Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Stratfor.com is an organization whose work I used to read religiously a few years back, but I somewhat throttled back on my readership after they stopped sending out those convenient email updates and locked most of their content behind the walls of their pay site. It's too bad, though, because if I had kept up on reading the site I wouldn't have missedthis article that Josh Marshall cited today when discussing the possibility not just of a war with Iraq but that the decision in favor of war had already been made and was simply being kept "under wraps", like that Homeland Security bit was.

The article itself is actually a pretty coherent and concise summary of the different factors that are pointing away from an eventual invasion. Part of that includes the elements that would make prosecuting the war itself actually difficult- including the difficulty of actually prosecuting the war without local allies, the near-universal condemnation of the idea outside the United States itself, and the reality that "given its battlefield constraints, Washington could not be sure it could contain a war on Iraq within that country's borders or manage the war's aftermath."

More important than that, however, is the recognition that "Iraq is peripheral to its primary strategic concern: al Qaeda. And while the United States may have the firepower to defeat the Iraqi army, it needs intelligence as much as rifles to defeat al Qaeda. That intelligence comes from allies in the Middle East, and the United States cannot afford for it to dry up." This has been one of the more cogent criticisms of the entire enterprise- that invading Iraq may contain one possible peripheral threat at the expense of letting an acknowledged and very real opponent in the real war on terrorism go unchecked and unwatched. It was Al Qaeda that flew the jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, after all, not Saddam Hussein, and there's no doubt that those in the administration who aren't frantically trying to spin their way into the war on Iraq they've been calling for since Bush left are aware of that. (It's not like the United States could simply pressure middle eastern governments into complying, either, because the outside pressure from the United States would pale in comparison to the domestic pressure generated by compliance with the U.S. in the face of an Iraqi invasion.)

Actually, Stratfor seems to believe that Al Qaeda may make a move soon:

Aside from some small skirmishes in Afghanistan and a few thwarted solo efforts, al Qaeda has been inert since Sept. 11. With elections approaching and the market psychology uneasy in the United States, now would be an opportune time from its standpoint for an attack.

Moreover, al Qaeda has placed itself under pressure to demonstrate that it remains intact and effective, after a spokesman announced in June that the group would strike again soon. And as al Qaeda cannot afford the perception that it was crushed by the United States, Washington cannot afford to expend all its political capital on a war with Iraq only to be blindsided by an al Qaeda attack in the United States.
Disturbing, if true, but it definitely lends itself to their analysis:

While there may have been a logic behind the Iraq campaign, it failed when it came at the expense of the war on al Qaeda. The question is not whether Washington can back down from its Iraq policy. It must. The question is how can it manage the political retreat?
In order to answer this question (and show that the administration has asked it as well), they have a rundown of the signs that the administration itself may be moving away from war, and the difficulty that it faces in doing so. Besides the oft-quoted Scowfield and Kissinger objections and the renewed vigour of the hawk's perennial thorn-in-the-side, Colin Powell, there's the continued reluctance of the administration to actually admit that they've made a decision to invade. Yes, this could be a tactic to disarm and destabilize Saddam, as both Josh Marshall and Steven Den Beste have implied, but I don't think so- the kind of Machiavellian political mastery that this would require isn't something that I've seen demonstrated by this administration; if it were so adept, Homeland Security and that little economic session last week wouldn't have sunk like stones even in the remarkably friendly press environment that Bush currently enjoys. Besides, at this point, Saddam would be more surprised if the invasion didn't happen, and I have little doubt that he's prepared for the invasion to start fairly soon- certainly for the invasion to start in September or October.

Stratfor actually makes an excellent point about some political maneuvering that is quite likelier, though:

CNN's broadcast over the weekend of al Qaeda's video library -- showing chemical gas experiments and explosives-making -- is perfectly timed to help begin refocusing the American public. The democrats will have to think twice before adopting a pro-war stance as a campaign issue while republicans will find it easy to again rally around the anti-al Qaeda campaign.
This somewhat reminds me of the complaints that were often heard this spring about the magical disappearing Osama Bin Laden; regardless, Stratfor is right in that this sort of thing is an excellent way of reminding Americans that Iraq isn't the only target or even the greatest threat, and I agree with them that "a policy reversal should play well for domestic politics."

Where does this leave the blogosphere? It'll probably leave it in quite a disasterous state. Stratfor noted a few key ramifications of this:

-There may be some squabbling within the administration itself, as the unilateralists attempt to defend their positions against Powell and the resurgent coalitionists, but nothing too drastic will emerge....[i]t should not pose much of a problem for U.S. relations with its European allies either, as they will see this as a rare case of Washington knocked to its senses by reality.
One can only imagine how many keyboards will be pounded into submission under the weight of blogger anger.

Then again, some of us will feel a little better. I happen to agree with Stratfor that...
Al Qaeda's strategic goal was to pit the United States against all of Islam, in the process giving the Islamic world a common enemy against which to unite. Washington stumbled into that trap with its Iraq policy, with Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shiites uniting against the campaign and thwarting U.S. intentions"
...and I've been worried about whether the United States has been dancing to Osama's tune ever since the Afghani war ended and the administration started casting about for the next opponent. Stratfor is correct in their estimation of the likelihood of diplomatic and strategic difficulties in the region, but I believe that it's far better than the alternative.

Then again, Stratfor might be wrong, but they usually don't screw up that badly, and they'll have put a lot of thought and work into this analysis. It certainly jibes with what I'm seeing, and I've been somewhat of a pessimist about this situation for a while. Yes, it might be disinformation, but I honestly doubt it.
Just because everybody else linked to this, and because it really is worth highlighting in the (unlikely) case that somebody actually uses TownHall as some sort of respectable source:

Today in the United States white people have no political representation. Whites have to struggle in the courts against government opposition to claim any resemblance to equal rights. Explicit government policies have made whites second class citizens. Whites are a dispossessed majority in their own country.

Why did the white majority allow themselves to be stripped of the equal protection clause of the Constitution? Why do whites remain loyal to the political parties that took away their rights?

What is the future for whites in a political system where both political parties pander to third world immigrants and support racial privileges for minorities? Having lost equal protection of law, what will whites lose next?
Tapped mentioned that "that sound you heard was tapped's jaw hitting the floor". Sadly, however, I remain unsurprised. The only surprise for me was that the article didn't use the phrase "uppity negroes". Maybe next time.

(Oh, and in case anybody was waiting for a substantive critique, his foundation argument- that discrimination can only exist through "purposeful action"- is utter bunk. Discrimination can and does exist unknowingly and unwittingly, as any number of sociological and psychological experts and studies have said in the past. Only by glomming onto the romantic but utterly nonsensical notion that humans don't do anything unconsciously can such a statement be justified. Sadly, all too many people think that notion happens to be true.)
Well, so much for Paul Krugman leaving Bush alone. With an assist from Blogdom's own Josh Marshall, Krugman looks at what is colloquially called "being Bushed"... a term usually used to describe the phenomenon of the President having a nice photo op with the representatives of some group of some sort, and then that group's furious discovery that away from the cameras the administration has screwed them.

The weird thing is that some of these decisions are politically insane. Take a look at this, for example:

Take George W. Bush's decision last week to demonstrate his resolve by blocking $5.1 billion in homeland security spending. This turned out to be a major gaffe, because the rejected bill allocated money both to improve veterans' health care and to provide firefighters with new equipment, including communication systems that could have saved lives on Sept. 11. Recalling those scenes at ground zero that did so much to raise Mr. Bush's poll numbers, the president of the International Association of Firefighters warned, "Don't lionize our fallen brothers in one breath, then stab us in the back."
or this:

After [the trapped coal miners'] rescue, Mr. Bush made a point of congratulating them in person — and Michael Novak, writing in National Review Online, declared Somerset, Pa., the "conservative capital of the world."

But Mr. Novak didn't mention the crucial assistance provided by the federal government's Mine Safety and Health Administration. That would have raised some awkward questions: although the Bush administration's energy plans call for major increases in coal mining, its spending plans cut funds for mine safety. More conservative budget guidance.
Krugman makes some good points about Bush's fake "populism", and the pseudo-populism that has been employed by the right for decades. What's strange, though, is that Paul needs to make it at all- this sort of deception and doubletalk should be front-and-center for most Bush critics, especially on motherhood issues like firefighters. Admittedly being a Bush critic is a target-rich environment, but why should Paul Krugman the economics prof even need to point something like this out, and why should he need to cite a blogger (even one as well-known and respected as Josh Marshall) for a story on the administration's screwing of veterans, when it's such an obvious "gimme" to his critics and to the press in general? Especially considering, as Paul noted, the vigor and ruthlessness with which the press corps attacked Al Gore for what was really a totally innocuous Op-Ed column?

Paul has become one of the premier Bush critics on the national stage, and that's all well and good- but he should be one of many, and it's disturbing to see the extent to which he stands alone. If there is a "liberal bias" in the media, its the single greatest demonstration of incompetence that I've yet seen.

Monday, August 19, 2002

David Yaseen cracks wise about TransProg.

Of course! It was the EU that was behind the protests in Genoa. Crafty devils, setting up against their own police forces; we're going to need a lot of elbow grease to rid the world of scum that evil.

That whole bit about antiglobalization protestors being displaced workers and people disgusted at the standard of living of the third world folks who work at our corporations' factories, man, we almost got suckered into falling for it.
I've said it before, I'll say it again: and people wondered why I can't take it seriously.
While quite a few articles and commentators have gone to no small lengths to point out that the United States isn't doing a bang-up job of rebuilding Afghanistan, one of the guest editorials in today's Globe and Mail brings up the aftermath of an oft-forgotten conflict nowadays: the war in Yugoslavia.

According to this article, the situation isn't pretty:

Washington and its allies have not completely turned their backs on the Balkans, but it is fair to say they have lost a great deal of their zeal for rebuilding.

In 1999, just after NATO forces moved into Kosovo, $1.5-billion (U.S.) was pledged for reconstruction. In 2001, that figure fell to $593-million. Considering that a great deal of this aid goes to maintaining the mission's personnel, it is an open question of how much is actually trickling down to the people of Kosovo.

Half of the province's population lives in poverty. Fear still reigns: Serbs cannot even go to church without the protection of NATO troops. The province was worse off under Belgrade's rule, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement for the effectiveness of nation-building in Kosovo.

The situation in Yugoslavia proper is perhaps even more dire. After the handover of Mr. Milosevic to the United Nations war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, Washington and its allies pledged $1.28-billion to help the country's war-ravaged economy. While this aid was certainly welcome, Yugoslavia lost $29.4-billion in output because of the NATO bombing. Rebuilding has been slow as the country struggles with inflation and debt repayments.

A personal example: My grandmother lives two blocks away from the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The windows of her apartment were shattered when NATO bombs accidently hit the embassy. She spent two weeks in a bomb shelter but did not move back in until well after the Kosovo campaign because her apartment was in a part of Belgrade that could be accessed only by bridge, and the bridges had all been knocked down. Since that time, she has complained of breathing problems. No one -- not NATO, the new Yugoslav government or any aid organization -- offered to pay for the repairs to her home. My family was able to help; many Yugoslavs are not so fortunate.
Of course, nobody but the most ardent partisan would blame Bush for this, and I don't plan to do so. It illustrates an important point, though: any process of rebuilding in the middle east is going to require time, money, personnel and perhaps some sacrifice on the part of Americans. The rewards of doing so are great, but the dangers of doing so badly are even greater. Whether invasion of Iraq is in the cards or not, the new doctrine of "regime change" may remain, and as long as it does then it's important to remember that real change is the product of a lot of hard and (often) thankless work- not a quick, flashy bombing campaign. The difficult job will be after the invasion, not during it.
Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review has been urging people to donate to the Wellstone campaign or ask people to donate if they can. As I consider it incredibly important that all three branches of the government not go fully Republican, especially right now, I'm inclined to agree with him. I can't donate personally, but I implore those readers who identify with the liberal cause, with liberalism in the United States, or the Democrats specifically to give it a long thought. Heck, considering Wellstone's left cred (that Jim has pointed out in no small detail), he's about the best choice for leftists in the state too. Even if its a small amount, it might help.

In any case, Jim said that the deadline is August 21, so if you're going to donate, do so soon. And if you need reasons, go over to Jim's site; he'll give you metric assloads. (Heck, go anyway- I link him for a reason.)

Thanks for your time.
Edit: bloody spelling errors.

Well, this is new. In response to the (valid) questions about whether invading Iraq would dangerously tie down the U.S. military and whether or not the United States truly has the ability to go it alone, Stanley Kurtz has come up with an innovative solution:

Reinstate the Draft.

The first words that come to mind are, of course, "are you daft"? Careful control of the media aside, one of the biggest differences that seperate the wars following Vietnam from those that preceded them was an all-volunteer military- that way the United States avoids the embarrassing spectacle of forcing teenagers and young adults to fight against their will in countries they've never heard of against a cause that they're not particularly unsympathetic towards. All those body bags coming home from Vietnam tugged on the heartstrings precisely because the vast majority of them had absolutely no choice, and because pretty much everybody knew that compulsory service was only for those without parental resources to keep them out of Vietnam and either in college or in the National Guard. (Hi, Dubya!)

Ending the draft was also the first step towards turning the current military into a professional one- into the "elite force" that the advertisements on TV are constantly hyping and which that new "America's Army" video game is supposed to be simulating. I was under the impression that the military had been turning people away before the attacks on 9/11, so why reinstate the draft?

Why indeed? Well, it comes back to the question of unilateralism vs. multilateralism. See, the U.S. military does have a source of other manpower- the militaries of its allies. That's the whole reason you start an alliance in the first place- so that you can rely on the other guy to help you out if necessary. One for all, all for one- collective security. For Afghanistan, it had that kind of support, which is why the U.S. had the luxury of turning away most of its allies as unnecessary, and why most of the civilized world has said that they're more than willing to help against Al Qaeda (except in cases where it would be dangerous to the regime itself, which is valid- a failed state is a terrorist's paradise.) The United States suffers from a embarrassing wealth of options when it comes to fighting the war on terrorism. Iraq, though...

Well, let's be honest- the reason why the United States is having so much trouble generating internal support for the war on Iraq is because it's having so much trouble generating external support. The arguments and reasons against it are similar, but there's an important difference- Bush can do it without internal support without that much difficulty, but fighting a war without allies in a faraway land and maintaining readiness for some other conflict is difficult at best (which is part of the reason for that "two wars" doctrine). The United States could invade and then occupy Iraq, but that would take enough time and manpower that it would be in serious trouble were some other conflict to start with a real power (like, say, China). If the United States could count on the support of its allies like it could with Afghanistan, then it wouldn't be an issue, but as it is, the U.S. would need to go it alone. Which means more soldiers, much faster. Which means a draft. Which means... well, I think you already know what that means.

It's funny.. if Stanley Kurtz weren't hell bent on arguing to a conclusion, he'd be this close to arguing against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. As it is, though, he's got to go to the unpopular extent of arguing for a draft. Gotta say one thing- that'd be a gift to the Democrats. Pity that they'd then be tied down in a Nixonian war they didn't want. Maybe that's a gift they'd be better off without.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Edit: Proper word substituted for entirely the wrong one, and that angular bracket is gone.

There's some excellent work here on the left's relative timidity by Michael Tomasky in the American Prospect. I might comment more later, but for right now I'll just highlight this one important paragraph:

For the better part of two decades now, Democrats have operated according to so timorous a model of partisanship that they no longer know how to fight. They know how to argue policy. They do that quite well, and indeed they often win those arguments, if for no other reason than that so many of the policies Republicans support harken back (if I may) to the Gilded Age. But when it comes to hardball partisan politics, they've been fighting a raging fire with a garden hose. They've been afraid, even petrified, of arguing politics, of stepping outside the comparatively safe zone of policy and assertively debating the core principles that are the reason many of them enter the civic sphere to begin with. Arguing politics means challenging not only the other side's positions but the very moral and cultural underpinnings of those positions. It means using emotional arguments to link the opposition to a set of values alien to this country's best traditions. It means finding the symbolic representations of the enemy's masked agendas and exposing them. It means not only attacking the other side but defending one's own side (and not with statistics, but with moral arguments advanced with conviction). And, finally, it means doing all this on a permanent basis, day after day, with lots of warm bodies standing next to one another, saying the same thing over and over, until the media has to cover it. But all these are things the Democrats no longer know how to do.
Word, dawg.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Well, this should explode a few heads: Paul Krugman has delivered a column that has absolutely nothing to do with the Bush administration. Not that it's some sort of Bush puff piece- it just doesn't mention him in the slightest. Instead, it raises the question of whether the United States might end up in a Japanese-style funk, thanks to the combination of the burst stock bubble, the corporate governance problems, poor long-term budget prospects and the possibility of a real estate bubble bursting. He acknowledges that there has been some small growth, but makes the point that even in Japan that's been the case for a while. The issue is the gap between what a country does produce and what it can produce, which is a huge gap in the land of the rising sun and a growing one in the U.S.

Needless to say, this is worrisome as hell if true. Japan's economy is one of the bigger economic problems out there right now, but it isn't the "buyer of last resort" by any means. The United States is, and any such long-term economic malaise would affect the entire planet. (Unless, of course, somebody else takes up the slack. Maybe Europe is due for a comeback?)
Max make some good points about the concept of equality of opportunity and equality of results... not on some sort of anti-meritocratic level, but on the basis of one's identity (black, white, male, female, jewish, muslim, croatian, turkish, whatever).

Aside from the whole SDB flap, it's interesting material in its own right, and worth reading.
I think half the left-wingers in the "blogosphere" have commented on this story, and it's definitely an interesting story. The idea that Republicans are actually breaking ranks says a lot not just about the war situation as it currently exists, but about how divided Washington probably is on this issue, and not necessarily along partisan lines. What interests me the most, though, is what isn't being said. Check out what Kissinger actually said (according to the NYTimes):

In an opinion article published on Monday in The Washington Post, Mr. Kissinger made a long and complex argument about the international complications of any military campaign, writing that American policy "will be judged by how the aftermath of the military operation is handled politically," a statement that seems to play well with the State Department's strategy.

"Military intervention should be attempted only if we are willing to sustain such an effort for however long it is needed," he added. Far from ruling out military intervention, Mr. Kissinger said the challenge was to build a careful case that the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction calls for creation of a new international security framework in which pre-emptive action may sometimes be justified.
This seems to be a common thread- that there will be action against Iraq, but that it doesn't need to happen right now. It makes sense, and has always been the biggest practical argument against invasion of Iraq- even if it needs to be done, why do it right now? The political argument that Rove would be pursuing is obvious- Bush would gain the maximum political leverage from a war started fairly soon before the November elections- far away enough that wartime patriotism would be allowed to grow, but soon enough that the perils of occupation (if any) wouldn't sour the public towards the enterprise and cast about looking for someone to blame. I think that's why most people are saying somewhere between late September and early November. The problem, of course, is that everybody else knows this as well, and while it may not be useful as an campaigning tool for the Democrats, tales of wagged dogs will circulate throughout the world and the Bush administration will have almost guaranteed a much more hostile foreign policy landscape, making their job much trickier than it already is.

I think that some Republicans are realizing this- that even if they honestly believe that invasion should happen in the fall, everyone else will assume it's political, and it'll lead to hassles that are simply best avoided. That would imply that the logical time would not be this fall but next spring. Unless, of course, they're worried that support for the strike among the public will drop, but if the arguments in favor of invasion are that strong, that shouldn't matter, should it? Heck, even if it does drop, the election just ended, and they've got a year and a half before Bush and Co. face the electorate again. Assuming that the whole thing goes off as planned, that's more than ample time.

If it doesn't, of course, then no amount of buffer time will help.

I realize that this is going almost absurdly meta, but reading Terminus write this:

Whoo-boy! Demosthenes from Shadow of the Hegemon gave me a link today, along with some kind words, and my traffic has upped considerably. Thanks for that. Welcome to all of the new faces (not that I can see your faces, obviously, but... uh... nevermind), and I hope you find something of interest. Please feel free to comment or email...
...gives me a very, well, weird feeling. Not positive, not negative, just strange. Don't get me wrong; Terminus is a great poster and has a good blog (which, unlike mine, wouldn't irritate Tapped), but it's almost unnerving to think that a link from my humble site could seriously affect somebody else's traffic. Not something that Usenet or Webboards really prepares you for.

I think I'm starting to grok Instapundit.

Oh well, I'm sure it'll blow over, and soon I'll return to my accustomed, erm, anonymity.

(heh.)

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Edit: There's a really interesting discussion of all this going on in Atrios' comments section, including a good examination of the problem of imposing arbitrary equivalence when discussing the relative sins of the left and right.

Spinsanity, a site that normally can be relied on for useful and coherent analysis of the media, is host to what appears to be a hatchet job by Brendan Nyhan aimed at MediaWhoresOnline. Atrios' reaction is "who cares what they think?" but mine goes a little deeper than that.

In essense, Nyhan is complaining that MWO's tactics are "polluting the public discourse"; that their attacks are overstated and overly inflammatory. Now, inflammatory they are, there's no doubt of that; but by and large, a lot of the comments they've made and insights they've written are either on the money or close enough so as to make little difference. Nyhan doesn't seem to quite understand MWO either- he either doesn't acknowledge or hasn't realized that the reason that MWO uses the word "whore" in the first place is that they're sucking up to republican elites in order to gain fame and fortune, and sacrifice their journalistic integrity to do it. They're selling themselves out- hence, "whores". While distasteful, it's an accurate representation. MWO is also supposed to be direct counterpart to all those "media research" groups on the right that aim invective at the so-called "liberal bias"; MWO's an almost direct reaction to that claim, and proof that the operative phrase here isn't "workers of the world, unite" but "show me the money". (There are others, such as FAIR, but MWO takes the "flaming invective" role that FAIR largely eschews.)

The biggest problem, though, is this notion that any low blows on the part of the left are "poisoning the discourse", as Brenden seems to think. Let's be honest- it's going to happen anyway, and to ignore that and pretend that those that are polite and respectful always triumph over mudslingers is to refight the Dukakis campaign and ensure Republican domination of American politics (and right-wing domination of the public discourse). Inflammatory rhetoric serves a valuable role because it provides something that non-inflammatory writers can set themselves against- even if they aren't really political moderates, they appear so, and therefore gain credibility.

That's why the right doesn't care whether or not Rush is accurate or not, or how many people catch him on his mistakes- he serves a vital role simply by existing. MWO, of course, isn't exactly the same (they don't get caught out in mounds of lies, for one), but what's wrong with a firebrand, especially if what he (or she) is saying is substantially true? Brenden never really answers this, instead pulling out the tired "we're above this" argument that only guarantees political irrelevance.

Also, the citation used here isn't very strong. If there were some sort of patterns being brought to light here then it would be a much more compelling article, but by and large it's just a few anecdotes from different MWO entries used to attack the site's work as a whole. Often they are taken out of context, but even if they aren't, they aren't very persuasive- they might be simply the most extreme examples of inflammatory rhetoric on a generally benign site, picked and chosen to support Brenden's claim. If this were a response only to one article then that might be different, but if you're trying to prove systemic errors, then one needs systemic proof.

I like Spinsanity and think that it's a good site, but I think that they missed the mark here. Inflammatory rhetoric is a part of politics that goes back much farther than modern western civilization, and to shut one's eyes to it is a guarantee of irrelevance. It may not be pretty, but it's true.
Those who expect a long response to Den Beste's latest entry will be sadly disappointed. I only need two words:

Strawmen Aplenty.

Nothing else really needs to be said.

Edit: Ok, I'll say six more words and quote a few to go with it:

Max tore Steven a new orifice.

I have to admit the ignorance reflected in this post is too much for my limited energies. The multiplication of slurred generalizations of groups and the incapacity to replicate progressive messages as prelude to honest critique is mind-boggling. I commend its evisceration to all my friends listed at right.
Heh.
I just found an interesting counterpart to the "why authors are sometimes pseudonymous" and "why leftists are sometimes pseudonymous" bits in a blog entry by Dominion, aka James McLaughlin. The article deals with several points that have already been common bones of contention (like whether or not a "real name" grants one any more credibility and situations where pseudonymity or anonymity aren't really an option), but brings up two points that are worthy of highlighting.

First, he notes:

most of us old timers are pseudonymous because back in the day it was considered none to wise to allow personal information of any sort to escape over the internet. See most of us came from the land of the Bulletin Board System (BBS). A BBS was sort of like a combination of usenet (people would post in what were known as SIGS or Special Interest Groups) they would play what were called door games (people would log, make a series of moves that day, then observe the actions and reactions of the other players the next day) and sometimes chat. They were usually local, set up on someone's personal PC. Since they were local, it was highly advised that you did not share personal information over the system. We used what were called "nyms" or "handles" instead of our real names. A lot of that suspicion leaked over when we moved to the internet, the worldwide implications not really striking us yet. I came up with the nym Dominion back in the day I was posting to WWIVNet and it has stuck with me though thick and thin.
It's been rather a long time since the BBS days, but the admonishment to keep personal information off the network, any network, stuck and was one of the big reasons why the cypherpunks gained relative cachet and importance throughout most of the last decade. I've been using this handle (and a few others) since the BBS days, and I remember boards that told you under no uncertain terms to keep personal information to yourself, and practically nobody used their real names on Fidonet.

Second is perhaps the best and most chilling example of how the Internet is here:

Nor should anyone discount the actual danger of people knowing who you are. Take, for example, Grady Ward and Dennis Erlich. Dennis Erlich was a high official in the Church of Scientology. Grady was merely a critic. Both of them had their doors busted down by cops, had their computers confiscated, had the peace of their life shattered, had lawsuits brought against them, supposedly for posting the Church's Stupid Sekret Skripture, but really for the crime of daring to criticize the Church.


For those who don't know, the usenet group alt.religion.scientology was largely populated by fierce critics of the Church of Scientology, and the Church wasn't happy about it in the slightest. (They don't, as a rule, like criticism much.) Past critics of the Church have gone through hell as the Church does whatever is within its power to discredit, embarrass, and intimidate those who set themselves in opposition to it, and for a while there was no greater opposition to the Church than the denizens of that newsgroup. It was through anonymous postings on that newsgroup that people found out about some of the odder, science-fictionesque material that forms the basis of high-level Scientology, and it was through the attempt to track down the anonymous posters of these materials that the Church managed to bring down "anon.penet.fi"... the biggest anonymous email remailer in the world back then.

To this day the newsgroup remains a battleground between the Church's detractors and supporters, and the only reason it remains so is because the Church can't take the battle to "IRL".

In any case, it's a good entry- I highly recommend it.
While I'm talking about intersting blogs, one perennial comment section mainstay on several sites, Terminus, has a blog that I hadn't read until now, and it's definitely worth the visit.
While I'm giving props to Jaquandor, I'll add a little extra for a very well-written article about the whole pseudonym issue, including a really compelling bit about the increasing tendency of authors to use pen names in order to get around the increasingly irritating "blockbusterization" of books, where "new" authors can get more books on shelves than established authors of only moderate early success.
You will excuse my profanity here...

MAD FUCKING PROPS go out to Jaquandor of Byzantium Shores for his email telling me clearly and effortlessly how to fix my template so that the main body is wider.

(Yeah, it was a little thing, but it's been bugging me ever since the Den Beste flap.)

Thanks a lot, Jaquandor, I truly appreciate it.
Max savages Instapundit on the statehood issue. Again, I personally see it as fairly simple; why should any part of the United States not be represented in its own government? This arrangement doesn't exist in any other first world countries that I know of; to even suggest it would be unthinkable.

Whether there's a "captive industry", or whether there "isn't enough people" or whether it's "too small" is utterly beside the point. Citizens are getting screwed out of their civil rights, and that ain't what the U.S. is supposed to be about.

Period.
Hoo boy. Apparently, the Cato institute is actually trying to resurrect monetarism. Not "keep inflation down" monetarism, but "let's get rid of the Federal Reserve and set an explicit inflation rate" monetarism.

Now, I'm not exactly an economist, but isn't this the kind of thing that was totally discredited by its complete failure in Britain? The kind of thing that real economists use as the butt of cheap jokes? What kind of ivory tower do you have to live in to think that some random corporation is going to do a better job of managing the money supply than a non-profit totally independent body like the Federal Reserve, especially nowadays? Goofy arguments aside (and I love how he chose his statistical windows to over-emphasize the effects of floating the dollar- nice touch), it's just silly on its face.

And people wonder why I can't take anything written by Cato seriously.

(Courtesy of Jason McCullough, who also thought this guy was huffing airplane glue.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Ok, I'm staying out of the battle between Instapundit and Max Sawicky (although the attacks on the latter's credibility are astonishing- he's written enough quality economic work from a leftist perspective on that blog to guarantee at least some props), but I've gotta say that this:
I'm pro-choice, which means that, you know, I think it should be, well, a choice. A lot of people in DC say that the District is essentially a colony. Well, if so I think it's a colony that's not ready for self-government. It certainly wasn't when I lived there, and there's no sign that it's gotten better.
Provoked a simple Jon Stewartesque response.

"Whuuuuuuuh"?

Yes, that's right. Colonies don't deserve the right to self-government. Never have. Certainly that concept is the bedrock of the American system- it might as well be a constitutional amendment that "only those that will be considered suitable shall enjoy the control over their own destiny". Frankly, the DC thing has always baffled me as so unbelievably stupid that it beggars belief, but it's even more amazing that, somehow, Instapundit has unmasked himself as an oldschool Tory-esque conservative!

Weird.
Doug Turnball has taken my idea of "satisficing" (which was perhaps at the heart of this recent conflict, as it formed the basis of my initial defense against Steven Den Beste's critique) and has explained how it relates to the scientific method beautifully. He discusses the apparent "perversity" of scientists attempting to disprove hypotheses instead of proving them, how often in science there are few enough hypotheses that proof of one hypothesis can serve to disprove others (which is rarely the case in analysis; there's always a metric assload of things a human being or collection of them can do, whereas particles are usually somewhat more predictable), and why the problem of satisficing doesn't necessarily lead to some sort of PoMo hell where nothing is ever remotely provable- a topic that I hadn't touched on.

I've heard variations on it before, but I really like his explanation of what science actually is:

Science, by its own admission, is not an attempt to arrive at Truth. It’s an attempt to arrive at a valid explanation which has predictive power. That is, I want to come up with a theory that explains existing data and will allow me to predict the result of experiments in the future. A scientific theory only gains acceptance if it works, in this sense. Any alternative hypothesis which equally fit the data is, by definition, equivalent to the accepted theory. They produce the same predictions, and hence are interchangeable. So even if there were infinite alternate hypotheses, they’d all be equally good explanations of the world, rather than being equally bad.
That latter bit about infinite possible hypotheses is, sadly, not really something that you can get away with in analysis- after all, in the end people only do one thing at a time. It's still a useful response to the postmodern critique, though, because it's inherently positive- if you have a hypothesis that hasn't been disproven, then it's just as good as any other and you're entitled to it. (At least until it is disproven.)

In any case, I enjoy "philosophy of science" stuff, and Doug's post is an excellent example of science-positive writing in that field.
Nathan Newman is dealing with an interesting and somewhat surprising topic: the connection of the new movie "XXX", and terrorism. It largely deals with the difference between those who use violence as a means (like, say, Saddam Hussein) and those who look at it as an end in itself (like Osama bin Laden and the terrorists in the movie.) Nathan makes several points about the difference between the former group and the latter group and why it's a mistake to try to lump them together, but what really grabbed me was this early paragraph:

The setup is: an anarchist who could have come from the streets of Seattle-- complete with his own webcast of destroying rich folks' stuff-- collides with military-intelligence police state to thrawt terrorist destruction of the world. This could play as straight cooptation, but the hero Xander Cage probably expresses a lot of the ambivalance of global protesters dealing with enemies like Bin Laden. Quotes Cage in one scene to his NSA handler- "Before you send someone to save the world, maybe you should make sure they like it the way it is."
I've often wondered how exactly the protest movement is going to adapt to the new situation on the ground, and have been wondering since 9/11. At the moment there seems to be a split between those whose criticism of the West leads them to argue that the terrorists might have a point (although that grows weaker and weaker, in my opinion) and those who were shocked out of their movement by the brutality of the attack and who have supported the war against terrorism (which also seems to grow weaker.)

The problem is that neither of these things really had that much to do with the political economic critique at the time, whose validity stands or falls on its own, outside of any conflict between secularism and fundamentalistism. Their arguments against trade bodies, trade policy, rising inequality et al retain whatever relevance they had before the attack to this day, and it's pretty obvious that neither the public nor the protestors are going to buy the sort of "we're so prosperous it doesn't matter" arguments that were usually levelled against them previous to the attack, or the "this isn't the right time" arguments levelled shortly after. Sooner or later, it's likely that the protest movement will reconstitute itself, either because the war has become a background element in most people's lives (like the war on drugs) or because the war is basically won, and the rest is the geopolitical equivalent of a mop-up exercise.

The weird thing is that this may mean that western states might end up fighting a war on two fronts. The first is the one that everybody acknowledges and understands- the war between theocracy and secular government. Modern western governments are well equipped to deal with it, and enjoy wide support. The second front, however, is the battle of ideas between western governments and elites and the protest movement. Up until recently the former group had the advantage of ironclad support from most economists, but Paul Krugman's surprising questioning of the "washington consensus" in the national media and quite a few of Brad DeLong's blog entries have shaken that economic consensus. It's especially surprising considering that a lot of Krugman's popular economic work was built around passionate defenses of free trade and economic fundamentals in the face of "strategic trade" and protectionism- if sustained, it's a huge about-face. Such a high-profile change of heart could only bolster critiques of international regimes and bodies, were they to take advantage of it.

And there's the question.... will they take advantage of it? Well, maybe not immediately; too much revolves around the question of whether war will happen in Iraq for activists to get people interested in leftist economic critiques, and the left vs. right division is too caught up in the war. Once Iraq has been decided one way or the other, though, then it's quite possible that the high-profile aspect of the "war on terrorism" will be over and barring new attacks people will start returning to normal issues. Once that happens, I think the protest movement will reemerge, and it'll be a lot harder to explain away than it was during the 90's.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Comments sections are weird things. I write an entry about Iraq, and a discussion of international relations breaks out. Now that I've written an entry about international relations (prompted by a response to that first entry), a discussion of whether or not common law exists in the United States has broken out, largely prompted by Steven Den Beste's (apparent) assertion that common law has no place in the American judiciary. I've stayed out of it, but it's interesting nonetheless.

(And rereading that original post has made me wonder... where can one get a search engine for a plane-jane blogger blog? It'd be a nice addition for the site, but a google search turned up precious little.)
Feh. It seems like every time I turn around, the archive disappears again. Oh well, I'll try republishing a few times and hope it takes.

Edit: Bingo!
Sheesh... and I thought the whole thing was over. apparently not. then again, this is a much more substantial comment, and according to Steven "we're all friends now". So I'll trust him. (Important concept, that, but I'll get to that later.)

First, Stephen quoted a somewhat offhanded response in my own comments section as an encapsulation of my beliefs for International Relations and International Law. He did so because he said that I provided no links or citations to show what exactly I think of the whole business. Fair enough. So, before we begin, and so that anybody who wishes can figure out exactly what the hell I'm referring to when I say "I've addressed that", here are the permalinks in question. In reverse chronological order:

This entry is about the idea of agreements between sovereign states, the misperception that the world is a "jungle", that the United States as a member of the world community has certain responsibilities to live up to, and to Steven's theories in general.

This entry is one in a series of posts that I wrote in response to Robert Musil, germane to this discussion because it discusses sovereignty and the U.N.

This entry is largely about sovereignty and the sort of agreements that can be (and are) made between sovereign nations, the reason why invasion is "against the rules", and how power isn't enough; not nowadays.

This entry is about the question of whether American unilateralism is ever justified, even though it would call down the wrath of the international community. I'd say "sometimes, but not as often as one would think."

This entry is about Steven's arguments that American political culture is somehow superior to others- germane because it forms the basis for his belief that the United States should "go it alone".

This entry is about whether Europe will stop talking and start arming if it looks like talking is pointless. I think it'll happen, but some in the comments section disagreed. I talked about the possibility of Europe itself becoming a sovereign state, but I don't have that link here.

This entry is about the possible repercussions of American unilateralism in terms of other nations paying attention to it and making agreements with it.

This entry is about the question of sovereignty and legitimacy- why the United States pays so much attention to sovereignty, was (I believe) my first post on the Treaty of Westphalia, and the concept that "the affairs of a state remain their own unless and until they harm another state".

This entry also deals with the question of sovereignty, and cites a situation where collective security would trump imperial.

This entry is about sovereignty outside of the borders of the United States.

This entry is about the reprecussions of invading Iraq, and the creation of the "war of all against all".

And finally, This isn't mine, but Yuval Rubenstein's insights on the subject that Geoff Hill was responding to when Steven linked to him. Geoff's response to Yuval was pretty weak, in my opinion- it's surprising that Steven linked to it. Yuval made the point that international laws are conventions between countries, and the practical reality that states do tend to observe international law implies that they do have some force. Geoff complained about there being "no controlling authority", but in his own quotation of Webster calls that aspect "implied", not required. Besides, quibbling over the definition of the word "law" is pretty poor form in the first place; it's possible that there has simply been an implied redefinition of the word that hasn't been picked up by lexicographers yet.

This is the comments thread for that entry, where Yuval responds quickly and efficiently to Geoff Hill's critique. Zizka's insights on the treaty of Westphalia were also really good- he noted:

"After 1648 it was agreed that no ruler would try to forcibly impose his religion and the peoples of any other ruler. It was a peace of exhaustion, but it worked, and the religious wars were ended. After that time a body of international law developed which often worked. The fact that it often broke down too does not mean that it was nothing.

With an international consensus, belligerents were policed partly by their difficulty in getting allies when they were flouting international law. There was no overriding enforcer, but there was enforcement."

Word, dawg.

I've been told that "Brevity is the soul of wit" quite a few times in response to my fairly long responses to Den Beste's articles. Part of that is due to the simple volume of the text to be responded to (he's the only guy I know who arguably writes longer posts than I do), and partially because sometimes simple arguments require complex rebuttals. This case may be no different, but I'll try to keep it shorter in the future (it's not usually that necessary). If it's a real problem, most of what I'm saying here I've said before (which is no surprise, as Den Beste isn't arguing anything new here, either), so going over those archival links will probably eliminate the need to read the rest of this entry. With any luck, those links will actually work; at the very least they should get you to the archives links in question, and if they don't I'll see about putting dates on them to make manual navigation a little bit easier. By all means, read them if you wish, but don't feel compelled if you don't, and if they contradict in places, all I can say in my defense is that "I am large, I contain multitudes."

Heh.

Anyway, Steven has taken great pains to argue that, first, "there's no such thing as international law"; and second that those who attempt to define it as a short-form description of the body of international agreements, treaties, bodies and norms are trying to imply that there is controlling legal authority in order to check the power of the United States. On the first part, he has a point- international law isn't like the laws that states impose on their subjects/citizens, which is why I tend to use the somewhat more accurate term "International System". Still, the second assertion answers the questions raised by the first, and therefore is the more important of the two. On this, Steven merely asserted that this is so, without any shred of proof or logical justification- it was merely an ad hominem writ large. As he didn't give any reason why we should believe it except our good natures, I will still accept that as a definition for the informal concept of "international law". I know that's how I use it, so feel free to simply think of that definition when I say it. I'm not implying that it has the force of law in a sovereign nation, nor would I. (For a more comprehensive critique of this idea, go to Yuval's link above, and ignore Steven's citation of Hill- it was a weak response to a much stronger piece whose comments section annihilates the argument in question.)

One of the key concepts here is that of "Collective Security". What is that, exactly? Well, anybody remember the Musketeers? "One for all and all for one?" That's what it basically comes down to- it's kind of an alliance, but nowadays it's on a massive, massive scale between most of the countries on the planet. The U.N. is based on this idea; it's built on an agreement between all the states involved that they will abide by the rules implicit in U.N. membership (set out by the charter) and that they will act as a whole against those that decide to break those rules; usually through some sort of condemnation (through the general assembly), but sometimes by the authorization of direct action (through the Security Council). In many respects its a tradeoff- a member of the U.N. has their freedom to act limited, but does so with the knowledge that the actions of others will be limited as well.

Steven asks why the U.N. Security Council should be allowed to act "as a jury", and implies that there's no way that any member of the security council could decide impartially on any real conflict (as their interests get in the way), and could never therefore authorize military action. The latter assertion is disproven by the mere existence of the Gulf War, which was fully approved by the United Nations Security Council- and in the Security Council's authorizations of interventions in many other conflicts around the globe. The problem, though, is that Steven is putting carts before horses. The Security Council isn't quite a jury per se, nor is it a government or agent of government; it's merely a way of the entire collective entity that is the "United Nations" to decide whether or not somebody broke the security agreements that are at the heart of the idea of the U.N., or whether some sort of outside party (a non-member, a non-recognized state, or what have you) is a threat to a member of the United Nations. The key word is "security"; the chief goal of the council is to ensure the security (in other words, safety) of its members, and of the world in general. It can do so because it is the representative of "the collective"... no one nation can stand up against the rest of the planet.

Or can they?

See, Steven said that the whole point of it was to defend the weak against the strong. Indeed, that's absolutely true, and the entire basis of collective security. In some respects, it's a logical extension of the old "Balance of Power", where great powers would ally themselves to prevent any one power from becoming too strong and collectively agreed not to destroy or conquer each other, at least to the point that the losing power couldn't recover. The question that he asks is (to paraphrase) "why should the strong (in this case, the United States) care, if they have no reason to fear the United Nations?" Being an American, he doesn't see why the United States should bother; wouldn't they be better off going alone? It's an argument I hear a lot, and if the only part of the international system that existed were the United Nations, and were the United Nations only about collective security, then there might be a point there.

There is a lot more to the international system, though, and a lot more to the United Nations. The international system isn't just one, or a few, or a hundred agreements, it's millions and millions of them, embodied in treaties, international bodies (like the WTO or U.N.), agreements, and a bazillion informal norms and agreements. Steven called these "a garbage bin" that can justify anything, but by definition an norm can't be appealed to unless it really is some sort of informal standard. In any case, norms are kind of like legitimacy- they exist because people consciously or unconsciously agree that they exist. All of these agreements are based on the idea that "if you help me, I'll help you"... an iterated prisoner's dilemma, where most of the players involved have agreed not to turn over the evidence because they all know they'll be better off in the long run. Yuval noted that violations of international law were pretty rare, but didn't explain why, although the answer is simple.

See, the whole thing is built on trust- you have to be able to trust the other guy, and he has to be able to trust you.If you squeal during a prisoner's dilemma, they won't trust you not to squeal again. By breaking the agreement, you become a "free rider"; someone who is trying to gain the benefits of an agreement without having to deal with the consequences. By extension, all those who still abide by the deal are technically referred to as "suckers" (heh)- they're those who endure the consequences of an agreement without enjoying any of the benefits. Nobody ever wants to be a sucker.

There are two kinds of international agreements (formal and informal) and are two different reactions to one party breaking them. If you break a formal agreement, you get widespread condemnation, claims that you've "broken international law", claims of unilateralism, and in general enough bad press to sink some governments and seriously hurt others. More importantly, though, you're no longer perceived as trustworthy, so those that are involved in agreements with you will think twice about it, and may start pushing the boundaries of the various deals in order to prepare for your (in their minds inevitable) betrayal. They'll also avoid making future deals as much as possible, because that crucial element of trust is gone. They might make deals with other states they can trust, but they'll avoid the free rider. If you break an informal agreement, however, then the public condemnation and bad PR isn't really an issue (the public might not even know about it), but the question of trust remains- if both parties have informally made an agreement and one party betrays that trust, then every other agreement becomes suspect, and no new agreements will be made because the government in question can't be trusted. That's bad.

Why? Here's an example. Let's say that the United States, through the State department, had some sort of informal agreement with China about American trawlers fishing off the Chilean coast. (No idea why they'd be there, but bear with me.) There's no formal agreement, but a mutual understanding that said trawlers won't be harassed by Chilean authorities if they venture inside Chilean waters as long as the United States doesn't overfish in the region. That holds for a few years, but intense lobbying by Captain Highliner (he's an influential bastard) has led the U.S. to turn a blind eye to overfishing there. Chile notices, tells the U.S. to tell the Cap'n to lay off, the Chilean fishermen are going nuts, and the U.S. tells Chile "go screw" and fishes just close enough to international waters to duck out if the authorities come calling, and Chile doesn't have the ability to do anything about it- the deal was informal, the U.N. can't do anything about it, and the Chilean navy can't molest these U.S. boats. The fishermen are screwed, the Chilean government has a lot of unemployed mad fishermen on their hands, and Cap'n Highliner gets a new pipe.

So what does Chile do? Well, let's extend this thing.

A few years later, Chile grows a sizable piracy industry. Plants are churning out CDs and DVDs, shipments of these things are going all around the world, and those former fishermen are busily hawking Windows XP to anybody that passes by. The United States is flooded with these things, and Bill Gates wants it to STOP, but Chile doesn't have any IP laws, and the current leftist government thinks that they're a tool of global imperialism (or whatever) so it couldn't care less about arguments that they'd be good for the economy. The U.S. is losing far more potential revenue than it ever gained from fishing off the Chilean shore, and is having no luck busting the Chileans within the U.S. U.S. representatives come down, desperately wanting to stop these things, and agrees to make a deal: we tell Cap'n Highliner to lay off, and you sign on to the international IP agreements. What happens? Chile will say two words: they rhyme with "buck cough".

Why? Well, it's pretty simple- they can't trust the U.S. to its end of the deal; they know that they could sign the IP treaty and still end up with the good Cap'n back in their waters after a year and a half. If the U.S. had stuck to its earlier agreement and not caved in to domestic lobbying pressure from irate sea captains, then they could have gone down to Chile, made the deal with the Chilean government, and received fat "campaign contributions" from Bill. Instead, this ends up hurting both countries- the U.S. doesn't get its I.P. laws enforced and Chile's fishermen are still stuck hawking CDs instead of doing what they really love. And these are two agreements; as I said, there are thousands, if not millions of them. The only option the United States has is military action, which means that the United States has just gone to war for Cap'n Highliner.

Therefore Steven's long and verbose arguments about the United States "looking out for its own interests" are both right and wrong at the same time. Governments pay great attention to their interests, yes. Any government with a clue, however, will realize that their interests will be forwarded by those agreements. If the formal agreements require informal agreements then so be it- it usually ends up going both ways, as even the United States makes quiet deals at times. It's in nobody's interests for anybody to "break the deal" because there's no guarantee that there won't be some sort of agreement that they need in the future- the deal-breaker will have lost their credibility, and the sucker won't be able to make worthwhile agreements with the deal-breaker. There may be a few screwups and broken deals here and there, but that's the reason for all that public condemnation- other states will want to show that they wouldn't break that deal, and if they have in the past then they certainly wouldn't now. No state can exist outside of this system- even an economic juggernaut like the United States isn't so intrinsically valuable that everybody else couldn't get by without it, and make deals with each other if it turned out that the United States was simply untrustworthy. Besides, there are other interests besides economic and security interests- a government wants to look good, and will sign agreements in order to show its subjects (or voters) that it is a player on the international scene, that it's strong, that it respects human rights, etc. etc. etc... thus gaining increased legitimacy from those people. (This is the difference between realism and neo-realism... the former just looks at states, but the latter also looks at what happens *within* states, which is one of the reasons I'm sympathetic to it. The thirst for prestige is rooted in the conflicts over legitimacy, sovereignty, and power within any state, so any examination of that are going to be rooted in neo-realism.)

Thus, "International law", where the "controlling authority" is sovereign nations' own enlightened self interest. Whether it's "Wilsonian", "Jacksonian", or whatever, it's simply the way the world works, both between different liberal democracies and between liberal democracies and dictatorships/monarchies/social democracies/whatever-the-hell.

One more thing before I close: I'm not interested in any sort of pissing match, especially one that largely consists of Steven rewriting what he's already written and me rewriting what I've already written. The links and this post pretty much encapsulate my views on this issue, and there's not much else to say, really, without ending up in a game of dueling sources (which I'd have difficulty winning, considering that Steven usually uses popular political sources that he can link to and I'd prefer to cite journal articles where I simply can't.) If we're really "all friends here", then I'm fine with that, and hope that those who have read this little exchange have got something out of it. At the moment, however, it is over.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Edit: Bloody hell... fifty zillion visitors, and I've horribly screwed up the first entry they see. HTML *FIXED*

As somewhat of an olive branch to Steven, I'll give him this: his latest entry about the importance of logistics in WWII is pretty damned interesting.

Oddly, though, what it reminded me of (and Steven discussed the same thing in his wargaming entry) is those real time strategy games that have been relatively popular for a while now, and which have gained renewed popularity with the release of Warcraft III. The odd thing about those games is that by and large it isn't the different little units and how you use them that win the match- it's how much resources you have streaming in at any given time (the RTS version of logistics) and whether or not you can efficiently turn those resources into soldiers and tanks and acid-spitting aliens and elves and Ogre Mages and what-have-you. Even in combat resources are key- the great Starcraft player Zileas made a point of measuring one's success in combat in enemy resources destroyed (in the form of various units), not in the number of units.

Perhaps the greatest parallel, though, isn't just resources, but the safety of same. The biggest advantage of the United States both then and now is that by and large it's protected from attack; only the greatest powers can even possibly threaten its shores, and not really for very long. In some respects, it actually reminds me of a series of turn-based war games from Koei called "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", where perhaps the most important resource were provinces far behind the enemy lines where you could concentrate their entire resources on productivity rather than defense, confident that there's no way that you could ever get to them. This is true in RTS games as well- I've lost (and won) a few Starcraft games based on not just how well I could gather resources, but protect those resources, and the most valuable deposits were often the most easily defensible ones. Perhaps it's true that the United States' greatest strategic assets are Canada and Mexico- simply because unlike any other country on the planet, they alone can be sure that there is practically no possibility of a land invasion. Even a perfectly united European Union could never boast something like that.
While I'm discussing Hesiod, I should mention that he did get around to writing his own response to the Den Beste article that really started this whole thing, and did a pretty good job of it; focusing on why Saddam isn't likely to nuke those around him, why either his successor will be sane or soon replaced by those who are, why there are other options besides "invade or contain", and several other valid critiques of the argument. I agree with most of what he said, with the one caveat that he believes that Saddam either has or soon will have WMD capabilities, and I'm now wondering just how much WMD capacity Saddam really has, and whether the case hasn't been conveniently overstated by those with other reasons to attack him.

Stil, that's a minor difference of opinion, and doesn't detract at all from a good rebuttal well argued.
It would appear that there are better reasons for leftist pseudo-/anonymity than I had thought. (Courtesy of Hesiod.)

For those who haven't followed the link, there has been a concerted campaign of terror by "Freepers" against Mia Lawrence, the woman who called in Jenna and Barbara Bush for underage drinking a while ago.

Here's a few choice quotes:

-Her address, date of birth, drivers license and registration information, physical description, and even birth information about her infant child have been posted on freerepublic.com, along with calls for punitive actions...

...A freerepublic.com member who uses the screen name "tracer" recommended using her private info for identity theft:

"Giving out her driver's license no. and her DOB opens her up to mucho identity theft. It also makes background checks by 'inquiring minds' a breeze..."

...Others suggest pouring bar drinks on her and making a permanent web site with her personal info. On the web site lucianne.com is posted a link to a 2001 personal bankruptcy claim filed by Lawrence, with all its unhappy detail about her finances, including many thousands of dollars in medical expenses...

..."Robomatic" speaks up:

"One thing that I personally would never do ;) is walk into Chuy's with a LARGE bottle of buturic (sp. ?) acid and begin to liberally apply it to every surface. For those fortunate enough NOT to know what it smells like, let me only say that it smells worse than a rotting corpse and typically, the smell, immediately induces vomiting. (If I remember correctly, it is non-toxic...besides the odor) I wonder how long it would take, given that Chuys would not have a SINGLE customer for days after each application, to drive them out of business?"

Others suggestions included going to the restaurant and tying up the tables for hours with just one beverage order, passing out flyers at colleges warning students of the "narcs" at Chuy's, and even spreading reports of salmonella poisoning and cockroach infestation.
Reverend Lovejoy: "And it goes on like this..."

I'm not afraid, Steven. But if this is correct, maybe I should be.




I'm at the center of a shitstorm.

Well, maybe not, but it seems like Den Beste's attack on pseudonymity and my defense of it have attracted a lot of attention: from Jane Galt (who, as it turns out, isn't an Objectivist after all), from Tapped (as I linked earlier), from Atrios (ditto), from Silflay Hraka, from The Comedian and, perhaps most surprisingly considering how staunch a critic I've been of him lately, from the Instapundit himself.

By and large the responses have been encouraging, although many (like Jane) have made the point that there is a built in resistance to pseudonyms because you don't know what kind of interests the writer has. It's a valid point, although several people in her comments section made the point that it really isn't that big a deal here on the Internet; I know that "back in the day" it was considered a feature, not a bug. I'm honestly a little bothered by this huge debate over not what I've said, but what I am and what I represent. I decided to make this pseudonymous largely because I wanted to get away from that sort of thing, and let the points I have made stand on their own. All I can say is that I encourage those who are visiting to look around and see if they like the site, pseudonym or no. Archives are to the left. I hope.
The bear has highlighted an issue that is getting ignored lately... a possible war between Taiwan and China. As evidence, he cites this link that quotes Chinese officials saying in no uncertain terms that a declaration of independence is a declaration of war, and the Taiwanese President saying Taiwan should "walk its own road" and declare independence. This has always been a really touchy issue, and the U.S. is usually loathe to get involved or to take sides (which is why Bush was so throroughly lambasted for taking Taiwan's side early in his presidency). Now, however, the theoretical situation that Bush was referring to when he said he "stood with Taiwan" might become real.

Sadly, however, this seems to be a growing trend, and one that worries me. China and Taiwan are one thing, but the conflict between India and Pakistan has not gone away and any instability in the Pakistani government could ignite that smouldering conflict yet again. It seems that in the wake of both the Cold War and the short post-Cold War consensus that nationality and geostrategy were unimportant in the face of the collective drive for economic growth, we're ending up with a number of conflicts either happening or on the way. Oddly enough, however, the conflicts aren't really between superpowers, but between superpowers (or at the least Great Powers) and small powers.

I wonder whether this isn't the start of a period of consolidation- whether this conflict might not signal the creation and consolidation of new power blocs around the world. Conflicts such as these might not even be attempts to consolidate actual physical geopolitical territories, but perceived power, as each of these three powers (India, the United States, and China) attempt to remove countries that exist as "thorns in their sides" and challenges to their regional power. The biggest difference with the United States is that the region in question is not North America, but the Middle East.

After all, if the U.S. does invade Iraq, the United States will essentially own a valuable chunk of real estate in the region and will no doubt start making threatening noises at the House of Saud until it falls in line. No, I don't expect any sort of invasion of Saudi Arabia... too many other countries depend on their oil to allow that kind of instability to happen, even if it is courtesy of the United States. This sort of geostrategic empire-building is against the spirit of the United Nations, of course, but more and more the United States seems to be setting itself up in opposition to not only the United Nations but the very concept of collective security in general, so much so that I wouldn't be overly surprised if the U.S. didn't decide to dissolve NATO and leave the United Nations sometime in the near-to-middling future. Indeed, if it controlled the Middle East (with Israel, its client state Iraq, and a newly chastised Saudi Arabia as its regional representatives), a valid case could be made that the United States doesn't really need collective security anymore- it would be strategically self-reliant and be able to check the power of other states by controlling a fair chunk of the oil supply.

(Come to think of it, chief among these states would be Japan... could Iraq be the first step to Japan reconstituting a real army capable of force projection?)

In any case, I'm starting to think that there's a lot more going on than this conflict between the United States and the "Islamists", and I'm more and more convinced that it won't be along the lines of Huntington's simplistic "Clash of Civilizations", but something much more traditional. This is all predicated on a successful invasion and conquest of Iraq, of course, and that's not something I assume either. Still, it's worth thinking about.
From the ridiculous to the sublime. In order to stave off the Green-supporter argument that "the Democrats are no different than the Republicans", Nathan Newman wrote an excellent defense of the Democratic party. He bases it on their actions in California, one of the key states where they actually wield unfettered power (outside of vetos by what Newman sees as a somewhat DINO governor). citing numerous examples of the Democrats acting just as progressive as you please on a variety of issues. They've done everything from HMO reform to the rights of mothers to breastfeed to tenant's rights to daily overtime pay.

To be honest, it's just a logical fallacy to say that the Dems (in their entirety) are no different than the Republicans (in their entirety), and the Greens are pretty obviously trying a "invasion from the margin" attack (where a third party takes over an increasingly large group from the margins of a party in a two-party system, until the party it's trying to eliminate is left only with moderates and eventually drops out of sight), but it's still worth proving that Democrats are Democrats.

(I think, this week, that I'm going to be a little more positive. The Den Beste battle has degenerated to sheer nonsense on his side and I'm honestly sick of the whole thing. I've been spending way too much time playing "watchblog", and regular readers are probably wondering whether I think that I'm the only progressive voice out there. A shift in focus is in order, I think, and Den Beste can go hang.)
Edit: I hadn't thought of this, but I shudder to think at what would happen were the brilliant Atrios of Eschaton were to respond to this, considering his site is even more popular and he's just as pseudonymous as I am. Then again, he's probably above it.

Second Edit: Thanks to Tapped for linking to me, even if they seem to loathe light text on a black background like cockroaches in your cheerios. One thing, though: my pseudonymous name is "Demosthenes"... the site itself is called "Shadow of the Hegemon". For an explanation of both, I have a link below to my first post, which should explain things well enough.

Third Edit: As it turns out, Atrios did comment on it. He actually brought up something I didn't, noting that "there are plenty of pseudonyms on both sides of the political spectrum. People tend to ignore the issue when Bloggers they like have pseuds, and bring it up for Bloggers they don't like. Some people have no-linking (or no perma-linking) policies for "anonymous" Bloggers, which they institute on an inconsistent basis - which is fine, it's their sites". I actually didn't know about that last part- I wasn't aware that any sites cared so much about the issue. Then again, if Atrios is right, they really don't.

(And one more thing for those who are reading my site for the first time thanks to that Tapped link: I don't, as a rule, talk about myself this much. Just in case some people thought this was some sort of JournalBlog.)


Well, now I've gone and done it. Steven Den Beste wrote what basically amounts to a screed about my anonymity, and about anonymity in general. Honestly, I hadn't expected such a thing- I knew that he wasn't overly fond of anonymity, but there were a lot of other things that he could complain about, and the question of anonymity was only one of the ideas that I responded to in that entry that Steven wrote that linked me at its end (and equated me with Warbloggerwatch.) I didn't figure he'd spend so much time and energy attacking what is honestly only a mildly important point, but there it is.

And what does he attack? Well, like many others, he knows about Orson Scott Card's books, and that the character of Demosthenes inspired my current pseudonym. I don't think he read my first entry, because it explains it pretty well. (and by the way, Steven, the reason I don't link to permalinks of my own entries is because I don't trust them to work in the first place... but it's at the bottom of the first archive link, for those who wish to read it). I think I'll quote myself here:

My name, at least for the purposes of this site, is Demosthenes. It comes from two different people: a fictional character, and a real historical figure. The real one is a Greek orator by the same name, who is considered by some to be the best orator who ever lived. Although I haven’t read that many of his speeches yet, what I’ve read I've liked. The second and more important “Demosthenes”, however, is from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”. Demosthenes is the demogogic network pseudonym of one of the main characters, Valentine Wiggin. Together with her brother Peter’s more reasonable “Locke” pseudonym, they manage to have a decisive effect on world events and world politics. They were barely teenagers.

I read this book around the same time that the public became aware of the Internet. It had a profound effect. Breathless and optimistic articles in Wired magazine proclaimed that the Internet would change political discourse forever. The Internet would bring everybody together, there would be consensus, or at least agreement on the positions of the people on either side. The cliché about “brave new worlds” was in full flower, and the possibility of a teenager changing the world by talking on the Internet seemed not just possible, but inevitable. So I took on the name “Demosthenes” to show my belief in the power of debate to change the world.


Steven argues that the books were "fantasy". Actually, they were science fiction, and one of the reasons I like science fiction is its prescience... that although it rarely predicts the future exactly, it predicts aspects of the future, enough to keep you guessing. So it was with Card's book- what fascinated me about Demosthenes and Locke wasn't so much what they accomplished, but what they represented, and how eerily they predicted that old Internet saw that "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog". Back when I first started using the name (and there are others), pseudonymity wasn't considered a bug, but a feature. As I said in that first entry, "times have changed, and not in the way I would have preferred." One of those changes are these attacks on pseudonymity.

Steven goes on to complain that "nobody has ever had the influence that these kids had". It shows that he hadn't really read the books much, because Peter and Valentine really didn't have as much influence and power as he seems to think- certainly not more than the President. Locke, actually, wasn't really that well known at all, and it's well established in the book that Demosthenes gained his notoriety by being a firebrand demagogue; one of the more amusing points was that Valentine knew that there were significant holes in Demosthenes' arguments, and that her father agreed with Demosthenes despite the holes. Demosthenes was well known and well respected, but didn't have nearly as much power as Steven seems to think, and certainly didn't start anything like a revolution. The key reason Demosthenes existed was so that when Locke (Peter's persona) came up with his proposal for peace, Demosthenes would be able to use what notoriety and influence as he has to endorse it, and considering that Locke and Demosthenes were bitter enemies, the proposal would gain huge credibility.

(An amusing contradiction of Steven's argument is that Locke only gained real political power and influence when he dropped the mask and because Hegemon- a position that, at the time he did it, carried little authority, power, and influence).

In any case, however, Steven is highly critical of the entire enterprise.

The idea of hoping to have "the reputation of Demosthenes grow and exist apart from my credentials in real life" is, sad to say, a bit unrealistic. Demosthenes is one voice amongst hundreds of thousands, and life just doesn't act that way. And in any case, anonymity actually impedes any progress in that direction. The nameless human behind the blog hopes that the synthetic avatar Demosthenes will take on a life of its own. It's a disturbing ambition.
This is a very curious argument for someone who actually does wield some small amount of influence in this growing medium, and who has compatriots (like Instapundit) that demonstrate it as well. Indeed, that outsize influence is one of the reasons that I've been criticizing Den Beste so heavily- he appears to be attempting to leverage a close reading of Clausewicz, a good knowledge of WWII and citation of various popular political articles into a supposedly comprehensive knowledge of political theory, political philosophy, and international relations. He makes mistakes, and I call him on them. I've been doing this because very few others have, and because his (actually well-written) arguments closely parallel those made by others in the Blogosphere, and by addressing those arguments I can make larger points. Those who have read this site regularly know that I usually use other articles as a "jumping off point" for my own thoughts on a situation, and Steven works quite well in that respect. Perhaps my greatest mistake has been to worry so much about rebutting the guy, instead of just using him as a springboard.

Anyway, back to pseudonymity.

The quotation above is followed by what is really the meat of the whole thing:

The other aspect of the argument is much more important. The human in question not only hopes that Demosthenes the avatar will become famous and respected and influential, but also that the human will never be connected with the avatar and his responsibility for the avatar will never be publicly revealed. (And now I'll go back to using "Demosthenes" to refer to the human, rather than to the avatar that human is attempting to sustain.)
And now the problem becomes clear- he accuses me of overweening ambition by deliberately misinterpreting what I said. I'll quote myself again, because the latter point was selectively interpreted and important in and of itself:

more importantly I don't want interpretation of my arguments weighed by how people perceive my beliefs and interests- I'd prefer the arguments to stand on their own, and the reputation of Demosthenes to grow and exist apart from my reputation and credentials in real life.
Steven interpreted this to say that "I want Demosthenes to become powerful and influential and famous". That is not what I meant. (I think that Steven knew that's not what I meant, and didn't care). What I was getting at was a key reason why someone chooses pseudonymity- that someone wishes to have their arguments and positions stand on their own. Most of the time when somebody says something to somebody else, what they say is filtered by the listener according to their perceived gender, age, sexuality, personality, nationality, ethnicity, and whatever else constitutes their identity. Only after all that filtering is done with does the message get through, and more often than not the real content is changed utterly by the perception of that person's interests and beliefs- as McLuhan said, "the medium is the message". This is, by far, the more important reason I chose pseudonymity- as I've said, there are people in real life who know about this blog and know that I'm the author of it. I'm not afraid of saying in real life what I say here, and I'm not one to hold my opinions back.

Why not anonymity, though? Well, Anonymity presents its own problems. If one is truly anonymous, then there is no consistent body of work and arguments that someone can refer back to when making a point or defending a point. You could be anybody, and there's no possible way of verifying that the same person who wrote the last piece is the one who wrote the current one. There is the advantage of never having to worry about what you say affecting your real life, but there's no reward for consistency and no way for people to make any connection between a work and its author. It also means that there's no punishment for screwing up, either, because the person involved can just pick a different persona and jump right back in. (Usenet featured a lot of this sort of thing by trolls and spammers who don't care about the reputation of their personae.) There's also pretty much no way of developing any sort of audience or readership, which means that your ideas get "lost in the tide"- readers have no previous history of work with which to judge whether or not they should bother with current work. THAT is what I meant by reputation, Steven, not any sort of ridiculous ambition for influence. You can see this by simply zipping on over to slashdot and checking out their "anonymous cowards", who often write insightful posts of great educational or entertainment value, but who by definition can't develop any sort of reputation for doing so- they have to fight their way past the label "anonymous" and all the other morons who have it before they can be noticed. If that even happens.

Pseudonymity addresses both of these issues. It allows for someone to exist as a consistent person, but isn't prey to that filtering mechanism. Yes, someone who develops an online persona could easily drop it and conjure up another, but they would be "starting from square one"- just like the anonymous trolls I mentioned earlier, nobody would really take them seriously, because nobody would have any reason to take them seriously. They could theoretically rebuild themselves back up, but then they're just in a situation where they need to protect their reputation again- the only difference is the name, and all the wasted time, and the necessity for proving oneself worth listening to once again.

The Blogosphere isn't the first community online, of course; there's a bunch of them, and this question of "pseudonym" vs. "anonym" vs. "real" is actually a pretty old one. For those who want to understand pseudonymity, I suggest this article about the "rape in cyberspace". You might remember it- it was that incident on LambdaMOO a while back where one person messed with the avatars of others in extremely degrading ways resembling rape, which prompted an traumatic response from the victims in question- not their pseudonyms, but the players themselves. It's a fascinating and disturbing story, but it culminates with response from the online rapist himself, saying that it was merely a "psychological device..a sequence of events with no consequence on my RL existence".

That prompted this reply:

They might have known. Stilted though its diction was, the gist of the answer was simple, and something many in the room had probably already surmised: Mr. Bungle was a psycho. Not, perhaps, in real life -- but then in real life it's possible for reasonable people to assume, as Bungle clearly did, that what transpires between word-costumed characters within the boundaries of a make-believe world is, if not mere play, then at most some kind of emotional laboratory experiment. Inside the MOO, however, such thinking marked a person as one of two basically subcompetent types. The first was the newbie, in which case the confusion was understandable, since there were few MOOers who had not, upon their first visits as anonymous "guest" characters, mistaken the place for a vast playpen in which they might act out their wildest fantasies without fear of censure. Only with time and the acquisition of a fixed character do players tend to make the critical passage from anonymity to pseudonymity, developing the concern for their character's reputation that marks the attainment of virtual adulthood. But while Mr. Bungle hadn't been around as long as most MOOers, he'd been around long enough to leave his newbie status behind, and his delusional statement therefore placed him among the second type: the sociopath.
(Bolding mine.) That is what I meant by reputation, Steven, not this sort of overwhelming ambition. Pseudonymity is different than anonymity precisely because of that reputation, and the desire to protect it. The Blogosphere isn't the only community in cyberspace to grapple with these issues, it's just the newest, and it's the the most "pseudo" community of the lot.

With that in mind, a lot of the rest of Steven's rant becomes pointless, even if it weren't already. He seems to think that I'm afraid- he goes back to the same argument over and over again that I'm afraid to commit to my own arguments, that I'm afraid to stand behind my convictions, that I'm "cowering behind an avatar". He claims that I only "reveal it to those who are sympathetic", when one of the people who does know is rather unsympathetic to my views, and I knew that when I told him. Steven continuously and pathetically puts words in my mouth and thoughts in my head that simply aren't there and does it again, and again, and again...

Steven, I'm not afraid, and never have been. I don't believe that people would instantly reject me were I to reveal my real identity, any more than I think that other anonymous bloggers like Atrios (who is far more inflammatory than I've ever been) would be worth rejecting were I to discover their real identity. It's not about fear, it's about evading those filters of interest and identity, and about the decision to let one's insights stand on their own.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the whole sorry business is this one part:

Demosthenes has made no attempt whatever to prove that he is entitled to wield the moral authority he presumes to, by attempting to advise us as to what we should do. If he is so certain of his position, and if he wants the rest of us to act on what he says, then why does he himself not demonstrate the courage of his own conviction and himself act on what he says? Why does he ask us all to publicly embrace his opinions when he won't do so, and ask us to accept the social consequences he is trying to avoid?

And why should anyone listen to him if he won't?
It comes down to that question of legitimacy again, doesn't it? I make no presumption as to any "moral authority" except that provided by those who listen to me. If they listen, if they agree, if they act on what I say, then I have whatever moral authority that grants me. If they don't, if they disagree, or if they ignore me, then I don't have moral authority, whether I use my real name, a pseudonym, or post anonymously. If Demosthenes-the-pseudonym gained real power for some reason (which didn't happen in the books), then that power would be given by those who read with the full knowledge that I am a pseudonym, and nothing Steven Den Beste can say would ever take that away from him. Period.

Demosthenes would, I suspect, respond to that: "Listen to the arguments, not to the arguer." But if the arguments are convincing, then why doesn't the voice who presents them act as if he believes them? If anyone should follow an advocated course of action, surely the person doing the advocating should be first.
Do I not? How would you know? For all you know, Steven, I might try to put what I say here into action every day of my life. I might be standing on a street corner preaching it to everybody in sight, stopping only to duck into an Internet cafe and write an entry here and there. Even if I didn't, though, what would it matter? It's not even that "it's the arguments, not the arguer" (although that's certainly true, and Steven has neatly fallen into a textbook ad hominem)- Steven hasn't the faintest idea whether I act as if I believe them or not, except through the entirely useless act of trying to hang their validity on any reputation I might have in real life, or the meaningless act of trying to build my real-life reputation on what I've written here. (The latter is valid, of course, but doesn't matter one whit as to whether my points deserve to be listened to or not.)

Steven, I'm not ashamed of one damned thing that I've ever written. Even the stupid stuff, even the mistakes, even the bloody spelling mistakes and HTML errors that crop up far too often for my liking. I'm proud of it, and even more proud that people think that it's worthy enough to read. I'm humbled by the knowledge that people actually come back to read the site of their own free will, and feel that what I've written is important enough to leave comments on the site and emails in my mailbox, whether I agree or disagree with them. I'm even more humbled when I realize that it's not because of my real life identity, but because they feel that what I write is worth reading, worth quoting, and worth arguing over. I'm amazed and gratified that I have as many readers as I do, and the short entry with which I celebrated my first ten thousand visitors didn't even begin to describe how awed I was that such a thing could happen, and how glad I was that I didn't try to trade on whatever authority I might have "in real life" but instead made the site live or die on its own merits.

No, Steven, the only thing I'm ashamed and embarrassed about is this entry. I know that you don't like pseudonymity- you've made that abundantly clear. I know that whatever goodwill I gained from that first "here's a guy who actually argues honestly against war in Iraq" post is long gone, and I accept that as the price of consistent criticism. But to distract your readers who come to your site expecting political, military, and theoretical insights with this sort of pablum? A long attack against someone who by your own arguments seems to be beneath your notice? I somehow doubt they come to your site expecting this sort of screed (I certainly don't), and you could have addressed the response by simply saying "I wasn't directly talking about you, Demosthenes, so stop being so bloody paranoid". Instead, however, we get mad frothing rage from someone that, for all his faults, I thought was above it. It's a pity, really, and I wouldn't have responded were the issue of pseudonymity not something that needs to be defended. I hope that I have done so adequately enough to ensure that my readers will continue to visit this space. Heck, one day I might say "to heck with it" and identify who I really am. To be honest, though, the reaction I would most hope for is a resounding shurg. To me, and hopefully to my readers, it really doesn't matter.

Oh, and one admission: Yes, I do use Rogers, and therefore live in Canada. Unless, of course, I'm spoofing.