Saturday, September 29, 2007

Who was Ahmadinejad trying to convince?

Not us. Most Western attention on the Man from Iran was directed either at the funnies or his comments on the issues that we spend newsprint on. I know that is all I read. And, frankly, the idea of reading an entire speech of his attracts me about as much as an initiation address by the Most Excellent Master of the Grand High Lodge.

Caroline Glick reckons we should have listened harder even if the intended audience was quite an Other. And his topics were similar to those of Pope Benedict.

At Columbia University, Ahmadinejad devoted the majority of his speech to a discussion of the role of science in human affairs. While most coverage surrounded his refusal to renounce his call to annihilate Israel, his central message, that he rejects the right of people to be free to choose their paths in life, was ignored. His remarks on the issue were dismissed as "weird" or "unintelligible." Yet they were neither.

Speaking as "an academic," Ahmadinejad said that from his perspective, the role of science is to serve Islam and that any science that does not serve Islamic goals is corrupt. As he put it, "Science is the light, and scientists must be pure and pious. If humanity achieves the highest level of physical and spiritual knowledge but its scholars and scientists are not pure, then this knowledge cannot serve the interests of humanity." Elaborating on this notion, he argued that Western scientists serve corrupt governments who reject the pure and pious path of Islam and therefore are used as agents for corruption.

Tellingly, Ahmadinejad moved directly from his assault on non-Islamic scientists and regimes to a defense of Iran's nuclear program. The message was clear: Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is done in the name of Islam and therefore it is inherently legitimate. As far as he is concerned, refusing to allow Iran to pursue nuclear weapons is tantamount to an assault on God.

Though there is a hint of Benedict's Regensberg themes here (less classy language, but the idea of science guided by a higher idea is the same), the conclusions are a little different. And so is the end-game.

Thankfully for Ahmadinejad, this "corrupted" world order will soon be swept away. Either the "corrupted" powers will "return from the path of arrogance and obedience to Satan to the path of faith in God," or "the same calamities that befell the people of the distant past will befall them as well."

Concluding his UN remarks Ahmadinejad pledged, "Without any doubt, the Promised One who is the ultimate Savior... will come. In the company of all believers, justice-seekers and benefactors, he will establish a bright future and fill the world with justice and beauty. This is the promise of God; therefore it will be fulfilled."

There's the 12th Imam again. That man is a patience! Do you think Ahmadinejad will eventually react like the Neapolitans do when the blood of St Januarius doesn't liquify on time and start cursing him?

So, we didn't get this message. Who did?

Ahmadinejad is not interested in convincing the US government or even the majority of Americans to convert to Islam. He is interested in convincing adherents of totalitarian Islam and potential converts to the cause that they are on the winning side.

There's an ideological war being waged, and we hardly seem to notice it.  In this conflict zone, we're not only coming second, we suck.

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Burma in the British Empire

There you go. You start looking in places that you'd never glanced at before and all sorts of things pop up. Following my confession of ignorance about Burma, Hazar Nesimi sent this in the comments.

To stimulate trade and facilitate changes, the British brought in Indians and Chinese who quickly displaced the Burmese in urban areas. To this day Yangon and Mandalay have large ethnic Indian populations. Railroads and schools were built, as well as a large number of prisons including the infamous Insein Jail, then as now used for political prisoners. Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralyzed Yangon on occasion all the way until the 1930s.[14] Much of the discontent was caused by disrespect for Burman culture and traditions, for example, what the British termed the Shoe Question: the colonisers’ refusal to remove their shoes upon entering Buddhist temples or other holy places. In October 1919, Eindawya Pagoda in Mandalay was the scene of exceptional violence when tempers flared after scandalised Buddhist monks attempted to physically expel a group of shoe-wearing British visitors. The leader of the monks was later sentenced to life imprisonment for attempted murder. Such incidents inspired the Burmese resistance to use Buddhism as a rallying point for their cause. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement, and many died while protesting. One monk-turned-martyr was U Wisara, who died in prison after a 163-day hunger strike to protest a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned.[15] Kipling’s poem 'Mandalay' is now all that most people in Britain remember of Myanmar’s difficult and often brutal colonisation.

However, without casting any doubt on the above, there is the obverse of the coin.

The colonial government built roads and railways, and river steamers, belonging to the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, operated between Rangoon and Mandalay. The British brought electricity to Rangoon, improved urban sanitation, built hospitals and redesigned the capital on a grid system.

While the British set about building and modernizing, they benefited greatly from an economic boom in the Irrawaddy delta region. When they first arrived in Burma, much of the delta was swampland. But under the British, Burmese farmers began to settle in the delta and clear land for rice cultivation. In 1855, paddy fields covered 400,000 ha; by 1873 the forests had been cleared sufficiently to double the productive area. Land under rice cultivation increased by another 400,000 ha roughly every 7 years, reaching 4 million ha in 1930. Population in the area - which was about 1.5 million in the rnid-1 9th century- increased more than 5-fold.

From the beginning of the colonial period, the British stressed the benefits of education, and formal Western-style schooling replaced the traditional monastic education system. Rangoon University was founded in 1920 and a new urban elite evolved. They attempted to bridge the gap between old and new Burma by calling for the reform of traditional Buddhist beliefs and practices. In 1906, the Young Men's Buddhist Association was established in an effort to assert Burmese cultural identity and remain distinct from their colonizers. In 1916, the YMBA objected to the fact that Europeans persisted in wearing shoes inside religious buildings, which was considered disdainful. After demonstrations in over 50 towns, the government ruled that abbots should have the right to determine how visitors should dress in their monasteries - a ruling hailed as a victory for the YMBA.

Note, for example, the fact that the 'shoe' protests happened, that they were led by an organisation modelled on a British one and that it resulted in a change of the law. Wouldn't it be good it that was how things happened now?

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Walking backwards over bridges in the night

Until a few days ago, all I knew about Burma was that it was ruled by a nasty military junta, that hardly anyone went in or out (the rule for such places), and that the opposition leader was a very attractive woman with a British husband.

I don't know much more than that now, but the place is beginning to acquire that aura of the unique. “This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know,” said Kipling, and as usual it seems he was right.

This fascinating article by Ben Macintyre is a sort of Best of Dictators and Astrology. For it seems that the Burmese junta is, as a group, of the opinion that if the stars ain't with ya, ya screwed.

General Ne Win was the mysticism-obsessed dictator who seized power in 1962 and steered Burma from prosperity to penury; in 1989 he introduced the 45-kyat and 90-kyat banknotes, for the simple but mind-bending reason that these were divisible by and added up to nine, his lucky number. He believed this move would also ensure he would live to the lucky age of 90. Ne Win, who insisted on walking backwards over bridges at night and other rituals to avoid bad luck, died in 2002, at the age of 92.

I wonder how many years of study and good contacts it would take to understand why a grown man would believe that walking over bridges backwards at night was good luck. I think many of the great conundrums of human psychology (such as, why is my wife physically incapable of returning something to the place where she found it?) would suddenly yield their mystery.

But these Burmese nutters are serious nutters whose nuttiness has big consequences.

When the junta moved the capital from Rangoon to a malarial town deep in the jungle, it did so because an astrologer employed by Senior General Than Shwe had warned him of an impending catastrophe that could only be averted by moving the seat of government. The same astrologer asserted that the most auspicious moment for the move would be November 6, 2005, at 6.37 in the morning. Sure enough, at that precise hour on the ordained day, the bullet-proof limousines of Burma’s generals started to roll towards their new home on the road to Mandalay.

I suppose, from one point of view, the passing of these clowns will be a loss to the gallery of human weirdness. However, what a gain to the lives of the ordinary.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Puritans win, everybody suffers

Especially the neurotic.

While a glance at comparative national mortality statistics might make a compelling argument for the more general health benefits of smoking (Africa has had for decades the lowest rates for both smoking and life expectancy), I am more concerned with the specific area of mental health. In first-hand observations among smokers, non-smokers and ex-smokers, I have noticed that smoking is the only reliable cure for neurosis, and that people who give it up quickly become strident, interfering and unhappy.

My Romantics tutor (a non-smoker) was a man who travelled a lot. He told me once (we were sitting in one of the most beautiful spaces ever created: il Campo, in Siena) that, if he could, he always chose to sit next to a smoker on the plane because they were invariably more interesting. [I can't quite see the connection between my reminiscence and the claim made in the quote, but I let it stand anyway because some things need to be said.]

[Thank you, Ninme]

Revelations of the bleeding obvious

The transcript of the Bush-Aznar conversation is completely unsurprising in what it reveals of the approach to the war. This bloke thinks that Bush should be impeached because he was determined to bring Saddam down whether there was a second resolution or not.

The transcript shows Bush actively plotting to sidestep the UNSC if he could not, gangster-like, threaten its members into compliance.

The blessed innocence of it all! How does he think international affairs are managed? By kindness? As guided by a kindergarten teacher? And what are the "gangster-like" threats that Bush is handing out? War? Assassinations, a blockade? Er, no.

Lagos must know that the Free Trade Agreement is pending ratification in the Senate and that a negative attitude on this issue could jeopardize that ratification. Angola is receiving funds from the Millennium Account that could also be compromised. And Putin must know that his position is endangering Russia’s relationship with the United States.

The threat regards how much money the US will be giving them. A little more or a little less. As a Mafia boss, he wouldn't go too far.

There's a second reason Bush should be impeached according to the sagacious Mr Cole.

The second grounds for impeachment is that Bush rejected out of hand a deal brokered by the Egyptians whereby Saddam Hussein would leave the country with a billion dollars and some documents about his WMD program. Reuters reports:

'The Egyptians are speaking to Saddam Hussein. It seems he's indicated he would be prepared to go into exile if he's allowed to take $1 billion and all the information he wants about weapons of mass destruction," Bush was quoted as saying at the meeting one month before the U.S.-led invasion.'

Excuse my repeating it, but did you catch that "if he's allowed to take $1 billion and all the information he wants about weapons of mass destruction". Weapons of what?

Obviously, he should have been allowed to go into exile; that's what any responsible leader would have done.

This conversation reveals nothing more than that George Bush was aiming to do what should have been done long before and what he said he was aiming to do: remove a very dangerous man.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

China looks on

What China does about Burma will be intriguing to watch. As per Robert Kagan's thesis that the great political division in today and tomorrow's world is that between liberal and totalitarian states, China will hardly want to see a democratic Burma emerge. Its mantra of "not interfering in the internal affairs" of sovereign states (especially for humanitarian reasons) is mostly about self-protection. Would they interfere directly if the situation in Burma got out of control?

And I wonder what the Chinese would do if their economy started to suffer because of their support of nasty dictators. What would it take for politics to give way to economics?

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This happens all the time everywhere

A French journalist comments on TV journalism and Philippe Karsenty.

“You know, I think this whole affair is dead in the water,” said a senior journalist at France 3 TV, Clement Weill Raynal, who is also a well-known contributor to Jewish media. “Karsenty is so shocked that fake images were used and edited in Gaza, but this happens all the time everywhere on television and no TV journalist in the field or a film editor would be shocked. This has become more about him than anything else.”
[My emphasis]

Silly Philippe! (How many people were killed in the months following France2's broadcast of the al-Durah clip?)

Richard Landes does a very detailed fisk of an article on the al-Durah affair [length warning].

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Hindsight Bias

This is one of those concepts that sound right the moment you hear it. It puts a name to a phenomenon that we are barely aware of until it is named. But like the solution to a Lateral Thinking problem, the moment we have it, it seems incredible that we did not always have it.

"One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias -- the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. Across a wide spectrum of issues, from politics to the vagaries of the stock market, experiments show that once people know something, they readily believe they knew it all along."

In the Washington Post article quoted above and this one from TCS Daily, the writers apply it to, among other things, the Iraq War. In my reading recently, I've come across some rather older instances. In writings on the foundation of Rome by Livy, Plutarch and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the first kings, Romulus and Numa Pompilius, are credited with the creation of a bewidering number of cults, institutions and customs. In each case, the founder acts with 100% prescience; his intentions in creating the institution match exactly the eventual function of that institution as it is seen 700 years later.

For example, the Sabines and Latins aren't getting on so Numa assigns them each a trade guild in order to confuse their loyalties and make them cross tribal boundaries. Undoubtedly, guilds would have had this effect, but whether Numa intended it (or even founded them in the first place) is open to question.

Hindsight bias also helps to explain why it is so extraordinarily difficult to understand the real options available to a decision maker at the time of the decision. Knowing what happens afterwards makes so many lines clear that had been fuzzy, even indistinguishable, when the moment came to say Yay or Nay.

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Protection and betrayal

This article about the assassination of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha set up by the betrayal of his security chief, Capt. Karim al-Barghothi, is interesting because of the links it reveals between a man at the centre of the fight against the terrorists, common criminals and the terrorist organisations. I imagine it's like this the length and breadth of Iraq.

I [Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of Counterterrorism Blog] spoke with a senior American military intelligence officer yesterday who filled me in on some of the details emerging from the investigation. He said that al-Barghouti had been in debt to some people in the car smuggling racket in Mosul who were affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The men in the car smuggling racket had a deal with AQI: the terror group would allow them to operate, guaranteeing their security, and in return they would pass information to AQI about who was in debt to them. The men in the smuggling racket passed on information about al-Barghouti's debt, and AQI told them to pressure on him to repay the debt immediately -- something he was unable to do.

This put al-Barghouti in a no-win situation. He couldn't go to the authorities because doing so would have exposed his corruption and illegal activities. Then AQI approached him to offer a way out: they would repay his debt in exchange for al-Barghouti admitting al-Rishawi's assassin to the compound, and not asking too many questions while he was on the way in. In this way, AQI created problems for al-Barghouti in order to proffer the solution.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Air conditioned body armour

Been a few days since I dropped in to Michael Totten's. Missed this, an interview with a certain Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman in Ramadi, and the concluding part of Anbar Awakens. No new info there, but the photos are great (especially the kids) and there's lots of the local colour that distinguishes the citizen journalists in Iraq.

I liked this one.

Other strange conspiracy theories abound. I never saw an American wearing a red beret, but apparently some Iraqis believe red berets are dyed in human blood. Perhaps the most amusing theory, which I know many Iraqis believe to this day, is that American Soldiers and Marines have what they call “cold pills” so they can’t feel the blistering heat of the summer.

“I demand cold pills!” an Iraqi officer said when he barged into the office of Colonel John Steele at Camp Taji.

“Listen,” the colonel said to the Iraqi and pointed at his own forehead. “You see these beads of sweat on my forehead that are running down toward my nose? That’s because I feel just as hot as you do.”

One American soldier told me about a time he was having tea in a friendly Iraqi civilian’s house.

“It’s hot today,” said the Iraqi, “but at least you have your air conditioner on.”

“What do you mean?” said the Soldier.

“Your air conditioner,” the Iraqi said and pointed at the Soldier’s bulky body armor.

The Soldier laughed out loud.

“That’s body armor,” he said. “Not an air conditioner!”

“Come on,” the Iraqi said. “We all know those are air conditioners.”

The Soldier took off his body armor and handed it to the Iraqi. “Here,” he said. “Put it on and see for yourself.”

The Iraqi donned the armor and suddenly felt even hotter.

“Hmm,” he said. “It is pretty hot. But I’m sure it will get cold after a while.”

And when the soldier goes away, the Iraqi guy will be left wondering where the switch was, and why the yank wouldn't tell him.

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What does 'theurgy' mean?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Speech freed at Columbia

I am very hesitant about banning someone from speaking and laying it down that this or that may not be said, or so-and-so may not speak. If nothing else, it so often sounds like fear that if certain words are uttered to a gathering, it will bring about a collapse in something dear, a crumbling of a revered icon. It sounds like weakness. That's how I read the decision of the Regents of the University of California to uninvite Larry Summers to speak because some feminists were squeeling.

But it is just such a scenario that made me wonder about the invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University and the calls for that invitation to be withdrawn. It's a matter of context. My memories of university 'debates' during the first wave of feminism teach me that they can be an example of anything but free speech since the poor soul who dared to state a point of view at variance with the revolutionary truth of the day was rarely allowed to make a point, or refute an argument. Only those who correctly filled in the template furnished by the most vehement could speak. There could be no debate. There were just correct things to repeat.

I wondered if this occasion at Columbia would be of a similar nature, or its obverse: the supine ceding of the floor to the usual anti-American/Western/Capitalist grandstanding, the legitimation of cultural self-hate. In that case, I would favour a 'ban' just to avoid the embarassment of the whole event.

Yet, it turned out to be nothing of the sort. Lee Bollinger exposed Ahmadinejad to an argument and challenged him to answer. The inadequacy of his reponse spoke for itself, just as should occur in a real debate. Heartening.

The text of Bollinger's speech is here. Excerpts from Ahmadinejad's speech are here.

There's a round-up of reaction here.

Ahmadinejad does NY

Ahmadinejad does NY.

Asked about executions of homosexuals in Iran, Mr Ahmadinejad replied: "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country."

Reacting to laughter and jeers from the audience he added: "In Iran we don't have this phenomenon, I don't know who you told this."

It must have been the Zionists, but why did no-one tell Foucault?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Come back Joe and Jane Public!

Quick association of ideas.

Mark Steyn likes to point out that the passengers of United 93 had to overcome years of passivity training to do what was needed. They had to break all the rules laid down by the authorities.

Andrew Anthony sees that when your everyday Joe and Jane Public no longer have the cultural authority to impose good behaviour in public, when it is all left to the police, that is just to leave the streets in the hands of the most violent.

Modern terrorism is completely de-centralised and adapts fast. Government bureaucracies cannot manage that. Joe and Jane Public can, which, in the end, may make all the difference.

Plus ça change, plus ça change

John Derbyshire recently had a debate with Robert Spencer on Pajamas Media after his review of Spencer's Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t. In part, it was the old divergence between the indifferent and the committed. In the latter corner, Spencer is convinced that Islam, and not just Jidadism, is a present and increasing threat to the West. In the other corner, Derbyshire is no friend of Islam, but will not condemn it root and branch. It just doesn't make sense to do so.

This is mostly because, for him who belongs to none, it is not that different to any other religion, so he hasn't got the energy to enter into fierce debate about which is better, Christianity or Islam. He doesn't believe that all religions are equally good, or equally bad. But I suspect he would rather they were all like the Church of England: there for those who need that sort of thing, but not getting in the way of everyone else.

More than this, there is the historical record, and here I entirely agree with him.

It is none the less true that Islam, whatever its failings, is an ancient and respectable religion that comforts and sustains hundreds of millions of souls, and has provided one of the organizing principles for numerous substantial civilizations. Possibly those civilizations weren’t to your taste. They probably wouldn’t have been to mine, either. If you have ever thought seriously and imaginatively about what life is like in a state of barbarism, though, you will acknowledge that even not-to-your-taste civilizations are a vast improvement on the other thing.

But then he moves onto another point, one that makes me pause. Islam is accused of being culturally "arid", of being static and unable to develop. That may be true, but if so, it is true of almost every civilisation.

The ancient Egyptians and Persians, the Maurya and Gupta dynasties of India; the Japanese; the Mesoamerican civilizations, the old Mesopotamian empires — there was not a lick of progress in any of them across their entire existences, compared with what happened in any hundred years of European civilization.

[All right, a slight exaggeration - there were leaps forward in all of these that I know anything about (the old Mesopotamian empires created the city, the first written laws that we know about, writing), but they were flashes in a long half-light.]

The exceptions, the strangest ones, are us, the post-Renaissance West picking up from the Greeks and Romans. It is we who expect change, who egg it on, demand it when faced with even the smallest dissatisfaction, all the while whingeing about what we've left behind. The old are bores about the Old Days in the West precisely because the Old Days were different. In Ancient Egypt, the Old Days were the same as today and indistinguishable from tomorrow.

Yet the quasi-universality of static cultures make it unsurprising that people still long for something similar. Not just in the traditional cultures that Modern life undermines and then destroys, but even in the vanguard of this creative distruction we call 'modern life', the nostalgia for what has been lost never goes away. I wonder if that partly accounts for the guilt that Westerners feel and the cultural self-hate that possesses some of them: the knowledge of change desired, achieved and irrevocable, and the certainty that, even if there could be another moment of decision, a second forking of the ways, we would make exactly the same choice, and feel exacly the same regret.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

The Republic of Australia

Ninme is dumbfounded at the suggestion that Australia could dump the Queen as Head of State and become a republic if, as seems likely according to the polls, Labour win the next election. I'm not keen on the idea, either, but I understand where it's coming from. The past. There's no pressing need, or any need at all, for Australia to become a republic, but there is a bitterness, 32 years old, that Labour has never assuaged.

In 1972, after 23 years of Liberal (conservative) government, Australia elected a Labour Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, a witty, educated and domineering man who had big plans and immediately set about acting on them. He put through Parliament an extraordinary array of legislation with the support of Rupert Murdoch's Australian, which for some time had a permanent banner at the top of the front page that read "What your government has done for you today".

Whitlam didn't have control of the Senate. To gain it, he pulled a few fast ones (destroying an old Labour splinter party in the process) and called another election in 1974. He won it, improved his position in the Senate, but not quite enough. There were scandals, especially over attempts to raise loans on the sly. This was necessary because the economy was in trouble. Not entirely due to Whitlam's government, it should be said (the 1973 oil crisis), but spending was reckless.

Then the Liberals did the unthinkable; they blocked supply (the Budget) in the Senate. Whitlam had no money. He proposed to go on by borrowing money from the banks, though it was unclear if this was legal. He never got the chance. The Governor-General, John Kerr, (the Queen's representative in Australia) withdrew Whitlam's commission. Such a thing had never been done before. An election was called and Labour lost badly.

That has never been forgotten or forgiven. It is an inextricable part of the Party mythology, and even Labour members not born at the time will cherish it like a still-born child in the hope of one day righting the great wrong.

There are other antipathies in the mix. Like all good Leftists, they are anti-imperialist, anti-monarchist and anti-American. Most of this is only gesture politics, but it rouses the faithful. They also go on about Australia being an "Asian" country and want so much to cosy up to the strong shoulders of the Asian tigers even though the tigers eye them with suspicion and temptation (Australia has a lot of raw materials for hungry economies).

Conservatives like me look back in gratitude at what the Poms handed us on a plate and see no reason to change what works so well. Many Labour Party activists look only ahead at the brave new world a Labour government will bring about. Of course, they won't get it (who does?), but a referendum about the Queen will be a sop to their revolutionary hearts. It'll make them feel better.

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Pre-emptive censorship update

There are quite a few additions to the Pre-emptive censorship file. Britain seems to be topping the self-harm list at the moment.

Faith+Film makes...

It is not something, I confess, that crosses my mind very often, since I lack one and rarely indulge in the other, but if the cross-breeding of Faith and Film interests you at all, then hop over to Strange Culture where RC is convocating bloggers to take part in his inaugural Faith+Film Blog-a-thon.

Jewish joke

Spengler is telling jokes now.

[T]wo elderly Jews deep in conversation. One says, "Life is so painful, joy is so short, pain is so long, that we would be better off dead than alive!" The second Jew says, "You are right." The first adds, "Even better than to be dead would never to be born!" To which the second responds, "But who has such luck? Not one in ten thousand!"

The article in which this is quoted is about the unaccountable Jewish love of life, which is by no means the only unaccountable feature of this extraordinary people.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Right even when they're wrong

I didn't follow the case of the Duke University lacrosse players last year. Not for any particular reason other than lack of time and I don't like lacrosse. If you didn't either, there's all the essential information in this review in The Economist of Until Proven Innocent by Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson.

The article notes how well the case seemed to fit the PC trope of racist white America, which helps to explain the behaviour of the media as well as that of the faculty of Duke University.

Radical students stomped around the campus banging pots and demanding justice (one sign recommended castration). And a crowd of radical professors pronounced the students guilty as sin. Some professors used the “rape” to illustrate lectures on racial and sexual repression. Several gave invective-laden interviews to the press. On April 6th 2006, 88 faculty members took out a full-page advertisement in the college newspaper condemning the lacrosse players. In April 2007, all charges were dropped.

Did the fact that they were wrong make the good professors reflect on their behaviour? Did the evidence influence their judgement at all? Did it, hell.

Even after it was clear that the athletes were innocent, 87 faculty members published a letter categorically rejecting calls to recant their condemnation. And one professor, proving that some academics are as far beyond parody as they are beneath contempt, offered a course called “Hooking up at Duke” that purported to illustrate what the lacrosse scandals tell us about “power, difference and raced, classed, gendered and sexed normativity in the US.”

Undoubtedly, if pressed they would respond, like Charles Enderlin to the charge that the al-Durah footage was faked, that even if it was, "the image corresponded to the reality of the situation" and therefore was justified. You see, lies for the Greater Good aren't lies, they're an instance of l'engagement.

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Drama at the Appeals Court in Paris

From Nidra Poller at PJM.

The judges return and report their decision on the question in suspense. The expertise. The raw footage. They want it. They will not go forward until they have seen it. Maître Amblard drops her pencil. She is sincerely stunned.

Finally she mutters, “If the court orders my client to produce the footage…of course…but I don’t know where it is.”

Karesenty wants Sarkozy in on it.

“France 2 is owned by the French state, which is headed by Sarkozy. He has the power to ask for those images, and have them scrutinized by experts around the world. I now call on Sarkozy to ask for the footage… it’s time for French president to tell the truth,” Karsenty declared.

France2 have until the 3rd of October to hand it over, with the next hearing, and the viewing, scheduled for the 14th Of November.

There's more at Augean Stables.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hunting Al Qaeda 3

Michael Yon's posts are notable in that they are grounded in the reality they describe, rich in detail and clear. Part 3 of Hunting Al Qaeda has the first two attributes, but does not leave you with a neat picture. There's a good reason for this: it narrates a battle, one that, like so many in that environment, springs upon him after hours of heat-tortured tedium. It's absolutely gripping.

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Al-Durah at the Appeals Court

Philippe Karsenty's appeal will be heard tomorrow in the Appeals Court at the Palais de Justice, Paris. If you're not familiar with the al-Durah affair, Nidra Poller gives the background, as I do here.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children by David Harsanyi.

I'm not going to read it, but the title is great.

Al-Durah - The petition

As I posted earlier this month, Richard Landes has organised a petition to France2 appealing for the release of the complete al-Durah rushes (4382 signatories). He now has back-up from the Israeli army, who have finally asked to see the film themselves.

Landes has also put up a translation of an interview with two French journalists, Denis Jeambar, head of L’Express, and Daniel Leconte. They number among the very few people to have seen the rushes, which were shown to them at the France2 offices with the company brass present. the interview is long, but confirms what Landes has always claimed and defended: that there are, at the very least, a lot of basic questions to be answered about the al-Durah film.

Curiously, the two journalists, who were conducting an investigation into the whole affair at the time, have since then remained silent.

Hunting Al Qaeda 2

The second part of Michael Yon's Hunting Al Qaeda is up. Heat, ripe fruit and a fight. Plus how to treat other people's property.

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Memorable Scientific Delusions

A selection by Samuel Aldrich and Jay Lehr in their article "Real Scientists vs. Media Darlings". This all involve the readiness to believe that the end is nigher than we vain mortals want to think.

Butterfly expert Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book The Population Bomb foisted him into public view with his utterly false predictions that the battle to feed humanity was over and that 10 million children would starve annually by the end of the 1970s.

Dr. Ernest Sternglass predicted in 1969 that all children in the United States would perish from the fallout of our nuclear tests.

Carl Sagan predicted a nuclear winter and that the early 1990s Kuwait oil fires would have a permanent affect on world climate.

Barry Commoner predicted the "virtual death of marine life" in rivers by 1980 due to zero oxygen levels caused by pollution from fertilizers.

Samuel Epstein alleged a prominent herbicide caused cancer and industrial pollution was creating an epidemic of cancer. These allegations were rejected by real science, but in the interim they made Epstein very famous.

Irving Selikoff, whose opinions served as a basis for Environmental Protection Agency standards on asbestos, predicted 40,000 deaths per year from asbestos from 1967 to 1977. The actual number was 522 worldwide.

In 1976 Stephen Schneider supported the view that the Earth was entering a little ice age. Now he is a leading proponent of the theory of global warming.

They finish with a nice one from Jacques Cousteau.

After a speech to UCLA students, a young reporter by the name of Dana Rohrabacher, who happened to be a scuba diver, asked Cousteau if he wasn't being too pessimistic about the difficulty of obtaining fish, clams, oysters, and lobsters from the oceans in the future. Cousteau came up to his face and said, "Did you not hear me? Within 10 years the oceans will be black goo, totally dead, destroyed. The oceans will be lifeless."

Nonsense. But all in a good cause. Right?

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Apocalypse-induced Goodness

I enjoy as much as anyone poking fun at PC and environmental extravaganzas (see the post below). I really believe that PC is as much a sign of our civilisational malaise as of our respect for Rights. Likewise, the new triumphant Environmentalism is hysterical and the cry of frightened children for Big Daddy Government to occupy every space, including and especially the private one.

Nevertheless, I can see some point in both. Political Correctness may fill the yawning gap left by the departure of good manners, and become a useful social hypocrisy. The new environmentalism may stimulate the development of far more efficient technology and liberate us from our petro-bondage to wacky regimes.

Frank Ferudi sees the latter, at least, as filling a far deeper need. He goes back to the foundation of capitalism on a transcendental religious creed and the promise to defeat scarcity. The victory was won, but capitalism has never been able to furnish a replacement for the moral system that it abandoned as it walked away from the battlefield. He cites Jurgen Habermas:

Habermas wrote of a ‘self-defeating process’, where the more that the influence of classical morality diminishes, the more that economic and hedonistic satisfaction come to be seen as significant. Yet this tendency for replacing traditional morality with ‘consumable values’ ends up undermining morality further still. The cumulative impact, according to Habermas, is the steady erosion of the traditional moral values that gave meaning and motivation to behaviour in capitalist society. He warned that the ‘remains of pre-bourgeois traditions, in which civil and familial-vocational privatism are embedded, are being non-renewably dismantled’.

(Only a German could put it like that. But the point is a good one.) We're living on resources that not only cannot be renewed, but ran out some time ago. (OK. That's just as bad, but you get the point, doncha?) Environmentalism is a puritan response to a socially corrosive hedonism. It seeks to make up the 'meaning shortfall' by positing the Apocalypse as a ... restraining influence.

That makes sense, and does account for the religious fervour of its acolytes. Does it matter that its 'superstructure' is spurious? Well, it matters to me, but that's neither here nor there. Will it have the lasting power of the Church of Scientology? It well may. It attracts the same sort of people.

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At a meeting of the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People held in the European Parliament. It sounds like a conference dedicated to enacting Blair's Law. It is.

Clare Short

Israel "undermines the international community's reaction to global warming" by distracting "the world from the real problem: man-made climate change".

Isn't that marvellous? The world's going to be destroyed because of ... the Jews. So determined to wreak havoc, those little devils!

Running out of options


Germany...notified its allies last week that the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to support the imposition of any further sanctions against Iran that could be imposed by the U.N. Security Council...[It] left most Bush administration principals concluding that sanctions are dead.


Kouchner said there was "no greater crisis today" than that over Teheran's developing nuclear programme.

"We will not accept that this (nuclear) bomb will be built," he declared, for this would represent "a real danger for the entire world."

Interviewed on French television about Iran late Sunday, Kouchner said, "We must prepare for the worst." Asked what the worst was, he replied, "It is war."


Ahmadinejad further promised to place Iran's nuclear technology "at the service of those who are determined to confront the bullying powers and aggressors [i.e., the Western countries, headed by the U.S.]..."
"[The] history of the West, he said, had reached its end, and the appearance of the Hidden Imam, heralding the era of Islamic Shi'ite rule, was nigh."

If sanctions cannot be imposed and enforced, and Iran is intent on going ahead, either France, Britain and the US back down and accept it, or ... they don't. It's looking more and more like somebody's going to have to ... call the Israelis.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who worries more?

The Guardian is terribly worried that the IAF attack on Syria was a rehearsal for one on Iran. It reports claims that the target was North Korean nuclear material on its way to Iran, and comments

Underlying all the accusations was a suggestion that recalled the bogus intelligence claims that led to the war against Iraq: that the three countries might be collaborating to supply an unconventional weapon to Hizbollah.

Note that, without knowing what the target was or anything concrete about the raid, The Guardian is already sure that any such intelligence will be "bogus".

Tigerhawk has a more nuanced interpretation that actually accounts for what little we know has happened and also for what has not.

[The raid's] purpose was to interdict and communicate. Military action is its own idiom, especially when accompanied by leaks from the unleaky and silence from the places that usually erupt in indignation and rage.

Yes, Israel has demonstrated that it can penetrate Syrian, and therefore Iranian, air defenses. If the mullahs were confused on that point, perhaps because the military in any authoritarian system is prone to optimism, they are no longer. That is a handy bit of information for the mullahs to have. Let's hope they put it to good use.

Second, the Turks have sent a message. How is it that a Kuwaiti paper reported the involvement of the Turks? That news was not broken by an investigative journalist, it was leaked. Turkey, or at least its virulently anti-Islamist military, wanted Syria and Iran to know that it will not stand by passively while they assemble arsenals of the world's most dangerous weapons.

Finally -- and this is the really loud message -- the Arab world, taken as a whole, has responded with... silence. No other Arab government complained about the raid, forcing Syria to take its protest to the United Nations alone. No mobs poured into the famous "Arab street," no flags were burned, no cars torched, and no "rage boys" screamed into television cameras. The message to Syria and Iran could not have been more clear: The Arabs are far more worried about Iran and its satellites than they are about Israel.
[His emphasis]

It is this last point that I think is the most interesting. The Guardian doesn't feel threatened by Iran; this may have to do with geography or with political inclination. Whatever. The rest of the Middle East, however much they might dislike the Americans and the Israelis, know who and what is really the impending menace.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007


Gerard Baker in The Times

It is helpful to think about Iraq this way. Imagine if the US had never been there; and that this sectarian strife had broken out in any case – as, one day it surely would, given the hatreds engendered by a thousand years of Muslim history and the efforts of Saddam Hussein.

What would we in the West think about it? What would we think of as our responsibilities? There would be some who would want to wash their hands of it. There would be others who would think that UN resolutions and diplomatic initiatives would be enough to salve our consciences if not to stop the slaughter.

But many of us surely would think we should do something about it – as we did in the Balkans more than a decade ago – and as, infamously, we failed to do in Africa at the same time. And we would know that, for all our high ideals and our soaring rhetoric, there would be only one country with the historical commitment to make massive sacrifices in the defence of the lives and liberty of others, the leadership to mobilise efforts to relieve the suffering and, above all, the economic and military wherewithal to make it happen.

I acknowledge that humanitarian concerns were not uppermost on the minds of Bush and Blair in 2003, and nor will they be now. Nevertheless, those concerns are still not only relevant, but may have a huge impact on the future.

(Thank you, Ninme)

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Libertarian Europe

What do you know!?

[The town of Bohmte in the German state of Lower Saxony] is getting rid of its road signs in a bid to cut accidents...According to the concept, road users have to negotiate their behavior with each other, rather than have it prescribed by rules -- the idea being that people will pay more attention to what other road users are doing and hence cause fewer accidents.

I'd heard of this concept before. It's developed by the Dutch traffic expert Hans Monderman, and Mark Steyn refers to it in America Alone (p186-7) as part of his argument against relying on the Authorities for our major (or any) decisions. In this specific passage, he's contrasting the reactions of the passengers on United Flight 93 and those of the other victims, who followed the rules laid down by the state.

The biggest surprise for me in this news about Bohmte is that the project is supported and part-financed by the European Union. It's already been adopted by Drachten in the Netherlands, and in Christianfield in Denmark, and other towns are looking into it. I wonder what the volume limits are - I would expect pretty severe and that there's little chance of it being implemented in this crowded corner of our crowded island.

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9/11. Bush or bin Laden? Vote now

In 1986, I returned to Australia for a brief visit with my wife. One evening we happened to catch a 60 Minutes special on the Lindy Chamberlain case. If I'm not mistaken, there was a new appeal pending. As I remembered it, 60 Minutes had been regarded at the time I left Australia as a serious news and investigative program. I recall little of their coverage of the Chamberlain case, but I do recall how the program ended. They asked viewers to phone in - to give their judgement: innocent or guilty. I was just surprised; my wife was outraged, and brings it up to this day.

The Germans have gone one better. ZDF public television network has screened a tendentious documentary on 9/11 and then conducted a poll on its web site asking the public who was behind 9/11: Osama bin Laden or the US government plus a couple of other options?

The results?

Twenty-five percent thought it was George Bush; another 25 percent blamed the US government; 15 percent thought it was the gun lobby's doing; 27 percent voted for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and 6 percent had no opinion.

[I know. That adds up to 98%. Don't ask me. Ask Der Spiegel or ZDF]

I'm amazed that they didn't offer Mossad as one of the options. Or would that have made it all a foregone conclusion? I sometimes think that it would be better if people just didn't express themselves at all.

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Back to IT

I signal this review of the book IT by Joseph Roach only as a pretext for spreading the word about another book.

The subject of Roach's book is that “secular magic”, or charisma, that few have and the rest of us are drawn by. He traces it back to post-Restoration England after the long yawn of the Puritan ascendency. I've got no idea about that, but the origin of the coinage is here given as Elinor Glyn, whose book It and Other Stories was published in 1927, though according to this site, IT dates back to her novel, The Man and the Moment.

In fact, the inventor of IT was that hoary of man of Empire, Rudyard Kipling. He did it in one of his most technically brilliant stories, Mrs Bathurst, published in 1904 in the collection Traffics and Discoveries.

I won't try to retell the tale; even the original is difficult enough to grasp, like capturing champaigne bubbles. Suffice to say that it involves the crazed pursuit of a man, Vickery, after a woman, Mrs Bathurst. It is not conventionally heroic. We are distanced from Vickery's story in that it is told within another, which is itself within the framing narrative. I think this is Kipling's way of putting into literary structure the impossibility of knowing what's going on in another person's head. Yet the attempt to know is worth the effort; he attaches with a stroke here and there an aura of tragic grandeur to this man we barely glimpse.

The source of this grandeur is, in part, Mrs Bathurst herself. Here is the main passage about her, and the origin of IT.

Said Pyscroft suddenly:
'How many women have you been intimate with all over the world, Pritch?'
Pritchard blushed plum-colour to the short hairs of his seventeen-inch neck.
''Undreds,' said Pyecroft. 'So've I. How many of 'em can you remember in your own mind, settin' aside the first - an' per'aps the last - an' one more?'
'Few, wonderful few, now I tax myself,' said Sergeant Pritchard relievedly.
'An' how many times might you 'av been at Auckland?'
'One - two,' he began - 'why, I can't make it more than three times in ten years. But I can remember every time that I ever saw Mrs B.'
'So can I - an' I've only ever been to Auckland twice - how she stood an' what she was sayin' and what she looked like. That's the secret. 'Tisn't beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It's just It. Some women'll stay in a man's memory if they once walk down a street, but most of 'em you can live with a month on end, an' next commission you'd be put to it to certify whether they talked in their sleep or not, as one might say.'
'Ah!' said Hooper. 'That's more the idea. I've known just two women of that nature.'
'An' it was no fault o' theirs?' asked Pritchard.
'None whatever. I know that!'
'An if a man gets stuck with that kind of woman, Mr Hooper?' Pritchard went on.
'He goes crazy - or just saves himself' was the slow answer.
[I added the bold. Italics as in original]

Wonderful story. Read it at least three times.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Let's not make it worse

This editorial from The Economist supports continued American presence in Iraq while calling it a choice between "the disastrous and the unpalatable". It is not hard to guess that the reason given is that withdrawal would lead to worse violence than there is now. They acknowledge that it might already be too late, that American soldiers may well be dying to no good purpose, that Iraq may be too far down the road of scission. However, they say, "it is not possible to be sure of that yet".

This is by no means a dispicable argument. In a position of ignorance, you weigh up the probabilities and come to the conclusion that the least worst, for the moment, is to hold the course.

Yet the editorial's field of reference is curiously narrow: Iraq and American public opinion (plus that dubious BBC/ABC poll). They do not consider the effect of precipitate American withdrawal in the broader landscape of world order. If the one sherrif/policeman in town goes down to the outlaws, the dictator-wannabes, if Jihadists world-wide can celebrate a victory, then we will all suffer.

Not only that, but to leave one of the world's most important sources of petroleum in the hands of whoever can get their hands on them would be the height of irresponsibility. The original idea was that a working democracy in Iraq would shake up the stultifying and disaffected states of the Middle East. It would have. But if that's no longer possible, then leaving Iraq in chaos would shake them up even more, and not in a way that we, or they, would welcome. The first target of the Jihadists is the Arab states; we only come second. If we can't make the Middle East better, let's not make it even worse. Give Petreaus a chance.

Having said all this, there does remain a Big Question: what is the end game we are fighting towards? What is the best possible result, for Iraqis and for us? What is the strategy geared to work towards? Questions posed here at the Small Wars Journal, and ones I don't know the answer to.

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Secular for the moment

The Economist review of A Secular Age by Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher, includes this paragraph.

In some secularist accounts, he [Taylor] notes, religion is presented as an odd, temporary delusion into which mankind was unfortunate enough to fall for a brief moment. Once science had proved the falsehood of religious statements about the origins of the world, man could “revert” to a more “natural” way of thinking.

Before we get to the 'but', a word about such a view of religion. It is, shall we say, an unhealthy way to see things because it means looking down on those who have preceded us (and who live among and beside us), a huge majority of whom were believers. For my part, I cannot believe that I am more attuned to reality than Dante, Milton, Newton and countless others, or even that this part of their intelligence was merely a peccadillo that can be separated from everything else they did or thought. A view that regards as foolish 95% of the people who have lived and are living just can't be right (especially when the remaining percentage is intent on not reproducing).

The review continues.

Mr Taylor argues that a secular, scientific way of thinking is also a sort of existential choice, a particular moment in human development rather than a “natural” state of affairs.

Now, I'm not really sure what the reviewer, or Taylor, means here. If he (or they) means that science is just another view of the world on a par with any other, then I really must part company with them. Science differs enormously from most (all other?) views of the world in these ways:
1. It is not a set of beliefs; it is a method of acquiring information
2. That method is shareable. It is not bound by one culture, or one view of the world. What X does in America, Y can do in China or Azerbaijan and get the same results.

These two aspects of science differentiate it from belief systems; it's a completely different type of knowledge. It's not the only type of knowledge, but it is unique in its shareability and its demonstrable efficacy in its own field of reference.

Having said that, the view that the "secular, scientific way of thinking" is the only way is indeed a product of our time, I would say. In this way. Thanks to this 'method of seeing', we can see the world as one place bound by a 'single' set of rules; we can, literally and figuratively, look down on the world. Once we go seriously and in numbers out of this small circle into a space that is more vast than any of us can possibly imagine, I predict that religious feeling will once again become 'normal', if for no other reason than the impact of our smallness. 

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Let there be

People who claim to have found The Key that will unlock all mysteries are generally deserving figures of fun. From Casaubon (in George Eliot's Middlemarch) to the conspiracy theorists, from Communism to The Da Vinci Code and the Jihadists, those with The Answer are foolish, dangerous and often very funny. Yet their outlandish beliefs and practices are merely the surface manifestation of a faith in the unity of things. This article of faith has not only dominated human history, but is implicit in Science, where is it allied to a second: that human reason is capable of understanding this unity.

One rather beautiful example of this is that of the origin of the universe and of life, here briefly expounded by Gottfried Schatz. In just over a thousand words, he follows a beam of light from the Big Bang to the black dragon fish 1,000 metres below the surface of the sea. It's like a prayer.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thinking things through

Frank J. thinks.

I remember that back in the 80s when I was but a wee child there were a people called Communists. They were very bad, but we also had Rambo and he killed them. Thus we felt safe and happy and would say, "Yea, though there be Communists, verily there is John Rambo to kill them. Things are well in the world."

Then he continues thinking, and comes to some conclusions. Frank J. also writes books, it seems. Two of them are called "The Police Should Arrest Criminals" and "Tax Collectors Should Collect Taxes (Or, Preferably, Drop Dead)".

(via Instapundit)

Commonality of interests

Michael Yon gets ready to patrol with Alpha Company 1-12 Cav and members of the 1920 Revolution Brigades.

A few months ago we called them terrorists. Today we call them Concerned Local Nationals. When we were in a good mood, we used to call them illegal or rogue militias. Now we call them Neighborhood Watches, or in this case, “Baqubah Guardians.” It’s truly working well.

Why is it working well? Commonality of interests. That's good. It means they're pragmatic, non ideological. The Americans are not devils; they may be useful or they may be an impediment. At the moment, they are useful.

They want to kick us out of Iraq and shape their own futures with their own hands, but al Qaeda and others were stealing that chance. And so the 1920s reached out to Americans. Their end goal still includes getting us ushered out the door: something they are clear about. This means we have further common interests; we want to walk out that door just as fervently, but we don’t want to watch the house full of kids burn down behind us when we leave. Neither do they.

He visits a potato chip factory and sees why the insurgents/AQI used to have some support. As usual, the photos are great.

Also, more photos of Fallujah by Bill Ardolino.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Bill Ardolino has an interview at Long War Journal with a Fallujan man now working for the Americans as an interpreter. Nothing earth-shaking, but worth looking at because it reinforces something I've been picking up a lot recently, a small but important part of the big narrative that so many wish to ignore.

INDC: Right. And so when al Qaeda came in, and by “al Qaeda” I really mean all of the outside jihadists, the Fallujans welcomed them to help fight the Americans?

Leo: Yes, because the first mission in Fallujah, Americans could not communicate with the Fallujans correctly, and they didn’t understand the nature of the people. [Fallujans] are good people, they work within the rules of their culture and they stick with them. So, Americans came from another culture overseas, they didn’t understand the people, they didn’t talk to them at the right time, so you [wonder], what happened to the American mind, [with] how they communicate with the people right now. Why didn’t they do the same thing before? So it is not all the Fallujans' fault, Americans [have responsibility].
I like that "so you [wonder], what happened to the American mind". It fits in to the narrative that Petreaus has been recounting to the deaf. The Americans made mistakes early on because they didn't understand the people they were dealing with. Three years of mistakes. But they learned (much to the amazement of Leo, it seems). And that explains a lot.

Great fake

Not usually in my line, this one, but it's a world-famous fake that I'd never heard of. Mark Erickson, a Momma's boy with a ready smile and so pleased to be able to help, guides you to the easter egg that opens up GoogleTV Beta. He's excellent.

It's from a pcworld page of Ten Great (but Fake) Tech and Science Videos. The Bulletproof Stroller is also highly recommended. There are also some game spoofs that are hieroglyphs to me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More from Iraq

Bill at the In Iraq Journal is in Fallujah watching the marines at work. They're not firing; they're hiring. Among the people they're hiring are neighborhood watchmen. One of them had this to say:

When things started and the [initial] invasion came to Fallujah, we said, 'It's OK for civilians to [take up arms] and fight the invasion and throw [the Americans] out from Fallujah.' We said, 'OK, they are the enemy and that's our friend.' But things were confused, and the enemy has become the friend and the friend became the enemy."

Once Ramadi was "another Fallujah"; now Fallujah is "another Ramadi". Home of the famous Awakening, that is where Michael Totten is. He went there to photograph the destruction. He says it's even worse than it looks in his photos.

He also tells this story, one that in any film will have to be the 'turning point'.

“One night,” Lieutenant Markham said, “after several young people were beheaded by Al Qaeda, the mosques in the city went crazy. The imams screamed jihad from the loudspeakers. We went to the roof of the outpost and braced for a major assault. Our interpreter joined us. Hold on, he said. They aren’t screaming jihad against us. They are screaming jihad against the insurgents."

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Listen for what you want to hear

The BBC this evening (PM and the 6 O'clock News) seemed to think it was all done and dusted - this is the beginning of the end (of the disgraceful war started by those disgraceful Americans). They seemed to think that their point was backed up by the only live voices they played (all sceptical), but personally I couldn't work out how a few people letting loose their frustrations before the world's media really makes that much difference.

Better listen to those who know. Michael Yon at National Review takes no position on the Petreaus Report, but has a few pointers on whom you should speak to if you want to know what's going on. It turns out to be Iraqis and battalion commanders, and he explains why here.

I don't think that the BBC talks to the same people that Michael Yon does. (Could it be a question of class?) Mike at the Monkey Tennis Centre has some questions about the poll conducted by the corporation and released (strangely enough) just before Petreaus' appearance before Congress. Its message: it's all a failure. He has some questions about this poll. For instance,

[W]hile 60% (of Iraqis) apparently see attacks on US-led forces as justified, only 47% want them to leave immediately. So does this mean that 13% want US troops to stay just because they like to see them getting attacked?

Back to Michael Yon, I missed Part 4 of his Ghosts of Anbar. It's actually mostly photos and extracts from the COIN Field Manual. Not as rewarding as many of his posts, though the photos are great.

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Another type of Muslim anger

The Committee for Ex-Muslims is launched today in the Netherlands. The choice of day is deliberate.

Its founder, Ehsan Jami, says it's a question of the right to choose.

In Islam you are born Muslim. You do not even choose to be Muslim. We want that to change, so that people are free to choose who they want to be and what they want to believe in.

His stance has made life difficult for him in his own Labour Party, which has a lot of support among Muslims, but has not cleared a place for him on the right either. The Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders wants the Koran to be banned, a position that seems a little at variance with the name of the party.

Many accuse people like Ehsan Jami, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Mina Ahadi (the founder of a similar organisation in Germany) of making things worse, of hardening the battle lines, of polarising opinion. But, as much as the reformers from within Islam, they are necessary. They merely want the choice that the rest of us have, and are clearing the path for others.

Surely, the desirable end point is that a person's identity is not decided only by the religion they were born into. If I say that I was born and brought up a Catholic, what does that enable you to deduce about me? Very litle. It should be the same for Muslims.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Fat is a contagious disease

Burt Prelutsky describes a study

conducted by Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard Medical School and James H. Fowler of UC San Diego which suggested that obesity often spreads through a social network, a pattern of contagion usually associated with such diseases as influenza and AIDS.

Instead of transmitting germs, though, these folks infected each other with their perceptions of weight. For example, a man attending a family reunion notices that his brother has gained weight since last Christmas and concludes that it’s okay to be heavy.

It's clear. Fatness, like smoking, is a social evil. All thin people that know fat ones are prone to secondary fatness. The government has no choice. All fat people, unless they've got no friends, should be banned from public places.