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8/29/2003

TBM: The French Heatwave

The Dissident Frogman has several posts about the French heatwave, that some people estimate may have taken 13,600 lives. That's roughly a quarter of U.S. casualties in Vietnam from over a decade of war. Or compare the 13,600 dead to a range of between 6113 and 7830 dead Iraqis from the Iraq War (compiled by the most certainly dubious IraqBodyCount.net).

I wonder why I'm not hearing anything about Chiraq being indicted for crimes against humanity? If x many thousand accidental deaths in Iraq is sufficient to get Bush called a war criminal, why isn't the 'autogenocide' of more than 10,000 French nationals reason to see Chirac pilloried. If Bush=Hitler, does that make Chiraq=Pol Pot?

8/28/2003

TBM: Welcome Back

Lt. Smash is back home. For those of you who are not familiar with him, he is one of the folks who won a free trip to the sandbox by Uncle Samuel's Travel Agency and opted to be an amature travel writer on the side. From time to time, Mrs. Smash also gave her thoughts and feeling on her husband's extended tour of sand and heat. Well, he just got back to the states to see his lovely wife and family. His return is recounted here.

For some reason, I had a bit of an allergic reaction as I read it. Watery eyes, a tingling and lump in my throat. You know.

Go check it out.

8/27/2003

SRBM: A Blogging Top Twenty Primer

[ed: This is a note that I put together for a friend with a few blogging pointers. And like they say, reduce, reuse, recycle, plagarize...]



For starters, these are in absolutely no order. You shouldn’t infer importance based on whether or not a blogger got a paragraph to themselves or not. There ain’t no rhyme and there ain’t nor reason, neither. Before you charge off into the blogosphere, go ahead and read the summaries first – it’s like checking out the movie descriptions on the DVD cases before you rent. So here you go:

1. This guy (Bill Whittle) is well known due to the quality of his writings. Since he started his current series of essays, he's gotten a book deal. Good stuff and surprisingly well-behaved folks appear in the commentary section. You can find his most recent essay "Responsibility" on the main page, while his older ones appear on the right-side of the page under the heading "High Altitude." He's much more of a writer than a political scientist, but he's one to keep an eye on.

2. This is Steven den Beste's blog entitled U.S.S. Clueless. Far as I can tell, he's a retired systems engineer who is rather well read and has a very logical outlook. I disagree with him from time to time - but face it, neither of us are Senior Fellows, so what can I say? Lately he's been on a more technical bent - which I usually skip - due to the blackouts and various and sundry computer problems. For a good selection of some of his better posts, check out the link "Best log entries" here.

3. This blog is a relative newcomer. This fella is from Africa and writes about African issues. From the things that are spoken about and the tone of the writing, this guy has been doing his fair share of study. Moreover, he's not afraid to dismiss some of the sacred cows and conventional wisdom if it doesn't make sense - but without being an iconoclast for it's own sake. This writer also sprouts some teeth from time to time. This teeth-sprouting behavior is quite common, although you'll see precious little out of it from the first two fellows I mentioned.

4. Speaking of teeth, this guy is also quite new. You should check out his old blog where he takes to task a young fool who for some reason develops an unwarranted fondness for the Red Army Fraction. Their debate has been going on for quite some time and is some of the better extemporaneous writing I've seen. I get the impression he's not normally that bloody-minded, but was just so appalled that he couldn't help but take a swing.

5. This guy, Michael Totten, is a writer by trade (I think) and is one of the most respected Liberal Hawks who fell out with the Left-led anti-war movement. He's not a "true" blogger (read not an amature writer), but since he's had the courage to stand on his own convictions and not cut any slack to anyone (in a very reasonable and well-mannered fashion) he's on my shortlist. He has just finished a short story (the second entry on his site) which is rather long, but to get a sense of his daily writing, scroll past it and poke around.

6. As is this similar fella, Roger L. Simon. Except I know he is a geniuine-dyed-in-the-wool professional writer. He covers a lot of topics other than current affairs. To get a taste of his current affairs writings, his recent post about Scott Ritter is worth looking at.

7. This is another pro's blog (see, that was a pun). She has some interesting insights and manages to cover a lot of topical turf without being superficial and insipid. Among other things, she has given rise to the notion of Dynamism vs. Stasism, which she percieves to be a fundamental divide among people. Read her stuff and become enlightened.

8. This blog hosts a number of writers, including Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor (bio). They have a number of writers, but tend to focus on legal issues.

9. Another academic is Daniel Drezner (bio) who is an assistant Poli Sci prof at U. Chicago. His blog is another essential read - in this post he examines the current state of the Democratic Party (and gives K street a passing mention).

10. Brad de Long is a Berkely Economics Prof (links to his info). He's not altogether enamored with current administration policy, and he's articulate, well-spoken, and intellectually honest. (And he's a columnist for Wired).

11. This is the home of Megan McArdle (aka Jane Galt) who is a libertarian economist who blogs about a wide range of topics. Most recently, she posted another point of view on how the Democratic Party is behaving in light of their very inclusive nature. Good commentary, good discussions. Especially when she starts thumping the numbers.

12. This fellow, Norman Geras, recently gained notoriety for his interview on the Iraq conflict. By trade, he is a long-time Professor of Government at the University of Manchester whose interests include "include Marxism, the moral philosophy of socialism, normative political theory, aspects of so-called anti-foundationalist thought, the Holocaust, and crimes against humanity." He's another person who got caught in the leftist hawk divide and is someone who I take seriously.

13. Far as foreign blogs go, this pair of French bloggers, the Dissident Frogman, and Merde in France provide some really interesting insights into the "French Street."

14. Australia has also produced some really high quality bloggers. Tim Blair is a journalist, and his blog is an excellent example of a "linker" (i.e. one who tends to post a lot of links, rather than producing voluminous comment). He touches on a lot of interesting, less-reported, news with a wry sense of humor.

15. Another Wonder Down Under is the Mighty Professor Bunyip, who manages to excoriate his foes with a razor sharp wit and frightening command of the English language.

16. Let me see... since some of the above sites have quite a reputation as being "right-wing," let me toss out some who are regarded as being "leftist" - whatever those terms mean. Calpundit (Kevin Drum) is highly regarded. He posts regularly and keeps his arguments crisp and his tone clear. His comment sections, however, tend to dissolve quickly into screed. Not so much because of the writers, but the fact that so many people comment so quickly that point and counterpoint tend to get lost in the fray.

17. Josh Marshall of the Talking Points Memo is also highly regarded. Like his arguments or not, he's civil, well-spoken and presents well-thought out discussion. This fellow, Dan, is the author of the Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics blog - he's a student Georgetown and isn't afraid to wrestle with numbers and dig up research to buttress his arguments. We follow that with a link to Matt Yglesias, who carries some currency with the bloggers of the left. Matt also links to Ted Barlow (whom I've never read before) but provides a counterargument to the recent spate of arguments on the health of the left.

18. There are a few more that some might say are the province of barking moonbats. Whether or not that accusation has any merit, the comments in some of these tend to attract barking moonbats from the other side of the aisle (and which side that is, depends on where you sit). First, is the Daily Kos - a beautiful blog by a guy who has a peripheral relationship to the Dean campaign.

19. From here we meander on over to some of the more outspoken blogs of the left. The first and probably most well-known is Counterspin Central, run by a certain "Hesiod Theogeny." In the second most recent post he manages to take a swipe at the American Legion. Another even more widely read one is Eschaton run by "Atrios." A recent post compares Fox News' coverage of the recent commandments hulabaloo with anti-war protests: "300 bigots and lunatics protesting around a carved rock, worthy of nonstop coverage. 100,000 people protesting a war, worthy of brief snide commentary." I guess the notion that anyone who wanted the rock left there was a bigot and/or lunatic is axiomatic. Hmm.. maybe I better not send that granite paperweight for my desk. Third in the series is Max Sawicki, owner of this blog, bearing the charming title "Max Speak, You Listen." In his first paragraphs of his recent post, he explains how Mao was right about some things, that the anti-war folks who are making amends with the humanitarian interventionists are misguided and ... I dunno, I gave up.

20. Last, but most certainly not least, a daily dose of tonic from a pro-writer and proud father who manages to turn his boring everyday life into something a lot more interesting than mine is the indomitable James Lileks. He post daily columns (his "bleats") here. A good way to start the day.

UPDATE: Hesiod points out (in the comments) that one might be kind of hard pressed to find much about the American Foreign Legion ('cuz there ain't no such critter).

TBM: Let's Hear It For Reaching Out With Protests

I'll give most of the anti-war fellas credit for the fact that they never intended to be "pro-Hussein," "pro-Osama," or even "anti-West." But then again, intent don't necessarily mean a lot. Heck, even to go for the weaker argument, I'll even stipulate that the protesters weren't "pro-Hussein," "pro-Osama," or even "anti-West" even in practice. But when you've got commentary like this:

"The man who helped mix the deadly one-tonne Bali nightclub bomb Sawad, alias Sardjiyo, yesterday said he wanted to thank the Australian people who had supported his cause during recent Australian anti-Gulf War protests.

...

'I want to thank the Australian people who supported our cause when they demonstrated against the policies of George Bush. Say thank you to all of them,' Sawad said."


you can't wonder if the external consequences of their actions occured to any of the protestors. Intent is a fine and important thing and we recognize that in the difference in punishment between manslaughter and homicide. But the nuances of intent don't mean that someone didn't get killed. (Courtesy Tim Blair)

TBM: More on the Problems of the Democratic Party

Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information writes an interesting post about the fractures endemic to the modern Democratic Party. This is another explanation of the main topic I addressed in this essay. She examines a different hypothesis for the ills facing the Democratic Party. Well worth a read.

Overall there is probably a way that the inclusiveness of the Democratic party ties into the four mechanisms I've described. I'll have to chew on this, although a glimmer of an explanation is on the horizon.

8/26/2003

TBM: Iran is in violation of the NPT

Iran is obligated, under the NPT, to notify the IAEA when they enrich uranium. Late last year, the existence of a very large enrichment facility in Iran was discovered at Natanz. During their investigation of Iran's nuclear program, the IAEA conducted a number of tests, including environmental sampling. The Iranians had asserted that they had conducted no enrichment activities at any of their sites and that any testing of the centrifuges was done with inert gas. The NPT requires signatories to notify the IAEA to provide notification of any enrichment activity.

Recently, an IAEA spokesman gave the results of their testing, as mentioned in this CNN article.

Iran has claimed that the equipment must have been contaminated when they pruchased it. However, Iran is doing the majority of the design and assembly work on the centrifuges, so for their story to hold, would imply that some components purchased overseas had been contaminated with enriched uranium - a fairly suspcious story indeed.

Well, out of the Axis of Evil, we've only one member in compliance - Iraq.

Ces't la vie.

TBM: WAG OTD and other TLA

In English: [my] Wild-Assed Guess Of The Day and other Three-Letter Acronyms.

Ok, I really don't have any other three-letter acronyms, sorry to dissapoint, but here's my WAG:

"It would seem that this recent rash of bombings might be the Islamicist Tet. Essentially, the three targets were Israel, Iraq, and India, which (aside from the fact they all begin with 'I') are three of the countries that the muslim militants thinks are truly oppressive occupiers. It would not suprise me to see a large bombing in Chechnya and/or Afghanistan within the fortnight."


Well, I nabbed my own comment from someone else's website, so I don't know about the hat-tip protocol for that but here's the link anyways.

TBM: Shirky: Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality

Just a quick point to a good article about Power Laws and Inequality (courtesy SDB). More mental food for the mathematical maw.

[Really, this is more for my own interest, but I was too lazy to bookmark it. You know you're a blogger when...]

EBS: Busier than the proverbial...

...one-legged midget in an ass-kicking contest.

So, what that means for both of my loyal readers is that the space essay is just going to have to wait for a bit. I know this is the second time my projected delivery date has slipped, and I wish it were otherwise. Sure, there are reasons that it's not done yet. But a reason is not an excuse. Even if nobody else cares, I gave my word and I failed to deliver - that's what's important. Mea culpa. I can't go back in time and get it done, so the best I can do is come clean and get to it as fast as I can.

Elsewise, for future plans, I am going to be thinking about my Zero-Sum and Political Mathematics essays. It seems that there might be a few relevant tie-ins to both, so I am thinking about making them both part of a series. In either case, at least one, if not both, of the essays will require a mathematical primer. This is why I'm thinking about tying them togther as parts of an ongoing series.

There will be a change to the DDC layout. First of all, I'm just going to let the poll run until I get enough time to get caught up. Secondly, I am going to switch the topic choices to relatively narrow field, so I don't keep adding on to this big monstrosity of a project that I seem to be getting into.

This being said, I will still honor any direct requests for content (ala Demand-Driven Drivel).

Since I'm not going to be able to devote as much time to writing as I would have preferred, I will try to at least keep some relatively fresh content up here, even if it's not that insightful.

8/25/2003

TBM: Not Vietnam, but Lebanon

Food for thought - the Vietnam analogy is goofy (for a multitude of reasons that don't bear explanation here), but Lebanon may be a much more apt comparison. This article from the WaPo is by Bob Baer, a former CIA field guy whose certainly been around the block (for a bit more than a quarter century's worth) even if some folks thought he ran a less than tight ship in northern Iraq. At any rate, it's worth a read.

A few relevant paragraphs:

Those of us who lived through the Lebanon horror can't help wondering whether Beirut 1983 is a template for what's happening in Iraq. While Iraq isn't Lebanon, there are enough similarities that we should be worried. Starting with the obvious, unaccounted for weapons and explosives abound in Iraq, as they did in Lebanon. Secondly, neither Lebanon then nor Baghdad now has a functioning government. At the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, that country's government collapsed. By 1983, there was no army or police to protect our embassy, let alone an effective internal intelligence service to warn us of possible attacks.


The most interesting point he makes (or at least implies) is that the biggest difference is the domestic front. In Iraq, we know (presumably) that we can't afford to fail in Iraq, but we had little buy in for Lebanon. Part of the reason we bailed in Lebanon had to do with the fact that it was less than a decade after the end of Vietnam. So a fairly significant portion of this is not whether or not Iraq is another Vietnam, but whether or not the prevailing domestic attitudes here mirror those found during and after the Vietnam War. While the going isn't going to be easy - this is ours to screw up through either a lack of will or a lack of sack. Oddly enough, we were better suited to that kind of committment wayy back when, before we ever got accused of being an empire. Who knew?

TBM: A Reply to A Comment.

In a response to my post below, Rick writes:

I all depends on if you think Iraq posed a serious threat to the US. If they didn't then why undertake a massively expensive war and send 200+ kids over there to get killed.

If you think that they posed an urgent and serious threat then I guess it's worth it. I mean the number of countries that are in violation of one treaty or anther is a long list. Hell we have probably cheated on weapons treaties.

Also remember he was gassing Kurds when Rumsfeld was over there shaking hands with him personally. Fact is some of his most evil outrages happened while he was our ally and the thought at the time was as long as he is against the Iranians then lets not make too much of his management style.

Ironically a lot of the same people cheerleading the Iraq adventure were against Serbia. And lets not get too gooey about chemical weapons to classify them as a WMD is stretching the idea to the breaking point. You could do more damage in downtown New York with a few trucks filled with fertilizer then you could with a ton of sarin gas.

Chemical weapons are hard to use and not all that effective, also most every nation that wants them can get them. Also we were never came unglued when Saddam used the Chemical weapons against Iran. So it comes down to what is the best use of the military? Personally I think surgical strikes with Black ops teams could have keep Saddam declawed indefinitely.

But the bastard’s gone now, good riddance.
[ed: Emphasis mine]


[ed: this is not a deliberate attempt to be snarky, it's meant only as a sort of Cliff Notes to counter arguments against the war.]

Well, the important part should be said first – the rest is, ultimately, all a matter of technicalities. Good riddance indeed. If there is one good thing that will come out of this war, it’s been done – kicking that silly mustache-wearing bastard out of power. The rest, is however, open for debate. I do agree that it is quite interesting that the proponents of the Kosovo War tend to be, generally, very opposed to the Iraq War and vice versa. I think that this observation speaks volumes about the underlying motivations of advocates and opponents to these actions.

As to the substantive points: the bar for action is whether or not a country merits sufficient threat to one's interests - at least from a rational actor perspective. A threat to one's interest is not congruent with an imminent threat to one's nation. If that's the bar for action that one uses there are literally no American wars (with the arguable exceptions of the Civil War, War of 1812, and Revolutionary War) that clearly meet that high standard.

Secondly, the whole buddy-buddy argument presupposes two things. One, that it was bad to ally with Saddam and then attack him later. But we allied with Stalin, of all the murderous sons of bitches, because FDR felt (rightly) that Hitler was a more important fish to fry. Secondly, arguing that we should have not attacked Iraq now because we didn't earlier is an attempt to introduce a steady-state condition into politics which has no merit, sense or point. By the same logic, the fact that we’ve fought wars with both Vietnam and North Korea automatically precludes any warming of relations with either country so long as those regimes are in power.

Finally chemical weapons are WMD – but not particularly because of their lethality – because of their status in the framework of retaliation and deterrence. The original term for WMD was ABC (atomic, biological, nuclear) weapons, following the development of the hydrogen bomb, this changed to NBS (nuclear, biological, chemical) weapons. You are absolutely correct that the practical range of deployed lethalities of chemical weapons is substantially lower than either that of either biological or nuclear weapons. The top end of chemical weapons more or less falls off where biological weapons picks up. The same relationship holds for biological and nuclear weapons, as well. What distinguishes these three is not so much their lethality - one only has to think back to Dresden, Coventry and Tokyo for examples of high-lethality conventional attacks – but rather the fact that they kill people in ways which are a bit more out of the ordinary.

This difference in effect and, in the case of nuclear weapons, magnitude of the attack has changed the way that people used such weapons. Chemical weapons were used in World War I, but not in any other major war during the twentieth century. Why? Not because they are ineffective on the battlefield (although their effectiveness is more a product of their ability to affect operational tempo) but rather that retaliation was a certainty. War can obviously be waged with conventional weapons – indeed until a few years ago, the use of conventional weapons was essentially synonymous with war. In other words, war doesn’t automatically include the use of non-conventional weapons, but nearly all nations reserve the right to retaliate in kind. That absolute dependence on deterrence and the fact that their use is not widely regarded as a regular part of warfare are the reasons that treaties regulating their production and use have been so popular. The Syrians, for instance, have done equally terrible things to their populace. These too, are surely crimes against humanity – but at least they had the good sense not to use “unclean” weapons – they just used artillery.

But, all this is, as you imply, not really the main point. The main point (assuming that we choose to write off about a bajillion Iraqi people) is whether or not he could have been contained. This is, to my mind, the only really important pro/anti war debate, for a number of reasons. In my view, he could not be deterred indefinitely. The problem has to do with the ultimate problem with non-proliferation efforts and Saddam’s skill at risk assessment. First of all, nerve gas, ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons are, at the most basic level, World War II technology. As the rest of the world continues to develop in every other arena, the prospects of preventing people from developing WMD gets dimmer and dimmer. Heck, even the crossbow was outlawed and that didn’t do a damn bit of good. In a world where I can, for $5,000, go purchase more mathematical modeling power than was available worldwide in 1940, the development of missiles and WMD just becomes a matter for technicians – not physicists. Given the willingness of the world to make their word stick on non-proliferation, his ability to develop some sort of WMD and missile capacity was simply a matter of his perseverance and the world’s apathy. Had 9/11 never happened, I know where I would bet in that race.

The second question really important question is whether or not Hussein would have stayed put or been dumb. Well (despite popular claims about who gave him the thumbs up for this, that and the other), he hasn’t been super brilliant to date. But without going through the entire litany, the proof has been in the pudding. He evidently was not able to choose correctly between placating the Americans and getting stomped by the Americans. If he was that bad at making decisions then, imagine how well he would choose with a viable WMD deterrent married to effective ballistic missiles? And before you answer, remember, that during the Gulf War, he launched missiles at civilian targets in a known nuclear power with absolutely no retaliatory or deterrent capability. Heck, even after 1991, he still moved large formations of the Republican Guard to threaten Kuwait. So, no, the circumstances in which I would have trusted him not to go rogue are quite limited, indeed.

And then there is the 500 lb gorilla of why it is necessary to intervene in Serbia when white people are killing brown people, but why it’s been bad to intervene when brown people are killing brown people. Coincidentally, I also wonder where all the folks who used the threat of North Korea to argue against Iraq have been? After seeing the violence visited upon the Iraqi people, I would have thought that these same folks would have been all for moving the 3rd and 4th ID to South Korea, now that the predicted blood-bath and bloody street-to-street fighting never occurred. I guess it’s because they are still waiting for the Arab Street to burst into flames – although given earlier predictions during the Gulf War and Afghan War, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting.

All this jaw-jaw aside, I am still desperately curious why the previous use of gas against the Kurds and Iranians itself wasn’t sufficient cause. Clearly, if we decided to end the Waco standoff with Sarin, we would see Janet Reno, at the least, in jail for life. If we had used chemical weapons first in Iraq – well, you can imagine the outcry. But I can only conclude that since the use of such weapons wasn’t sufficient cause for war, that there must be some sort of statute of limitations on atrocities and other crimes against humanity. This is interesting, particularly in reference to the old Israeli pastime of hunting down decrepit Nazis – or the talk about trying Kissinger with war crimes. Far as I recall, there is no civil statute of limitations on murder – and I certainly know of no argument with this. But now I can only infer that people think that the wanton slaughter of a civilian population is somehow different, perhaps there is a volume discount – a Costco of the truly evil. But then, on the other hand, why hold tribunals in Rwanda, or ask Chuck Taylor, Slobo Milosevic, or Bob Mugabe to leave? I don’t know. It’s gotta mean that I need a tinfoil hat or something.

8/24/2003

TBM: So what about the WMD?

Ok, still some ongoing talk about the WMD in Iraq. Here's my question. Isn't this analogous to a situation in which a person has raped in the past, and is on trial right now? I mean the UN Resolutions were clearly violated, even if there aren't any WMD in Iraq today. Isn't saying that the invasion was unjustified kind of like saying "Well, sure, he was raping people two weeks ago, but he's not raping anyone in the actual courtroom - so we should let him go."? Or rather, saying since he's not raped anyone in the courtroom right now, he's obviously in compliance with the law - right now.

To be sure, it's an imprecise analogy, but would his use of chemical weapons against the Kurds be sufficient, in and of itself to justify war - genocide, possesion and use of chemical weapons, slaughter of civilian populations and so on? We bombed the crap out of Serbia for much less. And without UN approval in the face of a certain Russian veto.

Just my thought for the day.

8/23/2003

EBS: This week's poll

This weeks poll results are....

A Mathematical Model of Political Alignment 4 31%
Zero-Sum Economics and Other Bad Ideas 3 23%
Totalitarianism and the Middle Class 3 23%
Minaturized Munitions and the Future of Airpower 2 15%
21st Century Great Power Politics 1 8%
How War Works 0 0%

Since the Zero-Sum Economics has been a pretty consistent contender in all the polls, it ran very close to the Mathematic Model Essay in the most recent poll, and the fact that the Mathematical Model Essay will take a bit more time, I'm going to ... write about the Zero-Sum Economics thing.

Fair warning, I may not be able to get this next one out 'cuz I'm on the move - but I'll do my darndest.

8/22/2003

EBS: Updates, notes and anticipatory apologies and an incipient rant.

First of all, I have to apologize in advance. It seems that the essay on sapce coloinzation will be delayed until Saturday. Blah, blah, blog, and excuse. All that really matters I said my say and failed to deliver. At least I hope the read will be compelling.

This has, in turn, given me a bit of pause about the whole DDC thing. While a professional author can be held to deadlines, at what point is it reasonable to assume I can make the same promise? If, for sake of argument, I had 12 kids and three jobs, deadlines will (and should) be taken only as advisory. I'm not anywhere near there, but the idea is a reasonable basis for discussion. So, I've been thinking that I might break away from the strict schedule. On the other hand, will I drop off and slack if I've no motive force? Need to think on that.

At any rate, that's the first issue.

The second thing is that I've realized I'm not entirely stupid. The whole two-column blog business that I mentioned earlier and was reminded to look at the Dissident Frogman highlighted, I guess, what I really wanted to see. A two-column blog where both columns are independently scrollable. The one I saw a jillion years ago had a green color left side and a red colored right side, but other than that, I'm all out of guesses.

The other option is for the central column to have two frames, one above another. That's a somewhat different issue, but still beyond my coding capabilites.

The third, and final thing, is a recent Oliver Kamm post. Recently a post that mentioned the effects of unexploded cluster munitions. While the general gist of the post was right, a huge number the specifics were wrong. I was going to appeal to my slothful inner nature and let it slide in favor of finishing the space colonization essay, but since the date on that has been missed, I'll be writing something about this and trying to refine his points. One of the commenters mentions some of the specifics, but I wanted to explore the issue a bit more. Why? Not just to be snarky. I've actually been noodling on an essay about the fundamentals of munition design. An essay, such as proposed, would be a useful entre into an essay on precision munitions.

8/21/2003

TBM: Canadia Revisted

The Stupid, Angry Canadian (I don't think it's possible to describe that blog as having an arrogant name) has written a Great White North response to my screed about Canaja. From the land of the midnight sun, they have spent countless hours in front of their computer in their igloo, listening to the howls of coyotes, freezing, trying not to attract the attention of vagrant polar bears, missing out on baby seal clubbing, and hockey stick varnishing to go write a response, so definitely go take a read.

Having read it, the Candjun pre-war antics make all the sense in the world, given that the country produces vast numbers of comedians but suprisingly few good ad agencies. Unless, of course, this is still all part of some damn plot involving Freemasons and slant drilling into maple trees to steal our syrup.

8/19/2003

SRBM: Anti-Semitism and Totalitarianism

Oliver Kamm recently posted a response to a question I had asked in his comments, relating to the resume of Horst Mahler:

”Horst Mahler, now a leading member of the neo-Nazi organization the National Democratic Party, has of course adopted far-Right totalitarianism having earlier been a founder of the Red Army Fraction (and a convicted terrorist on the RAF's behalf).”


He goes on to explain the role of anti-Semitism and its relation to the Nazis, the RAF and other nutjobs of various stripes. Additionally, he links to this article in Reason magazine that takes note of the fact that the vast majority of regimes hostile to the United States (with the notable exception of North Korea) have very definite anti-Semitic leanings. This got me to thinking quite a bit about the virulence of anti-Semitism. On a continent that 50 years ago rejected Hitler’s Final Solution with a shudder of revulsion, we see rising anti-Semitism creeping up in the most unexpected places.

Now, the assertion that the totalitarian right is identical from the totalitarian left is both a truism and rather pointless generalization, for a variety of reasons. However, the link to anti-Semitism is rather telling. During the Middle Ages, Jews were often reviled (because they practiced usury and were held responsible for all manner of calamities), isolated into little enclaves (because they were shunned and shared a common history and religion) and never driven out (because they the only money-lenders to be found.)

This linkage between the Jewish status as a non-Christian ethnic minority and banking has given rise to anti-Semitism’s longevity. In particular, left-side totalitarian regimes can revile the Jews as the embodiment of banking, finance and top-hat wearing capitalists. Likewise, right-side totalitarians abhor Jews as being “rootless cosmopolitans” who are some strange alien group, parasitically sucking away the strength of the fatherland. Islamofascists, also freely borrow from the canons of anti-Semitism, as quoted from Jonathan Rauch’s recent article (hat tip, again, to Mr. Kamm):

”For a look at the fever chart, log onto www.memri.org and make your way to the Arab Anti-Semitism Documentation Project. The Middle East Media Research Institute specializes in translating materials from the Arabic press that, until recently, went unnoticed in the English-speaking world. Here you will find dozens of dispatches with titles such as ‘Saudi Minister of Interior... : 'Who Committed the Events of September 11?.. I Think They [the Zionists] are Behind These Events.'‘ And: ‘Muslim Clerics State: The Jews are the Descendants of Apes, Pigs, and Other Animals.’ And: ‘Columnist for Saudi Daily Al-Jazirah: Jews Use Blood for Baked Goods.’ And: ‘Thanks to Hitler.’ And so on. And on.

This stuff is not just printed and broadcast; it is taught. The American Jewish Committee recently sponsored a study of 93 Saudi textbooks on various subjects for grades one through 10. One Arabic-language textbook declares, ‘The Jews are wickedness in its very essence.’ Others teach the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a century-old anti-Semitic forgery, debunked years ago) as fact. A geography text speaks of ‘a malicious Crusader-Jewish alliance [that is] striving to eliminate Islam from all the continents.’ The study finds that Jews generally are depicted as ‘a wicked nation, characterized by bribery, slyness, deception, betrayal, aggressiveness, and haughtiness.’”


Even less likely actors indulge in this pastime, as Oliver Kamm notes:

”[Idi] Amin was just such an anti-Semite. He notoriously declared, in a message to the UN Secretary-General on 12 September 1972 (quoted in Robert Wistrich, Hitler's Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy, 1985):

‘Germany is the right place where, when Hitler was Prime Minister and supreme commander, he burned over six million Jews.’”


What makes this all interesting – and goes a long way to explain how it is that such disparate groups keep finding themselves on the pro-Palestinian, anti-War side is the fact that anti-Semitism carries with it a built-in anti-capitalist cant. While many of the protestors are not particularly anti-Semitic, the built in racial stereotype allows for people to engage in sort of slanderous shorthand, which fuels the passions of extremists of all stripes. Witness the recent debate between Oliver Kamm and Ryan of Manchester in which Ryan professes a certain degree of sympathy for the RAF, simply because they were virulently (to his eyes) anti-capitalist, while Oliver goes to great lengths to show that the RAF, were, in fact, ideologically indistinguishable from Nazis.

Similarly, this kind of automatic shorthand (newspeak, the likes of which Orwell may have recognized) encourages openly communist groups like ANSWER to protest along Islamofascists. Neither group shares much in common ideologically. One group hates banking-financier capitalists, and by extension, Jews. On the other hand, the other group hates Jews, and by extension banking-financier capitalists.

This is part of the powerful synergy that has created a very real linkage between Iraq and Palestine and fomented much of the European opposition to the war. Now – in closing, I want to make two things very, very, very clear:

1) I’m not arguing that Mr. Kamm or Mr. Rauch are correct – merely that this could be considered the inevitable conclusion of this line of thought.

2) Nor am I equating anti-Semitism, socialism, pacifism, Islam, or any one of a number of beliefs. I am merely trying to explore why it is that some extremists of each of these factions may have gravitated towards each other, when there are no other particularly telling reasons to do so. Absent any particular external influence, it is not entirely apparent why there is a correlation between being pro-Palestinian and anti-War. What causes a correlation to exist between the reaction of the radical pro-Nazi Right and the radical pro-Stalinist Left on these sorts of issues? Why on earth would anti-religious communists find cause with theocratic Islamicists?

8/18/2003

EBS: Hail and well met!

Greetings to my two newest retaliatory strikes:

First, some of you may know Abiola lapite from their comments on my posts involving Africa. Their blog, Foreign Dispatches is equally well-reasoned and nicely articulated. Above and beyond the quality of the content note should also be taken of the quantity. A worthwhile addition to your daily read.

I would also like to welcome SpicedSass (not SpicedsAss – that’s something completely different). Replete with incisive commentary, vigorous observations, this reformed hippy’s blog is a crisp and bracing read.

I invite all y’all to go take a peek.

Elsewhere, if anybody knows of 2 column blogs out there (I know I’ve seen at least one, but can’t remember for the life of me what it was) leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail so I can take a peek.

8/16/2003

EBS: Poll #2 Is IN!

Sorry folks, nearly forgot. Poll #2 is in. Results as follows:

Space Colonization and the Triangle Trade - 7 votes (30%)
Miniaturized Munitions and Future Airpower - 6 votes (26%)
Zero-sum Economics and Other Bad Ideas - 3 votes (13%)
Communism, Fascism and Democracy: the Century Long Conflict - 3 votes (13%)
Post-Modernism: What it is Good For? - 2 votes (9%)
The Built-In Failure of Peacekeeping - 2 votes (9%)

I'm still noodling around with ways to combine results from different polls in a way that makes sense to me. Once I've got that done, I'll start putting it up. Elsewhere, I really want to look into seeing about a two column format for my blog (yes, two columns of blog entries). I unfortunately, have no real idea how to do this. I've seen one blog quite some time ago that had such a layout, but I can't remember which one it was. I would certainly appreciate it if somebody could point me in that direction if they have any earthly idea what I'm talking about.

In closing, as always, this weeks essay on "Space Colonization and the Triangle Trade" (or whatever it turns into once I'm done) will be posted next Friday, the 22nd. Similarly, Poll #3 will run until the 22nd. Please vote. Tell your mom to vote. Tell your dad. Uncles, hairdressers, dogs, neighbors - the whole shebang.

UPDATE: You know its time to update your poll when there is a tie vote between two placeholder options.

TBM: Africa, Race and Rants

Wow. I've never been quite this fortunate to lose one of my own comments. In reply to a broad-brush generalization I made about West Africa, one reader made some excellent comments which are well worth the read. But above and beyond this they wrote this article about the role of ethnic homogeneity in Africa.

I guess I'm kind of writing extemporaneously, so this post shouldn't be taken as a well-formed and properly articulated thesis, but more as a rant [ed: Not a rant at anything that the above links refer to, but just a rant at the world at large]. I should probably post this in either my comments or their comments, but far as it goes, I've so completely drifted off topic that I'll leave it as a post for the time being.

Now having introduced the post, one of the most consistently favored explanations of African problems is actually the post-colonial border-drawing atrocity that split African states along lines with total disregard of any consideration of ethnic or linguistic rationale. As noted in my esteemed colleague's post, there is a correlation between ethnic homogeneity and economic success. The obvious counter examples to this are Somalia, which is pretty darn homogeneous (as far as I know) but is a slow-motion apocalypse and South Africa which is about as diverse as anything this side of the grave. Then you've got Ethiopia and Eritrea which are an entire world of doctoral dissertations about ethnic relations and African states.

To be absolutely clear, these exceptions are just that - exceptions. The general thesis that ethnic schism isn't a good thing for development is pretty widely accepted as true. I've read estimates that suggest that once a population has a single unintegrated minority that starts reaching 20% of the total population, the potential for ethnic strife starts to become significant. I can't remember where I read it, and I'm not going to look, but hey, it sounds about right.

The thing that ticks me off something fierce about poorly couched complaints of the "post-colonial legacy" is that I have yet to see a single problem anywhere in the world, let alone Africa, that is amenable to a monocausal explanation. Heck, for that matter, I've seen damned little in the world which was either an unmitigated good or unabashed evil in the long run. The post I've linked to actually explains some of the whys and wherefores of ethnic divisions in Africa and addresses them intelligently - a rarity.

There seems to be an entire herd of well-intentioned, ill-informed, utterly-arrogant, over-simplistic, fuzzy-minded twits who think the fact that their parents sent them to an Ivy League school with a big, fat trust fund somehow qualifies them to be the savior of the third-world. And for some inexplicable reason, these folks are drawn to African development time and time again. Between bouts of puffing on their bongs for peace, making paper-mache masks to change fiscal policy and sitting around being dire, serious and committed, these folks come up with some of the worst ideas for Africa I've ever seen. From trying to stop genocide by providing solar ovens to working on debt relief (in countries racked by starvation) by throwing pies and what other kinds off poorly thought-out whatnot, these yahoos delight in developing painfully simplistic explanations that are worse than useless. And they seem to have an unquenchable thirst for getting involved in Africa's problems.

As Abiola Lapite, points out, among these folks there is a tendency to go for the over-simplistic "imperialist exploitation" model of post-colonial ethnic strife. But just like anything else, the simplistic model that ascribes all of Africa's problems to the difference between colonial and ethnic divisions is just plain hogwash. For decades, Yugoslavia was the most prosperous of Eastern European countries. Then it (before it totally shattered) became the first instance of ethnic cleansing Europe has seen in 50 years. So we have, in one country, an exceptionally diverse state that has both succeeded and failed in a spectacular fashion.

The salient point that is worth noting is that homogeneity is one of many preconditions which can make the prospect of a stable and prosperous nation possible. But like anything else, it's neither sufficient nor necessary. It just helps, that's all. Same with any one of another gallery of "miracle cures" for Africa. All of these cures have one thing in common: they disregard the fact that getting any nation on its feet, from Sierra Leone to Saudi Arabia to Serbia, is slow, difficult work, inevitably plagued by setbacks. All you can do is try to keep a lid on the violence, keep the corruption down to a dull roar, avoid destructive fiscal and debt policies and get the hell out of the way.

But for some horrific reason, these earnest people who muck up countries with the best of intents simply get in the damned way. Between sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, proxy wars and kleptocrats, decent folks have a hard enough time making their way in the world. For Pete's sake, people need to quit going over there and practicing micromanagement through ignorance. Sometimes solutions will take a long time. Sometimes they won't work. Sometimes even, the solutions aren't nice and pretty and politically correct. All these denizens of student lounges and activist committees would do these folks a hell of a lot of good by being pragmatic, ditching their pet ideologies and trying to help Africa solve the problems it's already trying to solve.

By the same token, oil discoveries in Africa aren't going to solve the world's dependency on Middle Eastern oil any more than oil is going to be the magical elixir that turns Africa into Palm Beach. If the well-intentioned pundits would quit trying to push all of Africa's problems and solutions into five hundred politically correct words or less, then we might see some results. But looking for a silver bullet there isn't going to be any more successful than looking for one in Afghanistan or Iraq. Countries and nations aren't built in a day or even a year. Getting all up in arms about some detail, or even proposing that a single solution means a goddamn thing, is just plain foolish. If we've learned anything from development in the last century, it has been that nothing is ever that damned easy.

Think about it. For the past 6,000 years or so, we've gotten really good at breaking other people's stuff. We've even gotten pretty good about both protecting our own stuff. In the last few centuries or so, we even learned how to make more of our own stuff with relative ease. We've only been in the practice of making other folk's stuff produce more stuff for about 50 or 60 years. So no, we don't know all the answers. And yes, some of those answers aren't ideologically correct or even pleasant. But pissing and moaning about it is only going to make things worse.

That being said, I still recommend that you go take a look at this post. It's a lot better written than mine and (unlike mine) actually has a well-reasoned and cogent point.

EBS: Urgent updates

With much tugging of forelocks, gnashing of teeth, rending of clothes and other generalized wailing, I am sorry to inform my readers that I have, yet again, been slow on the uptake.

That being said, I would like to invite you all to go over to my newest blogroll addition, Incestuous Amplification, one of the finest Korea bloggers to be found. No, really. Dammit, stop your dirty thinking, the blog has absolutely nothing to do with incest. Zero. Stop snickering.

Seriously, this guy actually does some pretty good open source research of Korean and other sources, with appropriate fisking, commentary, amplification and contrast when appropriate. Sort of a blogger's Early Bird of Korea stuff. Between this guy and the balance of the bloggers listed in his Fat Korea Blogs. I don't necessarily agree with all of them, but they are a good read - and Big Hominid as an inexplicably dirty mind.

BTW: For those of you who are a bit more sober minded and quit sniggering, Incestuous Amplification is a term used to describe 'A condition in which one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation.' Far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best nuggets of jargon to come out of Jane's in quite a while. Cheers!

8/15/2003

DDD: Canaja...um...Canadia...er... Canuckistan!!

Ok, here's my long awaited and oft talked about post on Canada. My inagural Demand Driven Drivel essay. My first leap into this arena of reader-direct writing. My something superlative exclamation first primary instance event and spectacle. [ed: Replace with actual words and sentence structure.] Thanks again to Stupid Angry Canajun for the topic and for being my first well-aimed push into this particular ring. (And spectacularly serendipitous, at that)


There was a lot of talk, prior to the Iraq War about the Canadian-American relationship. Traditionally, American thoughts of Canada tend to think back to the halcyon days of World War II when Canada, American, and Britain were the three Anglophone guardians of freedom. By the time we got to 2000, Canada had somehow transformed itself into a France without castles. That - for any country - is a heck of a shift, one that baffles. Germany, France, Russia were all a lot more hostile to American aims, yet of the three only France elicited the same visceral response that Canada did. I've chosen, for the purposes of this essay, to try to explore how and why that relationship turned strange in such a spectacular fashion.

There are three types of people who came to the New World; people who wanted to leave the Old World, people the Old World wanted to kick to the curb, and people who had no say in the matter at all. By and large, the truly involuntary immigrants - the slaves - didn't have much say in the matter at all and, consequently, didn't have an immediate impact as the large as the arrivals from the first two groups.

These first two groups found that the blank slate of the Americas gave plenty of room for intellectual and ideological mutation and experimentation. In one very notable case, a small group of wealthy land owners chose open war against one of the Superpowers of the day (who had the world's largest navy and second largest army). People who were a bit more staid and preferred the status quo migrated, for the most part, to other parts of the Americas who were a bit less fractious. These two parts of the New World were called in later years, the United States of America and Canada.

Over the years, Canada chose a slightly different path of development than the U.S. Once the political situation in North America stabilized (after the obligatory rash of border incidents and political readjustments) both countries settled into a more or less reasonable equilibrium. Although Canada tended to assign more power to the central government and the U.S. tended to follow a different path, both nations settled onto paths that weren't too wildly divergent.

However, as time passed, the citizenry of both nations tended to select the country that more closely mirrored their own preferences. While it's not been at all conscious, for the most part, folks who were a bit more in tune with the Canadian world view migrated north, while folks who were a little less satisfied with that mindset moved south. This is, of course, a massive overgeneralization - the American northeast is still considerably more to the left than the Canadian Rocky Mountain provinces. But, nonetheless, folks who were upset with the Vietnam War usually migrated north, while Canadians dissatisfied with the health care system were often inclined to come south.

Since (whether or not folks want to admit it) Canada and the U.S. are still cut from the same cloth, this attracted little attention over time. Just as the divisions between Europe and the U.S. were insignificant during the Cold War, differences between Canada and the U.S. were, by and large, all but invisible - at least compared to the differences that both nations have with most of the rest of the world.

There was, however, one really big wrinkle in this. Canada is so far inside the American sphere of influence, and America has such predominance in both hard and soft power, both countries starting marching off on different philosophical paths. Kind of like the divergence Robert Kagan describes in this essay. America sees the world as Hobbsean; due to its memory of the twentieth century, tends to view the world as a ruthless jungle of savage brutality, requiring constant vigilance and a strong defense. Canada, however, has lived the latter half of this century totally shielded by the American umbrella. As a result, some Canadians have come to believe in a world where nations, acting as members of a community, can use international law and consensus to derail problems and create consensus among nations.

Clearly, since Americans and Canadians share so much common heritage, this difference isn't nearly as large as it is between, let's say, the U.S. and France. There are still a large number of Canadians who have an outlook that would be familiar to a great number of Americans indeed. Nonetheless, during the history of the Cold War, it was the U.S. that shouldered the responsibility, was drawn into war after war and was (at least as Americans saw it) forced to develop a massive nuclear arsenal to forestall the destruction of civilization itself. Canada was a spectator (or perhaps hostage) to this byplay - never a participant engaged in a life-or-death struggle the same way the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were.

So, while Europe was off chasing utopia, Canada became sort of an Americanized Europe (or European America). For the Canadians who felt very strongly about asserting their differences from America, we see articles that are very much interested in highlighting the ways in which America is not Canada (or more accurately, ways in which Canada is not the U.S.)

Where this really hit a head (and I think engendered a lot of hurt feelings south of the border) is that our erstwihle-brothers who stormed the beaches at Normandy - and gave, proportionately far more than the U.S. - to roll back the malignant shadow of fascism, now turned out to be incredibly alien. Protests in Europe may have gotten under our skin, but far weaker actions on the part of Ottawa shocked a number of Americans through and through.

Now the particular twist that makes this all the more strange, is that Canada and the U.S. are, economically, about as close as two nations can be and still be considered separate. There is talk (although not mainstream commentary) about parts of Canada joining the Union. We share a common language and have the largest unguarded border in the world.

Yet for all this, Americans, heard nonsense like this from what they thought were their own flesh and blood. Canadian MP Carolyn Parrish was quoted as saying "Damned Americans, I hate the bastards." Or, Françoise Ducros who gained notoriety for calling President Bush a "moron." With such wonderful results, as Chretien refusing Ducros' letter of resignation or the Ba'ath Party newspaper employing those words in a propaganda coup.

Without recapitulating the entire litany of back-and forth nonsense, the thing that may have surprised Americans the most was not the opinions, but the sheer miscalculation and utter insensitivity to American ideals and beliefs out of a totally unexpected quarter. I know that there are many, many, many Canadians who were deeply aggrieved and felt incredible loss over 9/11, but what most Americans heard was shrill newspaper commentary and Chretien running around making strange, alien noises.

Having France a monkey throw feces at you is one thing. When your twin brother does it, it's a lot more disturbing.

Epilogue - comments and quotes from both sides… you decide.

Canadian columnist, David Warren:

"Add to this rhetorical flourishes such as Carolyn Parrish's description of the Americans as "bastards". Both the remark and the fact she was only mildly reprimanded was widely reported in the U.S. Moreover, it is becoming clear that such childish anti-Americanism is not confined to the CBC and the NDP, but is now common among a wide cross-section of people in the Liberal government and in our foreign service. It is what they have in common with "Old Europe" --the malice that emerges from an empty snobbery. There is a dangerous shortage of adults in there, at a crucial time."


Van46's blog (where he has an online petition relating to the Ducros "Moron" incident):

"Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's aide Francie Ducros candidly said to a reporter "Bush is a moron". She has since been forced to resign because of the negative backlash that she had to endure. We feel that Ducros' statement was not only fair but warranted and we support her remarks 100 percent. By signing this petition I hereby acknowledge that I in fact believe George W Bush to be a big moron."


From Canadian Friends of America:

"Canada and America share the common destiny of the New World.

I appreciate that you have honoured Canada's sovereignty and her distinct traditions while sharing the longest, undefended, border in the world.

You were our allies against Nazism and Fascism during World War II, and contributed to democracy in Japan and Germany."


Dave Lister, of Boise, Idaho, as quoted in this CBC story:

"Sometimes the closest of friends say mean things about each other, especially siblings… That is how I view Canada and the U.S.: two close siblings that have their occasional quarrels but will patch things up."


God only knows who put this together:

"It comes out of a sincere belief that Canada's Prime Minister looks remarkably like a pumpkin."


UPDATE (Our latest from our reporters at the World-Famous Schadenfreude Theater): Where do we hear the first reports of serious looting from? Detroit? No. New York? No. Toledo? No. Frikkin' Ottawa! All y'all snobby sorts can take that Bowling for Columbine "Bad American Culture of Violence" thesis and shove it cross-wise up yer Chretien!

8/12/2003

TBM: Oil Dependency Nonsense

UPDATE!!! Read the comments! There are some pretty darn smart folks (meaning other than myself, of course) who have a lot of really worthwhile stuff to say. If you give a rat's patootie about what's actually going on in the oil world, rather than reading my screed, go read. Hey, that rhymes! Sorta.

In the comments at Windsofchange.net I left a scribble about oil imports, which has been recapitulated here (with a few editorial additions), for your reading pleasure.

Oil is sold on a free market - there is no such thing as "freeing" yourself from a given source of oil. America, in fact, buys precious little oil from the Mid East. But, if all the oil is sold on an open commodity market, then a drop in oil production in one region jacks up prices everywhere by creating scarcity.

Furthermore, the proportion of world oil production from the ME will continue to rise. Why? Because it's so damn easy to pump it out of the ground there, it's easy to increase the scale of production and it's easy to ship from there. The natural price of Saudi oil is thought to be somewhere around 5$/bbl. You can exploit oil at 20$/bbl to your heart's content, but the lion's share will continue to be the ME.

Above and beyond that, most discussions of dependency don't address indirect imports. If China, let's say, is a consumer of ME oil, and the tap gets shut off, then does the economic disaster magically stop at LAX immigration? Nope. Hell, even the ME countries are expanding their production of crude into refined products. As that continues to get underway, it won't be a matter of alternate suppliers to balance out production; it'll become a matter of refinery capacity. And that sure as heck doesn't have a quick fix.

The only hope, the only possible hope, that West African oil might make a damn bit of difference is if the countries there avoid the "resource curse" and manage to generate a little bit of stability in that Skid Row of failed states.

EBS: A quick strike back..

I would like to welcome the mighty, mighty Rant, to my Retaliatiory Strikes. The main man over yonder is "riding side-saddle on the sacred cow of political and cultural thought." Hopefully, he'll be directing the aforementioned sacred cow in to some sort of facility to convert it all into Big Macs and leather jackets. The only proper use for a sacred cow, really.

EBS: Pruning

Yep, time to prune the blogs. Yes, I'm not entirely happy about giving specific blogs on my roll the heave-ho, but I'll spare y'all the self-interested drivel. If you really want (for whatever godawful reason) to keep me linking, remember, I'm still game for reciprocal links.

8/11/2003

EBS: Demand Driven Drivel

Don't forget to vote! --->

Not much of a participatory democracy if you don't excercize your right to choose.

Elsewhere. got our first DDD request from The Fearsome Stupid Angry Canajun who (in addition to being quite charming) has also done me the great honor of linking me, and is, consquently, my newest Retaliatory Strike. Welcome Aboard! I also gather she makes a seriously bad-ass cake - but for the love of all that is decent - give her plenty of lead time - I'm talking a coupla weeks.

I expect to have something on the Great White Neighbors To The North in a day or two. I jes' need to percolate a smidge.

ICBM: The Left Versus The Democrats

The gap between the “Left” and the Democratic Party is growing. While factionalism has always been a part of party politics, the unique features of American politics, combined with changes in the relationship between media, politicians and the voting public have conspired to create the groundwork for a fundamental shift in American politics.

In America, party membership has a little relationship to ideological alignment. A Vermont Republican may, quite likely, be to the left of a Texas Democrat, even though the Republicans are generally considered to be to the right of Democrats. It is more useful to think of the two main parties as a two halves of a monopoly locked in a constant battle for market share of voters.

The terms “left” and “right” in American politics don’t really have any true underlying significance. Many authors have posited more complex models based on more than just liberal and conservative, and other commentators have suggested more elaborate, multi-dimensional models. In any case, what we specifically identify as “right” and “left” are meaningful only insofar as there are a number of likeminded people who choose these labels for themselves. When I speak of the Left in this essay, I refer to those who think of themselves as “Progressives” or the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

The fact that political alignment has only a coincidental overlap with party affiliation has been one of the distinguishing characteristics of American political life. The philosophical boundaries of each political organization are in a constant state of flux. When one sees Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan finding significant common ground on several contentious issues, it becomes quite apparent that party identification and one-dimensional Left vs. Right models just can’t capture the full flavor of the American political scene. More significantly, it means that there are inherent opportunities for parties to experience large shifts in their political membership.

There are, in political science, phenomena known as realignment and dealignment. Without worrying about details that are primarily of interest to political scientists, let’s take a look at how these are manifesting themselves today. Realignment occurs (very nearly every 36 years or so) when large groups of voters of one or more ideological blocks change party allegiance. There are ways this can happen; one party may be so overwhelmed and unable to compete on an issue that they are simply rendered impotent, in which case the other party gains temporary dominance, based on that one issue. Other times, there is an extraordinarily divisive issue that doesn’t split neatly along party lines – voters then realign themselves according to a new party structure which reflects these deep intraparty divisions. The other phenomenon, dealignment, is considerably more nebulous, as it not certain that it has ever happened in this country and is, therefore, largely a theoretical scenario. Under a dealignment, voters become less and less inclined to affiliate with a specific party, choosing instead to vote for candidates of either party, i.e. they become independents. It is my opinion that dealignment would probably be temporary; should a large number of voters reject one or both of the main parties, it simply means that some group or another will start to claim and woo them – although it may not be either of the main parties. This is how third parties have come into being and ultimately forced an existing second party out of existence. In any case, what realignment and dealignment do mean is that massive shifts in voting preferences and changes in life-long voting patterns have happened before and will probably happen again.

The last realignment occurred in 1968, coincident with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Until that time, much of the American south voted Democratic – a holdover from the Republican leadership of the north during the American Civil War. Since many southern Democrats resented the passage of that act, they rebelled against the Democratic Party. While there was a brief period of upheaval, many of these voters and politicians realigned themselves with the Republican Party simply because passage of the Civil Rights Act demonstrated (to them) that they were no longer influential enough within the Democratic Party to retain significant leverage and protect their specific interests. Coincidentally, this realignment resulted in the anti-communist, pro-defense wing of the Democratic Party to migrate to the Republican Party, giving rise to the decades-old problem the Democrats have had with credibility on national security issues. This lack of credibility on security is one of the largest single problems that Democratic candidates are now confronted with in the post-9/11 environment.

Doing the math, we note that 36 years from 1968 brings us to 2004. This, in and of itself, doesn’t presage any specific change. Events from 1968 onward have, however, laid the groundwork for a spectacularly volatile political landscape, which would appear to be coming to a head in the very near future. These four long-term factors (investigative journalism, media in political campaigns, the birth of the modern protest movement, and the growth of malignantly partisan politics) that have had such a strong influence since the last realignment have created a fertile ground for political change. These trends have allowed the events since 2000 to take on an astonishing life of their own; a life that appears to be ripping the Democratic Party into shreds before our very eyes.

The first, and perhaps most significant of the long term effects is the rise of the continual campaign. Now, for many offices, inauguration simply means the start of a new round of fundraising and campaigning. Even as presidential primaries are pushed earlier and earlier, the so-called invisible primary (in which we see Howard Dean locked in a savage battle with other candidates for pole position when the real primaries start) has started even earlier yet. In the House of Representatives, candidates must start their 2-year reelection campaign as soon as they take office. The result of this constant background buzz of electoral politics is to always keep the voter’s opinion in play. The affiliation of all but the most dedicated party faithful and political activists is always up for grabs. The voter’s favor is constantly bid on, begged for, argued about and eagerly sought by both parties for years on end. While much of this may not be obvious at first, consider the fact that Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell may never even run for the Presidency, yet political observers are interested in their prospects for a 2008 candidacy – a full five years before the election. The effect of the constant campaign is to weaken the party loyalties of all but the most extreme – forcing moderates away from the party faithful. The only people who can be counted on to support the party are increasingly extreme in their views, while moderates have tended to increasingly describe themselves as independent. We can see that moderate voters from both sides of the aisle have been leaving since the sixties – for instance, the number of voters who describe themselves as Democrats has fallen from 45% in 1968 to 32% today, while only 30% of voters now describe themselves as Republicans.

Secondly, the Watergate scandal left fundamentally changed the role of media in political debate. While Watergate was not the birth of either advocacy or investigative journalism, it was a watershed moment for the American media. After Watergate, many in the media started to see journalism less as an impartial chronicler of unfolding history, but rather as the vanguard of a moral crusade to expose lies and protect both individuals and the public. This didn’t come into full bloom for a number of years; one can almost imagine the career arcs of a whole generation of journalists who grew up watching Watergate unfold before their little journalism school eyes. The first big scandalous lesion on the body politic was Abscam in 1980, followed in later years by new scandals erupting on TV screens at an ever-increasing tempo. The litany of outrage then went on to include Iran-Contra, the Donna Rice-Gary Hart sex scandal and the S&L collapse under the elder President Bush. We then transitioned to the entire catalogue of indignation that personified the Clinton administration: Whitewater, Vince Foster, FBI investigations of political opponents, Travelgate, traitorous foreign campaign contributions, and finally, Monicagate. In the 2000, both presidential campaigns were, to a very large extent, concerned only with spinning the latest disastrous allegation while digging up even darker and more sordid details about their opponent. Since the election (or as some readers would have it “selection”) President Bush has been accused of conspiring to allow 9/11 to happen, invading Afghanistan at the behest of Big Oil, invading Iraq to take control of its oil for Haliburton, and falling off a Segway in order to ensure the primacy of Detroit steel and, by extension, Texas oil. Whether or not any of these allegations have any merit isn’t ultimately important, what is significant is that these stories have intellectual currency among the party faithful and extremists. The constant stream of vitriol and vile slander from both sides of the aisle has continually driven former party moderates into the ever growing independent camp. An ongoing atmosphere of scandal now means that the loudest party activists go into each election cycle with blood in their eye and a bellyful of bile – with no room for compromise in their personal crusades against evil – while the bulk of voters become increasingly disenchanted with the entire process and seek only the least repellent candidate.

The third development is the birth of the modern protest movement. While public protest has had a long and fruitful history in the United States, the Vietnam War era protests have a different tone and culture. The protests of the late 60’s and early 70’s have been mythologized and given a place of primacy among activists. Unfortunately, quite often protests don’t actually convert the unconverted any more than a campaign rally woos supporters of other candidates. They are, by and large, means to assemble choirs to be preached to. This leads to something called “Incestuous Amplification” in military circles, defined by Jane’s Defense Weekly as “a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation.” Furthermore, this dichotomy has the effect of (at least in the short run) heightening the divide between the true believer and the rest of the populace – or the divide between the political fanatic and the more cynical centrist.

What makes modern protest even more problematic is that protests over the last few years have all but lost any sense of ideological consensus – or even coherency. One would not be terribly surprised to see a “Free Mumia” placard at an anti-WTO protest although the two subjects have absolutely no relation to each other. Today’s protests have made their tent so large that the only thing they have in common with each other (other than an innate dislike for the current President) is their fondness for chants, slogans and indignation. This embrace of dissonance means that it makes all the sense in the world to associate a whole raft of extremist causes. This has had the effect of creating some very odd cross-branding mechanisms. It’s been seen at any one of a number of mass rallies – protestors arguing about trade policy, environmental problems, human-rights, war, oil, unions without a single cohesive understanding of why they are out there, what they hope to achieve and where they think their going with all the chants, banners, street-performers and “Bush=Hitler” signs.

The fourth development in American politics since realignment has been the slow death of bipartisanship and the increased demand for ideological purity. A few decades ago, politicians were fairly comfortable with compromise, logrolling and bipartisanship. The event that serves as a benchmark for the end of bipartisanship was the filibuster of the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Regardless of the particular merits of Bork as a jurist, prior to that nomination custom dictated that Congressional approval of Presidential nominations was a courtesy, rather than an ideological knife fight. This strongly divisive partisanship doesn’t extend purely to judicial nominations but also manifests itself in the campaign aids which selectively recapitulate voting records, out of context, as a means of quickly suggesting a given candidate is somehow, not ideologically pure. There are some who regard this incivility as a result of the “constant campaign” while still others argue that it was an inevitable result of the increasingly “sound-bite” nature of modern campaigning. Ultimately, the root cause doesn’t matter, since the problem itself is becoming so entrenched that a return to an older political culture is all but impossible.

These four trends have been creating a greater and greater pressure that has transformed party loyalists into powder kegs of political extremism. During the ongoing Clinton-era scandals which hit a fever pitch over Monica Lewinski, the left semi-seriously gave birth to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. The creation (or to some, recognition) of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy shows that a measurable portion of the Democratic Party had started to feel themselves to be a ideological group under threat of constant subversion from some large murky entity that threatened everything they held to be good and true. The media scandal machine had whipped up the Clinton-era conspiracists into a frenzy, which hit a fever pitch with the impeachment proceedings. This sour taste late in Clinton’s second term gave a particularly acrimonious edge to the 2000 campaign in which the son of President Bush would be battling against the running-mate of the most popular Democratic President in recent memory. This, of course, had all the makings of a bitter feud, rather than election as usual.

Without rehashing the bitter disputes over the 2000 election, which is still being fought in some corners three years later, it is clear to see that the faithful of both parties were incredibly invested in the process and outcome of the election. It is probably safe to say that regardless of who became President, some people would, for the first time in living memory, both question the legitimacy of the President and feel that the election result confirmed their worst fears that the country was sliding into totalitarianism. Had Gore won, a number of people would be decrying creeping Stalinism. Since Bush won, a central tenet of the far Left has been the fear that the dark shadow of Fascism has been cast across the land.

By itself, this would have probably faded with time. However, the events of 9/11 have had several important effects on the Democratic Party. First, a number of relatively centrist Democrats who have adopted a fairly hard-line stance on issues of national security have found themselves castigated in recent months by the Left for their “collusion” with (as they see it) an illegitimate and truly evil President. Second, 9/11 has precipitated two wars, which both occurred in rapid succession – an event quite unusual in American history.

Since opposition to war is a touchstone to some segments of the American body politic and the protest movement is a central part of the mythology of these groups, protests against the war were inevitable – along with the conspiracy theories that seem to inevitably accompany such opposition. Unremarkable by itself, these protests gathered together a large number of people who were (for the most part) fundamentally in opposition to the current administration. Protests gathered them together, riled them up and gave them only one outlet for their anger – further protest. It was with these protests, especially those against the Iraq War, which the Left started, unbeknownst to them, mobilizing for the 2004 Presidential elections. While the pre-primary period is generally used to excite and mobilize the party faithful, Democratic candidates were confronted with a party faithful – the anti-war Left – who were already chomping at the bit and ready to do battle. In fact, these folks had been ready to do battle before the inauguration of the current President. Spurred on by attacks on President Clinton, embittered by a close defeat in the 2000 elections and whipped into a froth first by the Afghan and then the Iraq Wars, the party faithful were in a mood for blood – not compromise.

Given this background, it is not surprising in the least that the bulk of the leading Democratic candidates have been lambasted for failing to vocalize the frustrations of the Left by dogmatically opposing the President on all issues – especially those relating to National Security. The party of Truman, Stevenson and Kennedy now, of all things, seems capable only of putting the spotlight on candidates such as Dean, whose relief at the end of the murderous Hussein regime was grudging at best. This, combined with what now seems to be a chronic lack of Democratic credibility on national security issues, seems to show that the Democratic Party has been overrun by the “Mogadishu Democrats.”

Traditionally, candidates have run to the extremes in the Primaries and veered back to the center in the general election. However, events over the last few years mean that Democratic weakness on national security issues has become entrenched, even a defining characteristic of any promising Democratic campaign. As has been suggested in other articles, a substantial portion of this country is Jacksonian in their view of foreign politics. Now the Democrats have all but cut themselves off from that base of support at a time when the American people have precious little patience for niceties and the Kumbaya School of Foreign Relations. Many who subscribe to a more Jeffersonian worldview have been appalled by the fervor with which the anti-war Left has prevented the quickest and most direct means of toppling a blood-thirsty dictator. The cross-branding and unlikely alliances that the anti-war and anti-WTO and anti-World Bank protests have given rise to also means that much of the protest movement, and by extension, the far Left, has been tied into aggressive anti-capitalist protest. This has gone fairly far to drive off even Hamiltonians and cripple the Democratic Party’s ability to find some voting block to mitigate their lurch to the left.

The only faction of the American populace that this movement has not alienated completely is, perhaps, Wilsonians. But the extraordinary desire of the Left to diametrically oppose the President on all issues, including the now-infamous sixteen words jeopardize, paradoxically, even the support of the Wilsonians. Depending on future results on the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the presumably inevitable future claims that evidence was planted, the far Left could drive off even this last bastion of support. That is, assuming, that they weren’t already driven off by the anti-war movement’s weak response to more than a decade of violated treaties, agreements and UN resolutions.

What does all mean in terms of realignment? Well, as indicated earlier, sometimes realignment occurs when one party or the other is unable to compete effectively on a given issue. In the years leading up to this election, the Democrats have been shown to be perpetually weak on issues of security and defense. But this extraordinarily vocal stripe of the Democratic Party that has made itself heard in the last few months, have all but destroyed the ability of the Democratic Party to make any successful claims on national security issues. Combined with the fact that the Democratic Party is being seen, in some corners, as hoping for a sour economy and an embarrassing quagmire in Iraq, the Democrats are sinking and sinking fast.

This brings us, more or less, to the present. Naturally, any guesses about the future are suspect, so I present the following merely as one possible scenario of many. In the long run, the ability of the Republicans to continue to woo moderate voters as long as the War on Terror continues means that they can more safely ignore the fringes of their own party (Buchanan and Robertson) and hopefully, reach out, once again, to the Reagan Democrats. This may mean that the Republicans will dominate the Executive Branch for the remainder of the War on Terror, just as they did for all but four years of the remainder of the Cold War following the 1968 realignment. What holds the biggest possibility of massive shift is whether or not they can continue to gain more seats in Congress. If they manage that, then there is a possibility that the Republican Party will lose coherence and unity, simply because they no longer have a strong opponent to fight against. It is also possible that such a fight may end up alienating either the party extremists or the centrists. If the Party is willing to part ways with extremists to occupy a more favorable position on social issues, then the religious right may, in fact, go back to the Democrats. Although it seems unlikely from this point of view, one must remember that prior to the last realignment, the Democrats were home to the then Southern Democrats. The Democratic Party has always been one of inclusion, managing to unite seemingly disparate groups. The party that campaigns for gay marriages as well as unemployed steel workers could manage to do worse than take on board a decidedly pro-protectionist, isolationist religious right.

UPDATES: Orson Scott Card writes about the failure of labeling and the polarization of the body politic. Peter Beinart suggests another mechanism behind the rise of Dean and the apparent fracture of the Democratic Party.

UPDATE: Orson Scott Card also gives his take on media bias (which just goes to show, I should slow down enough to avoid making 843 updates).

UPDATE: Dr. Frank has a very good post regarding dissecting the far Left. It is interesting (to me) that he essentially gives 1968 as the birth date of the far Left, which coincides with the last major realignment.

UPDATE: A decisive and well-constructed post on division in American politics can be found here, as well as a bit of further musing on political tribalism here.

8/09/2003

EBS: An Announcement on Demand Driven Drivel

I will (at least for the time being) now officially honor any e-mailed request for discourse on a specific topic the highest priority. The trade-off will be that while the post will arrive quickly, the post will be much shorter than it would be had the same topic been chosen in a poll.

And if this method of choosing topics becomes sufficiently popular that I can't keep pace, I will, of course, have to put an end to it.

EBS: DDC and Notes to self...

Quickie update.

First, an observation about Demand-Driven Content. It is a nifty way to go, in general, but it is weak in one particular area that should be a strength for blogs: turn-around time. I want to write on a whole raft of issues, but for whatever reason, the voted upon issues seem to be ones that beg for a long-essay. So, essentially, it means two weeks from the time that I decide to include a topic in the poll and the time the essay is posted. Wayy too long. Still working on a way to make that happen. Got a few ideas, but they'll take time to implement.

Secondly, sometimes there are things I just want to write about, everyone else be damned. Which I think I'll start doing. Maybe I'll keep those short and reserve the longer tomes for elected topics. Not sure yet.


At any rate, a few more topic ideas I'll have to add to the hopper.

1) Short and long term implications for Nanotechnology in Warfare.
2) Parallels between the 20th century ideological struggles and the Wars of Reformation.
3) The Inherent Failure of Progressivism and the Democratic Party.
4) Are "Cyber Attacks" Acts of War?
5) Gen X and the Cultural History of the Cold War.
6) Godel and the Dystopian Futures of Orwell and Zamyatin.
7) Doublethink and the Limits of Post-Modernism.
8) Why NATO is essential to American Power.
9) Marx, Mohammed and the Birth of Islamism.
10) Are Organizations Living Creatures?
11) Why Marxism Never Really Caught on In The US But Did in Europe.
12) Totalitarianism and the Middle Class and American Poltical Nightmares.
13) Why Mini-Nukes Make Sense.
14) The Point of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Program.
15) The Inevitable Failure of Non-Proliferation Efforts.
16) A Mathematical Model Of Political Alignment.
17) Demographics, Pensions and Immigration.
18) Why African Aid Has Failed So Miserably.
19) Why the EU Is Well And Truly Screwed.
20) Demographics, Political Islam and the Oil Weaopon.

EBS: Reciprocal links

Greetings to Spanky's Place, the random musings of a medical misfit, who has graced us all with some fascinating stories about the medical world. Some of them are not funny in the slightest, but a hell of a compelling read. Others are funny in a sub-Saharan gallows-humor sort of way. Either way, a hell of a read, and I'm glad he linked to me, otherwise, I may have never come across his stuff.

BTW, it's worth scootching on down to his bit on the Palestinian two-year old with a hand-gun. For a guy who generally doesn't write political stuff, its a pretty bracing read.

You can now return to your previouslty scheduled weekend.

8/08/2003

EBS: Updates, and whatnot

Ok, kids, since I actually want to be able to post something coherent and I've been kinda busy, the essay won't be posted until Monday.

Additionally, since these topics lend themselves to a lot more writing that most of my extempoeraneous posts, I'm making another format change.

The previous week's essay will be posted as each week's poll is taken down (on Fridays). This will allow me to do two crucial things. Post daily (or at least semi-daily). This is the stuff of blogging and a once-weekly essay won't hack it. Secondly, This will allow me a full week to write the essay, so I have time to write over the weekend and spend the week ruminating and polishing - which is, as always, the big time killer.

Sorry about the delay.

8/07/2003

EBS: Maintainance, Farewells, Hellos and Thanks for all the links...

I would like to thank everyone who linked to me for the first round of the Demand-Driven Content experiment. Additionally, I would like to announce the addition of a few folks to my reciprocal link list. Without further ado...

The Mighty Social Reject - the proud owner of a sharp-witted blog which has just had its 10,000th post. Welcome and congratulations.

And many humble thanks to the mighty Virginia Postrel, proud owner of the Dynamist weblog, and the razor-sharp insight which has given us the dichotomy "Stasis vs. Dynamism" which she explores at great length in writings. I highly recommend her books and if you aren't able to get one of them right this instant, at least zip on over and check out her blog.

And again, thanks to Across the Atlantic (and props to their "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy"-themed Carnival of the Vanities), the Dissident Frogman, One Fine Jay, and Overpressure who have all helped me out in my experimentation. I hope y'all aren't disappointed with the results.

Elsewhere, in addition to the passing of Mean Mr. Mustard's blog, we now also bid adieu to Omnibus Bill at Crimen Falsi. If either one of these folks return to the 'sphere, be sure to check them out. Both are well worth the read.

Additionally, I'll be doing a bit of cleanup on the counter to make the numbers a bit more accurate. Not that anyone really gives a rat's patootie, but just wanted to make my disclaimer before I start rolling back the odometer.