Archive for July, 2006

The Clash

Monday, July 24th, 2006

The murderous rift between Sunni and Shia in the Muslim world is indicative of the psychology of our enemy. Sunni consider Shia to be worse than Jews, let alone pigs. Both sides consider the other to be an unforgivable heresy that must be, to coin a phrase, wiped from the face of the Earth. They are fighting about events that occurred over a thousand years ago, and doctrinal differences on the order of those between Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists. These disagreements are widely considered to be justification for murder. This mentality is incomprehensible to the Western mind, but it is a fact of life in Arabia and Persia.

The West continually makes the universal human error of assuming that the person we are talking to is more or less like us. We assume, in other words, that ultimately they are reasonable people who want the same things we all want, peace, prosperity, freedom, opportunity. We assume that the daily exhortations to eliminate the Jews and infidels and “moderate Muslims” are just empty rhetoric. They can’t really mean it. Millions of people couldn’t possibly be that crazy. But, if we need proof, we need only look at the thousand year Shia-Sunni global civil war.

Savages is a word you’re not supposed to use these days, dehumanizing the enemy and all. The word may have disappeared, but its meanings linger on, waiting to get their word back. One of those meanings is “primitive; uncivilized”. It is popular in civilized circles to exalt the primitive and to equate it with civilization. From “Dances with Wolves” Indians to “Lawrence of Arabia” Arabs, tribal people are portrayed as noble members of sophisticated cultures every bit as valid as any other. The anthropologist Lawrence H. Keeley, in his book War Before Civilization, points out that two billion war deaths would have occurred in the 20th century if modern societies suffered the same casualty rate as primitive peoples. He calculates that two-thirds of them were at war continuously, typically losing half of a percent of their population to war each year.

This is not a clash of civilizations. This is a clash between civilization and barbarism. In the civilized, post-tribal world, war has all but died out since the fall of the Soviet Union. But war continues to rage in the areas of the world that are still cursed with tribalism. Now modern communications and weapons technology and the price of oil has given them the ability to strike us, and the inability of so many civilized people in the U.S. and Europe to confront the reality of savagery is crippling our ability to respond. So far we are officially unable to even name our enemy, thus “The Global War on Terror”. I won’t quibble about what word to substitute for “terror”. I would be happy with “Islamofascism” or “Jihadism” or “Iran”.

Increased violence in Iraq, but against whom?

Friday, July 21st, 2006

Watching the bomb-go-boom-many-people-die reporting from Iraq on network news, an interesting fact appears in the fog. The increased violence is primarily Shia militia and death squads killing Sunni. You don’t hear much about Al Qaeda anymore since the Baathists got tired of them and probably fingered Zarqawi and started talking about amnesty. Now what we are seeing is the Shia, who have been remarkably restrained until now, starting to get even. This is not a good thing of course, but it is not directed at the Americans or at the Iraqi government. It is directed at the Sunni. The Sunni are even asking the Americans to stay to protect them. If this escalates into all-out civil war between Shia and Sunni, it would be very bad, but there isn’t really any doubt about who would win. As long as this revenge killing is stopped well short of genocide, it could conceivably turn out OK. It is actually an improvement that the violence is no longer about Islamism versus democracy or a restoration of Baathism. It is now mostly about revenge and the Sunni seem about ready to throw in the towel in exchange for survival.

Who’s your favorite Republican presidential candidate?

Saturday, July 8th, 2006

Here is a conversation on this topic between my brother Jeff, me, and my cousin Andy:

Jeff: So who’s your candidate that has a chance of winning the nomination and the presidency? The pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-gun control, adulterous New Yorker? The Massachusetts Mormon that evangelical Christians say they can’t vote for because he belongs to a demonic sect? The miracle doctor/Senator who can diagnose comatose patients with only a brief review of a videotape? The son of the football coach who spent his high school days in LA ostentatiously waving the Confederate flag and displayed a Confederate flag and a hangman’s noose in his office until he decided to get serious about politics? The Kansas born-again who believes legalized abortion is equivalent to the Holocaust? The ex-Speaker of the House who became so unpopular that Democrats cried when he left the House and they couldn’t demonize Republican candidates anymore by showing them in pictures next to him? Or Condi?

Nick: My personal favorite is the pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-gun control, adulterous New Yorker, but I also kind of like the Massachusetts Mormon that evangelical Christians say they can’t vote for because he belongs to a demonic sect. I love listening to the ex-Speaker of the House who became so unpopular that Democrats cried when he left the House and they couldn’t demonize Republican candidates anymore by showing them in pictures next to him, but I don’t want him to be President. And of course I love Condi, but I don’t think she’s running.

Andy: Since I have been deluged with requests for my presidential picks, here they are, more or less but not necessarily in order of preference…

1. The gay-loving, fetus-hating, Second-Amendment-bashing, first-wife-abusing adulterous New Yorker.

2. The demonic Massachusetts Mormon, despite rumors that he favors a constitutional amendment allowing marriage between a man and many, many women. A fine idea, but not worth cluttering up our sacred document.

3. The terrible-tempered sanctimonious former heroic war prisoner, so generally beloved by the MSM till he started making nice to Jerry Falwell but whom I’ve never much liked myself.

4. Our charming Secretary of State, despite suspicions that she’s a lightweight, which may, to be fair, stem from lingering chauvinism on my part, or ingrained prejudice against persons of color.

5. The Confederate-flag-waving, hangman-emulating scion of football legend, if he gets past the turncoat.

6. The cruelly denigrated former Speaker of the House, who increasingly seems to thrive on a diet of hot air.

7. The compassionate humanitarian and long-distance diagnostician who skillfully pilots the Grand Old Party through the shoals of the Senate.

8. The born-again Kansan who understands so well that abortion leads to Auschwitz.

9. The departing Governor of our own Empire State, if he had a prayer.

I would, of course, vote for any of the above over any conceivable Democrat. But in most cases that says more about my prejudices than admiration for their merits.

Erring on the side of paranoia

Saturday, July 8th, 2006

If you are in charge of the Nation’s defense, you will always tend to overestimate an enemy threat, because the price of overestimating the threat is so much lower than the price of underestimating it. You have to err on the side of exaggerating the threat, because you can’t be sure. You can only approximate. And so it is likely that the hotlist of threats, Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, the “insurgents”, are all being exaggerated to some extent by the administration. Otherwise they would not be doing their job. Once the cold war was over, it became clear that we had consistently overestimated the Soviet Union, and yet that all worked out pretty well. Better safe than sorry. If, however, the threats are wildly exaggerated, you wind up with a lot of cures that are worse than the diseases. And then there are the threats that are not talked about by the government, because they aren’t ready to deal with them yet, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Pakistan.

This, it seems to me, is a way of framing the current national argument about the war. Is the threat real? Or is it wildly exaggerated? All I know is what I read in the papers. And the blogs. I read a lot of both, but of course I know next to nothing about the reality of these threats. I have no direct experience, and hardly any hard data. Just a lot of reporting and analysis from people I don’t know. I have no doubt that the govenment knows a great deal more than I do. But, ignorant as I am, I do believe that it is possible for a normally intelligent person who makes the effort, to get a sense of what is happening, by cross-referencing many disparate sources of information.

My sense of it is that the threats are real, and they are being moderately exaggerated by the administration. I think the overestimation has to do with our assumptions about the stability and competence and resources of Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, and the Iraqi insurgency. It looks to me like these guys, like the Soviet Union before them, are falling apart faster than we give them credit for. I think the same is true of China, where I do have a smidgen of experience. I doubt very much that the current Chinese regime will be around 20 years from now, or even 10, and I’m not at all sure that China will still be one unified nation. Similarly with Iran and North Korea. None of which means that we should adopt a less aggressive foreign policy. I wish we were more aggressive. But it should give us confidence in our ability to achieve victories on all of these fronts. And it does mean that sometimes the right thing to do is to wait, as we are currently doing with Iran and North Korea and a number of other hotspots.

As voters, we can’t really know the nature and severity of the threats we face. Nor do we get to know what steps our government is taking behind the scenes, the New York Times notwithstanding. When it’s election time, we just have to guess what’s what, and choose among candidates, all of whom are saying lots of things they don’t really mean. Events will eventually resolve the argument about the war. Here is the political landscape as I see it:

If the Democrats win in 2006 and 2008 and regain control of the government, and then there is a terrorist attack in the U.S., anywhere close to the level of 9/11, the Democratic Party is through as a significant force in American politics.

If the Republicans win in 2006 and 2008 and maintain control of the government, and then there is a terrorist attack in the U.S., anywhere close to the level of 9/11, the Democratic Party is still through as a significant force in American politics.

If either party wins in 2006 and 2008 and there are no terrorist attacks in the U.S. during the next six years, the Democrats will be in very good shape.

It’s not about national health care. it’s not about the right to gay marriage. It’s not about the right to an abortion. It’s not about global warming. It is all about the misnamed war on terror. Is there one, or is it a grossly exaggerated ploy that has nothing to do with Iraq? The answer to that question will determine the fate of the Democratic Party. As weasely as the Democrats have been on the war, their position is nevertheless pretty clear. There is no war, really. There is only George W. Bush and the totalitarian Republican Party playing on the fears of the American people. Thank the Lord, or whatever, that the New York Times is exposing the nefarious Republican schemes to subvert the bill of rights. The Republican position is even more clear. We are at war. We are facing serious threats on many fronts. And the Democrats and the mainstream media are undermining the war effort for partisan political reasons. How it all plays out in the real world will determine who wins this argument, and will determine the political future of the two major political parties.

A Neo-Luddite Manifesto

Monday, July 3rd, 2006

Posted by Jeff

I have a clear policy: I never blame myself; I always blame the geeks.
The most annoying are the ones who come to help you out of some fix that
you have gotten yourself into (I mean, that their previous incompetence
has gotten you into), and they say, “Oh, this is simple. You just hit
function f8, which opens the gizmo control panel, then you double right
click, which brings up the font reservoir corrector, which you have to
calibrate between 147 and 183 pixels, unless of course you’re running
Windows 2000, in which case you calibrate between 187 and 212 pixels,
and then you just reboot the calibrator (but not the whole
computer–that will wipe out all the fix you have done so far). I
really don’t understand why you even called me; this is all explained
clearly in the ‘help’ feature. Don’t you know how to use that?” There
is never a manual; I can never remember the machinations the techie went
through to fix anything; I have never in my life even found the problem
I want fixed through the “help” function, let alone received any help
with respect to it.

I do still have nostalgia for my IBM Selectric, but I was a convert to
word processing when I worked for UPI in 1977-78 and they had a
rudimentary word processor before they were available to the public.
You could move paragraphs around and stuff. I thought that was
miraculous.

My only complaint about word processing now is all the stupid automatic
help that Microsoft keeps building into new versions of Word. These
features constantly interfere with my production of any document where I
want to indent anything or do anything that suggests I might be doing an
outline, etc. I have never, ever been helped by one of these automatic
features. And they are very complicated to turn off. There is no
single switch and no instructions about where to find all the option
menus. I guess spell check is a nice feature, but I never use it
because it ends up getting turned off when I turn off all the other
automatic help features.

And I hate the automatic scoring screens at bowling alleys that all work
differently in every new bowling alley and are hard to figure out and
are always deleting a bowler or attributing a ball to the wrong bowler
or wiping out your first game scores when you start your second game,
etc., etc. I LIKED keeping score manually; now they don’t even let you
do that. And what is with those stupid bumpers that they put up in the
gutters so that little kids never have to confront failure (or
meaningful feedback since the bumpers make terrible shots into wonderful
shots on a more or less random basis). The last time I went bowling,
there was new gizmo that looked kind of like a portable ball return. It
was a metal frame that little kids can just but the ball on the top of
and push it down the slide. So all they have to do is aim the apparatus
instead of learning how to swing their arms and throw the ball
themselves. No child is ever going to learn how to bowl for real ever
again, and none will ever understand how the scoring system works
either.

And what’s with Americans and golf equipment? Every season the golf
manufacturers invent balls that go farther and clubs (at $400 a pop)
that hit the ball farther and are so forgiving that it is less and less
possible to make a mistake. In the end, what’s the point? And if you
don’t at least sort of keep up, you end up on the golf course with some
moron who barely knows the rules of golf (forget the etiquette
altogether) but can muscle drives 300 yards and make you feel like a
90-pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face. We seem to have
decided that the development of actual skill is a really annoying
requirement for playing serious games.

I watched a bunch of the College Baseball World Series this year (Oregon
State won the national championship, which was a very big deal around
here). I wanted to throw up every time I heard the “ping” sound of the
aluminum bats. No one knows who has real hitting power anymore until
they hit professional baseball because anyone can hit a homerun with an
aluminum bat. The things are even dangerous; they are getting more and
more injuries in Little League and American Legion of pitchers and third
basemen who are getting nailed with ferocious line drives off these
stupid aluminum bats! How much do bats cost, for Christ’s sake? It’s
really hard for little kids to break a bat, and there’s something so
satisfying about the feel of a wooden bat and the feel of a ball well
hit by one. I suppose next they will put magnets in the balls and in
the mitts so that kids won’t make so many errors in the field. Or they
will put big nets in front of all the beginning baseball players so that
they don’t have to actually catch the ball when it is hit to them but
only take it out of the net in front of them and throw it into the net
in front of the first baseman. Hey, this is really a good idea! I bet
I could get rich with this! Anybody know how to patent stuff?

New York Times – the Al Qaeda Counter-Intelligence Bureau

Monday, July 3rd, 2006

A majority (70%) of Americans support the top secret Treasury Department program tracking financial transactions in search of terrorist funding, that was revealed, and thus sabotaged, by the New York Times. So, when CNN produced a “discussion” of this issue, they invited three defenders of the NYT and one, lone critic, Hugh Hewitt. Of course the moderator of the discussion was also obviously leaning in a particular direction, guess which one. So Hugh gets 20% of the air time and the NYT apologists get the other 80%. And, of course, while Hewitt is speaking, he is constantly interrupted and shouted at by the other three participants, so he doesn’t even get his 20%. This is not journalism. This is propaganda, pure and simple. But maybe I’m biased. You be the judge. Here is the link to the video.