions of different economic systems, at best there's usually a debate over whether the free market is always right or just right the vast majority of the time. Instead of discussions of how identity affects personality and politics, there's questions about whether identity even exists at all, or whether it's merely a bugaboo of the left. Even what would normally be fairly extremist ideologies (such as Objectivism) in "the real world" are so ultra-common that extremely right-wing economic commentators like Jane Galt gets away with being considered a fairly unquestionable sources of economic wisdom, despite (as far as I can see) ascribing to about the most extremely right-wing conception of economics you'll find outside of the Austrian school. (No, Jane, that isn't intended as an attack, just an example. Put the charts down.) Instead of discussions about whether academe is too left-wing, the assumption is that it is indeed far too leftist and the discussion is instead whether it's even salvagable, or simply incorrigably evil. (Which is ironic, because attitudes online are practically the mirror reverse of academia from what I've seen.) The basic assumptions in debate on the Internet are so wildly different from those in any other discussion forum that I imagine it seems to many to be practically incomprehensible; certainly it would practically impossible for a true leftist to be able to engage the political community as it exists online without being crushed under the weight of begged questions, antagonistic assumptions, and either benign contempt or outright hostility.

This is, of course, why those who disagree with this consensus tend to stick to their own communities, why people have been saying for years that debate is "too hostile" online (which isn't true, unless you're coming at it from the wrong direction), why the left is so woefully underrepresented in debate, why Usenet has been steadily dying despite having a better interface than any webboard, and why the mainstream media believes that everybody with a political opinion online is a cyber-libertarian. And, yes, why Cass Sunstein was right, even if those who are already living in a segregated community by default haven't the faintest clue that others exist or, if they do, usually dismiss them as "a bunch of loonies".

This didn't start with the Blogosphere. The Blogosphere is just the most recent manifestation of it. The only reason why it's different in any way is because blogs are by pieces starting to supplement and compliment mainstream media, and the conventional wisdom that Internet debate is inherently meaningless is beginning to break down in the face of reality. Look at the bloggers who are either coming from or going to the mainstream media... blogs have been a big thing for, what, a year and a half? Two years? And this is happening already? The right side of the Blogosphere is smoothly integrating into the already integrated political landscape that exists on the right side of the political spectrum in the United States (the integration between the right-wing scholarship, magazines, radio, newspapers and other media in the United States that the left only wishes it could harness), and it is gaining all the friendly scholarly and media resources that the "vast right-wing conspiracy" takes for granted. This integration means not only that the right will continue to drive the policy debate in the United States, but that online libertarianism will likely break out into the "real world", if it hasn't already. (Were it not for the overt religiosity of American culture, it would have happened long ago, but those two branches of the right are far friendlier than the different parts of the left have ever been).

Being a liberal, of course, I find this alarming, and would prefer that the left makes its voice heard. Not to drown out the right (who make valid points and have valid ideas), but to ensure that we don't end up like a penguin trying to swim with only a right wing: spinning in circles, never really getting anywhere.

By popular demand, I've boosted the size of pretty much every font on the page by two point sizes. This should make it a little more readable, and a quick lookover doesn't reveal any obvious breakages due to the larger text.


Edit: Judging by a quick look up, it's apparent that my ad banner has been bought out. Armed Liberal mentioned he might do this in an email I received a few weeks ago, so I'll assume it was him and thank him for it. If it was somebody else, of course, feel free to email me about it, and I'll gladly give credit where credit is due.

(Not that I have anything against advertising, but it's nice to see someone shell out their own hard-earned money on your behalf.)
Jay Reding has commented on my theme and concepts of the right-wing echo chamber. I responded on his site, but I'll repeat what I said here. (with a little editing)

Needless to say, I don't believe that blogs in-and-of themselves create the "echo chamber" effect, although they're certainly a contributing factor. Far more important is the conservative input in other media, including talk radio, the Internet as a whole (although that's mostly libertarianism rather than conservatism), television commentators, and various other media.

I'm also not quite certain [Jay's claims of] "depth and honesty" on the part of blog writers, either. because while blogs can serve as "bullshit detectors" (as much as any medium can for any other medium), that is valid only to the extent that they can detect each other's bullshit, care to call each other on it, and even seperate facts from opinions in the first place. Remove any of these, and blogs can as easily serve as sources of disinformation as information or, more importantly, serve as sources of opinion masquerading as facts, or one-sided assertions of partisan opinion as fact. I've seen and linked to several examples of this, including the Jane Galt affair, that dubious "DDT is harmless" junkscience.com article which Glenn Reynolds accepted uncritically, my observation of MWOwatch, Max Sawicky's InstaDebunking (and my own small contribution to that), and the presence of certain "litmus tests" that are imposed by the right to seperate the "good liberals" from the "bad liberals". As I said on my own site: "A bunch of bloggers passing around the same Krugman article and making the same weak arguments against it is not a debate".

Adding to this, of course, is the tendency of bloggers to agree with each other out of a sense of community. A blog is different than a web forum or a traditional web page- it combines both the relative immediacy and transience of something like Usenet with the relative permanence and high profile of a professional website. Getting caught in a battle between two blogs can be harsh both for the participants and for the readers in a way that is unlikely on Usenet and pretty much unthinkable on a traditional webpage, but I run across examples of these back-and-forth battles all the time. Sometimes they're beneficial (like that Middle Eastern debate that I mentioned earlier) and sometimes they're, well, not. (Isntapundit probably still winces when he thinks about our exchange).

Is this a claim that left-wing blogs don't exist? Nope... look to the left, I've linked to a few. (I should and will link to more.. I've just been putting it off because there will be a ton of them). There is, however, no comparison to the tight interconnected community that the right takes for granted (as well as the readily-available partisan sources of information online), at least as of yet. (And when I say right, I don't simply mean conservatism, but libertarianism as well). More to the point, as I've said time and again, is that the ideas of the right drive the debate both because of numbers, demographics, and the simple fact that the left is far, far more divided and troubled than the right right now. This isn't merely an "internet thing", but it exists, and it's closer to Sunstein's vision than many are prepared to admit.

(Heck, look at Instapundit. Sunstein was talking about how people would only read sites and look at sources that they agreed with, and who does Glenn readily link and cite? Either right-wing bloggers, partisan "think-tanks" like TechCentralStation or the Cato Institute, right-wing writers such as the staff at NRO, and right-wing mainstream media sources like the Wall Street Journal opinion page. And this is the most popular link source in Blogdom. Sunstein was righter than he knew.)

Edit: upon reading some of Jay's page, I've got to wonder whether there's a little bit of "cheering for the home team" here as well. Jay's blog is well written, but he certainly wears his ideology on his sleeve, and I've noticed that what outside observers refer to as the "Echo Chamber" insiders think of simply as community... after all, it's their own opinions being reflected and reinforced! He also seems to subscribe to the notion of a "liberal media" that I have a lot of problems with and only avoid dismissing out of hand because of my respect for the other, intelligent opinions of those who believe that it actually exists. This doesn't affect the quality of his postings, but it's something to keep in mind. (And yes, I'm aware that I may be overemphasizing the hegemony that may exist. No analyst should accept his own analysis uncritically. That's part of the reason I've been looking for examples of both the phenomenon that I'm talking about and counter-examples... because even if we don't have parity yet, I do think we're slowly moving in that direction.)

Sunday, June 23, 2002

The entire "blogosphere" seems consumed with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and I'd like to mention a few blogs on the left side of the debate. (The right side is left as an exercise for your Instapundit link)

First is Lean Left, by Kevin Raybould, who is interesting partially because he seems to inhabit my comments section whenever he isn't posting on his own site (and doing a fine job of it), but also because he's embroiled in the same conflict with Micheal "Privateer" Levey as I am (sometimes in those same comments sections). He has made much the same point I have: that the Palestinian people as a whole don't have the same interests as Hamas 'n co, and that one of the possible ways of ending this conflict is to exploit the divisions that exist between those interests.

Second is Joseph Duemer, who has had a running debate going on between himself and Mike Sanders about the conflict, which seems to run over many of the themes that I've been bringing up, although he's somewhat more solid in his position than I am. He's also a leftist academic, but I'm sure that none of my readers are so doctrinaire and closedminded as to arbitrarily dismiss him on those grounds, whatever they believe in. I haven't combed over the whole argument yet, but again, he attacks the Borgestinianism that got me involved in this whole mess.

As per usual, I'm always open to email from those who believe they have something to contribute to this debate... and since Shadow of the Hegemon is partially about the emerging "left response" to hegemonic opinions online, I'm especially interested in hearing from those who (intelligently and respectfully) disagree with Blog Consensus on this issue.

(After all, if I want the right-wing opinion, I just need to open a few comments windows. Heh.)
Ok, I'm going to do a little bit more meta on this. I should acknowledge that Privateer does not actually believe that I'm being an apologist for the Palestinians, and has actually referred to me in fairly complimentary terms in this comments section of the "doomsday scenario" post that he has written. Well, as complimentary as "Demosthenes thinks I'm a racist, and I think he's an idiot" can get. (For the record, I don't think he's a racist. I think he's profoundly anti-Islamic and used unbelievably brutal and thoughtless rhetoric in the post that started all this, but the former point he doesn't disagree with and the latter seems to stem from anger and frustration at his, and our, relative powerlessness to end this conflict).

I think part of this problem, however, comes from, oddly enough, a conversational habit on the part of westerners. There is a difference between the ideas of "I understand" and "I agree". They are similar in some respects, and agreement can often stem from understanding, but they are fundamentally different. Some cultures understand this intrinsically: Japanese business negotiators, for example, are notorious for saying "yes, yes, yes" when they're merely indicating they understand, to the enternal exasperation of American businessmen who think they agree. North American culture, however, seems to emphasize the connection between the two. It subconsciously embraces the idea that "if only you understand me, you'd agree with me", rebelling against the thought that someone could completely understand you and yet (sometimes violently) disagree with you. Understanding and agreement are, of course, not the same thing, but we tend to forget that.

So, where does this enter the current debate? Well, there is a tendency on the part of those on the right side of the Islamic debates to believe that those who argue for "greater understanding" are trying to find ways to justify whichever acts they have the grievance against... that the left is trying to find "moral equivalency". It is true that some people who are try to understand the "other side" end up sympathizing with them, as they discover elements in the other party's lives, beliefs, and experiences that resonate with their own, identify too strongly with them, and forget that there are other people involved as well who might have as much or more in common with them. That does not mean that such things should be generalized to the entire left, however, or especially to anybody who seeks to understand those they are opposed to. Understanding why someone is doing something does not logically translate into agreeing with the moral justification for their actions: even if one can discover how the party itself justifies its actions, that doesn't necessarily mean that those attempting understanding agree with the choice of reasons that they've decided to use, the reasoning that they employ, or the conclusions that they've made. One can empathize with one's enemy; indeed, if Sun Tsu was correct, that is necessary for victory.

(That was, appropriately enough, Ender Wiggin's key skill in Ender's Game. Ender could understand his enemies better than they understands themselves. Only then, after he had come to know (and even love) them... only then did he destroy them, crushing them so badly that they could never hurt him again).

Most of the posts I've read on the left side of the Blogosphere (at least on this issue) do not call for people to morally agree with those they despise or with acts that are both morally repugnant and strategically counterproductive, but want a more detailed understanding of why different Palestinians would strap a bomb to their chests and blow themselves up (or why Al Qaeda would fly a plane into a building, for that matter) than "they're evil". Even if they are evil, "the devil made 'em do it" (or the Koran for that matter) is an incredibly simplistic form of explanation, one that would be laughable if applied to domestic criminals by criminologists. More to the point, it leads to simplistic conclusions; the sort of "if we hit them hard enough, maybe they won't hit back" thing that seems to dominate the discussion nowadays. Maybe that's true... maybe we do need to hit them, and hit them, and hit them until like a bad puppy they realize what's wrong. We won't know, however, until we know them as well as we know each other, and know whether they can be changed, where we can get away with diplomatic or economic solutions, where we can simply encourage (and benefit from) an inevitable regime change (such as in Iran), and where and how we need to apply force.

Joe Katzman was talking about "fourth-generation warfare"... the new type of warfare, the warfare between a state and a dangerous sub-state actor. If this is a new war, if this is indeed a kind of war that we've never had to deal with before, then the old geopolitical strategies and attitudes may not necessarily apply, and applying them could do far, far more harm than good. If we must have war, then far better to effectively wield a scalpel than toss around a broadsword. We do not want to be "generals constantly fighting the last war".
Moving aside from the middle-eastern debate...

As a veteran of Usenet, I find myself amused that the sort of "quote and response" style that was ubiquitous there somehow corresponds to a complete annihilation of posts and articles when applied to Weblogs. "Fisking", while an interesting term, doesn't translate as much to rhetorical and argumentative superiority as some people think it does. As any cursory examination of any webboard or Usenet archive will show, it usually just leads to "back-and-forth" quotation, or what I suppose would be "mutual fisking".

More than that, it's actually a somewhat problematic form of argument. Why? Well, in many respects any essay-format argument depends on its structure and themes in order to be understandable, and breaking that structure up into smaller chunks and attacking each chunk leads to a "missing the forest for the trees" style of argument that attacks supporting arguments but misses the main point.

More than that, it can actually be incredibly intellectually dishonest, because "back-and-forth fisking" usually means that points that aren't as vulnerable are discarded instead of answers, and unless the person who wrote the original post is very careful, they might be stuck defending bad points because the good ones were conveniently ignored... or it may be that only one small sub-point was attacked, and viewers may get the impression that that small point taken out of context was intrinsic to the article and/or the views held by the person, instead of an unimportant mistake.

Anyway, you don't need to take my word for it. Go over to Google some time and read some of the nastier arguments in your typical politics group (or video gaming group... political warriors have nothing on the viciousness of adherents to different console platforms). Am I guilty of this sort of thing? Yes, everybody is, and I don't necessarily believe that "fisking" is intrinsicially invalid. Like any technique, however, people who use it and people who encounter it need to approach it critically.

Privateer's latest article proves that, yet again, he seems curiously unable to distinguish between the interests of different groups of people. Taliban vs. PLO aside (the idea that they're equivalent is nonsense), the idea that underpins his latest "race war" post is in-and-of itself suspect on those grounds... even if Muslims in Palestine and some parts of the Middle East "raise little children to hate jews", what reason do his have to believe that the rest of global Islam is undertaking anything even remotely akin to this? I had thought that there was a distinction to be made between "Islamo-Fascists" and Muslims... but now he's saying that that is the case, and that every Muslim on the planet is at war with Israel.

I mean, that's ludicrous on its face, and citation of a few foaming Islamic sites doesn't come close to proving it. (Unless he believes that right-wing race war sites prove that all whites hate blacks, and vice versa).

I find it telling, by the way, that he seem to be advocating the thermonuclear version of suicide bombing. I had thought he believed that repression would do the trick.. that the terrorists would give up if enough pressure was brought to bear. If repression would work in Palestine, then so be it- as I said earlier, I'm interested in solutions, not idiotic finger pointing, and if that's the only workable solution then I'll entertain it as much as any other. I'm not a pacifist, nor an unthinking Palestinian partisan... I just did not and do not believe that it's anything close to a long term solution, although it may be useful and sensible at the present time.

But I'm sorry, Privateer, destroying a fair chunk of the planet and irradiating half of the rest is no solution. "Thought Experiment" or no. The Jews wouldn't be gone, and you would have doomed your compatriots. A halved and living population is not a nonexistent one... but you seem to want to doom your people to an "honorable death", killing millions, possibly billions of innocents. In that scenario, it's not as if "the terrorists won"... nobody wins. Hell, nobody survives. Perhaps my "death before dishonor" point was also more prescient than I had thought at first, and I'll stand by what I said earlier... a thousand dishonours is preferable to one death.

(And really, that's the lesson that the Palestinians have forgotten, isn't it? Moral equivalence, no. Rhetorical equivalence... more than I had expected.)

Anyway, this is partially why I avoided this topic up until now. Not because it isn't important, but because it seems to have a polarizing effect, so much so that different people are arbitrarily shunted into different "teams" whether they actually believe the tenets of that group or not. I'm not arbitrarily against either Israel, Israel's attempts to ensure its security, or condemnation of both suicide bombers and those who support them, despite what people like Privateer continue to assert. My problem is with the belief that these things exist in a vacuum- that even justifiable repression doesn't carry with it its own drawbacks. Privateer (and others) seem to instinctively realize this even as they condemn those that point it out... even as he condemns those who would make the argument, Privateer's "thought experiment" recognizes that violence does indeed spiral, whether "justified" or no. That, and the ludicrously illogical satisficing and generalizing that has been ratcheting up lately.

Well, at least this experience has been instructive in one respect. I had thought that the blurring between "Islamist", "Islamofascist" and "Muslim" had been only on the part of those who were, like most right-wing columnists, were merely supporting "their team" and were using the most shocking language available in order to rally the troops, ignorant of the real meaning of what they're arguing. I had thought that the blogging community was less extreme, and could see that sooner or later you need to ignore Macbeth and cry "hold, enough!" On this, at least, Privateer and his call for an apocalyptic race war and/or "suicide bombing"(as well as his supporters in this) has proven me wrong.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

As I said earlier... nine months, and this is what we've been reduced to... ignorant diatribes about Islam that betray not only a shocking ignorance of the history of Christianity, but world religion in general. Obviously Privateer doesn't know much about the period in which his namesakes were popular, because it was a period where criticizing Christ could not only get you killed, but you could be tortured horribly if even the suspicion of heresy (or being on the wrong side of the Catholic/Protestant divide or even being part of the wrong sect within those divides) visited itself upon your head.

I shudder to think about what people would say were Privateer to act so ignorantly about Judaism. Actually, I know exactly what they'd say, and it's pretty obvious that the dividing line between this:

But Islam at its core—fundamentalist Islam—is evil, evil, evil. Adding a bunch of saints and other fluff, as Sufism does, largely dilutes this, and brings in positive elements.. but its core is rotten in a way that Christianity and Judaism and Buddhism and Hinduism are not.

...and anti-Semitism is only the religion that is being degraded. After all, Judaism is the religion of the Old Testament, which ignores the light and grace and sacrifice of Our Lord Christ... so perverted in its ignorance that it actually convicted its own Savior because he believed that all could be Saved, right?

My original post was in some respects mocking, but I didn't believe that Privateer actually believed any of this... I had thought that it was just rage against the bombings like File13's, and perfectly justifiable and understandable. It would appear that I was more right than I knew, and that despite his pathetic bleatings about being "politically incorrect", Privateer is, at least right now, as worthy of my contempt and scorn as any foaming townhall.com "columnist".

Right now, I'm not even angry. I'm just somewhat disappointed.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Good bit from Kristof today:

The West is full of irresponsible vituperations about Islam being no more than a religion of violence and hatred. The vitriol amounts to an unrecognizable caricature to anyone who has lived in the Islamic world, enjoyed its hospitality and admired the dignity it confers on its humblest believers. Yet the bottom line is that nobody so distorts, denigrates and defames Islam as radical Muslims themselves, particularly the mullahs who try to have people executed for saying "peace be with you."

The latter part is no surprise to anybody who has been paying attention, but I somewhat disagree with the analysis of the relative danger of both of these misconceptions. The problems with the latter eventually lead (as Kristof's article about Pakistan and Friedman's article about Iran) to popular disgust with the hardline mullahs that will likely end in the same secularization and tolerance that Christianity went through throughout most of the world centuries ago. Unfortunately, the parts that don't fit in that "most" seem bound-and-determined to bring Huntington's Clash of Civilizations to live, and while Islamic repression is disturbing, a religious war (or even a war between Islam and those who think of it as nothing but the savage caricature that the right in the United States is determined to push) is infinitely more so.
No, I'm not about to use this as an example or engage in cheap rhetoric about repression. I can actually understand the fear and frustration on the part of the IDF as well... after all, they're trying to contain and control what seems to be an unstoppable wave of horrific attacks, and I think I'd probably have a hair trigger in that situation as well. This is the reason why the conflict is a tragedy and shouldn't be characterized in simple black-and-white terms... because the fear and desperation on one side is feeding the fear and desperation on the other.

So, does this mean that I'm engaging in "moral relativism"? No, because morals don't enter into this; the question, again, is not to figure out who gets to be on top of the pyramid of honor and respect, but finding the way out of this conflict. One of the "sons of Brutus" that one should be prepared to set aside is personal honor, at least in my opinion. If, in the end, a thousand people have to set aside their precious honor and sense of righteousness so that one mother doesn't have to bury her child, so be it. Pride is a useless conceit.
Instapundit described Palestinian culture as a "psychotic death cult".

Other than the Borgestinian aspects of this, the question remains... why?

Well, perhaps this might shed some light. It's a story about the slideshow that prompted Blair's wife to talk about the "desperation" of the Palestinians... the quote that so enraged the Echo Chamber.

Some choice quotes:

-Additionally, sixty percent of the Palestinian population live on less than two $US a day - sixty percent of men are now unemployed.

-In Nablus, a slide showed the local dentist - behind him was his "surgery" - bombed by F-16's, demolition completed by Caterpillar bulldozers.

-Mrs Sabri, a seventy year old widow with cancer, gazed bleakly out from another frame. Her family had four times been turned back at check points trying to take her to hospital. Finally, they put her on a donkey, transporting her through a circuitous, secret route, rendering her utterly exhausted. Another patient needing dialysis three times a week has to walk twelve miles through the mountains to evade the checkpoints, said Sir Andrew.

-Maysoon, aged twenty one, went into labor during the night, her husband set off to drive her to the hospital. At a checkpoint, he was shot dead, Maysoon was shot twice in the back, stripped naked and left in the road for two hours, until an ambulance finally arrived, her screams having been heard by locals. Her baby was born in the hospital elevator. Her survivor guilt and trauma are so severe that her family fear she will commit suicide or become a suicide bomber. (fear? I thought they were a psychotic death cult. Demos)

-Ahmed is twelve: "calm, together and determined to kill Israelis." His best friend was shot dead in front of him by an Israeli soldier. Fifty three percent of Palestinian children suffer from trauma symptoms.

Then again, they're Arab animals. They deserve whatever they get. And anybody who thinks otherwise is a filthy terrorist-lover. And an Anti-Semite to boot.

Nine months, and we've been reduced to this.

Edit: no, actually, I think I'm going to comment further on this, if only because the article that Instapundit linked to needs a little analysis, and InstaPinion didn't provide it.

The basic point of the article is that it's becoming increasingly simple in Palestine to convince young, intelligent people to commit suicide attacks... that death is seen as a method of empowerment, especially by those who think that there's nothing left for them but martyrdom. One of the aspects of the article that wasn't touched on was that it was from the perspective of a young girl who was actually going to become a suicide bomber, but backed out when she decided it was stupid. Predictably, she did it because she was traumatized over the loss of her fiance (who was, yes, a terrorist, but she insisted that he solely targeted military personnel, something that the Israelis dispute). She didn't quite buy the hype:

I look at the sky," Ms. Ahmed recalled this week, speaking English as she described a kind of awakening. "I look at the people." She said she remembered a childhood belief, "that nobody has the right to stop anybody's life."

Ms. Ahmed, a rare exception among suicide bombers, turned back. Her companion, Issa Badir, confided second thoughts to her, she said...[b]ut he ultimately went ahead, killing himself and two Israelis. Issa, the son of a lawyer educated in Wisconsin, was just 16, one of the youngest suicide bombers

In some respects this is encouraging.. it shows that there is still doubt of the morality of their actions on the part of both repentent suicide bombers (such as Ms. Ahmed) and those who actually attack (such as Mr. Badir).. which may imply that the impulse is less powerful than some fear. The important aspect, though, is that it's becoming increasingly secular, and therefore becomes more and more disconnected with Islamic militancy. Disrupting the chain of beliefs and actions that lead to secular bombing should be simpler than disrupting the religiously-motivated one, because the prospect of martyrdom and the fear of some sort of afterlife reprisal for "chickening out" won't necessarily steel their resolve. Still, it is profoundly disturbing.

Still, it's important to remember that there are a number of elements that lead to these attacks, and religiosity is only one of them. Part of it is, of course, desperation... if life becomes unbearable, one becomes more open to the suggestion that death could be the answer, especially if convinced that that death will lead to a glorious afterlife and help "your people". (this isn't new, of course, just the current strategy for harnessing that belief). Another part is explored here:

Such pressures within Palestinian society are intense. The "infrastructure of terror," as the Israelis call it, has fragmented into small cells throughout the West Bank, each fighting its own parallel war. Separate, mid-level leaders emerge briefly, to be cut down by Israel and swiftly replaced. Such men are more than willing to seize on emotional turmoil, weakness of character or zealotry, to give someone a lethal backpack and to send him on his way, Israeli intelligence agents said.

Palestinian intelligence officials say the speed with which bombers are now primed makes intercepting them almost impossible. It used to be that during the long preparation, word of a planned attack might get around.

Israel rejects such accounts, saying Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority is either cooperating or doing nothing to stop the suicidal killing.

This, of course, is why the Israeli calls for Arafat to "reign in the terrorists" are utterly ludicrous... if cell-based, horizontal terrorist organizations were so easily crushed the Israelis would have already done it. The Israeli government knows that Arafat has no authority over these people; there is no hierarchy to exploit, as it has been largely disrupted. If the Palestinian terrorists were trying to engage in the large-scale and complex attacks like Al-Qaeda, then that would be different, but suicide bombing doesn't require much except access to the explosives, to the target, and to a willing bomber; all three easily available without the resources of, say, Hamas.

So, how to stop (or at least reduce) the bombings? Well, you need to disrupt one of these three elements: either disrupt access to the explosives, the target, or the bomber. The former is practically impossible; anybody who's watched Fight Club knows that explosives are pathetically easy to make with the right knowledge, and trying to keep that knowledge under wraps is impossible. Trying to disrupt access to the target is, of course, why Israel is building their wall, has all their checkpoints, and are currently invading and occupying sections of the territories... an arrested or dead terrorist loses access to all three, but principally the target. (After all, he could simply become the bomber). The measures that attempt to prevent access to the target, though, are creating more and more possible bombers, and with that are increasing the accessibility of the third element: a bomber.

This is, of course, the element that those that are calling for either a Palestinian State or at least less repression are trying to disrupt. If you remove that sense of desperation and hopelessness, then fewer bombers become available. If you create the impression that there are other ways of changing your environment and your situation, you remove yet more bombers. If you reinforce the idea that terrorist bombing is wrong and that vengeance will only create more vengeance, then you remove yet more potential bombers from the pool. Yes, you'll still have the hardcore extremists, but those are far simpler to track and predict than a random teenager who has lost their fiance... and they may be dissuaded as well by others that don't want to deal either with the repercussions or the loss of that person. (Secular interests can outweigh religious ones). Besides, there would be more people who, like Ms. Ahmed, morally object to the bombings, not having had their own personal grievances outweigh their moral qualms.

If we are to stop the terrorist bombings, we must stop characterizing those that engage in them as either animals or drones. They are (extremely damaged and dangerous) people, and while I can and do condemn their actions and those that push them into it, I remain alarmed by their dehumanization. The Hutus, the Germans, the Iraqis, the Italians, heck, even the Mongols were human beings as well, and any strategy used to defeat them needs to recognize that simple fact. After all, the point is not to try to build up one's sense of moral righteousness or to demonstrate your solidarity with the victims, but to end the attacks and ensure peace in the region. In the end, nothing else matters.

Edit: Needless to say, I wasn't expecting this kind of response... this was mostly prompted by the harshness of Privateer's rhetoric, rather than a desire to delve deeply into this issue. I'd encourage those who come to this post to read the posts that follow it as well, if only because nobody's opinion is encapsulated in a single post, especially in this case and with this post. One point I'd like to make clear, however, is that I don't either absolve the Palestinians for their actions nor believe that desperation is the sole reason for suicide bombings, but that the perception of desperation and hopelessness (whether it truly exists or not) is a contributory factor. Even if the Palestinians no longer thought their situation desperate and hopeless, it wouldn't stop suicide bombings, because the bombers motivated by extreme religious fundamentalism would still remain... but as I said and still believe, they would be much easier to predict and track than some random teenager, and if other Palestinians understood that suicide bombings are not "resistance" but profoundly against their secular interests, they may encourage their friends, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews to turn away from Intifada and back towards rapproachment.

The question is how, or even if, the Palestinians will come to believe that. Occupation may accomplish that... I don't discount that option out of hand, and I actually think that "the wall" isn't necessarily a bad idea (considering Palestinians are currently forbidden from entering Israel as it is, and if Palestine did become a state it would have a fully militarized border). What I object to is, as I've said, the dehumanizing and simplistic rhetoric that I've been seeing, including the idea that the Palestinians have become a "psychotic death cult". While comforting, such simplistic descriptions are inherently useless.

I've come in a little late on this... it's a "thought experiment" by file13 about what it would be like if it were your classmates on the other end of a terrorist bombing.

Oddly enough, I know exactly how he feels. Literally. You might be surprised, but I've had my own brush with suicide terrorism.

A friend of mine is actually in Israel right now, and was very nearly one of the victims of a terrorist bomb. She's Jewish, of course: one of those students who has gone over to Israel to see the situation for themselves, instead of just reading about it in the newspaper or seeing it on television. She came very close to becoming one of the people in those newspaper articles and television stories. In fact, the only reason she's alive and well right now is because she zigged instead of zagged- went to visit a friend, instead of shopping, as she usually did on that day of the week. I still remember getting the email from her... remember how terrified she was that it could have been her. I was frightened too, more than I had been in years. So, yes, I know exactly what he's talking about, probably better than he does.


One of Niccolo Machiavelli's dictums for any democratic leader was that he had to "kill the sons of Brutus". This refers to Brutus, a Roman legislator who proved his loyalty to both the rule of law and to the roman republic by convicting and killing his own sons for treason, despite their cries for clemency and the citizenry's amazed shock that he could do such a thing. The reason why Machiavelli considers this so important is that statecraft, on some level, transcends the questions of friendship, family, and kinship... that leaders must be willing to put such things aside in order to do what is best for the people that he leads. This holds true as much for those who seek to advise the prince as the prince himself... and since pretty much everyone who comments on politics in the "blogosphere" is in the role of courtier to the prince in some respect or another, it is a valid point to make. When I first read this it had a profound effect on me... more so than Hobbes' exploration of the tragedy of equality, Locke's calls for religious toleration, or even Mill's proof that freedom of speech needs to exist not just because it could be right, but because it could be wrong and, in being disproven, reaffirm what is true... a concept that I consider more important to the concept of political discourse than anything written before or since. It had such an effect on me because it was the final proof that a government or a leader is more than just a person or group of people, and they need to think differently, behave differently, and engage in behaviour that for private individuals would be monstrous in the name of a greater good. Jefferson was wrong. Liberty isn't renewed by the blood of patriots- it's renewed by the blood of your own sons. Statecraft isn't a pretty game.

Rage, fear, and horror are only natural reactions to suicide bombing, and I can understand and empathize with those that just want it to STOP. Right now. No nonsense, just end it. The problem is that all the rage in the world won't do a damned thing to end this conflict, to bring peace to the Israeli people, or to end the violence of the Palestinian people. Those who want to figure this out, who want to find a solution to the problem, need to "kill the sons of Brutus"... realize that they need to put aside their fears, rage, and horror, and do what needs to be done. All the blogs I've read demonizing the Palestinian people and calling for their eviction or wholesale slaughter are understandable, but SOLVE NOTHING. They don't calm the violence or end the hatred.. they simply stir up more, and more, and more.. until sooner or later the unthinkable becomes inevitable. This is why I have continuously advocated a Palestinian state or, at the very least, a reasonable response to the problems and violence at hand, instead of the animal rage that I understand... that I felt, and had to put aside. If a Palestinian state is to be created, it isn't because the Palestinians deserve it, or because it's right, or because it's "rewarding the terrorists"... all those things are utterly meaningless. We need to do what is necessary- what will, in the long run, cause the least violence, the least evil, and the least injustice. If, in the end, that solution is violent expulsion, then so be it. I doubt that's the case, however, and I think that those who advocate it do it not because it will create the least evil but because their rage is clouding their thinking.

I'm sorry, File13, but your "thought experiment", while gripping, is in the end useless. All those who say "I don't know what we should do, but we should do something"... should stop, pause for a moment, and think about whether your rage, whether justified or not, contributes anything but yet more hatred and fear to a mental environment already polluted with more rage than one can easily contemplate. At this point, we need thought, not rage. The Israeli people understand this, which is why many of them still believe that a Palestinian state is inevitable not because it is moral, but because it is necessary. Would that their American brothers, like File13, could understand this as well.
Judah Ariel's Stage Left has a good bit on the "Hamas veto", where Hamas gets to drive the "peace process" by timing its attacks to disrupt any attempts at peace.

This is an important point, all the more so because of the "Borgastinian" massmind caricature that we've been seeing bouncing around the Echo Chamber and in the press. By neglecting to draw a distinction between extremist groups and the Palestinians (who, yes, might support them, but who could just as easily desert them if a better opportunity presented itself) the idea that the Palestinians themselves are trying to disrupt peace initiatives becomes accepted conventional wisdom, and obscures the reality that a small group of them don't want peace (just as a small group of Israelis don't want peace, but considering the questions about Hamas' support, maybe they're one and the same).

Terrorism, after all, is an attempt to use civilian fear to gain your political ends. Right now Hamas (and any other terrorist group that times its bombs to scuttle peace) is successfully using terrorism to achieve the exact goals they were hoping to, and every single commentator who mixes up the goals and desires of the Palestinian people and the extremist terrorist groups is, in their own way, aiding and abetting these acts of savage monstrosity. Just like the commentators who are by inches calling for a holy war between the West and Islam, they're playing right into the hands of their supposed enemies.

(If Osama Bin Laden really is an evil genius, then his political genius has been proven by the reaction of the American right. They're doing exactly what he wants them to, in every possible respect.)
Den Beste, on the other hand, writes a much better (if chilling) analysis of what Israel's actions would entail. I'm not convinced that the other arab states would let Israel dump the Palestininans in Lebanon (they'd have total war, practically instantly, probably ending with half the muslims on the planet willing to take up arms and anti-semiticism higher than it's been since the early 20th century), but it's certainly more compelling and better written that Privateer's "I'm not bigoted at all against the arab filth" screed that I linked to below.

Again, though, it's important to keep in mind that the entire Palestinian people could want peace and hope that peace talks would succeed, but as long as this "Palestinians are not individuals but a herd of animals" thought process continues unabated, then all it takes to ruin the aspirations of both peoples is a group of terrorists that don't care about their fellow humans, but just want their glorious conflict. What's tragic, however, is that I honestly doubt that even expelling the Palestinians would end the terrorism. It'd just become less common, but far more brutal when it happens.
Privateer is foaming at the mouth.

I do know that Israel will have to cleanse itself of the Islamic cancer, forcing the Muslim Arabs and other undesirables into other countries...Muslim Arabs are a cancer on Israel, they must be excised. Not exterminated, not eradicated, and not uncompensated for their being forced out (okay, the Europeans can compensate them, Israel shouldn't give them a dime). But they've got to go.

And what happens when no other country will take them, as is most assuredly the case?

Yeah, you know exactly what would happen, sooner or later. It's happened before, more times than most people care to think about. And that's precisely what Privateer is advocating, using the same sort of language that has been used before.

Listen to this language:

"Arab animals"
"Palestinian filth"
"a bunch of cowardly, Jew-hating opportunists" (the context is the government of Egypt, but the language hardly distinguishes"
"Nobody wants Palestinians in their country, and there's a damn good reason."
"Israeli leftists will never stop giving them chances to kill Jews." (attacking the left as traitorous... this sounds familiar)
"whack-job left-wingers...filthy terrorist-lovers...they love terror"
"I am not a racist, and I am not a religious bigot"


Once again, the fundamental distinction between "Palestinian" and "Palestinian terrorist" is being ignored, which means that Privateer is holding innocent Palestinians culpable for the acts of a few savage extremists. Which, come to think of it, is fairly predictable too. Don't get me wrong: I think that suicide bombing of civilians is morally unjustifiable and both tactically and strategically ludicrous. These sorts of arguments, however, only lead in one direction. We know what that is. The Jews know what that is. And, I think, Privateer knows what that is. For his sake, though, I hope he's just ignorant.

(Oh, and by the way... I could just as easily be talking about the Hutus and Tutsis as about Germans and Jews. So no cries of "Godwin" now, you don't need to be teutonic to be genocidal.)
Oh, and while we're on NRO, here's another goofy article about MAD and the ABM treaty by John Miller. Not that there's anything new here, but I still marvel at conservatives' ability to reasonably make incredibly ludicrous arguments. Case in point:

This dubious piece of Cold War diplomacy was based on a dangerous theory. It placed strict limits on the testing and deployment of antimissile weapons, in the hope that if the United States and the Soviet Union lay naked before each other, unable to fend off ICBM attacks, neither would risk a first strike.

Actually, judging by the historical record, it wasn't that dangerous at all... at least not as dangerous as the alternative. Predictably, Miller never mentions the problems with ABM systems, the utter failure of Star Wars, and the fact that the systems that are currently being proposed and (pseudo-)tested would never have worked against the USSR, an acknowledgement that NRO made when it was backing Dubya's argument that scrapping the ABM treaty was no threat to Russia and yet now conveniently (and predictably) ignores.

The pointless spin goes on, until the readers reach this howler:

The ABM Treaty's devotees predicted chilly international relations and the advent of a new arms race if their sacred document were ever abandoned. In reality, the United States and Russia have warmer relations now than they've had at any point since the Second World War and both countries' nuclear stockpiles are set to decrease dramatically

Uh huh. Now, lessee... is there, possibly, maybe, another explanation for that that might override the Russian's natural distrust of the ABM system?

Just one?

I'm pretty sure the readers can think of it. It's not surprising that NRO would make this sort of ludicrously illogical argument, but it is surprising that anybody actually reads it or, even worse, actually pays attention to it. Of course, there's no way that the Echo Chamber is going to "fact check their asses", any time soon (it would take decades), but I think this example, and the previous one, show just how deficient NRO is as a source of intelligent commentary and useful information. It's just spin, and bad spin at that.
It's stunning how much the neo-cons out there really, really, really want Ronald Reagan to be considered one of the "great" presidents. Witness the latest attempt to venerate his dubious achievements on NRO online, where they propose to remove FDR from the dime and replace him with Reagan. Aside from the continuing spectacle of wingers desperately trying to contain the continuing popularity of Roosevelt (the president that so crushed their predecessors that only the Reaper could get him out of office), I've gotta ask... Reagan?

I've never quite understood the right's attempts to place Reagan up there with the truly great presidents of the United States. Yes, the cold war ended on his watch, but it's debatable whether the USSR could have survived anyway- one of the neat examples of right-wing doublethink is their contention that the USSR was doomed (which is probably accurate) and their belief that it was entirely to Reagan's credit that it failed, despite the fact that these two things are, of course, contradictory. Even if Reagan were responsible, though, so what? He isn't credited for any kind of grand strategem or brilliant leadership... he just (theoretically) spent money on military toys until the Russians collapsed trying to keep up. Whee. It could have just as easily ended in Armageddon, if the United States hadn't been lucky enough to be up against a reformer like Gorbechev instead of the hardliners that would have died rather than given up the dream.

And the rest of his record really isn't that much better. The economics of his administration were lousy: he single-handedly proved that supply side economics was nonsense just as efficiently as Thatcher proved that strict monetarism is disasterous. The people didn't really respect him: throughout most of his second term (and arguably his first) he was considered by much of the public as an Alzheimer's ridden fossil. His moral record was dubious too, as Iran-Contra aptly demonstrates (whether he was personally responsible or no, the buck stops in the oval office). About the only thing that he really did well was put across the ideas of the right in a fashion that the population could accept and agree with.

Then again, that's the point, isn't it? He was a modern, neo-conservative, right-wing president. Whether he really deserves the honours he's getting or not, he's their chosen one, and therefore should be heaped with accolades and honor. He was on their side. That's enough.

(Thanks to vaara for the link)
I find this sort of thing both amusing and disturbing:

Actually, the Palestinian depravity of this week was even worse, and more cynical. For no sooner had Hamas exploded the bus in Jerusalem than the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade exploded the street corner in Jerusalem: The secularists did not want to suffer in popularity for their failure to murder. In contemporary Palestine, suicide bombing is politically savvy. Yes, yes, the Palestinian community is divided, and there are many decent people who deplore the suicide bombings and aspire to get on with the business of self-government. But Israel cannot be expected to welcome stoically the internecine Palestinian debate while innocent men, women, and children--Jewish and Muslim--are regularly destroyed.

No, I'm not about to defend suicide bombings or those that engage in it. What is both amusing and disturbing about this sort of logic, however, is that as soon as it acknowledges that the set "Palestinian" and the set "Suicide Bomber/supporter of suicide bombing" are seperate and, while overlapping, aren't the same thing, it procedes to ignore it. This is utterly common among the hawks in this discussion, and it always bothers me. After all, I'm sure there are loons in the Knesset who think that the solution should be to force Jordan to take all of the Palestinians in, and in the population as well... but nobody would confuse them with the Israeli government or population at large. So why is it that whenever suicide bombings by individual or groups of Palestinians are mentioned, that huge group of individuals is inevitably melded into one enormous whole? It's pretty obvious that the bombers who are deliberately disrupting peace attempts are not representative of all or perhaps even the majority of Palestinians, yet that distinction is ignored whenever it becomes inconvenient. It's a mistake that does nobody any good: the Israelis, because they misunderstand the situation as it really exists and continually miss the opportunity to ally themselves with the more reasonable Palestinians; the Palestinians, because they are treated like Borg; and the rest of the world, because they're mislead constantly as to the nature of the conflict.

Suicide bombing will not end by "moral clarity", and will only be temporarily suppressed by military action. The only way to start their elimination is to recognize (and, yes, exploit) the divisions that can and do exist within the Palestinians as they do within any group of people. Groupthink doesn't exist in the real world.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

I don't read Joe Katzman's Winds of Change as much as I ought to (especially considering that on at least one site we've been placed beside each other on the blogroll), but when I do I find myself of two minds about the site. On the one hand, his investigation of the concept of "fourth-generation warfare" is a really good breakdown of the tactics and strategy of asymmetrical conflict. On the other hand, well...

There can be no doubt that response to the use of WMD against us would be massive--probably nuclear. Yet even this awesome prospect might not deter a fanatic who cared nothing for his own country or safety. We already see such a mentality at work in the suicide bombers.

Now, this isn't actually his: this is from former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, but he quotes it approvingly. The statement itself, however, is a rather stunning misinterpretation of exactly what suicide bombing is all about, and is merely parroting the dubious idea that state leaders are suicidal madmen (which certainly isn't the case in Iraq, and Iran's mullahs are too busy contending with their own citizenry's desire for change). As to the first concept, the suicide bombers that we most know and understand are Palestinians, and despite the Islamic rhetoric that is at least on some level a secular conflict between two groups; since that secular goal is the liberation of the Palestinian people from what they believe to be brutal oppression, why on earth would any rational Palestinian invite that kind of response? The idea that Palestinian suicide bombers "care nothing for his own country" is utter nonsense.

As to the other conceit, that Arab leaders are suicidally reckless... please. There may be a case for them inciting other people into suicidal acts, but I defy Ms. Thatcher to produce evidence of a leader that wishes to destroy both himself and his country for any cause, any at all. Half the reason these tyrants are so hated (and often justifiably so) is because they have little or no morals, Islamic or otherwise. There may be some that act crazy in order to intimidate their neighbours (Stratfor thoroughly explored this aspect of the North Korean government years ago), but by and large states still act in their own interests, whether that state is led by a tyrant or by a representative government.

As for the notion of Iran being a nation of uncontrollable fanatics... well, I've already talked about that, so I'll just add that it betrays an incredibly simplistic conception of Iranian politics, one that has more to do with a Tom Clancy novel than anything approaching reality. Winds of Change is a great strategic resource, but I wonder about whether Joe is extending his considerable strategic mind to his political analysis. Iran may be a Islamic state, but it remains a state.

I'm glad at the news that the supreme court has decided that executing the retarded is unconstitutional. I'm not the biggest fan of capital punishment in the first place (it violates the United States' Lockean conception of the state by assigning rights to the state that the citizenry would never assign to each other and emphasizes vengeance over all other aspects of criminal justice, not to mention requiring competence on the part of the government that we'd never expect of it in any other endeavour) but executing the retarded is just ludicrous, and I'm glad the Supreme Court disagrees (even if Rehnquist was petty in his dissent).

What really grabbed me was a minor subpoint, though:

The case turned on the 8th Amendment's protection against "cruel and unusual punishments," and how to define those terms today.

Times change, and with them public sentiment about what is appropriate punishment for various crimes, the court has observed in the past. For example, at various times in the country's history it was considered acceptable to flog people in public, or to execute those convicted of rape.

Using elected legislatures as a barometer, the court majority concluded that the public no longer accepts the notion that execution is appropriate for a killer who may lack the intelligence to fully understand his crime.

This is a very interesting constitutional interpretation, because it recognizes that even a constitution as relatively straightforward as the American Constitution is in the end subject to interpretation based on the will and belief of the citizenry as it exists today, not as it existed in Revolutionary times. Some aspects of it are, of course, less subject to interpretation than others, but as definitions of the words that make up the Constitution change, by necessity the meaning of the Constitution will change as well. This also doesn't require the sort of extra-constitutional spinning that is being used to defend the "Precrime" suspension of civil rights for suspected future terrorists- it simply recognizes that language and concepts change as time goes on.

(Wow. This could get reeeal PoMo, real fast.)

Anyway, it's good to see that the United States is slowly joining the rest of the first world in recognizing the pointlessness of capital punishment. Especially of the retarded. I can't believe that was even on the table.
Edward Said is one of the examples most used when someone wants to find "leftists that are cheerleading 'Islamicists'", so it was with small amount of glee that I discovered the following:

If there is one thing along with Arafat's ruinous regime that has done us more harm as a cause it is this calamitous policy of killing Israeli civilians, which further proves to the world that we are indeed terrorists and an immoral movement. For what gain no one has been able to say.

Well, so much for Edward Said being on the side of the terrorists. It's actually a decent summary of the problem from the Palestinian point of view, and is unequivocal about the uselessness of terrorist bombings. (Which is, as I've said, the worst part of the whole thing. Machiavelli pointed out that morality must be set aside if it's clearly in the people's interests, but I'm sure he'd have nothing but scorn for actions that are neither moral nor in anybody's interests).

The only problem with Said's article is that he keeps calling for the "Palestinian people" to create an assembly to replace the Palestinian Authority. While I have no doubt that such an assembly would be useful, I have to ask whether it's really likely. It's rare that such things spring out of the minds of the masses, whether intellectuals call for it or not: it usually requires somebody to actually assemble such a thing, and those people are pretty rare. It reminds me of Rousseau's demand for a Legislator and Machiavelli's call for a leader with "Virtu" that is both supported by the people and yet willing to put their petty concerns aside to create a state. The Americans were lucky enough to have a bunch of them (whether this is due to the economic structure of pre-revolutionary America or not), but where would Palestine find someone who could boast the natural legitimacy, moral authority, and native creativity (not to mention determination) to create such a thing? Especially considering that he (or she) would be a target for every terrorist in the Middle East that still thinks this conflict can be won by force of arms? Machiavelli's Discourses spends a lot of time going over how difficult such a thing really is, and it's far too easy for such a leader (or group of leaders) to descend into tyranny.

It comes down to Aesop's old question: who's going to bell the cat?

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Read This. (It's NYtimes, like many of my links- just go over to alterman's page and borrow his ID).

Finally, we get out from under the astronomically stupid "axis of evil" description of Iran and get a real exploration of the real country. Of particular note to Americans calling for a U.S. style revolution is this:

You find democratic reformers who have learned from the shah's failed attempt at imposed secularism, and from the past 23 years of Islamic rule, that no democracy will take root in Iran that doesn't find a respected place for Islam.

I think that Iran, once it establishes the proper balance of secular and religious influences in society, will emerge out from under its repressive theocracy and become the model for what the "Islamist" states will eventually look like, without the constant tension between the Islamic population and quasi-Nasserian governments.

Or is it that theocratic? Listen to this little gem:

...you find religious thinkers who have also learned from the last 23 years that Iranians have lived through enough incompetent clerics trying to run a government — and trying to tell people what they should wear, think and speak — to know that Islam can't regulate every aspect of a nation's life in the modern age without producing a backlash. Many young Iranians are now running away from the mosques and dislike clerics so much that some mullahs take off their turbans and robes when they walk around certain neighborhoods, to avoid being insulted or harassed.

This is possibly the most hopeful news for the secular west that I've heard in a while. Why? Well, because Iran is the example of Shari'a in action, and this move away from the clerics and towards secular democracy (with the inevitable influence of Islamic law, but likely with a growing tolerance of non-Islamic peoples within the country as the zeal to convert by the sword fades) points out what would happen were the "Islamists" to take over other states in the area- sooner or later, the religious leaders would lose control and moderation would begin in earnest. Which is, oddly enough, pretty much what has happened with Christianity in much of the West.

We should watch Iran, and for the love of God (or Allah, whatever) let's put aside these notions of sponsoring violent revolution. If the U.S. wants to help Iran into the 21st century, it's going to need to be a much subtler, much more nuanced approach than the 18th-century revolutionary tactics that are bouncing around the Echo Chamber.

This is a time and place for Evolution, not Revolution.
Some interesting and well-presented work on Eschaton today about the California energy crisis and the perils of deregulation. Not much I can add to it, really, except to highlight the fundamentally political (instead of economic) nature of economic debate online, where economic theories are often picked and chosen depending on whichever political ideology the chooser adheres to. Economics remains a social science, after all, and any social science will feature even more innumerable competing theories than the still-competitive natural sciences. That's not a bug, it's a feature- unless you have somebody (not naming any names) who thinks that all intelligent, honest economists agree on most issues, and is constantly attempting to prove as much.

(Heck, some of the most intelligent people I've ever met were Marxian political economists, and I can't begin to describe all the problems I have with that system.)

Edit: leave out one quotation mark and the whole post goes straight to...

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Andrew Northrup is both an intelligent commentator and a brilliant comedic writer. His blog, "The Poor Man" is one of the few that, upon initial viewing, prompted me to go back to the very beginning of his archives and devour every last word he wrote. I mean, this:

"Homeland Security" + "USA PATRIOT Act" = I play with G.I. Joes.

is absolutely perfect.

So, Andrew, I have to ask: what's this all about? As I said in his comments section, the necessity for a Palestinian state is justifed by hard realist politics, not the sort of mushy idealism he seems to think has been discredited by the latest suicide bombing. (Why not all the ones previous to it?) Those who advocate it advocate it as the only real long-term solution to the problem, a solution that will never come about by Israeli military force or appeals to common humanity. Whether they have a legitimate grievance and whether their tactics are right or wrong (I personally find them deeply thoughtless and counterproductive, but unsurprising all the same), the question is how to deal with the situation, and the only answer I see working is a seperate state.

(Heck, most of Isreal thinks this, and it's their asses on the line. Who are we to second-guess them?)

By the way, Andrew, you've committed a fundamental logical error: you're extending the responsibility for the actions of a subset (the bombers) to the entire set (the Palestinians). Even if the bombers deserve to be shot in the street and left to be eaten by dogs, that doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the Palestinians shouldn't get their own country, any more than a grievance with the American government's actions in Saudi Arabia justifies the attack on the WTC. (Thus I refute Chomsky.) A small minority of Israelis would like the Palestinians forcibly evicted from the territories... would you accuse the Israelis in general of this sort of belief?
Tom Tomorrow has started a neat little game where one counts all the comparisons being made between Bush's "kill them before they kill us" foreign policy stance and the "Precrime cops" in Minority Report.

What I'm wondering, is whether this is going to be Bush's "Wag the Dog". Clinton got hoist by his own petard for bad timing of a rocket attack in Sudan and every second headline said he was "Wagging the Dog", named after an excellent movie where a president facing reelection in an atmosphere of sexual scandal decides to create a war in order to retain his popularity. It was mostly just bad timing on his part (and lucky timing on Osama's part), but it does illustrate how random acts of popular culture can end up defining politics. After all, the trailers for Minority Report imply that the concept of "Precrime" is deeply flawed, and the reviews seem to indicate that the film is both excellent and will likely be enormously successful, enough so to perhaps influence our popular and political culture. Forget making comparisons.. if the movie is critical of the concept, will people start criticizing Bush based on the parallels? Will this movie actually influence policy?

While critics of Bush's Iraq policy like myself aren't exactly displeased with the general public starting to twig to what's really going on, it's a little strange that it may be due to really, really convenient timing.
Tom Tomorrow gives, if not the smackdown, at least an excellent rebuttal to the right wingers who are insisting that the left's "statement of conscience" is nothing but treasonous Islamist-loving. By all means follow the link, but I like this particular paragraph:

Parenthetical note to my conservative friends, most of whom probably live nowhere near my home, the primary target of Sept. 11 and still the most likely city to be destroyed by a suitcase bomb at any moment--yes, I have heard about the war on terror. I'm just not eager to trade in every last vestige of my freedom for the illusion of security, and frankly, living where I do, my money is where my mouth is.)

When a New Yorker starts asking these questions, it's pretty serious. Nice point about the "illusion of security"... after all, isn't the whole problem with analysis, not information gathering? If so, then why enhance information gathering through arrests and interrogation of dubious constitutionality when there's little to no chance that it'll be properly interpreted anyway?

Monday, June 17, 2002

Instapundit's headline:


Actual story: Rittenhouse review got something mildly wrong, was called on it, and corrected it.

Relevance to legitimate critiques of self-reinforcing "echo chamber" effect of the "blogosphere": Zero.

Instaman's simplistic "blogosphere" cheerleading and utter avoidance of the real issues of bias in this medium leading to excessive "fact checking" in one direction and little-to-none in the other: Off the chart.

(And for that matter, what's with all the drive-by postings to Atrios' site, along with my own? You'd think that if Glenn thought the post good enough to comment on, he'd find it good enough to either link to or at least return to more than once. Apparently not.)
It's good to know that someone agrees with me. Invading Iraq, while tempting, would mean a revolution in the international system that I don't think most of Washington either knows or cares about. The notion of invading a country that has little to do with Al Qaeda is, in my opinion, also the root of the widening of the war that we're beginning to see in the rhetoric of both the administration and the punditry.

Just remember: sooner or later, the war will end. When it does, what will the world look like, and how will it treat the United States?
Instapundit weighs in on republic.com. Predictably, he insists that the "multiple exclusive factions" hypothesis is wrong. (well, actually he just says "republic.com isn't holding up", but it's a fair extension).

It's pretty easy to assume that a community exists when you're a part of a hegemonic and self-reinforcing faction. I imagine the rest of us might disagree, and might point out, once again, that a horde of bloggers complaining about the same linked New York Times article does not a healthy debate make.
I was tempted to post a detailed rebuttal of Den Beste's entry concerning Iraq, the War on Terrorism(Islam), and his contempt for diplomacy, but instead I think I'll just pull a choice quote:

Colin Powell is a good man; he's intelligent and disciplined and, unfortunately, seems to lack the will to fight. He showed that in the Gulf War, too. I respect him deeply. There are times and places where men like Powell are invaluable, but when you're fighting World War III, men like that are an impediment... [w]hat we need now is someone harder, less affable, a bit more ruthless, a bit less pliable, a bit more frank, a bit less concerned with hurting people's feelings, a bit more partisan, a bit less understanding, and a bit more willing to say no to "friends".

(emphasis mine).

What more is there to say, really? Paging Dr. Strangelove....
I'm not quite sure why the authors of this article on blogs (along with Tapped, who linked it) seem to think that the Internet is any less balkanized or divided than Cass Sunstein predicted:

Cass Sunstein, a professor of law at the University of Chicago and the author of Republic.com, prophesied a few years back that the explosion of individual websites, coupled with sophisticated filtering software, would splinter the populace into increasingly Balkanised special-interest groups...

...[b]ut this hasn't happened. If anything, the Web has led to more, not fewer, "random encounters." Bloggers are just as likely to link to an article they disagree with as to one whose views they share. And the tendency of bloggers to reference each other means that it's easy to find yourself clicking around to new destinations

I get the feeling that the authors mistook the pack mentality of the right side of the blog community as some sort of interaction between different points of view. The "echo chamber" finding links, passing them around, and group-criticizing them (or merely linking back and forth to each other with the occasional critical link to an opposing argument) is exactly the sort of thing that Sunstein was worried about and which has been amply demonstrated by the history of the Internet up until this point. Even the most cursory examination of Internet communities outside of the "blogosphere" will show the presence of the sorts of isolated, relatively ideologically "pure" environments that Sunstein was worried about, and the cliche of the "echo chamber" wouldn't have appeared were it not for the mutually reinforcing beliefs and ideas of the warbloggers.

I'm sorry, but a bunch of ideologues using the same arguments to attack the same Paul Krugman article isn't a real debate.
Wow, I should hit Townhall.com more often, as I managed to come across a two-for-one deal for conservative rhetoric. First we have the typical "Invade, Kill, Convert" line, which isn't particularly surprising for the increasingly crusade-oriented American right. What makes Kathleen Park's column so interesting, however, is that she somehow manages to tie that into a different article about the Catholic Church and the molestation issue.

Now, it should be pretty obvious that the whole "it's because some of the priests are homosexuals and every homosexual is a pedophile waiting for his chance" line is completely discredited, as a cursory examination of both the disease (which attracts people to children, gender not being that much of a factor) and the situation (men coupled with young boys) would seem to indicate. It also seems to be a reemergence of the naive belief that the only people who ever engage in homosexual activity are out-and-out gays, but I don't expect well-researched or thought-out material on sites like this anyway. What I expect is what I got: ludicrous rhetoric that only reinforces my belief that conservatives need a lot more examination, criticism, and rebuttal than they're getting.
Yet another variation on "Invade them, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity by force" on Townhall.

I'm starting to think Coulter wasn't nuts, just ahead of the pack.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

While Eugene Volokh's case for interrogation strictly for the purposes of information gathering (as opposed to conviction of the suspect) is pretty solid, it does still rate some questions as to the distinction between "criminal" and "enemy".

Here's the relevant passage:

Of course, even if the government is only barred from using the evidence in the subject's own trial, this may still be quite troubling. It's one thing to say "Well, it's true that this [burglar or robber, or even rapist or murderer] will have to go free even though he's clearly guilty, but that's what we need to do to give the police an incentive to behave properly"; it maybe another to say with respect to an enemy saboteur who may have special skills, willpower, and connections that might allow him to fight against us again. But at least this consequence is less troubling than a conclusion that the government was simply barred from interrogating the enemy in various ways in the first place.

It's telling that he used the words "or even rapist or murderer" instead of making the direct comparison between, say, an enemy saboteur and an arsonist. The relevant question is where the difference lies- assuming the arsonist is destroying buildings because he hates the government (which is possible), where is the distinction made between a saboteur and an arsonist in terms of their civil and legal rights, if the damage is the same? I hate to bring up such a loaded term, but it seems that the difference is purely political (war is, after all, politics by other means), making the distinction rest solely on the former's status as a political prisoner. Volokh is worried about how troubling it would be if the police couldn't interrogate a prisoner, but let us remember that dead is dead, whether at the hands of a random criminal or an enemy of the state. Arguments that the rights of one should be ignored raise the question of whether the rights of the other should be ignored, and Volokh seems to be dancing around that all-important question.
This is another one of those "respond to the comments thread in the blog" bits, so be warned. The relevant comments thread is in the one about Falwell and the pedophile libel.

Dean (who needs to get his own bloody blog, if only so that we can start carpet-bombing his comments sections with posts) proposed the difference between Islamic fundamentalists and "Islamists" is that the latter are trying to create an Islamic state, and the former are not. I find the distinction irrelevant because it seems to be merely a question of tactics. As I said earlier, any doctrinaire adherent of a religious system is going to believe that the rules of that system should apply to others as well, so that they can be "saved" (or whatever) and so that society would function better. This is true whether this person believes society should function on the bases of Shari'a, the Ten Commandments, or the Talmud- and there are organizations that believe that different countries should be controlled by all three. There is no denying that religion forms the bases for many of the mores accepted in a particular country and the laws created by its government are based on said mores, so where does the difference between an Islamic fundamentalist and an Islamist lie? Only in tactics- only in the idea that the state itself should become theocratic (by force if necessary).

Now, here's the scary part: Islamists are allowed to have these beliefs, just as the Christian Coalition is allowed to attempt to install friendly senators, congressmen, and presidents in order to make the United States a more "christian" country. They can be a legitimate faction within a country, and have as much right to attempt to influence the laws and government of a country as any business coalition or secular NGO. (Especially if the country is democratic).

The problem only comes when they attempt to put those beliefs into practice .. when they actually attempt to overthrow the State by force. Since when is that exclusive to "Islamists"? We have civil wars and insurrections all around the world that aim to overthrow the current regime and replace it with something else; how do Islamists differ from, say, the Hutus and Tutsis, or any of the little communist Juntas that plagued South and Central America? The answer is that they don't, except that some marry the two concepts together. (They aren't unique in this: the more disturbing militias in the United States are little different except that they usually add nasty racist overtones to the concept, whereas the sort of communist insurrections I mentioned earlier are merely a secular variety of the same phenomenon).

It is the latter ambition that's the problem, however, not the former. The religious aspect is in many respects a dangerous smokescreen, as the real point is dealing with those who attempt to overthrow the legitimate state, no matter what their beliefs. We kicked Saddam out of Kuwait not because he was an "Islamist" (he's not) but because he had no right overthrowing the government of Kuwait and taking the country by force: the same is true of anybody else who acts in this fashion. The term "Islamist" is therefore meaningless- the people we should be fighting are the violent revolutionaries, full stop, and even then only when they attempt to put those beliefs into practice (or are obviously about to). It's perhaps rather ironic that a nation that was created by a revolution finds itself needing to fight revolutionaries, but that is the situation as it stands. Life is a funny thing.

(The Canadians must be laughing their loyalist heads off.)

Friday, June 14, 2002

I was very impressed with a suggestion that Public Nuisance made for trial procedures that would both respect the necessity for confidentiality of secret information and (to an extent) the accused's right to a fair trial.

It seems that to deal with this problem something along the following lines is needed(IANAL):

When there is evidence that must be concealed from a suspected terrorist, they can be assigned to a tribunal rather than a civilian court. This assignment would be approved by a judge, not made unilaterally by the executive branch.

Persons brought before a tribunal will be entitled to an attorney, but not one of their own choosing. The attorney will be chosen from a list of attorneys cleared to access confidential evidence in terrorism cases.

These attorneys would probably be mostly or entirely government employees. They should have guarantees of independence, so they would not face penalties for aggressive representation of their clients. They would of course face criminal charges should they leak any confidential information.

Defendants would also be permitted to hire attorneys of their own choice, for general counsel and to call or cross-examine any non-secret witnesses.

Defendants wouldn't be allowed to examine the confidential evidence, although their approved attorneys would. In some cases, the defendant wouldn't even know the specifics of the charge. This is really straining the Sixth Amendment to the breaking point, but it seems almost impossible to get around this and still keep the evidence secret. The only alternative I can see is the Ashcroft plan to just lock people up without any judicial proceeding, which is worse.

Not only does this set up a dual-track procedure that emphasizes the rights of the defendant in regards to non-secret information (which is probably the fairest way to handle it) but it actually wouldn't be that difficult to implement. It's not as easy to implement as "lock up everybody that looks funny for life", of course, and therefore likely won't see the light of day any time soon, but if anybody becomes interested (or we have an administration change) the arguments work.

By the way, I'm aware that I was going to write about Brock today, but I've been somewhat consumed by the antics of the (more aptly named than I knew) American Taliban and the question of whether civil rights mean anything any more if they aren't convenient. I'll get back to Brock tomorrow, because it actually fits into these issues rather nicely.

And now, of course, the debate has transformed from "why should non-citizens have any rights" to "why should citizens have any rights". I have little doubt that Jonah and company would defend the civil rights of, say, a militia member who was equally hostile to the government (and the secularity) of the United States. In fact, they have: the furor over the militia movement after Tim McVeigh blew up another building prompted loud and repeated calls from the right that the rights of militia members and the like should be respected, whether we like them or not. The same is doubtless true of racists (although the two overlap quite nicely).

And let's not forget Waco, although that was mostly anti-Clinton opportunism.

But, of course, it's different now. Why? Well, that's actually an excellent question. As I mentioned in an earlier update, every criminal is on some fundamental level at war with the state- hence the reason the state has the legitimate right to punish or (in certain parts of the United States) even kill him. There's no difference between an "Al Qaeda operative" and a random street thug... they're both enemies of the state. That doesn't mean that it can lock up people randomly, however: it needs to follow the proper procedure and respect the rights of citizens. Those rights have nothing to do with the severity of crime being charged, who that citizen is, or what they've done. They come with the territory, part of the deal the government makes with the citizenry in exchange for the ability to prosecute and punish crime.

The problem, of course, is that it's incovenient (as civil rights mean nothing if they're only observed when the government wants to observe them), and it's obvious by now that this administration is utterly unwilling to accept even the slightest inconvenience if it gets in the way of what it wants. Frankly, I'm amazed that the Harvard "Jihad" guy hasn't been locked up yet, and considering that this guy is hispanic (and that several of the American Muslims mentioned in instapundit's article I mentioned earlier are African-American), it's no longer just a problem for people who look visibly Arabic. I shudder to think at what the tattered remains of our civil rights will look like six months from now.