Bill has posted a Qutbdate - chapter 8:4. I'll update my index soon.

I'll be sad to see Bill leave Blogger, but I am looking forward to his move to MT forteh sole reason that he will then actually have a comments section :) in which I plan to spend a significant amount of time....

betrayal of self-interest II

via Jonathan, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have grasped the nettle first. Thankfully, not a car bomb or bus attack, but a single death is as much a tragedy as a busload of children, and deserving of the same condemnation.

Tacitus characterized my ealier post as blind to the nature of the terror groups - I respectfully disagree, and will underline appropriate passages in that post to demonstrate. I also disagree that the Al-Aqsa refusal to join the hudna means that the truce is DOA, because what is important is whether the larger groups (especially Islamic Jihad and Hamas) - which have demonstrated the organizational "skill" (sneer quotes) to exact a far greater price in Israeli blood - remain committed to the hudna (Al-Aqsa is "affiliated" with Fatah in the same way that the Christian Identity folks are "affiliated" with the GOP. But that doesn't mean that they haven't been used as "plausible deniability" brigades by Fatah in the past. It's difficult to tell which are teh pawns and which are the... pawns, in this grim game).

My earlier post was about the (puzzling) willingness of Hamas and IJ especially to adopt the language of hudna with respect to the cease fire. As organizations whose self-proclaimed legitimacy is derived solely from an Islamic context (unlike Fatah and Al-Aqsa and the old PLO itself, all strictly secular nationalist movements), their personal commitment to Islam is irrelevant. If they break the hudna without cause, then they sacrifice their own Islamic credentials in the eyes of the general populace. I might think that those credentials are a total mockery, but what I think is not relevant.

If Israel responds to this provocation by Al Aqsa with a massive onslaught, that would however give IJ and Hamas therationalization they need to break the hudna. It's anyone's guess as to whether (secular) Al-Aqsa was acting as a plausible deniability brigade for (religious) Hamas and/or IJ solely in order to provoke such a reaction from Sharon. I'm sure that there are plenty of people willing to believe that the root of all such machinations lie with one side or the other.

Let's assume that this is entirely a plot by Hamas or IJ to pretend to a truce, and then find a way around it. What then makes me completely confused is, again, why bother with a formal hudna? Maybe they are just masochists by proxy, I don't know.

anyway, it's clear that Al Aqsa is either a pawn or just terminally (I hope) clueless. The question is whether there is any subtlety and cleverness on the Sharon side of things to respond the way that the nutjobs want them to, or whether Sharon can look beyond this cycle and deal with Hamas and IJ on the basis of their actions, not Al-Aqsa. The temptation to lump all Palestinian groups into one common morass of motives is tempting, but ultimately exactly what the radicals on the Palestinian side are counting on.

I should clarify that I do think Sharon is a rational actor. But I also think that from his perspective, increasing settlement activity, building the wall, and rejecting the road map all fall into his perception of "self interest". I doubt he sees it as putting the settlers above the rest of Israel's needs - in fact, I wager that he sincerely believes that what is good for teh settlers will ultimately benefit Israel. Such is the problem of mixing religious belief with policy - hardly unique to the Islamic world.


the price of liberty: tax cuts paid for with blood

via TBogg:

... George W Bush, the pilot hero of USS Abraham Lincoln, ... is fighting to keep our precious taxdollars out the hands of the parasitic widows and orphans of US soldiers who have died defending our equally precious freedoms.

For example, the White House griped that various pay-and-benefits incentives added to the 2004 defense budget by Congress are wasteful and unnecessary � including a modest proposal to double the $6,000 gratuity paid to families of troops who die on active duty. This comes at a time when Americans continue to die in Iraq at a rate of about one a day.

Why look. He saved us $6000 just today. With two hundred soldiers dead in Iraq so far, this is adding up to some serious money.

Daily Kos has a lot more about how our soldiers, dying to defend our freedom, are being "thanked" by the GOP:

They LIE to place our troops in harms way. Then they:

* Refuse to double the $6,000 gratuity to the families of soldiers who die in harms way.

* They roll back pay increases for troops in harms way.

* They refuse to pass servicemember-friendly tax provisions, as the GOP's corporate masters get first dibs.

* They provide meager basic increases for the lower ranks.

* They cut the Pentagon's building budget (which pays for things such as barracks improvements, bowling alleys and other quality-of-life improvements at military bases, something that was really important to us soldiers), in order to make room for Bush's tax cuts.

In fact, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee tried to restore $1 billion of the construction money, and proposed paying for it by trimming some of the recent tax cuts for those making more than $1 million. Get this: under Obey's proposal, instead of an $88,300 break, they would've gotten an $83,500 cut.

The Republicans killed the proposal. To Republicans in Congress, $4,800 for their richest benefactors was more important than improving the quality of life of our men and women in uniform.

Can the GOP at least spare a child tax credit for our underpaid soldiers? The Marine Corps Times notes, "House Republicans dig in against child tax credit for combat troops".

This is part of a broader pattern of saluting the troops - with the middle finger - by Bush and the GOP.

the hudna and the betrayal of self-interest

The term "hudna" is essentially "truce" in Arabic. The term, in the Islamic context, is part of the large and rigorous body of jurisprudence and theologic interpretation of the limitations on war (often ignored by so-called Islamic groups when it is politically convenient). It's not my intent to explain the subtleties of hudna - but to point out that adopting the phrase amounts to a kind of straitjacket for the various terror groups (Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and Hamas) that the simpler language of "cease-fire" does not.

An article in Ha'aretz by Zvi Bar'el analyzes the hudna in detail:

Something happened over the weekend. On Friday Sheikh Ahmed Yassin announced that the Hamas decided on what is known as hudna or "suspension of resistance acts," but delayed the official
announcement until the end of the consultations with other Palestinian organizations. The Fatah declared it would present its own proposal and the Islamic Jihad said it intends to adopt "a calming down."

I believe that Sharon lacks the political and ideological motivation to allow this process to move forward. The Israeli governments response to the hudna betrays the political self-interest of the settlers (to whom Sharon is beholden at the expense of the rest of the Israeli polity):

Israel's reaction, as expected, was that the hudna means nothing because it does not include dismantling the Hamas, which is defined as a terror organization. In other words, Israel will not accept less than a Palestinian civil war, even at the price of the Palestinian Authority's losing control.

The rhetoric of the Israelis and the Bush administration aside, there is a real potential here for progress, because the reason the terror groups are willing to unilaterally adopt the constraining language of the hudna is to achieve a united Palestinian government:

The importance of the hudna, if obtained, lies in the two objectives the PA will achieve from it. First and foremost, it will bring the opposition groups and the Hamas and Jihad, which were not part of the PLO, back into a broad national framework under a common leadership.

The second goal, deriving from the first, is the implementation of Abu Mazen's vision to have one law, one security force and one leadership. The PA will be spared going to war against Palestinian citizens to disarm them. The Hamas' weapons will become an inseparable part of the Palestinian defense establishment. The new Palestinian leadership will also be able to relieve the Hamas and Islamic Jihad of the title "terror organizations" and show the world a relevant leadership speaking with one voice and representing one policy.

If these goals are achieved, they will be the most important outcome of the intifada, because only they will enable the advancement of political processes in the territories - holding elections, rebuilding the institutions, uniting the armed forces and applying one law to all. Before all this can happen, Abu Mazen will have to conduct the political negotiations with a heavy load of radical Islamic millstones around his neck.

Incorporating the terror organizations into a single umbrella is essential to creating the environment for actual reform in the PA government. As long as Hamas for example exists outside the PA, providing social services to the Palestinian people from its civil wing, they will act as both a check upon the legitimate PA government and be freer to operate their terror threats and attacks against innocent Israeli people. The right model here is Sinn Fein - a way of co-opting the political currency of the terror group and thus achieving the goal of disarmament not by force, but rather by expediency.

Of course this does not mean that Islamic Jihad or Hamas will renounce their political goals of destroying Israel or implementing Sharia or their other nonsense, but as political parties in a united PA government, these are tempered by check and balaces inherent to government, just as the GOP's impulses to tear down Roe vs Wade or Social Security are thwarted even during absolute GOP rule over all three branches of the US government:

The Hamas and Jihad are the rivals of the PA no less than they are enemies of Israel. But the hudna may create a new equation of checks and balances in which the Hamas and Jihad will have a political whip, which will be recognized by the PA as well. They will be able to veto any political move of the PA, because they will be part of the process itself.

Hence the tremendous importance of the Israeli reaction in the civil and military arenas. The better the PA is able to demonstrate to the Palestinian public that the hudna is indeed a turning point to a better life, and that there is a real reward to renouncing the armed struggle, the more the opposition groups will have to adapt to public opinion.

And that is the key - that the entire process must result in a notable improvement in conditions for the general Palestinian populace, who are the real target audience that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the PA are all struggling to influence. The one thing that partisans of both sides in the conflict refuse to acknowledge - for purely polemical reasons - is that both sides are rational actors. The demand that the Palestinian terror groups simply "disarm" as a precondition for peace is nonsensical. The right way to actually achieve their disarmement, however, is to give Abu Mazen the breathing room to make it appealing for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah to cede to his authority.

This is a critical opening - and the language of the hudna is the sign.

I am a pessimist about the conflict however. My prediction is that Sharon will order another assassination either today or tomorrow, and this will of course shatter the agreements being reported today. If that happens, then the hudna will have been broken, and the cycle will continue.

But the road map will of course be derailed, and there won't be any dismantling of settlements. And that's the only goal that Sharon has.

UPDATE: Fatah has joined the hudna, probably because of Marwan Barghouti's tireless efforts at convincing them of the counter-self-interest of not doing so. I had also agreed with Jonathan's assessment that the minor terror groups probably would not sign on, but to my surprise, it seems that at least two (PFLP, DFLP) have done so. But it only takes one angry terrorist, regardless of his affiliations, to give Sharon an excuse - and I doubt Sharon even needs an excuse anyway, to stop this momentum.



Steven has a great post about the promotion of General John Abizaid, who succeeds Tommy Franks at the head of CENTCOM. I've written before about why I thought Abizaid was the perfect choice to run postwar Iraq:

The best thing about him is that he will be able to articulate the US policy and rationale during postwar administration in a way that has cultural resonance with Arabs. Lecturing Arabs about the failure of their face-based culture is simply counter-productive self-righteousness, but Abizaid can make much the same point without the condescension.

and I'd like to reiterate my request to anyone who may have access to his policy paper, "Lessons for Peacekeepers." in Military Review 73:11-19 (1993) to please send me a copy.

It's good that I was wrong about Abizaid being appointed to run Iraq. As the commander of CENTCOM, he can have an even greater influence on America's foreign policy in the Middle East, and help shape the future of the region.


dangerous games

The GOP's obsession with President Clinton is a symptom of a growing radicalization of conservative politics in this country (which has only accelerated under total GOP control of all three branches of government, instead of diminshing as I had expected). In a spectacular inversion, the conservative moderates are pushed farther and farther to the fringes, until they are left alone on the field, contemplating their impotence.

This is harmful in the general First Amendment sense because such radicalization and conformity dominating 50% of the political landscape acts to undermine the free discussion of ideas in our society, dialouges that serve the common good by fostering the ideal of the best solution to each problem, based on merit, not ideology. The mainstream of conservative thought however labels dissent as Treason, and disagreement as Bias.

But sometimes this damage to our society takes a much more direct form. The media never grapples this issue directly, preferring to hide behind an illusion of objectivity - but you can sometimes discern the larger picture by reading between the lines. Case in point: this story in the AP.

Read between the lines:

Nearly a dozen current and former senior U.S. officials described to AP the extensive discussions in 2000 and 2001 inside the Clinton and Bush administrations about using an armed Predator to kill bin Laden. Most spoke only on condition of anonymity, citing the classified nature of the information. Two former national security aides also cite some of the discussion inside the Bush White House in a recent book they published on terrorism.

The officials said that within days of President Bush taking office in January 2001, his top terrorism expert on the National Security Council, Richard Clarke, urged National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to resume the drone flights to track down bin Laden, citing the successes of late 2000.

The drones were one component of a broader plan that Clarke, a career government employee, had devised in the final days of the Clinton administration to go after al-Qaida after the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Clinton officials decided just before Christmas 2000 to forward the plan to the incoming Bush administration rather than implement it during Clinton's final days, the officials said.

So in January of 2001 - 8 months before 9-11 - the Bush Administration was briefed about the counter-terrorism plans of the Clinton Administration, notably the use of armed Predator drones to hunt and kill bin Laden.

Continue on:

After Clarke's briefing in January, the drone plan was discussed again in late April by national security deputies and the test on the mock-up of bin Laden's home was conducted in July. A Bush administration official said Rice was generally supportive of the idea as part of a broader strategy.

At a White House meeting of Bush's national security principals on Sept. 4, 2001, senior officials discussed several ideas, including use of the drones, as they finalized a plan to accelerate efforts to go after al-Qaida amid signs of a growing threat of a domestic attack.

Among those present were Rice, CIA Director George Tenet, soon-to-be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Clarke, then Bush's anti-terrorism chief inside the White House.

So a week before 9-11, the plan which was formulated by the previous administration was still unimplemented. A week before 9-11, the findings of Bush's own new terrorism task force and security analyses were only being finalized, despite the fact that there were detailed plans that were ready to have been implemented as early as January.

Why do you think that is? the narrative that emerges from the AP story is a focus on the "missed opportunity" of OBL's dramatic escape from a hellfire missile. Entirely lost is the analysis of what the Bush Administration was doing to counter terrorism (ie, nothing) a week before 9-11 despite having a detailed plan of action sitting unused for 8 months.

Read between the lines...

for a detailed analysis of what the Clinton Administration had done to address the terrorist threat by OBL, I suggest The Age of Sacred Terror, by former Clinton staffers Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon.

Related: see Eschaton for the original link and analysis. Also see this comment by Leah on that thread.

keeping score

Just to summarize:

Apple released spec benchmarks of its new G5 desktops. Claimed they were faster than a specific Dell system.

The same benchmark performed by the actual group that wrote the benchmark (not Dell) showed a much higher score than Apple demonstrated for the Dell.

The poor performance of the Dell under Apple's tests was because Apple did not use Intel's optimized and processor-tuned compiler for the pentium chip, instead using GCC.

Sources: Slashdot 1, Slashdot 2, Slashdot 3. Also see Apple's powermac site, and a detailed rebuttal.

As usual, the fine details are more exhaustively analyzed in the comment threads of the Slashdot posts than in the lede. But given Apple's history of deceit when it comes to speed claims (and their waffling marketing claims: Mhz matters! no it doesn't! yes it does!) it's unsurprising that Apple has no credibility whatsoever.

But what really is surprising is that Apple has returned to emphasize performance as a selling point for their machines, when all the most articulate defenders of the Mac have always been mor focused on software and OS (sadly, Brian is now also drinking the Kool-Aid with the usual "but they just wouldn't! they couldn't! they're Apple for god's sake!" true believer Jobs theology).

The most devastating argument against Apple's transparent attempt to recast their new desktops as superior to Intel rather than as an improvement over the G4 (which they assuredly are, and brilliantly so) is made by a great article in OS News:

I am not saying that G5 is slow. It is not! It is a fast machine. It is the product that has made Apple really caught up with the competition. But I don't see the dual G5 at 2 GHz overcoming the x86 today. Intel released today a 3.2 GHz P4 and they expect a new P4 version (faster core per same speed), to go all the way up to 4 GHz before the end of this year. Apple's roadmap is to reach 3 GHz in a year from now. So, has Apple caught up now for real, or Intel will speed through again and leave Apple in the same condition as it was until last Sunday night? We will know in a few months.

Apple's claim that the G5 is the "fastest desktop in the world" is false to begin with, but even more telling is that Apple's hardware moves forward in discrete steps whereas Intel is always evolving. Even if Apple could compete on speed, it coudl also never match PCs on price - which means that the only people buying these Macs for the speed will be those who already are drinking Kool Aid.

UPDATE: Now, THIS is why buying a Mac makes sense. THAT's the selling point - the kind of thing that makes an ambitious consumer think, "maybe I wouldn't mind dropping $1000 each for a few Powerbooks to act as terminals around the house someday."

It is inexplicable to me why Apple insists on screwing about with lies and statistics and stupid claims about performance when it has real value to offer consumers.

we are better than this

Jim Henley has a powerful moral argument against the recent attack on a "desert caravan" which was purported to have killed Saddam. We still don't know if Saddam's remains will be found, but we do know that :

At about 1:30 a.m., as the four trucks burned, the first of about five missiles struck Hamad's brick house, he said. Although everyone was sleeping outside, debris killed his sister-in-law, 20-year-old Hakima Khalil, and her daughter, Maha. Khalil's husband, Mohammed, was wounded in the foot. Hamad, his 24-year-old brother Mahmoud and his mother, Rasmiya Mishaal, 62, were also hurt. Mahmoud suffered the severest injuries, with deep cuts to his back and face.

Jim notes that Maha was one year old. Is this how we win the peace? But whether or not we actually killed Saddam in this attack is irrelevant. Jim writes:

...we're doing too much of this. Blow it up first, then see if the corpses are the specific people you were aiming for.
Bomb first, swab later. It reduces the risk to American infantrymen at a known cost in lives of innocent foreigners. No surrounding the convoy and demanding surrender, no up close and personal. Hit them with a Hellfire or a helicopter autocannon. Act on "intelligence" that you lack the knowledge and experience to vet. Pick through the cinders to see how you did.

This is wrong. It is the callous policy of an evil government. This was not a wartime operation to capture a strategic crossroads. This was, supposedly, an effort to detain specific fugitives in a country where "major combat operations have ended." In that context it is not moral to kill strangers because one or two of them might be in your deck of cards.

It is callous - and immoral, because (exactly like the IDF in the West Bank), this policy denies all moral responsibility for causing the deaths of innocents. Collateral damage is an immoral and callous concept.

There's another word for this policy besides "callous" however - it is also cowardly. And we as a nation are better than this.


liberals and libertarians: natural allies

In my last post, I mentioned my belief libertarians and liberals are natural allies. One commentator presented a rebuttal which I feel is accurate when trying to decide if a given Democrat and a given Libertarian might see common ground. But the question is not about Democrats and the Libertarian Party, it's about "liberals" and "libertarians" which are intersecting but not identical sets.

The voting record of partisans on specific issues do not define the philosophies of these two political schools, they are more an inherited set of positions. And the position a given elected official takes is as much influenced by politics, personality, personal conviction, and self-interest as it is by party platform. And party platform itself is as much influenced by political opportunism as it is by any ideology. Trying to infer an alliance between political ideologies based on teh voting habits of individual members of political parties is therefore flawed.

Fundamentally, though, libertarians believe that an individual is sovereign and that they are best empowered to make decisions for their own personal lives. Liberals believe that people are valuable, and that empowerment of the indivoidual benefits society as a whole. These are closely related and compatible concepts. The assault on personal freedoms by social conservatives and the unregulated-capitalist removal of opportunity from the masses, consolidating it into the hands of teh elite, is an anathema to both libertarians and liberals as a result.

Fundamentally, liberals and libertarians have much in common because their vision is centered on the individual, and liberty (defined as the freedom to pursue happiness). Of course there are profound disagreements in how to achieve these end goals. But these are disagreements of method alone.

A truly fanatic libertarian might well advocate total demolishment of the social services net, just as a truly fanatic liberal might advocate a 30-hour workweek or retirement at age 50. But these positions are taking the respective core beliefs to an extreme interpretation.

Both libertarians and liberals could theoretically find a middle ground that finds a balance between social services and deregulation, without ceding any liberty authority to moneyed elites and corporations.

This is why I believe a liberal like Howard Dean, who does not fit the classic Democrat mold (for example, see his budget-balancing record and his stance on gun control), is well-positioned as an ally to libertarian causes (and why I advocate a possible vote-swap between liberals trapped in GOP states and libertarians in swing states).


Looking Ahead: vote swapping

This will be the summer of short-term goals. The Dean campaign is like a powerful train, chugging determinedly up what is still a very gradual slope. We have a long way to go before we even start thinking about strategizing for the nomination, let alone the primary. But I think that some examination of long-term strategy is important, and so this will be the first in a semi-regular series called Looking Ahead[1] that will analyze the General Election[2].

I have argued before that the 2000 Election was a triumph for American democracy. Not the end result, but rather the process:

In the end, Bush was uniquely positioned to win, and Gore uniquely positioned to concede (in possibility the greatest concession speech in history). I cannot even conceive how they would have acted had the roles been reversed. I imagine Bush would not have been nearly as gracious, and that the Republican grassroots would have erupted in low-intensity PR warfare. It would have been the Clinton era of GOP activism but ten times worse. And I simply don't see Gore as having been able to make the tactical decisions necessary to win (count the overvotes, demand a statewide recount not just in Miami Dade). Gore tried to keep the federal courts out of the fray, at first, and thus lost significant traction to Bush (who brilliantly went straight to the Circuit courts even as GOP PR minions were accusing Gore of trying to make a federal issue out of something clealrly a states-rights issue. Hypocrisy can often be a brilliant tactical weapon).

But again, the essential point was that the system worked. The Constitution held up, there was a clear line to be drawn and the Supreme Court in the end drew that line. You can argue that the SCOTUS was partisan, but the fact remains that it was the SCOTUS that was partisan and not some military tribunal. Scalia is better than Musharraf, and if you disagree, you are hopelessly ignorant of the basis of American freedom.

Many will point to the Electoral College as the root cause of Gore's loss - but as the link explains in detail, the purpose that the EC serves is critical to ensuring that the Office of the Presidency remains committed to the interests of the entire nation, rather than that of a specific (and highly populous) region. Disagree as you might, the Electoral College will nevertheless remain for the 2004 election - and this is the reality which we need to strategize for.

This poses a dilemma for Dean supporters in states such as Texas which are certain to have a plurality of votes for Bush. Even if 49% of the states' voters could be persuaded to vote Democratic, the entire slate of electoral votes would still go to Bush (keep in mind that each state is free to determine whether their electoral votes are winner-take-all or not). my vote for Dean in Texas 2004 (just like my vote for Gore in Texas 2000) is a wasted vote.

I solved this dilemma in the 2000 Election by vote swapping. The idea was to use the Internet for "vote-swapping" between Nader supporters in swing states like Michigan, Oregon, etc. and Gore supporters in Republican-dominated states like Texas, Virgina, etc. Gore supporters would vote for Nader and Nader supporters would vote for Gore. That way Gore would not lose Electoral College votes to Bush (and Nader supporters would be assured their support for third-party politics will not give them a President opposed to their agenda, ie Bush). And Nader would get the 5% of the popular vote he needed to fund Greens 2004. Everyone would have won[3].

The idea was first promoted in an article in Slate, and was quickly implemented by netroot activists, establishing the vote-swap sites Vote Exchange and Nader Trader[4]. This was, I believe, the first time that The Internet played such a direct role in manipulating a national election, and should be considered a historical event. Vote-swapping is the ancestor of Meetup and blogs and Howard Dean TV.

In the end, as many as 10,000 people swapped their votes (including me). Given that the election was lost in Florida by a margin of just a few hundred, this was a painfully close-but-no-cigar outcome. The Internet could literally have delivered the election to Gore - if only there had been Meetup back then!

Looking ahead then - what about 2004? How do we harness the millions of votes that Dean supporters in states like Texas, Virginia, etc want to cast but will ultimately be negated? If Nader runs again in 2004 - the Green party holds their convention in June in Milwaukee - then vote-swapping with Nader supporters will definitely be an option. But even if Nader doesn't run, or the Greens don't field a candidate, there still is a lot of good that GOP-captive Dean supporters can do with their otherwise nullified votes. Specifically, we could support the Libertarian Party candidate (usually Harry Browne), with an eye towards building an alliance and luring libetarians away from a GOP that pays mere lip service to their ideology anyway (traditionally, American liberals and libertarians have actually always had more in common).

Vote-swapping is a way to reclaim the power of a single vote - and to spend the "vote capital" in more diverse ways than mere direct election of your candidate. We have a lot of thinking to do as to how to invest that capital - to change its value from zero to something net positive.

I support Howard Dean. But I can't help him by voting for him.

[1]The series will also be cross-posted to DEAN 2004 blog.
[2]That Howard Dean will win the Democratic nomination is an axiom, of course :)
[3]Note that vote-swapping was immune, from the perspective of the Gore supporter, to cheating by either a Nader supporter or a Bush supporter masquerading as a Nader supporter. Even if the other person in the swing state lies and did not cast their vote for Gore as promised, the net effect is the same as if there was never any trade.
[4]All these sites are now offline. A third site, Vote Swap 2000, was closed down by the FEC. And a fourth site, Vote Auction, was also set up for people to directly sell their votes. Despite FEC regs and federal law prohibiting the outright selling of votes, keep in mind that this is what happens on a practical level every time a PAC makes a donation to a candidate.


whither Qutbdates?

I've been remiss in keeping my index to Ideofact's Qutb series updated, but I still access Bill's site every day, anxiously awaiting the eventual analysis of Chapter 10...


I'm asking for it

I don't suffer from delusions that my readership approaches anything like DailyKos or Howard Dean or Tacitus levels, so declaring this post to be an open thread is probably just hubris. Still, I'm curious as to what response I'll get, so here is an open thread anyway.

here's a suggested topic - which Flame Warrior am I?[1] (yes, yes, I know, I know...)

[1] Given that UNMEDIA tends to attract a majority of critics in the comment threads, I trust all of you will be brutally honest :)

halal and kosher in the UK

Muslims and Jews are cousins - in fact the greatest threat to our respective religions is not each other, but the concerns of te material world against which we must be united. Case in point: an attempt to ban the halal and kosher slaughter of animals in the UK:

The method of animal slaughter used by Jews and Muslims should be banned immediately, according to an independent advisory group.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), which advises the government on how to avoid cruelty to livestock, says the way Kosher and Halal meat is produced causes severe suffering to animals.

Both the Jewish and Muslim religions demand that slaughter is carried out with a single cut to the throat, rather than the more widespread method of stunning with a bolt into the head before slaughter.

Kosher and Halal butchers deny their method of killing animals is cruel and have expressed anger over the recommendation.

It remains to be seen whether this issue is addressed jointly by muslim and jewish groups or whether they choose to fight the battles separately out of mistrust. Guess which strategy will succeeed and which will fail?

America is the greatest Islamic country in the world precisely because the ideals of religious freedom and liberty allow muslims (and jews alike) to practice their religion freely.


Apparently, there are (gasp) trolls on the Internet!

I went to GNXP looking for good discussion on genetics and instead found this long post about a tempest in a teapot , a blogger called Mac Diva. I also saw a brief mention of this blogger at Tacitus, but never took the linkbait. I just assumed she was an unreasonable and militant computing ally of Brian Tiemann (who I think is one of the coolest dudes in the Metaverse).

Now, Dwight Meredith has a moving post that chronicles how this troll has done what trolls do - poison the well of online communities. Sadly, the blogsphere is not the first part of the Internet to have experienced this phenomenon, nor will it be the last. Dwight berates himself for having not spoken up earlier, but I think the lesson of the past is more applicable when dealing with trolls.

Feed them at your peril.

Of course, mocking them (and still refusing to feed them) is fair game, because as entertainment you just can't beat a troll for PSR (Pity to Sympathy Ratio). For example, note how in Dwight's coments section, a commentator named Atrios Jr. decides to disagree and critique Mac Diva:

I was recently caught up in this madness, and have learned much of this story just in the last few days, and I must say that this is by far the most well written, even handed account I have come across.. I can tell you first hand that it is a wacky world the Diva lives in, one I hope to never end up in again. Take this as a warning, I was once fooled by her, don't let it happen to you.

Atrios, jr. | Email | Homepage | 06.12.03 - 8:01 pm | #

Atrios, Jr., in my world there is a wrong and a right. In yours, there is just instigation of whatever trouble you can cause or add to. I prefer my world.

Mac Diva | Email | Homepage | 06.12.03 - 10:24 pm | #

I feel I see this particular situation with a clarity that few can, because I do not happen to know the others involved, and once greatly admired Mac Diva.. but I have been completely turned off by her incessant pleas for attention, and disgusted by the means in which she tries to achieve her goals, and saddened by her ability to lash out at anyone who disagrees with her. Please Mac Diva, I beg of you.. quit emabarassing yourself now before you lose the last bits of respect anyone has left for you. Can't you see this is not a conspiracy? That I have not been swayed by your "attackers", but merely have begun to see you for who you really are? It's time for all of us to stand up and say "enough is enough".. I for one can only stand so much.

Atrios, jr. | Email | Homepage | 06.12.03 - 11:16 pm | #

*snicker* "I can see the situation with a particular clarity" indeed! Making up alternate identities, and then engaging in debates with yourself, is old hat on the Net with people who just don't have the imagination to talk with people other than themselves. Mac Diva, as trolls go, isn't even that good at it, her alternate personas are amateurishly disguised.

If I set up a guest blog for Atrios Jr. and Mac Diva to debate Netiquette, I'd probably be able to charge admission. To psychiatrists.

It's pointless to go on a condemnation spree and meticulously document the spree of a given troll (though I'm indebted to GNXP for my amusement at Diva's little schizophrenic exchange). The more you try to play the rational-evidence game with a troll, the more you fall into their trap. And that's exactly what they want. It's easy to declare jihad on a troll, it's much harder to simply walk away.

You have been trolled. Have a nice day.

UPDATE: I am indeed wrong on occassion. Well, I haven't conclusively proved that Mac Diva and Atrios Jr. aren't the same person, but having looked at their IP addresses, I found that one uses US West and the other Comcast. I find it unlikely that the same person would have two separate cable modem accounts. It is possible that one person is borrowing someone else's account or at a friend's house, but when the level of assumption exceeds two layers, I prefer to employ Occam. So now unless presented with evidence otherwise, the burden of proof has shifted and I think the probability that they are different people is low.

Mac Diva, Atrios Jr., my apologies to both of you for accusing you of being each other. Actually, my special apologies to Atrios Jr. for accusing him/her of being Mac Diva (whose behavior under her Mac Diva pseudonym has been troll enough that the entirety of Dwight's accusations stand). I've stricken the portions of the above post accordingly.

But note that YHBT. HAND> still stands as a reminder to all - do not feed the trolls. You'll regret it...

collateral damage and niyat

Katherine, a commentator on this Tacitus post about Israel's jihad on Hamas, writes:

Suicide bombers intentionally kill civilians--they want that result to happen. Israel knowingly kill the family members of Hamas leaders--they know that it will result from their actions; but they will be happy, not disappointed to find out they weren't in the car after all.

So there is a distinction. But most states treat crimes committed knowingly and those committed intentionally exactly the same. They certainly do so for homicide.

this comment resonates with an Islamic understanding of judgement. The concept of niyat (intention) is a major input to the evaluating the consequences of your actions (in both the material and spiritual regimes). Niyat is of course a major factor in the American judicial system as well - for example, its why some people are charged of manslaughter and others murder-1.

That said, the concept of "collateral damage" is absolutely immoral because it seeks to disavow all responsibility. To take the manslaughter example, consider scenario A, the teenager driving drunk who hits a tree that falls and kills a man. The teen will be charged with manslaughter, because despite the fact that killing the man (or felling the tree) was not his niyat, it was still the direct consequence of his actions. Saying the tree killed the man doesn't work because the "upstream" causal actor was the teen. The tree didn't decide to fall down because teh teen hit the tree, it fell because that was part of the immediate mechanical outcome of the teen's decision to act wrongfully - drive drunk.

Scenario B: If the teen was actually driving sober and lost control of his car because of a road hazard, then there was no wrongful action on the teen's part and the resulting death would not be directly caused by his upstream actions.

Collateral damage essentially argues that the death caused by the upstream is analgous to Scenario B. I disagree, because there is known, finite, and probable outcome that you will it a tree and kill a man when you go out driving sober. However, teh decide to fire a missile into a civilan area, there is indeed a known and probable outcome that noncombatants will be killed. By pursuing the action regardless, you are firmly in Scenario A.

Compare and contrast teh actions of the American military with the IDF - when faced with fedayeen firing from the rooftops of civilian homes, our forces withdrew (and actually lost an Apache). IDF helicopters in the same scenario would have simply leveled the neighborhood.

Collateral damage may be necessary from a tactical standpoint, but it still amounts to manslaughter. Any attempt to justify it is absolutely immoral and indefensible.

UPDATE: Jon H. in the comments points out:

The IDF used a missile strike into a densely populated civilian area in retribution for a Hamas attack against only military targets, which killed 4 IDF soldiers. Killing military personnel doesn't count as 'terrorism'


are children a priority?

Compare Vermont's standings in the 2003 Kids Count Data Book compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore, with those of Texas. These are the legacy of their respective former governors.

UPDATE: It's astounding that people think Texas' larger population and size somehow make it less outrageous, not more, that the state can't make children a priority. Invoking population is a bogus knee-jerk partisan defense. If it were even remotely applicable, then why do states with larger populations than Texas rank higher? Why don't the smallest states appear at the top?

The simple fact is that children's health is CHEAP. Children (even up to age 25) are very economical to insure. The fact that Texas ranks so poorly - despite being a much larger state with correspondingly greater financial, natural, and economic resources - is a simple reflection of the low priority that children's health issues rank with the state government.

Investing in healthy children has tremendous downstream positive impact on your economy and your society. Texas fails this standard - and its size shoudl mean it does better, not worse.

Hug a Jew

as a follow-up to the footnote in my last post about the roots of anti-semitism in Arab cultures, I have to point out the Hug a Jew! column over at Muslim WakeUp! They also have a link to an important article by Tariq Ramadan, grandson of teh founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who addresses the incompatibility of anti-Semitism with Islamic teaching:

�To my regret, anti-Semitic utterances have been heard not only from frustrated and confused young Muslims, but also from certain Muslim intellectuals and imams,� he says, �who in every crisis or political backsliding see the hand of the �Jewish lobby.� There is nothing in Islam that gives legitimization to Judeophobia, xenophobia and the rejection of any human being because of his religion or the group to which he belongs. Anti-Semitism has no justification in Islam, the message of which demands respect for the Jewish religion and spirit, which are considered a noble expression of the People of the Book.�

Even when he identifies urges that have their source in economic distress and social frustration, or the desire to protest against Israel�s oppressive policy, among people who express themselves in an anti-Semitic way and are involved in anti-Semitic acts, Ramadan refuses to demonstrate understanding or forgiveness toward them. He says: �The social and political forces in the Muslim communities must act to educate toward the delegitimization of elements of anti- Semitism. Leaders and imams have the responsibility to disseminate an unequivocal message about the profound connections between Islam and Judaism and Islam�s recognition of Moses and the Torah.�

�Despite what is happening today in Israel and Palestine, despite [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon�s policy, despite the feelings of anger and frustration - those responsible for all the Muslim political and social organizations must open a clear dialogue that distinguishes between criticism of Israel�s policy, and anti-Semitic and Judeophobic statements and actions. This is lacking today and this is a great responsibility.�

This is a critical aspect of akhlaq (character) for a muslim - adherence to the Truth and rejecting falsehood for short-term political gain. The abuse of religion to justify anti-Semitism is a great atrocity on both the material and spiritual levels.

Ramadan is careful to identify the shared responsibility of both Muslims and Jews with regard to invoking anti-semitism as a barrier to dialouge[1] :

Ramadan warned, in his interview with Ha�aretz that two dangerous phenomena exist side by side: one is criticism of and protest against the Israeli government�s policy toward the Palestinians that are accompanied by declarations that deny that the Holocaust took place and the other defines any criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish propaganda and as ignoring the memory of the Holocaust.

�Recently, in a public debate that was held in Brussels on the war in the Middle East,� related the Muslim philosopher, �a woman in the audience challenged: �Why do you always bring up the Holocaust?�

�I replied immediately, �It is possible to be against Israel�s policy in Palestine, but we must take into account the real memory of the Jews� suffering in the 20th century and evince special sensitivity to the Holocaust. This is an obligation of conscience and ethics. We must remember what happened so that it will never happen again.�

�From a different perspective, it is our obligation to tell every Jew or Zionist who supports Israel�s official policy that it is impossible to make systematic use of the Holocaust and the memory of the victims to give legitimization to Israel�s oppressive policy in Palestine. This is forbidden. The fact that there are people who use the memory of the Holocaust to justify Israel�s actions, which many define as state terror against the Palestinian people, does not justify others not taking into account the memory of the Holocaust. Both approaches must be condemned.�

Overall, it's a great article and well-worth reading. And I hug my fair share of Jews all the time :)

[1] A theme that I've been pounding hard myself ever since being unfairly accused of blood libel by people who should know better.

prayer won't save them

Tacitus (whose blog has been removed from the firewall blockage, so I can finally renew my addiction to) had an interesting post on the nascent guerilla warfare emerging during the woefully-undermanned American occupation of Iraq. However, the comment thread was shanghied by response to Tacitus' (admittedly tangential) assertion that Arabs are uniquely irrational in a way that other societies aren't. This started with yet another invocation of Hitler, whose name will someday be synonymous with "thing I disagree with" in all human languages and cultures[1]. My own modest disagreement with Tac and his response is in the comments. Tacitus followed this with a somewhat defensive post that recognized that other societies can also be irrational at times. But he's still a bit in the dumps over the latest news from everywhere (which I've had the wisdom to avoid completely. ah, blissful ignorance) :

So it's not like I'm singling out the Arabs as uniquely irrational.

No, just kidding, I am. I mean, cripes, people.

I'm not one to argue with characterizing any ethnic group as irrational - it's the uniqueness of that irrationality that I take issue with. I mean, cripes, people.

UPDATE: Tacitus did take it back, for real, in the comments thread of his post - if I wasn't illiterate in the ways of MT, I'd be able to actually link directly to that retraction. But I never for a moment actually thought Tac believed his own accusation of a unique irrationality - in fact I empathise with the perception of a unique irrationality that always arises in my head when i read about the inane activities of group X. Its a common response and I'm equally susceptible to it. The net effect on me is to make me less willing to read the news.

[1] For a very good discussion on the roots of anti-semitism within Arab culture, I highly recommend this article in Slate by David Greenberg. It's quite exhaustive on the topic. The basic thesis is that anti-semitism is a Christian invention, which was adopted (COUNTER to the teachings of the Prophet SAW and the Qur'an) as a political response to Colonialism and Zionism - the combination of which occurred exclusively in the Arab world. The Persians, for example, did not fall under the sway of these two forces nearly to the same extent, and as such you don't see ingrained anti-semitic attitudes so prevalent in modern day Iran (except when it suits the theocracy's political purposes). It's utterly absent at the street level. Of course, whether the chanting of "Hitler" at some German journalists in Iraq amounts to an expression of this Arab anti-semitism is a completely separate topic, though those who are used to seeing anti-semitism everywhere will surely find it a black and white example.

China rising II

re-reading my previous post, I realized that my actual support for SDB's modest proposal was not clearly evident :) Steven's commentary on my response raised a few issues that I want to clarify.

I'm definitely impressed by the idea of letting China occupy NK and I find it both original and agreeable. I just think the possibility of it happening is zero, given the current Administration. I agree that NK is no prize, but given Bush's own rhetoric about the importance of defending SK from the north, withdrawing our forces from the DMZ would indeed amount to a backtracking. And letting China in would infuriate the conservative ideolouges in the administration beyond words. It would amount to a political loss - and given how Bush still sticks to the WMD script rather than any attempt at explaining the neocon-domino motives behind Iraq, I don't see him as willing or able to make the far more subtle case about why letting China be a neighbor to SK would be a Good Thing (Bush doesn't have the luxury of thousand word essays like you or I do).

I guess I characterize it as "letting China win" precisely because it is also the least bad of a group of bad scenarios. China's rise to superpower eminence is a gradual and steady one and will be marked by piecemeal and incremental victories such as occupying NK would be. A strong China is, in the near future (50+ years) a positive development for American interests because of the opened and heathy market, assistance on a regional scale in dealing with terrorists and rogue nations, joint interests on medical issues like SARS, etc. etc.

And while exposure to Western economic development is of course a good thing for the average Chinese, it's also a mistake to think that it will loosen the communist hold on power. The Chinese variant of Communism is much more adaptable, pragmatic, and innovative than the Soviet kind. As China grows stronger, so does the Party. After 50 years of rule they are stronger than ever - compare their hold on power to the tenous one of the Iranian clerics and you quickly realize that the oligarchy is in no danger from the proles whatsoever.

China is rising. We cant really stop it and we dont really want to. But in the next century, we will have a true clashj of civilizations - not between brothers (as is the case with all Judeo-Christian-Islamic conflict), but true Others. I've always maintained that China is the Ultimate Other.

And the turning point will be when China enters space.


China rising

Steven has a detailed and thorough post about a radical solution to the NK problem - letting China win. It's a subtle argument and is not well served by excerpting, so I won't try. But it certainly is the kind of foreign policy that would be more achievable under Reagan, Bush Sr. or Clinton (in that order). Under the neocon domino warriors/reluctant imperialists camps that currently compete for the reins of the current Bush's foreign policy, the idea is ultimately impossible, because realpolitik requires the Administration to willingly suffer a loss in prestige for the greater good. Allowing China to take over NK would amount to a loss of face for Bush - and as we know, neocons are a very face-oriented culture.

China is indeed rising though. By all measures - economic, military, population - China is building a foundation for primacy. As long as China remains Communist, though, her gains are a zero-sum with our interests.


the tyranny of the rich

I'm all for capitalism, after all it's why my parents immigrated here and part of why I think this is the greatest country in the world. Not because of capitalism per se, but because of the specifics of the way capitalism is implemented. The American Dream is not to get rich - it is to live free. But there is an inherent conflict which drives almost the entirety of American politics. Michael Kinsley argues in a brilliant essay in Slate about that sensitive balance between capitalism and democracy:

The fall of communism 14 years ago was not the end of history, despite Francis Fukuyama's famous prediction. It was, though, pretty much the end of the argument, in most of the world, about the best way to organize society. The answer (despite quibbles over the details and a surprisingly resilient minority preference for theocracy) is democratic capitalism.

But this intellectual victory for the dynamic duo didn't resolve the tension between them. Democracy presumes and enshrines equality. Capitalism not only presumes but requires and produces inequality. How can you have a society based on equality and inequality at the same time? The classic answer is that democracy and capitalism should reign in their own separate "spheres" (philosopher Michael Walzer's term). As citizens, we are all equal. As players in the economy, we enjoy differing rewards depending on our efforts, talents, or luck.

But how do you prevent power in one from leeching into the other? In various ways, we try to police the border. Capitalism is protected from democracy, to some extent, by provisions of the Constitution that guard individuals against tyranny of the majority�for example, by forbidding the government to take your property without due process of law. Protecting democracy from capitalism is the noble intention, at least, of campaign finance laws that get enacted every couple of decades.

Separation of the spheres also depends on an unspoken deal, a nonaggression pact, between democracy's political majority and capitalism's affluent minority. The majority acknowledge that capitalism benefits all of us, even if some benefit a lot more than others. The majority also take comfort in the belief that everyone has at least a shot at scoring big. The affluent minority, meanwhile, acknowledge that their good fortune is at least in part the luck of the draw. They recognize that domestic tranquility, protection from foreign enemies, and other government functions are worth more to people with more at stake. And they retain a tiny yet prudent fear of what beast might be awakened if the fortunate folks get too greedy about protecting and enlarging their good fortune.

Kinsley points out that the Bush Administration has discarded that nonaggression pact, as part of an overall GOP playbook that has as its ultimate goal the complete destruction of limitations upon the economic sphere.

UPDATE: Lone Star points out this quote:

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."

-Samuel Adams, 1776


the role of business in adding value to society

I've been doing a lot of linking rather than thinking recently, but that will change. But my friend Kim has a long post up whose main point deserves wider airing.

I suggest that a retreat from the values of true conservatism is a fundamental reason that the U.S. economy is in dire straits. Instead of doing business honestly for the purpose of mutual gain, businessmen have become unethical and dishonest swindlers, out to steal from customers and investors alike. Leveraging workforce, debt, sales and production in dishonest ways in order to drive up stock prices is disgusting behavior reflective neither of a true conservative nor a socialist view. Traditional conservatives see no shame in giving value for value, but rather see that the long term financial growth of a company, and therefore value to investors, is served by giving good value to customers, making wise workforce decisions not harmful to workers, and by acting in the best interests of the communities supporting the business. Those practices reflect the kind of enlightened self-interest that the party of Lincoln once represented. Current conservatives prefer to roll the dice in the hope that they personally will be able to cash in, at the expense of workers, partners, investors, customers, and community. Misrepresenting company value is one of the less damaging practices that so-called businessmen engage in these days. Fundamentally, I believe that the problem comes down to the lack of a true meritocracy. Warring for pride of place is the abandonment of a work ethic by the privileged children of wealth. Along with them, the not-so-privileged dreamers turn away from work, seeing that hard work did not serve to make their parents wealthy, and believing the message of greed-is-good, they aspire only to entitlements, not to useful lives. Current liberal thinking, and current "conservative" thinking exacerbate the problem. Neither throwing money at the undeserving, nor supporting the useless inheritance of wealth by parasites brings us the conservative values we need. Incenting business to do more than create artificial stock "value" would go far toward bringing back real businesspeople. People are only as good as their goals, and if their goals are to artificially inflate a stock price...well they can do so better by not working than by working!

When it comes to societal problems, Kim and I have many, many differences about solutions but we often agree on cause...