Friday, February 28, 2003

Sometimes, the best part about Eschaton is the comments:

Also, there's the internet. I think we're only starting to discover how that changes the dynamics.

A "dissent is treason" chant is powerful, but it doesn't work fast enough. At the beginning, everyone reacts to it with horror and revulsion. To take effect, it depends very much on making individuals feel helpless and alone. What's different this time is, ordinary people are able to talk to each other and find out that they are not alone in their dismay.

Moreover, war-mongers no longer control what people can know, if they want to find out. There are blogs, there's google news, there's the world press, there are web sites to coordinate protests...

There's hope. Maybe not to stop the war. But to stop the resurgence of McCarthyism, yes. You can do it.
This comment by "Canadian Reader" is welcome and substantially true. The only thing to add, though, is that the Internet's structure (especially the blog medium) does tend towards reinforcement of majority sentiments, and despite the resurgence of the left online over the last six months or so, it's still primarily right-wing.

(As for how long, though... the internet-savvy children teenagers that we're seeing all over are going to dominate over the old-school libertarians; it won't eliminate the right because teenagers can belong to any number of political ideologies, but the sheer numbers will make the current imbalance somewhat irrelevant.)

Now that the allure of e-commerce is over, the Internet has returned to its original and (in my opinion) best suited role: as a mass-to-mass communications medium. CR above has noted one of the repercussions, and it's welcome. Unless, of course, the powers that be decide to "do something about it".
Max sums it up:

Today George Will says a legal filibuster against right-wing judicial appointments is a "coup against the Constitution." O'Reilly threatens celebrities if they fail to support the war, once the shooting starts. MSNBC is about to premiere a creature who is calling for leaders of the anti-war movement to be arrested. Glenn Reynolds, in standard passive-aggressive mode, suggests that the activists acting as human shields in Iraq are guilty of treason. Evidently he thinks being threatened with legal prosecution is more scary than the prospect of being blown up.
These frequent invocations of the word "treason" are as enlightening as they are frightening. Would it really be necessary to bring out a bludgeon like that if one weren't deathly afraid that any other method of rebuttal wouldn't work? And what kind of mental gyrations does it take to get from criticizing policy to actual treason, especially in light of the fatal penalty that is reserved for that (specifically defined) act?

In the end, all this says is one thing, and one thing only: we should kill anybody who dares question us. Whether it's in the street like a dog or in an electric chair after a secret trial is immaterial: It's advocacy of the death penalty for your political opposition. Not particularly surprising in light of, say, Steven Den Beste expressing his support for the nuclear annihilation of Berkeley, but still disturbing considering how widespread this is. I only hope that they don't realize what exactly they're saying, because if they do, it's unconscionable.
Quoted from a U.S. diplomat's letter of resignation:

The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.
There's more:

...We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials. Has “oderint dum metuant” really become our motto?

I urge you to listen to America’s friends around the world. Even here in Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we have more and closer friends than the American newspaper reader can possibly imagine. Even when they complain about American arrogance, Greeks know that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, and they want a strong international system, with the U.S. and EU in close partnership. When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet?
Not much else to say about this, except that this isn't the full letter, and I invite people to read it. I have little doubt that said letter is going to change minds, but it addresses what remains the key concern I have: not the effects of the war on Iraq, but the effects of the war on everybody else. To somewhat misquote Casablanca, there will be effects; maybe not today, or the day after, or the day after that; but soon, and for the rest of our lives.

(Link courtesy of Atrios, who seems to be attracting a lot of negative attention over the last little while from conservabloggers. While "Hatrios" is undeniably cute, it certainly reeks of sweet, sweet hypocrisy. Unsurprising.)

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Brad DeLong also weighs in on the Bell Curve issue, by linking to a Thomas Sowell Review of the book in the American Spectator that, in Brad's opinion, is "absolutely devastating". It is indeed damning, but suffers from the citation problem I mentioned below, both when defending and refuting the Bell Curve: it mentions a "vast" amount of "empirical data going back many years", without saying what said data is or where it comes form. While that will be good enough for those willing to dismiss the Bell Curve anyway, it isn't much help in debate or discussion.
Atrios has been running a great series on The Bell Curve. (It starts at the linked post, and extends for a day or two.)

I'm not really going to wade in, although I do come down on the "it's nonsense" side, but I did want to quote this one passage:

CalPundit is also too fair to the Bell Curve. The book contained more than just deliberately shoddy science - which should be warning bells enough - it also was an explicitly racist tract by intent and design. Every time I refer disparagingly to the Bell Curve some true believer expects me to write a 50,000 word critique of the book to justify my opinion of it. Frankly, it's as if every time I spoke disparagingly of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion someone expected me to write a 50,000 word critique of it. The Bell Curve has been "Fisked" by researchers in every field, and it is not, as Charles Murtaugh suggested, being part of a herd mentality to have concluded that it is, to a great degree, a load of explicitly racist crap. Glenn Loury rightly abandoned his old pals after their enthusiastic embrace and promotion of those twin books of pornography for closet racists - The Bell Curve and The End of Racism.
Atrios goes on to bring up examples of borderline racism within the text, but that's not really important. What grabbed me was the general problem: that every time an idea of phenomenon that has been thoroughly and scientifically discredited is brought up as discredited, inevitably it prompts the sort of response Atrios mentioned.

It's actually a fairly effective technique. It decreases the S/N ratio of any commentator it's aimed at, because he or she must spend insane amounts of time refuting these assertions, and sometimes the refutation of a simple assertion can be relatively complex: witness the conflict of evolutionary science vs. creationism. It can win over people who don't know the truth, because there is (I believe) a natural human desire for a simple and understandable answer- such as "intelligence is a function of race", instead of a complex and difficult answer- such as "IQ is the function of a blizzard of different influences, of which genetics is only one... and race is such a baggage-laden concept that it's damned near useless". It can also prey on the desire of people to be "fairminded", because giving equal time to two people will privilege the one spouting a whole bunch of simplistic attacks- the person with the more complex answer simply doesn't have the time to deal with it, because the answers take longer than the questions.

(Note that this has nothing to do with the left/right divide; leftists spout simple and easy answers too. My lack of sympathy towards Marxism has a lot to do with it's underlying "easy answers" of class conflict, the labor theory of value and the necessity of revolutionary change.)

This also remains one of the reasons why blogs are a dangerous medium. Blogs can and do take advantage of "network effects" of ideas; ideas are repeated and built up by bloggers linking to each other, commenting on each other, etc. When the ideas are critically analyzed (or are based on critical analysis) that isn't necessarily a problem, but too often (as in real life) they're passed on unquestioned and uncriticized. This is especially a problem for blogs because of the emphasis on brevity; ideas tend to get passed around in their simplest form, and are usually discussed based on that understanding. Even complex answers to simple assertions can (and usually are) boiled down to a few key points, with those points being no stronger than what they're rebutting and, thus, easily ignored by those who would prefer to agree with the former point. (What is usually "boiled out" is the underlying analysis that makes the rebuttal superior in the first place.) So blogging can be a problem.

The other problem, however, has nothing to do with the blogosphere. It's quite simple: the Internet and Academe are by and large seperate entities. This creates huge problems, at least from my experience. There are a *lot* of political and economic issues that get discussed in both, but while academics can draw on, say, a blogger (although they probably wouldn't), the same is not true in the other direction. You can't hyperlink to a journal; even where such links exist, the general public doesn't have access to them. At best you can do a citation, but citation of material without linking isn't exactly convincing online. Besides, there's another problem with doing that: those who have an agenda (or the cash) can easily make their material available online, and opposing or underpinning material would be ignored. So you might be able to get some position papers or even published stuff from, say, Heritage or AEI or the Sierra club (which are in the business of influencing public opinion), but you'll never get that brilliant grad student paper that was published in a political or economics journal that conclusively refutes what Heritage is saying... and even if someone finds it, they can't link to it, and readers aren't going to pay attention. (If the blogger or commentator or whatever even has access to it; while many bloggers are academics, most people aren't.)

(I ran into this myself a little while ago when discussing appeasement... there was a good paper using game theory to defend the idea of appeasement, but it was never something I could link to, and an un-linkable document in the face of reams of assertions that appeasement *must* lead to a WWII scenario isn't very useful.)

Plus, it furthers the disconnect between Academia and the general public, who never get to see what the hell these guys are working on. All they get is third- and fourth-hand impressions, usually from people who have an agenda.

I'm not quite sure how to solve this; it gets into the problem of journals costing so damned much and how that indirectly hurts both the natural and social sciences, but the reality that those who write papers need to be compensated and that advertising will simply not do. Suffice it to say, though, that it severely influences the type of information available to the public, and the wealth of (suspect) information available online only makes it worse, because it makes it seem like it's not an issue. And it makes the continuing popularity of works like The Bell Curve possible, because of assertions that the public always sees and refutations that they don't.

Friday, February 21, 2003

I've got to hand it to D-squared- the "shorter SDB" stuff is great. It only brings up one question...

Did Den Beste actually talk about whether Vegeta could beat up Yoda? I have nothing against people geeking out now and then, but on Dragonball Z?

What's next, scans of his Yu-Gi-Oh! deck?
Wait a second. Wait just a second. Are there seriously going to be thousands of western peace activists acting as human shields in Iraq?

The number of human shields remains fluid. The count listed on the group's bulletin board today jumped from about 97 to 132 with new arrivals, but about 60 showed up at a group meeting. Eighteen are believed to be Americans. Organizers brashly predict that the numbers will catapult to the thousands.
A few dozen I could understand, but the prospect of thousands of westerners scattered around baghdad is going to be one hell of a hassle for all involved.

Then again, it would appear that they may not get their chance:

The United States has warned repeatedly that even though the shields this time are volunteers, their use would still be considered a war crime. "Deploying human shields is not a military strategy, it's murder, a violation of the laws of armed conflict and a crime against humanity, and it will be treated as such," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on Wednesday.

The participants took exception. "That is ridiculous," said Ken Nichols O'Keefe, a 33-year-old gulf war Marine veteran who initiated the idea. "They are not using me. I am here voluntarily. What is Saddam Hussein supposed to say? `No, they can't do it'? "

Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said the foreign volunteers were welcome. "They should come and set themselves up around places that we need to survive, to aid civil defense," he said.

The Iraqi government is paying to house the volunteers in a smattering of small hotels around downtown Baghdad and setting up free international telephone lines and special Internet access so they can lobby the folks back home.

Western diplomats are unsure, though, that the Iraqi government, once besieged, will want the public relations headache the shields will undoubtedly carry, and some of the volunteers themselves have their doubts.

"We fear they will keep us together and then push us out at the last minute," Mr. Meynell said.
I'm not really sure if this would count as a war crime or not; they're there of their own free will, and I somehow doubt that this would be crucial in whether or not Saddam Hussein is prosecuted for war crimes. (If he even survives the attack, which is unlikely, as the prospect of Saddam at the ICC must keep Bush administration officials up at night.) Still, since the entire point of the thing is to be a PR headache for all involved, these sorts of questions are inevitable.

(Personally, were I inclined towards that sort of thing, I'd wait until the occupation afterward and be an independent "eye on the ground" to ensure that the U.S. wasn't either committing human rights abuses itself and was living up to its promises, but if the point is preventing a war in the first place, I can see why that position might not be popular.)
It's not surprise that Powell has said that if Hussein leaves Iraq there won't be a war. This entire conflict has become extraordinarily personalized, with Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush ending up as personifications of the broader economic and strategic conflicts that both underpin and define this threatened war.

(No, I'm not referring to "root causes", but at the same time even hardcore warbloggers will acknowledge that this isn't just about getting rid of Hussein. It's a nice party line, but let's be realistic here.)

It's pretty clear that this is an empty promise. The United States has a lot to lose by not going into Iraq, and no guarantee that Saddam's leaving would ameliorate matters in the slightest. The person that takes over could be just as bad or even worse, and that would damage the credibility that the United States has staked on this war, thanks to the "save the Iraqi people" line that has been trotted out to justify the invasion. It doesn't matter, however, because I doubt that the U.S. government or Powell specifically actually thinks that Saddam would leave.

What is surprising was mentioned later in the Times story:

Bracing for a showdown at the United Nations, the United States and Britain plan to present a new resolution to the Security Council on Monday in a bid to gain support for using force to disarm Iraq.

The move runs against strong sentiment within the council that force as an option should be set aside for further inspections at least until U.N. inspectors file a new report of their findings.

The two allies evidently are willing to risk diplomatic defeat. But President Bush has vowed to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein one way or another -- with U.N. support or with the help of a ``coalition of the willing.''
The intrinsically amusing "coalition of the willing" aside (as coalitions are normally made up of willing countries), I have to admit some surprise. I had figured that the British and American governments would have held off introduction of this resolution until they had either killed or weakened the French/German initiative, which is much more likely to gain Security Council support. It's almost certain that the resolution won't change very much, and the rhetoric from the U.S. implies that the Bush administration has little use for or desire for U.N. support. It never really has, of course, because asking for that support has always entailed the possibility that the Security Council would say "no". What was desired was a rubber stamp in order to get the skittish public and non-client allies onside, not real legitimacy. Without that rubber stamp, the Bush administration and their satellites are returning to their unilateralist roots and to getting ready to do what they were going to do anyway, even before the September 11 attacks were a gleam in the eye of Osama Bin Laden: invade Iraq.

The only question now is whether or not the relationship between the U.N. and U.S. will survive this. Not the U.N. itself, which is far bigger than this one conflict and whose legitimacy does not rest on the Bush administration's forbearance, but the relationship between the U.S. and the U.N. Said relationship has been rocky, but it's held together and even strengthened, but that appears over now. It's also yet another chapter in the decaying balance between American hegemony and the international multilateral institutions, institutions that inspire such loathing in the neoconservatives that underpin this administration.
Another club tragedy.

This time, at least 85 people died from burns, smoke inhalation and trampling due to the (apparently illegal) use of pyrotechnics in a crowded club in Rhode Island.

Not much more to add to that, except that I wonder whether the timing of this and the Chicago tragedy will lead to a crackdown on dance clubs, and what the nature of that crackdown would be. Considering that trampling was an issue again, I'd say that enforcing fire code regulations will be a likely start; but if the several stories I've read saying that promoters go broke unless they exceed capacity is true, then they might end up raising prices. (Which would probably reduce attendence, making the entire thing moot; but at least the trampling wouldn't be such a threat.)

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Un-freaking-believable. I had had my suspicions about the department of homeland security, but exceeds every one of my expectations of just how sad and funny the new agency is likely to be. The site purports to be a set of guidelines about dealing with terrorist attacks, but it reads like an Onion parody. Listen to this:

there is a significant radiation threat, health care authorities may or may not advise you to take potassium iodide. Potassium iodide is the same stuff added to your table salt to make it iodized. It may or may not protect your thyroid gland, which is particularly vulnerable, from radioactive iodine exposure.
I "may or may not" win the lottery tomorrow. Bush "may or may not" write a thesaurus. Ducking and covering "may or may not" protect you from a nuclear blast.

Oh wait, maybe it will! Check it out:

Take cover immediately, below ground if possible, though any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate effects of the blast and the pressure wave.
Where's that turtle when you need him?
Visual Thesaurii are damned cool, they are.
This is what I get for not reading tapped: I missed a great bit of news:

First there's this report that a group of liberal donors are teaming up to create a lefty radio network. Tapped thinks this is a splendid idea. We also learn, via Roll Call's Mark Preston, that Tom Daschle has launched a series of "Monday Meetings" with outside interest groups, copying the Republican practice of many years (link not available):
Led by Democratic leadership staffers, the group meets each Monday on Capitol Hill for an hour to talk about current issues, and participants are allowed to discuss topics that are of interest to their constituencies. At the most recent meeting, for example, the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada was discussed.

Participants so far have included Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Monica Mills, political director of NARAL: Pro-Choice America; Ellen Nissenbaum, legislative director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Sheila O'Connell, political director of EMILY's List; and Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO. Top staffers for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also attend the meetings.

This is the first time the Democratic leadership has held regularly scheduled, formal meetings with outside groups, which has long been a regular practice of the GOP. Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) regularly meets with K Street brokers and the GOP leadership on both sides of the Capitol constantly participate in strategy sessions with lobbyists.

Also good. Although, being able to get out your message is secondary in importance to actually having a message. That's the hard part.
Not that hard, actually. Just replicate the close relationship that the "Wednesday meeting" types have with left/liberal counterparts to Heritage and AEI... the former for on-the-ground advocacy and lobbying, the latter for idea generation, policy formulation, and pie-in-the-sky stuff.

(Hell, on the latter point, this could be the chance to re-introduce academia into policy production.)

Once you've done that, you're on your way to the kind of information and advocacy production, concentration, distribution, and implementation that has made the right so damned effective this last while.

Great piece by Max Sawicky about the Galt mess. Heavy quotation follows, but what the hell:

AH, CIVILITY. When I started reading blogs I was immediately struck by the relentless campaign of demonization of all things liberal and left that could be observed on many sites. The blogs were just following the lead of assorted right-wing media, typified by the babbling fools of Fox. Is it just a fringe thing? I don't think so. In the bookstore the other day I noticed a new book by Mona Charen entitled "Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First." The back features blurbs from William Bennett, William F. Buckley, Robert Bork, William Kristol, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick. These may be extremist by 1970 political standards, but they are not peripheral figures. They are pillars of the Right. So where is civility when this sort of rhetoric is endorsed enthusiastically? One can hardly blame jingoist bloggers like Glenn Reynolds, Andrew "I should have a NY Times column not that guy Krugman" Sullivan, and lesser lights for following their leaders.

Believe it or not, I long for civility, but I have an ulterior motive. I think my arguments are so good that they will prosper in a rational debate. It also makes life more interesting. I would rather test my views against somebody sharp like Eugene Volokh than throw verbal mudballs at silly people. What the hell, I could be convinced I'm wrong. It's happened. I actually appreciate it, though I can't say it doesn't ache a little.

When I started blogging I resolved to foster civility by identifying and linking to those with differing political views who eschewed demonization. Another consideration is my collaborative anti-war project with libertarians who have a view of the welfare state which is perfectly opposite to my own. I also have a comments section in which debate is fairly polite, if heated at times. All things considered, I try and check myself when I'm at the point of issuing some blanket denunciation of "the Right" or somesuch.

One of my right-wing linkees was Megan McArdle, a.k.a. Jane Galt. Ordinarily her commentary and reader comments have been, in my experience, inside what I would call a zone of rationality. Then she said some things in connection with the upcoming demonstrations in New York that provoked me. I am not retracting what I said, which wasn't all that much, nor am I apologizing. If I had it to do again I wouldn't do anything different. For all I know she never even noticed my post, since she doesn't link to me. I was a little surprised at the intensity of comments here, and Ms. McArdle says she experienced much worse in private email. Other ripples have involved other blogs.

There is very little in politics where MM and I agree, but I do think this whole brouhaha has exceeded its justified limits. I have not read MM devotedly but most every time I have visited the commentary seemed relatively free of rancor. Others have disagreed but I am not convinced. The two-by-four post was an exception. Even so, it did not justify nasty emails. They are really an invasion of privacy, no better than an obscene phone call.

My endorsement isn't worth much, but as right-wing blogs go, Asymmetrical Information is one of the better ones. By contrast, InstaPundit, Sullivan, and others seem compulsively dedicated to a stream of potted generalizations and cheap shots. I read (skim, usually) them because lots of other people read them. InstaPundit is useful because he dredges up the worst of what passes for conservative thought from right-wing blogs. Find a nutty person with a sign in a crowd of 100,000 and label it "the face of the left." Erect silly arguments in order to shoot them down. Do the literary equivalent of arguing with an empty chair. That sort of thing.

MM is embarrassed because she said something dumb and compounded it by saying even stupider things in her own defense. But I would like to invoke my scintilla of influence and urge that she be cut some slack. She ain't that bad. She's wrong about most everything, but she's thoughtful and usually she's nice. Maybe steer clear of her before large demonstrations in Manhattan. Save your bile for the Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse: Reynolds, Sullivan, Johnson, & den Beste. (Sorry, Steve G., you didn't make the cut. You're not awful enough. In fact, you're kinda cute, like a frisky little terrier.)
Not quite sure who Steve G. is, but it nicely encapsulates both why the "left is dead" argument is wrong (as who better exemplifies both leftism and intelligence than Max?) and why this whole thing is fundamentally pointless (which is, apparently, because the nasty comments should be reserved for these four horsemen. Which I can get behind.)
It would appear that suicide bombing is no longer a "Muslim thing":

A Ku Klux Klan leader charged with firearms violations told an undercover informant that he had converted his car into a suicide bomb, authorities said yesterday.

David Hull, 40, of Amwell, Washington County, was arrested last week by federal agents who said he built pipe bombs and had attempted to obtain hand grenades for an abortion clinic bombing.

Hull is self-declared Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a faction that grew out of the defunct Invisible Empire Klan. Hull also has connections with various members of both factions of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations.

The revelations about a car bomb as well as allegations Hull had made homemade guns, had given an illegal silencer to an informant and planned to conduct military training at Klan gatherings came in a document submitted by prosecutors during a hearing in U.S. District Court yesterday.
Well, it's not exactly the same as strapping on an explosive belt, but then again cars are much easier for westerners to get, and can be easily packed with enough explosives to destroy a sizable building. I'll ignore the Klan element and just note that there are apparently causes that some Christians are just as willing to sacrifice themselves for as Muslims. Virgins (or dates) aside, martyrdom is martyrdom.

Another good post on Atrios' message boards about Jane's advocacy of violence:

Since her statements are based on a preemptive attack, that's a distinction that effectively makes no difference and reveals how incredibly problematic any preemptive attack is. First, if the "goon squad" were to have attacked the protesters preemptively they would have never seen whether the protesters intended to wreak havok. The goon squad would have acted regardless of whether the scenario would have turned into a "Seattle-like" one or remained completely peaceful.

Second, a preemptive attack is only as good as the information on which it relies. In this case, and assuming Galt actually believed violence was a possibility (as opposed to a facetious excuse for encouraging protesters to be beaten in any case) it turns out the information was false and she was encouraing preemptive violence on what turned out to be a peaceful demonstration.
Personally, I don't think that Jane was actually advocating violence against peaceful protesters, but I do think that she did not believe that protesters could remain peaceful, and wanted others to act on that assumption. Thus the distinction drawn between "peaceful" and "violent" protesters is an invented one, because the former doesn't (in Jane's mind) actually exist. She realized that was a fallacious assumption later, hence the spectacle of her eating her words in her comments section; but since the distinction can exist, Pejman (and Mark Kleiman) get to go off on Atrios for misinterpreting what she said. And they do; in Mark's case because he doesn't want to see Atrios fall prey to the same kind of generalizations and "I don't necessarily believe this but this guy does wink" games that plague Instapundit's credibility, and in Pejman's case because Atrios is a high profile left-wing blogger and Pejman is (or at least appears to be) utterly desperate to find that one great example that will finally prove to the world that the left is discredited and should exist only as a neutered, fearful, pathetic punching bag for Pejman and the rest of the right.

(I could be wrong about Jane's state of mind at the time, of course, but there's no real way of finding out; she'd deny it now, and the only evidence we have of what she thought then was what she wrote then. Such is post-modernity.)

Anybody who actually bothers to do a little research will no doubt discover that Atrios has written metric assloads of brilliant insight, and has also written assloads of weak, off, or ill-thought-out postings. Which makes him just like every other blogger (including Jane), and especially high-volume ones like him that write at least dozen entries a day. More importantly, it reveals the tendentious nature of those of his critics whom, like Pejman, ignore the one to favor the other. Perhaps it isn't the left that's dead.

Edit More good stuff. Pejman quoted Atrios as saying this:
. . . Jane has deliberately left an exaggerated impression of the number and content of the emails to turn martyr. Some sympathetic paternalistic lefties fell for her little game, and Jane no longer has to talk about her calls for pre-emptive violence and instead she can go on lying about Brad DeLong or making up "facts" and being incredibly rude to Nathan Newman in debates.
Notice those dots at the front? I didn't either, at first. I'm sure you're curious, so let's go to the actual thread, shall we? It's the same one I've been quoting in this entry. Here's the real quote:

No of course you're right. Jane has deliberately left an exaggerated impression of the number and content of the emails to turn martyr. Some sympathetic paternalistic lefties fell for her little game, and Jane no longer has to talk about her calls for pre-emptive violence and instead she can go on lying about Brad DeLong or making up "facts" and being incredibly rude to Nathan Newman in debates.
Hrm... so Atrios was agreeing with someone else. Who is this "dsq", though? Let's run through the last few postings, and see what prompted this comment:

Give over guys, "I'm getting lots of email from lurkers" is the oldest gambit on discussion boards. Am I the only sceptic left?

Aah, so Atrios was merely agreeing with "dsquared" ("dsq", I presume), who was citing a truism as valid as "you're going to get flamed" and as old as Usenet. He was not presuming to know exactly how many people Jane had received email from, but was agreeing with someone else who smelled a rat. Since Pejman's entire article argues that a reaction to a post is the fault of the original poster, Atrios is not at fault, dsquared is. Heck, even if the blame is to be shared equally Pejman is being deliberately dishonest, because he's ignoring dsquared's responsibility in order to heap blame on Atrios.

Then again, is it dsquared that is really responsible? Let's check this post by Jeff Hauser:

I want to agree with Thumb about the strong likelihood Galt is lying about the number and nature of e-mails. I wrote a bunch of posts during a six week span I spent checking out right wing blogs to see if they were as bad as I had thought they would be (e.g., ), and what is ironic in retrospect is that I found Galt's commenters among the most rabid and venemous people imaginable. If she can condone Patrick Sullivan (the site's #1 frothing freeper commenter) on her own site, then how can she condemn angry e-mail? The reality is that its okay to let Sullivan have his voice heard, and likewise I imagine she got few if any truly over the line e-mails, and those she should just either delete or mock (or both).

Jeff Hauser
So, the doubt was cast before Dsquared pushed a single key. Hauser, however, referred to a guy named "thumb". Thumb wrote a pair of lengthy posts in which he said:

I can believe she got a couple hateful emails, she advocated violence against the protesters and someone threw a brick at children, tensions are obviously raw, but I regularly read the comments at Atrios' and know of only one suspect that would write something like that (I also know of several who I would not put past pretending to be a lefty and assailing Jane to make the Left look bad). I understand enough about the laws of marketing and return (and have built some very successful businesses around that knowledge) to know that Jane is probably grossly exaggerating the number and is using this to go into Wounded Martyr Mode. For her to get "several hundred" of Atrios' readers to actually take the time to find her email and compose a response at all tells me that there had to be many thousands of people who read the link, thought similarly about Jane, and didn't email. If only 10% of Atrios' readers bother to even hit the link to any given full text I find it extremely difficult to fathom that so many, who never post in the comments section in the first place, would suddenly, in mass, email Jane in the kind of semi-coherent diatribe she describes.

1) Atrios is too much of a target rich environment for Jane's single post to stand out for that kind of incredible response, and 2) using Atrios' commenters as a sampling of his readers also suggests that the responses she claims to have received are not typical to the average Atrios reader, which seems to be stacked mostly with professionals. This leads to my next issue; how does she know that these were people who got the story from Atrios? How many hundreds of blogs post links they found at Atrios, and did one of them, a kind of Lucianne/freerepublic/newsmax of the left (of which Atrios isn't) put out a call to mass email Jane? Even then I have my doubts that so many would take the time to email such a response. I'm sorry, but she makes a statement regarding using "a two-by-four and giv[ing] a demonstration of the value of pre-emptive violence" in reference to the protesters, and then someone throws a brick from a moving car into a group of children protesting. Her mea culpa may have been sincere, if short of an actual apology, but her reaction seems a disingenuous twofer, a convenient excuse for a break while at the same time using the fallout to score a few generic jabs at both the left ("made me remember the reasons I quit the Left in the first place") and the popular Atrios for the gall to point out, by her own words, a "not a very-well considered thing to say". I would say so, especially considering the timing.
Ahh... so now we get the complete picture. Atrios was agreeing with dsquared. Dsquared was making a pithy comment based on the arguments of Hauser and Thumb, whom both cast very legitimate doubt on Jane's martyr act and pointed out several key ideas that completely contradicted Pejman's assertions. Pejman MUST have seen these posts, because they preceded Atrios' own post, which Pejman quoted.

Therefore there's only one explanation: Pejman must have deliberately ignored said posts that Atrios would have read as influences on Atrios' comment, ignores the clear contradictions they present to his own arguments about the left's ability to be civil and about the intelligence of Atrios' readership, and asserts that Atrios is responsible for the actions of his readers, despite the clear (and ignored) chain of commentary here.

So which is it, Pej? Should we look at the inspiration for the action, or should we let people be responsible for their own words and own actions? I'm deeply curious, because right now, the only answer I'm seeing is "pick whichever happens to be convenient".

That can't be the answer, can it?

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Ok, so let me get this straight. Because Atrios made a few facetious comments about an ill-advised bit by Jane Galt that may or may not have advocated violence against protesters. Some people who read Atrios' site wrote her nasty emails. She freaks out and stops blogging. Atrios' response:

I don't condone sending pointlessly obscene emails to anyone, and nor did I ask anyone to. But I find it a bit odd that someone has a problem with my linking of Galt's calls for inappropriate vigilante violence to (admittedly different) vigilante violence on the grounds that doing so might cause some inappropriate emails. If my words are somehow irresponsible for that reason, then so were hers, which was the point of the 'goon squad' comment in the first place.

But, please stop sending nasty obscene emails to people.
And, therefore, because of all this, according to Pejman, this is proof that Atrios is a demagogue who is (somehow) "dumber than a colony of decapitated cockroaches who suffered from a particularly agonizing insect variant of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease at the end of their lives."

Obvious contradiction aside, (you can't be retarded and a demagogue at the same time) I don't see the problem here. Atrios said something. Somebody else sent a bunch of nasty emails. Atrios does not have control over these people and never has; their choice to email is their own. Flaming is, additionally, a well known and thoroughly familiar aspect of Internet society (such as it is), and flaming emails in response to obviously inflammatory rhetoric is as familiar to political debate online as portly white guys are to politics offline. Atrios also had no control over Jane's reaction to utterly predictable flaming, and I imagine it was probably overstated on Jane's part, although I can't be sure. (Pejman's absurd "gotcha" about Atrios saying that was embarassing, by the by.)

And because of this, Pejman spends page after page of:

-selective quotation (he argues that Atrios' current material reflects his past work, conveniently ignoring the excellent information concentration and research that led to his role in unearthing Lott's past and bringing it to light, which is what granted him his current popularity)

-absurd generalization (he tries to extend these carefully selected Atrios postings and a few equally carefully chosen comments on Jane Galt's site to the entire left; a common technique by several members of the right, but nonetheless a dishonest one)

-and out-and-out lunatic ad hominem attacks (like the one above, and entire paragraphs devoted to taking cheap potshots at the left that would embarass Atrios) lengthily repeat the tired rightist canard that "the left is dead". This despite the obvious fact that Atrios is neither a representative of the left and the equally obvious fact that the left does not HAVE such a representative, as it is as chaotic and disorganized online as it is offline. I mean, if he were making comments about a leftist movement as carefully organized as movement neoconservatism is then he might have a point- but such a thing simply doesn't exist. Nobody on the left is responsible for the actions of anybody else that they haven't authorized as their representative, and Atrios has neither given nor has been given such authorization. The only thing he has is readers, and that makes Pejman as responsible as anybody else, as he must have read Atrios' site to be able to quote him.

Besides, there's a logical inconsistency here. Jane's complaints and Pejman's amplification of said complaints to a wholesale dismissal of the left would have some merits if nastiness were restricted to the left, and if the right were unceasingly civil and polite. Nobody who is even halfway familiar with a huge number of online conservatives would even dare to venture that, unless they were being willfully and brazenly dishonest. Everybody gets harassed, some more than others, and for every example of a horde of leftists sending hateful email (however one defines that) one could bring up at least one example of a flock of right-wingers doing the same damned thing. Yet Pejman spends an entire paragraph asserting:

So what is left to the Left (pardon the pun)? Shouting. Screaming. Lying. Moaning. Whining. And hate mail. Let's not forget the loads of hate mail being sent to the members of the winning political camp in order to try to tarnish the taste of that victory to the greatest degree possible. In the final spasms before ideological rigor mortis finally sets in, we witness demagogues and idiots like Atrios seeking intellectual (*chortle*, *snicker*, *loud guffaw*) leadership of a decaying movement for one last massive bitching session based on one false premise after another, before "the rest is silence," finally, and mercifully.
So, other than being resoundingly silly, this leaves me with a conundrum. Is Pejman being:

a) hypocritical

b) ignorant

c) dishonest


d) all of the above?

Take your pick. And yes, I'll accept e) overreacting to Jane's overreaction.

EditI found a poster ("zanzinger") on Atrios' message board who made a pretty wise observation about this whole situation:

I think the problem here is that a lot of people in blogistan (both bloggers and readers) have their amps cranked to 11 at all times. Everything is "outrageous" or "shameless" or "disgusting" or "treasonous" or "fascist". Nobody knows how to chill. Galt self-righteously makes stupid comments about protesters. Atrios self-righteously calls her on it. There is some self-righteous back and forth. Galt self-righteously signs off. More self-righteous chest-puffing here and elsewhere.
Had he known, he probably would have added "Pejman self-righteously claims that this has killed the left." Still, this is a much better insight than anything Pejman wrote. The internet does lend itself to extremism and overreaction, and it would appear that said tendency claimed a few victims in Atrios and Jane. It also claimed a (willing?) victim in Pejman.

Zanzinger called it: "nobody knows how to chill". So let me be the first to say: Chill, folks. Honestly, this whole thing has been blown out of proportion.

HERE'S A CZECH OPED arguing that France and Germany are positioning themselves to head a new Warsaw Pact, waging a new Cold War against the United States -- and using the same "peace movement" in the same way the Soviets did.

I guess it's not surprising that the New Europe doesn't like that idea all that much.

UPDATE: And check out this editorial from a Romanian paper making a similar point.

Communism wrung our neck while the honourable democracies issued communiqu├ęs. And now they are surprised that all the countries in the former communist bloc do not give a damn about obsolete stratagems of France and Germany.

You can't get much plainer than that.
or dumber. I mean, there isn't really much to say when you're trying to raise the spectre of a new Cold War using the device of "...aggressive anti-American pacifism... threatens to break apart the West into mutually inimical European and American parts", as the original article did (at least according to the blogger that translated it). Or "Let's hope that the US will face down the current peace-making anti-imperialist aggression", which just sounds like parody, unless one is actually encouraging an American empire.

Hey, wait a second....

This whole business about "old vs. new europe" originally annoyed me, because it was a blatant and obvious attempt to try to isolate France and Germany by describing two of the most advanced countries in the world as "old", and I had figured that the concept was well and truly dead when all four of the other veto-carrying security council members mocked it by describing themselves as "old civilizations" too (including Britain). It prompted Colin Powell to make an extraordinarilly lame claim about the United States being an "old democracy" itself, despite it being clear to all involved that this whole "old vs. new" technique was an attempt to harness the percieved youth of the United States to its own advantage.

Now, with several countries latching on to this description, it's just mystifying. Not why they're doing it (they're hoping to get the protection and support of the United States, and have little to lose from an Iraq war; it's also a dandy way of gaining prestige, even if they know it's just a gambit), but why they're so shortsighted. The only way that these countries are going to be able to develop and become "new Europe" is if they trade with (and perhaps integrate their economies with) "old Europe". The United States isn't going to replace their neighbours; no matter how big the American economy is, it's across an ocean and a good deal of landmass for most of Eastern Europe, and it's certainly not going to drop its protectionism any faster than Western Europe. So what's the point? There seems to be an obsession with Western Europe not helping Eastern Europe against the communists, but why not address the United States' superpower status at the time and the complete inability of Western Europe to save them? Sure, one could point at WWII and the allies' behavior prior to the war, but it wasn't like the United States immediately saw the problem and jumped in to save them. And what about memories of WWI, a war whose beginnings are suspiciously similar to the events currently taking place? I can understand the United States ignoring one war and focusing on another, because WWII was a defining moment for the U.S., but that doesn't explain European attitudes.

(The history of U.S. client states isn't exactly a positive thing either; why anybody with any alternative would want to become one is beyond me.)

As for this "new Cold War" Just, no. France and Germany are behaving just like any other set of countries that have different interests and mores than the the United States; the difference is that they share the same political and economic system (more or less) with the States, yet are powerful and resilient enough that they don't need to court the U.S. in order to survive. This is relatively unique; most states either don't fit the former definition (like China) or the latter (like Russia, Japan or Canada). It is usually in their best interests to cooperate with the United States, but that cooperation is neither guaranteed nor should be expected. In this case, on this issue, they disagree with the U.S. That doesn't make this a new Cold War, or any sort of a war, unless and until one of the parties starts getting belligerent.

Somehow, I doubt it's going to be the "aggressive pacifists".

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Welp, so much for Powell's Adai attempt; as MSNBC's Powell’s Bad Day points out, he's been outmaneuvered- and in some cases flatly contradicted- by others, including the French Foreign Minister and Blix himself.

One reason for the French victory Friday was Powell’s rather laid-back diplomacy during the week since his broadside at the Council. While Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, Vladimir Putin and de Villepin have spent the week traveling to and fro, forging coalitions, making speeches, Powell (who doesn’t like to travel) and Bush have stayed put. Even at the Security Council on Friday, de Villepin deftly played to the court of public opinion better than Powell. At one point, even while the Council was still in session, he left to launch a preemptive strike with the press staking out the meeting. Another reason: while the Blix report was mixed, it was much more positive than the Security Council’s last update, on Jan. 27. Referring to weapons of mass destruction, Blix said flatly, “So far Unmovic has not found any such weapons.” He noted new Iraqi cooperation, including the new law announced Friday morning banning WMDs from Iraq—which Blix noted had been suggested by him and the U.N.’s chief nuclear weapons inspector Mohamed El Baradei during their visit to Baghdad last week. Blix even tweaked Powell over elements of his dramatic Feb. 5 presentation. Referring to the suspected bio-chem site of which Powell had shown detailed before-and-after satellite photos, Blix dismissed the idea that the supposed presence of a “decontamination truck” was meaningful. “The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been routine activity,” he said.
Powell's impressive presentation appears to be almost flatly contradicted by Blix and Co. It's kind of sad, actually; were it not obvious that the presentation were both an attempt to justify a war that everybody already believes inevitable and a broadside shot at the U.N. itself, Blix might actually have been sympathetic to an American presentation that could have been used to pressure Iraq into even greater compliance. As it was, however, Powell ended up in a situation where the credibility of his assertions was matched up against that of Blix's findings, and is it any surprise that the one that neither belongs to a serially-dishonest administration nor is trying to back up an already decided course of action comes out ahead?

Even worse is the huge backfire that was the rhetoric about "old Europe":

Powell also paid for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s unfortunate jibe at “Old Europe” at week ago, a remark that turned into a hilarious football at the Security Council, mostly at America’s expense. De Villepin, the first of the permanent five to speak, gave an eloquent defense of the U.N. (and the inspections regime), concluding, “In the temple of the United Nations we are all guardians of an ideal, the guardian of a conscience,” he said. “This message comes from an old country, France, that does not forget ... all it owes to freedom fighters that came from the United States of America and everywhere.” His statement brought a sustained ovation from all parts of the chamber, including the press gallery. The Chinese foreign minister, speaking next, referred to his country as “an ancient civilization,” and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw comically countered with: “Britain is also a very old country. It was founded in 1066—by the French!” Powell, improvising, came back with: “America is a relatively new country, but it is the oldest democracy around this table ...” Unfortunately, that appeared to snub America’s most stalwart ally, Great Britain, which has had an operating parliament that outdates America’s founding by many years.
I was under the impression that the U.S. was technically the world's oldest liberal democracy, but it honestly depends on how you define those. Besides, whether true or not, it was a terribly lame attempt to defuse a pointed counter to Powell's own (likely scripted) rhetoric. It comes back to the central problem with the rhetoric coming out of the White House and its satellites and sycophants recently... what on earth is the point in trying to antagonize and demonize France? The rest of the planet is not going to be one bit more sympathetic than they already were, it won't win over the French in the slightest, and it's just going to cause the European powers to join ranks.

(Other, less powerful European states might align themselves with the U.S., but they have little reason not to do so and can just as easily ally themselves with "Old Europe" if they see a greater benefit in that.)

As the article points out, there still remains two options: let the inspections continue, or go in using the allies and resources that the United States already has. As the Bush administration has staked its credibility and reputation on going into Iraq, I imagine that it will be the second option that is pursued, but it would appear that the attempts by the U.S. to bully and/or cajole the U.N. to join them have dissipated, and the Americans will look even more imperial.

Somewhere in Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden is still smiling.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Krugman bluntly lays it out, as usual.

Fed chairmen aren't allowed to speculate about disaster scenarios, so let me do it for you. If the administration gets what it wants, within a decade — or perhaps sooner — the United States will have budget fundamentals comparable to Brazil's a year ago. The ratios of debt and deficits to G.D.P. won't be all that high by historical standards, but the bond market will look ahead and see that things don't add up: the rich have been promised low tax rates, middle-class baby boomers have been promised pensions and medical care, and the government can't meet all those promises while paying interest on its debt. Fears that the government will solve its problem by inflating away its debt will drive up interest rates, worsening the deficit, and things will spiral out of control.
Brazil? Brazil? This can't be real. It makes sense, and certainly fits the Bush administration's line of behavior, but it seems incredible that what was once the soundest economy in the world could go south so quickly.

(So much for the unimportance of the state, huh?)

Plus, Krugman voices something that has been bugging me for a while:

No doubt you're under intense pressure to be a team player. But these guys are users: they persuade other people to squander their hard-won credibility on behalf of bad policies, then discard those people once they are no longer useful. Think of John DiIulio, or your friend Paul O'Neill. It's happening to Colin Powell right now. (A digression: The U.S. media are soft-pedaling it as usual, but the business of the Osama tape has destroyed Mr. Powell's credibility in much of the world. The tape calls Saddam Hussein an "infidel" whose "jurisdiction . . . has fallen," but says that it's still O.K. to fight the "Crusaders" — and Mr. Powell claims that it ties Saddam to Al Qaeda. Huh? All it shows is that Al Qaeda views a U.S. invasion of Iraq as an excellent recruiting opportunity.)
The way that the Bin Laden tape is being played in the U.S. media and by the current administration is shocking; if anything the tape shows that Saddam and Bin Laden both share enmity to the U.S., but is nowhere near proof of any real link, no more than anything in Powell's presentation. More importantly- as Krugman points out- the rest of the world simply isn't going to buy it, and the wedge being driven in between the United States and everybody else goes that much farther.

Heck, the spectacle of Powell trying to say that this is proof might discredit the earlier testimony, even if it were correct.

Well, at least this shows one thing: the next time someone tells you they don't vote because "it doesn't matter", you can point at the mess that the American executive branch made and tell them that if they and a few hundred thousand like them had actually voted against the guy, he wouldn't be in there right now. And tell those that voted for Bush because they wanted lower taxes that, yes, this is indeed *their* fault. Nobody else's.
Well, Blix appears to be sticking to his story...he hasn't found weapons, nor evidence that weapons are being moved around, but doesn't have enough proof to conclude that the Iraqis have decommissioned and/or destroyed said weapons.

Around a week and change ago, I would have said "well, what about what Powell said"? After the deep questioning of the credibility of Powell's presentation that I've heard, and the outright contradiction of it by Blix (especially on Powell's "rolling labs" bit), a man whom doesn't seem particularly inclined towards apologizing for the Iraqis, and the low comedy that was the British dossier...

...well, let's just say I doubt that the Security Council is going to come around anytime soon.

Were it not obvious that Bush is going to invade anyway, the logical thing to do would be to implement the "more inspectors/UN troops in Iraq" proposal; even if there are proscribed weapons, it's unlikely that they would be in any usable condition anytime soon. As it is, however, it's perfectly clear that the Bush administration is willing to jettison the U.N., NATO, the goodwill of the other major powers, and the support of anything but self-interested client states in their anxiety to start this thing.

Once again, the question I continually worry about isn't Iraq... it's what comes after Iraq.
Screw the INS.

A Toronto woman coming home from India says she was pulled aside at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, accused of using a fake Canadian passport, denied consular assistance and threatened with jail.

In tears and desperate, Berna Cruz says she told U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) officers she didn't want to go to jail. She told them she had to get home to her two children and was expected to be at work the next day at a branch of a major Toronto bank where she works as a loan officer.

Instead of jailing her on Jan. 27, an INS officer cut the front page of Cruz's passport and filled each page with "expedited removal" stamps, rendering it useless.

She was photographed, fingerprinted, barred from re-entering the U.S. for five years and immediately "removed."

Not to Toronto, but to India, where she had just spent several weeks visiting her parents.

It took four days, and help from Canadian officials in Dubai and a Kuwaiti Airlines pilot, to get her back home.
If that isn't enough to make your blood boil, listen to this:

Cruz says an officer also asked here why her surname was not "Singh" and commented that it was clever of her to use a Spanish name. Cruz, who is separated from her husband, says she told the officers that her maiden name is Fernandez. It's not uncommon for Indian-born people to have Portuguese surnames, but the officers didn't seem to care, she says.

"They said, `You better tell the truth because we know this is not a valid Canadian passport. We'll throw you in jail,'" Cruz recalled.
So, any defenders of racial...excuse me, "cultural" profiling care to weigh in? I realize that the current U.S. government doesn't give a rats ass about Canadian-American relations and hasn't since the election, but this is indefensible. Let's face it; she was held because she was coming from India, was brown-skinned, and didn't fit the stereotype.

We have very high-tech technology out there to detect these kinds of tampered documents," said Gail Montenegro.
Oops. Guess Bush isn't interested in rebuilding Afghanistan after all.

(Thanks to Atrios for the link)

The United States Congress has stepped in to find nearly $300m in humanitarian and reconstruction funds for Afghanistan after the Bush administration failed to request any money in the latest budget.

One mantra from the Bush administration since it launched its military campaign in Afghanistan 16 months ago has been that the US will not walk away from the Afghan people.

President Bush has even suggested a Marshall plan for the country, and the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, will visit Washington later this month.

Washington has pledged not to forget Afghanistan
But in its budget proposals for 2003, the White House did not explicitly ask for any money to aid humanitarian and reconstruction costs in the impoverished country.

The chairman of the committee that distributes foreign aid, Jim Kolbe, says that when he asked administration officials why they had not requested any funds, he was given no satisfactory explanation, but did get a pledge that it would not happen again.
The International Development Agency said it was due to amount prediction problems; that they didn't know how much they'd need in 2002, when they started working on it. That, um, lacks credibility; I can see "less money", but "no money"? They should have at least had a working amount.

So as the situation in forgotten Afghanistan keeps getting worse and worse outside of U.S. controlled Kabul (however long that lasts), the Bush administration sets its sights on Iraq. This time, however, they're not even pushing PR about reconstruction. As several people on Atrios' message board said, "no wonder the europeans don't want you to bomb Iraq". They know the score.
To be honest, I've always been skeptical about the usefulness of protests, especially when the government in question is hostile to the entire idea (as the Bush administration undoubtedly is) and in the age where relatively accurate polling is the norm, not the exception.

Still, this is daunting.

60,000 in Japan? 150,000 in Melbourne? 100,000 in Germany? 50,000 in Paris? half a million in London and Barcelona? 100,000 in NYC, despite being the only North American city to be attacked by terrorists?

(Oh wait, right, forgot about McVeigh. Common thing these days, ain't it?)

I mean, desperately pathetic blogger arguments aside, this ain't just ANSWER and a bunch of Stalinist apologists. This is becoming a serious problem. Maybe not in Australia or the U.S. (where right-wing executives are, as I said, not going to care), Blair really has to take this seriously. His MPs are going to get skittish, and non-confidence votes aren't just a Thatcher thing. It's already happening:

In Britain, several lawmakers from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party will be among the protesters, including former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam, reflecting unease felt by many of Blair's centre-left and labour union supporters.
Labour unionists are going to take demonstrations seriously, and therefore so will Blair. I don't think this'll crack open the British/U.S. alliance "of the willing" right now, but I can't see the Brits backing the U.S. any farther than Iraq itself. Wherever the U.S. goes next (France?), it'll likely go alone.
Well, it would appear that the information that prompted the move to "high" alert was a lie.

Obviously, I'm glad that this is the case. I don't want to see another terrorist attack on North American soil (or anywhere, really, but that's a harder job), and I worry constantly about the reaction that such an attack would cause. It's better for everyone, especially North American Arabs and Muslims, that such an attack not take place. I don't want to think about what'd happen to them were there another attack, especially with the all-out invocation of a war on Islam that is already being advocated by some after just one attack.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Friendly advice to D-squared Digest:

Stop. Just, stop. Really, it's not worth it. The man is impervious to logic, reason, or any interpretation of reality that doesn't paint it as the bastard child of Tom Clancy and Westwood studios. I mean, he came right out and said that he only does the (minor) research necessary to back up his already-decided viewpoints, and this after coming out and saying that the only real font of knowledge someone needs to understand politics is a background in engineering.

And let's not forget the paranoid rants about my pseudonymous megalomania.

Really, you're smart, insightful, and funny. You have better things to do.

On the other hand, summarizing up his novel-length entries with this:

-I've never served in uniform.

-My dislike of the French is independent of any facts about the world.

-I have intricate knowledge of the command and control structure of the Iraqi Army, and astonishingly enough, the news is Good For The War Party!
might actually be worth it. But you forgot "I fear and loathe those with obvious pseudonyms". Make a note of it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

I have been following (although not really writing about) the near-disintegration of the Powell case over the past week or so with no small amount of relish. First, of course, there's the British plagiarism, which hurt Powell's credibility. Then there were the questions about the context of the intercepted conversations, and the accuracy of the interpretation of those satellite photos. Then there was the news that the "agent" within that terrorist organization operating in Northern Iraq (which is not controlled by Saddam) was more a spy than a liason, thus making Saddam no more tied to said organization than anybody else with HUMINT resources within terrorist organizations. (Not to mention the news that apparently, the organization isn't overly tied to Al Qaeda).

Now, as the icing on the cake, we have proof that Al Qaeda likes Saddam about as much as bush does. I'll let Atrios sum it up:

Powell announces al-Jazeera has a tape which demonstrates a nexus of al Qaeda and Saddam. al-Jazeera says they don't. Then Powell claims they'll have the tape soon. They get the tape. They run it. Far from it demonstrating a link between OBL and Saddam, OBL says they should overthrow Saddam.
Finally, in about the clearest bit of evidence yet that Alterman has the "liberal" media nailed, we find out that MSNBC edited their own story because it clearly and devastatingly contradicted the Bush administration's attempts to link Saddam and Usama. At time of writing, they've claimed that the initial translation was "a mistake", but have torpedoed their own credibility by altering their stories without acknowdgement of the alterations. (A common problem nowadays; technology makes the truth easier to cover up than to ferret out, which is why one should be more than a little skeptical about pronouncements from this notoriously-averse-to-truthtelling administrations.)

Oh, and it looks like the next target might not be Saudi Arabia, Iran, or North Korea... but France and Germany, as the NATO alliance lurches on the edge of oblivion. Which, of course, would be WWIII. And the domestic economic indicators couldn't be worse, as Bush releases a budget that most serious economists simply stare in shock at.

It's hard to think of how the neo-conservatives could have screwed up their world domination coming-out party any more than they already have. If there's any consolation to be taken from this, it's that when all is said and done, there's no doubt that the movement will be utterly discredited, and the Union will be stronger for it.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Wow. According to this, Saudi Arabia is going to kick out the Americans and start democratic reforms. Not quite sure what to make of it, except that I worry it'll set the stage for Target: Saudi Arabia in about three years or so.
Found in an Eschaton comments thread:
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
-Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials
I didn't know this quote. I'm at a loss for words.
Hey kids! Wondering how much more Orwellian the situation can get in the United States? Are you thinking "the USA PATRIOT act was pretty keen, but I want more government surveillance on the citizenry"? Just plain worried about what your neighbour is doing, but not what your government is doing?

Well, I'd like to introduce you to USA-PATRIOT II: the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003". The Center for Public Integrity has the goods, and what a great set of goods they are:

Some of the key provision of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 include:

Section 201, “Prohibition of Disclosure of Terrorism Investigation Detainee Information”: Safeguarding the dissemination of information related to national security has been a hallmark of Ashcroft’s first two years in office, and the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 follows in the footsteps of his October 2001 directive to carefully consider such interest when granting Freedom of Information Act requests. While the October memo simply encouraged FOIA officers to take national security, “protecting sensitive business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy” into account while deciding on requests, the proposed legislation would enhance the department’s ability to deny releasing material on suspected terrorists in government custody through FOIA.
All right! Looks like "disappearing" isn't just for Colombians anymore!

Section 202, “Distribution of ‘Worst Case Scenario’ Information”: This would introduce new FOIA restrictions with regard to the Environmental Protection Agency. As provided for in the Clean Air Act, the EPA requires private companies that use potentially dangerous chemicals must produce a “worst case scenario” report detailing the effect that the release of these controlled substances would have on the surrounding community. Section 202 of this Act would, however, restrict FOIA requests to these reports, which the bill’s drafters refer to as “a roadmap for terrorists.” By reducing public access to “read-only” methods for only those persons “who live and work in the geographical area likely to be affected by a worst-case scenario,” this subtitle would obfuscate an established level of transparency between private industry and the public.
Not only Orwellian, but also oddly silly... what's to stop people who "live and work in the geographical area" from letting others know what's going on? Unless they're forced to sign some sort of NDA? An NDA about their own government? Hey, there's a good idea!

Section 301-306, “Terrorist Identification Database”: These sections would authorize creation of a DNA database on “suspected terrorists,” expansively defined to include association with suspected terrorist groups, and noncitizens suspected of certain crimes or of having supported any group designated as terrorist.
As we've seen, the definition of "supporting any group designated as terrorist" can be extraordinarily vague. Sure, people who hand money over to Al Qaeda might qualify, but what about people innocently giving money to what they think of as charities? Is the U.S. government going to collect DNA information from all the Irish-Americans ("noncitizens", of course, just like enemy combatants, but read on) who have given money to charities that has eventually (unbeknownst to them) gone to the IRA? Or, for that matter, how does one define "support"? If they mean something like "moral support", then any Bush administration official with a relatively Coulterian bent might use this as an excuse to collect the DNA of every leftist/liberal they can get their hands on. (As long as they're not a citizen. Of course. But, again, read on.) Considering that the department of homeland security is going to be a patronage-driven Republican stronghold, I'd count on it.

Section 312, “Appropriate Remedies with Respect to Law Enforcement Surveillance Activities”: This section would terminate all state law enforcement consent decrees before Sept. 11, 2001, not related to racial profiling or other civil rights violations, that limit such agencies from gathering information about individuals and organizations. The authors of this statute claim that these consent orders, which were passed as a result of police spying abuses, could impede current terrorism investigations. It would also place substantial restrictions on future court injunctions.
So long, Judicial Review! It was overrated anyway. Despite the orders being passed due to acknowledged abuses, and despite the wholesale assault on the FOIA, and despite the widespread potential for abuse from the most politically-driven administration in decades (and any future administrations) and anybody who happens to work for them, it doesn't matter: they're simply not applicable in this Brave New World of the War on Terrorism.

Section 405, “Presumption for Pretrial Detention in Cases Involving Terrorism”: While many people charged with drug offenses punishable by prison terms of 10 years or more are held before their trial without bail, this provision would create a comparable statute for those suspected of terrorist activity. The reasons for presumptively holding suspected terrorists before trial, the Justice Department summary memo states, are clear. “This presumption is warranted because of the unparalleled magnitude of the danger to the United States and its people posed by acts of terrorism, and because terrorism is typically engaged in by groups – many with international connections – that are often in a position to help their members flee or go into hiding.”
Of course, since these are only suspected terrorists, this is essentially a wholesale assault on the presumption of innocence, and creates a huge opportunity for the government to use all that ill-gotten information to arrest people as suspected terrorists and hold them for indefinite periods of time. Don't worry. I'm sure this won't ever get abused.

Section 501, “Expatriation of Terrorists”: This provision, the drafters say, would establish that an American citizen could be expatriated “if, with the intent to relinquish his nationality, he becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United Stated has designated as a ‘terrorist organization’.” But whereas a citizen formerly had to state his intent to relinquish his citizenship, the new law affirms that his intent can be “inferred from conduct.” Thus, engaging in the lawful activities of a group designated as a “terrorist organization” by the Attorney General could be presumptive grounds for expatriation.
So now we have a government that can, at will, relinquish citizenship. Fortunately, the definition of "terrorist organization" is completely static, not open to abuse, and certainly would never be used as a political tool attacking marginal or radical political groups. I'm also sure that the section about the noncitizen DNA database and this section about summarily removing people's citizenship were not designed to work together. It's just coincidence.

And then there's this:

The USA Patriot Act allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share information gathered in terrorism investigations under the “foreign intelligence” standard with local law enforcement agencies, in essence nullifying the higher standard of oversight that applied to domestic investigations. The USA Patriot Act also amended FISA to permit surveillance under the less rigorous standard whenever “foreign intelligence” was a “significant purpose” rather than the “primary purpose” of an investigation.

The draft legislation goes further in that direction. “In the [USA Patriot Act] we have to break down the wall of foreign intelligence and law enforcement,” Cole said. “Now they want to break down the wall between international terrorism and domestic terrorism.”
Which means, of course, that any domestic group that gets labelled as "terrorists" by overly excitable government officials gets the full "international terrorist" surveillance whammy. (It probably isn't a good time to be a member of the Trotskyist league right now.) I'm sure this won't be abused either.

"Wait!", you ask. "As long as there's a public debate over this, this thing is doomed! There's no way the American public would stand for this, because they love their freedoms and are constantly questioning their government! How can we be sure that the process of ensuring our safety and the preservation of our precious freedoms won't get derailed"? Well, kids, the trick is not to tell anyone:

Cole found it disturbing that there have been no consultations with Congress on the draft legislation. “It raises a lot of serious concerns and is troubling as a generic matter that they have gotten this far along and tell people that there is nothing in the works. What that suggests is that they’re waiting for a propitious time to introduce it, which might well be when a war is begun. At that time there would be less opportunity for discussion and they’ll have a much stronger hand in saying that they need these right away.”
Ah, what relief. They'll just wait until the American public is distracted and push it through without anybody even realizing. It's not like the media isn't on board; as long as they get their access to war footage, they'll be quiet as mice. Even if they aren't, they'll just get called out as the filthy liberals that they are by the patriotic folks at the Washington Times, Fox News, and all the other patriotic news organizations out there.

So let's all be comforted by the knowledge that President Bush Is There To Protect You And Your Precious Rights. We don't need to worry about this. After all, the terrorists hate us because of our freedoms: George said so, right? How could he not be carefully protecting our freedoms if that's exactly what the terrorists are trying to get rid of?

I feel so happy about it, I can almost stop screaming.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Blix shoots back.

The chief UN weapons inspector yesterday dismissed what has been billed as a central claim of the speech the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, will make today to the UN security council.
Hans Blix said there was no evidence of mobile biological weapons laboratories or of Iraq trying to foil inspectors by moving equipment before his teams arrived.

In a series of leaks or previews, the state department has said Mr Powell will allege that Iraq moved mobile biological weapons laboratories ahead of an inspection. Dr Blix said he had already inspected two alleged mobile labs and found nothing: "Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found."

Dr Blix said that the problem of bio-weapons laboratories on trucks had been around for a while and that he had received tips from the US that led him to inspect trucks in Iraq. The Iraqis claimed that the trucks were used to inspect the quality of food production.

He also contested the theory that the Iraqis knew in advance what sites were to be inspected. He added that they expected to be bugged "by several nations" and took great care not to say anything Iraqis could overhear.

He said he assumed the US secretary of state would not be indicating sites that the inspectors should visit that he had not told them about. "It is more likely to be based upon satellite imagery and upon intercepts of telephone conversations or knowledge about Iraqi procurement of technical material or chemicals," he said.
In the past, the U.N. was the diplomatic battleground upon which the U.S. and U.S.S.R. fought the Cold War. Ironic, perhaps, that Iraq appears to be that same sort of background against which is playing out the growing conflict between the institution of the U.N. and that of the neoconservative executive branch of the United States government.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

It would appear that, despite Powell's best efforts today, the case for war is not being accepted by the other security council veto holders, or really anybody who wasn't convinced that war is necessary from the outset. I doubt that many in the security council believe that Powell's examples of Iraqi intransigence were wrong, although several were fairly circumstantial and subject to interpretation, and the tenuousness of the link between Al Qaeda really threw me; I was amazed it was added, as it seemed to weaken the rest of the case.

The problem is the reaction to the evidence. The Bush administration continues to argue that it means that war is the only option, whereas others interpret it as evidence that the inspection regime needs to be beefed up. In some respects I think the spectacle of what was essentially a strident American attack on the entire inspection process actually furthered this division; I know that when I read the transcript, the question that kept on popping up in my mind was "why wasn't Blix and Co. made aware of these issues", and the answer was that the Americans were setting them up; deliberately standing aside and gathering what they'd need to produce the attempt at a Adlai Stevenson moment that we saw today. I'm sure that Blix is spitting mad, for example; the same satellite tracking information that was used by Powell today could have been given to Blix weeks ago in order to give the inspectors an information edge that would have aided them in finding what they were looking for. The fact that this didn't happen says volumes about the American attitude towards inspections throughout the entire process, and the mentality involved: a desire not to disarm Iraq, but to justify the invasion.

In fact, this says a lot about the United States' opinion about the U.N. in general. It's no secret that the neo-conservative movement that forms Bush's political and intellectual base of support has little love or use for the U.N. This "gotcha" wasn't really aimed at Iraq (which was quick to deny everything, to nobody's surprise). It was aimed instead at the U.N. itself. The attack's nature is made abundantly clear by Powell's invocation of the continuing attempts by the Bush administration to imply that it is the credibility of the United Nations at stake, and that the United States has the ability and insight to be able to make that judgement (as well as to pose the question in the first place). While it may have been couched in the language of internationalism, today's presentation was a bullet aimed not at Saddam Hussein, but Kofi Annan: the U.S. is saying- in front of the entire world- that an uncooperative U.N. is both useless and dangerous- that if it stands against the United States it will be swept aside, just like Iraq. Maybe not militarily, because the U.N. isn't an organization whose legitimacy rests on force; but it will be cast aside, as the neoconservatives that now run the executive branch of the U.S. government begin to fully realize their ambitions.

So I leave this with just one question: after Iraq, what's next?
The first "Animatrix" short is now up at The official Animatrix site. I'd suggest doing a "view source" on the page with the "Large" version, as although it's huge and therefore best downloaded instead of streamed, it's both well produced and well encoded.

And, yes, it's very, very good. It can be criticized as somewhat derivative of Asimov, but I have little doubt that were Asimov alive to see it, he would have loved the Matrix.

I eagerly await the other shorts.
Has Richard Perle really said that France should now be considered hostile by the United States?

France is no longer an ally of the United States and the NATO alliance "must develop a strategy to contain our erstwhile ally or we will not be talking about a NATO alliance" the head of the Pentagon's top advisory board said in Washington Tuesday.

Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and now chairman of the Pentagon's Policy Advisory Board, condemned French and German policy on Iraq in the strongest terms at a public seminar organized by a New York-based PR firm and attended by Iraqi exiles and American Middle East and security officials.

But while dismissing Germany's refusal to support military action against Iraq as an aberration by "a discredited chancellor," Perle warned that France's attitude was both more dangerous and more serious.

"France is no longer the ally it once was," Perle said. And he went on to accuse French President Jacques Chirac of believing "deep in his soul that Saddam Hussein is preferable to any likely successor."
"Erstwhile"? He can't be serious. To characterize France's stance against the war in Iraq as an act actually hostile to the United States not only begs dozens of questions, but is disturbing and more than a little frightening in-and-of itself.

Although he is not an official of the Bush administration, Perle's position as the Pentagon's senior civilian adviser gives his harsh remarks a quasi-official character and reflects the growing frustration in the White House and Pentagon with the French and German reluctance to support their U.S. and British allies.
Indeed. It should be stressed that Perle may be a powerful satellite, but doesn't make U.S. policy. This doesn't mean that the U.S. is officially setting itself against France, and I rather hope they won't. Still, if France remains opposed to the war and the rhetoric from the U.S. attempting to discredit the U.N. (a judgement it is patently not objective enough to make) doesn't stick, the anger could turn from the body itself to the members of it.

One wonders how far this will go.
Oh, and one more thought, although not linked to any specific article: the point of the space program, fundamentally, is neither science nor commerce. The point is to have humans in space- to extend our reach off the planet as human beings through the medium and mechanism of human beings. While in the light of recent tragedy it can be tempting to say "why not just robots do it", I think that misses the reason why we should be up there in the first place. It's got to be done, and it has to be us; because if we ever shie away from it now that we have the opportunity and ability to do so, then we have already doomed ourselves to extinction. We've come too far to go back, and I think every single man and woman that has been in space understands that.

Besides, human eyes need to see the planet from space, now more than ever. In an age where what divides us looms large, the reality of (and fragility of) our shared home is something that is simply too important to be seen through a monitor. The Earth seen on a television is a special effect. The earth seen out a window is the embodiment of Beauty and Hope.
I hadn't yet read this excellent dismissal of Instapundit's McCarthyism by Max Sawicky before now, but having now read it, it's linkable if anything is.

The purism of IP and many others in re: ANSWER is wholly selective. In the case of Reynolds himself, it could not be more obvious that the basis for this selectivity is a determination to delegitimize anti-war sentiment. (On, he pretends to perform a neutral public service by providing a list of web sites pertaining to the war. Nearly all of them support the coming war.) Glenn Reynolds and others practice politics by the use of libel. Evidently they do not feel their arguments are good enough to carry the day. I don't blame them.
The reason why this whole thing is McCarthyite is not specific linkages, but intent. The intent is to discredit one's opponents by linking them with what one considers an evil ideology, so as to achieve one's policy goals. Glenn is doing this: transparently so. The problem, of course, is that communists simply don't fit the bill as "evil" as easily as Glenn attempts to argue: in a world where the Russians themselves are divided over Stalin's legacy and the legacy of Communism and are deeply disappointed in its successor, to try to push this sort of line is not only indicative of weak arguments (as Max says), but shows that Glenn is a rather surprising throwback in his positions. Glenn, red-baiting went out with the reds. If you're going to bash demonstrators for being something, I'd suggest Anarchists, not Stalinists.

As for the war itself... honestly, I'm increasingly of the opinion that a U.S. president could start a war with any country on the globe, given the resources and strident advocacy support that Bush enjoys. People have been asking how the same people who consider Bush an idiot could consider him dangerous. The answer, of course, is that support... Bush would be powerless without his pet newspapers, magazines, talk radio blowhards and CNN talking heads and everybody knows it. It isn't that the American people are stupid (they aren't, although the Kangaroo Jack thing is deeply disturbing), but that it'd be difficult for anybody to get out from under that barrage.

Still, it's a house of cards. Remove the neo-conservative support of the regime, and BushZilla becomes little Shrub once again. The second the liberal left pries the neo-conservative right away from its deathgrip on the political media, the pendulum is going to swing so far back to the left the U.S. will look like Sweden.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Neil Gaiman said it better than I ever could.

A few years ago, I was in Florida, driving up the east coast on highway A1A, which is as far east as you can get and not be in the Atlantic Ocean. It was night, and I was driving over a long bridge, when I saw something very beautiful in the sky. It started out like a streak of orange flame, and then, as it rose, it burned bluer and brighter than anything I'd ever seen -- the nursery rhyme line "like a diamond in the sky" suddenly had meaning, a huge, blazing, blue-white diamond of flame, and I pulled over to the side of the bridge and watched it rise and rise and rise; and realised I watching a space shuttle launch, one that had been delayed for days because of dodgy weather, and now it was launching and I was watching it, and I felt very proud to be part of something -- humanity, I suppose -- that had put that flaming diamond up there. And eventually it rose out of sight, and I drove north.

There are people dead now, and hurt, and pain, and questions. But I still feel proud to be part of the thing that made it.
There are many reasons he's my favorite writer. This is yet another.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

It will be interesting to hear the reactions of the governments who have sought to subvert American interests of late. Will they respond as true friends with unconditional support? Or will they merely mouth perfunctory expressions of sympathy and then try to use the moment to send the message that we cannot count on their support if we do not subvert our own national security interests to their own. Rest assured, Canada, Germany, France, we’ll be watching very carefully.
and this (no quotes, just general Glennuendo, misinterpretation, and general foreigner bashing) make me almost as nauseated as the disaster itself. Word to the wise: nobody cares if you feel insulted or not, and anybody with any sense of common decency and etiquette would just ignore a badly worded question and a few talk-radio loonies, due to having the elementary intelligence necessary to realize that CANADIANS ARE NOT GOING TO GLORY IN THE DEATH OF AMERICAN ASTRONAUTS, YOU MISERABLE LUNATIC BASTARDS. To insinuate otherwise is sadly pathetic.

And people wonder why I don't link to Instapundit.

Edit: What he said.