Saturday, December 29, 2007

This review of Goldsmith's book reminds me of another problem with the "I know it when I see it" approach to regulating the actions of officials in the war on terrorism. It is not the "see" part that causes so much trouble but the "when". The Congress saw all the techniques that are being called into question in the aftermath of 9/11 and didn't care. It sees the same things now and calls it a big problem. The whole approach of loading laws with vague and emotionally charged terms is not only that the law with change with the beholder but that the beholder will change with the times.

|The reviewer also takes the strange but all too common approach of blaming the Bush administration for the excesses of the Court system. A lot of bad precedents have been set because the Bush administration has insisted on using the same powers that presidents in previous wars have taken largely for granted, when they should have known that the current courts would never allow it. but is not that not an indictment of the courts at least as much as the Administration?
It is odd that he points out that the court has mostly held that the administration has to go back to Congress. But previous Courts have let Congress...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The guy from Bangladesh

You can always tell the guy from Bangladesh, he is the one that is smiling.

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I think we have an impoverished vocabulary for describing our differences. The assumptions that one has to make about how the world works and what motivates are enemies happen to be just the sort of propositions that define the fault lines in domestic political debate. It is not that the top officials writing the NIE report are "out to get" their "political enemies" so much as our domestic political disputes and our foreign intelligence disputes happen to revolve around the same questions.
Moreover, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Sun have raised legitimate questions about the three intelligence officials who were principally responsible for crafting the NIE. The Journal cited an intelligence source who described the three men as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials." If true, then we need to know what role these three individuals had in writing the NIE as well as the "Key Judgments" published for public consumption.
 blog it

Sunday, December 09, 2007

So They Knew All Along?

So, according to the Washington Post, the Democrats knew all along about waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques and at the time all they had to say was keep up the good work? And now they are talking about indicting people for torture?

So many things could be said about this, one doesn't know where to begin. A first thought though might be for those in the profession of intelligence gathering who feel they could use some written guidance in the law about what is aloud and what is not. The argument that we can high-mindedly outlaw "torture" and leave it undefined because 'we'll know it when we see it' is surely now seen to be hollow. How what officers do will be seen after the fact is entirely dependent on what will be politically expedient to see it as when we see it.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Think sanctimoniously, act oafishly

The big conference on global warming has a big carbon footprint. If the crisis is so dire, maybe they could have video conferenced it?

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So Much for the Huck?

It is one thing to want to spend a little more money on the poor, quite another to free convicted rapists that go on to rape--and murder--again. Add in a smarmy, prevaricating response and it is time to chuck the Huck!

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Islamic Justice

Read the first line of this Academic Classic:

In a world in which Islamophobes blur the distinction between the
barbaric acts of Muslim extremists and terrorists and the religion of
Islam, two recent legal decisions in Sudan and Saudi Arabia will
reinforce accusations that Islam is an intolerant religion.

This is quite a serviceable construction, suitable for dealing with most any kind of unwelcome observation.

In a world where people who don't like Mike Reinhard blur the distinction between social drinking and just plain getting hammered, two recent incidents where Mike Reinhard was found passed out drunk will reinforce accusations that he is a lush. (note to self: re-check this passage when you have sobered up)

You see, pointing out that kind of behavior is just the sort of unflattering observation, ceasing on an isolated incident, that people who don't like me are likely to make, which proves that the people making it are not objective observers and thus should not be believed.

The possibilities are endless. Think if the KKK had had such wit. "Sensational newspaper accounts of the last two lynchings risk reinforcing the notion that we are some kind of racists." Or, "Sadly, Herr Hitler's recent actions will play into the hands of Teutoniphobes and Jews around the world who...." Well you get the idea.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007


You can't accuse the Global Terrorist Incident tracking website of not being thorough. Today I open it up and see that Mississippi has had a terrorist incident: a suspicious package was found at the airport and the special Olympics event scheduled to be held there was postponed for two hours.

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The Black KKK

A black commentator calls the culture of "keeping it real" and the criminal behavior it supports a sort of black KKK.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Suburban Unrest

More suburban unrest in France. Apparently it has something to do with all that "ethnic diversity."

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Cool site on Iran

Nice site showing scenes from daily life in Iran. They have English subtitles.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

A Real Life False Flag Operation?

Here is a report which may be a first in my experience: an actual false flag operation. In movies these are ubiquitous--the evil right wing cabal stages a terrorist attack to justify their taking power--but in actual history, outside of the Catilin Conspiracy in 1st Century A.D. Rome, I can think of none.

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Nothing better represents the fatuousness of the judicial approach to politics than this business about apologizing for things that happened almost outside of living memory. The government of Turkey that committed the massacres is gone and virtually all the people that were killed would be dead now anyway. Will someone feel better with an official apology for something that happened 90 years ago? If this is the worst problem someone has, that they haven't had a note of condolence from Enver Pasha's successors, then they really don't have problems.

If you are upset about the Armenian genocide the time to do something about it was in 1917, not 2007. This helps no one but our enemies and hurts no one but us.

But that is the epitome of the judicialization of International Politics. Doing nothing out of respect for sovereignty when it might actually do some good and insisting doing something when there is absolutely nothing to be gained.

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ScribeFire: Fire up your blogging » Support Forum
General Stark's War - October 22, 2007 - The New York Sun
General Stark's War - October 22, 2007 - The New York Sun
5 Myths About Rendition (and That New Movie)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I met a fellow in the barber shop. He told a story about how a bunch of British guests of his made fun of his accent. He was quite proud of himself when he told how he let it go on for a good long while and then he finally said, "I have just two things to say. First of all, you are in Mississippi so you are the ones with the funny accents now. Second, if it hadn't been for us, you would be speaking German right now."

He related how they all fell silent after that, which he took as a vindication. I wonder.

I have been reading Churchill's History of the Second World War. I am in the middle of the second of six volumes and I finally got tired of waiting for the Americans to come in and looked ahead for our entry. We don't come in till the late in the 3rd volume.

It is humbling. As I read of how the Island stands alone against this monstrous evil while we assume that we are safe. And then, after letting them take all the punishment, we come complimenting ourselves on the great favor we are doing them. I can't help but wonder if the silence of the gentleman's guests was not chagrin but being appalled.

We should never forget that the years that Britain stood alone against the NAZI onslaught, the years immortally described as, "Their finest hour," should be, for us, our greatest shame.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Means to an end?

One of the things that has always struck me as odd is the focus we have on reconciliation at the top of the political system. It seems to me that if this is a collective action problem and the votes of the people of Iraq are to be believed, then the events at the top of the political system are really irrelevant. What is important are events on the ground. I believe that the people of Iraq have always wanted to have a unified country under democratic leadership. The problem has been building institutions at the ground level strong enough to hold the line against suicidal terrorists and a backward, medieval social structure. The assumption that seems so pervasive in our political discourse, that the reason for the surge is to make room for a grand political deal at the top, is exactly backwards. Indeed, the political deal at the top isn't an end, it isn't even a means to an end. It is irrelevant.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Rudy the Terrible

This is the best article I have seen on why Rudy should not be president. It is a very specific set of criticisms of his use of power as Mayor. As such, it barely lays a glove on him in my opinion. "Hired yes men," instead of people that publicly disagreed with him? "Too confrontational with the legislature," as if someone trying to execute a 180 degree policy change would be able to operate by consensus. "Only goes along with requests for information when forced to by the court." We admire people using all the legal means available to get the job done when we agree with what they are trying to get done. What is impressive is that even in this plainly anti-Rudy piece the author has to acknowledge his success in pulling the city back from the brink and can't find anything that suggests him bending fules to line his own pockets.

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Judges in Space

URL: Is FISA worth preserving?

This article gets at the fundemental problem with using courts in the
war on terror. We don't want to monitor people we suspect are
terrorists but find the people that we don't yet suspect are

The current use of FISA courts takes judges into a new function, of
judging actions taken by the government that are not related to a
particular adversarial proceeding. They are just making general policy

This is, of course, a function of the fact that these wire tapping and
information monitoring procedures are searches unrelated to any
particular charge--that is what intellegence opertations are. That is
what makes them different from criminal investigations. They aren't
directed at tieing a particular person to a crime that has already
occured, they are about detecting people that haven't done anything yet
to make sure it stays that way.

Putting judges into the loop is besides the point. One can agree or
disagree with the policy, but the mechanism for regulating policy is
the legislature and executive: elected officials making prudential
judgements about the future. A court might reasonably step in at the
constitutional level and over-rule the whole policy, but having courts
regulate policy from day to day, unrelated to any individual case, is
simply making courts into policy makers. In this case, about the least
well qualified policy makers imaginable.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Kaus puts his law school training to work

Here is a really nice point by Mickey Kaus. These little pop-up ads for a book about Bill's indiscretions that pop up on Google whenever you search on Hilary are in effect campaign advertisements that are not covered by campaign finance laws. Technically, they are advertising a book, it just happens that a fair description of the contents of the book are about the same thing you might want to put in an attack ad. Do we mutilate the constitution even more in our quixotic quest for "pure" and "untainted" speech, or do we give free speech a chance? My guess is no. After all, what is the harm. It gives each side an irresistible incentive to skirt the "spirit" of campaign finance laws and a perfectly legitimate accusation to make against their opponents. Then we give ourselves another opportunity to reduce politics to a sterile and irrelevant judicial debate and avoid making any real decisions for another election cycle.

I predict one more thing. The Republicans that do this will get in a lot more trouble with the press than democrats who do or benefit from the same thing. There is no one out there that will say, "Hey, you are ignoring our problem," as they would if the press tried to ignore some actual harm done to someone's interests--say if they tried to look at chemical dumping or lax enforcement or unemployment on one sides watch or territory and not the other. The thing about real problems is that they have real victims that tend to make noise when you ignore them.

With this pseudo problem the only victims are rival groups of politicians. It does not take much imagination to guess which side the press will give the microphone to.

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General Writing

Sometimes an image can bring a number to life.

"The fact is that, in essence, fewer soldiers than it would take to fill
up Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium have been asked to secure and patrol
a nation the size of California..."

It puts into perspective what we are trying to do and how we are trying to go about doing it. Supplying government to a society that has never known anything between blood relative local leaders and blood thirsty marauders is a labor intensive enterprise. Doing it requires not just, as big army leaders remind us, boots on the ground but that they be on the ground outside the nice safe air-conditioned base.

The title of the General's piece implies that Americans need to understand that the situation is 'fragile and complex' and, therefore, will require more time. The problem is that Americans do understand it is fragile and complex and that is why they don't want to give it more time.

At bottom Americans think the world is simple, at least if you are on the right side. If you are on the right side you get flowers and kisses from pretty girls and go home. That is how it worked (or seems to have worked from this many years forward) in the WWII with Germany and Japan. If it is not working out that way then, if "it" is insisting on being fragile and complex, then it is a sign that we are on the wrong side or, at best that there is no right side to be on.

This is a dangerous error. The great danger to us is not posed by our peers, by functioning societies, but by backward societies. In the world of WWII backward societies posed no threat other than temptation to great power rivalry. Today, with out new found respect for self-determination, societies that cannot even feed themselves are called nation states with all the rights and privliges thereof. The petty thugs that climb to the top of these medieval political cultures have the resources and technology at their disposal to maintain power indefinitely and threaten us with middle-age fanaticism and nuclear age arms.

The reason these societies are fragile and complex is that they are not really societies. They are hostages to our fantasy of third world "authenticism," the idea that whatever thug comes to power in a third-world country, no matter how unrepresentative or hated he is, is somehow more legitimate than an outside power. These societies are the victims of the premature ending of imperialism. Backward societies thrust into the clutches of dictators legitimized by our own guilt.

Bringing these people into the 21st century--the good parts of the 21st century, not the nightmare part of the 20th that we have consigned them to--is a complex and fragile task. That it is difficult makes it no less necessary.

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There seems to be no cultural penalty for unfounded accusations against our government. No matter how false or wild such charges turn out to be it is all for the greater good, since if the government/Bush administration turns out not to be guilty as charged it is only because the courageous consciousness raising brought about by wild charges prevented them.

Here a former Clinton administration official takes apart the charges made (and assumptions held by most everyone engaging in public debate) in the film rendition.

Steyn and Opposition Research

Here is another fine piece of writing by Steyn. What really sets him apart from other opinion writers is not so much his humor, though it is on a higher level than other writers, but his knowledge of the opposition's case. What makes his writing so powerful here is the detail with which he attacks the other side's contentions. Moreover, the final sentence delivers on the promise made in the first paragraph: he shows us that the entitlement state with unpayable future obligations is the real attack on our children's well being.


Nothing better represents the fatuousness of the judicial approach to politics than this business about apologizing for things that happened almost outside of living memory. The government of Turkey that committed the massacres is gone and virtually all the people that were killed would be dead now anyway. Will someone feel better with an official apology for something that happened 90 years ago? If this is the worst problem someone has, that they haven't had a note of condolence from Enver Pasha's successors, then they really don't have problems.

If you are upset about the Armenian genocide the time to do something about it was in 1917, not 2007. This helps no one but our enemies and hurts no one but us.

But that is the epitome of the judicialization of International Politics. Doing nothing out of respect for sovereignty when it might actually do some good and insisting doing something when there is absolutely nothing to be gained.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Madrassas and reciprocity

Something really has to be done about these Madrassas that the Saudis are spreading. There is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. If anyone tried to finance a religious school in Saudi Arabia that was not of the approved brand of Islam, let alone not Islamic, they wouldn't have it for a moment. Why are they given privileges they do not extend to others? Locke's principle of reciprocity would be well employed here.

The Associated Press: Afghan Suicide Bomber Kills Own Family
Afghan Suicide Bomber Kills Own Family

By AMIR SHAH – 5 days ago

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A mother who tried to stop her son from carrying out a suicide bomb attack triggered an explosion in the family's home in southern Afghanistan that killed the would-be bomber, his mother and three siblings, police said Monday.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

In the who knew department

It turns out the entire US establishment knew about Sputnik and wanted the Russians to get there first (or at least didn't want our own Redstone rockets to be first). An early case of strategic restraint that is entirely misinterpreted by the public and yet has serendipitous effects. One of the great "policy shocks" turns out not to have been at all. After Rachel Carson what is left? Look out Ralph, these things come in threes.

Turns out there is not always room for jello

School in Illinois attempts to ban jello from sensitivity, offends sensitivities of actual voters. Have Muslims made any such accommodations? I am sure they have, just asking.


I am listening to a DVD with excerpts from Churchill's speeches. I am struck by his open appeals to the principle of reciprocity. After the Battle of Britain in which London lost some 50,000 people. He tells Parliament that the people of Britain if offered a treaty from Germany now prohibiting bombing of cities they would now refuse it, saying that they would now prefer to pay Germany back in its own coin before considering such an offer. Parliament cheers. In another speech he says that though we will never descend to their level that if they want to play rough we can play rough too. These were serious people.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

lets hear it for the international community in all their wisdom

The link is to the Nobel Prize nomination data base. The nominee is Adolf Hitler.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hello limbo boys limbo girls

From the good, loyal Americans at "General Petraeus or General Betray us? Cooking the books for the White House."

Well, at least they didn't question his patriotism. How low can you go?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Legality vs. Rationality

What is the difference between a legal rule and a rational, maximizing judgment?

it seems to me that the legal rule is a much simpler beast. the legal rule asks if a particular act or case meets the clear, objective criteria set down in a law, one that is clear enough so that most anyone with a command of the language can agree if a case--assuming all the facts are known--meets it.

A judgment, a rational decision under uncertainty is much more complicated. that is why different people can come to different judgments even if all the 'facts' are known.

it is conceded at the outset that these represent points at opposite ends of a continuum and that most cases will lie somewhere in that continuum. I only argue that as one moves toward one end or the other of the continuum the type of decision being made and the type of decision maker that is most appropriate and likely to make a good decision shifts.

I should also make clear that what constitutes a "legal" decision has shifted in recent years toward the rational judgment. For example, Roe v. Wade was hardly the enforcement of a pre-existing rule. it was the invention of a new rule from pre-existing values. whether this new rule was a good thing or a bad thing is no germane to my argument. I merely contend that such decisions are not laws in the sense in which law was understood traditionally. if it was, then such things as the strictures against ex post facto laws or laws that are not publicized would be meaningless.

A legal rule takes the form of a classical definition. A genius and a differentiae. There area some extremely complicated rules that defy these categories but often even these are more tractable than they might first appear because of the well-behaved, hierarchical nature of traditional categories in the law. they are like objects in object oriented programing that inherit all the qualities of the genus (it is no accident that object oriented programing languages borrow from classical logic) or definitions in number theory--a rational number implies all the qualities or real numbers etc. It may take a lot of empirical effort to verify the existence of all these qualities, but their hierarchical nature makes them easy to communicate.

Even if the elements of the genus are not hierarchically nested, they are still non-compensatory, which makes them like the dimensions of evaluation in satisficing.
this is a decision making procedure that is far simpler and makes far fewer demands on the decision maker's cognitive capacity. it also makes the decision making procedure more stable and predictable and transparent.

Finally, the dimensions in a legal decision tend to be defined as nominal variables rather than interval level or ordinal level variables.

Legal decision making is, thus, pattern matching, political judgments are rational decisions under uncertainty.

(Perhaps One reason that we have been drifting toward legal decision making and away from political decision making is the fact that intellectuals find pattern matching more satisfying than rational judgments under uncertainty. the latter is so messy, and you can never tell who won the game until after reality has made its move....)

Rational decision making nder uncertainty entails making value trade-offs that are not specified. we often cannot describe the trade-off between some values. often, even if we can describe the trade off in some range of the issue space but not for others. sometimes the trade-off shifts along the range of values (eliptical preferences). All of these things make such decisions irreducible to a well behaved rule. of course judges can make such decisions, but when they do so they are not applying rules, they are making judgments. it is because judges have been making more and more such decisions and that we have become more concerned with their character. we can't predict their decisions because their decisions don't depend on fules but on utility functions that are too complicated to write down or do not yet exist in any meaningful sense apart from their personal "preferences" before an actual case is before them.

The different dimensions are compensatory. if they were not, if they were like the dimensions of evaluation of a satisficer, the decision making would be more predictable and more like legal decision making. This compensibility is what makes the judgments "subtle" and "case dependent," all of which is another way of saying they are not applications of rules from outside the judge but applications of principles that lie within him.

In addition to the weighting of the dimensions of evaluation being unspecified and often as not unspecifiable, the probability judgments that go into choosing alternatives are empirical judgments that judges usually do not pretend to have knowledge of.

These judgments of probability depend on having experience in the world. they are also something that depend on an ability that we can't really observe ex ante--some person may have excelllent professional credentials and be lousy at it and others may be just the opposite (Churchill comes to mind, Roosevelt, with his second rate mind but first rate character, is another. Truman vs. Hoover. Presidential history is replete with such examples).

Given this, it is preferable that we place the ability to make such decisions in the hands of people we can fire. Judges in our system are defined by their life-tenure.

what people are really saying when they want the rule of law in international relations is that they want the kind of people that become judges and international legal scholars to make decisions about war and peace, not the kind of people that become politicians. This may or may not be a good idea, but it has nothing to do with the rule of law and everything to do with the rule of judges.

Law must be confined to the plain meaning of the words on the page. If it is expanded to mean whatever constructions are placed upon those words by the contending members of the legislature and the executive then law degenerates into deconstructionism armed with search engines.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reciprocity and Respect for other religions

Something to keep in mind the next time you hear the accusation that the West is disrespectful of Islam.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Churchill's romantic percision

Churchill’s use of language to describe statistical concepts shows up in the middle of nowhere. Every time I pick up a book of his I find some phrase that gets a complex idea across with words in a new way and fresh way.

Page 87, from a speech given in the House of Commons, July 6, 1908, reprinted in Liberalism and the Social Problem: A Collection of the Early Speeches as a Member of Parliament, Manor, MD.

Here he is arguing for a bill that increases worker protection in coal mines. He is answering the objection that it will reduce efficiency and production. He could attack his opponents for being cold hearted. He could deny that it has that effect at all. But he will never dumb himself down. He says,

“If it be admitted that there may be a certain reduction in output as a consequence of this Bill, that reduction must be considered, not by itself, not in isolation, but in relation to the steady and persistent movement of coal production for the last fifty years. To me it seems certain that the small temporary reduction will be lost in the general tendency to expansion, as the eddy is carried forward by the stream and the recoiling wave is lost in the advancing tide.”

“…as the eddy is carried forward by the stream…” it is like Tuffte’s visual statistics applied to words. The air to information ratio is so high. The eddy carried forward by the stream phrase not only captures a multivariate idea of competing causal influences where those in one direction are larger than those in another, but it also carries the idea of time, the time scale of the river being longer than the time scale of the eddy. A single metaphor that reveals two relationships. Again, so much of the florid language that makes people dismiss Churchill as a romantic is a tool to communicate his ideas in the most precise manner possible.

The Poverty of Liberalism by Robert Paul Wolfe

He is one of the first to make the argument back in the 50s that American liberalism’s blithe assumption that all religions can get along works with religions that are tolerant, tame, and business friendly. But what about a religion that regarded the presence of an opposing faiths as an anathema? How does it work then? For this we have no ready answer, no answer that lives within the liberal tradition. Liberal democracy is a set of rules and procedures that works only if it have a 'liberal' population to work on.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Nice site with a compendium of information on Haditha massacre. Unfortunate lack of opposing viewpoints and sources. Still, imagine the what the fate of our soldiers would be at the world criminal court.

Liers' roundup

Nice compendium of mostly liberal lies. Not the "your not telling the whole story" kind of thing but flat out fabrications. Mainly in mass media but some academic.

Historical Revisionism and Vietnam

What? Our president dares to disagree with professional historians? I wonder what Churchill would say?

Lawyers and the WOT

Terrific story from Newsweek about the failure to find bin Laden and other high value targets in Afghanistan. Technology allows you to program a cruise missile with great accuracy to hit a target in the middle of nowhere. It also allow a confederacy of dunces to tell men fighting in the middle of nowhere to fill out forms in triplicate before firing, and do so in real time.


the Ambassador walks around without his flack jacket. He should have had a better comeback ready when asked about it.

Notice how the improvement in security progresses in the absence of agreement among the Grandees in the capital. No, their absence period.

The religion of peace in Thailand

Well, at least Orwell could sympathize. Still, blowing up Buhddist monks. Is someone going to tell us stories now about the bitter legacy of Thai imperialism?

unintended consequences of affirmative action

Great example of a possible counterintuitive effect of a policy.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I came across a volume of Alfred North Whitehead's essays written while in North America.

In the first place it is remarkable the range and seriousness of the opinions he presumes to set forth. He talks about the flow of civilization for the last 6,000 years, comments on the turning point of the Greeks, compares the civilized to the uncivilized. He is a mathematician--what mathematician in an academic chair would dare to make such vast judgments today from a university chair. This is a different age already. His was an age of the liberal arts, an age which expected an educated man to be able to speak about anything and bring to bare all streams of human knowledge on whatever were the great political questions of the day.

But even more striking is what opinions. He was writing after the end of the Second World War, but already this well respected liberal's opinions on such things as civilization versus what he understands as savages is already beyond the realm of polite dinner conversation today. He makes as if it were unexceptionable the observation that the discovery of North America was a great expansion in the opportunity for fulfillment for mankind. No throat clearing about the Indians. The discovery of, "a half-empty continent," is celebrated for opening up opportunity for mankind's fulfillment and those subgroups within mankind that didn't do so well out of the deal are expected to sit tight and not spoil the proceedings. In his two paragraph treatment of the discovery of the New World there is not a hint of the prevaricating language that at least hints at some sort of guilt about the displacement and ruin of native peoples. "The problem of existence was not solved, but hope entered into human life as never before."

All this from Whitehead's essay on postwar reconstruction written in 1942.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Master Narratives

John Leo has some great comments on the Newsweek wrap up on the Duke Lacrosse scandal.

The game was given up by this priceless quote, "We had the right story, it was just that the facts were wrong."

The facts in this case were those of the Duke Lacrosse scandal. The facts are still in dispute but what does not seem to be in dispute is that the players in question were not guilty of rape, not even consensual sex. It is also clear that the prosecutor and now disbarred lawyer Mike Naiphong withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, an offense for which he was disbarred.

The story was of racist white youths from privileged backgrounds preying upon black women. This story started to unravel early on, though not after the team was treated to collective punishment, public humiliation and millions in lawyers' bills.

The problem, though, is not that the press had a narrative they tried to impose on the facts, it is that they had only one. They should have been testing not if the facts can be rendered consistent with the privileged racist narrative, but if the privileged racist narrative did better or worse than the, in the words of Tom Wolfe, "The Great White Defendant" narrative.

Imposing a story on the facts is what the human mind does. One cannot avoid trying to impose some model/frame/template/story on the facts. without some background causal theory you don't even know what constitutes a relevant fact in the first place. There is a large body of research in fields as diverse as artificial intelligence to social psychology to attest to the human mind's power and proclivity to impose a schema on the facts.

So, if we must inevitably impose narratives on the facts, the important thing is to at least have an alternative narrative to test it against. Having one is dangerous because often a narrative works, it is just that another one works even better. and because we are, as Simon says, 'cognitive misers', we are apt to stop with the first one that works.

The 'privileged racist white boys' narrative had an initial plausible fit with the facts, it is just that, not being interested in testing an alternative narrative, the press continued with it long after it had become apparent to those willing to test another narrative that it didn't work.

Of course, there were, in the end, enough inconsistencies to break the fit between the original narrative and the facts without having an alternative narrative. But observers who were willing to test two narratives at the same time were much more quick to notice these inconsistencies. If "The Great White Defendant" story had been in the running from the beginning in the minds of the press observers, the "Rich Privileged Racists" story would have dropped out of the race long before it had done some much damage. Who knows, maybe Naiphong would even still be a lawyer.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Negotiating with Iran

Michael Leden's chronicle of the sad history of American presidents trying to negotiate with Iran ends with a quote from Jonathan Swift: You can't reason a man out of something he didn't reason himself into.

The point that Leden makes with this quote is that the Iranians cannot be reasoned out of their hatred for us. But if anything it applies even more to us. We have negotiated with Iran in spite of an unbroken chain of failures out of an unreasoning faith in negotiation. It is an axiom of our analysis that there is always a common ground, if only one can find it.

Indeed, I am not sure it is even fair to apply Swift's comment to the Iranians at all. Their hatred may be unreasoned, but their policy is not. Indeed, they have learned well from history, do whatever you want to the Americans and wait for them to come with an offer to negotiate.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Quote from Obama that is causing some consternation:

“We’ve got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there,” Obama said.

This is clearly not put well, but I think I understand what he was trying to say. Our over-reliance on air power leads to a lot of civilians getting killed and is not very effective in really protecting people from the insurgents. If this was his point then I think it was an important and correct one.

I think it is also a little dated and perhaps slightly disingenuous.

It is dated because the whole strategy of the surge is precisely to start doing proper counter insurgency, putting boots on the ground and protecting people. It is disingenuous because it is the democrats who to a large extent have dictated or at least encouraged a policy of stand off bombing instead of proper counter insurgency. Perhaps the most unfortunate, or at least extreme example of this, was during the Clinton administration's bombing of Kosovo. It is very hard to provide protection from guys going house to house raping and slitting throats with jet airplanes, but it is mmore politically palatable.

There is, to change subjects, a way in which Clinton's policy got it right. The main effect of the bombing campaign was not its direct effect on the insurgents but on their masters in Serbia. They didn't make any pretense of effecting to invade and occupy Serbia but they did pressure them through a very effective bombing campaign. At that time no one thought that a bombing campaign implied invading and occupying a country. Now, when we talk about holding Iran accountable for the actions of its proxies people hysterically assume we are going to invade. Why assume that? Iran is if anything even more vulnerable to pressure from the air.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Oren Interview

Michael Totten, and independent journalist in Iraq, has a nice interview with Michael Oren, Author of the new history of the US and the Middle-East. The book was a great read, as was his history of the 1967 War.

A couple of things I had forgotten from the book. Jefferson was the great anti-tribute leader. Even though he bobs and weaves tactically he is very clear on principle.

Jefferson reports a North African leaders answer to Jefferson's offer of peace:

"There was the case in 1785 where Thomas Jefferson is sent to negotiate with the envoy of the Pasha of Tripoli. Jefferson says to him that America only wants peace with the Barbary states. And he says to Jefferson “No, we want war with you. We have a holy book called the Koran which says that we have to conquer and enslave all infidel states. And the United States is an infidel state. And moreover our holy book the Koran tells us that if we are killed in the course of carrying out this war that we’ll go directly to Paradise.” So I didn’t think I even had to put the label jihadist on there. I figured that remarkable report of Jefferson’s at the Continental Congress would suffice to alert contemporary readers what Jefferson was dealing with in the Middle East."

The more things change....

He also reminds us of the Christian restorationist movement that was mainstream and very strong throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The current evangelical support for Israel is just a return to longstanding practice.

He also makes the point that you have to give battle on the ground the enemy invades, not where you would like him to invade:

"America has to get involved in theology. We’ve been fighting a theology with an ideology. It doesn’t work. We have to get in the business of promoting a reformist Islam. It’s important. It’s controversial, but important.

MJT: How do we do that? Do you mean by promoting the moderates who already exist?

Oren: Well there are some moderates who exist. They don’t have any places where they can go out and speak and speak free of harm. We can help disseminate their ideas. Right now the extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam predominates in schools across Europe. The West has basically given up the field to these people."

Caesar's Gallic Commentaries

I am reading Carolyn Hammond's translation of Caesar's Gallic Commentaries.

There is a parallel with Churchill, as usual. Both were the greatest statesmen of their age and both wrote definative accounts of conflicts they were involved in. Caesar's style is almost the opposite of Churchill's. It is almost a lack of style. He lays out events in spare prose that seem to have not a single wasted word. He concentrates on the outlines of events, the big moves on the chessboard made by him and his "peers" (since he doesn't consider any of his barbarian opponents his equal). On occasion he tightens focus to a detail in a battle where some extraordinary act of bravery was performed by a common soldier. The spareness of the prose, the fact that he has, in the commentaries, kept commentary to a rather bare minimum, makes the final evaluations of these actions, "...and so died nobly," all the more affecting.

Honor, as opposed to material gain, is the unquestioned motivator of the actors involved.

This is most easily seen at the level of individual soldier. "This action took place on high ground and in sight of our army, and a loud shout went up on both sides. Thus each man tried his best to be noticed, and to have his courage marked and witnessed, by exposing himself to the missiles and fire of the enemy." 8.42

It has more in common with a high school football game than what, since the trenches of WWI at least, have thought of as warfare. It is both more and less civilized than war in our age. For the soldier there is a more direct connection between courage and skill on the one hand and survival on the other. However, for civilians it is less civilized. The consequences for non-combatants are often slavery or slaughter.

But honor drives all the parties from top to bottom. Caesar never reports amounts or values of property taken or taxes and tributes garnered, but the length of the Thanksgiving that is ordered for him in Rome. He fights for adulation and honor.

The Gauls are also motivated by honor. The reasons for their rebellions are not material, in many cases they are better off under the Romans, particularly tribes that went over to the Romans and were thus freed from having to pay tribute to other tribes or face the constant danger of raids. The causes for the revolt are constantly reiterated as being desire for their former independence and to regain their former military glory. They keep coming back and revolting, in essence re-fighting their battle of independence, for the same reason that high school football teams come back to play the next season, for their reputation.

There are many acts that we would consider dishonorable but that they had no problem with. Caesar reports how, after an especially treacherous attack by the city of Avaricum, the Romans, on breaking through the city's walls, put all to death, even women and children, instead of taking them as slaves. Caesar is actually rather proud of this since it means that they are passing up money in favor of justice, at least justice of a sort. The deaths of women and children does not give him pause.

7.28: "Not one of our men gave a thought to booty. They were so severely provoked by the massacre at Cenabum and the effort they had put into the siege that they spared neither the elderly, nor the women, nor even the little children. In the end, of a total number of about 40,000, barely 800 reached Vercingetorix safely; these had run from the town as soon as they heard the shout."

Hammond states that the triple anaphora of 'non's, neither the old, nor the women nor the children, to highlight rather than to hide the soldiers' actions, pointing out their "disinterested" desire for revenge over profit.

On the other hand, when they use perfidy to try and assassinate a particularly troublesome Gallic leader the soldier charged with striking the blow hesitates because, Caesar speculates, because of the "unusual" nature of the order.

Vercingetorix spends a lot of his time having to talk his men into not deserting him. He is democratically elected, several times in fact. But this represents a weakness as much as a strength. After every reverse he is forced to re-argue his strategy. Caesar faces both of these problems but at different levels. He has politics to deal with but they are back in Rome. At the level of a commander in field he is never challenged and this seems a clearly more efficient arrangement. His speeches to his troops are about his strategy as well but the purpose is never to preserve his command but only to encourage his solders and increase their confidence. Thus the difference isn't between the decision making mechanism (democratic voting is common to both) but in institutional stability. Among the Romans, once command is conferred that is the end of the matter. Vercingetorix's command is only as firm as his last victory or last explanation for defeat.

Of course, once elected to command Vercingetorix can met out punishments. 7.5: "In his command he combined extreme conscientiousness with extreme severity." He would inflict the death penalty by means of torture. At other times he would gouge eyes out and return the offender home as a warning to others.

The Gauls have so much trouble cooperating among themselves that they have to give hostages to each other to solidify their pact against the Romans. It is a mark of Vercingetorix's leadership that he can command enough respect to keep a conspiracy together without exchanging hostages, thus enabling them to keep their revolt secret from the Romans. They solemnize their pact by putting their standards together, an act which Caesar reports is "a rite of the greatest sanctity." 7.3

It makes sense. This is the most important commitment a group can make, saying your safety is the same as our safety, your fate is our fate.

Caesar's decision making constantly choses to ignore the past and look toward the future. Punishment of the guilty in itself is of no interest to him. His only concern is the effect an action will have on the future. This effect lies in the reputation it builds and the evidence it constitutes to onlookers that being a friend of the Romans is good and being their enemy is bad. It is also a judgment driven by costs of enforcement. An example is the attempted revolt of the Senones (6.3) which is preempted by a forced march and Caesar's early arrival.

"They were obliged to abandon their purpose and sent envoys to Caesar to beg for mercy, approaching him through the Aedui (for a long time their state had been under teh Aedui's protection). At the Aedui's request Caesar freely pardoned them and accepted their excuses, for he judged that summer was a time for active campaigning, not for holding inquiries." 6.4

Thus Caesar strengthens the authority and standing of his friends the Aedui and conserves the valuable resource of summer weather for the higher valued activity of attacking people that actively oppose the Romans. This strategically sensible and rational course, ignoring the past and sunk costs and focusing on the expected value of actions in the future, is precisely what is not possible with the judicial approach to such conflicts.

Another departure from the military/diplomatic history is the ethnology of Gaul and Germany.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Roman, the first thing he thinks worth reporting about the Gauls is the prevalence of faction, something which his Commentaries highlight as a weakness. 6.12: "In Gaul there are factions, not only in every state and every village and district but practically in each individual household as well."

In addition to faction there is oppressive hierarchy: "The ordinary people are considered almost as slaves: they dare do nothing on their own account and are not called to counsels. When the majority are oppressed by debt or heavy tribute, or harmed by powerful men, they sear themselves away into slavery to the aristocracy, who then have the same rights over them as masters do over their slaves." 6.13

He remarks on the strange religion of the Gauls, the Druids. The interesting thing here is that they do not want their teachings "spread abroad." Therefore, they do not commit their teaching to writing.

Caesar says that they were constantly at war with each other before his arrival.

They practice human sacrifice before battles and at festivals. There are state sacrifices as well, where the victim is placed in the wicker arms of the god's image and burned alive. "They believe that the gods are more pleased by such punishment when it is inflicted upon those who are caught engaged in theft or robbery or other crimes; but if there is a lack of people of this kind, they will even stoop to punishing the guiltless." 6.16

There is an interesting thought on free speech which is the exact opposite of our understanding. It is not permitted to discuss state affairs except openly at the assembly. It is rather like our rule that a trial may not be discussed outside of court. "The states that are thought to run thier public affairs most judiciously have a legal ordinance that if anyone hears rumors or tidings affecting the state from neighboring peoples, he is to report it to the magistrate and not to discuss it with anyone else."

The Germans are really barbaric. They know nothing of the gods and have no interest in any other than a few such as can be connected directly with a benefit, such as their sun god or Vulcan.

They do not have sexual intercourse before the age of 20. The sexes bath openly together. They hold land in common and are reassigned a plot each year. this prevents anyone from making improvements. The reasons they cite are that it keeps people interested in war and directs all their energy from economic gains to making war. Also, everyone can be sure that their possessions are equal to one another. 6.22

He reports that the Germans have no way of measuring distance in their language. This is almost impossible to believe. It seems one of the most basic functions of language and would be invaluable in war. Perhaps all distance is reported in terms of how long it takes to get there, a 'metric' that combines terrain and distance?

Caesar describes, second hand, the appearance of an animal called the unicorn. He also describes what must be Moose as animals whose legs have no joints. They never sit and if they are ever knocked to the ground they are done for.


Monday, August 06, 2007


A lot of people are talking about privatizing bridges. They think about it in terms of saving the public money. They should think about it from the point of view of the real victims--the children of trial lawyers.

I mean, it is one of the great yet-to-be-made alliances: privatizers and trial lawyers. After all, when the government owns the bridge, who can sue who? How are trial lawyers to put their kids through school?

That is the answer to the perennial question of social scientists: why no socialism in the US? Forget no feudalism, etc. If the government owned everything, no one could sue anyone. What belongs to all belongs to no one. What belongs to no one means no defendant. The trial lawyers would never allow it. No capitalism, no parasites.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Invidious comparisons

We had a speaker at the SWOTT conference do a presentation on bias in the media. One of her pieces of evidence was a picture of Osama bin Ladin which--brace yourselves--had detectably higher levels of red tint in it.

There are a number of things one could say here. Maybe all pictures on magazines have higher levels of red or, perhaps, some other visual alteration to make the picture more attractive or fetching to the eye. Maybe Osama bin Ladin has usually pale skin, or the photograph was over exposed. One could go on. These are the sorts of questions a social scientist would ask, questions that suggest alternative explanations and ways to test for them.

But when I asked, the answer was, "Well, the press has an obligation to show the truth in an unbiased way. I escaped from Nazi Germany and I know how dangerous it is when the truth is distorted. I mean unless you want to go back to that..."

There are a number of things one could say to this. Of course the most salient, at least for me, is the equivalence between our press and that of the Nazis. I don't know all that Goebbels was up to but I am confident it went far beyond 'tinting.' It is like calling in doctor for a sucking chest wound only to have him say, "First, let me have a look at that hangnail." But it goes beyond that. Sometimes a difference in degree is a difference in kind.

Suppose that you could put the American Press treatment of bin Laden and the Nazi treatment of their enemies on a continuum, it might be that their distance from one another on that continuum is so far as to make even implied equivalences tendentious if not offensive. Progressive income tax and Communism both reasonably be placed on a single continuum of policies to redistribute income I am sure we would agree. It would still be both insulting and unjust to react to a suggestion that the poll tax be abolished by saying, "Hey, I lived in the Soviet Union under Stalin. You want to take us back to that?"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Today begins the Summer Workshop on Teaching about Terrorism. I had a great time at the reception last night. It was such a change from the Al Musharaka group. Here are a bunch of people hear because they are interested in Terrorism and so I am not the only conservative. In fact, I caught a few people doing what I always do at academic conferences, giving my conservative opinions couched in non-committal language. So a guy who is an expert on WMD said that the window of opportunity 'may' be closing on taking out the 'possible' Iranian nuclear program by air bombardment. Another guy admitted to reading the National review, but only after several drinks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Conversation and conservatism

I have just been to two academic conferences. I enjoyed them both and got on well enough with the people. In general I like academics. I share their tastes and outlook. I do not share their politics, though.

The strangest thing about being a conservative among academics is that everyone automatically assumes you are a liberal. What is worse, liberalism so dominates the outlook of most academics that for them, liberal ideas are not ideological but just common sense. Liberal politics are synonymous with intelligence and good will.

This comes out most in conversations about the US. Remarks that, if made about another country, would be clearly seen as insults, are casually made about the US in the spirit of observations about the weather, commonplaces that can be made without fear of contradiction. Remarks that can be made so without fear of contradiction that they can serve as conversational openers, propositions of such wide agreement that they can be used to break the ice by providing a common ground of shared agreement.

For example, one very nice biologist who had come here from Canada casually remarked how Americans are so ignorant of foreign countries and that the news here is so focused on the US. I was supposed to say, "Oh yes, I know what you mean, isn't it terrible." When I instead said, "Well, people may watch the news to get information about the things that effect their lives," she was somewhat taken aback.

She said that if Americans knew more about the world they would be more generous. America lags far behind other countries in the amount that it gives to developing nations. Then I truly cut the last ties that I had with common humanity and said, "Well, I am not so sure. Actually, when you factor in private giving, America goes back up near the top of the list. Also, a lot of what America does is not captured by the percentage of GNP figures one hears. So, during the Tsunami the only way that most people could get supplies was by means of US military."

And she is looking at me like I am arguing for the age of consent to be lowered to single digits. She actually shivered and looked around, as if to confirm for herself that there were normal people around to come to the rescue.

If you have a disagreement with a store clerk or a shoe salesman about politics there is hardly ever a sense that it becomes personal. But with academics anything outside of a narrow range is evidence of moral depravity. The strongest advocates for formal tolerance are often the most assiduous practitioners of informal intolerance.

What is missing from this picture?

Interesting article about a young woman that was killed by her own family. The amazing thing is that they manage to tell the entire story without ever mentioning that the family was Muslim. Well, of course, it is cultural, and all cultures have honor killings from time to time, and nothing in Islam requires honor killings and.....

Still, if the family were in the paper for winning a Nobel Prize or something positive one suspects the fact that they were Muslim might have worked its way into the story.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Al Qaeda

What is so odd about the war in Iraq right now is that people are willing to give up and leave even though they admit that Al Qaeda is fighting us there. Lots of people say that Al Qaeda is only a small proportion of the people that we are fighting in Iraq. But even if that is true, what difference does that make? If it is Al Qaeda fighting us there why would we ever leave until we have defeated them? Moreover, whatever proportion of our enemies there are Al Qaeda no one thinks that it is Iraqis that are blowing themselves up to murder civilians. What could ever make us give up the fight against such an enemy?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Black Hawk Down

I was just watching the movie, "Black Hawk Down" again. It is a great example of what is wrong with the "due process" model of dealing with international problems. We got ourselves into this impossible and futile mission to capture Aideed for trial. And then what? After killing a thousand people in the process of bringing these clowns in for a "trial" what then changes? The problem is a lack of a monopoly on violence. Aideed stole the UN food because if he didn't another war lord would have. Would example of what happened to Aideed change the behavior of other warlords? Since we killed a thousand peasants to try to arrest Aideed, it would still appear that a rational actor would focus on being a sucessful warlord rather than being a peasant.

most of the other big mistakes are somehow traceable to the due process model. The decision not to have tanks and C-130 gunships available was driven by a desire to make this not look like a war, we wanted it to seem like a police action. The trouble is that their are two sides (at least) in a war and one side on its own can't decide that it will only be a policing problem. Aideed thought he was fighting a war and our wishing that we weren't was not going to change that.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

New York Times

I can't stand their editorial page but my gosh, they do some terrific writing. What other organization could do a story like this? Three continents and 6 countries? And for what? Tracking down why some peasants too poor to afford a coffin died.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Ptolemeic Left

Here is an interesting article about the turn against secularism in Turkey and the turn against Turkey in Europe. What is so odd about it is that the author sees these developments as more evidence of the failure of neocon foreign policy. It is really quite bizarre. All of this is very important, but to somehow make it all a function of American foreign policy, much less the foreign policy of the last 6 years, just seems to border on a mania. It is like ancient astronomers that were always ready to take any observation and pry more proof of the geocentric universe from it. For the contemporary left there is not a star in the heavens whose course cannot be explained by the machinations of the neocons.

It is eerily reminiscent of the American's before Pearl Harbor who, as Prangle argues, assumed that whatever Japan was going to do depended on the actions of the United States. No matter how far removed from our control a phenomena may be there is always an epicycle to bring it back to the orbit of America instigated evil.

collective action

I think there is something missing from the whole debate about our progress or lack of it in Afghanistan and Iraq. The possibility that our problem is the inability of these societies to solve their collective action problems.

A tacit assumption that lies behind a lot of the thinking about the war is an assumption along the lines that if a society fails to form an effective national army and police force it is because they don't want to. There is another possibility. they may be entirely on our side and may overwhelmingly want to form and effective national army and police force but may just be incapable of it for reasons that have nothing to do with their preferences or level of commitment.

The beautiful thing about a collective action problem is that you can have everyone wants to do one thing individually but as a group behave in a precisely opposite fashion. To the extent that the failures of the Iraqis and, to a lesser extent, the Afghans, to stand up effective national police forces and armies are due to collective action problems rather than a lack of commitment to the cause of liberal democracy at an individual level then calls to impose benchmarks or to "leave them to kill each other" are misplaced to say the least.

There is this odd similarity between the 19th Century Imperialists and contemporary liberals in the way they evaluate the attempts of Iraqis and Afghans to form national institutions. The fact that the democratically elected governments of these countries to form effective fighting forces is seen as proof of their unfitness to govern. In the case of the British Imperialists the conclusion was that they should be ruled by the British. In the case of contemporary liberals it is that we should abandon them to the terrorists.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Progress of the Legal Profession

So now the lawyers have come up with a new way to advance the cause of racial and international comity. They are filing suit to gain recompense for the victims of slavery. Only this suit, leading to an admission of guilt by the parties responsible and reparations payments to the some 30 to 40 million surviving descendents of the victims in America will heal the wounds of America’s crimes.

Now there is no doubt that this is a necessary first step to solving our problems and making this a country that other minorities and non-white people would be at least willing to consider immigrating to, but why stop there? The whole world is suffering from the effects of this scourge. Why should America’s lawyers limit their beneficence only to our country? there are so many other strife town places that could benefit from their wisdom.

Take the Arab peninsula. Over 8 million Europeans were taken as slaves by the Barbary states of Muslim North Africa in the course of 3 centuries. Europe has never really recovered from this devistation but might be willing to acquiesse in the Iranian bomb project if their grievances were addressed. Who knows, they might even be willing to, say, look the other way when Jews are blown up in pizza parlors and public busses by suicide bombing Muslims if the Muslims were to demonstrate a bit of humanity by paying up for the sins of their fore bearers.

A similar arrangement might be reached between the Arabs and sub-Saharan Africa. Of course, the problem may at first appear too daunting given the sheer numbers involved: upwards of 200 million by some counts. This would make the potential number of descendents too large to realistically compensate. We can hardly expect the stats of Arabia to transfer an amount of money that large to another country. But there are some silver linings. For one thing, the male captives were castrated so they have no descendents right there. But there is more good news. Due to the broadmindedness of the Arabs on racial matters, most of the descendents were children of harems and, since maternity was not held against the child of a slave and a Muslim, these children were considered Arabs themselves and have over the centuries become indistinguishable from the rest of the population. It is as if the 200 million captives never existed. So, happily, the Arabs could just pay themselves.

There are other meliorating factors in the case of Muslim enslavement of Europeans. Given that their practices in slavery were so much more human than the brand practiced by Europeans some of them should require little or no compensation to current generations.

For example the Ottoman Turks three century practice of “The Cull,” where all males between the ages of 4-8 in Christian villages in the Balkans were periodically lined up for inspection with the most well-formed were taken away from their parents to be trained as soldiers and forcibly converted to Islam to be the personal army of the Sultan, might strike the contemporary layman as being somewhat macabre. But, again, owing to the humanity of the Muslim religion, the picture is not as bad as all that. The boys were mercifully severed from all ties with their home culture and forbidden to speak their native tongue, let alone have any contact with their parents again. In effect they were nurtured into forgetting that they had ever been anything but Muslims. Indeed, given the habitual senility and incompetence of the Sultans they often ended up effectively running the empire. The system worked so well that many of the Janisarries would lead the expeditions to cull succeeding generations of their erstwhile compatriots. Given the Christian only taxes and legal disabilities that the residents of the Sultan’s empire had to endure, it is not at all clear that the “enslaved” youths were really victims at all. Thus, there is some doubt this case would be actionable, or even if the descendants of those whose parents hid them or, in some extreme cases of poor judgment, even killed their own offspring rather than let them be culled, are the ones that are in fact liable.

There are of course the cases of the Golden Hordes in the 13th Century. Some would ironiously hold the descendents of Genghis Khan liable to the descendents of those he enslaved, but this betrays a lack of historical understanding. Genghis, being a nomad, had little use for slaves and so, in an act that is errs should forever be grateful, shielded them from liability by killing most of the people that fell to his armies. The case of his dubious descendent Tibmerlame is more problematic. Many people ironiously assume that he killed most of the populations that fell to him as well, perhaps reasoning from certain occasional sensational acts like piling up a pyramid of sculls 300 feet high to celebrate his victory in modern day Uzbekistan. But in fact, Timberlame did not always show the forensic foresight of his illustrious fore bearer. In fact he did enslave upwards of a few hundred thousand. However, his descendents can take some solous in the fact that his descendents are mainly in the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. As some of the poorest countries in the world they may, happily, be judgment proof.

One concern with this legal project is that it might inadvertently give some legitimacy to neo-con schemes to invade countries that are practicing slavery now. One thinks of the Sudan where open air slave markets still flourish and where its recent departure from the UN Human Rights Commission make it especially vulnerable to ill conceived schemes to do something about slavery by employing armed force to remove from power the regimes that practice it.

Obviously it would be a tragedy if the efforts of the legal community were put to such perverse uses. Not only would such a use of armed force be in violation of international law, by breaking the continuity of the regime that condones slavery, it might compromise the rights of the slaves’ descendents to seek their day in court.

Sadly there is a precedent for such a miscarriage of justice, and ironically, it comes from a member of the very legal profession that is leading the fight for justice in the cause of slavery today.

Over the graves of soldiers that fought in the war that ended slavery in our country almost 150 years ago, he said, “If the blood of a generation serve to expiate the sin of slavery then so be it……[para phrase]” that is right. Not only did this lawyer advocate the use of armed force to end slavery, he also, in what must be the ultimate perversion of tort law, appeared to think that the deaths of 500,000 soldiers in that war to end slavery somehow constituted compensation for the victims of the crime. He compounded his twisting of common law by arrogantly sought to alienate the right of future generations to sue for compensation by releasing the perpetrators of the crimes of slavery from any liability. “with malice towards none and charity towards all…”

Friends of international justice and freedom can only be thankful for the progress that has been made by the legal profession since the days of Abraham Lincoln.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


It is not enough that they let us do all the firghting, now they want to indict us for it.

An Italian prosecutor has decided that CIA officers should be indicted for kidnapping for removing an Egyptian from Italy to his native country. That the Italian police had had him under survaliance for several years and cooperated with the Americans is irrelevant.

Why indict? Isn't exposing their names enough to get them killed? Isn't it enough that the open trial of the Italian officers will supply Al Qaeda with all it needs to know about evading detecton in the future?

And where is liberal outrage at the exposing of CIA officers' identities? Real CIA officers, not 40 something mothers of twins that work in the basement of Langley, but CIA officers working undercover in hostile territory?

For that is what Europe has become--hostile territory. How long will it be before we realize that the men fighting the war on terrorism have more to fear from our "allies" than our enemies?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mississippi and Race

A Small, Good Thing

I remember when I first told people back in Chicago that I was moving to Mississippi. The first thing they would always say is, “You mean, those racists?”

I was a bit worried myself. That is why it was so striking to me how little tension I felt when I finally arrived. Coming from Hyde Park on the South side of Chicago, I was used to people finding things to get mad about as if on purpose. I remember often a simple encounter with the store clerk would become the occasion of a miniature racial incident. “You threw that money down on the counter,” “No I didn’t….”

That is why it was such a pleasant surprise coming here. Dealing with black people had none of the tension I was used to from Chicago.

It struck me that the town I grew up in, Dayton, Ohio, was almost 40% black, and yet I almost never talked to a black person up through high school. The few times I met a black person were at those “meet black people” events, where everyone acts how they think they should act.

I recall when I was about 8 or 9 we had this special integrated summer camp that my progressive parents sent me to. The only thing I remember was the first football game we had, the white kids against the black kids. We were slaughtered. From then on we became firmly committed to integration, especially in contact sports.

But beyond that it was a few odd clerks here and there; that was my entire experience with black people growing up. They had their side of the river, we had ours.

I suppose that is the first thing that is different here. Whatever sad history we have here, we at least have contact. However people stand on principle, in practice Mississippians of both races live their lives together.

In college back in Ohio we practically imposed segregation on ourselves. There were all these ethnicity specific clubs—the Asian American or Latino American and of course the African American student associations.

Later on at grad school it was the same thing but even more fine grained: the Chinese-American or the Gay students or the LGBT. And what was so odd was that all this impulse toward separation was strongest in the place where it was least needed. Young people who had gone their whole lives in the conservative mid-West without needing a support group, suddenly, on arriving at the most liberal 3 acres in the universe—a graduate program at a North American research university—suddenly needed a segregated club to feel secure. The first thing they are asked when enrolling was which ethnic grievance group did they want to join? Here was finally a group of people that, left to their own devices, would be the best able to overcome segregation, and they were re-imposing it on themselves. Sometimes it was like those pictures you see of the old South, with colored and white sections marked off as clearly as if there were a line painted on the floor.

I thought about this the other day when the faculty got another email with another article about racial sensitivity.

I never know what I am supposed to do after I get these things. Has there been a complaint? Has some student of color come forward to complain that he hasn’t been treated with the same sarcastic condescension I show to the white students?

Then, the next day, I had a class meet for the first time: all the black students were sitting on one side of the room and all the white students—considerably more numerous—were sitting on the other.

I find this intensely sad. I have been reading about Mississippi in the 1960s over MLK week. Compared with those times, what feelings of racial animosity we have today seem so trivial. I see the students of this generation almost there. It feels like students here in Mississippi could lead the nation instead of follow.

There is a lot of serious thought given to what we can do to bring about a truly color blind society. But I think many of the practical proposals we hear these days take us in the wrong direction. Proposals like having a separate black students association or having more “diversity” focused events are at best beside the point and at worse compound the malady they aim to cure.

Such approaches assume that what is needed is some dramatic change of heart, when perhaps all that is needed are a few new habits. We think that if there is a high degree of racial segregation in some activity or setting, there must be a high degree of racial animosity behind it. That does not have to be the case.

The economist Thomas Schelling demonstrated that only a slight preference for being with people of the same race—say wanting at least 40% of your immediate neighbors to be the same race as you—can lead to almost complete segregation in practice. The first person coming into a room sits next to someone the same color as himself and without anyone intending it, the room becomes almost perfectly split along color lines.

We don’t need more special “think about diversity” days. We had plenty of those back in Dayton and fat lot of good it did. What we need is more interaction where race is not the main topic of the meeting. The hard part—the heroic part—of the work has been done. What is needed now is the work that ordinary people can do, that only ordinary people can do.

Mississippi is a place where black and white people can actually do things together without it being forced, without faking it or putting on a new personality.

A small, good thing would be to use the time we have in our classrooms, not to discuss race more but to live race less. Just as it takes so little in the way of inclination to segregate a room, it takes little in the way of effort to integrate one. The next time you are deciding where to sit, instead of sitting next to a person from your Fraternity or Sorority or team, sit next to someone that you don’t know, someone who is a different color from you. Considering what we have paid to get to this point, it is a small price, and well worth paying.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Surge

Do you know how you know the surge is working? Because of all the stories you haven’t read about it not working.

This is a sort of law of mine about the media. They never lie, they just leave out.

If something doesn’t agree with their world view or the story they are trying to push, they don’t deny it, they just ignore it.

That is why the media is so contemptuous and indignant at the existence of new media outlets that operate free of big media’s “ethical standards.” That is why they are so offended at media that have a point of view, it forces them to admit that they have one.

They are in the position of a prosecuting attorney that had gotten used to arguing his cases with the defendant allowed to communicate with the judge only through the prosecutor’s reports. The prosecutor, who prides himself on never lying, gets rather used to being allowed to decide what should be passed on to the judge and the jury. He even stops thinking of himself as a prosecutor and instead presents himself as the disinterested spokesman for truth.

All the sudden a defense attorney shows up and the prosecutor is indignant. It is not just that he has to work harder at arguing his side, it is that he has to admit to having a side. It is not so much the extra work he hates as the moral authority he misses.

If violence is down 80% with one extra brigade, what might be achieved with the arrival of the four more coming by May?

The point is not that everything is alright but that we can affect the situation on the ground by changing our tactics. The security problem is not driven by primordial ethnic hatreds, by some fact about the way “those people” are that we can do nothing about. It is that there is an enemy that is actually rather small, that has limited resources and that can be defeated.

We are always told by liberals that we shouldn’t over-generalize about Muslims whenever we are victims of terrorism, why shouldn’t the same point apply we Iraqis are victims?

The reporting on Iraq always seems to be premised on the idea that the terrorists DO represent the Iraqis. The terrorism is always seen as proof that they are not ready for democracy.

When Al Qaeda blew up the Mosque in Samara it was seized on as proof that democracy will never work there, that they are like that, too violent, unable to settle their differences in a civilized manner. If Muslim terrorists destroy something in the US we are at pains to criticize anyone that suggests their actions are somehow indicative of the feelings or intentions of the world’s Muslims. Why should we not at least as careful in the inferences we draw when the victims are Iraqis?