July 04, 2004

Modern times call for modern action figures

Posted by shonk at 02:21 AM | permalink | 3 comments

A couple days ago, Eric McErlain noted that several peace groups are demanding that the Minnesota Twins desist from giving out G.I. Joes as part of a promotion. He added an idea for a new action figure:

Activist Chad: a student at an obscure New England private college who uses his Spring Break to disrupt IMF and World Bank meetings. Comes complete with gas mask, spray paint (for protest signs), smoke bombs, and multiple ticket stubs from last night’s showing of Farenheit 9-11. Saul Alinsky’s, Rules For Radicals not included.

Suitably inspired, I decided to make some suggestions of my own:

  • Patriotic Jim: Though he’s never been in the military, this trailer-park denizen idolizes soldiers and refers to them as “our boys”. Comes complete with semi-auto rifle, stained wifebeater and membership in the Republican Party. Passing grade from gun-safety course not included.

  • White Guilt Joan: a wealthy, white, middle-aged woman living in the Upper West Side who refers to G.W. Bush as an oil baron and a fascist in the company of her similarly wealthy (and lily-white) friends. Comes complete with Mercedes SUV, expensive education and three copies of Al Franken’s latest book. Gainful employment and actual principles not included.

  • Cheerleader Neil: a former Trotskyite turned neo-conservative hawk who claims to have been involved in the planning of the Project for a New American Century. Comes complete with off-the-rack three-piece suit, a subscription to The National Review and an Oedipus complex. Military experience not included.

This next was originally intended to be a caricature, but I realized almost immediately that the man deserved an action figure in his own name:

  • Noam Chomsky: a tenured professor at a major university who capitalized on his well-deserved fame as a linguist to publish poorly-researched, over-written treatises on politics. Comes complete with both panegyrics to the Khmer Rouge and wordy dissimulations, references to Foucault and a hefty appearance fee. Coherent political philosophy not included.

And, in the interest of fairness, here’s what mine would be:

  • shonk: an inveterate cynic who devotes his time to sarcastic criticism rather than doing any actual work. Comes complete with over-used, expensive laptop, excessive free time and contempt for pretty much everybody. Original ideas not included.

May 23, 2004

The Daily Douche

Posted by shonk at 04:26 AM | permalink | comment

Gene Callahan, Austrian economics guru and obscure political satirist, goes to town with The Daily Douche.

(Hint: If you don’t get it, remember, bad puns can be good clues)

February 21, 2004

Breaking News

Posted by shonk at 07:52 PM | permalink | 2 comments

Bin Laden ‘surrounded’:

A BRITISH Sunday newspaper is claiming Osama bin Laden has been found and is surrounded by US special forces in an area of land bordering north-west Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Sunday Express, known for its sometimes colourful scoops, claims the al-Qaeda leader has been “sighted” for the first time since 2001 and is being monitored by satellite.

The paper claims he is in a mountainous area to the north of the Pakistani city of Quetta. The region is said to be peopled with bin Laden supporters and the terrorist leader is estimated to also have 50 of his fanatical bodyguards with him.

The claim is attributed to “a well-placed intelligence source” in Washington, who is quoted as saying: “He (bin Laden) is boxed in.”

The paper says the hostile terrain makes an all-out conventional military assault impossible. The plan to capture him would depend on a “grab-him-and-go” style operation.

As a friend just said, I’ll believe it when I see it.

(Link via Seny)

February 03, 2004

Do You Support the Troops?

Posted by shonk at 01:25 AM | permalink | 5 comments

The other day, someone asked me if I support the US troops in Iraq. The question came after a friend of hers had attended a speech in which Michael Moore said that people who equate anti-war with anti-troop made him angry (Moore says something similar in this article). Now, my opinion of Moore isn’t real high, but the question itself got me to thinking. I’ve thought about it for a few days, and I still don’t know the answer.

My indecision isn’t based on mixed emotions about troops or the war, per se, but rather stems from the fact that I don’t really know what it means to “support the troops”. Sure, I’ve heard that phrase tossed around plenty in the last year or two, but, after thinking about it, I’m honestly unsure what it means.

A quick check at dictionary.com yields the following definition for “support” :

1. To bear the weight of, especially from below.
2. To hold in position so as to keep from falling, sinking, or slipping.
3. To be capable of bearing; withstand: “His flaw’d heart… too weak the conflict to support” (Shakespeare).
4. To keep from weakening or failing; strengthen: The letter supported him in his grief.
5. To provide for or maintain, by supplying with money or necessities.
6. To furnish corroborating evidence for: New facts supported her story.
a. To aid the cause, policy, or interests of: supported her in her election campaign.
b. To argue in favor of; advocate: supported lower taxes.
8. To endure; tolerate: “At supper there was such a conflux of company that I could scarcely support the tumult” (Samuel Johnson).
9. To act in a secondary or subordinate role to (a leading performer).

Definitions 1 & 2, I think, can be quickly dispensed with, since nobody is really, physically supporting the weight of “the troops” (though, in conjunction with 5, one might make a case for number 1). Number 3 is a bit of an archaic usage, number 9 doesn’t really fit (though it’s somewhat ironic that the biggest self-proclaimed “supporters” of the troops, namely politicians, have displaced the actual troops into a supporting role) and number 8, though appealing to those who’ve heard Jessica Lynch’s story quite enough, thank you, is surely not the relevant meaning. Number 6, of course, is the sort of support needed by those that started the war, not those fighting it. So I think we can safely eliminate all those possibilities.

We are left, then with the following three, which I’ll address one-by-one. I’ll start with the easiest one:

5. To provide for or maintain, by supplying with money or necessities.

Needless to say, I think pretty much everyone has this one covered. Whether you like it or not, if you’re an American, you’re giving monetary support to the troops. Even if you don’t pay income tax, the simple equation deficit spending = inflation means you’re footing part of the bill. While I suspect this isn’t really what people mean when they say they “support the troops”, the fact is that this constitutes a very real (though involuntary) form of support.

a. To aid the cause, policy, or interests of: supported her in her election campaign.
b. To argue in favor of; advocate: supported lower taxes.

Part b. seems to be more of an abstract principles type of thing: how do you argue in favor of “the troops”? I mean, I suppose you could argue in favor of increased pay and/or benefits for soldiers, the idea that it would be better if soldiers didn’t die, or the notion of the warrior as a superior personality type, but none of those options seem to really capture the meaning intended by someone who says they “support the troops”. Surely many who “support the troops” would argue some or all of these things, but, in context, it doesn’t seem essential to support any of these ideas (except, of course, the second, but that seems to be more a matter of simple human decency, rather than an active form of support).

We seem, however, to be getting closer with 7.a: “To aid the cause, policy, or interests of”. Certainly, someone who “supports the troops” has their interests in mind. However, this definition, especially with its use of the term “aid”, would seem to imply action rather than psychology, whereas most of those who claim to “support the troops” don’t take much action in that regard other than that of making the statement, perhaps accompanied by the ostentatious display of a flag, and the inertial paying of taxes that we’ve already addressed. I don’t necessarily mean to imply that those “I support our troops” bumper-stickers aren’t playing a key role in aiding the causes, policies and interests of the troops, but let’s just say that I’m a bit dubious.

None of these definitions seem to be entirely satisfactory and we’ve only got one left:

4. To keep from weakening or failing; strengthen: The letter supported him in his grief.

This seems to be the most compelling of the bunch, which is why I’ve saved it for last. Certainly, I think most would agree that anyone who sends favorable letters, care packages, etc. to the troops does indeed “support the troops”. Again, though, this seems to be more of a sufficient than a necessary condition, as many people who have done nothing of the sort claim to “support the troops” (without any irony or argument). Furthermore, the tone of the “support” espoused by most of these people doesn’t seem to be of the “keep from weakening or failing” variety. Or rather, the undercurrent that does exists seems to be of the bandwagon-jumping, self-congratulating variety.

That leaves us with this notion of “strengthen”. It seems consistent to suppose that someone who “supports the troops” would give them strength through their support, or at least to act in such a way that might strengthen the troops morale. I guess I still don’t really know what that means, but surely that’s what is implied by this notion of supporting the troops. However, under this definition, is it reasonable to say that one is opposed to war, but still supports the troops? What I mean is this: all the soldiers volunteered to join the armed forces and the polls seem to indicate that most are in favor of the war effort — would it give them strength to know that you’re against their being there in the first place, even if you claim to “support” them in spite of that fact? I don’t know. Can one be in support of one takes the Moe Szyslak attitude: “I’m a well-wisher…in that I don’t wish you any specific harm”? I don’t know. Is it strengthening to know that someone “supports” you even if they haven’t thought critically about the reason you’re doing what you’re doing? I don’t know.

I guess my point is, I still don’t know whether I “support the troops”. I hope they all make it back safely, that they have loving families who write them letters and send them pictures of home, that they’re able to live normal lives upon their return, but, on the other hand, I haven’t sent any letters or care packages (and I don’t plan to). As I said in the beginning, I’m not confused about how I stand in relation to the troops or the war, but this whole idea of supporting the troops is so over-used and so carelessly used that I think it has just lost all meaning for me. Even after going back to the very definition of “support” and writing at some length on the topic (it’s now been over an hour that I’ve been at this), the phrase “support the troops” still seems hollow to me, in spite of the fact that it seems to want to imply something important and meaningful.

But then, I have been accused of being cynical. On occasion.

January 17, 2004

Democracy Without Elections

Posted by shonk at 02:10 AM | permalink | 1 comment

Oh, the irony :

So let’s see if I get this straight: the U.S., which went to war to export “democracy” to Iraq (and the entire Middle East), in defiance of the UN, is telling the Iraqis that they aren’t ready for self-government – and is now seeking the UN Secretary General’s imprimatur for what amounts to a policy of brazen imperialism. Instead of elections, a series of elite “caucus” meetings will be held, in which the neocons, er, um, I mean, the Americans, handpick the voters – and predetermine the results.

Yes, that’s right, the UN! You remember those guys, a supposedly “anti-American” assembly of ingrates and professional bureaucrats, so loudly disdained by the “unilateralists” in Washington who, at the time of the invasion, gloried in the Security Council’s alleged irrelevance. Secretary General Annan is cited as saying that he’s sure a census is impossible under the present circumstances, but the idea that the UN has any legitimacy in Iraq seems rather odd. After all, isn’t this the same organization that enforced a draconian regime of sanctions on Iraq for over a decade? And now this same UN is saying it’s too early to have a free election.

It’s too early, because, well, you know, “[l]eaving the political future up to an election could deal a serious blow to US efforts to make Iraq a test case for western-style secular democracy.”

December 15, 2003

Nerve Gas or Smokescreen?

Posted by shonk at 08:50 PM | permalink | comment

Novinite is reporting that US troops used nerve gas in capturing Saddam. They cite ITAR-TASS, which in turn quotes “Saudi press”. I can’t find any relevant references on news.google, so my question is this: has this report been substantiated anywhere else? Also, can someone who speaks Russian dig up the original story from ITAR-TASS? Their English-language page appears to be down.

December 14, 2003

Saddam Redux

Posted by shonk at 11:29 PM | permalink | 12 comments

Since it’s the news story of the day, I guess I ought to comment on the capture of Saddam Hussein. Before I get to my opinion on the matter, I want to comment on some of the reactions from the anti-war crowd. I’ve been opposed to the war from day 1 (which, I’d like to emphasize, is different from supporting the Ba’ath regime, no matter what war supporters say), but many in the anti-war crowd continually amaze and annoy me with the stupidity of their rhetoric. Which just goes to show that someone can be right for all the wrong reasons.

To start us off, Stop the War’s Andrew Burgin makes the following excellent point in his warning against “triumphalism” :

This is a pathetic, isolated figure. [Hussein] was apprehended in an underground cell that he himself had created with a single air vent, cut off largely from the outside world. … It’s quite incredible that he was built up by the British and Americans as the person who was single-handedly masterminding the resistance.

Of course, the idea that Saddam was singlehandedly masterminding the resistance to US occupation is absurd and anyone who believed it is a fool. The fact is, people generally don’t like it when foreigners with guns decide to set up shop down the street. Taking pages from the Israeli playbook, like erecting razor wire, doesn’t help. But Burgin’s apparent contention that Iraqi resistance is entirely due to heavy-handed imperialism is also naïve. Even if Saddam had no direct communication with the bomb-tossers and gunmen of the last few months, it’s certain that many were inspired by a desire to return to the old status quo which held them in positions of favor. Burgin eradicates any of his good points with this stupidity:

Mr Burgin said it was ridiculous to assume that Saddam would have any specific knowledge of where supposed weapons of mass destruction might have been disposed of.

Admittedly, this paraphrase doesn’t provide context, wherein Burgin may well have added “…because they never existed”, which might well be true. But one would suppose that if Iraq did have any weapons of mass destruction or designs on building same, there is a very good chance that Saddam would indeed know where the evidence was hidden, or at least where to start looking. Megalomaniacs are not well-known for leaving important decisions up to the judgment of their subordinates.

In the article linked above, there is also mention of Human Rights Watch’s apparently contradictory desires that the Iraqi people “have ownership of [Hussein’s] trial” and that “international jurists must be involved in the process.” Huh? How can the “Iraqi people” (or, much more likely, some stylized representation thereof) have ownership of the trial if their judgment is subject to international review?

GNN also weighs in, making the point that this war was ultimately predicated on motives other than the ones publicly stated. No duh, as we used to say in elementary school. However, this too gets undermined by several glaring points. First, I am, as usual, annoyed by the equation of “privatisation” and “capitalism” with the corporatist mercantilism of US foreign policy. The dogma that underlies this misapprehension of reality leads to further absurdities:

Not the invasion of a resource rich country for the “capitalist dream” (The Economist), which was the forced handover of state industries to U.S. companies and the privatisation (or looting, whichever you prefer) of state oil assets and supply chains.

Excuse me? State oil assets? Since when does the stuff in the ground automatically belong to the state? Aside from justifying the notion that the totalitarian Iraqi state had legitimate claim to the oil under the lands which it purported to rule, this logic actually justifies precisely that which it claims to protest. After all, the only entity currently in the area that remotely resembles a state is the US-supported and -controlled provisional government, so it must necessarily own the oil and, therefore, have the right to do with it as it sees fit, right?

The article then moves on to a critique of the tribunals which will, apparently, conduct Saddam’s trial (incidentally, isn’t it so convenient that these tribunals were established just last week?):

So, Saddam (“he was beaten by his father teaching him the power of violence,” BBC News 24) will eventually be killed, by tribunals set up last week. These tribunals have the power of the death penalty although they have no basis in legality. … Their tribunals have no basis under any previous or current system.

I am far from convinced that the tribunals will necessarily serve justice in any meaningful way, but the “no basis in legality” assertion is ridiculous. Usually a “basis in legality” is established by way of tradition and the only legal tradition Iraq has known for the last few decades is the whim of Saddam Hussein. Surely nobody would suggest that the man ought to be tried under the so-called legal system that he created and controlled.

So what was my personal reaction to today’s news. Like Jonathan Wilde, I had mixed emotions:

A bittersweet day for me. A quiet solace pervades my heart at the knowledge that a human butcher has been captured in a most unglorified state for all the world to see, with vermin in his beard and helpnessness in his aura.

Yet, I cannot get past the chagrin I feel at the fact that other individuals like Saddam still walk the Earth in this ‘Enlightened’ Age. Did anyone learn the lessons of the 20th century?

“A quiet solace” is a bit too melodramatic for my taste, but other than that he captures my mood well. I think his further musings are spot-on:

If humanity is ever to one day move beyond tyrants, we have to start questioning some very entrenched givens - ‘common sense’ notions accepted by a large part of the world. Why is it that I know no one bearing remotely close to the level of Saddam’s viciousness in my circle of friends, co-workers, relatives, or other people I have known? Why is it that these barbarians are almost solely found as the head of states or their friends?

Keeping with the depressing theme for a moment more, I don’t want to lose sight of the endgame. As Max Sawicky points out

U.S. political leaders in both parties are quick to laud imaginary progress towards democracy in other countries. It plays to the notion of an inexorable trend based on the shining U.S. example. Actual accountability, given the facts on the ground, is always sloughed off.

The fact is, Saddam the person (as opposed to the image) was unlikely to ever regain even a fraction of the power he had before the war, whether he was actually captured or not. In this sense, the capture is good TV, but strategically almost irrelevant. Except in the very important sense that Mark Gillespie illustrates :

He has the look of a homeless street person, not a leader of a country. Now, I am not saying these things to belittle him. I’m saying these things to illustrate a truth. In truth, this is what EVERY so-called ruler looks like! From the deposed Saddam Husayn, to Lord High Terrorist Killer Bush, himself, they are all the same.

Without their cronies, guns and props, every single so-called ruler is just a tired looking wretch, flitting around from hidey-hole to hidey-hole. In my personal opinion, every politician, every leader and every ruler should be made to look like this. Take away their protection, their nice suits and teleprompters, their campaign staff, their stolen millions in “matching funds” and see what you have. Take away their parties, their caucuses, their Secret Services and their stupid followers and they are nothing.

Preach on, brother. We are, indeed, “fools to give these men power akin to Godhood.”

November 17, 2003

Success in Iraq?

Posted by shonk at 02:29 AM | permalink | comment

In the last few days, there have been rumblings that Bush & Co. want to speed up the process of transferring power in Iraq. Now, cynic that I am, I wonder just how complete such a handover would be, but that lies a bit aside from my main point in this post. What I want to explore is, given U.S. forces are currently occupying Iraq and can't stay there forever, what constitutes success in Iraq? And, once that's decided, what's the best way to go about leaving?

Dwelling on the second question first, I'm quite partial to J.P. Zmirak's Divide and Scamper plan, though it hasn't got a chance in hell of actually happening. Specifically,

If we want to leave behind a peaceful, humane government, the best way to do that would be to parcel out the country’s territory along the rough ethnic lines that make it logically not one nation, but three.
Now, this is something I was discussing back in July (no, not online) and I'm sure smarter people were mentioning it even earlier. As Zmirak points out, the concept of "Iraq" was created by British cartographers after World War I and "[t]here’s no more reason to insist on a single Iraq than there is to fight for a unified Bosnia." The best (well, only) argument I've heard for maintaining a single Iraq rather than splitting it up into three pieces derives from a desire to maintain "Iraq's national sovereignty". Which is pretty ironic given that the need for this discussion is a product of the destruction of that national sovereignty. In fact, one could convincingly argue that the artificial nature of Iraq's nationhood was a contributing factor in the fundamental problems that led to its being invaded in the first place, so what good reason is there to maintain this artificial construct?

Zmirak also addresses the idea that withdrawing from Iraq would mean accepting defeat. As he says:

If the U.S. walks away from Iraq, and kicks the Mesopotamian dust from its boots, some parts of the world will sneer at us for weakness—then forget the whole thing, as they forgot our retreat from Lebanon, Somalia, and Vietnam. They’ll remember that we possess the world’s only first-class military, with enough nuclear weapons to incinerate all life on earth. We might just squeak by without that extra airbase in Basra.

Besides, in a real sense, we will still have won. A nation which we’d proclaimed our enemy would lie divided, helpless, and under new regimes, its former leaders deposed and its weapons scattered. Only American ideologues could make of that result a defeat—and only because they have become what they hate, proponents of an eternal "jihad" against non-Western, non-secular regimes, which can only end when the enemy is not only defeated but converted, incorporated into the "Dar-Al-Disney." They must learn to love Uncle Sam. (emphasis added)

To put this into economic terms, the investment in the Iraq invasion is a sunk cost and sunk costs, as any economist would tell you, should have no impact on your decision-making. Obviously, that's an oversimplification, but the point remains the same: no matter how much time/money/effort you've invested in something, you can't let the sentimentality associated with that investment cloud your judgment.

Given that Zmirak is advocating walking away from Iraq ASAP, we come back to the first question (slightly reformulated). As Diana Moon puts it: "What constitutes an objective standard of success or failure in Iraq?" Jim Henley's answer is, perhaps, the best I've heard. Basically, he argues that we could consider the war as having positive results (as differentiated from being wise), when the PATRIOT Act is sunsetted, executive discretion in naming enemy combatants is limited and other civil liberties stop being threatened.

This seemingly has nothing to do with Iraq, but in fact it has everything to do with Iraq. After all, the primary justification for the war was supposed to be that eliminating Saddam would make America safer from terror. As Henley says:

The neolibertarians, most famously Glenn Reynolds, but others too, justified their support for war by saying that we needed to aggressively pursue the enemy (by whatever definition) abroad to avoid panic-induced repression at home. They have spent far more energy the last two years advocating the administration's wars than fighting the administration's internal-security measures. For the war to be a success on their own terms, we need to see a loosening of the controls already in place. ...

When all of the above changes for the better, the libertarian-minded hawks will have at least prima facie justification to claim success.

Unless someone can give me a good argument why Henley is wrong, I will consider the war a success (and might even stop bad-mouthing it, but no promises) if domestic civil-liberties restrictions are loosened to levels noticeably lower than existed prior to March, 2003. Needless to say, I'm not terribly optimistic, but then, I was raised cynical.

(And yes, this post is mostly a rehash of two different posts from the No War Blog. Sue me)

November 12, 2003

Occupation and Insurgency

Posted by shonk at 01:45 AM | permalink | comment

From former CIA agent Milt Bearden (thanks to the No War Blog for the link):

There were two stark lessons in the history of the 20th century: no nation that launched a war against another sovereign nation ever won. And every nationalist-based insurgency against a foreign occupation ultimately succeeded.
Not that the trend is guaranteed to continue, but it's something to think about.

November 09, 2003

Good News/Bad News

Posted by shonk at 04:55 AM | permalink | comment

First the bad news: Craige McMillan, WorldNetDaily commentator, is proposing the following (and more) in Iraq:

Saddam loyalists should be rounded up and forced to carry the rubble out of town on their backs and bury it outside the city. ... Begin the roundups and detentions. They can never be set free. ... Destroy any mosque found to contain even a single weapon. Don't close it, completely level it. ... Here at home, we must expand the clandestine war. ... Tens of thousands of people worked for the regime, and their execution can be timed to demonstrate retribution for the death of each American soldier.
...and so on. And this guy is the founder of "an exciting new initiative to reshape the way America looks at and interacts with people of faith." Apparently, if the people of faith he's interacting with are not Christians, he prefers to "interact" as the Crusaders did. Even worse, Bush appears to be taking the message to heart. Now, I'm no apologist for terrorists or fundamentalists, but doesn't the notion of rounding up and executing all former Iraqi government employees seem a bit, well, extremist?

More bad news comes in the form of a high school drug raid in South Carolina (primary assist goes to Dave Masten at Catallarchy). Officers stormed the school with guns drawn because, apparently, the surveillance cameras already installed in the school weren't stopping the drug problem there. Needless to say, this tends to ignore the first rule of gun safety:

Never point the muzzle at anything you do not intend to destroy.
As Masten rightly points out in an impassioned appeal to the officer in charge:
Sir, contrary to what you say, your (and your officer's) actions indicate that you had no thought of anyone's safety but your own. Your actions scream very loudly that you intended to kill students.
Here's a thought: maybe if teenagers weren't being forcibly locked up in worthless schools, they wouldn't be taking so many drugs. Of course, if drugs weren't illegal, this wouldn't be such a problem in the first place.

Extending the bad-news streak, it appears that the Internet will be taxed, since the Senate can't seem to decide on what the term "Internet access" means. Actually, the real reason the tax ban debate has reached a standstill is buried a bit deeper in the article:

Several states currently collect taxes on Internet access services, and opponents of the ban are worried that the legislation could limit this revenue source.
Of course, Sen. Dorgan's claim that "You could see billions and billions of dollars lost" is patently absurd: untaxed revenue does not disappear. In fact, it tends to do a hell of a lot more good than taxed revenue.

Okay, now for the good news: Changing the World Technologies, a Philadelphia start-up, is pioneering a process that will make carbon wastes of all kinds a viable oil source. That's right, Ehrlich, as usual, was wrong and, as pointed out at Samizdata, that noise you hear is most likely Julian Simon giggling (I'd say "giggling all the way to the bank", but I'm not sure financial institutions are big players in the hereafter). Now, the basic concept of this process is that it can take virtually any kind of waste, from turkey gizzards to steel-belted radials, stuff it in one end of the machine and out the other side will come light crude oil, gas, pure water and solid minerals. With 85% efficiency. Some of the commentary at Samizdata and other places has raised concerns about scalability and have questioned how much oil could realistically be produced using this method (CWT claims 4 billion barrels year), but perhaps even more important than the possibility of independence from oil imports, this procedure has the promise to eliminate, cleanly, wastes of all varieties, from industrial waste to refinery byproducts to sewage. In fact, this procedure is so clean that the EPA is classifying CWT's first industrial implementation as a manufacturing rather than a waste-disposal operation. Eliminating all sorts of nasty wastes and turning virtually all man-made products and wastes into carbon sinks can mean nothing but good news for the environment, even if the oil produced is never enough to significantly reduce dependence on oil imports. So where are the Luddites now?

Speaking of Luddites, why not piss them off by following up my posts on globalization with a link to another Kinsey Institute article? In keeping with Bastiat's observation that "When goods don't cross borders, soldiers will", here's the Institute's conclusion:

Although the detractors of globalization fear that it has already gone too far, we believe that it has barely begun.

On a more-or-less related note, has anyone else noticed that Murakami seems to have borrowed rather heavily from Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly in his Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World? Or is it just me?

October 27, 2003

Centennial Post

Posted by shonk at 02:51 AM | permalink | comment

Quick on the heels of a rocket attack on the hotel where Paul Wolfowitz was staying in Baghdad, there have been more bombings in Iraq. Colin Powell protests that "We did not expect it would be quite this intense this long," and goes on to marvel at the sophistication of these attacks. Which makes one wonder what exactly he was expecting. As Fred Reed says:

I don’t think that Americans quite grasp that countries don’t like having foreigners bomb them. We tend to justify our wars in terms of abstractions: We are attacking to defeat communism, impose democracy, overcome evil or, now, to end terrorism. The countries being bombed, devastated, and occupied usually think they are fighting invaders who have no business being there. The distinction is lost on many. I know aging veterans who to this day do not understand why the Vietnamese weren’t grateful that we had come to help them fight communists.
On a related note, check out The Liberators by my friend George Potter.

On the topic of Vietnam, the Toledo Blade has done a heroic job uncovering the story of Tiger Force, an elite unit of the 101st Airborne which committed probably hundreds of serious war crimes in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in 1967 (thanks to George F. Smith for the link). Not that the fact that war crimes were going on other than those committed at My Lai should come as a great surprise to anybody, nor that they should be covered up so completely, but it's still rather discomforting to read all the details.

Quickly, I'd like to follow up my globalization post from last night with a link to this article on offshoring from CNET and point out this post on the frenchification of English.

On a lighter note (this is, after all, the 100th post to this blog), I am very grateful to Puerta del Sol Blog for two excellent links. The first is to this collection of greguerías by Ramón Gómez de la Serna. A greguería is, as Jonathan Holland at PdSB says,

...an aphorism that freely associates words, ideas, and objects, defined by their inventor as "metáfora más humor"; the form, which has been compared to Japanese haiku and Rilke’s Dinggedichte, is defined thus in the Diccionario Real de la Academia Española: “Agudeza, imagen en prosa que presenta una visión personal, sorprendente y a veces humorística, de algún aspecto de la realidad, y que fue lanzada y así denominada por el escritor Ramón Gómez de la Serna”.
They are tiny, beautiful and, unfortunately for most of my readers, written in Spanish. Still, if you know the language, I strongly recommend looking into them.

The second link is to whichbook.net, which will, based on input as to what sort of book you would like to read next, give you a list of books that might be to your liking and (if you're in the UK), tell you what local libraries have those books available. Please tell me someone is working on integrating this algorithm with Amazon's recommendations algorithm.

And, finally, thanks to Davezilla for linking to the county-by-county data for what people call soft drinks. As you can see, I grew up saying "pop", went to college where if it had bubbles and didn't get you drunk it was "coke" and now live in the land of "soda". This, my friends, is what we call deep and meaningful research.

October 26, 2003

Iraq Redux Redux

Posted by shonk at 02:06 AM | permalink | comment

Paul Wolfowitz may be dodging bombs in Iraq, but that won't stop me from referring you to a couple of posts made by Mike Tennant over at the Strike the Root blog. In Iraq Redux, Tennant sends a message to Iran:

Memo to Iran: Stop trying to make nice with the neocons. It won't work. They don't operate under normal rules of logic, as in: (a) Please let the U. N. inspect your facilities; (b) You let the U. N. inspect your facilities; therefore, (c) We will leave you alone. Their logic is: (a) Please let the U. N. inspect your facilities; (b) You let the U. N. inspect your facilities; therefore, (c) We're going to "liberate" your country, too, for failure to comply with our wishes.

The best thing the Iranians can do is follow the example of the North Koreans: Get nukes, and get 'em now. When you can do real harm, the neocons will make nice with you. It's only when you're no threat that they'll threaten you.

At this point, North Korea is considering dropping its program in return for a US promise not to attack. You'll note that North Korea actually has nukes, as opposed to merely being suspected of having them, yet Bush and the state department are, basically, proposing a "written security guarantee" for North Korea while they threaten Iran. The moral of the story for all the countries out there is "if you don't have nukes, build them as fast as you can if you want to be treated like a sovereign state". Not that I'm big on national sovereignty or anything, but, then again, I'm not in charge of any countries, either.

In Iraq Redux, Cont'd, Tennant points out the duplicitousness of this CNN article, which says in the bolded first paragraph that Iran is turning over information on its nuclear weapons program, waiting until paragraph three to admit that Iran has consistently denied having a nucler weapons program. By using tactics straight out of the DoD's press conference strategy, CNN is blatantly manipulating readers to reach conclusions favorable to the official position. As Tennant points out:

The casual reader immediately gets the impression that the Iranians are trying to develop nuclear weapons. If he bothers to read further, he discovers that the Iranians claim to have no such intentions. Still, first impressions are the most powerful, so how many people will read this and come away believing that Iran has a nuke program?

Buried even further in the article is the revelation that the information that changed hands comprises an inch and a half of binder paper, which one can be sure the reporter and editors hadn't read before determining that it described a weapons program.

The lesson, as always: don't trust the media. Just as the myth of Supreme Court infallibility that Curt warned us against is dangerous, so too is the myth of journalistic impartiality.