Saturday, April 26, 2003

I've been rereading Joi Ito's paper on emergent democracy, and thinking about current events as well. His first quote is from Howard Rheingold, who mentions Athens, as far as I know the first democracy.

I've been reading a little about Athens in conjuction with Joi Ito's paper. I still have much more to learn, but some of my thoughts are crystalizing. Here's a famous funeral oration by the Athenian Pericles online. A great many of his ideals are ones which almost all of us will agree with wholeheartedly today, and it is a pleasure to read them so clearly stated at first - then niggling doubts arise. Think how odd it would be if we still felt comfortable with a summary of any branch of science first made several thousand years ago. If the problem of good government is simpler than particle physics it should be solved already, but if it isn't why has their been so little change in so long a period? Yet there are a few bits most would object to, if only out of a sense of duty.

If we turn to our military policy, there also we differ from our antagonists. We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality; trusting less in system and policy than to the native spirit of our citizens; while in education, where our rivals from their very cradles by a painful discipline seek after manliness, at Athens we live exactly as we please, and yet are just as ready to encounter every legitimate danger. In proof of this it may be noticed that the Lacedaemonians do not invade our country alone, but bring with them all their confederates, while we Athenians advance unsupported into the territory of a neighbour and, fighting upon a foreign soil, usually vanquish with ease men who are defending their homes. Our united force was never yet encountered by any enemy, because we have at once to attend to our marine and to dispatch our citizens by land upon a hundred different services; so that, wherever they engage with some such fraction of our strength, a success against a detachment is magnified into a victory over the nation, and a defeat into a reverse suffered at the hands of our entire people. And yet if with habits not of labour but of ease, and courage not of art but of nature, we are still willing to encounter danger, we have the double advantage of escaping the experience of hardships in anticipation and of facing them in the hour of need as fearlessly as those who are never free from them.

It seems here is another sense in which democracy may not scale. Pericles speaks elsewhere about how law abiding Athenian citizens are:

The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.

Yet this determination to settle Athenian disputes legally and civilly and peacefully does not lead at all to a belief that international disputes should be settled the same way. Not that there is an actual statement that they believe in marauding for fun and profit, but there is certainly no word against it. Although they did put up some resistance to becoming part of the Macedonian empire at first, they later got behind the campaign against the Persian empire, becoming in effect a willing part of an empire. Yet how can a democracy that is part of an empire be more than a province with a limited ability to govern their own affairs?

Already a few Americans have begun to talk openly of empire. This is not the stated purpose of our government in any way, yet there is no talk of the fate of empires and how we can avoid it. It seems almost to be a bug in all versions of Democracy so far. A democracy that did not unite behind a leader in wartime might be weaker than a tyrrany which did. Yet a democracy which unites behind leaders in wartime almost provides an incentive for leaders to start wars. Perhaps we need a tradition to match support of wartime presidents - a tradition of examining the decision to go to war very critically once the war is over.

Many of the nations which have historically given the most freedom to their own citizens have also been most willing to attempt to control international chaos by brute force. The idea that a dictatorship is a more efficient means of creating peace and prosperity within a nation is pretty much on the trash heap of history, but the notion that it is the best or else the only way to run international order seems to have occured to every nation which succeeded by doing the opposite internally.

I would like to think America is in no danger of falling into this trap. It is pretty clear that Iran and other nations will interfere with our plans for Iraq. Britain and other empires before them had a solution to that - conquer more territory. We all know what happened to them - including our leaders. If we do escape though, it will be at least partly by good fortune. Our constitution has built in safeguards against the problems of many other democracies - but the rise and catastrophic fall of an empire does not seem to have been among the worries of our founding fathers.

If the idea of emergent democracy is in need of a killer app, this is it. I would like to believe that people being more knowlegeble would help, but I honestly can't say that on average the people who don't worry about this are better informed than the people who do. I think the root of the problem is emotional rather than intellectual. We have all been angry enough that not only did we want to hit somebody, we genuinely felt they deserved it. Living in a world where those who cannot restrain this impulse will probably be arrested for assault and battery seems to have enabled most of us to learn to resist it even when it seems impossible. I want the United States to be the first nation in history militarily capable of empire, sorely provoked, and yet resisted the temptation. Perhaps we are on that path already - some say we can rebuild Iraq despite any meddling, some that our show of force will prevent others from not meddling. I think about any time I've been wrong about anything eagerly - it gives me hope.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

I'm going to have to repost the previous. I saved it intending to edit it later and add the rest of the connectivity blogs, but somehow the edit link got messed up so I couldn't. I posted instead, and the date stamp link doesn't work either, so I can't use it as a section header for my sidebar. I don't feel like redoing it tonight.

Somehow the tone of Hemlock's Diary (also on my sidebar) exactly matches what much of the world is feeling about the SARS epidemic. If your mainstream media seem sterilized, live from our blogospheric correspondent in Hong Kong - do these two entries really mean they were trying to recruit people off the street to sterilize the streets?

From Thursday, April tenth:

Shenzhen health authorities kill an American English teacher in their latest attempt to cover up their SARS outbreak. The WHO gives full approval, apparently. At the other end of the public-awareness activities scale, plans are being hatched to mobilize the whole of Hong Kong for a massive Easter weekend clean-up. Leading the charge will be the indomitable Betty Tung, who is already busy extracting donations from the great and the good, and will be handing out brooms and kicking slackers’ rears – not least CH's, perhaps – on 19-20 April.

Mon, 21 April
Calling it "The City of the Name of God" paid off. Macau remains free of SARS,.and I am free of the attentions of redoubtable matrons expecting me to make a fool of myself scrubbing Hong Kong's greasy, pus-ridden streets. The old Portuguese place hasn't change since my last visit. An excellent show put on by the Holy Romans in their churches on Sunday. Spent last night watching Peking opera on TV in my hotel room with a bottle of Segada Tinto from the local grocery store. Tastes almost like chocolate.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

This is for the connectivity section of my sidebar, allowing me to say more about the blogs in it. When the blogger archive link starts working I'll change the subheader for that section to a hypertext link to this page, and just leave a list of blogs in the actual sidebar itself. Most of the blogs here have some in depth thinking about the blogosphere, connectivity, the global brain, and other related subjects.

Steven Berlin Johnson writes most often about science and computing, although sometimes about other subjects as well. He's been published in Discover magazine, Wired magazine, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Harpers. Much of his column is about things he's worked on, and links to his work published online, and other links and essays that interest him. The reason I added him to my blogroll as soon as I found him is mostly his book Emergence, which I reviewed here.

In some ways this is the most interesting chapter of the book. Like many bloggers, I'm interested in the idea of the Global Brain. This idea has enthusiastic boosters and a few enthusiastic detractors. Steven Johnson looks at it quietly, talks about some characteristics of the web which might hinder the organization of any kind of collective intelligence, and about some of the ways it may be changing to make learning of some sort possible, although not necessarily conscious intelligence.

Joi Ito's Web is at the center of the discussion of Emergent Democracy. His latest writing about it is Emergent Democracy Version 1.3, reflecting the ongoing nature of the online discussion. He has a great looking blog with lots of fun gimmicks - oops I mean advanced features. He talks about both the business side and the programming side of software and computers, has a lively interest in moblogging. He also plays a major role in 'happenings' and other offline interactions of the blogging community. He sometimes writes about politics as well, and his blog is a great place to pick up a high level view of what's happening in Japan. He doesn't write about it every day, so just look in the 'items by category' section of his sidebar.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

It sure is a good thing the terror alert level was cut to yellow. Via The Gunther Concept, here's the sort of thing that happens at orange or red.

In an attempt to add some glitz to the whole event, our friend brought along something she refers to as a gazing globe. This is a silvery, mirror-like glass ball about a foot in diameter that she keeps as an ornament on her porch. I think she picked it up in a yard sale or resale shop many years ago. As she later explained it, she that thought the ducks would do something with it. And that would make an interesting scene to tape. I mean, I guess the ball is big and shiny and is sort of a mirror. MAYBE it’s something that the average waterfowl would find interesting, at least for long enough to get 5 minutes of video out of it.

Sadly, the ducks showed no interest whatsoever. They ate the food scattered around and even on the ball, but showed absolutely no interest in the thing. At some point in the whole affair, our friend lost interest in the ball as well, and followed the ducks around the pond as she did more taping. Eventually, she returned to her car and went home, having completely forgotten about the large, silvery globe she had left sitting out in the park.

It was only days later that she remembered that she had forgotten to bring the ball home with her. In somewhat of a panic, she called the Herrman Park administrative offices to see if someone had found it and turned it in. What she found out was that this ball had caused a major furor. It seems someone had spotted it and decided it was of a suspicious nature. The police bomb squad was called and the park, or at least a large portion of it, was closed off.

We are now at yellow again, so anything that doesn't bother the ducks need not bother us until further notice.

Richard of The Peking Duck is an expatriate living in China, but preparing to leave. He doesn't seem personally involved in high level politics, so he quotes from an article in the New York Times on SARS. He gives it high marks overall, but wants to emphasize and expand upon one point.

That last sentence contains the keys to understanding this strange nation. The obsession, to the point of insanity, that the government places on "social stability" and "harmony" makes this government an enemy to its own people. To ensure social stability and harmony, the fundamental necessity is to look good. This is a government that lives to make itself look good, so that people remain placid and accepting of (or better still, oblivious to) the shit going on around them.

Another post is from his own personal experience. All of a sudden they are disinfecting Beijing like there is no tomorrow. I went to the bank today, and two workers with buckets were scrubbing the counters and the floors and the ATM machines. I went back to the hospital and this cleaning frenzy was visible everywhere you looked, the floors, the seats, the doors, every surface was being scrubbed and the smell of disinfectants hit you in every corridor.

It's definitely a different city than it was a week ago. Business is grinding to a halt (in my industry, anyway) as more and more of the multinationals send their foreign staffs back home. Just today the US embassy put out a notice suggesting that US citizens consider foregoing trips to China until the situation has been improved. Concerts and shows throughout the city have been canceled, as no one wants to sit in close proximity to others. I was laughing a few weeks ago when I went to Singapore and saw several passengers on my plane wearing surgical masks. Now as I get ready to travel to south China I'm pretty sure I'll be wearing one as well, at least on the plane.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

I want to thank Bible Gateway for the online availability of the NIV (New International Version) of the bible. Needless to say, they'd be surprised if they visited my blog. The verse numbers look neater in the version you'll see if you follow the link, and the footnotes are hyperlinks.

1I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" 2I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
3When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" 4Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
5When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart[1] of wheat for a day's wages,[2] and three quarts of barley for a day's wages,[3] and do not damage the oil and the wine!"
7When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" 8I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

There are many who believe that the events leading up to this will include The Rapture, at which time all literalistic Christians currently alive will join the select company of those who have ascended to heaven without having to experience death first. While I am not of this company, or even prepared to worry about how many of these are responsible enough to make sure their co-pilots and fellow workers at Springfield nuclear power plant are heathens or apostates, I have to admit the book of revelation is in my thoughts. And why not? Certain historical trends can be traced from Babylon through Persia, Greece, Rome, and the British Empire.

I do not believe the bible is the only inspired book in a sea of ordinary uninspired ones. I do believe that we are part of something greater than ourselves. If we can perceive diety at all, the human mind is the only lense we have. Yet if we are truly all trying to see the same thing, then our visions must all be distorted by the culture and age we live in. Some have tried to combine the best of all religions - or too include only what is common to all religions. These attempts too have of course been distorted by the time and place where the editor was born.

If god did wish to speak to us, what would be more natural than a vehicle composed in many times and places, edited by many hands? There are ways in which this seems quite plausible to me. If so, let us not let wishful thinking blind our eyes. Did he truly command the Isrealites to kill those in the land before them? Of course many peoples have claimed that certain actions were divinely ordained - but if you study human history or even primatology, it almost seems written in our genes that we should band together with those physically and culturally like us to war with other groups in certain situations. More horrifying even then a single special group (as a number of religions have suggested) authorized to kill others, is the idea that we are all instructed to do so in our very natures.

I may edit this review of Robert Wright's book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, because I've been thinking about that book a lot too lately. He believes war may at times have been part of the process of becoming human, but also that we are capable of doing much better now. One of the issues currently being considered by the Global Brain is perhaps empire - as well as other forms of world government. All of these are ways in which people have created laws larger than individual nations - and at their peak empires have often benefited the ruled as well as the rulers. Still it seems to me that the trend of history is against them, that governments controlled by people far away from a country by people largely of a different culture are less likely to be successful than local ones. Of course that is not what we plan for Iraq (except maybe a few of us, but they are far from outcastes) but already the protests are beginning, many of them do not understand our good intentions, and we do not quite understand why. It may even be that our attempts to help them build their own democractic government (friendly to us) in short order will be frustrated by unreasonable violence - and perhaps even a few in our government won't be too surprised.

It may seem odd that in the passage that began this post, conquest is one thing and large scale death another. I believe it accurate. A nation capable of creating an empire at all will be prepared first, and the casualties may be low. The wholesale bloodshed seems to come with the dissolution rather than the building of empires. It seems to be much less if someone else is capable of taking over the remains of the system, as the United States did from Britain and perhaps even Rome from other predecessors. It must surely be greater after the fall of Rome, or an even more universal empire.

There are still some who say that there will be no such empire - and yet their principle enemies do not seem to be those who say there should and will be such an empire. History is not a circle, more like a spiral. I hope that we will succeed in making Iraq a democracy. Even if the administration is truly plotting a war they deny on Syria, I can only hope for a double success in creating two democracies. God forbid we take the path of empire, I still hope the Pax Americana is the most peaceful pax the world has ever seen. Yet if we are capable of breaking the cycle of history, I think now is the time. The British empire was larger than the Roman empire at it's peak - yet not so long lasting. The less cheaply an empire and the world around it hold human life, the harder empire is to sustain and the less glorious it seems.

Monday, April 14, 2003

It's been over a month since I saw this particular article, but I've been thinking about it on and off for all that time.

For example, 53 percent of those surveyed in Western nations express some degree of tolerance for homosexuality, compared to just 12 percent of those surveyed in Islamic societies. While 82 percent of those in the West support gender equality, 60 percent are tolerant toward divorce, and 48 percent express tolerance for abortion, the corresponding levels in the Muslim world are just 55 percent, 35 percent, and 25 percent, respectively.

In reference to key political issues, however, the attitudes and values of the two societies are virtually identical. For example, 68 percent in both the West and Islamic nations strongly disagree that democracies are indecisive and have trouble keeping order, and 61 percent in both societies strongly disagree that it's best for a country to have a powerful leader who decides what to do without bothering about elections and government procedures. Fully 86 percent of those surveyed in the West, and 87 percent of those in Muslim nations, strongly agree that democracy may have problems but it's better than any other form of government.

Of course it could be a coincidence. Maybe the reason those nations don't have a liberal democracy despite having the same desire for it we do have to do with needing experience, or institutions built up over time. Or maybe they really don't have the same desires people in the West do - just describe different feelings using the same answers on a multiple choice survey. Or it could be the same sect or other factor leads to two outcomes, making them correlate with each other because they are both correlated with the third factor.

There has been speculation to the contrary however, and it might be worthwhile to think for a moment how it could be otherwise - why liberal attitudes on certain issues might well correlate better with the successful practice of democracy than the stated desire for democracy itself.

Sometimes it isn't enough to want something. You have to believe in it with your gut deep down, you have to believe it's possible and natural, even necessary. Suppose a man says he believes in democracy, says he will not consider a leader who consults his people to be weak and ripe for overthrow, but will instead respect him. Now suppose that man goes home and expects his wives and sisters to obey his every order without question. Does some part of him intuitively believe that this is what it means to be a man, that this is how men can be expected to behave? Do his demands for democracy lack a certain depth because his deepest beliefs do not accord with it? It is one thing to demand something, another to be able to imagine it well enough to create and sustain it. An unrecognized feeling that rage was strength would explain turning to an intolerant sect to overthrow tyrranical governments. Untimately you have the same thing - but this is inevitable if that thing is inside you.

At the same time, this tells us something about ourselves as well. None of the numbers are zero or one hundred for either side. People who know they 'should' believe certain things often say they do. Presumably the survey was anonymous - yet people rationalize a great deal even to themselves. If we believe this, it comes at a price.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Iain Coleman is a candidate for the city council in Cambridge, England.

That more than makes up for the occassional encounters which go more like this:

ME: "Hi, my name's Iain Coleman and I'm the Liberal Democrat candidate in the City Council elections. I'm just coming round to ask you if you'll vote for me."

HIM: "I don't vote, 'cos politicians are all a bunch of liars."

ME: "I've never lied to you."

HIM: "Well, I don't mean you personally, but politicians are all the same."

Even there, there's a positive aspect of self-discovery: I've discovered this amazing ability to not tell people to fuck off.

Now if I were a politician and people were telling me they considered all politicians corrupt, but responded to this not by examining the honesty of the politicians they voted for more rigorously but by voting for whoever had the prettiest campaign commercials, I would become slightly bitter.

It sounds like Iain is a better man than I am, so even though he has this quote from Rosseau on his sidebar:

I was born a citizen of a free state and a member of its sovereign body, and however weak may be the influence of my voice in public affairs, my right to vote on them suffices to impose on me the duty of studying them.

he probably won't decide that since the voters are corrupt they don't really deserve good govermnent. Somehow we always worry about corrupt politicians, but never the corrupt voters who elect them. Sort of like blaming the CEO of a company but not the board of directors who selected and were supposed to watch him.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Awhile ago I read an interesting article in the April 2003 issue of discover magazine by Steven Johnson, who also writes the blog stevenberlinjohnson. New social network software called InFlow is being used to analyze relationships between individuals in groups. Valdis Krebs also used the software to analyze patterns in data used to offer people books they might like based on books they've already read. He found a large group of books read only by conservatives and a large group of books read only by liberals. The only book he found to be widely read by both groups was What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis. This interested me enough to get the book and write a review essay of it on

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Cheered by the news I've heard, today I'll let Armed Liberal of Winds of Change start out for me.

Romantic? Perhaps. But I believe that cynics -- and I'll include myself here -- owe it to our ideas, and our hopes, to pay fresh respect to that part of the American character. Not that optimism is always the avenue to political success. But sometimes it is; and at those moments, it's hard to convince Americans of anything except their exceptionalism.

Let us try to imagine a world where this occupation will end joyously. It is too much for me even to imagine that Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim and Sayed Hassan Nasrallah will lead their people into cooperation with United States efforts to build a democracy and rebuilt the country under American leadership. I can't say it's impossible, but I can't imagine it even as a hypothetical case. So let's assume they follow popular sentiment grudgingly if at all, but the people of Iraq sweep along in a groundswell.

Of course fellow Anglospheric member Great Britain has tried to occupy and rebuild Iraq for their own good already, but the current occupation which includes them has at least two advantages. First, our both perceived and real near omnipotence. I think the army there now is the first one not only capable of defeating the Iraqi military while taking few casualties, but even of doing so while inflicting the minimum possible number of deaths on the enemy population. Second, our prosperity. We can afford what must be done, while Britain had already been bled by her attempts to hold onto her empire for quite some time when she acquired the Iraqi mandate.

This being a day for optimism, I'm also trying to imagine our using Iraqi oil to pay for rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure, give the Iraqi people what they need to survive on, and pay for the occupation at the same time. This doesn't make it easy. It's something else I can't swear is impossible but I can't describe a scenario where it might happen. One thing will help though.

Although the debt write-offs would be spread far and wide, some of the biggest hits would be taken by countries such as Russia and France, which supplied Saddam Hussain with military gear and other goods before the 1991 Gulf War and have been staunch opponents of the current conflict.

Although some friendly parties will suffer, we'll certainly have political cover for letting Iraq start with a clean slate. It's possible that they never would have invaded Kuwait if it wasn't for the crushing load of debt already present after the Iran-Iraq war. It's a pity there wasn't some other way to deal with that, but recent diplomatic friction with Russia and France could actually contribute. Oddly enough, they might be able to accept this. They have to already be aware that all the Iraqi money and contracts owed them on paper are worth very little. Iraq will never pay anything to anybody unless they are heavily discounted so that they can rebuild.

Even today it's still hard to imagine Iraq can rebuilt itself while also using oil money to pay for the American occupation. If it can't, we can still hope for a good outcome. For all the liberals who've been thinking we should spend more on foreign aid, here's our chance. As for the conservatives - when faced with the stark choice of a triumph turning into a public Iraqi disaster or going along, they might go along, at least to the extent of paying for our own occupation costs. How we will do that is a whole other question, but we are the richest country in the world.

Which still leaves us with the need to build a democracy. It's been tried before in Iraq, but never by an army that could defeat the enemy so handily. It would be easy to imagine a scenario where repeated suicidal attacks drain good will dry as in Isreal, but for today let's try to imagine something else. Iraq was actually doing rather well at modernizing for awhile, before the Iran Iraq war. This is actually one of the similarities to Japan prior to the Marshall plan - I've discussed the differences previously.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

I've always listed 'just plain' liberal and conservative blogs near the bottom of my sidebar. Many of them I enjoy reading, but I've always felt I could find plenty of either in mainstream newspapers and magazines. Not that some of the blogs near the top of my sidebar aren't liberal and conservative, but that's not why they've earned places of honor. I've already written about some of them, and linked to them on my sidebar.

Recently though, I wrote a post about the problems with Iraq. It wasn't meant to be a generic anti-war post, I tried to do the kind of thinking that could help make a start on solving those problems - if they were solvable. Later I found a similar article in the Daily Kos. While it takes the form of an 'I told you so' rather than an attempt to solve the insolvable, overall it's better than the post I wrote - and about basically the same issue with a few more facts. Maybe I should have a couple each of the best mainstream press liberal and conservative blogs or columnists on my sidebar. No sense thinking along the same lines someone has already thought better on - if they've really done it better.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Soon we will be hearing from the Supremes. Not the musical group, but the court. Perhaps they will rule affirmative action as we know it illegal. Perhaps they will merely rule affirmative action as Michigan University knows it illegal. Perhaps they'll even uphold it. There's been plenty of speculation on that - and plenty of people asking if fairness to certain groups requires or forbids affirmative action. I won't add to either side of these questions. Instead I want to ask another question. Is affirmative action a compelling interest not just of individual universities but of the country as a whole? Of course a few benefit clearly and directly and a few are harmed clearly and directly, but what happens to the majority of us?

It's worth noting that nations often fragment along racial lines. Not that every civil war is primarily about ethnic loyalties, but many are. Of course the United States is nowhere near that point. Those who have spoken of a division do not truly seem to take themselves seriously in preparing to give up their jobs (and lives) for the cause. Yet I suggest there is a continuum. Historically organized crime usually seems to be, umm, organized on predominantly racial lines. The advantages of this - for the criminals - are not hard to see. If a criminal gang is dominated by an ethnic group of people who don't tend to do as well on the average in getting legitimate jobs, it's easy to detect recruits. There is a group loyalty that comes from an element of shared culture - and a feeling of having been screwed by the same enemy. The most intelligent and determined members of that ethnic group may feel the deck is stacked against them in the legitimate world, so that this criminal enterprise is the only place they have a hope of getting to the top. Even if a member wants to go to the police, they suspect they won't be trusted.

Of course, many people from every ethnic group have done very well in the United States. I am not speaking of wrongdoing - few with this difficulty have done better than the United States, a great many have done worse. Yet I don't think that since the world began you have had a country where citizens of one ethnic group were consistantly worse off than citizens of other ethnic groups, and there has not been violence in proportion to the difference. Let's be pragmatic. Even above and beyond the fact that the desperately poor are more prone to violent crime for gain than other groups, those who have reason to believe that an external factor they were born with and can never change contributing to the problem seem to have a special risk factor - and when groups of the band together, homeless cats and dogs can become wolves and lions. It is a compelling interest, not just for individual universities, but for the nation as a whole. Of course there are some who would turn to crime regardless, and some who will do right no matter how much it costs them, but for many in the middle a little bit of reverse discrimination to counter all the ordinary discrimination which nobody can ever prove in individual cases although scientific studies have shown it statistically might go a long way.

Of course there are other problems as well. What about those who succeed without any benefit of affirmative action - and then have people fail to respect their success because they erroneously assume it was helped by affirmative action? Yet somehow nobody discounts the children of the rich and priviledged because they believe their family names helped them get into good schools. Somehow people don't seem to resent that in the same way. If we as a nation can come to accept that this is for all of us, perhaps the anger and fear that provoke people to feel their jobs and scholarships are being given to 'them' will fade.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Steven Den Beste of USS Clueless just wrote an essay on why the situation our troops around Bagdad are now in is different from what 'seige' usually means. Some around the blogosphere, including a few who write interesting and original material on good days, have taken to writing extremely short summaries of his long posts. By that logic, you could sum this one up as saying that usually in a seige the attackers can't get in because of the walls, but this time they can when they choose because those kinds of defenses are destroyed, so they just have to pick and choose entry times and places where they will do the most damage to the defenders with the least American and civilian casualties.

Representing such a summary as the whole post would be cheap. Without his introductory discussion of military history, it's unclear how the current situation is different, and any attempt to deduce the consequences of the current situation would come from thin air. It might be more than is needed for those purposes, but warfare is evolving now, and how it has changed in response to past technological and social changes gives us a clue as to what is happening. Of course you can skip a few paragraphs if you are learning more than you want about prehistoric or fifteenth century warfare, but some of it is interesting stuff. And all of it helps equip you to think about how a seige is different when the attackers can get into a city to raid when they choose, but defenders cannot sally fourth into the open to attack without being massacred.

In his last two paragraphs you get a hint of something that doesn't seem to have been fully addressed.

Most of what such people are expecting won't happen, because they have entirely the wrong idea of the goal. We don't care about taking territory. What we're going to be doing is to kill defenders. Once the defenders are gone, we can take as much territory as we want to.

We're not going to be fighting house-to-house because we don't have any interest in capturing houses.

Who are the defenders? If every Sunni in the city is a defender because they remember Shia killing Sunni wholesale during the previous revolt, we cannot capture the city without killing many civilians. Of course you can say that anyone who resists us is not a civilian, yet we have striven hard to avoid killing people not part of the official military, and to be forced to kill huge numbers of people would be a major setback to our plans to win the peace. If every Shia who respects Ayatollah Muhammed Bakr Al-Hakim decides to listen to his fatwa's against the American occupation, the same problem occurs.

There is are other differences between this war and most other wars of history. We are determined to occupy a nation WITHOUT killing large numbers of them either before or during the occupation. Previously occupied cities have known the cost of revolt. The threat of collective punishment has been at least implicit, so that even a potential suicide attacker knew he put his family and hometown in danger. Other occupied nations have not had support for rebels coming in from outside. Oddly enough, the government collapsing and losing control of the military is not all good. If there is no central government to surrender, the fighting continues until every individual hothead realizes the war is over on his or her own. Perhaps there is some precedent in Afghanistan, but the original base of the Taliban's power was in the rural regions, and we only occupy the capital.

Posts about why this war might not be a good idea are no longer relevant. We're in it. If I could solve these problems I might have been in favor of it in the first place. I've been thinking about them anyway, and I hope those who favored the war are doing the same.

Friday, April 04, 2003

New York Newsday had a good article today on the Shia leaders who are encouraging the Shia to 'stay neutral' in the current war in Iraq. One of them we already know.

Nasrallah has been in contact with Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, the leading Iraqi Shiite cleric who has lived in exile in Iran for more than 20 years. Al-Hakim has sent instructions to his supporters and secret cells in Basra, Najaf, Karbala and other southern Iraqi cities not to start an uprising or support the U.S.-led coalition in any way. Al-Hakim also issued a "message to the Iraqi people" last week urging them not to side either with the United States or the Iraqi regime.

As the heir to one of the most important dynasties in the Shiite world, al-Hakim is mindful that the actions of Iraqi Shiites could have an impact on the entire Shiite community. "He realizes that if Shiites in Iraq are perceived as cooperating with an invasion force, it could have repercussions throughout the Muslim world for years to come," said a senior al-Hakim adviser, who asked not to be named.

But who is this Nasrallah?

Sulaimaniyah, Iraq - The leader of the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and other non-Iraqi Shiite figures have played a part in discouraging an uprising in southern Iraq, according to Shiite sources.

Hezbollah's leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, has been working quietly for several months from his base in Beirut to create a unified Shiite response to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, according to a source close to the Hezbollah leadership. Nasrallah and others have tried to convince Iraqi Shiites to stay on the sidelines of the war and not to start an uprising or openly support coalition forces.

And further on:

In some Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, there have been bloody battles between the majority Sunnis and minority Shiites. "No one in the Shiite community wants to see another situation like that in Pakistan," said the source close to Hezbollah. "That's why the sectarian politics in Iraq has to be handled very carefully."

Nasrallah gained enormous popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds after Hezbollah forced Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after an 18-year guerrilla war. In effect, his guerrilla force accomplished something that no Arab army had been able to do in more than 50 years of conflict: pressure Israel to cede Arab territory.

It seems those in Isreal who claimed withdrawal from Lebannon would encourage their enemies may have been right. The lesson here is not that the hawks are always right - remember how Lebannon was bleeding Isreal. Never capture anything that will bleed you as long as you hold it, then bleed you much more when you let it go. Grasp the nettle firmly, but leave the skunk alone.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

We didn't want to believe they would really invade - but in retrospect the signs were all there. Some of us tried very hard to understand their thinking so as to communicate with them more effectively, but their continued resort to violence which could in no way lead to a more peaceful world convinced us that talking alone was not enough - and the talkers were sadly mistaken. To many it came to seem the talkers were almost traitors, conceding the enemy time to continue while pretending to resist. The sides became more and more polarized, and conflict within as well as without may well be permanent.

Are we and they the United States and Iraq, from the invasion of Kuwait, with the anti war movement as the talkers? Or are 'we' the opponents of the Iraqi war, with some protesters vandalizing 9/11 memorials? Not too long ago an (alleged) hacker visited my site with a plan to attack a CNN website. How could any reasonable person think this a step towards peace?

If you talk to the people around you, it is sometimes surprising who favors this war and who opposes it. Almost all of us seem to agree that one side is clearly right and another is clearly wrong - and yet the people on the wrong side often seem so normal. It is hard to avoid the feeling that our civilization is all of a peace in some sense. If the peace protesters are in some sense right, they must also in some sense be wrong - because resorting to force when it cannot possibly be effective in the long term is such a human trait. Yet if those who are convinced our civilization is so enlightened that we can be confident of remaking another nation by force under adverse circumstances are wrong, there is still something amazing about a nation allowing peace protesters while it is at war. There are not many nations in human history that would, certainly not Iraq.

As an opponent of this war, I say give non violent action a chance. The more we try and explain our reasons, the more they seem to sneer and discount us. It is only natural to become angry in such circumstances, to become more strident rather than try harder to understand 'them'. Since that very natural reaction is just what we think is inappropriate to an age of nuclear weapons and information that has almost escaped control, we must show we are serious about resisting it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

I just discovered you can reach Al Jazeerah in English here. I'm dissappointed. You can't tell how much of this is what is being broadcast on the Al Jazeerah television station in Arabic and how much is meant for English speaker consumption only. Anyone want to follow this link to the Al Jazeerah Information Center mission statement and see if they can do better than I did?

I'm 99 per cent sure the relationship to the television station is tenuous. Any Arabic speakers want to compare to the Arabic language web site?

This was originally supposed to be an English language translation of Al Jazeera. It was first taken down by hackers, then replaced by a 'you are not authorized to access this page' message, and now is an Arabic language version of Al Jazeera. Why the hackers took down the English language version but not the Arabic language version I don't know, but in my opinion the blogosphere is the poorer for it.

It seems there are many more Arabs fluent in English then there are non Arabs fluent in Arabic. This is the natural result of our economic success - many want to move here for economic reasons, while many more who don't still want or need to do business with them. In a propaganda war this can be a critical disadvantage. They can answer or distort what we say, we cannot do likewise to them.

Some might think this is trivial - that our enemies are so closed minded that it doesn't matter. Even the current Bush administration has sometimes taken the trouble to send someone to appear on Al Jazeera television. I have great confidence in our values - not that they will magically convert anyone who hears them, but that they will sow doubts and new ideas in the most surprising places. That's why I would like to see bloggers pointing out factual and other errors in Al Jazeera the way they do for English language news sites.