Thursday, August 31, 2006

What passes for wit on the Right

via Ezra, one Don Bourdreaux has what he thinks is a witty rejoinder to the problem of wealth inequality:
But I ask: would you prefer to live in 1967 with today’s real median household income ($46,326) or live today with 1967’s real median household income ($35,379)? (These figures are expressed in 2005 dollars, by the way.)
And then he goes on to extol the virtues of our modern living - Google features prominently.

Ezra, I think, takes him far too seriously when he writes:
Let's imagine two worlds, one in which you live in 2004 on the median salary of $46,000 a year, and the other in which you live in 2006, but median wages had kept pace with productivity post-1973 (as they did between 1947 and 1973) and you make this world's median salary: $60,000.

Which would you prefer?
Now obviously, having all the bells and whistles of modern living plus the 30% extra salary that we're owed would be grand. But even this is taking the argument too seriously.

I can think of one very, very big reason that I would prefer to live in 1967, or even 1973, than living in the current age, whatever my paycheck.

In 1973, Don Bourdreaux would have merely been the annoying kid in class who'd just read Atlas Shrugged and wouldn't stop talking about it. In 2006, he's polluting discourse with stupid fucking hypothetical questions.

We're all gonna die

That is, if you own a home. Average home prices for over a hundred years:

Hmm... not so bad... in the mid-1990s prices really came right back to their post-WWII average. I'm sure nothing changed since then, right?

Oh, I forgot something:

Now, I vaguely remember the nasty headlines from the end of the 1980s real estate bubble. Of course, given the economic mess of the early 1990s, it was really just more noise. But I don't believe anyone has identified a single factor that would explain why home prices should not, eventually, return to their post-WWII average as they did before.

This has the potential to be very, very nasty.

Is MY an only child?

Not to turn this in to a mirror of everything Matthew Yglesias writes, but I think the answer to this question:
Say you knew two families with kids applying to college. One kid gets a 1028 on his SAT and the other kid gets a 1021. Are you really going to say something dramatically different to the parents of Kid B?
is that it's precisely the smallest differences among and between families which get magnified and blown out of proportion.

As a personal example, my twin brother emerged from my mother a whopping six minutes after I did. There's no particular reason for this, obviously. I'm not six minutes "older" than him in any real sense. Nevertheless, my brother had to endure years (and may still have to endure, I don't see him frequently) being called the "younger brother", which, in his case, is pretty patronizing.

Now there are obvious differences between my example and Matthew's, but based on my experience, I can absolutely see Kid A being treated differently - even dramatically different - than Kid B. Even better, I bet the parents of those respective, hypothetical children could get very acrimonious. Parents A will bring up their kid's extra 7 points at every opportunity - because they're rightly proud, not trying to be jerks - and Parents B will quietly seethe.

Matthew Yglesias is super-shrill!

And he was such a Nice Liberal(tm).
So, here's Iran. Outgunned by its two leading religio-ideological antagonists, Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the region. One immediate neighbor is Pakistan, with a larger population base and a nuclear arsenal. Another immediate neighbor, Afghanistan, is occupied by soldiers under the command of an American president who has spurned peace offers and threatened to overthrow the Iranian government. A second immediate neighbor, Iraq, is occupied by a larger number of soldiers from the same country. The Iranian military's equipment is outdated and essentially incapable of mounting offensive operations. So Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. Under the circumstances, wouldn't you? Don't you think a little deterrence capability would serve the country well under those circumstances?

I'm sorry to have gone on at such great length here, and a little nervous about stepping outside the "sensible" zone with my commentary on this topic, but somebody needs to call bull$#*t on the prevailing elite consensus about Iran. Of course it would be better to find a way to persuade, cajole, whatever Iran out of going nuclear -- the spread of nuclear weapons is, as such, bad for the USA. But there's no need -- absolutely no need -- for this atmosphere of panic and paranoia.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Olbermann for Prez

Sweet Jumping Jesus. Stolen shamelessly from Atrios (video at Crooks and Liars here.)
The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis—and the sober contemplation—of every American.

For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence -- indeed, the loyalty -- of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land. Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants -- our employees -- with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration’s track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the life’s blood of human freedom; and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as “his” troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.

It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile it is right and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfeld’s speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For in their time, there was another government faced with true peril—with a growing evil—powerful and remorseless.

That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld’s, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the “secret information.” It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld’s -- questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England’s, in the 1930’s.

It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England.

It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords.

It knew that the hard evidence it received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions — its own omniscience -- needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.

Most relevant of all — it “knew” that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused.

That critic’s name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.

History — and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England — have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty — and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.

Thus, did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy.

Excepting the fact, that he has the battery plugged in backwards.

His government, absolute -- and exclusive -- in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis.

It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today’s Omniscient ones.

That, about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely.

And, as such, all voices count -- not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience — about Osama Bin Laden’s plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina’s impact one year ago — we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their “omniscience” as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have — inadvertently or intentionally — profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer’s New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we -- as its citizens— must now address, is stark and forbidding.

But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart — that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.

And about Mr. Rumsfeld’s other main assertion, that this country faces a “new type of fascism.”

As he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that -- though probably not in the way he thought he meant it.

This country faces a new type of fascism - indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: “confused” or “immoral.”

Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” he said, in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

And so good night, and good luck.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rising Tides

Apparently, they only lift the yachts after all.
Since 2000, Americans have been getting poorer, and national rates of severe poverty have climbed sharply, according to a study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The researchers reported that the growth in the poverty rate is due largely to a rise in severe poverty and that “moderate” poverty has grown little.

The percentage of Americans living in severe poverty—earning less than half of the poverty threshold—grew by 20% between 2000 and 2004, and the proportion in higher income tiers fell. The researchers reported that the number of Americans living in severe poverty increased by 3.6 million between 2000 and 2004.

“These trends have disturbing implications for society and public health,” said Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH, Professor of Family Medicine, Epidemiology and Community Health, Virginia Commonwealth University, and lead author of the study. The researchers found that the only category of Americans to increase in size were those whose earnings were at least $8,000 below the poverty threshold, who grew by approximately 50% between 2000 and 2004. All other income tiers decreased during these years. The poverty threshold in 2004 for a family of four was $19,307.
Link via Ezra.

Those of us who take income inequality seriously are often dismissed by those on the right because, it is alleged, we don't understand that growth benefits all. I wrote about that a while back in criticizing Paul Wells. These numbers show the lie to the old Reaganite idea. In a string of years where the economy grew (aside from a mild recession post dot-com) American poverty grew, and severe poverty grew even faster. This should also be considered a data point in the theory that when it comes to inequality, politics matters.

The left needs to take inequality, poverty, and insecurity seriously. Hell, a few more years like this and the poor are going to be the largest single demographic, so it will be a vote winner anyway.

Tom Toles is shrill

What a President does

Boy. I wonder why we never heard about this before: During the Katrina aftermath, Al Gore personally assisted with the evacuation of surgery patients for New Orleans hospitals.
Steve called back. He had found one, possibly two planes. It would cost $50,000 per flight. FasterCures would have to be prepared to sign contracts that day. I called my home office and got permission to do that. I emailed Gore and asked for his help in raising the money. He committed to paying for the planes and urged us to move forward. He also offered to bring two doctors, his cousin Col. Dar LaFon, USAF Ret’d, who served in Somalia and ran the military hospital in Baghdad after the invasion. He was board certified in Altitude Physiology and Internal Medicine. He also brought a Doctor from Vanderbilt, Dr. Anderson Spickard.
My lord. Even after being robbed in 2000, Al Gore's a better president then the squatter imposed on the US.

Monday, August 28, 2006

We need to defend the Muslim world from the Muslims

Rob at LGM has a good catch about how the rhetoric surrounding America's "necessary" wars never changes:
In Vietnam, hawks relentlessly argued that the aims of Democratic Republic of Vietnam were dominion over all of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Moreover, the North Vietnamese were supposed to be the vanguard of international communism, the doormen for Soviet and Chinese imperialism. In short, the United States was fighting against forces who had regional and global imperial ambitions, and showing weakness in the face of those forces yada yada yada. In Korea the same claims were made, with the presumed victim of the aforementioned imperialism being Japan and a terrified Europe...

There's certainly a strong argument to be made that Iraq is more strategically important today than Vietnam was in 1968, but to make that argument by hyping the goals and capabilities of the enemy is a tactic that we've seen before.
Indeed. The article that Rob is responding to is in - where else - the Weekly Standard, who've taken time off from hyping the coming war with Iran, to reinforce the left flank in Iraq:
There are three plausible grounds for pulling out of a war. First, the status quo might be both acceptable and stable... Plainly, this condition doesn't hold in Iraq today. Iraq isn't stable; it's radically unstable. A pullout now risks a regime controlled by radical Shiites like Moktada al-Sadr--another ally for Iran, to add to Baathist Syria and Hezbollah-ruled Lebanon. That isn't near-victory; it's total defeat.

Second, success may be worth too little to justify the effort. A good many opponents of the Vietnam war argued that our side was no better than the Viet Cong, that the fight was between two sets of thugs--and the thugs on the other side had more popular support. The "our side is no better" line pops up a lot these days in connection with Iraq, but it simply isn't true.
I'd actually like to see - apart from nutpicking comment threads at DailyKos - a serious war critic who's said "the US Army is no better than X", where X is whatever label you affix to the "other side" in Iraq (insurgents, baathists, etc.) Or, you know, the Weekly Standard could just stop burning straw men and actually engage the substance of criticism of the Iraq war.
...There is one more possible reason to head for the exits in Iraq: Victory is either impossible or (what amounts to the same thing) prohibitively expensive.
You know, the funny thing is that the author of this piece (one William J Stuntz) and I agree on two out of three elements to his argument. 1) As Stuntz says, the current state of affairs in Iraq amounts to a total defeat of America's war aims. 2) Stuntz states, as I have before, that the lives of soldiers lost in the pursuit of failure are wasted. See this passage:
Because the Israeli Defense Forces fought halfheartedly (more the politicians' fault than the IDF's), few Israeli soldiers died in the recent war. But those who did appear to have died in vain. In assessing war's costs, the pointlessness of deaths matters more than their number.
An excellent point, one I wholeheartedly concede to Stuntz. But while I would prefer America cease wasting lives in this futile endeavour, Stuntz believes that it's possible to turn around this - in his words - "total defeat" and pull out a win.

You know, I've been thinking pretty hard, and I'm unable to come up with an example of a war where one side flirted with "total defeat" and still managed to pull out a win, when it's forces were already fully extended. Israel took a while to get fully in to the game in 1973, but once it did the war turned quickly. MacArthur landed at Inchon and managed to send the DPRK reeling backwards. But in both cases, that was possible because both sides had huge reserves to draw upon quickly. Today in Iraq, the US has no reserves to draw upon quickly. There is no precedent I can think of where an embattled nation was able to - absent a massive increase in manpower - turn around a disastrous war.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of precendents for the war's leaders and supporters insisting that victory was just around the corner, even as the endgame was near. Sadly for those people, Steiner's 11th division never shows up.

We Always Negotiate with Terrorists, cont.

Apologies for the absence - camping trip.

I've been thinking about how best to react to the whole kerfuffle over a Liberal MP resigning his position within the party for calling for Hezbollah to be taken off the terror watch list, and direct negotiations with same.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - spare me the rhetoric about "not negotiating with terrorists". We always negotiate. Terrorism works in forcing powerful countries doing objectionable things to stop, or at least negotiate away the objectionable bits. There is in this case the additional silliness that Hezbollah was only added to the list of terror organizations in 2002, so it's hardly a long-standing policy of the Canadian government. People who want a purge of any moderate Liberals (I'm looking at you, Warren) need to explain why Hezbollah is a group that cannot in any way be reconciled with from 2002-2006, but was not in the years immediately after the 1983 Hezbollah attack killed 241 servicemen serving under the flag of our closest ally.

(Did we even have a "terrorist organization" list before 2001? If not, why not? Certainly Hezbollah's acts in the 1980s established it as a terror group.)

Frankly, it's ridiculous that Canada is coming to this game so late. Hezbollah is changing as an organization, emphasizing it's social services and it's role in the Lebanese government. (This does not, and can not, ease the actual bad, bad things that Hezbollah does.) For Canada to start demonizing Hezbollah's role in the region now, as opposed to when it was a much more destructive and destabilizing force, would really just be evidence of Canada's continuing foreign policy ineptness.

That said, what MP Wrzesnewskyj was - to put it mildly - ill timed and ill considered. Taking Hezbollah off The List now, even talking about it now, is just a bit too soon for Canadians. The Liberal party obviously can run its internal affairs the way it likes, and in terms of optics, Wrzesnewskyj's comments were pretty bad for the party.

The problem with this whole incident is that the fact is, we will - eventually - have to talk with Hezbollah, either as a NGO or as the government of Lebanon. When we do, it would be useful is we could treat matters of state with a bit more maturity than this.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

China Stands Up at the UN, and Elsewhere

Fascinating article in the IHT (via TWR) about how China has become more active and assertive at the UN, especially in the Security Council. It wasn't given the press it deserved, but the real story behind North Korea and Iran is that China - counter to its historical behaviour - voted in favour of both resolutions.

China still has a delicate balance to keep (with the UN, as with so many things) but the message of the article is clear: China is gaining influence at the UN, and it's directly at the expense of the United States.

The quality of the people China sends to New York, both as diplomats and officials, has improved noticeably. According to one UN insider, the Chinese used to take a "prophylactic" approach to placing people in the United Nations, seeking to shield them from outside influence. Now, by contrast, "they want to spread their influence."

(As China has stepped up its engagement with the UN, Washington has stood down. After the Bush administration's recess appointment of John Bolton - the man who once said "there is no such thing as the United Nations" - as UN ambassador, Bolton has thrown his weight around at the UN, but if anything his ambassadorship has telegraphed American weakness.)

It's not just at the UN. One of the most interesting stories of the last few years has been thoroughly overblown by most American observers. I'm speaking, of course, of China's increasing investments in Africa, and it's protection of some pretty harsh regimes, like the Sudanese government. If you read only American newspapers, you'd be convinced that CHINA IS TAKING OVER AFRICA!!! AHHH!!!!

The reality is a lot more complex, as always. China is providing a lot of investment in Africa, while the US has increasingly pulled its foreign assets out of Africa because of African government's refusal to give US soldiers amnesty from prosecution in the International Criminal Court. This has almost certainly hurt the war on terror, according to the Pentagon. But it's worth considering that the War on Terror may be doing more long-term damage to America's standing relative to China.

America's single-minded focus on the GWoT during the Bush years has already given China a much bigger profile in Asia then it would have already have, according to some experts:

By making Southeast Asia a "second front" in its global "war on terror", the Bush administration has signalled that "we care less about other areas of policy", Dalpino said, addressing a forum on China and Southeast Asia sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA.

Minxin Pei, director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agrees that the US "has ceded the region to China's initiative".

He said US military policies following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have played a significant role in the estrangement. But he dated the problem back to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and 1998, when the Clinton administration used its influence on the International Monetary Fund to impose solutions on Asian countries that supported US economic goals in the region.

During the crisis, "the US showed to the East Asian countries it really did not care about them", he said.

Conversely, the Asian crisis was a turning point for China's ties with the broader Asian region, said Ren Xiao, director of the Asia-Pacific Studies Department at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

(I continue to be amazed at how little public attention was paid to Clinton's incredible mis-management of the 1997 financial crisis in Asia. I'm not qualified to speak to the macroeconomic merits, but from an International Relations perspective, the "Asian Flu" was an unqualified disaster for the US, and a boon for China.)

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration seems to be preparing to make the same mistakes in Africa all over again (via DefenseTech):

In what may be the most glaring admission that the U.S. military needs to dramatically readjust how it will fight what it calls 'the long war,' the Pentagon is expected to announce soon that it will create an entirely new military command to focus on the globe's most neglected region: Africa....

The Pentagon has five geographic Unified Combatant Commands around the world and responsibility for Africa is awkwardly divided among three of those: European Command, Pacific Command and Central Command — which is also responsible for running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Creating an African Command would be an important structural move to coordinate U.S. defense policy for the continent, as well as provide a single military organization for agencies like the State Department and the CIA to work with in the region.

The article definitely takes the angle that this is a new strategy to fight terrorism, which if true I expect to be disastrous. America may have already "lost Asia" due to a combination of the global market's economic cruelty during the Clinton years (not exclusively Clinton's fault, though he didn't help) and the Bush Administration's obsession - to the exclusion of other interests - with terrorism.

Africa doesn't need any lessons on the cruelty of the global market, and if the US becomes similarly obsessed with terrorism in Africa (a policy that already seems to have begun in Somalia, now with the possibility of regional war) I expect China will be doing very well in Africa in the next decade.

Some of this would undoubtedly have happened no matter who was in the White House - China's increasing economic power in Asia would have inevitably drawn the countries of Southeast Asia closer to its shores, regardless of 1997, or even 2003. China's economic growth is therefore a structural condition of the international arena. Nevertheless, it has helped Beijing a great deal to have a bunch of blithering incompetents in the White House and Pentagon.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Post-IAU mnemonics

So now that Pluto's out of the club, how do we remember the names and order of the planets? With humour!
My! Very educated morons just screwed up numerous planetariums. (Josh Mishell)

Many Very Earnest Men Just Snubbed Unfortunate Ninth Planet (Dave Child)

"My vision, erased. Mercy! Just some underachiever now." (Delia, as spoken by Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh)

Most vexing experience, mother just served us nothing! (Bart Baxter)

Molesting Very Excitedly, Michael Jackson Sucks Underage Nipples. (Jonah Peretti)
That last one is awful, and I feel dirty just copy-pasting it.

I want one

Plug-in hybrid Cooper Mini.

200 miles all-electric range.

0-60 mph in 5 seconds.

1,500 kilometers on a full tank of gasoline.

Want it. Want it now.

Land of the Free, Home of the 'fraid

via SG, this story is just so stupid, I'm not even surprised anymore:
The man, whose name is Raed, says he was told “People are feeling offended because of your T-shirt.” Raed was wearing a shirt that said in both Arabic and English, We Will Not Be Silent. He was asked to put on another shirt instead, but all of his other shirts were in his checked baggage.

“Isn’t it my constitutional right to express myself in this way?” was Raed’s question, to which one of the security people replied, “”People here in the U.S. don’t understand these things about constitutional rights” Raed’s answer: “I live in the U.S., and I understand it is my right to wear this T-shirt.”

“You can’t wear a T-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a T-shirt that reads ‘I am a robber’ and going to a bank,” was the security man’s rejoinder.


(No, not a post about nuclear.)

There's a fascinating article at The American Prospect about the impending meltdown in Israeli politics. Between a judicial inquiry in to the war - which will almost certainly condemn Olmert and Peretz - and a handful of corruption chargest, topped off with a rape charge for the Israeli President (!) there's going to be a (metaphorical) smoking crater where the current Knesset is concerned.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto is out!

Suck it, iceball!
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is -- and isn't -- a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one.
The new category of "Dwarf Planet" will consist of Pluto and (I assume) the other minor contenders for the title. I'm sure this will earn the IAU the wrath of small people everywhere.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Can I be Chinese?

Five people have been detained in China for running striptease send-offs at funerals, state media say.

The once-common events are held to boost the number of mourners, as large crowds are seen as a mark of honour.

But the arrests, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, could signal the end of the rural tradition.

Local officials have since ordered a halt to "obscene performances" and say funeral plans have to be submitted in advance, Xinhua news agency said.
Beats all the funerals I've ever been to.


Governor Howard Dean (D-My Heart) with Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER: But as you know, a lot of Democrats, especially Democratic senators, are also saying the U.S. should try to finish the job and not set an artificial deadline for getting out.

DEAN: Finishing the job? The job was finished. We went in there to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We got rid of him. Then we decided we were going to occupy the country, and then we decided that we would try to mitigate a civil war, which we're now in.

The problem is, the job, as far as the president keeps defining it, is a moving target. He doesn't know what the job is. He doesn't know what the end point is.

They're called "First" Nations for a reason

I've had a number of conversations recently about the Caledonia land claims dispute, and more recently the Melancthon claim.

I want to be careful, because the other side in some of these conversations might be reading, and I don't want to offend friends. So let me be clear: The vast majority of people I have talked to about this stuff (which isn't a large group) are sincere and genuine in their desire for fair solutions. That said, in a not-small-enough percentage of the discussions I've had to walk away from because people begin engaging in ugly, offensive stereotyping of First Nations. I truly wonder if anti-indian racism is the last "acceptable" form of racism in Canada.

Lost in this whole discussion is the very simple fact that all of us in Canada - and the rest of the Americas, and Australia - profit immensely from a crime of enormous proportions. These continents were stolen from their original owners. Did I, or you, personally hand out smallpox blankets or anything like that? No, but that's really beside the point. We have extracted enormous amounts of wealth from land that is only ours because it was taken violently. Our current standard of living exists only because we deliberately subjugated the original inhabitants of this land. (Make no mistake - in Canada, impoverishment and isolation was the government's deliberate policy for some time.) We continue to extract wealth from this land without any national effort to remedy this situation. Indeed, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is criticized even by voices within it for obstructing First Nations' efforts to help themselves.

Do I agree with the tactics of the Caledonia protesters? No. Do I think the Melancthon claim is a valid one? Not qualified to answer. But we whose ancestors didn't cross the Bering land bridge are treating First Nations like we stopped causing their problems a long time ago, and it's simply not true.

This is going to be the only thing I write about the whole Thomas Hubert affair. For those who didn't know, a Liberal blogger wrote the following:
One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. At one point, George Washington was considered a terrorist by the powers that be. History will remember Hezbollah as an organization that stood up to the most vile 'nation' in human history.
Note that Thomas used the word "nation" (synonym for "people", "tribe") not state. To me, it's impossible to argue that this utterance - admittedly in a comment thread, and probably written in haste - is anything but explicitly, repugnantly anti-semitic. I'm going to extend Thomas a modicum of charity that his words, frankly, don't deserve. I'm going to assume that he is not, in fact, slandering the whole Jewish nation, but rather the policies of the state of Israel regarding Lebanon (the context of the quote.)

Even so, the statement is morally blinkered and stupid. No matter what you think of the war(s) in Lebanon, or for that matter the whole occupation of the Palestinian territories, Israel has vastly less innocent blood on its hands than, say, Canada or the United States.

Make no mistake: I condemn the occupation of the Territories regularly, because I believe it's unjust, illegal, immoral, and bad for Israel to boot. Moreover, I don't believe that Canada or the United States are "vile" nations today, despite our vile pasts. But on any list of nations guilty of oppression, theft, and brutality, American nations beat Israel by a long shot. And, while the solution to the palestinian occupation is clear - um, end the occupation - the solution to the social ills facing First Nations people is not nearly so clear, and we've been participating in this occupation a hell of a lot longer. Just because we've moved injustice off the front page, doesn't mean it isn't still happening.

Motes, eyes, logs, etc.

Guess Who?

Who said the following?
I love my Church, and I'm a Catholic who was raised by intellectuals, who were very devout. I was raised to believe that you could question the Church and still be a Catholic. What is worthy of satire is the misuse of religion for destructive or political gains. That's totally different from the Word, the blood, the body and the Christ. His kingdom is not of this earth.
Answer here:

Stephen Colbert!

Bonus quote:
Well, in 2003, I was in Alabama to cover the [former state chief justice] Roy Moore Ten Commandments monument thing, and I spoke to the head of the Christian Coalition down there. The whole time, the Coalition guy kept taking phone calls about tax cuts.


When I hear George W. Bush say this:
There must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council...
I think of Bill Hicks saying this:
"While I was in England, I got to see footage of the Rodney King trial that I was never able to see over here. I think I figured out why the LA riots occurred.

Did you guys see these cops testifying? Did these guys have balls or what? They carry their ball in a wheelbarrow. '"Cuse me, 'cuse me, man with big balls coming through. Man with big balls is here to testify.' 'Please place your right testicle on the bible.' BBBBBBBOOOOOOOOOMMMM.

This guy, Officer Coon ... is life too fucking weird or what? Officer Coon actually look into the camera and says: 'Yeah, that Rodney King beating tape, it's all in how you look at it.' The courtroom murmurs: "Jesus, what balls." ... 'Really? How would you look at it, Officer Coon?' 'Well, if you play it backwards, you see us pick King up and helping him on his way.'

War Crimes

Some people are apparently in a tizzy over Amnesty International accusing Israel of deliberate war crimes. (Thanks, Adam, for the link.)

Now, this really is one of those cases where the facts can be disputed - did Israel mean to target every building that was destroyed? - but some basics are pretty obvious, namely that Israel targeted bridges, roads, and power plants in its war against Hezbollah.

Whether you think Israel was just or not, those are also clearly war crimes. Indiscriminate destruction of civilian infrastructure is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions. Which is why Amnesty International accused NATO forces of war crimes in Kosovo for the exact same reason.

The problem - for the militarily-inclined world leader - is that the international law regarding conduct of war is pretty clear, and also pretty stringent. So things that are par for the course of any military campaign these days - such as targeting bridges and power plants - are actually forbidden. Amnesty is exactly right in calling these war crimes, and the rest of the world will ignore their accusation for much the same reason.

The question that Amnesty is also raising - that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in its bombings - is far more difficult to prove. But let Amnesty present it's evidence, and let the IDF rebut it. The odds are, in any major military engagement, that some accidents are going to look like crimes, and - admit it - some soldiers, airmen, or generals will commit crimes. Airing these incidents properly, and prosecuting those (if any) responsible, is a good thing. And Israel is already far, far better at holding its leaders accountable than some war-crime-committing nations I could mention.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On forgiveness

Rob at LGM writes a post about Ken Pollack that I have mixed feelings about. Pollack, for his part, seems to have aggravated more than one blogger with this paragraph:
How Iraq got to this point is now an issue for historians (and perhaps for voters in 2008); what matters today is how to move forward.
Pollack, played a very large role himself (author of the pro-invasion text The Gathering Storm), so this looks an awful lot like ass-covering by someone unwilling to simply hide in a corner and scream, "Please for the love of God don't hurt me!"

Rob would rather, in his words, "welcome Pollack to the reality-based community than to suggest that he spend some time in a closed room with a revolver." And I agree that would be my preference as well. But. But. But Pollack - and war advocates like him - refuse to admit the basic fact that they were wrong. And not by a little bit, either. Their wrongness will take years to fully tabulate.

This isn't a reason to despise them for all eternity. Nor is it a solid reason for me to dismiss his reasearch or analysis. It is, however, more than enough reason for me to not trust anything Pollack ever says about the Middle East, ever again. (Previous works are irrelevant. Pollack got the war he wanted, and has refused to admit it.) And rather than ignore Pollack, I feel the need to remind him, loudly, until we get a very clear statement that this war was a bad idea from beginning to end.

There is the final reason that I believe many people are angry about Pollack, and that's the role Pollack played in giving "liberal hawks" cover for their own stupidity. This is unfair to Pollack - if I am holding Pollack to account for his own wrongness, the people who followed his advice are just as individually accountable. When you're wrong - about something as monumental as this war - it's no pardon to point at a guy with a PhD and say "but he was wrong too!"

Briefly Noted

I never read Sophie's World, never intended to, and (now) have lost all interest in it.

I mention this only because I had a whole bunch of friends who read this, and a teacher who reccomended it in high school. Not that Gaarder's stupidity is retroactive.

Shoshana Berman, please explain this

Troubling rhetoric from a Liberal blogger:
[Bill Graham's] comment about Canada needing to be "neutral" in this current conflict, was anti-semetic by default, from a man who voted to continue our combat mission in Afghanistan. Given the views of the terrorist Hezbollah about women and gays, I would also say that this comment is mysogynistic and homophobic by default. Canada and the Liberal Party do stand up against terrorism. We do stand up for the rights of women and gays and the freedom of religion not terrorism. We are not neutral....It is entirely possible to say I/We support Israel and its right to defend itsel against terrorists, if not necessarily all of its actions. Unfortunately, that is not what Mr. Graham said.

I personally believe the "neutral" comment is about gaining votes in the radical Muslim constituency.
1) Calling for Canada to be "neutral" in a dispute between Israel and Hezbollah is not "anti-semitic by default", whatever you believe Canada's proper role to be. This is the same BS spewed by the right when they said anyone who opposed the Iraq war was "pro-Saddam", and this kind of rhetoric should be beneath the progressive community.

2) The war having ended (for now) and the scores being tallied, it's pretty clear Israel would have been better off if they had shown more restraint, as the "anti-semitic by default" camp advocated. Somehow, anti-semites were advocating the policy that would have benefited the state of Israel. That may sound weird, but I guess Liberals are just smarter than us default anti-semites.

3) It is possible to recognize that Hezbollah, the Palestinians, or the Syrians all have some pretty despicable views, and still believe that they nevertheless have legitimate grievances against Israel, just as it is possible to recognize that Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism and war, but harshly criticize the means Israel uses if you believe it to be too harsh or even self-defeating. Nothing in the above paragraph is incompatible with the words "neutral" or "neutrality."

4) The idea that Bill Graham took the position he did to win the Muslim vote is silly. The belief that Graham took the position he did to court the left, and further divide the Liberals from the Conservatives, is far more rational. But that would get in the way of petty accusations of anti-semitism.

5) This compulsion to pick sides in every fight is far, far more dangerous than neutrality. Canada has no means to help bring this problem to a resolution, so hewing to one side or the other is, frankly, short-sighted. I know a lot of people would love for us to come down hard against one side or the other, but the reality is that the future is certain to include both Israel and (in some form) Hezbollah so alienating one group to please the other will simply make Canada's work in the Middle East harder for no good reason.

Finally, this is bizarre:
...several MP's are coming very close to displaying the same hate for Jews unchecked.
Please, Shoshana, give us names, quotes, and references for any Liberal MPs - for that matter, any MPs at all - who you believe to be "very close to displaying" hate for Jews. Otherwise, apologize for that slander. As you say, enough is enough.

(As a blogging NDPer, I'm coming to the defense of Liberal MPs being slandered by another Liberal. Weird.)

Funny enough

Turns out Muslims don't like that phrase "Islamofascism" so much. Way to go, Bushie.

Of course, pissing off exactly the people you want on your side seems to be the dominant philosophy of the Bush administration thus far.

Don't you know there's a war on?

Well, we don't call it class war anymore, but that doesn't make the label less accurate. Ezra Klein has two interesting posts, and I think the connection is obvious, but you tell me. First, on the issue of the Fed raising interest rates to destroy worker's wages:
The Fed's abject terror of wage growth is a rather unhelpful hangover from the stagflation era. But, in the same way that economists kept trying to deal with the problems of yesteryear then, they're missing the relevant economic issues now. This society is in no danger of paying its workers too much, or seeing their salaries increase too rapidly. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Second, on GM's suicidal refusal to push for national healthcare, Ezra quotes union man Ron Bloom:
One thing I’ve learned is that corporate America has got much more class solidarity than we do... They really are afraid of getting thrown out of their country clubs, even though their objective ought to be maximizing value for their shareholders.”
The Fed doesn't strangle wages just because they're worried about inflation. They strangle wages because they also don't care about workers. (The Bank of Canada has learned from the Fed, too.)

The Occupation: Bad for Israel. other news, water is still wet.

It's slowly, slowly dawning in the Israeli press that the IDF's recent... shall we say, lackluster performance in Lebanon, is due largely to the fact that one of the best-performing militaries in the history of the Middle East has spent the last three decades variously occupying Palestine and Lebanon. Occupation armies are not, as a rule, good combat armies, and vice versa.

First, (via Jon at PastPeak) Tom Segev wrote a few days ago:
There is a generation of soldiers whose main military experience involves the oppression of the Palestinian population in the territories; they have not been trained for real war.

Like the chief of staff, the soldiers of the occupation have developed infinite arrogance. Every private is a king in the territories: If he so wishes, he allows a Palestinian to go through the roadblock; if he so wishes, he orders him to remove his pants. The power of the occupation has implanted a profound contempt for the Palestinians in many soldiers, and this is the essence of their experience as soldiers.

The Palestinian terror and its suppression have also granted legitimacy to a very serious systematic undermining of the Palestinians' human rights. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from their homes, as though it were permissible routine, was carried out in this spirit as well. As opposed to the past, there was almost no protest in Israel; that is also a subject the committee of historians may want to study.
More substantively, Ze'ev Schiff (Haaretz military analyst) writes:
It turns out that many of the commanders in Lebanon learned their trade in the fighting in the territories, and they thought in terms of fighting the Palestinians. The "Palestinian model" guided the way IDF units fought the bloody battles at Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbail. The units entered the battle and withdrew, similar to the way they operate in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF was also surprised in Lebanon by the amount of anti-tank missiles
fired by Hezbollah. The immediate reaction in the territories is to take cover in the closest home. In Lebanon, many soldiers were killed when anti-tank missiles penetrated walls behind which IDF troops had taken cover. Two weeks into the fighting, a specific order went out on how and where to take cover....

Another example is the deployment of the Golani Brigade from the Gaza Strip to Lebanon. It turns out that this excellent fighting force lacked officer expertise in coordinating with artillery batteries, something that they don't have to do very often in their policing duties.
(link via TPM) Hopefully, this will give some more impetus to the drive to withdraw from the occupation. Even though Olmert probably won't survive politically much longer, the Occupation has ruined Israel's fighting ability at a very fundamental level, and that's something the IDF can't afford.

Monday, August 21, 2006

One of these days, I'll stop

...reading Richard Cohen. I honestly don't know why I keep reading his columns - I guess I'm a masochist, plus it at least gives me decent blog-fodder.

Today's offering gives us Cohen comparing Lebanon to Czechoslovakia. Or maybe Sarajevo. Or maybe Munich. I don't know. Neither, I take it, does Cohen, who can't seem to keep his poor historical analogies straight. The first paragraph is this:
In his upcoming book about the horrors of the 20th century, "The War of the World," the British historian Niall Ferguson has a chapter called "The Pity of Peace." It is about 1938, when World War II loomed, and Britain -- especially and importantly Britain -- did precious little to stop it. The warnings of Churchill -- "believe me, it may be the last chance . . ." -- were ignored, and the government under Neville Chamberlain obstinately pursued a policy that forever after made the word appeasement one of the most odious in history. Somehow, though, it looks like 1938 all over again.
and the second paragraph, with no real explanation, is this:
The events in the Middle East are often compared to 1914 and the start of World War I. That war -- the Great War, the war to end all wars -- is actually the all-purpose war. It not only began for what seemed like a trivial reason (the assassination of someone who wasn't a head of state) but it was fought with tenacity and brutality for what now seems no reason at all. In the end, millions died and the world was utterly changed. Why?
but before we actually answer Cohen's question, he's off to the races again:
But when it comes to the Middle East, 1938 is also a pretty instructive year....
and thus begins the historically illiterate invocations of Munich, appeasement, etc etc etc.

Now, I've written before that the events of August, 1914 seem awfully familiar these days - what with a trivial act of terrorism being used by madmen on both sides as an excuse for a wider war. But that's not what Cohen writes about. So maybe it's about how larger powers outside the immediate conflict become tied to the fates of smaller belligerents? (Maybe we could replace "Israel and America" with "Austria and Germany", or "Lebanon and Iran" with "Serbia and Russia"?) But no, that's not what Cohen writes about. Maybe Cohen invokes WWI to explore how the changing nature of technology has rendered previous military calculations obsolete? No, that's not what Cohen wants to write about. Indeed, it's hard to figure out what, if anything, Cohen invokes WWI to mean.

And we haven't even got to Munich yet. But Cohen gets there alright, talking about the need for the French to get some spine or some such:
This inability of Europe to get its act together is what suggests 1938. Back then, Winston Churchill was hardly the only one who thought Hitler was intent on war. After all, the German leader was an ideological zealot and a murderer to boot. Still, England did little. Similarly, you don't have to have Churchillian prescience to see that what happened once in Lebanon can happen again. Hezbollah's avowed aim is to eradicate Israel. Listen to what it says. Pay attention. It will renew its attacks the first chance it gets. This is why it exists.
For the love of God. How does this bullshit even get published anymore? Look, Hezbollah could have the avowed aim of landing a man on Mars, and it would have as much chance of doing that as destroying Israel. The Israelis, last I checked, had just invaded Lebanon and fought pretty nasty battles against Hezbollah, something Hezbollah has been unable to reciprocate - no Shia invasion of Galilee, right? Or did I sleep through that?

Hezbollah are most certainly not nice characters, but unless their threats are backed with reality, then they are not the basis of any kind of planning or reaction on our part. To illustrate, if Israel were threatening a nuclear strike on Beirut, that would be troubling because Israel has the means to do so. Hezbollah threatening the same on Tel Aviv is fantasy.
When George Bush used the term "Islamic fascists," he had a point.
No, he didn't. He never has a point, and only the serially retarded think otherwise at this point.
But it's futile to use colorful language when, in reality, you're out of the conversation altogether. This is another baleful consequence of the Iraq war. The United States is not only preoccupied, it is loathed. The leadership it once was able to exert -- especially in the Middle East -- is a thing of the past. If its credibility is to be restored, another president will have to do so. In the meantime, as we always learn, Europe without American leadership is a mere tourist destination.
Europe: No, fuck you.

I think I will have to stop reading Cohen. There's nothing here, just catty insults against the Europeans, paranoid fantasies about invincible Arab supermen plotting to destroy Israel, and a singular inability to recognize either his own stupidity when it's put to print.

An important note from Steve Gilliard

The reality is that the US Army will be lucky to leave Iraq in one piece. The Iranian government are the prime backers of the Iraqi government. It is filled with Iranian spies from top to bottom. We cannot so much as scout the border without the Iranians know this.

These guys like fights but never imagine losing. Even people on the left cannot imagine an American Army retreating in defeat, leaving their weapons and bases behind as they scramble to get out of the country. But it can happen, and without a Iranian soldier crossing the frontier.
Steve is talking specifically about the consequences of an American strike on Iran, but let's face reality: Eventually, some Shia village is going to go through it's own version of Haditha (which is a Sunni town), and suddenly The Rape of Lucretia is going to have a great deal of current-events relevance. Or some other godawful thing will happen, and the Shia will decide that the US occupation has lasted just long enough, thank you.

The US has two choices: Leave now, of their own volition, or later, not.

It should of course be said that if the US Army is in fact forced in to a retreat, they'll kill way, way more Iraqis on their way out of the country. I can't remember if it made it in to the movie or not, but remember that the famous "Blackhawk Down" incident killed 18 US soldiers and at least 500 (and as much as 1000) Somalis.

The Evolution of the Bush Doctrine

George W. Bush, September 2002: The UN must help the US in the Middle East, or it will be irrelevant.

George W. Bush, August 2006: The UN must help the US in the Middle East, because I am irrelevant.

Bush: Felon

Glenn Greenwald puts it nice and slow for the media to understand, but I think he'll still need hand puppets.
This has been the most bizarre part of the NSA scandal all along: the President got caught red-handed violating an extremely clear law -- he admitted to engaging in the very behavior which that law says is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine -- and yet official Washington (the political and pundit classes) simply decided to pretend that wasn't the case.

They agreed to acquiesce to the administration's fiction that there are some sort of complex and difficult legal questions with which one must grapple, and that only shrill partisans say that the President is violating the criminal law. And thus, a Washington ruling class which reveled in subpoenas and criminal investigations over such towering matters as Whitewater, Vince Foster and Monica Lewkinsky has collectively decided that talk of criminality on the part of the President for how he is spying on Americans is imprudent and unserious.
He also gets at the root cause of this all - the media is unwilling to call Bush for the felon he is because, in large part, the media is complicit:
This judge, unknown to the Important People in academia and the political power centers, sitting in her little Detroit courtroom, has broken the rules. She used language which is uncouth (she pointed out the obvious -- that this President has pretenses to being a King) and refused to pay homage to the false orthodoxy that there are really difficult questions triggered by the President's refusal to abide by the criminal law. How irresponsible, unscholarly and unserious she is.

This is the same mindset that has placed off limits any real accounting for the abject disaster that our country has been lead into in Iraq. Official Washington won't accept any emphatic declarations of guilt over what happened because virtually the entire Washington establishment endorsed the invasion of Iraq, continued to defend the occupation, and is thus responsible for it. Thus, it's acceptable to offer polite and muted criticisms of those responsible, but they are not to be castigated or stigmatized in any way for their horrendous misjudgments and ongoing deceit.

On Consequences

I was just speaking with a cubicle-mate, and he remarked that - given the unlikelihood of a Nuremberg-style tribunal for the various members of the Bush Administration - the UN specifically, and International Law more generally looks hollow and illegitimate. After all, if there's no consequences to disobedience, what's to stop China, France, or whoever from breaking international law in the future if the UN is powerless to stop any nation stronger than, say, Gabon?

This, I think, mistakes legal and political punishment for a consequence. The American government, economy, and military are all going to pay heavily for the violation of international law that was the Iraq War. A short list of the consequences would be: 2600 dead (so far), $1 trillion in expendtures, and the probably-permanent besmirching of whatever good record America had pre-war.

It would therefore be profoundly stupid for the leaders of China, Russia, or whoever to look at Iraq and say, "Gee, the Americans haven't paid a price for their breach of the law. We should go do the same!"

Rather, the intelligent, reality-based response to Iraq is to look and say, "Gee, the Americans violated international law, and it turned out to be a total fucking disaster. Perhaps there's a correlation."

As much as I would love to see Bush, Rumsfeld, et al at the docket in the Hague, don't confuse personal punishment with consequences. As with so many criminals, the biggest punishment for the American government, for now, is having to live... like a criminal.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

You know, I had been wondering lately if American intelligence had gotten any better in the last year or so in Iraq. Apparently not. From Armchair Generalist:
WASHINGTON -- The US military establishment has quietly undertaken a wholesale reassessment of its war strategy with a goal of identifying the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and remedying them before the next conflict...

The studies, according to several Pentagon officials involved, have found serious deficiencies across the board. For example, US troops in Iraq have often used too much force when conducting operations in civilian areas, unnecessarily alienating local populations. They cite US commanders as being too slow to establish working relationships with local allies, and note that providing security and safety for the Iraqi people wasn't an early priority.

The military's continuing shortcomings in gathering accurate intelligence about insurgents has particularly hampered its missions: ``We know relatively little about insurgent motivation and morale, leadership, and recruitment," according to an unpublished study produced in June by the government-funded RAND Corporation.
It really astonishes me that the Americans have been fighting a war without even the basics of intelligence. Let me do my part for the war effort by asssting the US DoD with their intelligence-gathering, with this report of relevant facts.
A rope of sand.

Motivation: Americans are in a country not-America. In fact, this country is Iraq. Iraqis are upset by this reality, and are seeking to change it.

Morale: Iraqis are changing the above-mentioned reality with some success, thus morale is high.

Recruitment: Ever since Abu Ghraib was put under new management, it's been easy for the insurgents to raise recruits. The same cannot be said for the US.

Leadership: We said relevant facts.
This concludes this report, happily written to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.


George Will writes a stupid column today:
...both of Japan's most important East Asian neighbors, China and South Korea, now have national identities partly derived from their experience as victims of Japan's 1910-45 militarism. To a significant extent, such national identities are political choices.

Leftist ideology causes South Korea's regime to cultivate victimhood and resentment of a Japan imagined to have expansionism in its national DNA.
Well, considering that Japanese authors were talking about invading Korea going back to the 1600s, maybe Seoul can be forgiven for concluding that Japanese militarism wasn't just a fad. Hell, does anyone think that Poland is cool with Germany yet?
The choice by China's regime is more interesting. Marxism is bankrupt and causes cognitive dissonance as China pursues economic growth by markedly un-Marxist means. So China's regime, needing a new source of legitimacy, seeks it in memories of resistance to Japanese imperialism.

Actually, most of China's resistance was by Chiang Kai-shek's forces, Mao's enemies. And Mao, to whom there is a sort of secular shrine in Beijing, killed millions more Chinese than even Japan's brutal occupiers did.
When did that happen? Not Mao's massacres (which require no more evidence), but the Nationalist resistance to Japan. I was pretty sure that all the scholarship pointed towards a pretty lacklustre resistance by Chiang, and a still-ineffective but at least more vigorous resistance by the Communists. Accusations that the Communists spent more time fighting the Nationalists than the Japanese need to be tempered with the well-documented facts that Chiang was similarly more interested in fighting the Communists. Neither side saw Japan as the main fight.

On the plus side for Chiang, when he died, Taiwan at least began a transition towards democracy. Mao's death did not have similar effects, sadly. While I don't venerate Mao, I find it hard to understand why men like Chiang or Korea's Park Chung-Hee are celebrated by the American right for the changes in their countries they fought tooth and nail. Indeed, in both cases, those countries could only become democracies after the dictators died.

But men like Will aren't interested in any kind of historical accuracy. Rather, the Chinese Civil War is only useful for American pundits - as all things are - for what they mean about America, Democracy, etc. So Chiang had to be the better fighter, because otherwise we'd have to admit that Communists can do something right.

Meanwhile, it's not just the Chinese Communists and the Korean leftist pinko dopeheads who are worried about Japanese nationlism. Listen to this commie bastard:
Veteran lawmaker Koichi Kato, victim of an arson attack on one of his houses last week following his criticism of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine, is warning that signs of "dangerous" nationalism are increasing in Japan.

Kato, a former secretary general of the dominant Liberal Democratic Party, also voiced concerns in an interview Friday that diplomatic policies presented by Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the most likely candidate to succeed Koizumi, are "too naive."

"In today's Japan, I see a kind of aggressive nationalism without repentance (of Japan's militarism before and during World War II) like, 'We did nothing wrong in the last war,' " Kato said.

"It would be dangerous if this (kind of mood) goes extreme. I'll sound an alarm against it in a serious manner," the 67-year-old House of Representatives member said.
In the real world, there is every reason for Korea and China - aside from their government's ulterior motives - to worry about Japanese nationalism and militarism. When high-ranking officials in Japan's party of government for the last 50 years start ringing alarm bells, there is good reason to worry. In the world of George Will's head, there's only victimhood complexes and Chinese Communism to blame.

Choose which voices you want to listen to - the voice of legitimate concern, or the voices in George Will's head.

Inequality and Ideology

So it all began when Paul Krugman (in the NYTimes, reprint here) wrote about inequality that:
What’s noticeable is that except during stagflation, when virtually all Americans were hurt by ... oil prices, what happened in each era was what the dominant political tendency of that era wanted to happen.

Franklin Roosevelt favored the interests of workers while declaring of plutocrats who considered him a class traitor, “I welcome their hatred.” Sure enough, under the New Deal wages surged while the rich lost ground.

What followed was an era of bipartisanship and political moderation; Dwight Eisenhower said of those who wanted to roll back the New Deal, “Their number is negligible, and they are stupid.” Sure enough, it was also an era of equable growth.

Finally, since 1980 the U.S. political scene has been dominated by a conservative movement firmly committed to the view that what’s good for the rich is good for America. Sure enough, the rich have seen their incomes soar, while working Americans have seen few if any gains....

And if that’s true, it matters a lot which party is in power — and more important, which ideology.
Now, Krugman does throw the explicit partisanship in, but really this isn't an argument at all about which party control government, nor is it exclusively about government actions. Some bloggers, like Brad Delong, have too-narrowly construed Krugman's argument that inequality is due to government policy. It inarguably is to some extent, but that's not what Krugman is saying. Read it again:
...what happened in each era was what the dominant political tendency of that era wanted to happen.
"The dominant political tendency" isn't the GOP, it isn't Bush, it isn't Congress or the Supreme Court. Broadly speaking, the dominant political tendency of the years 1980-2000 was Reagan-Thatcher neoliberalism. While I've used two national leaders as the icons of this philosophy, they certainly didn't create the ideology - they were, at most, very prominent advocates. Ironically enough, Paul Krugman used to be one of neoliberalism's brightest lights, before he joined the order of the Shrill.

The rise of neoliberalism led to the deification of obscene wealth, and the glorification of men (like Ken Lay or Jack Welch) whose pursuit of that obscenity finds them just the other side of the law. But Marx never really goes out of style, and thesis begets antithesis, and Enron pre-2001 begets Enron post-2001, Worldcom, and Martha Stewart. (Spare me. She broke the law.)

It's been interesting to see the reaction, post dot-com, against neoliberalism gain steam. As I've said before, it's a shame that more people aren't willing to blame the people - like Krugman* - who got us in to this mess. I suppose if the American pundit class can't be expected to properly apologize and recant for a disastrous 3-year war, I can't very well expect those same pundits to apologize for a totally calamitous 20-year debacle of economic policy.

And a debacle it has been. Never mind that growth has been slower - world wide, with the almost-unique exception of China - in the neoliberal era than it was before. How about three lost decades now for Africa and Latin America? How about the final, withering blows against American labour unions? How about the seemingly permanent destruction of our expectations for what a government should do? Well, it's been a debacle for most of us. For the usual suspects, the years since 1980 have been a godsend.

Has there been growth? Yes, albeit less since Reagan than before. Has there been innovation? Yes, but prove to me the connection between Maggie Thatcher and the Internet and I'll bake you a solid gold cake. (Indeed, the Internet's foundation is a relic of the pre-Reagan period.) What we've gotten in exchange for slow growth and innovation is money shovelled to the top and higher unemployment.

Nice work, if you can get it.

*Before you think I'm being too harsh on Krugman, let me be clear: Krugman was not just a leading neoliberal advocate, he explicitly belittled the anti-globalization, fair trade movement, in some pretty insulting language. He was, at one point, not too far from Friedman's condescending language. I sincerely welcome him to our side, but it's kind of like Joe Lieberman coming out against the Iraq War after all this time.

I've been insulting in my writings too, but a) I'm not a writer for the New York Times, and b) the economists I read (Baker, Galbraith the Younger) were right, and Krugman (when it comes to the majesty of global capitalism) was tragically wrong.

Good to know

Bush, today:
We’re not leaving [Iraq] so long as I’m the president. That would be a huge mistake.
You've been warned.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Energy Solutions, Real and Imagined

(Cross-posted at Ezra's)

The problems facing us in the future when it comes to - broadly speaking - energy production and consumption are myriad, and the sheer size and number of them can make us desperate for solutions. This is not, however, an excuse for hucksters preying on the credulous. So it's with some trepidation that I see an Irish company (Steorn) is hawking an electrical generator that they claim produces energy from nothing.

(Thanks for the link, Theo!)

When your main marketing gimmick is to proudly claim your invention violates one of the fundamental laws of the universe (conservation of mass and energy) then the audience has an obligation to set our skepticism to 11. Mark Frauenfelder, at BoingBoing, has what I think is about the appropriate reaction:

Check out this video, not for an explanation of how the technology works ...but for the ways the [sic] use a variety of emotional tricks to sucker people into believing in it.

The company's credo is a George Bernard Shaw quote: "All great truths begin as blasphemies." But I'm sure Shaw would also agree that the overwhelming majority of blasphemies that go against bedrock principles of science are utter bullshit.

Just to be clear, if this turns out to be legit I'll recant, apologize, and cheer when the guys at Steorn get the well-deserved Nobel. But considering the website has exactly zero explanation for their claims, consider me unimpressed.

A less sinister, but I think equally unlikely idea came up a while ago from an interview in MIT's Technology Review, where one Jefferson Tester (who's been working on this idea for more than three decades, judging by his website) claims that geothermal energy could provide all of our energy needs in perpetuity. Tester's interview with MIT got a bit of play with the DailyKos crowd, as well as my other hangout, Gristmill.

On the surface, nothing he says is overt BS, as with Steorn. Indeed, a lot of what he says is quite right - the amount of geothermal energy available to us at great depths is fantastic, and only a small portion would be needed to drive all human industry. Better yet - unlike, say, oil - all that is required is to dig a deep hole anywhere.

Problems arise when translating this to real life. Tester's own work (a 1997 article, here in PDF) indicates that a single plant would only continue to operate for about 20 years, after which point the source rock would cool too much, and be useless (for generation) for "less than" 200 years. A 20-year deadline is a bit short to finance high-capital cost plants, and (while I continue to welcome correction) I find it hard to believe that these plants could be built cheap.

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias finds a far more mundane piece of geothermal technology appealing - effectively, geothermal heat pumps are pipes filled with water (or possibly air) buried about 6 feet deep, where the ground stays the same temperature year-round. Cools the air in the summer, warms it in the winter, and dramatically reduces the energy required to cool and heat the home.

This is kind of frustrating for me, as geothermal heat pumps were being proposed, oh, thirty years ago, as a way to reduce energy use. I can literally go to my bookshelf and find authors who, during the oil shocks of the 1970s, were advocating low-tech alternatives like heat pumps and solar water heaters. Not to slander higher-tech alternatives like photovoltaic cells or lithium-ion batteries, but solutions come in all shapes and sizes. We may well need all of them, but we really need to avoid wasting resources on dead ends.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Health Care Woes in Canada

I have, on occasion, seen American authors talk about Canada's health-care system and remark that, unlike in the US, Canadian doctors have embraced single-payer and find it superior. This is true in an academic sense (Canadian medical journals who have studied it unequivocally say our system is better) but it misses some important counter-examples.

One of the best examples of how Canadian doctors' have a love-hate relationship with our system comes from way back in 1985, when the government of Ontario had to endure a doctor's strike over the issue of extra-billing practices by the province's doctors. More recently the Canadian Medical Association has, while being opposed by its younger members, endorsed expanding private, for-profit medical care in Canada. And now, the election of the President of the CMA has become another battleground for the fight against what many Canadians see as the Americanization of their health care system. (link via Pogge.)

The point of all this is that while Canadian doctors have accepted single-payer health care, they've done so somewhat unwillingly, and they have - since it's inception in the 1960s - continued to fight it on a regular basis. There's a lesson here for the American advocates of various health-care reforms - don't expect this fight to be over, even if you do win it once.

The one caveat is that I actually think the socialization of American health care would have an immensely salutary effect on the debate in Canada. On any number of issues, including health care, media policies, and energy issues, the presence of a wealthy, rather predatory* industry to Canada's south has seriously perverted the debate.

*at the very least, the word "predatory" defines the American insurance, energy, and media industries, if not understates their behaviour.

Friday, August 18, 2006

I swear I'll stop (planets, cont.)

Two interesting comments re: the definition of planets. First, Flocons gets the prize for wit:
This new planetary definition follows in the legacy of Esperanto. It's built around logical and unambigious rules... but in the end, the public will ignore it and use what they use already.
Second, Chris writes:
The reason the huge moons aren't now classified as planets is because they properly orbit their planet.
... It's actually a fairly nice elegant and common sense solution.
Well, kind of. What this definition strikes me as is a way to rationalize the definition of planets without changing the definition of Pluto-Charon in any way whatsoever. Which strikes me as a silly way to write what is supposed to be a label with some academic value. (Here, "academic" can be read however you like it.) I agree, Chris, that this is actually an elegant way of summing up the conventional list of planets - that is, what do all the nine common planets have in common. Nevertheless, I think the definition remain problematic.

We agree that, conventionally speaking, Pluto-Charon don't orbit the sun the same way the Earth, but not the moon, does. Rather, they orbit a point in space between the two bodies. So we've already agreed that the definition of "planet" isn't exclusive to bodies that solely orbit the Sun.

I submit that it's hard to argue that Ganymede, which indirectly orbits the sun as it is tugged around by Jupiter, is easy to distinguish from Pluto-Charon, which orbit the sun as they are tugged around by each other. Notwithstanding the IAU's distinction between "double planets", etc.

Moreover, if a body like Ceres, or UB313, are inducted in to the hall of fame, this will mean that the label "Planet" is non-exclusive, as Ceres will remain best described as a G-class asteroid, and UB313 will best be described as a Kuiper Belt ice body. So Ganymede should be able to qualify as both a Planet in its own right, as well as a satellite of a larger planet.

(Binary stars remain stars if they orbit a larger parent star, after all. Star starry star star.)

If we are making a definition of a planet that is based solely on the shape, mass, and composition of a body - without regard to its orbit - then I think it's basically impossible to define Mercury as a planet but not Ganymede, which is actually larger than the innermost planet.

And all of this needs to be kept in context - this is possibly the least important debate going on right now. But the whole idea of building a rational naming scheme with the express goal of not leaving out the last-discovered, least-known, most-insignificant planet in the solar system strikes me as silly. I have no idea why I became a partisan for Ganymede, but I did.

Good news in Iraq!

What marvellous news. In a wonderful act of constitutionalism, the Shia have decided to excercise their second ammendment rights all over each other, causing chaos in the South of Iraq. Meanwhile, the Kurds have been trying to spread God's gift of liberty to... Turkey, provoking a response that can only be described as the "birth pangs, if you will" of the New New New Iraq. The Sequel. Continued.

I guess this would be the third act in Iraq - having destroyed the Baath government in the first, and endured an out-of-control insurgency in the second, turning Iraq in to a regional black hole, like the Congo, is really the perfect way to end this disaster.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Meant to post this earlier

My favourite line from Stephen Colbert lately, ironically enough spoken during his "surprise appearance" on the Daily Show.
What are you imlplying Jon? That O'Reilly and Geraldo are narcissists enthralled with their own overblown egos, projecting their own petty insecurities on to the world around them? Inventing false enemies for the sole purpose of bolstering their sense of self-importance? Itty-bitty Nixons minus the relevance or a hint of vision? How dare you!

GM was always full of shit

Remember everyone - real Americans don't want electric cars:
SAN CARLOS, Calif. — (August 15, 2006) — The limited-edition “Signature One Hundred” series Tesla Roadster, the first high-performance electric car manufactured by Tesla Motors, has sold out in three weeks, confirming that the sleek, stylish, zero-emissions Tesla Roadster is a hit.
When the rotting carcass of the American car industry is dissected and sold to Japan, Korea, Germany, and China, I do hope someone will have the appropriate level of taste and, I don't know, punch Rick Wagoner in the mouth for killing the EV1.

Oh, and everyone with eyes saw this one coming:
The Signature One Hundred Club has attracted a diverse group of members... Some of the initial members include Oscar® winner George Clooney...
So Tesla just raised $10 million by courting the rich bachelor playboy set. Call it Bruce Wayne marketing, I guess.


Whenever a huge actor does a crap movie, the usual response is a condemnation of their refusal to turn down any role (see Walken, Christopher) or wonderment over just how much money you actually had to pay the guy to be in the movie (see Hopper, Dennis and Kingsley, Ben). Few people understand that Samuel L. Jackson wasn't recruited for Snakes on a Plane to make the movie better. He asked to be in it.

In every interview, every article about SOAP, Jackson has done nothing but emit sheer unbridled enthusiasm about the general silliness and fun of the movie, all the while acknowledging that much of it is just how much people love the "badass" character he personally embodies. To put it very simply, this is a man who finds nothing more enjoyable than making his fans happy.
I plan to see it tomorrow. Possibly intoxicated. But I'll be there.

Watch his Daily Show interview here. You've never seen two grown men have so much fun on television.

Woot for me!

Treehugger has one of my posts at Grist on their list of Favourite Green Blogs of the Week!


The post in question is yet another in my unseemly love letters to Bucky Fuller.

Ah, news!

DETROIT (Reuters) - A federal judge in Detroit on Thursday ordered the Bush administration to halt the National Security Agency's program of domestic eavesdropping, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling was a setback for the Bush administration, which has defended the program as an essential tool in its war on terrorism.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor said the controversial practice of warrantless wiretapping known as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" violated free speech rights, protections against unreasonable searches and the constitutional check on the power of the presidency.
Despite the clear facts of the case, I expect the SCOTUS to figure out some reason why the Constitution in fact says the exact opposite of what we all think it does.

UPDATE: Reading Glenn Greenwald, I expect this will be what Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and Judge #5 use against the constitution:
Second, the court ruled that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the legality of the NSA program even though they cannot prove they have been eavesdropped on, because they have suffered actual harm merely from knowing that the Government is eavesdropping.
So if this case makes it through appeals and gets to the Supremes, they can simply decide that the plaintiffs didn't have standing, and dismiss the whole thing. Lovely.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington: Why does the Supreme Court hate our freedoms?

More on Planets

Wait just one minute here...

Charon, moon of Pluto, gets to be a planet because it's round and over 800 km wide, but Ganymede - moon of Jupiter - is still a moon, despite being more than 4 times the size?

...there seems to be an exception for Charon because it's less of a "moon" and more of a junior partner in the Pluto-Charon "double planet". For all the talk of keeping Pluto a planet for the schoolchildren, this is a pretty arcane reason to deny the Galilean moons of Jupiter their rightful title.

I think Ganymede is being robbed. I also think this is an important enough issue to post twice about. Finally, I think I have way too much spare time today.

Because I have nothing better to write about

Well, I'd probably be nerdy enough to write about this story eventually no matter how slow it is today:
The world's astronomers, under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), have concluded two years of work defining the difference between "planets" and the smaller "solar system bodies" such as comets and asteroids. If the definition is approved by the astronomers gathered 14-25 August 2006 at the IAU General Assembly in Prague, our Solar System will include 12 planets, with more to come: eight classical planets that dominate the system, three planets in a new and growing category of "plutons" - Pluto-like objects - and Ceres. Pluto remains a planet and is the prototype for the new category of "plutons."

With the advent of powerful new telescopes on the ground and in space, planetary astronomy has gone though an exciting development over the past decade. For thousands of years very little was known about the planets other than they were objects that moved in the sky with respect to the background of fixed stars. In fact the word "planet" comes from the Greek word for "wanderer". But today hosts of newly discovered large objects in the outer regions of our Solar System present a challenge to our historically based definition of a "planet".
Now, the simplest - and I believe most rational decision - would have been to simply drop Pluto from the roster and call it a chunk of the Kuiper Belt. But noooo... scientists are so fussy. This little piece of rationalization is cute:
Member of the Planet Definition Committee, Richard Binzel says: "Our goal was to find a scientific basis for a new definition of planet and we chose gravity as the determining factor. Nature decides whether or not an object is a planet."
Right. Nature has been unable to sleep, trying to decide whether planetary body 2003 UB313 is a full-fledged "planet" or not.

Of course, every time I get to thinking about the outer solar system - that is, stuff beyond the asteroid belt - I keep thinking how much more there is to explore just within our own solar system, never mind the rest of the near galactic neighbourhood. And then I get depressed because we should already be doing this stuff.

More nuclear in Alberta news

The profit margins in Alberta keep getting slimmer, and the development costs are starting to spiral upwards. It's no surprise then that the nuclear industry is being aggressive in courting the tar sands companies. The latest comes from the Globe today:
Talks with six firms have already happened and a bigger push is now in the works, he said. Energy Alberta is targeting developers of projects that use steam injection to recover bitumen from the oil sands. That list is led by the likes of EnCana Corp., Husky Energy Inc. and Total SA of France.

Energy Alberta hopes to build a reactor worth about $3-billion by 2014 to provide steam to support the production of 220,000 barrels of bitumen a day.
As a rough guess, that probably means they're thinking "small" for nuclear, which means about 1000 MWe reactor. As it turns out, Westinghouse, GE, and the French company Areva are all pushing 1000MW reactor designs around the world, including here in Ontario. That said, Energy Alberta would be smart to think larger - if Canada is serious about increasing the tar sands production, then nuclear is pretty much the only option, aside from imported LNG.

For critics of the tar sands, just one more reason.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What is wrong with these people?

Why are they consumed with terror? Don't they know that means the scary brown people win?

From the Jerusalem Post, William Shawcross has gone totally, irretrievably insane:
Civilian deaths in Lebanon are utterly tragic. But if you watched only British television, particularly the BBC, you would be hard-pressed to understand that Israel has been forced into a war for its survival, one in which Iran has empowered its proxy, Hizbullah, to undertake the final solution of "the Zionist entity."
Well, the reason the BBC might not be willing to put that message on the air is because they're a responsible news broadcaster, not purveyors of science fiction addicted to crystal meth.

1) Israel was never "forced" in to a war. Olmert and Halutz both escalated this conflict far beyond where it needed to go.

2) Israel was never forced in to a war "for it's survival". Neither Hezbollah, Syria, or Iran have the capability to destroy Israel or pose anything more than a limited, conventional threat.

3) Hezbollah may have been "empowered" by Iran (how? A good shrink?) but nobody has presented any evidence, much less credible evidence, that Iran or Syria directed Hezbollah's attacks.

Oh, but it gets worse:
Reasonable, conventional armchair critics concentrate on the mistakes of Israel rather than the evil ideology of Hizbullah. They refuse to acknowledge that a small, decent society is now literally under the threat of death from an illegal fascistic military machine built throughout the hills, valleys, towns and villages of southern Lebanon.
I admit it. I refuse to acknowledge the above. Know why? Because it's a figment of Shawcross' imagination. Shawcross needs to show how a few thousand fighters - well armed and trained, but small in number - pose an existential threat to a country of 6 million of the wealthiest, best-armed people in the middle east. Rather than actually do that, Shawcross spins a paranoid fantasy about how Hezbollah is staffed by atomic supermen seeking nothing more than to stomp Israel flat.

If we're going to talk about terrorism seriously, lets talk seriously. Desperately clinging to beliefs that we're fighting the new Hitler are silly, and make the people who dispense such stupidity look like scared children.