Well, it would have been easier to negotiate with these guys earlier. Before we went into Iraq. We assumed they hated Saddam so much that they would revolt at the first opportunity. According to Newsday,
"Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr 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 American-led coalition in any way, according to two of his top advisers. 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."
Well, possibly if we had privately made it clear at the same time we were seeking security council approval for the Iraqi invasion that we would not invade unless we had a deal he would be playing a different tune. I don't really believe the problem is that we didn't support the last Shi'a uprising with troops - alliances tend to be fluid in Iraq. It's partly that he wants to make the Iranians happy, and has nothing to lose since we're already shedding our blood whether his people shed theirs or not. He still needs to earn the support of the Iranians, but ours is already committed. Part of it is, let's face it, sheer genuine hate. He seems to hang out with the hard line Iranian clerics. Also, of course, nobody has even supported occupation of their country by a foreign power when they had any other choice.
Do we still have any negotiating leverage at all? It's worth thinking about, since this guy may be a major force behind the non-Shia revolt. He seems to spend a lot of time in Iran. If we had some other credible Shia leaders who wanted to deal with us it would at least give us a lever to start talking. Our most recent plan seems to have been to keep the Sunni government in place with some new Americans near the very top, at least for now. There seem to be problems with that too.
Al-Hakim further antagonized the United States last month after he dispatched 1,000 fighters to set up a military camp in northern Iraq, an area outside Iraqi control and administered by Kurds. The Bush administration is worried the Badr forces will serve as an Iranian proxy and further complicate the situation in northern Iraq. The area is controlled by two competing Kurdish factions, and Turkey has threatened to send troops in if the Kurds try to expand their territory.
Since we don't seem to be going according to the original government plan, it's possible some serious negotiations could convince some Shia leader that they had a stake in the new government - especially one who would be excluded from Al-Hakim's plan. It would be pretty tough to give away enough power to make some Iraqi's feel part of the new government, while keeping enough to actually build a stable government, but I'm not sure it would be harder then the way we're headed now. Of course, that wasn't how we did it in Germany and Japan. Via Not a Fish, here's IRAQI HISTORY VS. AMERICAN IDEALISM*, by Ofra Bengio and Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, from the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, with some reasons that model may be difficult to implement.
Or am I just grasping at straws? We've stated we are willing to shed a lot of American blood in the course of this invasion. Realistically, we have to admit we're willing to shed a lot of Iraqi blood too. Of course we did rebuild countries after shedding a lot of blood. Read the article I linked to in the preceeding paragraph if you haven't already. It mostly talks about the Iraqi history of resisting occupation, it doesn't really get into the fact that all factions will still have supporters outside the country - or that we are already indebted to the Kurds.
Monday, March 31, 2003
Well, it would have been easier to negotiate with these guys earlier. Before we went into Iraq. We assumed they hated Saddam so much that they would revolt at the first opportunity. According to Newsday,
Sunday, March 30, 2003
The second section of my sidebar will be great political linkers. At the moment it seems to be biased towards the right in some ways. Many right wing blogs link to English language pages of newspapers published for middle eastern consumption. I admire this. Newspapers from other nations are one key way to get around the (often synchronized across the left and right, and even across national boundries) assumptions of the mainstream media. Occasionally some of the articles seem merely to give a reader a thrilling hot surge of anger and confirm preconceptions, but I still think this linking outside the Anglosphere is a great thing. The fact that I've seen conservative bloggers do this more than liberal ones at the present time is thought provoking.
The blog section of Untold Millions is mainly a list of links, usually with little or no commentary. The link itself is a sentence or two long. Many of these links are to the New York Post or other mainstream American media, but some others are to Arab News or other English language periodicals from the middle east. To arrive at the page where the author writes his editorial essays (including an occasional ongoing dialog with me about the many things we differ on), first you have to press the home link, then the The Scatterbrained Syncretist link, ending up here.
Before adding a few of my own words suggesting what The Memory Hole is about, I'll cut and paste a short bit from them which is pretty descriptive.
Purpose > The Memory Hole exists to preserve and spread material that is in danger of being lost, is hard to find, or is not widely known. This includes:
• Government files
• Corporate memos
• Court documents (incl. lawsuits and transcripts)
• Police reports and eyewitness statements
• Congressional testimony
• Reports (governmental and non-governmental)
• Maps, patents, Web pages
• Photographs, video, and sound recordings
• News articles
• Books (and portions of books)
The emphasis is on material that exposes things that we're not supposed to know (or that we're supposed to forget).
They publish many things, but tend to lean left. Sometimes they link to mainsteam media, but in the main that is not what the site is about.
I'm tempted to introduce Instapundit as the blog that needs no introduction, and unless you're very new to blog reading you must have encountered them already. In case you were initially turned off for political reasons, I should mention that this is a great linking blog. Glenn Reynolds seems to look at most of the blogs on his huge sidebar pretty regularly, and if anything is happening in the blogosphere, there is a good chance he will find out about and link to it. He updates very frequently on a regular basis. He writes from a neocon perspective, liberal on sexuality (and I imagine religion, havent seen it come up yet) but conservative on most other issues. This is also the blog with the most viewers and incoming links of the blogosphere.
Matthew Yglesias is a liberal, but he doesn't always run with the herd. He's written some good essays, but I'm including him here for his links. Some of them are to the Washington Post, but many of them are to essays by other bloggers I would have missed if it weren't for him.
Little Green Footballs is another conservative blog which often links to articles from Arab and other newspapers which may not be considered that unusual by their primary audience, but will make many Americans angry. The Rittenhouse Review has implied they are a pit of anti-Arab sentiment, but in my opinion a segment of the mainstream media is on a par. As I said before, in the long term I think we need more linking outside the mainstream Anglosphere media, and this blog has it, even if their sentiments about Islam do seem mostly one sided. They also have one of the most active comment section discussions on the internet. I don't have the link right now, but I also recall a discussion on this blog with someone from the Saudi embassy posting.
Carraig Daire Weblog links to both Arabian peninsula and Indian and Pakistanian news sources, among others. This blog is also pro Iraqi invasion. Kieran Lyons hasn't been posting political posts quite as much as he used to, but this blog has a great sidebar including many news sources to help you get started, and is well worth keeping an eye on.
Posted by David at 12:21 PM
Here's a quote from a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution I googled:
Bush's proposed budget would give the CDC $6.5 billion. While the request is a 1 percent increase over the proposal he offered last year, it is about $700 million less than what Congress actually approved, and Bush signed into law, for the current year.
Some of the proposed cuts are sizable. Next year's budget calls for a 26 percent cut for improvements at local public health centers. It also would cut funding for environmental health programs by 18 percent and reduce money for occupational safety and health by 10 percent.
Let's hope for two things. One, this particular disease is cured quickly with the resources the CDC and the WHO already have at their disposal. Two, the issue doesn't go away, and people keep asking what we are doing to prepare for next time.
It was very recently, only a couple of generations ago, that it was common to have more children then you really wanted because you didn't know how many would die of disease. It may have happened to the poor slightly more often than the middle class, but death was indeed the great leveler. When the WHO wiped out smallpox, it was a major triumph for humanity and for America, which played a huge role. This was the height of the war against contageous disease, when it really seemed humanity would hand one obnoxious horseman of the apocalypse his head. Victories in the war did not always come easily or cheaply, but we knew the price and we paid it. Newt Gingrich liked to talk about the values of our parent's generation, but those who paid for the Marshall plan and the eradication of smallpox would have spat on him.
The United States did not help pay for this glorious triumph merely out of philantropy. We knew that smallpox anywhere in the world would come back to us in time - and we wanted it gone. Disease breeds on the margins, but in time affects the heart. Some of the worst places for breeding resistance to HIV therapies are where people may get help enough to start using the drugs, but poor enough that they cannot continue forever. The viruses which survived the drug will increase their numbers, and perhaps this parially resistant strain will be passed on to someone else who will repeat the process.
I don't follow automobile racing, but I have heard that weight is at a premium and they have a saying. If something critical breaks, it must have been too lightly built and needs to be sturdier next time - whether anyone died or not. If it doesn't break, it must be at least a little heavier than necessary. Shave off a tiny bit of weight. I have also heard that NASA kept assuming that if they had gotten away with something last time it must be OK. So they kept taking the same risks, unless they accidently took a new one and won, in which case that could be added to the list of accepted practices.
For a long time, our resources to resist epidemics have been gradually hollowing out. There have been spikes, such as the discovery that tuberculosis was beoming more widespread, but our level of preparedness for something wildly new has been decreasing. In species from rats to humans, increasing population leads to increasing risk of epidemic disease. For rats, the situation has always ended with a massive populations crash, no matter how great the food supply. Then the cycle starts again. For a brief historical moment homo sapiens has interrupted the cycle. Do we have what it takes to break it?
Posted by David at 8:21 AM
Saturday, March 29, 2003
This is from the United States CDC - center for disease control. May 29 update.
I'd like to first begin, though, with just a reflection on some sad news that CDC received this morning. Dr. Urbani, who is the WHO physician investigating the outbreak in Hanoi, died of SARS that he acquired during his investigation. He was a very close colleague of ours and someone that we had worked closely with in both Hanoi and Thailand through the past several years, and we are very sad and our condolences certainly go to his family and his colleagues as well as our colleagues in the area who've been working with him over the past few weeks on this investigation.
That's from near the beginning of the report. I guess it caught my eye because the people sent to investigate a contagious disease are presumably the most knowlegable about safety precautions.
Clearly panic mongering is counterproductive, but I begin to wonder if this is a war as pressing as the one in Iraq - and if not, when one will occur.
Posted by David at 11:47 PM
I've been worried more about the dangers of accidental empire than deliberate empire. The imperial faction of the Bush administration is coming under more and more scrutiny, and I don't think they'll get away with it by themselves. Unfortunately the course we have embarked upon is extraordinarily difficult. There will be times when even people who did not plan it all along will be tempted to say 'Well we tried, but the Iraqi's didn't cooperate'. For this reason, I thought it was time to talk about the perils of empire - no matter how high the original motives.
Via Matthew Yglesias, I discovered the blogosphere had beaten me to it. Timothy Burke of Easily Distracted knows much more than me about history, and will even after I finish the book on British history that I'm now two thirds of the way through.
The British Empire failed because not because it violated sovereignities, but because it was hypocritical in its mission to civilize. It killed and imprisoned and punished those who sought no more than to defend their legitimately different ways of life, using military force where dialogic suasion was the only moral strategy. It defined the parochial and local virtues of English society as the central values of civilization. Civilization is not tea and lawn bowling. The British Empire democratized at home and constructed new autocracies abroad. It promised the rule of law and respect for citizens and then made imperial subjects into permanent subjects denied legal recourse and forever condemned to servitude. It held forth the promise of rights and snatched them back the moment that men and women walked forward eagerly to claim them. It ruled without hope or interest in understanding its subjects, and dismissed the many genuine moments of connection that presented themselves as graspable possibilities.
We are already well down the road to similar failures. The United States Constitution wisely has as its first principle that the power of government must necessarily be constrained in order to secure the blessings of liberty. Where are the constraints now on American power abroad? There are none remaining. Is our judgement so unimpeachably correct, our government so godly, that we can be trusted with such a power? The Founding Fathers did not trust their own creation with that kind of untrammeled authority. The Declaration of Independence underscores that freedom comes from below, from the determination of a people, not as a grant or gift from an overlord—and it makes clear that all peoples everywhere have a right to be represented, that decisions should not be taken in their name without their willful assent.
Timothy Burke mentions that others have written comparisons between the current situation and the formation of the British empire, so I doubt I can add anything there. I hope someone with more historical knowledge will improve on this brief note, but I thought in the meantime I'd try and say a few words about how some ancient empires such as the Roman empire were profitable for many centuries, but modern empires are more apt to drain money and blood like the British empire.
In Roman times, to sack a city was a profitable enterprise. The troops were happy even if paid cheaply - at least those who managed to grab a share. Landless colonists who received land in exchange for manning an outpost were pleased indeed. This apparently destructive behavior did not prevent occupying the territory and collecting tribute. There wasn't any industry to be trashed to speak of, and agriculture wasn't that capital intensive, so the lack of former cash and valuables didn't hinder that much. Odder still, this apparently unpleasant behavior didn't hinder a successful long term occupation. It happened all the time. After Rome conquered everyone in your neighborhood, the Pax Romana had serious benefits to trade, and they wouldn't let their own provinces arm for war against each other. Saves you money when you can't build an offensive army and neither can your neighbors. The Roman atrocities might often be forgotten after a few generations - these things happened.
The British empire was another story. Even then, the main 'wealth of nations' was in the ability to exploit natural resources and manufacture goods rather than take gold and silver by force, as Adam Smith pointed out. The British had no expectation of paying for their empire by having their army grab stuff and go - this would have radically decreased the income potential of the captured and colonized territories. Rather, they wanted sources of raw materials (including natives to mine and even sell them to the British) and buyers of manufactured goods. As Timothy Burke points out, the British also had moral scruples (partially hypocritical, as are all of ours) which made the ultimate Roman expedient of slaughtering the civilian population of an intractible possesion an empty bluff - and the subjects came to know it.
In outline, this plan of using the resources of a controlled country to pay for the occupation has been tried in recent history - it was called the British empire. It didn't work. The odd thing was, many countries did benefit economically from their British rulers. They didn't appreciate it - and neither would we. And Pax Americana doesn't happen unless we conquer the whole neighborhood. Are we going to take the other countries before or after building an Iraqi democracy? Either would have problems.
Sun Tsu believed in conquering your neighbors for profit and prestige. He does suggest conquering the nearer ones while remaining at peace with the ones farther away. I guess shorter supply lines are part of the reason. I'm sure many in the Bush administration sincerely intend to build a democracy, but it is a milk and water intention not built of serious meditation on the costs. There will come a point where autonomy proposals seeming reasonable to us will be responded to with violence by our non subjects (wards?), and then we will be tempted to decide we have done our best and must rule with a heavier hand for awhile, all with the intention of educating people so that they are capable of a democracy.
I do not know for certain if Timothy Burke's concept of empire is workable in the modern world, but I'm pretty certain the one we are sliding thoughtlessly towards is not.
Posted by David at 8:51 PM
Friday, March 28, 2003
The first section of my new reorganized sidebar is going to be for deep political thinkers. This is for those bloggers who think about the future implications of events which are being discussed by other bloggers and news media. If the political blogosphere were really a global brain, they might be the cerebral cortex. I believe people who read a few of these will on the average talk and vote more intelligently.
In theory I favor independents over either liberals or conservatives. A reliably partisan blog might occasionally find new arguments for their chosen side, but most often will at best paraphrase arguments frequently made very well. In practice, one of my top political thinker blogs is very conservative and one is very liberal.
Steven Den Beste'sUSS Clueless is in one respect a standard neoconservative blog. Neocon is what you get if you subtract the religious and paleoconservative right from the Bush administration. If it is possible to find a logical explanation for any apparently self defeating Bush administration attempts at foreign policy, he will find it. The main difference between him and the legions of 'ordinary' neocon blogs is that he thinks seriously towards both the past and the future. While the other neoconservative are telling each other how horrible the cheese eating surrender monkeys are, he tries methodically to deduce what possible explanation there can be for what he and others consider absurdly obstructive behavior. After writing an essay examing every possible cause and thoroughly discussing the pro's and con's of each, he writes another one considering what ramifications their new foreign policy will have for ours ten or twenty years in the future, and how we should respond. Even if you reject his premises, this kind of thinking is what the blogosphere needs more of to become a venue for serious thought.
Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo is perhaps as far to the left as Steven Den Beste is to the right. I'm a tiny bit more in sympathy with Joshua, but that isn't why I give him a place of honor in the thinkers section. While many other people with reservations about the Bush administration were discussing the conduct of the war, he was writing an article for the Washington monthly about people in the Bush administration who may well have dangerous plans involving Iraq and Syria, and what the dangers of those plans are. I've also seen him publish correction to errors made by mainstream media - noteworthy not only because it takes a deep knowledge base to detect these errors, but also because it's hard for working journalists to get on the bad side of people they may have to work with some day - or who might even notice an error of theirs.
Shortly after I started reading Daniel W. Drezner, he wrote a post comparing in detail the defense plans of all the Democratic candidates for president. He gave one an A- for a plan with specifics. I was surprised to discover later he was a Republican - just nobody's lap dog. He does some seriously nuanced thinking on the long term effects the way America is handling Iraq may have on the international balance of power. Much of his best work might come under political linking rather than political thinking, but finding the cream of the cream so reliably requires fine judgement indeed.
There is much to like about OxBlog. The three intelligent politically aware bloggers who co-write this blog don't always have the exact same point of view. It's harder to misrepresent someone's argument when they share the same blog with you. I saw one of the openest corrections I've seen anywhere on this blog. There's a lot of great discussion, but somehow this criticism of the press that is neither a frantic accusation of left or right bias sums it up.
If one were to sum up the nature of such questions, one could do it in two words: confrontational and predictable. In principle, confrontation is good. Challenges from the press force elected officials to justify controversial decisions and account for notable failures. While somewhat of a turn-off, the snide and condescending tone of most of the question asked demonstrates that even in times of war, Americans' support for the First Amendment is so strong that journalists have the right to grill the President as if he were the defendent in a murder trial.
Unfortunately, the predictable nature of today's questions render their confrontational stance worthless. These are questions that Bush and Blair have answered dozens of times before. This sort of repetition demonstrates a disturbing lack of creativity on the journalists' part.
Posted by David at 7:48 PM
Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo has done a lot of amazing writing about the longer range implications of day to day events in the war - deep well thought out concerns that would be easy to miss.
"I was watching a British military briefing this morning when a reporter asked one of the British generals what he thought of the fact that the running of the port of Umm Qasr has apparently already been raffled off to some American company. The look on his face was priceless. Sort of the Blair tragedy writ small."
So are we going to give a share of the pork to Britain or not? And how much say is the democratic government we are so excited about building going to have about this?
That same Talkiing Points Memo post has other juicy bits towards the end. I sure hope there's enough oil to pay for Qualcomm AND the occupation AND rebuilding Iraq. It might be enough, assuming we don't load on too much more. And we may be sending Franklin Graham to help with the relief efforts. According to Josh Marshall he's repeatedly called Islam a wicked religion. Josh also quotes him directly. "God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son... We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ."
Posted by David at 5:04 PM
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
While we've been worried about war, could one of the other horsemen of the apocalypse have been sneaking up behind us? This has the potential to become a more imminent danger than terrorism combining with nuclear proliferation to end civilization. This is also a war we are perhaps less prepared to fight then we were a few decades ago, unlike Iraq. It is only recently that a middle class family in a prosperous progressive country need not expect to lose any children to disease. With the recent discussion of biological warfare, humanity's (especially America's and a few others') glorious triumph over smallpox is imperiled. Are the huge triumphs we have made over disease only temporary, unless we drastically increase our vigilance? This may be a triumph of the greatest generation we do not have the stamina to maintain - and many who talk about the Greatest Generation and are more concerned about decreasing taxes than strengthening society are most guilty.
What worries me about this story is that we seem to be going backwards. A day or so ago it sounded like the cause was pretty much isolated.
The disease could be caused by a combination of typically benign viruses, producing a virulent double impact on the human immune system.
Or, more puzzlingly, none of the viruses found so far is to blame -- that these microbes may be so common that their presence in patient tissue specimens is simply a coincidence.
Posted by David at 5:36 PM
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
I'm trying to get the hang of the blogger post linking problem. The link below my most recent entry actually takes me to an older one. I'm hoping it turns out this only happens to the most recent entry on a blogger blog, and linking to older individual entries causes no problem.
Update: That didn't work. Maybe if I republish using the publish button below the 'edit this post' window.
Posted by David at 8:02 PM
Steven Den Beste has discussed a possible explanation for the fact that so many have treated our not winning the war in less than a week as a devastating setback.
It's not that these people love Saddam; they don't. It's that they fear America even more. They deeply fear that if the US wins in Iraq, and wins what is perceived to be a fast and easy war there, that Americans will be emboldened and will gain self-confidence and perhaps even become self-righteous, and will eventually plunge the entire world into war. If America is willing to use direct aggressive military power to force a regime change in Iraq, where else will that then happen? And what else can possibly stop the American juggernaut without devastating the entire globe?
I don't agree with this point of view, but I can at least understand it. And that's why when I read some anti-war blogs, those who try to deal with the issues seriously and who do not descend to petty ridicule and fashionable cynicism, that their posts regarding the process of the war seem to be deeply conflicted. On one side they fear for the troops and at the same time there almost seems to be a wish that disaster will overtake the troops. For someone in this position, who hates Saddam but fears America more, among the best outcomes is that America wins, but pays such a high price that Americans will not support any future wars. Thus they find themselves simultaneously dreading and hoping that a lot of our soldiers will be killed and wounded.
To that end, there seem to be some in the world who are willing to overtly or covertly assist the Iraqis so as to make the war as expensive for us as possible.
But remember that the real goal for many is not dead American soldiers, but cowed American voters, and thus they have good reason to try to make things look as bad as they possibly can. For such a person, the absolutely ideal outcome is for America to win, Saddam to be deposed, life in Iraq to improve, overall losses to be low, and for Americans to still think that the cost was too high.
By this theory, the discussion in many quarters of perceived setbacks is explained. 'They' want us to think the war isn't going well, so we'll be humbler in the future.
I think there's a simpler explanation. For very good reasons, the military emphasized the early surrenders in the first few days of the war. Knowing that the American media were seen in Iraq as well, they wanted to encourage troops to surrender rather than be the last men to risk their lives defending a dying regime. For this reason, they emphasized best case scenarios and interpretaions to the press. While I believe this strategy was sound, if the press did wrong in accepting this view at face value and being surprised when it did not occur, the problem is not so much defeatism as allowing themselves to be lead around by the nose by the military. That being said, it still does not speak well for the press that they were genuinely surprised by the fact that the war did not end within a week. In the long run the idea of the press supporting our government in extreme circumstances by not necessarily giving the most complete information they could is much less upsetting than a press so dependent on the military for access that they sincerely believe what they are told uncritically. A state of emergency is temporary, but credulity may well be permanent.
Of course, there were people even in the government thinking in terms of best case scenarios, and the war in Afghanistan was actually faster than expected by some. Perhaps the press swung from one extreme to the other. Perhaps the desire for action when patience is required causes them to talk in terms of either huge gains or grim setbacks. The best we can do is try to create a market for accurate news by following it ourselves.
Posted by David at 7:57 PM
Monday, March 24, 2003
Cold Fury has a message for the Left, be they pro war or anti war.
An anonymous someone just e-mailed me to joshingly ask if it wouldn’t be quite painful for the Left to, as I said below, have their heads “firmly and irretrievably stuck up [their] own sphincters all the way to [their] collarbones.” I’m trying…really.…trying.…but…just.…can’t.…resist.….
Not when you’re spineless to begin with, it isn’t.
Someone in his comment section accuses him of painting with too broad a brush, and he responds:
I've addressed this whole pigeonholing thing several times, and at length, and even twice more recently. If you really care to know what I think about it all, I'd suggest digging through the archives for 'em, Daniel. There are some liberals out there that I even manage to have respectful and quite cordial 'Net relations with, believe it or not. I'm well aware that not all of you are raving commies, wrong though you all may be in lesser degree. Short version, I try to make these distinctions when I'm being a bit more serious about things but quite often don't when I'm not. I think this post probably qualifies for that definition. Probably. ;)
I wonder if he makes fun of himself and people who agree with him like this. If not, what we really have is an insult ineffectually disguised as humor.
Posted by David at 6:47 PM
Sunday, March 23, 2003
I've blogged before about the idea of a global brain, a hive mind more intelligent than any of the individuals who collectively compose it. If you look at different species of animals of varying intelligence, one thing you will almost universally find. As the capacity for intelligence increases, the size of the sensory cortex of the brain increases as well. If the metaphorical sensory cortex of our global brain is to increase, it needs among other things good first hand sources of information. That is one of the reasons I often read and link to articles in English language newspapers written far away from the United States, but those sources of information are not truly first hand to the blogosphere. Most of our best information about the world still comes directly and indirectly from major media outlets.
As a small step away from that, I've devoted a section of my sidebar to blogs of people who live and work in places and situations most of us only hear about in the media.
Where is Raed? belongs in this section of my sidebar, but is currently in the top section - blogs I read most frequently. I might eliminate that section so I get around more, and move everything where it belongs. He lives in Iraq. Whether you agree or disagree with his political opinions, this is a great place to get a genuine glimpse of what one person's life is like. Salam Pax's blog is perfect for this section, except for two things. So many people read and link to him already that I'm not really increasing the connectivity of the blogosphere by linking to him here. And his blog access is either down or too dangerous, and may well be until the war is over. Diane of Letter from Gotham sometimes publishes word of him sent through other channels.
Notes of an Iranian girl is written by an Iranian schoolgirl. Sometimes what she writes could be from a schoolgirl in any other country. Sometimes she blogs on stuff in the same media many people in America, Britain, Canada, and Australia often read. On the other hand, sometimes she will link to something in the English language Iranian press that we would never find otherwise. Best of all, even when her personal comments seem a bit naive, they often give a sudden insight into how we are seen from over there, especially when she is not addressing us.
Not a Fish is written by an Isreali mother in Tel Aviv. She has no more first hand information on events in Iraq than the rest of us - except about how Isrealis are reacting to them. It's still a very vivid experience reading about how she has to make her children try on gas masks. I very much hope she never has any first hand news to report - until something cheerful happens. One remarkable quote about reporters and photo ops: Those reporters in Kuwait with their gas masks on look so silly. What good do they think the mask will do of they’re standing outside in thin shirts with no additional protection?
Uzbekistan Diary is written by a reporter - but her blog is largely personal. Uzbekistan is one of those Muslim nations we haven't heard much from in the media so far, but may one day soon.
Empty Wishes is written by an American living in France. I include it here because many Americans seem to have strong feelings about this nation, but little first hand knowledge of it. Yes she opposes the invasion of Iraq, and is concerned about anti-French feelings, but the most interesting parts are non political and very human. Quote:As you may know, in France, dogs have pretty much free reign of any and all establishments. In fact, it seems that all french people have some sort of dog excrement radar... I, on the other hand, have learned to remember to sort of look down while walking to avoid with a foot in a puddle of fresh, brown goo.
Bjorn Staerk is basically a pro American pro Bush pro Invasion conservative from Norway. I mean politically conservative by the American definition, since the word seems to mean something different there. As often happens in the blogosphere, much of his blogging is from the same sources everyone else uses. Sometimes though you get a different perspective, or hear about something mostly discussed in Norway. Mullah Krekar revealed his true self this week. Not Krekar the Grandfatherly Idealist, the sympathetic character he's been playing (with success) on Norwegain TV for six months now, but Krekar the Religious Extremist: just another Muslim guerilla leader with a taste for suicide, and a deep hatred for the US. In an interview on Dutch television, he foolishly threatened the US with suicide attacks from Ansar al-Islam, if American forces try to enter northern Iraq.
Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing has many political essays. It also has sharp insights into the lives of the troops on the front lines, all the way down to anecdotes and snippets of conversations. It is for the latter that I list him here, although his knowledge of military strategy and tactics is of great interest also.
Posted by David at 7:10 PM
Friday, March 21, 2003
I've just reread Arthur Fleischman of Untold Millions' reply to my post of last week. To start near the end:
David makes good points when he argues that peaceful means are often more effective (and more desirable) than military action. It is important that we commit ourselves to maximizing their benefits. But he has yet to offer convincing arguments that they, alone, are enough to reach our objectives in Iraq (and beyond). Likewise, his aversion to injuring the wounded dignity of our enemy is a fine sentiment...but one he may ultimately have to sacrifice to necessity. Today's terrible reality will ruthlessly tear away our delusions too.
Although I opposed the invasion of Iraq, it was not because I saw a clear path towards a democratic and peaceful Iraq without any violence. Nor was it because I am a pacifist. I'm not. If world peace could be created simply by our refusing to fight under any circumstances, I would consider peace not so much an art as a science - or perhaps more a simple one step process then a science. I call my blog the Art of Peace for almost the opposite reason - because I believe world peace will require endless creativity, innovation, and will to understand, and because I believe that when we begin to understand the outlines of what is necessary, they may be difficult, but will also posess an even greater beauty than Sun Tsu's Art of War. No, I opposed it because I did not hear any serious planning as to how we could create a democracy from several groups that having been killing each other for a long time, and because I fear it could be all too easy for us to fall into the trap of empire, spending more and more blood and money to maintain an empire which we regret having started, but cannot abandon.
There have been blood and chaos in Iraq for many years. Some will blame it on Western civilization and the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, but the truth is before we jammed together three Ottoman provinces into one bloody Iraq, there were problems. When the Persians and the Turks alternatively conquered certain places, they would each kill natives of the other nationality (Turks supporting killing Shia's and Persians [now Iranians] supporting killing Sunni's). The group currently favored was glad to have revenge taken by their liberators. Nobody ever said 'No revenge for us thanks, we're all presenting a united front from now on, but congradulations on your latest conquest'.
Perhaps you'll want to triumphantly seize this evidence that they really are irrational - but then we must be prepared for them to react as irrationally to our occupation as to anything else. Only now we're responsible for it. We can't apologize and go away, since things may actually be worse then they were before we entered. Of course, I'm hoping desperately I'm wrong, I just wanted to make the real reasons for my opposition to the invasion clear. I'll tell you the truth, if we do build a prosperous democracy in Iraq, it will be a more amazing achievement than the Marshall Plan. Call me an incurable optimist, but I believe it's possible, even though I opposed betting the farm on it. I wrote about some of the reasons it would be so difficult a couple of posts before this one, but other people have written more and better. If we succeed, it will be an amazing physical, intellectual, and spiritual achievement. I don't believe my own suggestion for helping to create peace and prosperity in the middle east is easy or sure, just that the obstacles and risks were somewhat preferable to the course we are now embarked upon.
This discussion seems to have branched out, but the original starting point was 'Why They Hate Us'. You suggested that they had told us the answer simply and clearly - they believe Islam demands Jihad, and this is what they believe Jihad means. If you are right, we are in big trouble. How do you propose to solve it? Do you believe a bloodless conquest will change their minds? Do you believe most of them believe in that sort of Jihad, but not enough to die for it, so that we can intimidate even those not in Iraq by a show of great but restrained force? Even George Bush believes we must now seek to understand the root causes. His answer is lack of democracy, and I actually think he's got a big chunk of the problem identified, especially when you consider how closely many of the other things we talk about are associated with democracy. If women can vote, they can support reformers.
Bush and I both seem to partially agree about the causes. Although encouraging an undemocratic government to liberalize with economic incentives is extremely tricky, I would have chosen it over what we must now undertake. Perhaps even a United States military occupation of the West Bank and gaza strip to help build a democracy there would have been easier than Iraq.
Posted by David at 3:04 PM
I usually have fun reading The Talking Dog, but I feel that this recent post is very misguided. He quotes from 'an article circulating by former State Department official William R. Polk which he calls "Dark Matter"', which says among other things, "However, the suggestion that Israel and its American Christian and Jewish supporters are involved in the administration's Middle Eastern policy making has drawn much-feared and politically-lethal charges of anti-Semitism."
Seth Farber seems to agree with the general thrust of these remarks, but it is important to be careful. There are many in Isreal who felt and feel that this war will make their situation more dangerous and not less by inflaming terrorism. To the best of my knowledge, conservative and liberal American Jews react to this war much like conservatives and liberals of other religions, in the same proportions.
I think people are right to suspect anti-semitism when Jews or Zionists are accused of being 'behind' this or that policy which is unpopular in certain quarters without strong and methodically presented evidence. This is the only evidence reproduced from the missive that claimed to be from Mr. Polk.
How does Iraq fit into this picture? The rationale was spelled out in June 1999 by Paul Wolfowitz in a speech at the Israeli-sponsored Washington Institute. There he said that with Saddam Husain's regime destroyed, the Palestinians would be forced to make peace on Israeli terms. As the American conservative leader, Patrick J. Buchanan, pointed out in The American Conservative (March 24, 2003) "a passionate attachment to Israel is a 'key tenet of neoconservatism.
It sounds to me like Paul Wolfowitz was trying to convince people who were skeptical.
The United States is composed of many different ethnic groups. If there was evidence that a certain group favored a certain policy much more frequently than the rest of the country it might under some circumstances be worth discussing - along with the evidence of whether that group had made a signifigant impact on the administration or not. The fact that Paul Wolfowitz tried to persuade people at an Isreali sponsored institute to follow the administrations policies is evidence for neither one. Furthermore, claims with nonexistant or forged evidence that the Jews controlled and manipulated various institutions which were mainly non Jewish have indeed been part of antisemetic campaigns.
All the evidence points to anti-semites trying to rouse fear of Jewish control of the government by making claims they cannot support with evidence, and using the fact that they are being charged with anti semitism to support a pretense that people are refusing to listen to their evidence because of these charges, hoping in the confusion to conceal the fact that they have offered little or no actual evidence.
Posted by David at 7:44 AM
Thursday, March 20, 2003
The last paragraphs of a recent Talking Points Memo post are even more interesting than the rest.
Despite the certainty of war, this administration remains divided about the purpose and aftermath of this war. One camp sees this as a fairly limited, surgical effort to get rid of Saddam, put a reasonably democratic government in its place and then move on. Another camp sees this as only a first step. After this comes Iran, Syria, perhaps also Southern Lebanon, and more. And I don't mean calling them names. I mean, taking them out.
The vision of what we're trying to get is go out and give the hornets nest a few whacks and get them all out in the open and have it out with them once and for all. If that sounds scary to you, it should.
That camp in the administration would like to prosecute this war in such a way as to invite those further confrontations.
The question of whether we go that route is still to be decided. Unfortunately, the group that ended up winning the debate on Iraq inside the administration is one the that favors that future. So if you want something to work against, that's what should be on your mind...
That's a great suggestion. The problem is, we're engaged in a snowball fight from the bottom of a well. Of course the potato chip (bet you can't eat just one) camp could win straight off the bat. But even if they lose, the road to rebuilding Iraq will be difficult. It's pretty hard to imagine Iran not becoming involved in some fashion. Every time there is interference or any form of confrontation which part of the administration is trying to resolve so that we can continue our nation building without any more wars, there will be another part that is not whole heartedly with them. While the cabinet is debating whether a certain course is provocative or not, the balance may be tipped by those secretly hoping it is. The administration will not be totally unified in seeking to find a way to perform some difficult manuever peacefully.
I have seen many excellent discussions of how Iraq today is different from Japan and Germany after world war II. Joshua Marshall recently put the finishing touch on one, so I can honestly say that every aspect of this difference has been discussed more thoroughly than I could have written about it. I haven't seen any discussion of how the United States today is different from what it was right after world war II yet. People willingly accepted a much more widespread graduated income tax than they had ever paid before. They supported rationing. Favored sons of rich families (such as EX-president Bush) fought willingly in combat - and would have been insulted by any offer that they might do otherwise. Of course, it may well be that we would have the greatness of heart to do all that if our president asked us, but let's not be TOO eager to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Nobody should brag about how they would be just as brave as the soldiers actually fighting, except that they didn't happen to have the right training.
I'm worried about 'accidental imperialism'. There will be many problems in the years to come which may seem insoluble without additional warfare. It may be that they could be resolved by patient determination - yet there will be those who believe if we fail to do so it will be just as well, since the citizens of any country we take over will benefit in the long run. Yet let us not be too eager to brag that we can build as many democracies as we choose, because with each conquest it will be harder to convince the occupied (and bystanding) countries that we will start democratizing as soon as we are done conquering. It would be easy to say that we never intended to become an empire, if only people had trusted us we would have been able to create democracies instead of being forced to occupy countries permanently.
Let us not forget the fates of the great empires of history. The Roman empire was actually profitable for a long time I think - the rot from within came because people used to bread and circuses were not ready to shed their own blood, because 'vigilance' the price of liberty was not paid. But a more modern empire had the opposite problem. The British bled generation after generation of young blood, and were militarily as well as spiritually drained by their empire. To rebuild Iraqi oil fields, build a democracy, and pay for the American occupation is a great deal. Bush has been telling everyone all along America is not doing this for profit. Certain oil companies may profit, but overall I believe Bush will be righter than he knows. If you are not willing to bleed your subjects, empire is a losing game, both in money and in blood.
Posted by David at 5:18 PM
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
This is from Where is Raed?. It's one of my favorite blogs. As much as I like the idea of circumventing the limitations of mainstream media by getting news from sources in the blogosphere, for the most part, my most reliable and comprehensive sources are from those media. Reading Where is Raed? is one of the few exceptions, where you actually get more of a feel for what someone is actually living through by reading a blog - although of course from only one point of view.
It is even too late for last minute things to buy, there are too few shops open. We went again for a drive thru Baghdad’s main streets. Too depressing. I have never seen Baghdad like this. Today the Ba’ath party people started taking their places in the trenches and main squares and intersections, fully armed and freshly shaven. They looked too clean and well groomed to defend anything. And the most shocking thing was the number of kids. They couldn’t be older than 20, sitting in trenches sipping Miranda fizzy drinks and eating chocolate (that was at the end of our street) other places you would see them sitting bored in the sun. more cars with guns and loads of Kalashnikovs everywhere.
The worst is seeing and feeling the city come to a halt. Nothing. No buying, no selling, no people running after buses. We drove home quickly. At least inside it did not feel so sad.
The ultimatum ends at 4 in the morning her in Baghdad, and the big question is will the attack be at the same night or not. Stories about the first gulf war are being told for the 100th time.
Posted by David at 6:15 PM
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
It's important to be unflinchingly aware of the environment in which Iraq exists. This is from Arab News:
Naif Rules Out Political Parties in Kingdom
JEDDAH, 19 March 2003 — The Kingdom does not plan to set up political parties, Interior Minister Prince Naif announced yesterday. “We have never thought of establishing political parties,” he told reporters.
However, the minister acknowledged that a group of Saudi intellectuals had presented the idea to Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard, during a meeting about two months ago.
Posted by David at 6:06 PM
Sunday, March 16, 2003
The MeetMyAttourney has some suggestions for the House of Representatives. The author also knows more html than me.
French Freedom curve
Pardon my Freedom
Posted by David at 8:14 PM
From No Loss For Words, a first hand account of the recent satellite discussion between American and Iraqi students. The quoted paragraph links to the complete entry.
Davidson College hosted a discussion via satellite between American and Iraqi students today. Chris was slick enough to get me (non-Davidson student that I am) in to see it.
Several themes emerged:
Wow. Pro-war Americans tend to be, um, patronizing and paternalistic. A few quotations. "My suggestion for you is to overthrow your government." "I think what you all need to do... [I didn't bother writing down the rest." "Let me remind you..." These are college students that clearly care about their country (then again, how could you not when war is looming?) They don't need to be taken by the hand and babied.
Posted by David at 7:33 PM
I didn't read about this in the American media - did you?
Pakistan hails US waiving sanctions
ISLAMABAD, March 15: Pakistan welcomed on Saturday the US government's decision to lift economic sanctions against Pakistan to further help its economy.
Posted by David at 3:11 PM
There is a great deal of international opposition to Bush's plans for Iraq - enough to make this Singaporean editorial in The Staits Times noteworthy. They don't exactly endorse Bush, but the article is very skeptical of the French.
The very same reasons, however, also put France at risk of dangerous consequences. Its relations with Washington may be irreparably damaged, given the strength of American ill will now against it. If America still goes to war in Iraq without the UN, Paris would not only have lost its battle at the UN, it would also have made enemies in the Anglo-Saxon world.
It might have new-found friends in Russia, China and Germany, but this coalition would never be permanent.
Secondly, France's traditional co-leadership in Europe would be in tatters, and its fears of a 'Europe of Washington' realised.
Posted by David at 2:57 PM
Saturday, March 15, 2003
Joi Ito has some ideas about how emergent democracy can avoid the pitfalls of mob rule and the lowest common denominator, and be structured to cultivate rather than repress important new ideas which will not be accepted by most people at first.
In Calvin's theory of how our brain works, he explains that the edges or parts of the surface of the brain which are not adjacent to many other areas is where new ideas form which can come back and influence the rest of the brain.
In evolution and the theory of genetic drift and gene pools, it can be shown that when you have large populations, genes tend to stay more similar and drift more slowly but on islands with smaller gene pools, genes can go wild... like the Galapagos islands.
So I believe the trick is to have the various levels. The radical ideas and the great products come from small groups (the creative layer) to be allowed to work on a diverse set of ideas. When these ideas reach a certain level acceptability, the social level (the early adopters?) picks up the idea and "puts it on the radar." It then gives the opportunity for the idea to take a real shot at the masses. If you think about The Woz, I would say that the Home Brew Computer Club was the creative layer where the idea percolated. Then, Silicon Valley (the social layer) decided to give the idea a try. Eventually, it chanaged the world (the political layer). Many ideas don't make it past the first layer or the second.
Posted by David at 10:32 PM
Dredwerkz links to this shattering discovery from The Salt Lake Tribune:
It appears the new idea behind journalist "embedding" is quite utilitarian: the army has managed to kill all the canary chickens and needs replacements fast. Go figure.
Posted by David at 8:51 PM
This article in Slate by Fred Kaplan is really impressive. Most of the time news people don't seem to want to make a big deal of each others mistakes. It's almost like they're hoping for the same treatment in turn. Fred Kaplan must plan to try and avoid making any.
First, it's big, but not that big. On the night of the test, ABC News reported that the bomb was "similar to a small nuclear weapon." Time magazine, in strikingly similar language, reported that it "packs the punch of a small nuclear weapon." Let's do the math. The MOAB weighs 21,000 pounds, including 18,000 pounds' worth of high explosives. That's 9 tons. The teeniest nuclear weapon in the U.S. stockpile has the blast-power of 1,000 tons (one kiloton, in the parlance). In other words, had Time's reporter been a bit less giddy, he would have written that MOAB (which, by the way, the Air Force pronounces "mo-ab") "packs one one-hundredth the punch of a small nuclear weapon."
Posted by David at 5:16 AM
Friday, March 14, 2003
Here's one anti-war blogger who doesn't forget how much blood Saddam has on his hands. I think poor-attitude is too hard on James Lileks, who doesn't belittle the suffering of Iraqi soldiers in any way that I can see, and has not forgotten the enormity of the risks American soldiers are taking - quite the opposite in fact.
The people that convinced that dead 19 year old Iraqi to charge those Iranians should be aware of what they have done. Lileks might want to decide if he wants to do the same work.
Posted by David at 9:13 PM
Thursday, March 13, 2003
I just made an amazing discovery. There are intelligent and thoughtful people, even politcally aware people, who have not yet made up their mind on Iraq.
This is from Chris at See-Through World.
I don't know what to think about this war business... I'm not sure if I ever had an opinion. I think I'm treating it like I treat every other political issue: there's just so many facets and voices, each with some version of truth, that I don't feel knowledgeable enough to decide. There's no way to make a fair decision, it seems; digesting all the information necessary to make an educated, "fair" decision on most political issues would take more than a lifetime, as well as some top secret clearance and maybe some covert operations. Or, at least, that's how I see it all at this moment.
Posted by David at 6:58 PM
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
This is an interesting idea from Epeus' epigone.
Combining these ideas, how about some extensions to the 'a href' tag to say "I'm linking to this, but I disagree with it" and maybe "I'm linking to this but don't count the link as a vote". Google and other link spiders could note these distinctions, and distinguish between popularity, notoriety and ubiquity.
It's great to know people are thinking about how to make the web work better.
Posted by David at 8:13 PM
Howard Rheingold addresses this advice to Korea's (presumably South Korea's) wired younger generation, but it applies to all of us who have high hopes for emergent democracy, a global brain, or any other revolution based on blogging or the web.
Third, civility, reason, and evidence are what distinguish the public sphere — the free and open discourse among citizens that provides the foundation for democracy — from the emotion-charged, ignorant, slogan-slinging online combat that sometimes drowns out political debate. The Web is a wonderful resource, and search engines are powerful tools. If you are arguing an issue, take two minutes to research it and post a link as part of your argument. You can question evidence, but questioning evidence is the basis of science and jurisprudence. The point is to argue the issues and evidence, not to attack the character of opponents.
Posted by David at 7:24 PM
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
It had to happen sooner or later. A blog opposing war has embraced the title of weasel. The Daily Weasel has an unusual take on many things.
According to this CBS News story, Britain may be forced to back out of any attack on Iraq, due to overwhelming opposition at home. Ouch -- guess it's time to rename it "Freedom Toffee".
Posted by David at 6:52 PM
Monday, March 10, 2003
Salam Pax has more news about people living their lives in Iraq on the eve of war. I especially like the way he contrasts his own experience with what a BBC reporter said.
Posted by David at 6:19 PM
I've been rereading this essay on 'Why Do They Hate Us?' by Arthur Fleischman of Untoldmillions. He also links to Osama Bin Laden's Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans.
What Bin Laden actually talks most directly about is neither poverty nor religion, but United States troops in the Arabian Peninsula. It seems we both agree this is a symptom rather than the disease - it was the Saudi government that wanted these troops.
Although looking at the life of Osama Bin Laden and why he does what he does is relevent (he started in Afghanistan with US and Saudi encouragement), the question of why a number of Arabs either agree with him or at least don't despise him is more important. He was already rich while he was safe, he's not doing this for money. If Islamic Imam's and Arabs the world over cursed his name and accused him of blashphemy against Islam and treachery, I don't know if he would have stayed in business until 9/11, and even if he did it would have been much harder to find followers.
I don't think simply giving them charity would help - I think Steven Den Beste of USS Clueless has a good point here. Poverty alone isn't the problem. They need a working and productive economy that will give them purpose and a sense of accomplishment. He feels that first we must defeat them militarily then make major cultural changes by main force, and here I disagree. That's not what happened to the real Crusaders, at least not what changed them into our ancestors. I'm not saying we would give them money and they would like us - real care would have to be taken to invest in the nations which have fought most seriously against terror, and make sure the money was used to build an economy. Stef Wertheimer has some suggestions here, I linked to them awhile ago, I'll dig it up sometime. I'm not saying it would be easy, but I think ultimate success would be more likely than on the course we are embarking on now.
The other thing that comes through from Osama here and elsewhere is a sense of having been humiliated.
If you are correct we might be in big trouble. Of course not all Muslims will agree with Osama's interpretation, but as we kill many of those who do, the number is likely to increase rather than to decrease. Either we would slide into a slaughter which will permanently change us from what we have always stood for, or we must ask why this religion has not mellowed, unlike some other religions which supported the slaughter of unbelievers in the past. Illiteracy and the oppression of women are also associated with not necessarily poor societies, but societies which do not participate in the creation of wealth by their own efforts.
Posted by David at 5:44 PM
Sunday, March 09, 2003
This is worth knowing about some of those anti-war protests that happen 'all over the world' regardless of your political views.
From the Yemen Times:
"Yemenis are against the war, but the government should allow people to speak for themselves instead of pushing them around telling them what to do.
Freedom to protest does not mean taking people out of work. What it means is to allow them to demonstrate when they want and the where they want.
That it is real freedom."
Posted by David at 3:47 PM
Good news via Instapundit - unless I should assume everyone reads Instapundit.
Remember though, the surrender - err invasion before we reach Baghdad is the easy part, even Baghdad isn't the hardest part. The occupation is the hard part.
British Army source in Kuwait contacted me to explain how the extraordinary surrender bid unfolded. The source said: "The British guys on the front-line could not believe what was happening. They were on pre-war exercises when all of a sudden these Iraqis turned up out of nowhere, with their hands in the air, saying they wanted to surrender.
"They had heard firing and thought it was the start of the war.
"The Paras are a tough, battle-hardened lot but were moved by the plight of the Iraqis. There was nothing they could do other than send them back.
Posted by David at 8:10 AM
Saturday, March 08, 2003
Gujarat was the part of India where Muslims were killed in riots last year.
"This survey may be a build-up to the anti-conversion bill the government wants to introduce in the state assembly during this session," said Father Cedric Prakash of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights.
One church leader in Saurashtra was asked whether Christians would hold demonstrations if the anti-conversion bill is introduced in the assembly, sources said.
Individual Christians are scared to speak to the press as many of them are in government employment.
In the wake of the attack on Christians and the burning of churches in the Dangs district around Christmas 1998, the state intelligence department had ordered a similar survey, but abandoned it after a petition was filed in the Gujarat High Court.
Posted by David at 6:31 PM
Friday, March 07, 2003
The Soviet dictator was the father of the first "peace movement," which for years served as an instrument of the Kremlin's global policy.
Stalin's "peace movement" was launched in 1946 at a time when he had not yet developed a nuclear arsenal and was thus vulnerable to a U.S. nuclear attack. Stalin also needed time to consolidate his hold on his newly conquered empire in eastern and central Europe while snatching chunks of territory in Iran.
This New York Post column by Amir Taheri is far from the first editorial to suggest that peace movements have often been manipulated by America's enemies, and that even when they haven't they are much more apt to protest anything the American military does than anything others do, and that peace protesters are always wrong. I think the first two points are well worth discussing.
The first idea is especially interesting in a backhanded way. Suppose China thought it was a really spiffy idea to support the opposition to the Vietnam war. Of course nobody could do the same to Russia while they were fighting in Afghanistan as long as the internal machinery of communist oppression was operating at all. It's hard to say what role the Afghan war had in the fall of the Soviet Union. A government always hates to back down - even if it's to their long term benefit to do so. Of course American opinion can be manipulated against an American war - unless the logic for it is compelling. Compare the number of protesters against the First Gulf War and the bombing of Serbia to the number of protesters against this war. Enemies who try to manipulate democracy do so at their peril. And all those "Yes but" people who believe in free speech but hate the results can remember that. Free Speech and Democracy may well be such a powerful combination that ANSWER thug supporters defeat themselves.
Err, wait. That's not as upbeat as I thought. This is one of the wars that have many protesters, for now at least. One of the great things about the anti war movement is it tends to build up steam if we get involved in the sort of thing that bled Russia dry, and fade away after a quick victory. Of course even a quick military victory won't prove we can win the peace. That brings up another point.
There weren't many protesters when the United States worked to prolong the Iran-Iraq war by helping first one side then the other. Unpatriotic, that's what I call it. It's every American's duty to speak out when the government is doing something wrong. Real life is not a Leave It To Beaver episode, and to blindly trust our leaders is to slight the constitution which gives us the right and responsibility to vote. Maybe the protesters really are controlled by anti-American forces, who finally realized that protests tended to gain more popular support when opposing misguided wars (on the average) than opposing justifiable ones, and held back the protests so nothing would keep us from setting up the current situation. No, wait. If the Russian commies were that smart they would still be in power. Protesters can be wrong too - sometimes even by not speaking loudly enough.
In general, even those who strongly supported American opposition to Slovobodan Milosevich didn't bother protesting against him. It seems we expect American governments to be interested in popular opinion, but not authoritarian ones. By and large the evidence is in favor of this. If anyone has any good arguments that American protests against atrocities of foreign dictators would help, I'll listen. Some have implied that the peace protesters gave Saddam hope that even if he didn't disarm, Bush would take his 200,000 troops and go home, thus weakening his motive to disarm. I never heard any war hawk suggest that popular demonstrations of support for war would make it unnecessary, but if so why didn't anybody organize some as anything other than counter protests? How about everyone who thinks we need regime change - do any of them want to thank the protesters for giving Saddam enough hope so that he didn't disarm and deprive America of a pretext to do what you consider necessary? It seems to me many of the people who hint at this are the same ones saying all along that Saddam would never disarm - and the evidence is almost conclusive that they are right. America has explicitly stated how it can be deterred, and if for some strange reason he did give away everything hidden he would have proven himself a liar once too many times to be believed when he told the truth. I don't see how people can go around even suggesting he might have if only their hadn't been all those protests.
Posted by David at 5:37 PM
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
I've been wondering if I've been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking how an emergent global brain should work, maybe we should ask why it's not working instead - why a global brain capable of turning our world into a near utopia hasn't already emerged. Of course there's an implicit assumption here, since not all units show emergent behavior when gathered together in large numbers, and not all emergent behavior would be considered intelligent in terms of the goals of the individual units that make up the emergent entity - even to the extent those units have coherent goals.
There is some evidence for the idea that such a global brain would naturally emerge if no obstructions arose - although hardly conclusive. Recently I've visited this essay by Paul Cox several times. While I don't know enough about the history of the Cloudmakers to be competent to comment independently, what I've viewed of the website so far is interesting.
From Part II of What is Mathematics:
A hive mentality, sometimes called a "hive mind" is similar to an insect colony (i.e. ants or bees) which individually behave seemingly independent, and almost unpredictably random, but when thought of as a whole, they manage success far exceeding what any one of them could accomplish. Examples of human based hive minds include the scientific community, including the mathematics community, governments and charitable organizations. Most of these "hive mind" societies are too large or too complicated to study up close and find out what makes them successful or failures.
Cloudmakers is a fairly controlled environment, it shows all the signs of success, and it numbers between 1000-6000 participants world wide over a span of just a few months. By studying the behavior of this group, a lot can be learned in understanding the behavior of much larger groups over longer periods of time.
I should point out that there is a difference between "hive mentality" and "mob mentality", that difference is an informed hierarchy. One of the things the Cloudmakers did early on was establish two groups, a free for all discussion group and a moderated group that featured the most important and informative messages of the free for all group. If you want your point to get attention, you need to convince a moderator, and it will be forwarded to the "important" group. The moderators are not there to dictate, they are there to keep things productive and civil. If they wanted to take control, I doubt it would be possible.
All "hive mind" structures have similar structures. In the sciences, you have publishers of prestigious journals. If you want your opinion read or recognized, you need to convince an editor first. Representative democratic governments have a hive mind structure, which may explain their superiority over other forms of government. A true democracy is a free for all. In a representative government, proposed laws and policies have to go through the legislators for consideration.
In chapter two of his book Out of Control, Kevin Kelly talks about how several thousand strangers self assembled themselves into a hive mind capable of playing a game of pong with only a few seconds worth of instructions, although the collective probably did not play as well as the most dextrous person present would have played alone.
It seems that under the right circumstances intelligence may emerge from groups of humans with a common purpose even if none of them have an abstract interest in or knowledge of emergent intelligence. Perhaps neural intelligence is even scalable, so that some of the devices used by neurons and groups of neurons to create an intelligence are similar to strategies that human groups use to cooperate. At any rate, although this idea may ultimately fail to shed any light on the subject of emergent democracy, I think it's worth trying.
Some individuals are fully as capable of engaging in self destructive behavior as is our species as a whole. One form of this is when parts of our brain seem to be struggling against other parts, or at least not working well with them. This can be as simple as one part of your brain deciding to diet, while other parts seem to be prompting you to eat. Dr. Fredric Schiffer has written interesting book on how some psychological problems might be caused by struggles between different hemispheres of our brain. Those who agree with him are still a small minority among scientists, although some of his research has been published in peer reviewed journals.
Certainly polarization is everywhere among our species. Perhaps this is one of the things impeding our self assembly into a functional global brain. If so, to some extent our path is cut out for us, although it will be neither simple nor easy. When two sides disagree, the blame is not automatically equal on both sides. On the other hand, it is all of us collectively who have failed to become a cosmic mind capable of reshaping the universe.
Posted by David at 5:59 PM
Monday, March 03, 2003
Daniel Drezner thinks the United States may still have something important to learn from Turkey despite the apparent refusal to let us base our troops there. He thinks we may have learned it too:
"In general, embarrassment is a much more effective method than decapitation to destroying terrorist networks. The key to destroying such groups is to eliminate recruitment by spreading the perception that the group is ineffective. Capturing terrorist leaders and publishing photos that make them look like death warmed over is the most effective way to do this."
After the first few photos the law of diminishing returns is sure to set in, but he has other ideas as well. Getting captured terrorist leaders to do their share is still the hard part.
Posted by David at 6:08 PM
Saturday, March 01, 2003
(From New York Times)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 1 — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, suspected of planning the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington and one of the F.B.I.'s most wanted terrorists, was detained by Pakistani authorities this morning and is now in American custody, officials said.
...(several paragraphs skipped)
American officials confirmed that Mr. Mohammed was in United States custody and had been taken to an undisclosed location outside Pakistan.
...(several more paragraphs omitted)
Of all Qaeda agents and leaders captured since the Sept. 11 attacks, he may be the most important and is certainly the most feared.
Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.
The war on terror seems to be going rather well lately. And Steven Den Beste has gotten me thinking. I still wouldn't invade Iraq if it were up to me - but if the United States does so, I desperately want to see it work out well in the long run.
Nobody can guarantee a war will be quick - but somehow after Afghanistan I feel less worried about that than other things. It doesn't sound like we're going to try to occupy them without enough troops to do the job either. If Al Qaeda is really on the ropes, maybe we don't have to assume a series of successful attacks on American troops being used to constantly recruit more attackers, feeding into a viscious cycle. It could still happen - a largely Arabic organization in an Arabic speaking country has got to be better there than elsewhere - but after this victory the chance is lessened.
I still think we should be getting off to a running start with the representatives of the various ethnic groups there. I'm not quite sure where the administration stands on Turkey now. Some might even see the Turkish refusal to base our troops as an opportunity to give more to the Kurds. If so it has to be done carefully. I read recently that Kirkuk, the city the Iraqi Kurds want to claim, is not a Kurdish majority city - and they are not well disposed towards the other groups there. Destabalizing Turkey won't help stablize the middle east either. Of course the Turkish could still support us.
Like the Kurds, the Shia are accustomed to Saddam's bloddy iron fist, and will not be deterred by the threat of a few deaths, or even a few thousand. It may well be their first question about American occupiers will be "Are they willing to slaughter a few thousand civilians?" - and that they will dismiss them if the answer is no. On the other hand, American troops shooting lynch mobs on their way to slit the throats of Sunni Muslims may well increase American support for whatever violent measures may prove necessary.
Although I believe in planning for the worst, I somehow find myself convinced enough that the invasion itself will go successfully that I must leave that part to others. I still find myself amply able to worry about the occupation itself to hold my end up there though. Comparisons to Japan and Germany keep coming to mind. Remember that the entire group of Axis powers was defeated before the rebuilding began - and they had nowhere to turn to for help and support in resisting the occupation. Iraq will be in the middle of a sea of countries with support for each major ethnic or religious group available somewhere or other.
Posted by David at 9:35 PM