Daniel Pipes lowers the bar

Daniel "We need a strongman" Pipes explains what the real definition of success in Iraq should be:

I believe the U.S. goal in Iraq should be more narrowly restricted to protecting American interests. I hope the Iraqi population benefits from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and can make a fresh start, while I reject the rehabilitation of Iraq as the standard by which to judge the American venture there.

The American military machine is not an instrument for social work, nor for remaking the world. It is, rather, the primary means by which Americans protect themselves from external violent threats. The U.S. goal cannot be a free Iraq, but an Iraq that does not endanger Americans.

Let's see, we have established that Pipes doesn't care about the human rights record of a strongman or for the ideals of democracy in nation building, and that he considers the only reasonable standard for success being Iraq NOT posing a threat to our interests. In other words, Pipes now argues we should never have invaded Iraq, just bought off Saddam.

Can we accuse him of giving aid and comfort to the enemy? The warbloggers who took such great umbrage at Ted Kennedy's comparison to Vietnam on those grounds have a credibility deficit until they do.

live by the sword, die by the sword

I'll admit to being all over the pessimism-optimism axis on the issue of Muqtada Sadr and the threat he poses to both eventual Iraqi liberty and the fate of the holy sites in Najaf. But Juan Cole has reported a real reason to hope:

Some teachers in the Najaf seminaries called upon radical young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to leave the shrine of Imam Ali, just as the Imam Husayn had departed from Mecca (when he led his uprising against the Umayyad empire in 680-81). This according to the Iranian newspaper, Baztab. The seminarians said that it was obvious that Muqtada's bloody confrontation with the US was doomed to fail, and that he should do the right thing and take his fight out of Najaf so as to protect it, just as Imam Husayn had protected Mecca.

This is precisely the correct manner in which to address the misuse of religion - by fighting fire with fire. If Sadr - or Osama bin Laden for that matter - choose to wrap themselves in religious justification for their essentially political causes, then they must be forced to discover that the mantle of religion has thorns of responsibility.

Sadr has likened the occupation forces to Yazid, the tyrannical caliph who ruled Damascus and upon whose orders Imam Husain AS was martyred. Sadr was very quick to adopt the rhetoric of Husain's AS martyrdom - now he must be held to that standard.

There has been a lot of critique against Ayatollah Sistani for not doing enough, but I detect his hand in the message above. The point here is that Sistani at all costs wants to avoid the fate of the earlier British imperial adventure in Iraq, where the Shi'a rose up in religious war and ultimately lost any influence over its governance, ensuring decades of oppression under the Ba'ath. Diana Moon has argued that Sistani wants the same outcome as Sadr, namely a theocratic state on the model of Iran, but that's just not accurate. Sistani has consistently moved to support the cause of direct democracy, and criticized the CPA and Bremer for not moving quickly enough. Direct democracy is incompatible with the Iranian model, as we saw last year with the full-scale boycott of the Iranian elections by the reformers. Sistani does not want that path, and has supported the constitutional process. Sadr is the one who sees democracy as a threat, and he is rightly the one who needs to be marginalized. In doing so, however, lies great risk, and only Sistani's behind-the-scenes maneuvering can prevent Sadr from achieving the notoriety he desires.

UPDATE: There are some Shi'a in Najaf willing to take up arms against those who wrap themselves in the flag of Islam, unjustly:

In a deadly expression of feelings that until now were kept quiet, a group representing local residents is said to have killed at least five militiamen in the last four days.

The murders are the first sign of organised Iraqi opposition to Sadr�s presence and come amid simmering discontent at the havoc their lawless presence has wreaked.

The group calls itself the Thulfiqar Army, after a twin-bladed sword said to be used by the Shiite martyr Imam Ali, to whom Najaf�s vast central mosque is dedicated.

Residents say leaflets bearing that name have been circulated in the city in the last week, urging Sadr�s al-Mahdi army to leave immediately or face imminent death.

The name Thulfikar is very significant indeed, to a Shi'a. This is the highest form of jihad I have seen, because they fight not against non-muslims doing their duty, but against pseudo-muslims who try to subvert the faith. I've engaged in a verbal form of jihad against the same enemy myself. Sadr's little blasphemy is also triggerring a larger, non-violent backlash that has yet to crest.


Zell Miller endorses repeal of the 17th

via Atrios, comes news that pseudo-Democrat Zell Miller has publicly announced his support for repealing the 17th Amendment:

"It is the system that stinks. And it's only going to get worse because that perfect balance our brilliant Founding Fathers put in place in 1787 no longer exists."

The Constitution called for voters to directly elect members to the U.S. House but empowered state legislatures to pick senators. The aim was to create a bicameral Congress that sought to balance not only the influence of small and large states but also the influence of state and federal governments.

I've no love for Zell Miller but for once he has a point - which I've made myself a few times as well[1]. The problem with direct election of Senators is that it makes the Senate vulnerable to the same special interest lobbies that dominate the House. Your Senators do not, strictly speaking, represent you; they represent the State you live in.

Because Senators are not appointed, the States themselves have lost much of their power. This has direct cost - for example, unfunded mandates from Congress sail through the Senate, because it looks good for them to say they voted for No Child Left Behind - while even Republican governors in their home state cry foul over the federal interference.

In Atrios' comments section there's a lot of reactionary alarmism about how repealing the 17th would deliver the Senate to the GOP. This is pretty defeatist an attitude, with the basic assumption that all state legislatures are partisan-right majorities lacking any evidence. The more important point however is that the removal of special interests from directly influencing the Senate campaigns overrides any theoretical temporary partisan advantage.

There is a legitimate controversy and debate over the issue and I'd like to appeal to any fellow liberals not to reject the idea just because Zell proposed it, but to actually follow up on the topic yourselves. Here are some links culled form my previous posts that I think make the case quite cogently.

The full text of the 17th Amendment

CNN FindLaw discussion by John W. Dean (of Watergate fame and author of the new book, Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush)

Argument based on checks and balances within the Constitution

[1] Here are my earlier posts that address the topic: tyranny of the majority, tyranny of the minority; reclaiming the label "republican"; repeal the 17th Amendment?

Yes, in those posts I do quote Steven den Beste, Glenn Reynolds, and Eugene Volokh. I think the idea has merit irrespective of the ideological leanings of those who have discussed it. The immediate impact of repealing the 17th would IMHO be a cleansing of special interests' power upon the political process, and as a liberal, I find that to be within my ideological imperatives.


A Woman Marches

One of my closest friends relates her personal experience marching on Washington this weekend for abortion rights. In comments to her post, Kim succinctly summarizes why I also support abortion rights, even though I am morally and religiously opposed to abortion:

I do see the [anti-choice] movement as anti-woman, though some individuals in the movement are not. The whole idea is condescending. When nearly everyone agrees that something is so wrong it should be criminal and we need to prevent a few people whose morals are broken from doing the thing (actual murder for instance, or burglary, embezzlement, rape...) then a law is the right tool for the job. Here though, we have millions of women, up to 1/3 by some estimates, who choose to do do something that the majority of people believe is acceptable (or at least isn't "wrong"). This is a huge moral grey area. No one is clearly right or clearly wrong, we have our own views on that. Laws are absolutely the WRONG tool for this kind of job.

The anti-choice movement harms women both by actually taking away our right to make our own medical decisions and receive medical care in our best interests...but perhaps WORSE is that it's a pack of people attempting to substitute their generic judgment for that of the women affected. Women are not children, we are capable of making moral and ethical judgments on ambiguous issues.

Where I disagree with Kim is on the relative proportion of people on each side. I think that the largest majority (even is technically pro-choice) likely shares my view about abortion being (morally) undesirable; Kim doesn't explicitly acknowledge that there's a subcurrent within the pro-choice movement that sees abortion as no more a moral decision than trimming a fingernail. Overall we have to resist the temptation to ascribe the motivations of the fringe to the majority. Still, there's no question that much of the anti-choice movement's momentum comes from the zealous fringe, especially in legislative and judicial domains. As Matthew Yglesias points out, though, that way lies extreme danger for the Republicans.


MATRIX Revolutions: complex godhood

I just saw the Matrix: Revolutions last night on DVD. The movie was brilliant[1].

I have only a superficial understanding of the religio-philosophical framework around which the Wachowski brothers carefully arranged the folds of the plot, but it's clear now in hindsight that the Matrix trilogy, much like Lord of the Rings (but even more so), was really a single story. Taken singly, none of the Matrix movies never make much sense - many of my acquaintances critiqued the second movie on those grounds, but the first also has serious flaws when considered in isolation. If you disagree, ask yourself this: Why do humans need Neo at all?

You'll find that any attempt to answer that question on the basis of the first movie alone will lead you inevitably to the conclusion that humans don't need Neo, because there's nothing he can offer them that the machine architects of the Matrix couldn't simply program into the Matrix instead. The Matrix could easily have been a City of Heroes-type simulation where all people are super-heroes in capes and tights and fly around doing aerial kung-fu. They don't need Neo to teach them to question their existence. The fundamental philosophical question of the first movie - what is real? - is an irrelevant question since ultimately reality is subjectively experienced. In a very real sense, the argument over Reality is a red herring[2].

Only by considering all three movies as one act can you really grasp at the larger picture - which is about Creation. Not just one Creation, but a cyclical one, whose prior Revolutions were hinted mostly by dialogue with the Architect in the second movie.

The most important thing to realize is that Keanu Reeves plays two Neos. According to the architect, there were two prior Matrixes, one utopian and another dysutopian. Five Neos preceded Reeves' character in the Third Matrix, and at the beginning of the First Movie he comes into realization of the fact that he is the Sixth Neo. At the end of the second movie, Neo is Reloaded - and becomes version 7. It is the Seventh Neo who changes all three worlds: The human world, by bringing peace to Zion and allowing humans to be free from the specter of genocide. The machine world, by imprinting onto the Source and allowing machines to free themselves from their strict utilitarian purposeness. And the Matrix, which is the new Garden of Eden for both races.

The process by which Neo achieves this transformation is by re-uniting with Agent Smith, as both characters follow similar growth in ability to transcend their limitations imposed upon them by the Matrix itself. At the end of the first movie, the two characters briefly join, and then Smith is destroyed. Smith reconstitutes himself (v2.0) as more than a mere Agent - and bears some trace of Neo in doing so. The two are linked from henceforth. In the second movie, Neo fights a horde of Smiths in a stalemate brawl that ultimately has no resolution - Neo just flies away, and the Smiths disperse. In the third movie, they rejoin - Neo stops fighting Smith, recognizing the inevitability that Smith would consume him - and he would consume Smith. The two merge again and connect to the Source. The process destroys them both but leaves an imprint on the Source, allowing the Machines to grow - as the child-program Sati symbolizes, an ability for the machines also to be creative beyond their function. Sati programs a sunrise, not because it is time for the sun to rise, but because she did it "for Neo" - an act of emotion and choice that transcends mere function. The Machines thus achieve via Neo (and Smith) a dimension of freedom that brings them closer to their own Creator god - Humanity. The merging of Neo and Smith symbolizes the merge of Humans and Machines - in the physical world, by the Peace which will allow true commerce and exchange of ideas once again, and in the Matrix by the relaxation of the strict rules governing both machine and human limitations.

I have to repeat myself - the movies (taken as a whole) were brilliant, true works of philosophical masterpiece. A much more comprehensive, organized, and much better informed analysis of all three movies was done by Brian Takle, to whom I am indebted for clearing up a few things that had me stumped (such as why Neo's powers manifested in the "real world" and the significance of the Merovingian, the latter which makes more sense also having read The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown). Takle essentially summarizes the entire trilogy when he writes:

Humanity achieved "simple" godhood by creating beings in its own image. It will achieve "complex" godhood by reuniting with its estranged children. At the same time, so will machines.

One closing thought - every character is named for a specific reason. In the trilogy, names are gigantic neon signposts towards interpretation of metaphor. I have a lot of reading to do.

[1] Now I understand why Revolutions was so despised, as well. This NYT review is a typical example, sneering at "mumbo-jumbo". This review reads like a plaintive plea, parading it's complete ignorance of the concept of "metaphor" as some kind of merit badge. To understand this movie, you need to be the Oracle, not the Architect... you need to be Seraphim, not the Merovingian.
[2] And no, there was never a Matrix within a Matrix, or two Matrixes. There is only the Real world, and the Matrix. No third is needed, or ever was, to understand what happened.

Occupation hinges on Najaf

I daresay that war supporters will agree with me on the headline, but not the specifics. But George W. Bush is the one who ultimately will make the final decision about whether to invade Najaf or not. On that decision, the fate of Iraq rests.

I have long argued that jihad is primarily seen as a non-violent duty by the majority of the world's muslims. That simple truth is proved daily by the failure of one billion muslims rising up across the world in violence. But there IS a legitimate violent interpretation of jihad - the defense of faith.

If the US enters Najaf, then there will be a legitimate jihad. The cause of resistance to an invasion of Najaf will be a just one.

It will break my heart.

I don't want a single hair on a single soldier harmed. They are my American brothers, this is my nation, and they are not my enemy. But Najaf is the city of Ali AS. I cannot and will not fault those who live there from taking up arms to defend the holy shrine. There is no cause to invade Najaf - none. The responsibility for the decision will lie upon one man - George W. Bush - but its consequences will lie upon the soldiers of my nation, and he will escape judgement for the time being.

Events once set in motion often cannot be undone. Invading Najaf is a nexus point. Remember it, for history will pay great attention to it in hindsight.

I may have to cease blogging entirely, cease reading entirely, cease doing any political analysis entirely, if this happens. I cannot bear it.

UPDATE: Andrew writes with a good question about my attitude towards Muqtada Sadr and his claim to the mantle of a defender of the faith:

I just read your last entry and was wondering whether as a Shi'ite you would see Sadr as a defender of the Shi'ite holy places or as an interloper who seized control of them from the rightful religious hierarchy without any authority save that of his own aggrandizement.

Absolutely not - I agree with the assessment of Sadr as a craven opportunist. However, the sentiment to which he has attached himself, parasitically, is a valid one. I see an assault on Najaf (unlike the liberation of Najaf last year) as being legitimately interpreted as an assault on faith, and anyone who fights to defend it as having a legitimate claim to performing true jihad (unlike suicide terrorists attacking innocent Jews).

I should also clarify that I myself do NOT think an assault on Najaf would be an assault on Islam, but that is my personal feeling and interpretation based on my own bias as an American ans other biases from being Bohra which are not relevant here. But to the Shi'a living in Najaf, I cannot fault them from drawing such a conclusion any more than I can fault those Americans who think 9-11 symbolized an assault upon Western ideals.

As usual, I find myself on both sides, paralyzed utterly.



Personally, I found the story of Pat Tillman deeply moving but unexceptional. By which I mean, that I think of this man as an Army Ranger, and the fact that he gave up a lucrative football contract incidental to the fact that he sacrificed his life for something he believed in.

It's Tillman's ultimate, not his financial sacrifice, that is the issue. We have a nation founded on the ideal of personal liberty. That liberty comes at cost. During World War II, that liberty was truly at risk, because there was a force of arms and might that - had it succeeded in conquering Europe - would have rivaled our own, and plunged us into eternal conflict.

The war today is about ideas, but we are not at risk in the same way. People speak of how the Islamists want to enslave us all and force us to convert to Shari'a and wear burkas and whatnot, but this is ultimately a fantasists' dream. There is no mechanism by which those who wage war against us as they did on 9-11 can actually implement their deranged fantasies, any more than these guys will ever succeed in liberating the Republic of Texas from the Northern Aggressor.

The only way that these people can ever hope to actually defeat the United States - as opposed to killing US citizens and destroying US property - is to amass the same kind of warfare capability that the Nazis almost achieved. Or to cause us to sacrivfice the ideals by which we define ourselves, but that's a discussion for another day.

The point is that Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan was indeed blood that watered the tree of our liberty, because Afghanistan remains a crucible for Al-Qaeda to pursue it's war against us. Any foothold that Al-Qaeda gains must be eradicated, to keep them marginalized and forever unable to amass the mindshare that could someday lead to the kind of massed-millions taking up arms against us as we saw in World War II.

However, the photos of our soldiers coming home from Iraq - draped in flags - is something else. They died not in the service of our freedom, but in the service of an experiment - an experiment that might, under better leadership, have been worth pursuing. The incompetence of the present Administration has not escaped honest conservative analysts, but convincing Bush's true believers of such is a pointless task.

Just as there's a real problem with hiding these photos, there's a real problem with releasing them. Josh Marshall explains:

For many opponents of the war there is an unmistakable interest in getting these photographs before the public in order to weaken support for the war. There's no getting around that.
But one needn't oppose the war to find something morally unseemly about the strict enforcement of the regulations barring any images of the reality behind these numbers we keep hearing on TV. There is some problem of accountability here.

Also see Phil Carter's thoughts. To some extent, Marshall understates the case - these photos have been eagerly seized upon as mere symbolic fodder to argue that Bush is wrong and the war is wrong without any real attempt to understand what the photos actually mean. They are just ammunition, and the cynical use of them as such is partly why the strict regulations against their publication exist in the first place.

These photos need to be seen NOT because they have any relevance to President Bush, but because they remind we, the People, of the cost of war. They remind us of the high standard which accompanies any claim upon our sons and daughters to once again water the tree of liberty. They demand from us that we hold our government accountable for how they spend this precious currency. Thy require that we be more informed, that we educate ourselves, and ask critical questions about the arguments given for war.

Is it worse to do a thing badly or not at all? The mis-management of Iraq will have outcomes yet unknown, and I pray for success but with little optimism under the auspices of the present Administration. I will vote Kerry, not Bush, not to punish Bush for starting a war but to allow Kerry to win it. But these photos need to be seen in the meantime, because when next a President goes before the People and says, we must again water the tree of liberty, we must remember these draped flags. Not just Republicans or Liberal Hawks or Leftist peaceniks - all of us.

Ultimately, we sent these men to Iraq. That's what these photos tell us.


Kyoto-blogging: cultural chasms

I've often argued the point that the term "The West" encompasses all of civilization from all the Abrahamic faiths. Following the development of science from the Greeks to the Arabs to the Subcontinent to Europe, there's a clearly linear path. The true Other has always been China and the civilizational derivatives of Japan, Korea, etc. which based on the phenotype variation alone amongst the population, is truly a further-removed cousin. Still, I never really grasped the enormity of the cultural differences under the shared globalism veneer, until I read this story about the attitudes of the Japanese people to their returning freed hostages from Iraq.

My mind simply boggles. I can't understand it. I hesitate at leaping to moral conclusions about Japanese society, but clearly there is a fundamental difference in worldview operating here.

daily open thread

partly because I do like immediate feedback on my posts, and partly to quell the whining of some who cry censorship out of sheer laziness to blog themselves, I've added daily open threads under the date header. You can use these as open threads to discuss any of my posts for a given day, or expound on whatever else you want. If you want to actually engage in debate with me, though, you'll have to email me, because I will not respond to arbitrary challenges unless I am convinced of your good faith and civility. Some of you have a deficit in this regard which I am willing to forgive.

Bottom line: I prefer email for discussions. I have no obligation to abusive commentators to respond.

UPDATE: What a wasted effort. If you want to discuss issues with me, email me.


No comment

UNMEDIA passed its second birthday this March. Back in September '02, I asked my three readers to vote on whether I should add comments to UNMEDIA. I also debated adding a counter to the site as well, and decided against it. Overall, the experiment was a success, for a while - there were many great discussions and I met a number of other bloggers and commentators through my comment threads whom I probably would not have otherwise.

However, recently I just don't have time to participate in my own threads. And most of the people I enjoy debating with - who operate from the basic position of "benefit of the doubt" towards my opinions - are also too busy (and given my own lack of activity, have probably felt there was little return in doing so). I have a PhD dissertation and research to work on, and a daughter who is now over 2 years old. Blogging is enough of a rare luxury, and what fraction of free time online I might have is IMHO better spent at Scoop community sites like Tacitus or Daily Kos or at traditional web forums that I've been a member of for years, predating my blog.

To be honest, comments are no longer worth having on this blog. Whatever few comments I get are dominated by the same people, most of whom are intent on scoring cheap points at my expense or proving to their LGF clique how enlightened they are to vanquish an anti-semitic idiotarian in debate. The final straw was being lectured about my "responsibilities" of some supposed "blog etiquette" by one such, which immediately made me recall Steven Den Beste's own thoughts on why he closed his Clueless Forum down.

It goes back to the basic question - why do I blog? It's because I like to write. And I do like to have debate and dialouge, but only with those people who are serious about the honest flow of ideas rather than spouting polemic and stereotype. My writing on this blog is not a job, it is not a responsibility to anyone save myself. And I have every right to choose honorable people with whom to debate rather than subject myself to the assaults of the gutter trash who infest the Internet's every niche.

I've now got a cool GMail account and encourage all of you regular readers, and dear blog-friends, to use. I also will be using the Trackback feature more often and try to focus on more cross-blog conversations rather than comment-thread discussions. But it's time to join the serene ranks of SDB, Jim Henley, Glenn Reynolds, and Brian Tiemann, and let my blog be all about me once again.

Here's a comment thread for you to tell me how dumb/smart I am, one last time :)

addendum: I will be keeping comments enabled on posts linked from my sidebar, however. That should keep some of teh best discussions we have had accessible. Email me if you want me to add a specific post there.

Vanunu released, but strategic ambiguity remains

As I noted earlier this month, Mordechai Vanunu has been released from prison yesterday. Jonathan just changed my mind about Vanunu on the spot - I hadn't really given any thought to the fact that he was actually a traitor to his country. My personal sympathy has diminshed considerably from that perspective.

However, I do think that Israel needs to openly acknowledge its nuclear weapons. There may be some increased pressure to sign the NNPT, but other countries (notably India) have succesfully resisted the same pressures, with good rationale. There is zero ambiguity about Israel's possession of nukes, so the concept of "strategic ambiguity" is farcial now.

The benefit to Israel in acknowledging its nukes would be, IMHO, greater deterrence posture. Also, it would allow Israel to carry out the testing and maintenenace of that arsenal in the open, which improves the safety and reliability of those weapons (should, god forbid, they ever need to be used). Finally, with open acknowledgement of the nukes, Israel can pursue research into nuclear power, allowing technology transfer to flow freely in both directions from military to civil use. One great use for nuclear power in Israel is water desalinization, which could even create a water export industry for the region. There are economic and industrial benefits to an open program that can greatly benefit Israeli society as a whole.

Arab Times (Kuwait) praises Syedna Burhanuddin TUS

This is a nice editorial in the Arab Times, the leading english daily in Kuwait. Syedna TUS just visited Kuwait after observances of Chelum (also called Arbain) in Dubai, and was personally welcomed by the Amir. The article full text:

By Ali Al-Baghli, Former Minister of Oil

THE recent visit of Syedna Dr Mohammad Burhanuddin, the spiritual head of the Bohra Islamic community to Kuwait at the invitation of HH the Amir gives us an opportunity to highlight some facts about this community. Minister of Amiri Diwan Affairs Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad officially received Dr Mohammad Burhanuddin. The reception organised by the Bohra community, whose members are involved in various business activities, at one of the sports clubs was a spectacular affair with all of them wearing their traditional shiny white robes. Unlike some Muslim leaders who give fiery speeches in support of extremism, Dr Mohammad Burhanuddin addressed his followers with nice words.

This was in stark contrast to the speeches of Islamic leaders from Pakistan, Iran, Palestine, Algeria and other countries who breathe fire, giving Islam a bad name.
Syedna Dr Mohammad Burhanuddin began by thanking God for giving him the opportunity to visit Kuwait and urged his community to serve the country which has welcomed them and given them their livelihood. He asked them to abide by the teachings of Islam, give donations and seek profits which are "Halal." Stressing the importance of offering prayers five times a day, Dr Mohammad Burhanuddin urged his followers to promote commerce and industry, abide by Kuwaiti laws and contribute to the development of Kuwait.

We have missed such well-meaning speeches for a long time. Most of the Islamic leaders, who visited Kuwait in the past, have always tended to talk about politics, stirring disputes and calling for Jihad. What we need is religious leaders in the mould of Syedna Dr Mohammad Burhanuddin. May Almighty Allah give him a long life.

Amin! There is a large community of Bohras in Kuwait and Syedna TUS has always urged them, as with Bohras living in the United States and the West, to place an emphasis on good citizenship and civic responsibility - while also remaining steadfast in opposition to any compromise on the duties of faith.


"I request duty in Vietnam."

The right-wing media is making hay of the Boston Globe's assertion (based on Kerry's former CO, who is a registered Republican now) that one of Kerry's three Purple Hearts was for a "minor wound". No word on whether they consider his Silver Star and Bronze Star with Combat V to be worthy of derision.

The fact that George W. Bush escaped Vietnam by assignment to a Champagne unit at Ellignton field - which he took time off for to run a campaign in Alabama - puts the sudden interest in the details of Kerry's medals by the GOP partisans in a self-mocking light.

Despite trottting out the occassional sock puppet, Kerry's military record is an example of true honor, something the President has never really risen to the challenge of. I wonder if Kerry's initial refusal to release the records amounted to a sucker-punch to the Bush campaign - after all, it virtually guaranteed that Kerry's service would get finely analyzed in the full public sphere.

And already we have calls by RNC Chair Gillespie that Kerry hasn't released "all" his records. Beautiful - shall we also point out that Bush has not released "all" his National Guard records as well? The service records issue is a tar pit for the Bush team. And Kerry comes out shining in comparison to his opponent - entirely without having to explicitly make the comparison himself.

The first line in Kerry's service records is "I request duty in Vietnam." Bush checked the box "Do Not Volunteer" for overseas duty on his application to join the Texas Air National Guard. Enough said.

Columbine: intended to be 9-11

This Slate story on the Columbine shooting reveals details I had not previously known:

But Harris and Klebold planned for a year and dreamed much bigger. The school served as means to a grander end, to terrorize the entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life. Their slaughter was aimed at students and teachers, but it was not motivated by resentment of them in particular. Students and teachers were just convenient quarry, what Timothy McVeigh described as "collateral damage."

The killers, in fact, laughed at petty school shooters. They bragged about dwarfing the carnage of the Oklahoma City bombing and originally scheduled their bloody performance for its anniversary. Klebold boasted on video about inflicting "the most deaths in U.S. history." Columbine was intended not primarily as a shooting at all, but as a bombing on a massive scale. If they hadn't been so bad at wiring the timers, the propane bombs they set in the cafeteria would have wiped out 600 people. After those bombs went off, they planned to gun down fleeing survivors. An explosive third act would follow, when their cars, packed with still more bombs, would rip through still more crowds, presumably of survivors, rescue workers, and reporters. The climax would be captured on live television. It wasn't just "fame" they were after�Agent Fuselier bristles at that trivializing term�they were gunning for devastating infamy on the historical scale of an Attila the Hun. Their vision was to create a nightmare so devastating and apocalyptic that the entire world would shudder at their power.

Harris and Klebold would have been dismayed that Columbine was dubbed the "worst school shooting in American history." They set their sights on eclipsing the world's greatest mass murderers, but the media never saw past the choice of venue. The school setting drove analysis in precisely the wrong direction.

The revelations above about what the Clombine psychos really were planning puts the enitre event in a different context. Rather than the paranoid persecution fantasies of Timothy McVeigh and the militia movement, or even the social subculture-rebellion of school shootings, what Kliebold and Harris were after was terrorism on the scale of 9-11.

Unlike Osama bin Laden, they weren't after a political message, they were after a media one. The infamy they would have had would have been for narcissistic purposes, as opposed to the religious ones of the 9-11 hijackers.

H2G2 began filming April 19th

After 5 years of waiting, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Movie officially began filming yesterday. The official movie page at Douglas Adams' site has been threadbare for ages, but MJ Simpson's Magrathea site has been the definitive source for rumor and news. MJS has the advantage of living in Britain and actually meeting many of the principals, including an exclusive interview with director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith. Here's an excerpt of interest :

MJ: The script has three elements: material that we know and love from the books and the radio scripts; new stuff that Douglas wrote in his various drafts; and whatever new stuff Karey Kirkpatrick has had to put in to make the whole thing fit properly. How much new stuff are we going to see?

Garth: �There�s an awful lot of new Douglas stuff. There�s some wonderful inventions � characters and creatures and devices. I don�t think we�ve put anything in. Karey�s main role has been ordering and editing and making sense of it. We never once had to invent something. I don�t think you ever get projects like this where you could never be stuck for an idea. If you�re ever concerned about �What are we going to do here?� you just go back to the original material or back to the hard drive and there�s always an answer there. Even in production design, if ever we�ve been stuck for an idea or not sure what to do, we just go back to the books or the radio series and it�s all there. There�s always an answer, which is really fabulous.�

Robbie: �It is important to stress that this is not a literal adaptation of the novel, just as the novel was not a literal adaptation of the original radio series � and indeed neither was the TV series nor the computer game. It�s not like Lord of the Rings, where you have a book and you want to turn that into a film which is as faithful to its source as possible. There is no single definitive Hitchhiker�s Guide story, and never has been. The book, radio, TV, game � they all share some characters and plot elements but they add, remove, change or re-order others. Douglas� various script drafts did the same. And that�s another difference from Lord of the Rings. All the fundamental changes from previous versions were made, in this instance, by the original author.

�Every step of the way, the team who have been working on this since Douglas died have been striving to be faithful to the spirit of Hitchhiker�s: its humour, its intelligence and its astonishing inventiveness. To use a great phrase I heard from an executive in Hollywood, there really is no need to �put a hat on a hat.� It was Douglas who showed us the way for the new ideas in the film, they are fundamentally his.�

Now, if only the Tertiary Phase could move forward... things looked so promising late last year, but the project remains in limbo.


pseudo-science watch: MRI politics

Disclosure: I'm working towards my Ph.D in Magnetic Resonance Imaging Physics. So my interest in today's NYT article on using MRI to gauge responses to political ads set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head.

What the research at UCLA attempts to find is differences between Democrats and Republicans in brain functional response to political ads. They did indeed find "differences" - but the article is short on technical details and long on speculation:

In the experiment with Mr. Graham, researchers exposed him to photographs of the presidential candidates, commercials for President Bush and John Kerry, and other video images, including the "Daisy" commercial from 1964. In that advertisement, promoting Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater, images of a girl picking petals from a daisy were replaced by images of a nuclear explosion.
The researchers had already zeroed in on those images and their effect among Democrats on the part of the brain that responds to threats and danger, the amygdala. Mr. Graham, like other Democrats tested so far, reacted to the Sept. 11 images with noticeably more activity in the amygdala than did the Republicans, said the lead researcher, Marco Iacoboni, an associate professor at the U.C.L.A. Neuropsychiatric Institute who directs a laboratory at the Ahmanson Lovelace Brain Mapping Center there.

"The first interpretation that occurred to me," Professor Iacoboni said, "is that the Democrats see the 9/11 issue as a good way for Bush to get re-elected, and they experience that as a threat."

But then the researchers noted that same spike in amygdala activity when the Democrats watched the nuclear explosion in the "Daisy" spot, which promoted a Democrat.

Mr. Freedman suggested another interpretation based on his political experience: the theory that Democrats are generally more alarmed by any use of force than Republicans are. For now, Professor Iacoboni leans toward this second interpretation, though he is withholding judgment until the experiment is over.

The interpretations here are absolute nonsense. The attribution of the threat-response is likely due to the fact that the images of 9-11 and the Daisy ad are threatening images of terrible events. The individual variation alone makes the data meaningless in a political context.

There is a tendency, especially among psychiatry professionals, to see functional MRI as a kind of magic bullet to understanding thought. However, what fMRI is really measuring is a physiological response - and one that trails the actual electrical stimulation of the brain by a few seconds (an eternity when it comes to thought timescales). Just as Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are mis-used for philosophic conclusions, so too is fMRI being abused as a short-cut towards reading minds.

I'm going to keep an eye out when I get to Kyoto for any papers or abstracts from this research group.

Neo-Imperium's price

Flag-draped coffins are secured inside a cargo plane on April 7 at Kuwait International Airport. Military and civilian crews take great care with the remains of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq. Soldiers form an honor guard and say a prayer as, almost nightly, coffins are loaded for the trip home. TAMI SILICIO/AP

The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society.

-- Condoleeza Rice, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000

UPDATE: The woman who took the photo - and her husband - have been fired from her job in retaliation. Kudos to Matthew Drudge for taking up the call and posting even more photos of our troops' ultimate sacrifice on his site.

The problem here is that the Administration doesn't want to show these photos to the public, because it wants to foster an illusion for PR purposes. But war is not a clean affair, it has real costs, and they must be acknowledged. However, disrespect for the military behind sunny rhetoric is typical behavior for the Bush Administration.


The Blogsphere works overtime

It's rare for so many of the sites I visit to have so many interesting posts at once, of hugely varying length. I never do links roundups for their own sake, but I just want to archive just a few of some of today's musings for posterity and future reference:

Naval and Space Warfare. Steven den Beste, inspired by an anime series, discusses the history of naval warfare, preparing for a discussion of space warfare tomorrow. My feeling is that any space warfare between ships will happen at such high relative rates of speed that the only viable method of destroying your enemy will be energy-based weapons. Ships attacking ground-based targets will have maximum effeciency with kinetic weapons (stick a propulsion motor on a medium-sized asteroid, and then wait for orbital dynamics to do its inexorable thing).

Winning the War on Terror. Jim Henley explains his grand strategy for dealing with terror. The plan, titled Grand Disengagement, is strongly influenced by his libertarian outlook. Personally, I disagree, favoring an active foreign policy along neo-wilsonian lines. I'm a devoted nation-builder, and would reserve military force for defense, intervention in human rights crises, and security for civilian reconstruction. Actively oppressive regimes, such as Iran and N. Korea, should be targeted with non-military "soft power" such as economic incentives, cultural imperialism, translation of literature into native languages, unblockable internet pathways, etc. I prefer to float all boats on a rising tide rather than draining the swamp or isolation.

Losing the War on Iraq. Tacitus reprints some thoughts about the responsibilities of those supporting war on Iraq, from February 2003. In the context of the post-war incompetence of the Administration, the musings are especially relevant. Tacitus takes great pains to justify the notion that nation-building can succeed despite the failures of its implementation thus far under this specific Administration, but I think the he glosses over the relevance of international cooperation to any such grand project. Yes, there are uses for unilateral action, but for the purpose of remaking the Middle East, this was not one of them. The options we have left are clearly summarized by Kevin Drum and if there's one lesson that Tacitus and other pro-war conservatives need to take, it's that ideological opposition to multilateralism is as disastrous as ideological commitment to it. Thus far, the track record of Republican foreign policies specifically is poor and largely explained by their failure to understand this axiom. It's time that these ideologies were evaluated against their success rate and not by what could have been.

Transcending Left vs. Right. But by far the most interesting is the multi-blog conversation about the future of the Great Divide in American politics. Mark Schmitt wonders whether Kerry will get a honeymoon after inauguration - from the left. Given that continued Republican control of one, possibly both houses of Congress is almost certain after November, Kerry will have to reach across the aisle and try to build moderate bridges in order for progress. Doing so will ensure that he gets vilified from the extremists at the furthest Left. Ezra argues that Kerry would be less beholden to the left than, say Dean (who I've noted made explicit attempts to speak across the Great Divide). Mark proposes a "1/21 Project" for discussing what comes after Inauguration in terms of restoring political dialouge and debate to the public sphere. However, as Matthew notes, there is no representative entity on the Right that can provide the needed, truly conservative counterpoint. Rather, the present-day GOP is an alliance of social theocrats and corporatist lobbies, which uses ideology cynically. Mark Kleiman prints an email from a friend who argues that the Right is held together by the glue of common hatred of Liberalism, which serves as their unifying force. Certainly hatred of Bush has a unifying effect on the Left, but Mark Schmitt's main point is that the Left's unity is ephemeral compared to the long, sustained unity-of-enmity on the Right. Kevin Drum is correct that it's highly unlikely for any attempt to bridge the Great Divide to originate from the Right, less unlikely but still improbable that it will originate from the Left. What is needed is a new American Centrism, but that means an explicit rejection of the function of political parties themselves.

Kyoto blogging: ask the Seat Guru

I have long been an avid window seat photographer - I've wasted literally hundreds of rolls on shots, since the quality is so hard to control. By far the best success I have had is around sunset or sunrise - this photo for example was taken over the Atlantic at sunset (flying back home, as the cloud shadows indicate). I aven't actually sat in the window seat much since marriage and child, however (car seats need to be in the window). The trip to Japan is going to be a 12-hour flight, which should give me an opportunity to catch up on some good shots.

So, I made a point of requesting window seats for the trip. After my reservation was entered into Continental's system, I found to my horror that (according to the seat map) I was positioned just behind the wing. Any view out the window from that position would be nothing but an excercise in aluminum lighting. I've been stuck in that position before, for relatively short flights, and it's pretty boring even if you're not taking photos.

There were plenty of seats open, farther back. Using Continental's online system, I changed my my seat to row 42 (figuring I couldn't go wrong with an homage to Douglas Adams). Some Googling later, I found Seat Guru's page on the Boeing 777-200ER that I'd be flying, however. It turns out that rows 42-43 on that model aircraft have slightly reduced seat width due to the curve of the fuselage.

Luckily, row 44 was open on my flight. Initially, I had not chosen it because in my experience seats at the extreme rear of the aircraft are often noisy. According to Seat Guru, though, these seats are exceptionally quiet and secluded. Plus, there is one aisle seat missing, which means there is extra room to stretch. Presumably, the missing aisle seat also solves the reduced width problem.

So, I've got myself on seat 44A for both inbound and outbound flights. Thank you Seat Guru! I'll have to make a point of leaving my own seat-feedback on the site after my flights accordingly. From this vantage point, I expect that there will be plenty of scenery visible before the wing, so hopefully I'll have some better quality photos to show for it. And if I can find a Digimax V40 on sale before I leave, I won't have to waste film, either...


flat tax debate

Steve Verdon's critique of Kevin Drum's critique of the flat tax is pretty convincing. However, I still lean towards Kevin's analysis because, frankly, I don't trust the Congress to implement the actual flat tax Steve is talking about. As long as insane people like Grover Norquist continue to hold influence over conservative fiscal policies, they have a credibility deficit with me. After all, look what happenned with the Medicare bill... can we trust flat tax legislation to actually make it past the House without being turned into something grotesque (and completely opposite to the clear argument Steve lays out) ?

Rantisi to burn

There's zero reason to mourn the death of this man, who masterminded and celebrated the deaths of children every bit as innocent as Mohammed al-Doura.

There is, however, reason to disapprove of the decision to kill him. Here's why:

Israel had previously tried to kill Rantisi on June 10 when three Apache helicopters fired at least seven missiles toward his car in a crowded Gaza thoroughfare, reducing his vehicle to a scorched heap of metal. Rantisi escaped with a wound to the right leg. Two Palestinian bystanders were killed.

In a retaliatory attack the next day, 16 Israelis were killed in a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Actions have consequences. A given action (such as this one) may be laudable when considered in isolation. However, few actions are isolated... and the consequences of killing Rantisi will certainly not be borne by the Likud advisors who authorized it.

UPDATE: Of course, Israeli partisanship has no shortage of depraved, immoral ghouls. Crowing about the death of a child - any child - is a clear marker of evil.

Important Muslim News

in addition to alt.muslim, I have also linked Islamica News at left. Islamica is the single most important source of news in the world, second only perhaps to this one.

Houston iFest!

I cannot wait till next weekend - we are planning to take Sakina to the Houston International Festival next Sunday. I'm already planning to take video of her riding an elephant... I love having a daughter :)

Sistani's hidden hand

translations via Juan Cole, the Shi'a clergy are taking two hard lines. For Sadr and the Mehdi Army, they have called upon him to reject violence, and if he refuses, then go fight and lose as is forordained outside Najaf so that the civilians don't pay any further price for his folly:

ash-Sharq al-Awsat: The clerics of the Najaf seminaries have called upon the Army of the Mahdi to go fight the Americans outside the city if they must, so as to avoid the spilling of innocent blood. They called on the militia to pursue peaceful methods and to avoid violence, whatever the motivation. "If you reject our advice and decide to confront them, then remove yourselves from the city of Najaf, and take on the Occupier out there where there are no human beings or buildings, so that you do not burden others with the consequences of your decision, which is foreordained to be a failure."

This is almost a poetic reprimand. It says in no uncertain terms that Sadr is harming the Shi'a cause, without granting one iota of ground to the Occupation. The "foreordained to be a failure" part is key to understanding the subtext here.

The tone is equally harsh for the Occupation, however. In a stern warning, Sistani forbids the military from entering Najaf. Juan Cole points out that Sistani's representative has essentially promised a true uprising from the Shi'a is the Coalition tries to take on Najaf the way they did Falluja. Coming from a moderate like Sistani, that's a shicking promise, but I have to confess that a frank assessment of my own feelings reveals an intense hostility towards the idea. I can't predict my own emotions should the Coalition wage war on Najaf - it's safe to assume that if Rumsfeld doesn't understand what he is dealing with here, there could be a true Shi'a revolt that will make the Mehdi Army fighting look like lovers' quarrel.

We are literally on the brink of losing Iraq completely.



A telling anecdote from Fred Kaplan's essay about Bush's month-long Crawford vacation, which began one day after receiving a Presidential Daily Briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike In the United States" :

Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic congressman, asked [CIA Director George Tenet] when he first found out about the report from the FBI's Minnesota field office that Zacarias Moussaoui, an Islamic jihadist, had been taking lessons on how to fly a 747. Tenet replied that he was briefed about the case on Aug. 23 or 24, 2001.

Roemer then asked Tenet if he mentioned Moussaoui to President Bush at one of their frequent morning briefings. Tenet replied, "I was not in briefings at this time." Bush, he noted, "was on vacation." He added that he didn't see the president at all in August 2001. During the entire month, Bush was at his ranch in Texas. "You never talked with him?" Roemer asked. "No," Tenet replied. By the way, for much of August, Tenet too was, as he put it, "on leave."

Multiple PDBs warned the President

The Washington Post has a must-read piece that reveals the Aug. 6th PDB, which preceded Bush's month-long Crawford vacaction, was just one in a series of warnings.

By the time a CIA briefer gave President Bush the Aug. 6, 2001, President's Daily Brief headlined "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US," the president had seen a stream of alarming reports on al Qaeda's intentions. So had Vice President Cheney and Bush's top national security team, according to newly declassified information released yesterday by the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In April and May 2001, for example, the intelligence community headlined some of those reports "Bin Laden planning multiple operations," "Bin Laden network's plans advancing" and "Bin Laden threats are real."

The intelligence included reports of a hostage plot against Americans. It noted that operatives might choose to hijack an aircraft or storm a U.S. embassy. Without knowing when, where or how the terrorists would strike, the CIA "consistently described the upcoming attacks as occurring on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil," according to one of two staff reports released by the panel yesterday.

"Reports similar to these were made available to President Bush in the morning meetings with [Director of Central Intelligence George J.] Tenet," the commission staff said.

Remember that for an intelligence warning to make it all teh way upstream to a Presidential Daily Briefing, it must have already passed rigorous veting. They are designed to bring action items to the President's attention, not provide briefing filler.

I finally understand Daylight Savings Time

I got home yesterday at 7pm, and there was still 45 minutes of daylight. I went for a nice walk with my daughter. She did most of the talking.

noble savages

Daniel Pipes argues that muslims can't handle democracy:

This history suggests that the coalition's grand aspirations for Iraq will not succeed. However constructive its intentions to build democracy, the coalition cannot win the confidence of Muslim Iraq nor win acceptance as its overlord. Even spending $18 billion in one year on economic development does not improve matters.

I therefore counsel the occupying forces quickly to leave Iraqi cities and then, when feasible, to leave Iraq as a whole. They should seek out what I have been calling for since a year ago: a democratically minded Iraqi strongman, someone who will work with the coalition forces, provide decent government, and move eventually toward a more open political system.

This sounds slow, dull and unsatisfactory. But at least it will work -- in contrast to the ambitious but failing current project.

I wonder if Saddam Hussein is available? After all, it seems to work just fine with Hosni Mubarak. This is the same kind of anti-democracy, racist-imperialist condescension that Ralph Peters put on fine display last year. Admirers of both should take heed.

Frankly, I find Fareed Zakaria to be a more honest, principled, and relevant analyst:

It is conventional wisdom that the United States should stay engaged with Iraq for years. Of course it should, but for this to work Iraqis must welcome the help. In the face of escalating anti-Americanism, U.S. involvement in Iraq will be unsustainable ... Washington has a final window of opportunity to end the myriad errors that have marked its occupation and adopt a new strategy.

UPDATE: Tacitus doesn't disappoint me:

There's no moral separation between this and the insane calls for total disengagement and wholesale withdrawal on the left: both are moral abdications of a responsibility that our nation has assumed and must bear.


US policy towards Israel/Palestine: no sea change

There's some crowing by Israeli partisans (uncritically accepted by other observers) about the supposed "sea change" in the President's middle east policy.

However, don't buy the Reuters alarmist spin. The actual statement by the President reads as follows:

As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

There really isn't anything new here from the Taba agreements. This is highly neutral language - I mean, 1949? get a grip. The only date of any significance is 1967.

The "realities on the ground" broadly refer to the Israeli settlements (ie, the occupation), and as the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza indicates, are hardly permanent. I suspect that Bush's explicit reference here is more aimed at supporting Sharon's intention to keep Hebron.

Note that you could easily draw an opposite interpretation of bias from the President's statement:

As the Government of Israel has stated, the barrier being erected by Israel should be a security rather than political barrier, should be temporary rather than permanent, and therefore not prejudice any final status issues including final borders, and its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities.

The point here is that there is no sea change in policy, but rather a targeted re-emphasis of the same old policy, with some flexibility to give Sharon the political breathing room he needs to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza (a move that Egyptrian President Hosni Mubarak also approves of strongly).

For more context on the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon's intention to retain Hebron, and the statement by the President after meeting with Sharon, see Jonathan Edelstein's much more in-depth analysis.

UPDATE: Jonathan has extended comments on the issue - essential reading.

victimhood is self-fulfilling

It angers me that Muslim student organizations think that radical conspiracy nutjobs such as Mohamed al-Asi are worth associating with[1]. Fools such as these undermine the sincere, legitimate efforts at reaching out and building bridges that MSAs/PSAs North America-wide are making. Unfortuately, until such influences within local chapters are disavowed publicly and angrily, the guilt will indeed continue by association. Such judgements are not just nor morally defensible, but are alas the pragmatic reality. The MSA/PSA groups at the national level have a responsibility to police themselves if they want to be judged by the peak of their efforts, not their nadir.

Given that the extremist rhetoric is still a minority, there is serious denial among most American muslims of the need to confront it. In discussing the issue with some fellow muslims, one argued, "It seems that no Muslim will be free from guilt by association unti-unless he ceases to be one, and perhaps not even then."

I disagree. Victimhood is a poor foundation for self-identity.

For the Jewish community, Finkelstein argues as much in his book The Holocaust Industry. A better model however is the concept of slavery reparations. Prominent black intellectuals have spoken out against the idea, arguing solidly from the position of a moral high ground that utterly rejects the passivity of the victim in charting their own fate. However, the segment of the Black community that insists on victimization as their identity crutch continues to sacrifice their own potential on its altar - one example is the emergence of "Black Studies" programs at minority colleges.

A side note - Martin Luther King himself is often invoked by victimhood-revisionists in support of reparations, using this quote from his 1964 book, "Why We Can't Wait" :

No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries... Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of a the labor of one human being by another. This law should be made to apply for American Negroes. The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law.

What King refers to here is explicitly NOT a payment but a program, to help even the imbalance suffered by the Black community due to the legacy of slavery. Affirmative action essentially answers that call, but the sense of victimhood is so powerful among certain blacks that they debase themselves in seeking money, not opportunity.

Victimhood is simply beneath a people of dignity[2]. Rather than rail uselessly at the reactions of outsiders to your community's worst excesses, it is more productive to turn inwards and root those excesses out, and let the chips of judgement fall where they may. The only judgement that matters in the end if Allah's.

[1]I would not have come across this story if not for LGF. Charles (whom I find far less objectionable than Daniel Pipes) may see little difference between me and a Hamas terrorist, but LGF provides a service to me in my jihad against the extremism which thankfully still remains a minority view in the American muslim community. Victimhood, however, remains a majority view, and there is a clear path from one to the other that I find myself struggling to obstruct.
[2]The link is to a truly great essay by Ismail Royer on victimhood, the best line of which is, "Since victims are all the rage nowadays, it's hard to blame Muslims in America for having a tendency to whine as well." The essay is an important and frank look at the destructive nature of victimhood upon a community's sense of identity, and correctly points out the trend is not unqie to Jews, muslims, or any other group. Rejecting victimhood is a responsibility of all communities - including Americans post-/11. There is a difference between being a victim and being a target. On the topic of Royer, I explicitly will state that my high regard of his writings and thoughts is is no way undermined by my personal opinion of him for being a complete and utter fool. The sheer idiocy of the man in his personal affairs is mind-boggling. Royer provides another example of an extremist action undermining important yeoman's work towards the mainstream, only this time combined in a single man.


W bumps Idol and 24

George W. Bush's planned press announcement this evening will bump American Idol and 24.

Did you know that over 24 million people voted to determine Clay vs Ruben?

Compare that to the fact that approximately 7 million people voted for Kerry in the Democratic primaries. Generously assuming that this represents only 51% of the total vote, the most we can extrapolate is about 15 million people total who were bothered to vote for democracy. And this was record turnout!

What Kerry needs to do is get on Idol and ask people to vote for him :) Maybe he can play hsis guitar - or sing the Star-Spangled Banner.


a global narrative

Nathan Newman distills US foreign policy in the wake of the Cold War down to a broad narrative that is quite compelling:

US enemy's were any movement around the world allied with the Soviet Union or "potentially" allied -- meaning that they promoted even vaguely socialist policies.

So the US overthrew progressive governments in Iran, Guatamala, Chile and other places around the world.

But overthrowing governments was not enough. Socialist movements had the ideological allegiance of millions of people, so the US elites saw strategic gains in supporting a counter-ideological movement, conservative Islam, to mobilize a popular alternative and, where necessary, a military challenge to the socialists. (Notably Israel in alliance with the US had the same idea, and supported the growth of Hamas originally as an alternative to the PLO.)

Here is the deadly bottom line-- where people around the globe have been desperate and poor, they have looked for justice and a better life. The socialists promised justice in this world, but the US elites didn't want justice in this world; they wanted to protect the profits of US multinationals, so any movement calling for justice in this world was seen as too dangerous.

So they decided movements promising justice and paradise in the next world was the best way to compete for the loyalties of the poor and desperate. So Islamic fundamentalist movements were seen as good proxies that the US elite could support against its socialist enemies.

But when paradise is in the afterlife, that removes any limit to the violence such fundamentalist movements might promote, since fear of death is no longer a rational restraint on action.

This ties into Bill Allison's thesis that we are still fighting World War I (couldn't find the specific post) ... it would be nice to start a cross-blog discussion at this meta-level of analysis without getting drawn into the political substrata.

declare victory

I have consistently argued that having entered Iraq, we cannot leave. It's simply too much work to link to all my sources of information that have contributed to my understandings. Thos eunderstandings have been evolving of late, however... and I'm beginning to seriously question my earlier conviction that we must stay the course in Iraq.

I've been reading up on the Tet offensive in Vietnam, and I think that the outraged reaction of any conservative to the comparison is largely based on the assumption that the Vietnam War was actually worth fighting in the first place. As a proxy war between superpowers, we were suckered into sending our men to fight their proxies. So there is grounds to reject the specific analogy to Iraq.

However, there is one aspect of the Tet offensive that does have relevance. After long years of war, the Vietnamese were able to strike in a massive, coordinated, and systematic manner. They lost, but the point was that all the effort until that point had not sapped them of the ability to try.

What Tet seemed to prove was that we could not defeat the North Vietnamese... at worst, we could only kill them. Therein lies a philosophical difference between conservative pro-war hawks and liberal pro-war hawks - the former equate those outcomes. The Tet offensive did not sap the public's will to fight, it revealed the competenency of the Administration to wage the war as the illusion it was.

I believe our troops can win, but I don't define "win" as "completely dominate the Sunni Triangle by sheer force of arms." I define "win" as "convince the Iraqis that we are a willing partner in their self-interest, to build a democratic and stable society." This fundamentally means co-option of all voices within the Iraqi domestic political spectrum - and finding a way to give all dissenting opinions an outlet and a stake in the outcome.

Whether this Administration is ideologically capable of giving our troops this mission, I doubt, based on the evidence thus far. I'm starting to honestly question whether the current leadership can bring us to that required victory. The troops will not disappoint us and will do their utmost, but the failure is at the topmost level - which is by far the most damaging to our long-term prospects. Not even our jarheads and grunts can prevail against a failure in leadership and a schizophrenia in vision.

UPDATE: The flip side of the pessimism above about the Bush Administration's capability to successfully lead, is the fact that Iraq is not lost yet. There is a route to victory that involves lots of the less-glorious nation-building scutwork that the pro-war Right is so quick to dismiss in favor of resolute military response. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal makes the point that there is still an open route to success:

However, we all need to understand the risk the U.S. is running by refusing to have a more open, public debate in Iraq about the transitional constitution and government. If the Shiites have the impression that they are once again being cheated of an effective democratic majority, then it is entirely possible that the consensus among Shiites about America's beneficial presence in their country could quickly end. Sadr's argument to his flock--that military force is the best way to ensure a Shiite victory--could start to look very appealing.

Many commentators now think we've descended into another Vietnam. This simply isn't true. The vast majority of Shiites--the overwhelming bulk of their paramilitary forces--are still on our side. (American soldiers would be dying by the hundreds if this were not the case.) Hell is when Ayatollah Sistani calls for a jihad--that is the 1920 parallel. It is still obvious that the clerical establishment in Najaf and the primary Shiite political players in Baghdad are invested in the American-led transition. They all want to see national elections, sooner not later.

Unlike the author, however, I don't believe that crushing the Mehdi Army will allow for that conscensus to form. Rather it will have the opposite effect. As we have seen in the past week...


Sadr calls for end to hostilities

translation by Juan Cole:

' In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

"They plot, and God plots, and God is the best of plotters." God, the exalted, the great, has spoken truly.

To the Army of the Mahdi, the Office of the Speaking, Fighting Center of Religious Learning, and to the followers of the martyred Sayyid [Sadiq] al-Sadr, and all Muslims:

We formerly requested the withrdrawal of the American forces of occupation from our country, and the erection of an Islamic state. But after the iniquitous attack on us on the part of the American Zionist forces of occupation, we recently asked for the release of Shaikh Mustafa al-Ya`qubi and the reopening of our newspaper, which speaks out, they replied to us with gunfire and the response of rabble. Many of our sons and brothers, Sunni and Shiite, have been martyred. But it has also reached us that a rebellious faction has infiltrated your ranks and deliberately attempted to fan the flames of turmoil, committing plunder and looting of governmental offices that offer services, and of the stalls of money changers. They closed the doors of the universities and seminaries in such a way as to distort the image of Islam and of Muslims, and of the Army of the Mahdi. We do not fear the forces of the infidel American army or the communiques of Bremer and Kimmit. After the intervention of a number of learned clerics and Iraqi personalities and tribal notables, we have decided (we, the office of the martyered Sayyid al-Sadr), to halt the military operations and gatherings, and to stop the disturbance of secure citizens, to halt the attacks on their honor, and to apprehend these rebellious elements and to surrender them to the office of the speaking, fighting religious Center.

We continue to demand the release of all those imprisoned, and the reopening of our newspaper. We urge that action be confined to peaceful retreats after the Friday prayers on 19 Safar 1425, in the Kufa Mosque only.

All believing brethren in all the provinces must prepare to fulfill their religious duties through this sit-in, and to prevent enemies of Islam from infiltrating their ranks.

Muqtada al-Sadr
17 Safar 1425 '

UPDATE: via Brian Ulrich, looks like there may be negotiations between the CPA and Sadr. Bremer however seems to be dead-set against it - probably because (as Atrios notes) the Administration has a "terrorist" mindset when dealing with Sadr rather than an "opposition army" (the military does call Sadr's militia "ACF" or Anti-Coalition Forces). Professor Juan Cole points out how arbitrary the hard line on Sadr has been, given that there have been plenty of other militias that the Coalition and CPA have actively embraced and invited to take part.

on the wrong side

this is actually a good sign in some respects:

THOUSANDS of Sunni and Shiite Muslims forced their way through US military checkpoints Thursday to ferry food and medical supplies to the besieged Sunni bastion of Fallujah where US marines are trying to crush insurgents.

Troops in armoured vehicles tried to stop the convoy of cars and pedestrians from reaching the town located 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.

But US forces were overwhelmed as residents of villages west of the capital came to the convoy's assistance, hurling insults and stones at the beleaguered troops.

Had the military been given the resources by Bush and the GOP Congress, they could have distributed teh food themselves. But the incompetence of the Administration is such that our soldiers are in the position of trying (and failing) to hold BACK humanitarian supplies.

Still, any sign of Shi'a-Sunni unity is good for Iraq, in the long run...

UPDATE: (via Juan Cole) - insubordinationby US troops on humanitarian grounds:

The relief convoy was a joint Sunni-Shiite operation, and protesters carried posters of assassinated Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Muqtada al-Sadr. It seems to me from reading between the lines in the press reporting that some US troops let some of the food and supplies into the city as an act of insubordination toward Donald Rumsfeld, refusing to fire on unarmed civilians to stop them from entering the city with food. Pan-Islam and Sunni-Shiite unity in the face of encroaching Western powers have been a political dream since the time of Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani in the 19th century, but have usually proven futile. Donald Rumsfeld has finally made al-Afghani's dream come true.

Is there any greater evidence to date of the disconnect between the facts on the ground that our troops are valiantly and honorably dealing with and the fantasy-world of the Administration safely ensconced in Crawford Texas?


if you're afraid of spiders,

DON'T click this link. It's a picture of a "camel spider" which our troops contend with daily in the desert. It looks like a creature of nightmares but it has no venom. Ugly sucker though...

legitimate targets

Tacitus argues that the bombing of the wall of a mosque compound in Falluja was a legitimate action, since the compound was being used by insurgents. I agree. He also gently mocks Jim Henley's argument that we have crossed a line from Republic to Imperium in doing so. I disagree.

There is indeed cause for Muslims to be outraged. Not that the Coalition bombed the wall of the mosque compound, but that the Sunni resistance entered the mosque with the intent of drawing fire. At that point it was the fighters who desecrated the sanctuary of the mosque, converting it into a military installation rather than a house pof worship. At that point, why should the Coalition forces continue to unilaterally assign a religious function to the structure when the occupants themselves have changed its status? Note that there is precedent: the Abbey of Monte Cassino was destroyed for much the same reasons in WWII.

Tacitus wrongly argues that mosques play a unique role in incitement of the resistance, however. There are enough examples of churches, synagouges, and monasteries as incubators of religious violence throughout history to illustrate the point, but that topic is best left for another post.

While it's essentially beyond dispute that the Falluja mosque was a legitimate target once it was occupied by armed fighters as a base from which to attack the Coalition troops, there is indeed a line that can be crossed. Tacitus recognized this earlier:

we are faced with the delicious prospect of an all-out urban assault on one of the worldwide epicenters of Shi'ism. Did I say delicious? Try awful: there will be no rational response from the Shi'a on this one. I remember one of my Shi'a co-workers having a minor freakout at the sight of American troops, in April '03, approaching the Imam 'Ali mosque -- the kufr are about to do something haram! -- and that was back when they were unambiguously liberating the place. Transpose the situation and the inculcated paranoia to an utterly non-Westernized populace without the capacity to distinguish between Saddam and Bremer, and you've got a recipe for a fanatical defense on the scale of Berlin '45. Not saying it will happen. Just that the ingredients are there.

I had a bit of a minor freakout myself last year when it was fedayeen holed up in the Tomb of Ali. The fact that the Tomb was scrupulously preserved is testament to recognition of Henley's point. There is a point at which we will unambiguously have fallen from the grace of our own self-interest, let alone Iraq's (however the two are bound). Muqtada Sadr has taken refuge in Najaf today and he will do his utmost to try and make us cross that line.


Sadr and Sistani

Sadr simultaneously has rebuffed Sistani's call to peace:

Sistani has made declarations in the past calling on Iraqis to respect state institutions and public order. He has not spoken directly on the violence involving Sadr's supporters, but he is expected to make a statement in the next few days.

"The Hawza (seminary) is unanimous on this," the aide said.

"We asked Moqtada (al-Sadr) to stop resorting to violence, occupying public buildings and other actions that make him an outlaw. He insists on staying on the same course that could destroy the nation."

He said Moqtada had refused to meet a tribal delegation and representatives of Bahr al-Uloum at the main mosque of Kufa, near the holy city of Najaf, where he is staging a sit-in with armed followers.

"The delegation met Moqtada's aides, who did not express interest in relying on wisdom and patience," the aide said.

A Shi'ite religious source said Sadr has moved from Kufa to Najaf's Imam Ali shrine, the holiest Shi'ite site in Iraq, and armed followers have closed off streets leading to the shrine.

and wrapped himself in Sistani's authority:

He also aligned himself with Iraq's most influential religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. "I proclaim my solidarity with Ali Sistani, and he should know that I am his military wing in Iraq," he said.

Mr. Sadr, whose followers on Sunday began the most serious insurrection of the postinvasion period, said, "I will put the city with the golden dish between Ali Sistani's hands after liberation."

The golden dish refers to the golden shrines of Najaf, some of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. Najaf, south of Baghdad, is the home of Ayatollah Sistani, who is considered much more moderate than Mr. Sadr. On Sunday, Ayatollah Sistani issued a religious decree urging Iraq's Shiites to stay calm.

losing the Occupation

This is pretty serious news:

U.S. Marines in a fierce battle for this Sunni Muslim stronghold fired rockets that hit a mosque compound filled with worshippers Wednesday, and witnesses said as many as 40 people were killed. Shiite-inspired violence spread to nearly all of the country.
An Associated Press reporter in Fallujah saw cars ferrying the dead and wounded from the Abdul-Aziz al-Samarrai mosque. Witnesses said a helicopter fired three missiles into the compound, destroying part of a wall surrounding the mosque but not damaging the main building.

The strike came as worshippers had gathered for afternoon prayers, witnesses said. Temporary hospitals were set up in private homes to treat the wounded and prepare the dead for burial.

The AP article quoted has an extensive summary of the fighting across Iraq as well.

There's a fair question to be asked as to why the situation has deteriorated this badly. The fact that a mosque was struck is, from the public relations perspective, a coup for the resistance to the occupation, because it legitimizes their rhetoric.

As Steven den Beste reminds us, it is impolite to correct your enemy when they are making a mistake (though of course SDB made the observation in a different context). In this case, we are Al-Qaeda's enemy and our presence in Iraq is the mistake, because it has made us uniquely vulnerable to their rhetoric of a war against Islam.

But we ARE in Iraq and the situation IS a quagmire - a bad situation from which withdrawal would immediately make things worse. If we left Iraq, then the result would be a Iran-style theocracy in short order. Muqtada al-Sadr's Iranian sympathizers are watching the Resistance with anticipation. Remember that Al-Qaeda's ties to Iran were always stronger than to the tenous Iraq connections asserted by Bush apologists. (for excellent documentation of Al-Qaeda's Iranian sponsorship, see Dan Darling's blog - links forthcoming).

George W. Bush's Administration remains committed to the nonsensical June 30th "handover" deadline, though the earlier promise of troop draw-down has been rescinded. For a thorough discussion of the problems imposed by the June 30th deadline, see Spencer Ackerman's latest entry on the Iraq'd blog at TNR. John Kerry's critique of the June 30th date is concise and cogent:

"I think the June 30 deadline is a fiction and they never should have set an arbitrary deadline, which almost clearly has been affected by the election schedule in the United States of America," Kerry told National Public Radio in an interview to be broadcast Wednesday.
"If all we do is make war against the Iraqi people and continue an American occupation fundamentally without a clarity to who and how sovereignty is being turned over, we have a very serious problem from the long run here and I think this administration is just walking dead center down into that trap," Kerry said.

"As I have said since day one, what you need is to minimize the perception and reality of an American occupation."

Kerry's last statement (emphasis mine) is the key to understanding why the Resistance has gone from mere rhetoric to shed blood - the Administration has taken a heavy handed and ideologically-driven approach to management of the Occupation itself. Consider these mis-steps:

1. Disbanding of the Iraq Army, resulting in hundreds of thousands of unemployed ex-military men with no means of income.
2. Recruitment of former Mukhabarat operatives to work within the Coalition Provisional Authority
3. Giving the Pentagon control over reconstruction funds, leading to enormous cost overruns for basic troop/equipment supplies such as gasoline and rations, and shutting out local Iraqi contractors from the bidding process
4. The aliennation of our democratic allies resulting in less resources to rebuild Iraq's still-crippled infrastructure
5. The schizophrenia of the Administration itself in reconciling the neo-con Defense Department with the traditionalist State Department.

All of this has helped feed the perception of the Occupation as an imperialist enterprise, not a truely benevolent one. Sadr was quite saavy in establishing a "shadow government" in direct opposition to the CPA, and by creating organizations that filled the void of basic services in the south and in Baghdad (his power base). But his political influence was still marginal until the Administration legitimized him, by targeting him. It's clear that closing down Sadr's newspaper, which granted was inflammatory and hostile to occupation, was a massive overstep, instantly undermining the claim that America seeks to support freedom of expression in the new Iraq. Going after Sadr's lieutenants likewise fed into Sadr's stature. It's clear that by escalating the issue, we pushed Sadr into an active role - one which he, as a paranoid firebrand whose father was persecuted and executed by Saddam, and whose people were abandoned by the former President Bush when they attempted to revolt - had assumed would happen anyway, and prepared accordingly. There was never any deep reservoir of benefit of the doubt for our (American) intentions, and our recent actions have only strengthened those suspicions into certainty.

For Sadr, and an increasing number of Shi'a, the perception of the Occupation is irrevocably changed. The bombing of the mosque compound will only increase Sadr's mindshare.