Friday, August 31, 2007

The next time you are in Iceland... 

...do not miss the Icelandic Phallological Museum. And be sure to email me the most blogworthy pictures.

(0) Comments

Buzzard Vulture blogging! 

I snapped this turkey buzzard vulture on Prospect Avenue less than one hour ago. I would have gotten a better picture, but some fool with a "Kerry/Edwards" bumper sticker went blowing by with no consideration for my love of nature.

Turkey Buzzard

(11) Comments

An Ivy League lawyer goes to his first NASCAR race 

[Bumped, so you see the great new photos.]

Before I die I want to see a real NASCAR race in the heart of some red state. A good friend of mine -- a corporate litigator educated at the second best university in the country and now a partner in one of the five largest firms in the world -- beat me to the punch. He took his family to the Bristol Motor Speedway last week, and reported via Blackberry on the invocation before the race:

Words can barely capture this. But picture a stadium of 170,0000 people who have just held up placards to make the largest card display in world history, a display, of course, of the stars and bars. This is then followed by them piping through the PA "And I"m Proud to Be an American" as a sole paratrooper (incredibly skilled) parachutes into the middle of the track towing behind him all the way down a giant American flag. How he did that I honestly don't know. Then, of course, we have the obligatory F16 fly by, which makes the crowd go nuts. And then the invocation, at the end of which the minister, who at this point has referred to several trademarks (something you don't always hear in prayers) and used the name Jesus about 100 times says "And finally Jesus, bring our troops home safely and quickly." And then there is this pause, and I am thinking to myself, can he get away with that? At which point, and after a very dramatic pause, he says "and victorious" and the crowd just goes literally nuts. One of the most moving things I have ever seen.

And then they fire up the engines, the ground literally shakes and we are off racing.

Yes, there are two Americas.

MORE: Our correspondent sent along a couple of nice photos. We note for the record that those are not the "stars and bars," which is a term of art for the Confederate battle flag. I am a bit relieved, because my first thought on reading the email was "huh, I would have thought NASCAR would not want to piss off every African-American."

Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol Motor Speedway

(24) Comments

Like, why do they do this? 

Like, my daughter turned 11 -- known as "oneteen" in our household -- about a year and a half ago, and suddenly "like" is her most popular word. Could somebody please explain why?

(12) Comments

Hypocrisy is a two-way street 

Jonah Goldberg:

The Left claims to hate “moralizers.” So any failure to live like Jesus while telling others to follow his example is an outrage, even the defining challenge of our lives. (In 2005, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean pledged, “I will use whatever position I have in order to root out hypocrisy.”)

One solution to the hypocrisy epidemic, of course, is to have no morals at all. You can’t violate your principles if you don’t have any. Another solution: simply define down your principles until they are conveniently consistent with your preferred lifestyle. My own perfect moral code would mandate a strict regimen of not enough exercise, too much scotch and a diet rich in cured meats. Men would be religiously barred from taking out the garbage until their wives told them no less than three times to do so. “Thou Shalt Not Shave More Than Thrice Monthly”: I’d never be a hypocrite if only the Bible gave us commandments like that.

But the Left has another solution. Under its system, you can still be a moralizer. You can still tell people what to do and how to live. And, best of all, you can still fall short of your ideals personally while guiltlessly trying to use government to impose your moral vision on others. All you have to do is become a liberal moralizer.

Once you become a liberal, you can wax eloquent on the glories of the public schools while sending your kids to private school. You can wax prolix about the greedy rich while making a fortune on the side. You can even use the government to impose your values willy-nilly, from racial quotas and confiscatory tax rates to draconian environmental policies and sex-ed for grade-schoolers — all of which will paid for in part by people who disagree with you.


That said, I think we can all agree that Senator Craig is an idiot.

(10) Comments

Post Secret wisdom: Are lefties under greater pressure to impress their friends? 

I admit it, I think Post Secret is riveting. This is absolutely not the most interesting post card from this week's load, but it reveals something:

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no conservative listens to Rush to impress his friends. He listens because he enjoys the show.

Is this why Air America failed -- because NPR's brow is so much higher than Al Franken's that the natural audience feels as though it ought to listen to public radio?

(5) Comments

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Defining diplomacy down 

Finally, George W. Bush has secured the support of the "traditional ally" most favored by the American left. You would think the New York Times would be delighted. You would be wrong.

Nicholas Sarkozy, George W. Bush, the editors of the New York Times, and I all believe that it would be much preferable for Iran to negotiate away its nuclear fuel cycle and weapons programs, rather than for the mullahs to get an atomic bomb or for some great power or combination thereof to destroy its facilities from the air. The editors of the Times, however, not only believe that the West must use "diplomacy" rather than military action, but that it must be devoid even of threats:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the wrong gesture at the wrong time by brandishing the possible use of force against Iran’s nuclear weapons program in his first major foreign policy address. The United States and its allies need to be stepping up their efforts to resolve the serious dangers posed by Iran through comprehensive negotiations and increased international economic pressure, not by talking about military action...

The chance of persuading Tehran to forsake nuclear weapons at this point may be slim. But the international community has at least one more opportunity to intensify sanctions. Over the past few years, the United States, Britain, France and Germany have made remarkable strides in forging an international consensus opposed to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But for that to translate into effective sanctions, the U.N. Security Council must remained united.

Tehran made a deal this month with U.N. inspectors to resolve questions over its nuclear program that is just another pretense of addressing international concerns. China and Russia, the main obstructionists on the Security Council, will try to use that deal as another excuse to resist tougher sanctions. The United States and its allies must creatively push for the maximum sanctions possible. This is the time for robust diplomacy, not threats.

This is silliness on stilts for at least two reasons, both of which are blindingly obvious to our regular readers.

If diplomacy in the absence of "threats" -- implicit or otherwise -- were so effective in restraining rogue states, then there really is no excuse for Switzerland, Sweden, and New Zealand not to be doing their fair share to contain Iran, is there? After all, their diplomats are as capable of doing the talking part of diplomacy as anybody. Why aren't the smooth-talking and experienced Irish settling wars all over the world? Because it's the threats that make diplomacy work.

Presumably the editors might then say, "well, sure, but you do not have to stoke the nationalist passions of the Iranian people by making the threats in public."

Well, you do if your most important intended audience is the French electorate. Sarkozy's speech was obviously intended to build support within France for a sanctions regime that will not come cheap to the French economy.

Considering that the New York Times constantly accuses the Bush administration of propagandizing to build support at home for its forward foreign policy, you would think its editors would notice when the leader of another democracy does the same thing.

Of course, Sarkozy was also speaking to Iran's government. Much as the Times might deplore it ("What’s scary is that his comments may reflect his understanding of where American policy is headed"), Sarkozy was sending the message to Tehran that Saddam's strategy of dividing the West will not work this time. That ought to increase the credibility of the G-3 (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) and improve their chances of forcing the mullahs to fold, just as the Times itself recognized when it said "the U.N. Security Council must remain united."

Frankly, the Times editorial is so confused -- read the whole thing if you do not believe me -- that I wonder whether it was motivated by an entirely hidden agenda: the undifferentiated fear that Nicholas Sarkozy might actually have validated some aspect of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Is this editorial an attack on Nicholas Sarkozy because he supports the administration's position on Iran? Given the shoddy reasoning, it is hard to extract a more likely motivation.

(24) Comments

Norman Hsu and Democratic fundraising 

I wrote a column for Pajamas Media on the most recent campaign finance kerfuffle. It is the first time anybody has paid me to write anything that wasn't attorney work product, so I had to write an "official bio" to go with my nom de plume. Some of you, at least, may be more entertained by that than the actual column.

Or maybe you will just roll your eyes...

(8) Comments

Botany blogging 

Sissy Willis went for a walk and took some wonderful pictures of the flora. Both my grandmothers and all their many sisters would have loved her post.

(4) Comments

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

John Edwards writes off Michigan 

Call me a bonehead, but it seems early in the campaign to write off Michigan:

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards told a labor group he would ask Americans to make a big sacrifice: their sport utility vehicles.

The former North Carolina senator told a forum by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, yesterday he thinks Americans are willing to sacrifice.

Edwards says Americans should be asked to drive more fuel efficient vehicles. He says he would ask them to give up SUVs.

Is he going to ask politely, or is "ask" a euphamism for "regulate off the market"? Either way, this is a silly way to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. If you really believe carbon dioxide emissions are sufficiently threatening that we need to reduce them dramatically, there are many other far less burdensome methods. Why not impose a $10 per gallon tax on aviation fuel pumped into planes that do not make their seats available to the general public? Including, by the way, corporate jets and aircraft chartered for political campaigns. I'm sure that Democratic party voters, even if not Democratic party contributors, would much prefer that solution.

MORE: It just doesn't get any better than this: A demi-fleet of SUVs parked in front of the Edwards family's 24,000 square foot "home" outside Chapel Hill. What a maroon.

CWCID for the photo: Glenn Reynolds, who undoubtedly feels remorse, in a swaggering sort of way, for having drowned the Hedgehog Report this afternoon.

(6) Comments

The Craig mess: A silver lining 

Good point. We finally have agreement from the left that profiling is just good law enforcement.

(3) Comments

Katrina reconstruction: Will government's failure make people more self-reliant? 

We're back around to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, so naturally there is a lot of press coverage provoking a lot of questions -- indeed, questions other than "Will the Katrina retrospectives end with the Bush presidency?" In particular, the press is full of stories about the delays in rebuilding New Orleans, as if a city 250 years in the making ought to have been rebuilt in even two years. Still, much depends on who is doing the reconstructing. USA Today has a front-page story that is not the least bit surprising to anybody who would read this blog:

Two years after the devastating floods that followed Hurricane Katrina, the rebuilding of New Orleans, and much of the Gulf Coast, has largely taken two paths: communities that have rebuilt themselves using private funds, insurance money and sheer will — and publicly funded efforts that have moved much more slowly.

Now, economists have long observed that certain kinds of insurance schemes create a "moral hazard" if they cause the insured to take on risks that are inconsistent with the original intentions of the insurer. For example, if we insure deposits in banks, then depositors might shift their money to financial institutions with weaker balance sheets because they pay higher interest -- the decision to take on more risk is "free" to the borrower because of the government deposit insurance, and therefore a "moral hazard." Similarly, if the availability of government flood insurance actually causes more people to build in places prone to flooding, then it has not only shifted the risk of people who unwittingly find themselves -- because of coastal erosion or a change in the course of a river, for example -- in that position but it has increased the total risk taken on.

There is another idea, originating in conservative public policy circles, that is a close relative of moral hazard: dependency. The idea is that people who rely on the government to take care of them lose the ability to take care of themselves.

So, my question for your discussion should now be obvious: Since people all over the United States have now seen that government flood insurance and disaster relief is far from effective, will they be less likely to take on risks notwithstanding a subsidized government insurance scheme? Will they be more likely to rely on themselves to rebuild their houses and their lives notwithstanding the promises of politicians that governments will do it for them? Will Americans become more self-reliant because Katrina has taught them that they must be? Finally, if you answer "no" to any of these questions and yet you claim to be opposed to "big government," reconcile the inconsistency.

Release the hounds.

(11) Comments

The new GOP straw poll is up 

Not being on all the right lists -- I can think of various reasons why -- I do not get a lot of the activist right-wing emails that deluge more partisan bloggers. That said, somebody sent me the link to the code for the current GOP straw poll, so why not play along?

You are given the choice between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" GOP candidates. I'm not entirely sure what "unacceptable" means -- surely not that the respondant would vote for Hill or move to Canada Australia if one of the unacceptables actually won the nomination -- but I found myself thinking that most of them were unacceptable. Sadly.

(5) Comments

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The other America 

Being poor isn't what it used to be.

Of course, there is something inherently collectivist in measuring poverty in terms of quintiles, rather than against an objective material standard. If the bottom fifth in Society A is both wealthier in material goods and controls a smaller percentage of Society A's total wealth than its counterpart in Society B, which society is more successful? Which society is more just? What say you?

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

(4) Comments

I'm going to go out on a limb... 

...and say that Glenn Reynolds is moving a lot of copies of Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. Good for him. My step-brother the college lacrosse coach will be very happy.

Of course, even if Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson sell a million books, only some of the people who once assumed those kids were rapists will now, deep down, believe differently. That is a tragedy.

(1) Comments

The cutest candid photograph of the already tired presidential campaign 

Every campaign manager dreams about images like this. Even I want to vote for the man in this picture.

OK, not really. But still.

(15) Comments

Really, really, small art 

This is really cool. Tiny, but cool.

(3) Comments

What if New England were like the Middle East? 

This video came out about a year ago, at the time of the Hezbollah war, but the passage of time has not made it any less thought-provoking.

(2) Comments

Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. George W. Bush: Surveilling a surveillance case 

Zombie dropped by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to watch the oral argument in the case of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. George W. Bush. His post is a fascinating journey into the heart of radical politics, the bizarre alliance of activist left and Islamic radicalism, and mainstream media coverage of same. Perhaps more importantly, Zombie's work is so rich with links that it will serve as an important resource for any reporter who wants to do anything beyond writing down a left-wing lawyer's talking points.

Zombie is well-known in certain circles for his extended deconstructions of suspicious "journalism." His analysis of the media's coverage of an incident in last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah is a work of art.

(2) Comments

Yet another reason to respect the United Nations 

Last year's UN anti-racism conference in Durban turned into an orgy of anti-Americanism. Another such event is in the works for 2009. The early evidence is that it will be even harsher next time.

(1) Comments

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sarko and Iran: Talk loudly and carry a big baguette 

The president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, has spoken rather plainly on the subject of Iran:

Sarkozy said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable and that major powers should continue their policy of incrementally increasing sanctions against Tehran while being open to talks if Iran suspended nuclear activities.

"This initiative is the only one that can enable us to escape an alternative that I say is catastrophic: the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran," he said, adding that it was the worst crisis currently facing the world.

This is good stuff, because it sends a strong message to Tehran that the Iraqi strategy of dividing the West will not work twice. If leading Iranians believe that the United States and Europe are sufficiently united to impose and sustain damaging economic sanctions, the Iranian elites may be more willing to box off the hard-liners and put the nuke program on the table.

In addition, the European public is much more worried about Iran than it ever was about Saddam's Iraq. A bit more than a year ago I noted that the Pew Center Global Attitudes Survey had found that 77 percent of French had an "unfavorable" view of Iran compared to only 57 percent of Americans. Bashing Iran may be more popular in France even than in the United States, so Sarko may have more political room to get tough on the mullahs than the crippled presidency of George W. Bush. This leads inexorably to my questions: Have Sarkozy and Germany's Merkel toughened up on Iran because they are worried that George Bush is so unpopular at home that he cannot take the lead? Put differently, it is obvious that various powers are trying to take advantage of the weakness of the sitting American president -- Iran and Russia, for starters. Is it not also possible that France and Germany are asserting themselves more usefully because they know that strong leadership will not come from Washington for at least 18 months?

(4) Comments


Six out of ten this week. That's it, against an average score of 5.15 out of ten, somewhat higher than usual (signalling, obviously, a marginally easier O'Quiz).

Even I'm embarrassed.

(8) Comments

Notes from downrange 

Wesley Morgan is a Princeton sophomore who writes for The Daily Princetonian. He is in Iraq right now at the invitation of fellow Princetonian David Petraeus and at the behest of Bill Roggio's foundation. I have added a link to Wesley's blog, "Notes from Downrange," among the "regional blogs" on my sidebar. I expect to check in regularly.

(4) Comments

The Palestinians know they cannot govern themselves 

This is startling, if true (bold emphasis added):

By day, they are the middle class, putting in days as mild-mannered teachers, factory supervisors and office clerks.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian supporters of the Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir movement demonstrate at a rally in Ramallah

But by night, the growing number of supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic fundamentalists who reject modern democracy in favour of a pan-Islamic religious caliphate, are gathering in the West Bank to recruit the thousands who have grown disillusioned with the vicious stand-off between the secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas.

"Any person living in Palestine now realises political parties, especially the Islamic ones, have not achieved anything for the individual," said Sheikh Abu Abdullah, a thin-framed man with a wiry beard.

His is the commanding voice behind weekly Hizb lessons at the al-Faruq mosque in the middle-class suburb of Kfar Aqab, past a crowded Israeli checkpoint where east Jerusalem melds into Ramallah.

About 50 men, young and old, stayed after evening prayers this week to listen to the sheikh's lesson entreating them to follow the Koran and stop infidels from profiting at the expense of the poor - one of an estimated hundreds or thousands of mosques in the West Bank and east Jerusalem where Hizb ut-Tahrir now teaches every week.

Though difficult to estimate their membership, a rally earlier this month in Ramallah drew at least 10,000 and, by some estimates, up to 40,000 people; their posters are plastered on every wall in the city centre.

"Any talk about a return to the caliphate, any talk about a return to religious values is something that is attractive to people," said Majid Abu Malah, 55, an Arabic-language teacher who attends regularly.

He, like many others, says he has given up on both Hamas and Fatah, and will not vote in the next election. "I believe in what [Hizb ut-Tahrir] gives."

Hizb ut-Tahrir, founded in Jerusalem in 1953 but largely dormant until recent years, is banned in dozens of countries, though it is legal and has a strong presence in Britain.

Its platform calls for the eventual overthrowing of Arab-world governments to be replaced by a caliphate, which would also encompass Israel.

The organisation argues that it does not advocate violence; however, it has been accused of inciting racism and hatred, and is known for activities such as demonstrations against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed last year.


The linked article from the Telegraph mostly focuses on Hizb ut-Tahrir, and whether it is in fact a dangerous foundational organization of the jihad. I think the Telegraph has buried the lede. The real story is that the quoted Palestinian Arabs have, first, given up on the idea that they can arrive at an effective government on their own; second, rejected popular sovereignty as a source of legitimacy; and, third, decided that Palestinian Arabs should not exist as a separate national group but as a constituency in a "caliphate" encompassing all Muslims.

In other words, these Palestinians agree they are not a nationality, that they should not determine their own government, and that they must be governed by others. They simply prefer that the "others" be Muslim rather than Jewish. And, when you get right down to it, what Arab Muslim wouldn't prefer that? Other than those who live inside metropolitan Israel, of course, who for whatever reason have chosen not to emigrate.

My question: What proportion of Palestinian Arabs would have to hold these views before the rest of the world admits that they are not, really, a nationality?

(7) Comments

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Press immunity, telecom immunity, and the curious position of the New York Times 

As a service to my readers, I pumped myself up this morning to read the Grey Lady's editorial on "illegal domestic wiretapping." Mostly it was the usual stuff. This bit, though, is arresting:

Mr. McConnell said telephone companies turned over call data to the National Security Agency without a court order, which may be illegal. He revealed this while praising Congress for giving the telecoms immunity from lawsuits or criminal sanctions if they continue doing that. Now, he said, Congress should absolve the companies retroactively. That would be a nice twofer: protect a deep-pockets industry that may have broken the law, and cut off judicial scrutiny of Mr. Bush’s decision to ignore FISA in the first place.

So, the New York Times believes we should prosecute telecom companies that in good faith give data to the National Security Agency during wartime, notwithstanding that they only "may" have acted unlawfully and never mind the subsequent act of Congress that gives those companies immunity for future such actions.

Interesting. Contrast this to the demand of the Times that Congress enact a federal press shield law. Its own "deep-pockets industry" apparently should get immunity for breaking the law, even if it subverts national security. The Times' position is, therefore, essentially this: If you help the government fight the war and in so doing "may" have violated the law you should not get immunity, but if you -- not actually meaning "you," but "they" -- subvert the government's prosecution of the war in the name of the public's "right to know" they should have immunity.

(3) Comments

Miss Teen South Carolina on the subject of American parochialism 

I assume that Miss Teen South Carolina will not attach this clip to her college application:

But then again, maybe she will.

All you smart blondes out there might want to consider darkening your hair.

UPDATE: She got another shot at the same question on the Today show, and did much better. Indeed, Lauren Caitlin Upton seems to have parlayed her blunder into substantially more publicity than she would have gotten if she'd gotten it right the first time. Probably good for her career, as long as she does not hope to work for the State Department. Note also that Ms. Upton was one of the top five finalists in the Miss Teen USA contest. I guess the on-stage interview phase is not weighed very heavily in the judging. And really, under the circumstances (see below), why should it be?

Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina

(16) Comments

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A blogging milestone 

Technorati is now tracking 100 million blogs. However, that is not the blogging milestone to which the title of this post refers. Rather, it is the discovery, from among those 100 million blogs, of the single most asinine post ever written.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

(15) Comments

The improving state of the world, and questions for our readers 

In the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs James Surowiecki reviews Indur Goklany's book The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet (Amazon informs me that I bought it back in December, but apparently have lost track of it in the huge piles of books around my house). Surowiecki's review is a bit bipolar, insofar as he praises Goklany for having correctly measured the massive improvements in the human condition and the environment (greenhouse gases aside) in the last century, but he criticizes Goklany for attributing none of these improvements to the intervention of governments. Fine, Goklany's publisher is the Cato Institute. Surowiecki's exposition of the breadth of the improvement is worth reading, though, as his gentle but firm deconstruction of the feloniously silly "limits to growth" crowd. Fair use excerpt for you to ponder on your Saturday evening:

Goklany depicts a global economy in which nearly all signs are positive -- and in which the problems that do exist, such as stagnation or setbacks in sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union, will be solved if economic growth and technological improvements are allowed to work their magic. Nor is this, in Goklany's account, a new phenomenon. He marshals an impressive array of historical data to argue that the trajectory of the twentieth century has been generally upward and onward. Taken as a whole, Goklany argues, humanity really has been getting better and better day by day, so that today, as his subtitle puts it, "we're living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives on a cleaner planet."

Seen from a broad historical perspective, this description is, for most people, accurate enough. Just about everyone living today is the beneficiary of what can almost certainly be called the single most consequential development in human history -- namely, the onset of industrialization. As the economic historian Angus Maddison has shown in a series of studies of economic development over the past two millennia, human economies grew very little, if at all, for most of human history. Between 1000 and 1820 or so, Maddison estimates, annual economic growth was around 0.05 percent a year -- which meant that living standards improved incredibly slowly and that people living in 1800 were only mildly better off than people living in 1000. But sometime around 1820, that all began to change. Between 1820 and today, world per capita real income grew 20 times as fast as it did in the previous eight centuries.

In the West, above all, the effects of this transformation have been so massive as to be practically unfathomable. Real income, life expectancy, literacy and education rates, and food consumption have soared, while infant mortality, hours worked, and food prices have plummeted. And although the West has been the biggest beneficiary of these changes, the diffusion of technology, medicine, and agricultural techniques has meant that developing countries have enjoyed dramatic improvements in what the United Nations calls "human development indicators," even if most of their citizens remain poor. One consequence of this is that people at a given income level today are likely to be healthier and to live longer than people at the same income level did 40 or 50 years ago.

In one sense, all of this should be obvious, since a moment's thought -- or a quick read of a nineteenth-century novel -- should suffice to remind you of how much better, at least in material terms, life is today than it was a century ago, let alone in the 1600s. But as behavioral economists have persuasively demonstrated, human beings quickly adapt to their surroundings and come to take their current state of affairs for granted. In other words, it is difficult, even after your life has changed dramatically for the better, to remain aware of just how much better it is, and even harder to truly appreciate how much better you have it than your great-grandparents did. So part of Goklany's project here -- and it is a valuable part -- is to make clear just how much real progress there has been over the past two centuries and even (in many places) over the past two decades in the life of the average human being.


Goklany's target is not just the natural tendency of human beings to take things for granted. His real opponents are what he calls the "neo-Malthusians" -- those who are convinced that there are natural limits to growth and that humanity has been butting up against them for quite some time now. The neo-Malthusians had their heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s, with works such as Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb and the Club of Rome's appropriately titled The Limits to Growth. Although their doomsaying about population growth and industrialization is no longer front-page news, their deep-seated skepticism about the virtues of economic growth and their conviction that the richer people get, the worse things become for the earth remain an important strand of modern environmentalism. If Goklany sees progress everywhere he looks, the neo-Malthusians see impending disaster: air pollution, the disappearance of habitats, the emptying of aquifers, the demolition of forest cover, and the proliferation of new diseases. Day by day, in every way, in other words, we are getting worse and worse.

The problem with neo-Malthusianism, as Goklany appropriately suggests, is that it has consistently underestimated the beneficial effects of technological change. The e = mc2 of the neo-Malthusians was introduced three decades ago, when Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren invented the equation I = PAT. Environmental impact (I) was said to be the product of population size (P), level of affluence (A), and technological efficiency (T). According to this logic, not only are population growth and economic growth bad for the earth, but so, too, is technological change, since it has a multiplier effect on the other two factors. The only way to save the planet, from the neo-Malthusians' perspective, is to set strict limits on human behavior, doing everything possible to rein in businesses and consumers.

The I = PAT formula was not pulled completely out of thin air. As societies get richer and more populous, they do consume more resources, and, especially in the early phases of economic growth, they do so with a measure of indifference to the overall impact on the environment. But what the equation misses, and what Goklany spends a good chunk of his book demonstrating, is that technology can actually reduce environmental impact, thereby diminishing the demands made by affluence and population growth. A classic example of this effect is the massive expansion in the efficiency of agricultural productivity over the past 40 years. Productivity gains have dramatically reduced the environmental burden of farming (at least on the land -- there have not been similar advances in the efficient use of water) and shrunk the amount of land needed to feed the world. More recently, technological improvements in the scrubbing of power-plant smokestacks have brought about a sharp reduction in the amount of sulfur dioxide in the air. Improvements in the efficiency of wind and solar power have reduced (albeit only a little) the demand for fossil fuels. And although the impact of these innovations has been felt most strongly in the developed world, they have also improved conditions in the developing world, at least with regard to things such as access to clean water and some types of air emissions. Goklany may be exaggerating somewhat when he says that the entire planet -- as opposed to just the developed world -- is cleaner, but it is in fact not an outrageous claim.

The paradox here is that technological change is generally associated with (or is actually the result of) increased affluence, which makes it likely that an economy will get cleaner even as it gets richer. And empirically, that does seem to be the case. After all, developed countries do generally have cleaner air, cleaner water, more forest cover, and less cropland devoted to food production than developing countries do, even though the latter are much poorer. The obvious, and important, exception is CO2 emissions and the broader problem of climate change. But Goklany -- who spends too much of his book offering an overly familiar critique of excessive action in response to global warming -- argues that now that Americans are increasingly concerned about climate change, technology will soon help mitigate the problem.

All of this does not mean that the United States is less polluted than it was in 1787, let alone than it was when it was inhabited only by Native Americans. But it does mean that the United States is arguably less polluted today than at any time in the last 100 years and that the last 40 years or so, in particular, have seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of air and water. And the same is true, to lesser and greater extents, in the rest of the developed world. One hypothesis for why this has historically occurred is demonstrated by what is called the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC). When graphed, the relationship between prosperity and environmental degradation looks like an upside-down U. Initially, as countries grow, they trade off environmental well-being for economic growth -- that is, as they get richer, they also get more polluted. At some point, however, they become prosperous enough to shift their priorities and begin to seek out ways to grow more cleanly. Goklany suggests a variation on the EKC, the "environmental transition hypothesis," which tries to account for time and technology as well as affluence. The invention and spread of new technologies, he suggests, make it easier and more likely for countries to get on the right side of the U-curve quickly, even before they have become rich; the "green revolution," for instance, allowed poor countries to reduce the environmental burden of farming.

Of course, no regular reader will be surprised that I, the author of a post titled "The total greatness of modernity," agree with this point of view. Note, though, Surowiecki's almost apologetic agreement, as though he is worried that Goklany has written something that is not more or less self-evident. Who, precisely, is the audience that will take issue with Goklany's argument? The academic left, obviously.

My questions for your discussion: Why do so many highly educated people who have presumably read more history than the average bear hate modernity? Is it because they imagine that they, in any case, would have also been rich and highly educated even before modernity, they are ignorant, or they loathe the popularization of wealth so much that they cannot fathom that things could be any worse? Is there another explanation that I might have missed?

For the average American and the average person on the planet, there is no luckier time to be alive. So far, at least.

(7) Comments

Correcting Vietnam 

For all the complaining in the press and the academy that George W. Bush misapprehends the lesson of Vietnam, this is a rather hilarious series of mistakes. I mean, considering the layers of fact-checkers and editors and such.

(5) Comments

The rape of San Pietro 

As previously advertised, I am in the middle of Richard Zacks' excellent history of America's first war against Muslims, The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805. A teaser, from the prologue, reminds us that the boundary of the Muslim and Christian worlds -- then the Mediterranean -- has been a savage battleground for most of the last thirteen centuries.

An hour before dawn on September 3, 1798, the waves of the Mediterranean tugged at the coast of the island of San Pietro near Sardinia, lullabying the thousand or so sleeping residents. So peaceful was it, so rhythmic and hypnotic the sound -- or perhaps it was due to a bottle of local vino bianco -- that even the two municipal watchmen in the church tower had fallen asleep. So there was no one to puzzle out the faint white flecks of sails growing larger on the pinkish gray horizon, and no one to ring the massive church bells to sound the alarm that a fleet of seven ships was approaching.

Standing silently at the rail of these lateen-sailed ships, visible in faint silhouette, were bearded men in loose billowy pants and turbans, carrying scimitars and pistols. The vessels, packed with one thousand Barbary pirates from Tunis in North Africa, glided to anchor inside the harbor. The crews quietly lowered small landing boats and began to ferry men ashore. The first group, barefoot and heavily armed, raced to seal off the two roads leading out of town.

Surprisingly, the leader of this attack Moslem fleet, the pirate commodore, as it were, was an Italian who had converted to Islam. The ritual had involved losing his foreskin and gaining a new name. He was now Muhammed Rumelli, and in the Lingua Franca slang of the Mediterranean, he was dubbed a rinigado, a renegade. Over the centuries, the rulers of the Barbary countries of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli had learned that Christian captains could navigate better than their homegrown Moslem talent.

Another Italian, acting as harbor pilot, had guided the fleet to the perfect anchorage. This fellow from Capri (never identified by name) carried a deeply personal motive for joining the attack. He had married a woman from San Pietro, but she had abandoned him; he was now convinced that she was cuckolding him here on the island. He had turned Turk expressly to seek his revenge.

As the first ray of dawn caught the sails, Muhammed Rumelli gave the signal to "wake up" the townspeople. The pirates unleashed a sudden unholy thunder. The ships' cannons bellowed out broadsides. The sailors onshore added a lunatic's drumroll of small arms fire. The cacophany climaxed as close to a thousand mouths let loose impassioned Arabic war cries and the men rushed into the town. Allahu Akhbar speed their pursuit of profit.

The corsairs engulfed the tiny town; they battered down the doors, burst into homes, brandishing torches and scimitars, rousting the stunned citizens from bed and kicking them into the streets. They cursed their victims as Romo kelb ("Christian dogs"). The women cowered in corners, trying to avoid what one observer described as "shame and villainies."

A French naval officer, arriving the next day, found that five women had died in their beds of knife wounds, their bodies entwined in sheets caked with blood. The first female victim, according to local accounts, was the unfaithful wife of that pilot from Capri. A Sardinian historian later called herr a "fishwife Helen" who had no idea that her husband's jealous rage had drawn the enemy to her homeland.

The attackers spent the entire day hauling money, jewels, church silver, silks to the harbor, but by far the most valuable commodity to be stolen walked on two legs: human slaves. Sura 47 of the Koran allowed these Moslem attackers to enslave and ransom any of these captives. Young Italian women would fetch more than the men in the flesh markets of Tunis and Algiers.

The crews dragged the townspeople aboard various ships, tossing them like ballast willy-nilly belowdeck into the holds for the 160-mile voyage. The prisoners wore only what they had slipped into at bedtime on that seeming unimportant September night, which would turn out to be their last night of freedom for half a decade.

Read the whole thing!

(4) Comments

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fisk fisked 

It is no wonder that bloggers invented the verb to fisk to describe a line-by-line analysis of an article or column. The word is in dubious honor of British lefty journalist Robert Fisk, who famously (to righties) weaves facts and opinion to inseparability. Consider the example of this column -- hilariously titled "Even I question the 'truth' about 9/11" -- in which Fisk seeks the answers to a number of supposedly unanswered questions about the attacks on September 11, and at the same time distances himself from 9/11 "truthers" and other conspiracy nuts. Read as much of it as you can, taking care not to hurt yourself or blow your bedtime milk through your nose in laughter.

Now look at Ed Morrissey's response.

That, ladies and germs, is why we call it fisking.

(2) Comments

Friday poll: If you knew the Democrats were going to win the White House... 

...which Democrat would you want?

Regular readers know that I am not a partisan, in the sense that I have no political ambition or stake, per se, in the victory of one party or another. However, I lean toward the Republicans more often than I lean to the Democrats, and, more importantly, I lean toward the Republicans on the issues I care the most about. A significant proportion of our readers would probably say more or less the same thing about their own political preferences.

That out of the way, suppose Allah whispered in our ear and told us that some Democrat would win the presidency in 2008. Among the plausible nominees, which Democrat would you prefer? Take the poll, and put your reasons in the comments here or over at Crittenden's.

If you knew for a fact that a Democrat will win the general election for president in 2008, which leading Democrat would you prefer?
Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama
John Edwards
Free polls from Pollhost.com

MORE: In related news, the architect of Jimmy Carter's foreign policy has endorsed Obama.

(30) Comments

Chickengreens of the upper crust 

Since I've done my bit this morning to foster undifferentiated anxiety over global climate change, I feel that I have earned some skeptic-offsets that I can apply to bashing the chickengreens -- rich people who demand enormous sacrifices from not-rich people so as to reduce anthropogenic global warming, while dumping tons of carbon themselves to travel without having to rub elbows with the Great Unwashed. If you have access to today's Wall Street Journal, read "Living Large While Being Green" in today's "Wealth Report" column. If you do not have access, enjoy this fair use excerpt:

It's not easy being green -- especially if you're rich.

With their growing fleets of yachts, jets and cars, and their sprawling estates, today's outsized wealthy have also become outsized polluters. There are now 10,000 private jets swarming American skies, all burning more than 15 times as much fuel per passenger as commercial planes. The summer seas are increasingly crowded with megayachts swallowing up to 80 gallons of fuel an hour.

Yet with the green movement in vogue, the rich are looking for ways to compensate for their carbon-dioxide generation, which is linked to global warming, without crimping their style. Some are buying carbon "offsets" for their private-jet flights, which help fund alternate-energy technologies such as windmills, or carbon dioxide-eating greenery such as trees. Others are installing ocean-monitoring equipment on their yachts. And a few are building green-certified mansions, complete with solar-heated indoor swimming pools....

Others say the efforts are little more than window-dressing, designed to ease the guilt of the wealthy or boost their status among an increasingly green elite. Environmentalists say that if the rich really wanted to help the environment, they would stop flying on private jets, live in smaller homes, and buy kayaks instead of yachts.

"Carbon offsets and these other things are feel-good solutions," says Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute. "I'm always interested in people who buy a carbon offset for their jet to fly between their four big homes. These kinds of programs postpone more meaningful action."

Either way, an increasing number of companies are launching programs designed to help the rich live large while staying green. Jets.com, a private jet service, plans to start a program in early September in partnership with the Carbon Fund. After they take a trip, customers will get a statement on their bills telling them how much carbon dioxide their flight emitted and what it would cost to buy offsets from the fund.

The offsets are a bargain compared with the flights: A round-trip private-jet flight between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Boston costs about $20,000. The offsets for the 13 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted would cost about $74, the company says.

V1 Jets International, a jet charter company, rolled out its "Green Card" program that it says accentuates "the positive effect your flight emissions will have on the environment." The company calculates the total emissions from the trip and then buys a carbon offset from the Carbon Fund. "From a jet perspective, we have a responsibility to look after the damage that these planes do," says Andrew Zarrow, V1's president. The company also has created technologies designed to make flights more efficient by selling seats on "deadleg" trips -- flights that are returning empty from one-way trips.

A fully loaded Gulfstream G400 burns 100 gallons of fuel per passenger per hour. The comparable figure for a Boeing 777 is 6 gallons. Per hour, the Gulfstream dumps one ton of CO2 per passenger, compared to 0.06 tons for the Boeing. If you believe that incremental CO2 is driving changes in our climate which may lead to catastrophe, then there is simply no defense for routinely traveling by private jet.

Look, it is wonderful to fly by private jet, but it is also entirely unnecessary. Yes, celebrities particularly will bleat that it is uniquely burdensome for them to fly commercial, but that is basically hogwash. Twenty years ago one used to see celebrities and other wealthy people in the first class cabins of scheduled commercial flights. Only the ultra-rich had their own jets. Today, the fractional jet business has made private jet travel affordable for the merely wealthy. People spend the money for the extravagance because it is so much more pleasant and convenient than commercial travel. But that is all it is -- pleasant and convenient. Surely that is not a reason to destroy the world?

As Glenn Reynolds put it a few days ago, it would be much easier to believe that CO2 emissions have led to a crisis if the people who are most vocal in promoting that idea acted as if they believed it. One way they could do that is to buy offsets and not fly on private jets. The two actions, after all, are actually and morally independent. The linking of offsets to indulgence is either self-deceptive or propagandistic, but it is not logical or moral.

(11) Comments

Climate change and tipping points 

One of the fears of serious climate scientists and entirely unserious activists is that the impact of relatively small changes in the climate may be non-linear, because they might force a "tipping point." Famous examples include the melting of the Arctic permafrost (which could release a lot of methane, a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2), the melting of Greenland's ice sheet (which would raise sea levels dramatically and drive other changes), and the reorganization of the Atlantic "thermohaline circulation" (more popularly known as the "salt conveyor," which could stop the Gulf Stream and lower temperatures in Northern Europe to the point of destroying the productivity of its agriculture). With regard to this last, Jonah Goldberg links to news that suggests that Europeans do not yet have to stock up on snow shovels.

For much more on tipping points, both historical and potential, both natural and anthropogenic, I commend to you this recent article. It describes the history of sharp swings in the planet's climate and the prospects for any number of human-induced tipping points. Here is the conclusion, which is reassuring or disturbing, depending on how concerned you are already:

Our present warming commitment alone seems insufficient to tip any of the elements we have identified. However, it could get us close to the threshold for irreversible melt of the Greenland ice sheet. If that threshold is at the nearest end of its estimated error range (1 °C further global warming) then it will be nearly impossible to avoid by mitigation unless we are lucky and the climate sensitivity is at the bottom end of its uncertainty range (circa 1.6 °C warming for a doubling of pre-industrial CO2). If the threshold is further away (we estimate an upper limit of 2 °C global warming) then mitigation would still need to be extremely aggressive to avoid it. Given this, it seems prudent to design long-term adaptation strategies in anticipation of a progressive melt of the Greenland ice sheet. Critically there remains an argument for mitigation even when the threshold is passed because the rate of GIS melt and the corresponding contribution to sea level rise depends on how far the threshold is exceeded.

Do read the whole thing. Even if you are a proud "skeptic," it always pays to challenge your assumptions.

(7) Comments

Party at Crittenden's 

Jules has gone on vacation and asked twenty other bloggers, including me, to mind the store in his absence. It may get pretty loud over there. Here's to hoping that we disturb the neighbors.

(1) Comments

Thursday, August 23, 2007

So what happened to British reserve? 

Even the Windsors, it seems, enjoy a good fart joke now and then.

(0) Comments

The redemption of William Shawcross 

Those of us of a certain age remember William Shawcross as one of the premier left-wing journalists of his generation. His book on the American war in Cambodia, Sideshow, was once at the center of the anti-American canon. Today, he argues eloquently for the British to remain in Iraq. Power Line has the story of the redemption of William Shawcross.

(3) Comments

Strategy and its enemy 

By now you all know that an internal investigation at the CIA has decided that the Agency under George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence during the rise and full expression of al Qaeda, failed to develop and execute a strategy for dealing with Islamist terrorism. Stratfor attributes this failing more to the institution than to any individual, and fingers, in particular, the CIA's fetish for process:

The most important criticism, of course, is the lack of a CIA strategy for combating terrorism. Over the years, the CIA had become driven by process. Obviously process is an important aid in achieving goals -- but in some organizations, and it would appear in the CIA, process stops being a tool and becomes an end in itself. What that means, in practical terms, is that getting the wrong answer became tolerable at the CIA, so long as the process was followed. Getting the right answer was unacceptable if it did not follow the process. One obvious problem is that gut insights do not map well to processes, but it is frequently those insights that get you where you need to go in intelligence.

The problem being raised here is the tension between process and strategy. Process is designed to serve as a template for recurring events -- so the same thing is done the same way each time. You can't generate a strategy via a process. Strategy, the broad approach to a problem, doesn't turn into a process because -- at least in intelligence -- every case is so different. Using the same process to mount an intelligence operation against the Soviet Union and to deal with al Qaeda makes little sense.

The CIA under George Tenet didn't search for a strategy for defeating al Qaeda. It didn't take apart al Qaeda, identify its weak point and systematically attack it. Rather it tried to create a process for dealing with terrorism. In trying to build a replicable, definable process, it failed to understand its enemy and therefore never created a strategy.

Strategy is to process as Clausewitz is to a PowerPoint. It is not clear whether the U.S. intelligence community or the military has learned this lesson. Understanding the nature of strategy is difficult, disorderly and can't be reduced to three bullet points. Process is easier, orderly and can be briefed in 15-minute sessions. Tenet rejected the charges in the inspector general's report. He had built sophisticated processes. But as the report said, he never built a strategy.

That sounds right to me, in part because it precisely reflects my experience in business. The Sarbanes-Oxley law and other contemporary influences have essentially required American business to elevate the importance of process in virtually everything it does. While the smart people who promote the rule of process say that it ought not interfere with creativity or the taking of risk, the ugly truth is that very few employees are capable of slavish devotion to process, on the one hand, and inspired creativity within the process, on the other. The result is that our large companies are losing the benefit of ineffable intuition and sheer gut judgment at any level below the very top. While I therefore passionately believe that the obsession with process is more costly for businesses than most people yet admit or even understand, I can see how it would be devestating to the development and exploitation of counterterrorism assets.

(17) Comments

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mystery Photo! 

Name this famous person:


Even I have to admit, he's cool. Dastardly, but cool.

(24) Comments

Kudos for the Princeton Charter School 

There are more than 4,000 charter schools in the United States. According to the Center for Education Reform the Princeton Charter School is one of the 53 best. It is well deserved recognition. Our son is an alumnus and our daughter is a rising 7th grader there, and we think that PCS has been wonderful for both of them. Many people share the credit for the school's excellence, but Mrs. TigerHawk is certainly one of them. She has been very active since 1999, having chaired the school's capital campaign for a stint and presently serving on the school's board of trustees.

While I have not written about charter schools in a long time, this ancient post on the subject was my first to be linked by a major blog (Winds of Change, actually, to whom I am indebted). Among other things, I noted that most people did not understand that charter schools were every bit as public as the "monopoly schools" administered by the local school board, and suggested that charter schools describe themselves as "public charter schools." I was therefore interested to see that the charter school on Martha's Vineyard calls itself the "Public Charter School."

Something tells me that they got the idea elsewhere, though.

(5) Comments

Bumper stickerology 

A stroll down any row of the parking lot outside of Princeton's extraordinarily expensive grocery store -- McCaffrey's -- will reveal some car covered with lefty bumper stickers. This sort of thing is unremarkable to anybody who lives in a college town, but perhaps bizarre for those of you who do not. Anyway, I spotted this classic example earlier this evening and happened to have my camera in the front seat:

Lefty bumper stickers

Click through if you need to inspect it more closely.

Occasionally one sees a righty bumper sticker, but only occasionally and apart from my own car I almost never see them in Princeton. However, I did spot this beauty in the parking lot across from the maritime museum in Mystic, Connecticut the Saturday afternoon just past:

Righty bumper sticker

Even my wife, who really does not like John Kerry, thought this was in bad taste. But she laughed as she said so.

(13) Comments

Law firm billing rates: The grand ceiling 

Unlike most people who hire big law firms, I generally do not begrudge good corporate lawyers the money that they earn. That said, it is startling to read that the top rates at big money-center law firms have reached $1000 per hour. For that, a lawyer had better confer an enormous amount of value.

Some lawyers, apparently, think their clients will react, er, physically:

The highest-billing partners at top big-city firms have hovered in the mid-to-high $900 range for some time, but have been hesitant to cross the four-figure mark. “We have viewed $1,000 an hour as a possible vomit point for clients,” says a partner at a NYC firm. “Frankly, it’s a little hard to think about anyone who doesn’t save lives being worth this much money,” said David Boies, who bills out at $880 per hour.

Actually, we do not pay people who save lives nearly that much. If the hourly rate of even the top E.R. or critical care doctors were an actual constraint, our nation's big firm lawyers would make a lot less money. Indeed, if physician salaries were a cap on the billing rates of lawyers, many fewer leading Democrats would want to socialize medicine.

(6) Comments

The WaPo makes a funny 

Do you think the Washington Post appreciated the double entendre in this headline?

"CIA Finds Holes in Pre-9/11 Work"

Such as, for example, in the hull of the USS Cole.

(2) Comments

The reading habits of Americans, and a question 

How many books did you read last year? According to this poll, 27 percent of American adults did not read a single book last year. I am, frankly, amazed that the percentage is that low.

If you are one of those people -- admittedly, highly unlikely if you are reading this or any other grown-up blog -- and you are not succeeding in the economy, you may want to start reading books.

The survey reports lots of differences in reading habits, virtually all of which confirm my prejudices (I love it when a survey turns out that way!). One result was that women read more than men in every category except history and biography. If you pay attention to what people read on airplanes, the main opportunity to see a lot of people reading at once, you know men read a lot of history. In my experience, educated men in business are far more likely to discuss history books and lend them to each other than novels or even other non-fiction books. Why is it true?

(13) Comments

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Are the Iranians shelling Iraqi Kurdistan? 

Reuters (India), an organization not prone to carrying "neocon" water, is reporting claims from Iraqi Kurdistan that the Iranians are violating Iraq's borders:

Kurdish authorities in northeastern Iraq said on Tuesday they were investigating the authenticity of leaflets warning villagers to evacuate ahead of an Iranian military offensive against Kurdish rebels.

Hundreds of villagers have fled their homes in Iraq's mountainous northeast while others hid in caves after what local authorities said was days of intermittent shelling by Iran across the border.

So far there has been no official comment from either Tehran or Baghdad about the shelling.

Notwithstanding the claims of the left that the Bush administration is overstating Iranian perfidy (link via Glenn) for the purpose of justifying a military strike against the Islamic Republic, neither the White House nor the American media have made much of this news. No doubt this is because the actual attitude of the White House is precisely the opposite of that supposedly feared by Bush administration critics: Rather than wanting to build demand for military action against Iran, the administration fears that circumstances will force it to take military action it desperately wants to avoid. What circumstances might those be? An overt Iranian attack on Iraq, for starters.

In any case, Stratfor believes that Iran is trying to gain the support of the Turks and distract the attention of the United States from its ongoing "surge" against Shiite militia in southern Iraq (from two separate analyses today):
Iran has taken advantage of deteriorating U.S.-Turkish relations over what Turkey sees as the United States' unwillingness to crack down on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels in northern Iraq. Whenever Iran perceives that Turkey's frustration with the United States is at its highest, Tehran will launch a military offensive against Kurdish rebel hideouts in northeastern Iraq to win the hearts and minds of the Turks. By strengthening relations with Turkey, Iran hopes to shift the balance of power in the region, further undermining the strength of the Arab states....

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are fully engaged in surge-related security operations farther south. This massing of forces is key to success, and the United States has few troops to spare. Ultimately, the U.S. presence this far north and this close to the border always has been minimal.

Should the Iranians keep operations at a relatively low tempo, continuing limited strikes, the job of countering their actions will be difficult in light of U.S. commitments in the south. But should operations escalate to the point where troop formations are occupying and attempting to hold parts of Iraq, they could draw the attention of U.S. airpower. After years of honing their ability to strike at irregular forces, U.S. fighter pilots will welcome more conventional troop formations as easy targets.

But a strong U.S. ground presence along the border is exactly the distraction the United States does not need right now. And the Georgians, to whom U.S. forces had been hoping to allocate a relatively easy and manageable duty, could prove insufficient should Iranian operations escalate.

Things are getting complicated over there.

(3) Comments

Epidemiology and the World of Warcraft 

This is cool:

An outbreak of a deadly disease in a virtual world can offer insights into real life epidemics, scientists suggest.

The "corrupted blood" disease spread rapidly within the popular online World of Warcraft game, killing off thousands of players in an uncontrolled plague.

The infection raged, wreaking social chaos, despite quarantine measures.

The experience provides essential clues to how people behave in such crises, Lancet Infectious Diseases reports.

In the game, there was a real diversity of response from the players to the threat of infection, similar to those seen in real life.

Some acted selflessly, rushing to the aid of other characters even though that meant they risked infection themselves.

Others fled infected cities in an attempt to save themselves.

And some who were sick made it their mission to deliberately infect others.

Antibiotics and better sanitation have essentially eliminated infectious disease as a serious killer in the rich countries of the world. If, as some people fear, lethal infectious disease were to stage a comeback, I wonder if we understand how we would react. Would we we have the social, cultural, and legal wherewithal to respond quickly enough to prevent mass casualties? I have often thought that it is no coincidence that the full expression of individual legal rights has corresponded with the era of antibiotics.

(2) Comments

Can we really take al Qaeda to court? 

Kelly Anne Moore, a former federal prosecutor, proposes criminal prosecution for the remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay. She argues, as have many lawyers before her, that this is not only a solution for shuttering Gitmo (an objective she deems "urgent" to achieve, without explaining why), but more generally the right way to deal with terrorists. Moore argues that we can prosecute terrorists in our criminal courts because we have done so (citing her own experiences in the '90s and Jose Padilla more recently), and that we ought to do so because it will transform martyrs into losers:

Those who commit terrorist acts should be tried as the criminals they are, instead of the “warriors” they claim to be. If the Guantánamo detainees were prosecuted in federal courts instead of being designated as “combatants,” most by now would be serving prison time as convicted terrorists, instead of being celebrated as victims or freedom fighters.

I respectfully suggest that Moore is profoundly wrong, both specifically with regard to the Gitmo detainees and in general. Or, more precisely, she may be occasionally correct but is not generally correct.

Procedurally, "terrorists" come in different varieties. There are terrorism suspects arrested by police after they commit an act of terrorism, or plan a terrorist operation with such granularity that they commit numerous indisputable crimes in the process. In such cases, I am sure that the criminal justice system is often (although not always) a functioning means for preventing the suspect from attacking again. The criminal justice system does not always work even these cases, because if the arrest was based on evidence derived from infiltration or some other means that we want to keep secret from terrorists we have not yet arrested, disclosing the development and custody of that evidence in court would damage our ability to interdict future attacks.

Apart from suspected terrorists arrested by actual police, schooled as they are in the development and control of evidence, we also have terrorists taken prisoner on "the battlefield," meaning under suspicious or uncertain circumstances in foreign jurisdictions where al Qaeda is known to operate. As I understand it, most of the Gitmo detainees fall into this category. Soldiers are not trained to develop evidence, have no CSI unit available to them, and the military is not staffed or otherwise tasked with managing evidence and witnesses if either happen to fall into its possession. I suspect that most of the detainees at Gitmo could not be prosecuted even if we wanted to, because the people who "arrested" them have no training or mission in law enforcement. Moore's idea that we should empty Gitmo by prosecuting the detainees would probably result in the acquittal of a lot of very dangerous men, not to mention the extended distraction of law enforcement and prosecutorial assets that we might otherwise devote to interdiction.

This, of course, gets to the heart of the disagreement between those who would prosecute terrorists, and those who would sequester them until the jihad is as defeated and discredited as the Huks, the White Russians, and the Confederate States of America. The criminal justice system is not designed to interdict crime. It is designed to punish criminals after the fact of their crimes in order to deter others from becoming criminals. Jihadis, who blow themselves up in order to kill other people, are not deterrable. They are only interdictable. Which means that we need a means for putting them away that does not necessarily require the commission of a crime, particularly when we capture them under circumstances that do not allow for the organized development of evidence.

Now, you might argue, as most civil rights advocates do, that anything less than the complete protections of our system of criminal procedure risks the imprisonment of innocent people. Indeed it does, to which I have two answers.

First, if the alternative is the deaths of innocent people, it may be a price worth paying.

Second, we know that our criminal justice system is itself far from perfect. The analysis of the DNA in old evidence has resulted in the reversal of 200 convictions within the criminal justice system, and those cases represent the mere tip of the iceberg. Even if all the detainees at Gitmo are entirely innocent -- an absurd assumption -- they would represent only a fraction of the wrongfully-convicted people in American prisons. We accept that even our criminal justice system imprisons innocent people because the alternative -- tightening further the procedural defenses for criminal suspects -- is judged to put other innocent people at risk. Why should we think of counterterrorism differently?

Finally, Moore's idea that conviction of the Gitmo detainees will somehow diminish their status in the eyes of our enemies, or even the Muslim masses, is, well, hilarious. Does she really believe that the Arab street has such a refined regard for the American criminal justice system that it will revise its view of the Gitmo detainees if evidence -- which Moore admits may have to be kept secret -- is brought against them in a United States Federal courthouse? Or is Moore really only concerned about the reaction on the Manhattan cocktail party circuit?

(15) Comments

Monday, August 20, 2007

Why journalists become journalists 

Ace is more than a little good on the motivations of journalists and their unreconstructed rage that bloggers are taking all the fun out of leading us around by the nose. Appetizer:

All of these arguments about the need for reporters to report facts are dishonest. No one challenges this notion. No individual blogger could conceivably devote enough hours of his spare time (or his blogging time, if he does this full-time) to develop, confirm, and write a true bit of first-hand journalism once a week or so.

And the MSM knows that. They know their job on that score is secure -- simply because no one but a salaried reporter could put in forty hours a week working on a single story. (Especially because 99% of stories are not terribly important or remarkable, but still need to be reported -- but obviously no blogger could write up the Kalamazoo Crime Blotter three times a week and expect to be read by more than three thousand people as an absolute ceiling.)

What they are worried about is the decline in their influence as to matters not directly related to data-collection and not even remotely related to reportage. They're worried that they're losing their ability to shape (and mislead) public opinion in ways they find best for the public good. These people did not get into journalism, after all, to report on 3M's quarterly earnings advisory. They got into journalism to change things.

And they're desperately scrabbling to hold on tight to that bit of undeserved, undue influence by leveraging their entirely-unrelated qualifications to collect and disseminate raw information into a role they actually desire and feel they are worthy of-- a certified, credentialed priesthood of general wisdom, weighing in expertly on matters of politics, scientific and technological ethical dilemmas, foreign policy and of course military strategy, etc.

Read the whole thing.

(15) Comments

Caption this! 

The original so-called caption says this:

A female member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' security forces takes part in a martial arts display during a graduation ceremony in the West Bank.

Seriously? There is no way you can't do better than that!

(9) Comments


The new O'Quiz is up. My score slipped back to 6 of 10, only nominally above the prevailing average of 4.57. Not only that, but mine was a weak 6, relying as it did on several guesses.

My confidence that you, our brilliant readers, will do better is boundless.

(6) Comments

Legalize DDT now 

I have written before that the United States government ought to revise its absolutist position on the use of DDT in the developing world. Unfortunately, I was not witty enough to put it this way:

The debate over DDT is over. There's scientific consensus. Anyone who disagrees is a DDT denialist and a mouthpiece for Big Mosquito.

(9) Comments

The suckering of The New Republic 

Richard Miniter deconstructs the suckering of The New Republic by Scott Thomas Beauchamp (the soldier who wrote fraudulent stories that reflected poorly on his fellows). This bit (quoted from the editor's introduction), if true, is particularly pathetic:

Miniter spoke with several people involved in the extraordinary story, including the whistle-blower and a German woman who was Beauchamp’s fiancée until just before he married, of all people, Miniter discovered, a fact-checker at The New Republic. That fiancée said of her former boyfriend, the soldier/reporter: “He hates the army. The only reason he joined was because he wanted to have more experience to write about.” (bold emphasis in the original)

What motivates an American to join his own country's army for the purpose of defaming it? Why did a once great magazine eagerly chase stories that represent our soldiers as debased?

The sad answer to both questions is that there is a large audience eager for this version of "the truth."

Self-loathing Americans disgust me.

CWCID: Power Line and Glenn Reynolds.

(2) Comments

The enemy despairs 

In the category of small but good news, The Daily Star is reporting that al Qaeda's North Africa franchise is losing soldiers to hearth and home:

Dozens of foreigners who joined Al-Qaeda's Algeria-based North Africa wing have been leaving because they are disillusioned, a recent deserter from the group said in remarks published on Wednesday. Benmessaoud Abdelkader gave himself up last month after disagreements with other leaders of the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, which claimed responsibility for a triple suicide bombing that killed 33 people in Algiers on April 11. El Watan newspaper quoted Benmessaoud as saying about 50 foreign recruits had joined the group, but many had either left already or now sought to leave. "Most of those who operated in the Sahara have gone back home after discovering that the situation they had hoped for was just a delusion," El Watan said.

Doves will claim credit for this one -- one of the reasons given for the low morale of the North African branch is that recruits do not want to participate in suicide bombings and racketeering in the absence of a foreign occupation against which to struggle. No doubt that is true, up to a point.

(3) Comments

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The stock market tomorrow 

Friday's big rally in the stock market has extended into Monday, at least in Australia. Perhaps that means that the rally will extend in Europe and the United States, too, unless and until new news intervenes to kill it off.

(0) Comments

Mystery quotation! 

Which candidate for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party of the United States of America said this?:

"I'm going to be honest with you -- I don't know a lot about Cuba's healthcare system," [omitted], said at an event in Oskaloosa, Iowa. "Is it a government-run system?"

You know without peeking at the answer, don't you? You feel it in your gut, and you know it to be true. He (you know it isn't Hillary) is just that insubstantial.

That moment is going to be a great bit of oppo-advertising, right up there with voting for and against "the $86 million".

(5) Comments

The perils of Internet addiction 

Apparently you do not choose to read this blog. In fact, you are a slave to your impulses, without free will:

Internet addiction should be grouped with extreme addictive disorders such as gambling, sex addiction and kleptomania, an Israeli psychiatrist said.

Of course, Internet addiction cannot be a disorder in the abstract. After all, fun in and of its ownself is not pathological. Internet addiction is only a problem because of the damage it causes.

My question: How long will it be before the American trial bar sues a defendant class of online content providers for "making the Internet so interesting that it is addictive"?

(6) Comments

Giving climate change activism a bad name 

The tendency of social change activists to promote the whole range of lefty issues together in unified "direct action" events is politically idiotic. For example.

Lefties would make much more progress with the bourgeoisie if they promoted only one revolution at any given rally. We prefer to pick and choose our causes, rather than having them bundled together like pre-loaded software we do not want.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

(13) Comments

Who complains to the New York Times? 

Regular readers know that I have been quite critical of Clark Hoyt, the new "public editor" of the New York Times. Today's column, though, hints at how difficult his job is. Apparently the Grey Lady's readers complained that a recent article by the distinguished Times correspondant Michael Gordon inflated the extent to which Iran was supplying insurgents in Iraq with weapons and "explosively formed penetrators" (EFPs), which can destoy up-armored Humvees:

Many readers recalled The Times’s failure to provide skeptical-enough coverage of the run-up to war in Iraq and said this article was more of the same, with only the name of the country changed.

“I’ve seen this movie before, and I didn’t like it,” said Frank J. Schmitz of Canton, Mass....

Readers said that, at a time of growing tensions between the United States and Iran, the article failed to offer persuasive evidence that Iran was the source of the bombs, known as explosively formed penetrators, E.F.P.’s, which can go through the armor of Humvees.

Never mind that even the Times had surfaced that evidence at length, including in a long article on March 27 (Times Select). Fair use excerpt:
American intelligence analysts say the first detonation of an E.F.P. in Iraq may have come in August 2003. But their view that Iran was playing a role in the attacks emerged slowly. American officials said their assessment of Iranian involvement was based on a cumulative picture that included forensic examination of exploded and captured devices, and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iraq and devices used in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.

''There was no eureka moment,'' said one senior American official, who like several others would discuss intelligence and administration decision-making only on condition of anonymity.

The entire E.F.P. assembly seen repeatedly in Iraq, including the radio link used to activate it and the infrared sensor used to fire it, had been found only one other place in the world, American officials say: Lebanon, since 1998, where it is believed to have been supplied by Iran to Hezbollah.

According to one military expert, some of the radio transmitters used to activate some of the E.F.P.'s in Iraq operate on the same frequency and use the same codes as devices used against Israeli forces in Lebanon.

More evidence came from the interception of trucks in Iraq, within a few miles of the Iranian border, carrying copper discs machined to the precise curvature required to form the penetrating projectile. Wrappers for C4 explosive, among other items, were traceable to Iran, officials say.

An important part of the American claim comes from intelligence, including interrogation of captured militia members, about Shiite militants who use E.F.P.'s and maintain close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

The militant groups led by Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani have operated one of the most important E.F.P. networks. According to American intelligence reports, his network has been receiving E.F.P. components and training from the Quds Force, and elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard, and Hezbollah operatives in Iran. He is on the Iraqi most-wanted list and the Iraqi criminal court issued a warrant for his arrest in 2005.

Ahmad Abu Sajad al-Gharawi, a former Mahdi Army commander, has been active in Maysan Province. American intelligence officials say his group was probably linked to the attack on British forces that was cited in the American diplomatic protest. He is also on the Iraqi government's most-wanted list, and an Iraqi warrant has been issued for his arrest.

In September 2005, British forces arrested Ahmad Jawwad al-Fartusi, the leader of a splinter group of the Mahdi Army that carried out E.F.P. attacks against British forces in southern Iraq. American intelligence concluded that his fighters might have received training and E.F.P. components from Hezbollah.

Mr. Fartusi lived in Lebanon for several years, and a photograph of him with Hezbollah members was discovered when British forces searched his home. In the view of American officials that may be circumstantial evidence of an Iranian connection, because American intelligence experts say Hezbollah generally conducts operations in Iraq with the consent of Iran.

Last week, American-led forces captured Qais Khazali and Laith Khazali, two Shiite militants who were linked to the kidnapping and killing of five American soldiers in Karbala in January, the United States military said. American officials say they have also trafficked in E.F.P.'s.

Indeed, newshounds know there is virtually no doubt that Iran has long been supplying Iraqi insurgents with weapons for the particular purpose of killing American and British soldiers. It is remarkable that the same people who would go to the trouble of writing the Public Editor of the New York Times lack the skills necessary to find the evidence that they seek from the thousands of other published accounts. So remarkable, in fact, that one is forced to wonder whether these complaints that Hoyt is responding to are part of an organized campaign to dispel criticism of Iran. Either that, or his complainants are carefully husbanding their ignorance against the chance that facts will collide with their political preferences.

In any case, Hoyt hints that the Times readers who do not believe that Iran would arm America's enemies are not very polite:
Most of the e-mail assailing this story attacked Gordon personally. I was astonished at the meanness of some of it and reminded anew of how debased so much of what passes for political discourse has become.

Personal attacks from readers of the New York Times? I'm flabbergasted.

On the small chance that Clark Hoyt is interested, here is a topic for a future column: Of the mail that he gets that might reasonably be categorized as "left" or "right," which is more prone to personal attacks, foul language, and accusations of dishonesty? That would make for an interesting column regardless of its results.

Special supplement:
American forces are tracking about 50 members of an elite Iranian force who have crossed the border into southern Iraq to train Shiite militia fighters, a top U.S. general said Sunday.

(16) Comments

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?