Beauty of Gray

Saturday, February 02, 2002

Suicide, paradise, and justified means

I found this rather prescient passage in Camus’ The Rebel last night (Yes, I spent Friday night at home reading French literature. Whattaya gonna do about it? (Actually, I was mainly working on finalizing a monte carlo simulation in Excel. That might be even worse, but at least I was getting paid for it.))

In a way, the man who kills himself in solitude still preserves certain values since he, apparently, claims no rights over the lives of others. The proof of this is that he never makes use, in order to dominate others, of the enormous power and freedom of action which his decision to die gives him.

This power is harnessed by the terrible new innovation of the suicide bomber. And the terrorists have further refined it by perverting religion to justify and motivate the bombers. They bring in the promise of paradise, eternal salvation, as a reward for these acts of murder. In this way, they twist the noble and inspirational suffering of martyrdom into a tool of murder and terror.

Paradise is always a difficult moral concept, since such an end justifies the use of any means to achieve it. This is why religious wars can be so terrible, since each side is not just fighting for their country or their interests, but for their very soul, which allows no compromise and no quarter. Religions have solved this problem by tying salvation into the observance of strict moral codes, but there is always the frightening prospect of the decoupling of paradise and morality, which results in the horrors we see every day in the Middle East.

One of the things that made the 20th century so terrible was that the idea of a paradise, a grand, utopian end, was brought over from the religious sphere into the political sphere. Communism, in particular, was able to accept and endorse any means to achieve the worker’s paradise on earth. The terrible logic of their dialectic put them on the right side of history, and made the communists murderers to who nothing was forbidden. (Of course, it’s an open question how much Stalin, Mao, or any other of their brutal leaders actually bought into this idea, or whether they were simply seeking power. But for the rank and file, it was the Marxist explanations that motivated and excused them.)

In fact, I would go so far as to say that one of the most fundamental moral evils in the world is the adoption of the maxim that the ends justify the means.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:39 AM

A better explanation

This is why blogs are so great. I post a few uncertain ideas about the rise of industry and why it became the prime money-maker while merchant profits dipped, and Mark Bryon responded with a clear and concise explanation (along with his own thoughts on the rise of Europe):

The early merchants were arbitrageurs, taking advantage of different prices in different places to make a profit. As transportation became easier and information about prices became more widespread, the profits in being middlemen dwindled, as Yonan’s Law of Arbitrage (“Free lunches are quickly devoured”) kicks in. Economics shifted to manufacturing when technology allowed for economies of size in factories. Modern corporate finance developed to raise the capital needed to build businesses larger than one guy could easily do on his own.

Of course. I should have thought of the information speed idea. Getting rapid information was actually a primary concern for many early merchants. Major trading houses would have entire networks of correspondants throughout the major trading centers of Europe (and the minor ones as well), sending them frequent updates on local prices and conditions. These private networks of communications gave the merchants an advantage, much like insider trading does today, in that they knew the news before anyone else and so could position themselves to take advantage of developing situations. As a side note, not only would local prices for goods differ, so would local exchange rates, so it was possible to make substantial profits simply by hauling gold and silver around and exchanging them, an early currency market. (This is also the reason for the rule, "bad money drives out good." If there is bad (overvalued) money somewhere, traders will quickly take advatage of this to send the money to where it is overvalued, drawing away the hard currency in that location.)

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:38 AM

Drinks are on the house

Well, as it turns out I assumed to much, and Vodkapundit, despite the name, is a connoisseur of all the finer alcohols in life, and chose vodka because it paired best with blogging. Check there (you'll need to scroll down) for the sommalier’s other suggested pairings. I like his choices, and would add red wine for composing love poetry and port for writing pompous letters to the editor of the local paper. He was also kind enough to compare me to Steven Den Beste of the USS Clueless, which greatly flattered me, since the blog I most enjoy and which I have, to some extent, tried to pattern my own after is the good ship Clueless.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:29 AM

Friday, February 01, 2002
If regular people are this funny, why is SNL so lame?

Check out the letters to Happy Fun Pundit for a laugh.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 5:49 PM

Almost enough to make me root for the Rams

This story is almost enough to make me, but not quite. I know I'm going to be disappointed, but I'll be pulling for the Patriots this sunday. I'm a sucker for underdog stories, and although as an Illinois fan I'm not allowed to root for Michigan, I've always liked Brady.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 4:41 PM

Would the riders even notice?

Budget battle threatens to shut down Amtrak. I like trains. I enjoy learning about them and find them to be majestic machines. But Amtrak is a horrible mess, and getting rid of it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

My sole adult experience with Amtrak was taking a redeye from Chicago to Boston. The train was supposed to get there in 20 hours. It took it 26. As a result of this delay, I missed a lobster dinner that was waiting for me in Boston. I'm still bitter about the whole thing, so I don't have fond feelings towards Amtrak. And the simple fact is that there isn't really a market for long haul passenger trains in the US. If we got rid of Amtrak, private service would probably spring up in the Northeast corridor and maybe along the California coast as well. But for places in between, it just doesn't make sense.

Why spend 20 hours (or 26 hours, as the case may be) going from Chicago to Boston when you can get there in 3 hours by plane, for only $50-100 more? I was a starving grad student, so the money was more valuable to me than the time, but in a country the size of the US, trains just aren't a reasonable travel choice. I wonder if the fall of Amtrak would open up the market for a mid-level bus carrier which would still be cheaper than flying but not as scary as Greyhound?

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:49 PM

Tie your mind in knots

There's a great discussion of one of my favorite paradoxes over at Slate. It's Newcomb's paradox, and I'll let you read the article to learn all the details. I'm not really sure what I think, although I lean to the two box argument, for reasons of causality.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:55 AM

Poverty and Opportunity

USS Clueless has a lot of good stuff, as usual, but this paragraph in a recent post caught my eye:

Yes, the majority of Americans are descended from European immigrants. But those who came here were not the same as those who stayed behind. It was the slum dwellers who came; the "huddled masses yearning to be free". It was the Irish tired of being starved, who abandoned Ireland and moved to a richer place, so that now there are more Irish living in the United States than in Ireland. It was the Dissenters, those whose religions subjected them to legal discrimination in England. It was the Jews, tired of pogroms. It was the Poles, the Czechs, the Italians, the Spaniards, the Swedes. It was Russians and Bulgarians and Greeks and Turks and Georgians. It was the peasants, abandoning the strict class structure of Europe which held them on the ground. It was the city dwellers, who worked 14 hour days in the mills for a pittance, until they died from brown lung. It was the racial minorities, who were routinely oppressed there, and even exterminated. And it was mostly the poor, the underclass, those who felt they were condemned to a life of misery, who seized the opportunity for a better chance and a new life.

It seems to me that this same feature of American history that is rightly celebrated in this context--that Europe's poor huddled masses were able to come here and build a great country--is also a direct rebuke to those who today dismiss the poor and the underclass as unworthy, simply getting their just desserts in the free market. It was this same underclass from Europe, a class that had been in poverty for generations and which was sneered at and looked down upon by the upper classes in much the same way the poor in the US are denigrated, which was able when given the opportunity to do great things in America.

Similarly, I think there must be a tremendous amount of unrealized and unexploited talent among the poor in the US today. And this is one reason I'm not a libertarian, because I think justice depends not only on procedural factors and on maximizing negative liberty, but also in trying, as far as possible, to achieve true equality of opportunity. I don't pretend to know what the best way to achieve this is, but I think the best possible public education as well as some forms of governement assistance are important to give all kids as level a playing field as possible and the best possible chance to succeed.

And this goal is desirable not only from the standpoint of justice, but also from the standpoint of national utility. The better a country is at maximizing the abilities and contributions of all its citizens, the more its wealth and strength increases. This is one (among many) reasons that conservative Islamic countries struggle, because they refuse to allow the female half of their society to contribute. So the more efficient we as a nation are at allowing everyone's abilities to flourish, the better off as a nation we will be.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:33 AM

Thursday, January 31, 2002
Let's get them all in one place

Interesting story, via Andrew Sullivan, that al Qaeda may be looking to transfer its main base of operations, or at partially relocate, from Afghanistan to Lebanon. Apparently one of the higher ups in al Qaeda has been meeting there with Hezbollah leaders. At first sight this looks bad, but I can't see it happening for several reasons.

First, as the article notes, Hezbollah are Shia and al Qaeda are Sunni. This is a pretty big difference--they've cooperated before, but being friends is a lot different from moving in together. Second, I'm not sure how interested Hezbollah would be in inviting this new,big, rich, famous organization into their neighborhood. Right now they're the big boys on the block (well, except for the Syrians) and al Qaeda would probably take over as kings of the mountain if they moved in.

And third, I don't see any of the other players in the region being enthusiastic about bringing US wrath down on their heads. Syrria in particular, despite having previously been named as a rogue state and terrorism sponsor, has largely avoided the spotlight the US has been shining around, looking for targets. I can't see them allowing al Qaeda to set up in their backyard, since it would likely bring very hostile attention from the US. The Syrian leaders might be nasty characters, but they're nothing if not cunning, and have made a living for quite a while now by not doing anything quite bad enough to really piss off the US or Israel. They have to know this would cross the line. The same goes for Hezbollah. The US would gladly wipe them out, but right now they're a difficult target and way down on the US priority list. If al Qaeda moves in down the block, they're likely to be targetted at the same time the US military moves in to take out al Qaeda.

These considerations are exactly the idea behind and the benefit desired from a vigorous prosecution of the war on terrorism. Once people know that you plan on killing not only your enemy, but all of his friends and his dog, they're going to think two or three times before becoming too chummy with your enemy.

And finally, I'm not sure this move would make sense for al Qaeda. Lebanon has been chaotic and is largely under the control of Syria and various tolerated terrorist organizations, but it's also right next to Israel. And Israel invaded the country once--they could do it again, or at least give the US quite a lot of help if we wanted to. Somehow I doubt they would have the same concerns as Pakistan about basing US troops and planes for mission against al Qaeda and Hezbollah.

From the US side, a move by al Qaeda here would be good and bad. Good, because it puts them under the control of a more powerful and more likely to be swayed regime in the Syrians. The connection with Israel is good and bad. Good from a purely military standpoint, but bad because basing US forces there for attacks on Lebanon, or taking direct Israeli support, would only further alienate the anti-Semitic majorit on the Arab street, and convince them that the US and Israel are simply two peas in a pod. As a final consideration, it would be worrisome because Lebanon and Beirut are fairly built up, with large numbers of civilians. This would make military action difficult, and fighting in urban terrain is always destructive and costly. And in this case, the US would likely have to do it ourselves, since there's no ready-made proxy army we could rely on.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:38 PM

Why Europe became Pre-eminent III

Well, I'm a bit worried about posting on this now that I know there's a certified finance expert reading, but then again, if I only posted about items where no-one knew more than me, this would be a short and boring blog.

In my previous posts on the subject I discussed Europe and its relations with the Far East and the Middle East.(I guess I'm dumb, but I'd used the term "Middle East" for years before I finally put 2 and 2 together and figured out where it came from.) The region left out, and the last major piece of the puzzle, is the New World. The discovery of the New World had two major impacts on Europe and its status in the world. First, it opened up another large market, one basically open only to the European powers. It wasn't as important (at least in the beginning) as Europe's internal trade or its trade with the East, but this trade was yet another source of profit and another engine to help drive European economies.

More important, though, was the huge influx of precious metals, espcially silver, from mines in Central and South America. This huge influx of specie lasted for over a century, with a few hiccups, and provided the funding which supported Europe's large trade deficits with the Near and Far East. It was South American silver which paid for the pepper, cinnamon, and other spices which Europe imported from the East. (And the fur and timber it imported from the Baltic.) And the Europeans, as the merchant middlemen in this process, were the ones who reaped most of the benefit from this trade.

(It's an interesting side point that in early capitalism, it was trade and shipping which made the profits and controlled the economy, while basic industry and production were marginal activities with very small profit margins. And only when other options were not available would capitalists put their money into industry. In contrast, now much more of the profit is made by industry and those who produce and manufacture consumer items, while the merchant's cut is smaller, if still substantial. I assume this change occurred during the industrial revolution. Once mass production and factories took over, capital was needed to start up industry, and so industry was able to demand a share of profits commensurate with the capital investment required. Plus, steamships and railroads dramatically reduced carrying costs and made distribution much cheaper and easier, reducing the value added by merchant shippers.)

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:11 PM

Another link

Speaking of new links, I've also added one to the wonderfully named vodkapundit. I'm more of a beer and scotch guy myself, but to each his own. He writes an excellent blog that will make you laugh and think, which are two of my favorite activities. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:51 PM

An answer on Japan

Well, it appears there's at least one person out there reading my stuff. Mark Byron was kind enough to answer my question on Japan and has posted a quick overview of the main structural causes behind their current stagnation. Check it out, and then stick around to read some of his other interesting post. (I've also added a link to his site over on the right.)

If I understand him correctly, Japan is struggling because of a number of structural inefficiencies in their economy's organization, combined with some serious competition from other asian countries like South Korea in their traditional areas of autos and electronics. And that these inefficiencies were present all along, but were disguised by Japan's luck in choosing these high growth fields, combined with excellent production mangement. So their success was due to traditional reasons--they were building a better product cheaper due to better and more efficient production methods (like quality control and just-in-time delivery.) Whereas the central planning and protectionist features of their economy, which some siezed upon as being the fundamental differences which explained their success (and also contradicted western economics ideas), were actually drags all along, they just hadn't shown up until the other factors favoring growth had weakened.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:49 PM

Well, glad that clears that up...

So, Robert Wright, one of the high profile back-seat pessimists in the war on terror, has come out with his proposal for defeating terrorism. The JunkYardBlog has been regularly critical of Wright up to now, so I'm sure he'll respond to this soon enough.

All I can say is, are you kidding me? Wright's big idea is, wait for it, world governance. This is simply a pipe-dream. No transnational organization has ever been able to function as an effective political unit or take serious action of the sort that would be necessary to limit terrorism. And there is no prospect that one will, at least not in the next 25 years and probably never.

The closest any organization has come was the war in Kosovo, which all observers agree was hamstrung by the limited multilateralism it had. The international court can't even try a brutal war criminal like Milosovic without screwing it up, and Wright thinks a similar organization is the answer to terrorism? When he had promised his great solution in a previous missive, I was actually interested. But this? This is worthless utopianism, plain and simple. The world isn't going to come together in peace and harmony, drinking coke, singing kumbaya, and battling terrorism shoulder to shoulder. So, I guess we can all feel free to continue ignoring Wright and actually getting on with real life.

That's just on the practical side. Of course, even if it were achievable, it's far from clear why an effective world government would be desirable. The dreamers assume such a government would be far-seeing and benevolent, working to everyone's benefit. But different regions have different interests, so any policy imposed from above would, by it's nature, not take everyone's interests into consideration. How would this government be formed? Who chooses its membership? And given the UN's recent record on human rights pronouncements(the whole Dubai conference, Zionism is racism, etc.), I certainly wouldn't want my rights in their hands or in the hands of any international bureaucrats. And I'm sure I'm not alone in this feeling, either.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 12:01 PM

Eternal vigilance...

Here's a new article for the 85% of the population that doesn't think the war on terrorism is the most pressing concern facing the country. The terrorists are still out there and are trying to make another major attack on the US. Blowing up a dam could kil thousands of people; hitting a nuclear plant could poison and devastate a large area; water treatment plants have a lot of hazardous chemicals stored at them--an explosion at one could release a cloud of poison gas. Since most are located in urban areas, that could kill dozens or hundreds of people, as well as limiting a city's water supply. Luckily, at least President Bush still realizes what the proper priority for the US should be.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 11:23 AM

Wednesday, January 30, 2002
Protectionism and Japan

The more I read about early capitalism, the more intrigued I am about the role that protectionism played in the development of countries' economies. I'm no expert, but it certainly seems that protectionism really did work to countries' benefits, allowing for the nurturing and development of local industry and local capitalist systems. Now, however, economists are almost universal in their belief in the benefits of free trade to all sides. So is my reading of history wrong, have things changed in a fundamental way between early capitalism and the modern version, or are the economists wrong?

The most interesting modern example is Japan, which did have a protectionist system (both de facto and de jure) for much of its development, and continues to do so to a lesser extent today. Yet despite (because of?) these protectionist policies, Japan rose to a position of dominance in the world economy in the 80's.

At the time, this was seen as a challenge to western methods and, potentially, to the dominant western ideas about capitalism. There were plenty of popular books about the "Japanese way," and I'd assume some scholarly works as well. Now, however, Japan's economy has tanked and has remained mired in recession for several years. It seems that many (such as The Economist magazine) have taken this as proof that open markets and free trade are the way to go. Japan's failure is seen as proof of these timeless truths, and a rebuke to their former methods.

But is it really? The press has written scandalously little about the Japanese crisis, so it's hard to tell, but from what I've read it seems that the crisis was caused by the popping of the real estate bubble, which in turn hit many banks who were extremely weak because of huge numbers of bad loans. The attempt by the banks to remain solvent then put great pressure on many businesses who had over-extended and over-borrowed. There is no clear link in any of this to Japanese trade policies or the central planning of MITI. So it seems to me that the puzzle of earlier Japanese success remains--it has not been rendered moot by the subsequent failures, since the failures were caused by issues which were not a necessary part of their success.

To put it another way, the causes of their success don't seem to be the same as the causes of the more recent recesion, so the recession does not mean that previous Japanese business and trade practices were at the core incorrect or counter-productive.

Anybody out there who actually has more than an interested layman's knowledge of this area? I don't pretend to have any answers, but from what I've read I'm not convinced anyone else does either.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:43 PM

Transportation and unification

An interesting perspective from, appropriately enough The Perspectives of the World by Braudel [p.284]:

Measured by the speed of transport of the time, Burgundy alone, in the age of Louis XI, would have been hundreds of times greater than the whole of France today.

The relative smallness of the world today has been often remarked upon, but it's less well known just how dramatic the change has been, and also how limited. The advantages of modern transport depend on good roads or rails and readily available gasoline and parts, things which are not present in much of the world. In Kenya, just to take one example, the roads are so bad across much of the country that it take 2 1/2 days (in a 4WD) to get from the capitol up to the north of the country, a distance of only 300 km or so.

These transport problems are a significant issue facing anarchic countries attempting to unify, like Afghanistan and the Congo. They don't prevent administrative unity, since radio and TV can be broadcast instantaneously, but it does prevent the projection of power by the central government. The transport time imposes a logistics burden that the weak national governments simply can't sustain--in this case fighting on your home turf is an almost insurmountable advantage, which helps to explain why the warlordism in Afghanistan is so persistent.

It might be that an international aid effort to build roads in Afghanistan could help overcome this problem and, disguised as humanitarian or development aid, could actually be a huge boost to the central government in its quest to unify the country under its rule. (The classic example of the value of good lines of communications is of course the Roman road system, without which they couldn't have maintained control over Italy, much less the rest of the Mediterranean.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:31 PM

More tiresome anti-Americanism

This time from John Pilger in the Mirror. And tiresome is the right word--reading this piece doesn't make me outraged or angry, just tired.But it's still worth addressing, at least once, since this piece has all the main features of these Chomskyite attacks on the US. So answering their tactics in this case will serve as an all-purpose rebuttal to any of their future attacks.

Before getting into his piece in detail, there are a few general comments about their tactics to make. First, the Chomskyite position is entirely uninteresting and irrelevant because their works are basically Auto-da-Fe's. The verdict--that the US is guilty--is already predetermined. All that needs to be done is to align the evidence, such as it is, in the appropriate way to "prove" this. If something bad happened and the US didn't do anything about it, the US is complicit or even should be considered as supporting it. Guilty! If something bad happened and the US tried to do something about it, then the US is guilty of imperialism and trying to impose our evil will upon the world. Guilty! If the US did something bad, for whatever motive, it is culpable for all the evil it was involved in, with no mitigating factors allowed to be considered. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Responsibility for all evil in the world comes back to US, which is always guilty of sins of comission or omission, as the case may be. The US truly is, in this world-view, the Great Satan.

These folks are operating from a utopian world view where there are always beautiful, good, moral choices to be made, and if the all-powerful US had simply followed the clear paean of conscience, there would be no evil in the world. So any suffering is hence can be directly laid at the US's door. This is bullshit, of course, but it is apparently what the Chomskyites believe.

The second main tactic of this crowd is to assemble a laundry list of all the bad things the US has done. Apparently, this is supposed to prove something, although I'm not sure what. It's an entirely pointless line of argument. Pick any country in the world and give me a day or two, and I can come up with a similar list of atrocities and evil acts. So pointing to US participation in such things is not an argument for or against anything.

There are a couple of goals for this rhetorical trick. First, since the US press and schools don't widely report on these sorts of things (or else they have been forgotten in the mists of history), the writer is supposed to acquire the aura of a dangerous truth teller, which they hope will carry over to when they say things about the present that most people disagree with. It's: "Did you know about A? Ha, see, so then you should believe me about B, too." The other goal is that the expose of past evil will induce a general skepticism of the US. Since, in the past, they did some bad things while talking grandly, it shows that they must be doing something wrong now, desiite talking grandly. This is a false argument, of course, but it plays into their manichean view of the US--nothing is as it seems, and the US's real goal throughout history has been to dominate and exploit everyone else in the world. This sits uneasily with the same folks' contentions that the people of the US are ignorant and don't care about the rest of the world, but never mind that.

Finally, the Chomskyites regularly twist and distort the truth and sometimes simply lie to prop up their opinions, especially those about evil acts the US has allegedly committed. The fact that they are reduced to these tactics in cataloguing the evils of the US suggests that maybe the US isn't so bad after all. If we really were so terrible, then surely the writer would be able to find many well documented cases. Instead, they are reduced to casting about for the most negative possible study, and then announcing its numbers (even if discredited) as the Gospel truth. Or they just make shit up. Both of these are simply crying wolf, so when they occassionally do identify real abuses and shameful acts, nobody cares anymore since they have no credibility.

Anyway, on with the show. The following is the article, my comments will be in italics.

LAST week, the US government announced that it was building the biggest-ever war machine. Military spending will rise to $379billion, of which $50billion will pay for its "war on terrorism".

Not true. Some of the Reagan budgets were larger in monetary terms, and in real world terms the US and Soviet militaries at the end of WWII were far, far larger.

There will be special funding for new, refined weapons of mass slaughter and for "military operations" - invasions of other countries.

Most military actions won't be invasions, so Pilger is being deliberately misleading here. And the US has not and almost certainly will not use any weapons of mass slaughter. The US military now is thousands of times better at and more conscientious of avoiding civilian casualties than any other in history.

Of all the extraordinary news since September 11, this is the most alarming. It is time to break our silence.

That is to say, it is time for other governments to break their silence, especially the Blair government, whose complicity in the American rampage in Afghanistan has not denied its understanding of the Bush administration's true plans and ambitions.

What are these mysterious plans and abitions? Pilger doesn't say. But obviously they must be bad, since the US is involved. Pilger is bound and determined to ignore the truth in front of his nose for some secret that only he understands. And he's full of it when saying the US actions were a "rampage."

The recent statements of British Ministers about the "vindication" of the "outstanding success" in Afghanistan would be comical if the price of their "success" had not been paid with the lives of more than 5,000 innocent Afghani civilians and the failure to catch Osama bin Laden and anyone else of importance in the al-Qaeda network.

This number is a lie. It's an exaggeration of a previous number of 4000 that was proven to be completely unfounded. Pilger is either intentionally lying or he's willfully ignorant. Either way, by using this number he's pretty much proven that he's not worth listening to. Pilger is also moving the goalposts by claiming that the destruction of the hostile regime, smashing of the main terrorist haven and training camps, and capture of numerous al Qaeda and Taliban officials and documents, all accomplished with 2 American KIA's, is a failure. Not in anyone else's world, it wasn't.

The Pentagon's release of deliberately provocative pictures of prisoners at Camp X-Ray on Cuba was meant to conceal this failure from the American public, who are being conditioned, along with the rest of us, to accept a permanent war footing similar to the paranoia that sustained and prolonged the Cold War.

"Deliberately provocative?" To whom? I just saw some pictures of some prisoners. And the Cold War was against the most murderous and oppressive regime in the history of mankind, so if the war on terrorism is anything like that, it's keeping pretty good company. Oh, and how did that whole Cold War thing turn out, anyway? Oh, that's right. We won.

And "sustained and prolonged?" I guess if we had been more naive and trusting, he's right, the Cold War might have been over much sooner. The Soviets would have won, but that apparently is OK by Pilger. They were just misunderstood, anyway. It was all US paranoia. Perhaps Pilger would have been happier under a communist dictatorship, toiling as an Engineer of Human Souls for a Stalinist tyranny. Luckily for him, other people were willing to step up and make sure that didn't happen.

The threat of "terrorism", some of it real, most of it invented, is the new Red Scare.

The parallels are striking.

IN AMERICA in the 1950s, the Red Scare was used to justify the growth of war industries, the suspension of democratic rights and the silencing of dissenters.

That is happening now.

Oh Christ, spare me. Nobody is being silenced. Do you have any evidence of this? No, you don't. So stop lying. Idiots like you are being criticized for spouting off half-baked and inaccurate opinions. This is not the same thing as being silenced. If you want to see people being silenced, check the history books about that poor, misunderstood Soviet Union that we were so unjustifiably hostile to.

Above all, the American industrial-complex has a new enemy with which to justify its gargantuan appetite for public resources - the new military budget is enough to end all primary causes of poverty in the world.

No, it isn't. People have thrown far more money at poverty than the current US DoD budget, and poverty is still around, because it is caused by systemic factors like corruption, war, overpopulation, and tyranny. If throwing a bunch of money at it solved the problem, then why are so many of the oil-rich Middle Eastern states still plagued with great poverty? Hint: it doesn't involve the US.

Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, says he has told the Pentagon to "think the unthinkable".

This is a total non-sequitor, completely unconnected from anything coming before or afterword. Does the Mirror have editors?

Vice President Dick Cheney, the voice of Bush, has said the US is considering military or other action against "40 to 50 countries" and warns that the new war may last 50 years or more.

And this is wrong because...? There are a lot of terrorists all around the world. Apparently there's some sort of quota, where the US is only allowed to take action against 5 countries every decade or something. I guess Pilger's trying to imply that the US is using this as a front for taking over the world (bwahahaa!) Not explained is why the US would want any of the poverty-ridden cesspools where most of these thugs hang out. Yeah, the US has just been itching for the past 20 years for an excuse to take over the Phillipines, Somalia, and the Sudan. Oh wait, we withdrew our military from bases in the Phillipines when they asked us to, and we went into Somalia and then left rather than take casualties. So much for the US wanting to take over. Once again, Pilger gets it wrong.

A Bush adviser, Richard Perle, explained. "(There will be) no stages," he said.

"This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there ... If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now."

Of course, this is completely different from what anyone in authority has said. But don't let the actual US policy get in the way of your paranoid fantasies about what we're planning on, Mr. Pilger.

Their words evoke George Orwell's great prophetic work, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Umm, no it doesn't. What are you talking about?

In the novel, three slogans dominate society: war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.

Well, you've got the ignorance part down pretty well, and you're convinced that the freedom in the US is actually a nefarious slavery with dissenters silenced and rights infringed. And you also seem to think if the US closes it's eyes and wishes real hard, the war that others have declared on us will go away and peace will magically be restored without any action. So I can see why the novel might spring to mind.

Today's slogan, war on terrorism, also reverses meaning. The war is terrorism.

Alert, alert! Tendentious semantic game playing approaching!

The next American attack is likely to be against Somalia, a deeply impoverished country in the Horn of Africa.

Washington claims there are al-Qaeda terrorist cells there.

This is almost certainly a fiction spread by Somalia's overbearing neighbour, Ethiopia, in order to ingratiate itself with Washington. Certainly, there are vast oil fields off the coast of Somalia.

Wow. Apparently Pilger has access to better intelligence than the US government, since he knows that there is no al Qaeda presence in Somalia. Never mind that bin Laden bragged about al Qaeda helping to train some of the troops who resisted and drove out the US the last time we were there. He must have been lying. It was just a CIA doctored video to help justify our invasion. But here the truth can be told. And once again, it's all about the oil. Just like the pipeline in Afghanistan that no oil company is actually interested in building. I'm sure Pilger has all the studies and letters which the oil companies sent trying to get the US to invade Somalia so we can develop some oil fields. If we wanted oil, we'd invade Saudi Arabia or Iraq or Iran, you nit, not some war-torn backwater on the horn of Africa. Or a war-torn backwater in central Asia, for that matter.

For the Americans, there is the added attraction of "settling a score".

In 1993, in the last days of George Bush Senior's presidency, 18 American soldiers were killed in Somalia after the US Marines had invaded to "restore hope", as they put it.

A current Hollywood movie, Black Hawk Down, glamorises and lies about this episode.

I haven't seen it yet, but from all reports (and from the book it was based on), the episode is told in a very exact and realistic way in the movie, and not romanticized at all. The only one lying about Somalia is Pilger. And I don't know about anyone else, but no Americans think there's a score to be settled there. Most people view it as a tragic screw-up, not as a wrong they're burning to avenge. But Pilger just felt like making that up, because it sounds good. Never mind that the paragraph before he said it was about the oil. Now it's about revenge. Make up your mind, will you?

And, by the way, the invasion *was* to restore hope, and it did help limit the effects of a horrific famine. If the US hadn't done anything, then *that* would be on your list of evil US deeds--letting the Africans starve because we don't consider them people.

It leaves out the fact that the invading Americans left behind between 7,000 and 10,000 Somalis killed.

Wrong. There is absolutely no basis for this number. Most estimates of the military action in question put the number at 500-1000 casualties, not 7000 to 10,000. Once again, Pilger is unable to limit himself to historical truth, and feels the need to exagerrate in order to make reality fit his skewed prejudices. (And how many people were saved from starvation by that US action? Quite a few, I'd bet. But of course Pilger has no interest in that, since it might actually reflect well on the US.)

Like the victims of American bombing in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Cambodia, and Vietnam and many other stricken countries, the Somalis are unpeople, whose deaths have no political and media value in the West.

Ah, that explains why the US "invaded" to halt the famine there, right? And the people of Iraq are "stricken" by the corrupt and tyrannical government of Saddam Hussein, not by the US. I'm sure it was just the western media manufacturing consent, but I remember a lot more pictures of Afghans smiling and celebrating the US action there than mourning it. And once again, cognitive dissidence strikes Pilger, since in a few paragraphs he will be denouncing the US role in setting up the Taliban, while here he is denouncing them for taking them out. Cambodia and Vietnam are ancient history, and have nothing to do with the current conflict.

WHEN Bush Junior's heroic marines return in their Black Hawk gunships, loaded with technology, looking for "terrorists", their victims will once again be nameless. We can then expect the release of Black Hawk Down II.

Blackhawks aren't gunships, you moron, they're transport helos. Apparently you haven't actually seen the movie you were just denouncing. Not that ignorance seems to slow down your accusations any.

Nice use of quotes around terrorists, by the way. So if not terrorists, what is it that the US will be searching for in Somalia? Oil executives? Opponents of the war on terror that need silencing? I'm still a little hazy on what the heck you're attempting to imply, here. It's obviously clear to you that the US is going to do something so it must be for nefarious purposes, but I'm not finding any coherent explanation of just what that purpose is.

Breaking our silence means not allowing the history of our lifetimes to be written this way, with lies and the blood of innocent people. To understand the lie of what Blair/Straw/Hoon call the "outstanding success" in Afghanistan, read the work of the original author of "Total War", a man called Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's National Security Adviser and is still a powerful force in Washington.

Brzezinski not long ago revealed that on July 3, 1979, unknown to the American public and Congress, President Jimmy Carter secretly authorised $500million to create an international terrorist movement that would spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and "destabilise" the Soviet Union.

The CIA called this Operation Cyclone and in the following years poured $4billion into setting up Islamic training schools in Pakistan (Taliban means "student").

Young zealots were sent to the CIA's spy training camp in Virginia, where future members of al-Qaeda were taught "sabotage skills" - terrorism.

Others were recruited at an Islamic school in Brooklyn, New York, within sight of the fated Twin Towers.

In Pakistan, they were directed by British MI6 officers and trained by the SAS.

The result, quipped Brzezinski, was "a few stirred up Muslims" - meaning the Taliban.

OK, the US did fund groups to try and attack the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They were more rebels than terrorists, though. They weren't attacking Afghan civilian targets, for the most part--they were attacking Soviet military targets. And the Taliban didn't even exist during the period that the US was funding these groups. So yes, there was some "blowback," but it's nowhere near as direct as is being implied here. And in the grand scheme of things, bringing down the Soviet Union was a much larger goal than preventing Islamic groups from acquiring influence in Afghanistan. Remember the Soviet Union? It was part of the Cold War thing you were denouncing earlier in this mess of a column.

At that time, the late 1970s, the American goal was to overthrow Afghanistan's first progressive, secular government, which had granted equal rights to women, established health care and literacy programmes and set out to break feudalism.

Nice half truth. It was also a Soviet installed military dictatorship. The US's goal was to oppose the Soviet Union. We didn't care about the goverment of Afghansitan itself, as was shown by the fact that we withdrew our presence there after the Soviets left.

When the Taliban seized power in 1996, they hanged the former president from a lamp-post in Kabul.

His body was still a public spectacle when Clinton administration officials and oil company executives were entertaining Taliban leaders in Washington and Houston, Texas.

The Wall Street Journal declared: "The Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace. Moreover, they were crucial to secure the country as a prime trans-shipment route for the export of Central Asia's vast oil, gas and other natural resources."

Yes, at the time some hoped that Afghanistan could be the site of an oil pipeline. But it has remained chaotic and pretty much everyone has given up on that idea. So what's the point here? It was true that the Taliban were the strongest group and the one most likely to impose peace on the country. Unfortunately, they also turned out the be fanatical zealots as well, who were willing to get in bed with terrorists. But, depite your claims above, it was Pakistan that funded and backed the Taliban, not the US, so your whole argument is pretty irrelevant.

NO AMERICAN newspaper dares suggest that the prisoners in Camp X-Ray are the product of this policy, nor that it was one of the factors that led to the attacks of September 11.

Perhaps because it's not true. The Taliban, in case you weren't paying attention for the past 6 months, were not the group responsbile for the terrorist attacks. They were the group that was harboring al Qaeda and wouldn't give them up, but the Taliban themselves, if left to their own devices, would not have attacked the US. They were too busy oppressing their own people and blowing up their own cultural monuments to be concerned with blowing up anything else. So even if the US had funded them as you claim, which we didn't, it still wouldn't follow that the 9/11 attacks were a result of that (non-existent) policy.

Nor do they ask: who were the real winners of September 11?

The day the Wall Street stockmarket opened after the destruction of the Twin Towers, the few companies showing increased value were the giant military contractors Alliant Tech Systems, Northrop Gruman, Raytheon (a contributor to New Labour) and Lockheed Martin.

As the US military's biggest supplier, Lockheed Martin's share value rose by a staggering 30 per cent.

Yes. And I would imagine defense contractors also did pretty well after Pearl Harbor. So what? When someone attacks your country, then it's natural that defenses are strengthened to go after them and prevent future attacks. Are you seriously implying that the US defense industry orchestrated the attacks to help its stock prices? If not, what the hell are you babbling about?

Within six weeks of September 11, the company (with its main plant in Texas, George Bush's home state) had secured the biggest military order in history: a $200billion contract to develop a new fighter aircraft. The greatest taboo of all, which Orwell would surely recognise, is the record of the United States as a terrorist state and haven for terrorists.

Never mind that that contract has been under competition for years and has absolutely nothing to do with September 11th attacks; the truth might interfere with your insinutations. But now, with a total non sequitor, we have segued into US harboring of ex-government officials from oppressive regimes. Note: this is an entirely different category from terrorists. So your attmept to pin hypocrisy on the US is in this case based on a flimsy bit of bait-and-switch semantics. Nice try, though. And where did Orwell come into this?

This truth is virtually unknown by the American public and makes a mockery of Bush's (and Blair's) statements about "tracking down terrorists wherever they are".

They don't have to look far.

Florida, currently governed by the President's brother, Jeb Bush, has given refuge to terrorists who, like the September 11 gang, have hi-jacked aircraft and boats with guns and knives.

Most have never had criminal charges brought against them.

Why? All of them are anti-Castro Cubans. Former Guatemalan Defence Minister Gramajo Morales, who was accused of "devising and directing an indiscriminate campaign of terror against civilians", including the torture of an American nun and the massacre of eight people from one family, studied at Harvard University on a US government scholarship.

During the 1980s, thousands of people were murdered by death squads connected to the army of El Salvador, whose former chief now lives comfortably in Florida.

The former Haitian dictator, General Prosper Avril, liked to display the bloodied victims of his torture on television.

When he was overthrown, he was flown to Florida by the US government, and granted political asylum.

A leading member of the Chilean military during the reign of General Pinochet, whose special responsibility was executions and torture, lives in Miami.

THE Iranian general who ran Iran's notorious prisons, is a wealthy exile in the US.

One of Pol Pot's senior henchmen, who enticed Cambodian exiles back to their certain death, lives in Mount Vernon, New York.

What all these people have in common, apart from their history of terrorism, is that they either worked directly for the US government or carried out the dirty work of US policies.

All of these are nasty figures responsible for reprehensible and evil actions, but they were all committed in the context of the Cold War and opposition to the Soviet Union. There were no good choices in many of these countries, when we either had repressive regimes that were friendly to the US or repressive regimes that were hostile to us. Did the US commit acts of injustice and support crimes in these countries? Yes. But it wasn't terrorism, and it was in a larger context in which there were no simple "wave the magic wand and make everything better" options. As for harboring these guys now, that is a necessary aspect of realpolitik. If the US didn't stand by them, then no-one else would be willing to stand by us elsewhere. But you do have a germ of a point here. Too bad your inability to give the US credit for anything, anytwhere, means that everyone ignores you on those rare occassions when you might actually have something to say.

The al-Qaeda training camps are kindergartens compared with the world's leading university of terrorism at Fort Benning in Georgia. Known until recently as the School of the Americas, its graduates include almost half the cabinet ministers of the genocidal regimes in Guatemala, two thirds of the El Salvadorean army officers who committed, according to the United Nations, the worst atrocities of that country's civil war, and the head of Pinochet's secret police, who ran Chile's concentration camps.

There is terrible irony at work here. The humane response of people all over the world to the terrorism of September 11 has long been hijacked by those running a rapacious great power with a history of terrorism second to none. Global supremacy, not the defeat of terrorism, is the goal; only the politically blind believe otherwise.

The US already has global supremacy, don't we? If we didn't, how could we have done all these other evil things that you accuse us of? Regardless, if that was the US's main goal, how come we never took any of these nefarious actions to secure it before we were attacked by al Qaeda? And if the US was after global supremacy, why would we be fighting in armpits of the world that no-one cares about? Your proposed explanation doesn't pass the laugh test, here.

And, once again, the actions of the US, however reprehensible, were not for the most part terrorist. And, once again, whatever evils the US committed in the past are irrelevant to what the correct course of action is today. What should the US have done, rather than what we did? Oh, that's right, you have no policy, since actually coming up with an option would force you to engage real world issues and reveal how bankrupt iand irrelevant your views are. But whatever you non-starter of an idea is, it's apparently a "humane response." Perhaps your "humane response" involved letting the repressive Taliban regime remain in power, and taking no action to prevent further devastating attacks on the US and Europe? No offense, but I prefer the US's response to your "humane" course of handwringing, stern and empty words, and hoping the gunmen don't blow you up next.

By the way, nice attempt to bully opposition, there, by claiming anyone who disagrees with you is politcally blind. Well, *I* say that the US is sincere in its stated goal of fighting terrorism, and anyone who believes otherwise is a paranoid, nearsighted, manichean hatemonger.

The "widening gap between the world's "haves" and "have nots"', says a remarkably candid document of the US Space Command, presents "new challenges" to the world's superpower and which can only be met by "Full Spectrum Dominance" - dominance of land, sea, air and space.

This quote is, of course, taken completely out of context, and the dominance here is battlefield dominance, not the sort of political dominance that Pilger was talking about in his previous paragraph. But at this pont, having slogged through the entire article, it should come as no surprise that Pilger would finish it off with yet another dishonest attempt to twist words and mislead the reader. Lies, half-truths, and insinuations are all this sorry excuse for an editorial has to offer.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:10 PM

The horror begins

The Washington Post weighs in to tell everyone of the inspiring story of the Hungarian bobsledder who overcame breast cancer to reach the pinnacle of sports achievement, the Winter Olympics! It's not bad enough that the Winter Olympics is made up solely of boring and repetitive competitions that are impossible for even the expert to judge (admit it--they could broadcast the same downhill ski run 50 times in a row and you couldn't tell the difference. And if they didn't have the timer in corner, you wouldn't have the foggiest notion of whether a particular slalom or luge run was in first or last place. The announcers sure don't--check it out, they really have no clue and will often rip a run for all these technical flaws that turns out to be one of the best of the day.) Even if there were any compelling competitions I still couldn't watch the Games because vomitous, saccharine schlock like this has taken over the broadcasts to the point that even a glimpse of an actual event is an unexpected pleasure.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:06 AM

Tuesday, January 29, 2002
A sea change?

Europe has taken a lot of grief for their wobbly stance on many issues in the War on Terror. But this report in the Washington Post might indicate that their policies are changing in an important way. Prior to September 11th, Europe was a free have to Islamic Radicals and terrorists. Their asylum laws prohibited extradition to most Middle Eastern countries--notably Egypt--and so many of those who were convicted of terrorism in Egypt were able to flee to Europe and take refuge there. But now, apparently, many of the countries have changed their tack, and are evicting refugees who are suspected terrorists, and returning them to face prison in their home countries.

The article goes on to state the case for the defense for many of these people--that the trials where they were convicted in absentee were show trials, that they were legitimate political opponents, that they may face very poor conditions or even torture if returned. These are all serious claims, and certainly if it could be conclusively proven, an innocent man shouldn't be sent back to face a prison term.

But I have no sympathy for these men. They sowed the wind by accepting and condoning the radical Islamicists who preached violence and terrorism. They accepted them as fellow travelers or even supported them. Because of this support and acceptance, the Islamicist political movements have become tainted with the stench of terrorism, and they are now paying the price. If the legitimate political movements don't want to be tarred with the broad brush or terrorism, then they need to stand a little farther away from the terrorists, and make it clear that they do not support them or accept their methods.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:12 PM

Airline Risks

This story in the Washingotn Post discloses fears that pilots have about the lack of screening of air freight that it carried on planes. I think this is a valid concern. What the Shoebomber showed is that highjackers are no longer the primary cocnern. I am confident that, even should a terrorist smuggle a knife or gun onto a plane, the passengers would gang up to subdue him before he could take over. But we need to avoid fighting the last war, and the new threat doesn't come from hijackers, it comes form bombs. The Shoebomber also showed this--he wasnt trying to take over the plane, he was trying to blow it up, and would have if he weren't such a boob.

I don't want to fly because I'm worried about bombs in the cargo hold, not nail clippers in economy class, and right now that is a threat that is not being well addressed. Even now, all passenger bags aren't screened, although there are plans to do so soon. But air freight is still a risk.

I don't know exactly how the responsibility for security is shared by the airport, the airlines, and the federal government, but I wonder if it would be a winning proposition for an airline to jump out front and begin doing a full screening of all bags and freight coming on board. Maybe I'm the only one worried about this, but if, say, American Airlines began doing that and advertised it, I would choose to book on them rather than a competitor. maybe such an ad campaign would be too tasteless, and maybe it wouldn't repay the extra expense, but I'm surprised the airlines have been so willing to sit back and let the government flounder on this key issue rather than jumping in themselves.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:55 PM


There’s been a lot of ink and electrons spilled about the payments of Enron to Paul Krugman and what it all means, and whether or not we should be outraged. I’m in the middle on the issue. For most of those involved I don’t think it’s a big deal, but for Krugman I think it was.

First, as far as I know, all of the writers who have taken the bribes, errr, honoraria were pundits and editorial writers. These are people who write Op-Eds—opinion pieces. The whole point of an opinion piece is that you express your opinion. Or, to put it another way, you state and defend your biases. Nobody is concerned that, say Elanor Cliff is totally in the tank for the Democrats. What she writes and says on the Sunday morning shows is clearly as biased as anything the Enron moneymen are alleged to have done. So why is what they did so bad? Regardless of their reasons for their positions, their Op-Ed pieces stand or fall on the merits of the arguments put forth in them. Their biases are only important insofar as readers of their pieces surrender their critical thinking and simply accept their opinions blindly, simply because someone famous in the NYT has expressed it. Given this, it seems like those who are getting too upset about the whole scenario are being a bit condescending towards the American public, and implying that they are docile sheep who are simply led by opinion makers without stopping to think about the value of those opinions.

Of course, this isn’t quite the whole story. Because, while I’ve put it in a negative way, trust is nothing else but the tendency to believe someone’s opinion simply because they have it. So taking money to espouse an opinion is a betrayal of trust. In many areas, this is not that serious. But in economics, a field where most people have very limited knowledge and expertise, then trust is an important factor for a columnist or pundit, since the line between opinion and analysis is so blurred. Krugman was speaking and writing as an expert, and that status carries an assumption of impartiality that political columnists don’t have. So, in this way, I think Krugman, of all those implicated, is uniquely culpable. For the rest, it’s a lot of sound and fury with no real significance, but Krugman deserves censure at least, if not termination from the NYT.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:42 PM

Monday, January 28, 2002

I was beaten to the punch on Powell by Michael Ledeen at NRO. However, unlike Steven Ambrose, I actually had the same idea myself rather than just stealing his. You can tell because his piece is written so much better than mine.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:15 PM

Realism or Pessimism?

A very interestnig and telling passage from Robert Kaplan in a recent Slate dialogue with Richard Wright. (Read the quoted post here; there are links to the previous missives.)

An imperial reality now dominates our foreign policy, even if imperialism has been delegitimized in public discourse. As with all great powers in the past, we will be resented for the very fact of our power, no matter how we use it. The terrorists of Sept. 11 would not have called off their plan had we supported some of the legitimate grievances of Islamic separatist groups or forced Israel to concede an extra few miles of the West Bank or even been on the right side of history. Terrorism now tends to be nihilistic rather than oriented toward specific, achievable goals, such as the terrorism of the Irish Republican Army.

The basic insight here is that the US has now, as the imperial power in the world, become emblematic of that world to many people. So that anyone who has a grievance against any feature of the modern world (as the Islamicist terrorists most certainly do) will see in the US their prime enemy, since the US represents that world to them. I'm less certain about his assertion that terrorism has become nihilistic--I don't think it's quite true, although it might as well be. The Islamicists are not nihilists, believing in nothing. They do have a program, just one that is so revolutionary and so opposed to the existing order that their immediate actions are indistinguishable from someone who simply want to destroy the world order with nothing to put in its place.

I would say that terrorist goals (at least as represented by al Qaeda and their ilk) are universalistic, without strong ties to specific narrow political goals, but that's not quite the same as being nihilistic. And there are certainly still many groups out there that do have very specific goals. The IRA is one, the PLO is another, as are the seperatist groups all over the world. I've been meaning to for a while, but I think this discussion might finally be the motivation to go back and reread _The Rebel_.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:51 PM

What does America think?

A fascinating site giving NYT polling data, with current and previous results. It's very interesting both to see current numbers for some fo the questions as well as looking at trends. It doesn't give errors, so it's tough to tell how significant some of the apparent trends actually are, but is still neat to look at. (Of course, I'm convinced many poll-takers don't really understand statistics and errors, so they're claimed +/- values can't be trusted, but that's another argument. But when you can see two different polls asking the same question with differences such that their claimed errors don't even overlap, there's good reason to be skeptical. This is most notable in election polls where the question is easy and hard to bias. Watch for it during the next election cycle.)

I don't have any specific commentary, except to note how depressing to me it is that only somewhere around 15% of the population thinks terrorism is the most serious problem facing President Bush.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 11:03 AM

The banality of evil

A long but interesting story covering Mohammed Atta's life can be found in the online LA Times. As it says, he was more of a technician than a visionary. We may like to have romantic heroes and villians, but the real world is rarely like that. On September 11th and after we found that the heroes in the fire and police departments and on our airliners were most often just unassuming people doing their jobs out of a sense of duty and responsibility. It turns out the villians may be just the same, but this does not make them less evil. The evil is in the act, not in theatrical gestures and the sneering twirl of the mustache. Bin Laden may resemble a Bond villian, but the frontline terrorists don't.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:09 AM

Colin Powell

Colin Powell has not had a good war so far, at least in the press. He is the highest profile of the so-called "doves" who, if reports are believed, have consistently pushed for a limitation of war aims, against a broadening of scope to other countries like Iraq, and for coalition-building. It is a position borne of caution, and a position which so far has not been supported by the results of our more daring and unilateral action against the Taliban. But nevertheless, it is a position which is understandable and defensible even if it is, as I think, misguided.

Now, however, according to reports Powell is pushing for giving POW status to the US prisoners in Cuba. There was speculation before that the split between the hawks and doves in US high circles was mostly a public show, a good cop-bad cop routine played out for the benefit of allies. I don't know how true that was (and is), but this most recent move at least seems to be a clear case of just such a ploy.

There is simply not a single good reason to give POW status to the terrorists in Cuba. First, there is no legal case for it--the prisoners are simply not entitled to POW status under the Geneva Convention. As a former soldier, Powell is certainly aware of this. Further, there are clear costs to recognizing the detainees as POWs: doing so would dignify their cause, would appear a cave to the carping of critics in Europe, and most importantly would limit the ability of the US to interrogate the captives about al Qaeda. Pumping them for information is one of two main reasons why the US took custody of these guys in the first place. And now we are supposed to give up on that goal? Powell might prefer diplomacy over force, but I don't think he's blind to US intersts in this matter. I think this "leak" about his position is intended for foreign consumption, so he can get a more favorable reception in Europe and the Middle East.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:23 AM

Cyber Warfare Update

According to this story (via Instapundit), it looks like cyberattacks on the US power industry may have already started. I'm not completely sure what to make of this. On the one hand, if the attacks so far are the best they can do, then it's nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if the current attacks are more like probing strikes, then a serious attack could have a devastating effect on the US power grid. It's more resilient than it used to be, but the power grid (as its name implies) is strongly interconnected and large shutdowns in one region can have serious repurcussion all across the country, so one targetted attack could entangle the whole system in a slowdown or shutdown.

But if these attacks have been discovered, then hopefully that means we can do something about them. And it seems clear to me that cyber-security should be a high priority for Tom Ridge and others in charge of Homeland Security. We should also be doing our best to lay traps and try to discover where these attacks are coming from--assaults on the US power grid may not rise to the level of acts of war, but they're close. And any nation willing to support or encourage such attacks needs to be slapped down. Hard.

Update: According to this Washington Post story, the new homeland security proposal contains, as far as I can tell, little or no money for information security. I hope this isn't something we regret down the road. Private industry can do it on its own, but this is clearly an area where a little help an ecouragement from government would be valuable.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:26 AM

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