Archive:

August 2006, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



"Good Old-Fashioned Police Work"  That's what senate candidate Ned Lamont credited for breaking the terrorist plot in Britain.

If this story is true, then some of the police work may indeed have been old-fashioned, but might not meet Lamont's definition of "good".
Reports from Pakistan suggest that much of the intelligence that led to the raids came from that country and that some of it may have been obtained in ways entirely unacceptable here.  In particular Rashid Rauf, a British citizen said to be a prime source of information leading to last week's arrests, has been held without access to full consular or legal assistance.  Disturbing reports in Pakistani papers that he had "broken" under interrogation have been echoed by local human rights bodies. The Guardian has quoted one, Asma Jehangir, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who has no doubt about the meaning of broken.  "I don't deduce, I know — torture," she said. "There is simply no doubt about that, no doubt at all."
The story may not be true, but there is nothing implausible about it.  Although it is only fair to add that not all of us would necessarily agree with the Guardian's definition of torture.

Be interesting to know what Lamont thinks about this possibility.

(Incidentally, the Lamont quote comes from a CNN interview with Chuck Roberts.  The CNN anchor had said, in an earlier show, that "some are calling Ned Lamont the Al Qaeda candidate".  Roberts asked Lamont to come in so that he could apologize for saying that.

Was Roberts wrong to put things that way?  Well, he was telling the truth; some are saying that Lamont is the Al Qaeda candidate.  But I would have said it a little differently.  Perhaps something like this: "Some are saying Lamont's victory made Al Qaeda happy."  And I am certain that, to the extent that the leaders of Al Qaeda pay attention to American primaries, it did make them happy (though they may be wrong to be happy).

As you can imagine, the leftists on the net are not pleased by the Roberts line — because, I suppose, it contains some truth.)
- 1:57 PM, 16 August 2006   [link]


Ali On The Unending War:  Yesterday on the Michael Medved show, a caller named "Ali" illustrated my claim that some (but not all, not even most) Muslims think that the war between Muslims and Christians has never ended.

Ali said that he was from Somalia, that he had lived in the United States for twelve years, that he had been treated well by individual Americans — and that he thought that America was waging war on Muslims.  Ali came to that conclusion though he had treated well and may have owed his life to the United States, since most Somalis here are refugees, many with well-founded claims to be in danger of being killed if they were to return to Somalia.

Despite that (and the rescues of Muslim populations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kuwait, Iraq, and the attempted rescue of the Muslims in Somalia), Ali believes that the United States is waging war on Muslims.   And he seemed to believe that this state of war was only natural, only what one would expect when two different religions contact each other.  For him, this was just the latest chapter in a story that began near the end of Mohammed's life.

Ali also said that he had come to this conclusion after coming to the United States, that he hadn't thought much about the matter before then.  (Incidentally, his call makes still another argument for watching what is being said in local mosques.  I don't know whether we are, but we should be.)  So he came here, found a richer, safer life than he had ever known — and turned against us because he was given arguments that made sense to him, as a Muslim.

Is there any chance that Ali, and others like him, would change their minds?  Some, I suppose, but we should not be be unduly optimistic.  In their picture of the world, the idea that Islam is at war with others is so central, so fundamental, that any opposing views are unlikely to make even the smallest dent in their convictions.

(Caveat:  Of course anyone can call in to a talk show and claim to be someone they are not.   But I heard nothing in the call that would make me doubt that Ali was what he claimed, and that he believed what he said he believed.)
- 1:17 PM, 16 August 2006   [link]


What Can Cell Phones be Used For?  Charles Johnson has a picture.

Though the main reason that terrorists and criminals use them is to avoid surveillance, which explains why throw away cell phones are so popular among both groups.
- 9:18 AM, 15 August 2006   [link]


Worth Reading:  A positive story on two Iraqi War veterans — who are now trying out for the Temple football team.  Marcques Henderson and Terry Hill have encountered the bad.
More than anything, Marcques Henderson remembers the smell.  Seeing and hearing the images of war, no matter how graphic, is one thing.  But until you experience it for yourself, and really inhale it into your being, you have no idea.  For Henderson, it is something that will never go away, for as long as he breathes.

It's the stench of death.

"You can't describe that," he says.  "You expect the sights. When you go into that situation, you know you could die today, or the brother right next to you.  But the smell, there's nothing in the world that can prepare you for that. Bodies, flesh.  It's a different culture when you're there.  You think you're ready for just about anything, but that's something that stays with you forever."
And the good.
"We were near the Iranian border," Hill recalls, "going through more mountainous [terrain], and we actually came upon this beautiful place with big fields and green grass.  And families were having picnics, all over.  We pulled up to one, and I mean the entire picnic must have been 50 or 60 people.  They all stood up and began to clap, cheer us and thank us.  They even invited us to come eat with them.

"To see that was extremely humbling.  It was almost like being at home, as far as feeling welcomed.
And to read about men like these two makes me feel humble.

(How did the reporter, Mike Kern, get away with doing a story this positive on Iraqi war veterans?   By doing it as a sports story.  And he does appear to be a sports reporter.)
- 2:15 PM, 14 August 2006   [link]


Camera Companies Are In Trouble:  And consumers will benefit.
That means that consumers are in for a treat of more features at lower prices, as camera makers constantly improve their wares.  "It's all a ridiculous affirmation of how capitalism increases selection for low price," says IDC's Chute.  Creative destruction, you might say; we'll see how many camera companies survive it.
(Do I plan to take advantage of this?  Some time.  I would like to have a digital SLR, but am waiting for a lower prices and a simpler model.  This Pentax, and this Olympus, are getting close, or at least closer, to what I want.

By the way, if you are interested in getting your first digital camera, you might consider my strategy:  Buy an inexpensive one now, planning to replace it in a year or so after you better understand what you want.)
- 1:42 PM, 14 August 2006   [link]


This Cynical Headline at the Washington Post web site probably has it about right: "Cease-Fire Takes Effect; More Fighting Expected".  This cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel is, at best, an interlude.

(Here's the main article the headline refers to.  You'll note that the article has a slightly less cynical headline of its own: "Mideast Cease-Fire In Effect Amid Skirmishes".)
- 10:43 AM, 14 August 2006   [link]


More On What To Call Our Enemies:  Journalist and scholar Stephen Morris says that our enemies are fascists.
For the danger comes from what one would have hoped were the socially integrated children of Muslim immigrants, millions of whom have settled in western Europe and hundreds of thousands in Australia.   Instead, a small but potent minority of this second generation has embraced a totalitarian temptation that George W. Bush, following numerous liberal Western analysts, has correctly identified as Islamic fascism.
British journalist Janet Daley agrees.
George W. Bush was pilloried for referring to "Islamic fascists" by, among others, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Using that kind of language "on the ranch in Texas" did not help, he said, to make society "a good, neighbourly place".

I don't know what the ranch in Texas has to do with anything, but Dr Sentamu seems not to understand the difference between describing Islamic fundamentalists as fascistic, and saying that all Muslims are fascists.
. . .
The word "fascism" means an extreme totalitarian system that suppresses human rights and democratic freedoms.

Islamic fundamentalism is fascistic in the precise, technical sense of the word.
The BBC was so shocked by Bush's phrase that they suppressed it, at least in their first try at the story.  (A later version was better.)

And Ed Thomas, of the Biased BBC, reminds us of Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, who was both Islamic and a strong supporter of Adolf Hitler.
. . . the Mufti of Jerusalem, was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and a Muslim religious leader.   Known for his anti-Zionism, al-Husayni fought against the establishment of a Jewish state in the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine.  To this end, Husayni collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II and helped recruit Muslims for the Waffen-SS.  Recent Nazi documents uncovered in German Minstry of Foreign Affairs and the Military Archive Service in Freiburg [1] by two researchers from Stuttgart University found that the Nazis had planned to exploit Arab friendship for their planned landing in Palestine and murdering of about 500,000 European Jews who had taken refuge there.
And the same Wikipedia article has this quotation from Yasser Arafat:
Were they able to replace our hero Hajj Amin al-Husseini?... There were a number of attempts to get rid of Hajj Amin, whom they considered an ally of the Nazis.  But even so, he lived in Cairo, and participated in the 1948 war, and I was one of his troops.
That should help you understand why I think it fair to describe Arafat's organization as fascist.  (Though some might prefer an even stronger term, pro-Nazi.)

(If you read yesterday's post, you would know that I do not agree with the definition that Daley gives, though it comes close to common usage, at least in some circles.  The description that Morris gives is closer to my own thinking, though not identical.

And, as I have before, I must add my caution that Western categories do not always fit other parts of the world well.)
- 7:49 AM, 14 August 2006
Still More:  William Shawcross agrees that "Islamic fascism" is the right phrase to describe our enemies.  And his impassioned argument that Europeans should face facts, however unpleasant, is one of the best I have seen.
In Europe the truth is so terrible that we are in denial.  Perhaps it is understandable.  We simply do not wish to face the fact that we really are threatened by a vast fifth column — that there are thousands of European—born people, in Britain, in France, in Holland, in Denmark, everywhere — who wish to destroy us.  They are part of a wider war, what Tony Blair rightly calls an "arc of extremism" — Islamist extremism.
And, as those who followed the Democratic primary in Connecticut know, it is not just Europeans who are in denial.
- 1:08 PM, 14 August 2006   [link]


Most Parents Think Their Babies Are Lovable:  Some parents have mixed feelings.  And a very few parents think their babies would be useful in smuggling explosives on to an airplane.
A husband and wife arrested in the British terror raids allegedly planned to take their six-month-old baby on a mid-air suicide mission.

Scotland Yard police are quizzing Abdula Ahmed Ali, 25, and his 23-year-old wife Cossor over suspicions they were to use their baby's bottle to hide a liquid bomb.
No reaction from the baby, of course.
- 5:48 AM, 14 August 2006   [link]


Islamic Fascists Or Islamists?  Or Neither?  Keith Burgess-Jackson argues that President Bush was wrong to use the first term to describe our terrorist enemies.
I can't think of a worse word for the people President Bush has in mind than "fascists."  The term "fascism" has both a particular and a generic meaning.  (It picks out an individual as well as a type of individual.)  It referred originally to the corporatist society of Benito Mussolini in Italy.  The word "corporatist" comes from the Latin "corpus," meaning body.  A corporation, in the broad sense, is a body—an organic, functioning thing, a social organism.  It is not a mere collection of members; it is a whole consisting of interrelated parts.  The parts are valuable only as, and only to the extent that, they contribute to the health of the whole.  Mussolini sought to create an organic state, where business firms, guilds, universities, the press, and other entities would function as one.
. . .
The reason it's inappropriate to describe Islamists as fascists is simple: They're not statists.  To Muslims, including that subset of Muslims I call Islamists (see below), a state is at best a temporary thing, performing certain administrative, organizational, or ideological tasks.  It has no independent significance, as it does in, say, the Christian tradition.
Is he right?  I would say it depends on which group he is talking about.  In my second post, I argued that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority could properly be called "fascist", but I would agree that Al Qaeda and Hezbollah should not be.  The Baath parties of Syria and Iraq, with their mix of Arab nationalism and socialism, have often been called fascist, and with good reason.  On the other hand, it would be an error to call the Wahabbis fascist.

So, for some of our enemies in the Middle East, fascist may be an appropriate adjective, but not for all.

And even for those groups that can be called fascist — without doing violence to the meaning of the word — I would add this caution:  We are trying to use a Western category in an area where Western categories do not always fit well.

What word should we use for our enemies?  That, too, depends.  Burgess-Jackson suggests "Islamist", but I think the word does not fit the Baathists, or the Palestinian authority.  For the groups where it does fit, such as Al Qaeda or Hezbollah, I prefer to add "radical", or something similar.  There are Islamists who believe they will win thorough demography without a war, or even through conversions; adding radical allows us to distinguish between those Islamists and the violent kind.

And I sometimes use "terrorist", though that describes the method rather than the beliefs, because it has become a common term for our enemies, who are almost all terrorists, though they differ in what they hope to achieve through their terror attacks.

(Was Bush's term wrong?  Not necessarily.  You would need to know more about what Bush was thinking before rejecting it.  It is true that fascists have traditionally been statists, but that is not all they have been.  Bush may have saying that these terrorists were combining elements of fascism with Islam.  And I must remind Burgess-Jackson that the Islamic caliphate — which Osama bin Laden wishes to restore — was a state as well as a theocracy.)
- 12:48 PM, 13 August 2006   [link]


"The Daily Practice Of Directed Shots":  Charles Johnson finds a powerful accusation about those "news" photographs coming from Lebanon.
. . . i have been witness to the daily practice of directed shots, one case where a group of wire photogs were choreographing the unearthing of bodies, directing emergency workers here and there, asking them to position bodies just so, even remove bodies that have already been put in graves so that they can photograph them in peoples arms.  these photographers have come away with powerful shots, that required no manipulation digitally, but instead, manipulation on a human level, and this itself is a bigger ethical problem.
Or at least it should be an ethical problem — but it isn't, not for the photographers who are creating these "news" photographs, or for the wire services that are transmitting them.
- 6:51 AM, 13 August 2006   [link]


Worth Understanding:  Nicholas Eberstadt's complete demolition of a widely used indicator, the United States poverty rate.
The official poverty rate is incapable of representing what it was devised to portray: namely, a constant level of absolute need in American society.  The biases and flaws in the poverty rate are so severe that it has depicted a great period of general improvements in living standards — three decades from 1973 onward — as a time of increasing prevalence of absolute poverty.  We would discard a statistical measure that claimed life expectancy was falling during a time of ever-increasing longevity, or one that asserted our national finances were balanced in a period of rising budget deficits.

Central as the "poverty rate" has become to antipoverty policy — or, more precisely, especially because of its central role in such policies — the official poverty rate should likewise be discarded in favor of a more accurate index, or set of indices, for describing material deprivation in modern America.
And the more we want to help the poor, the more we should want to develop those new indices.  A builder would not try to construct a house using a yardstick that changes as he uses it, but that is what we do when we try to devise policies using the official poverty rate.

(The article is worth reading in full if you are something of a policy geek — as I am.)
- 4:21 PM, 11 August 2006   [link]


If I Were To Call A French Canadian A Frog, it would be taken as an insult, as I understand it.  But the French Canadian owner of the Quebec City basketball team may name them the Jumping Frogs, and definitely plans to use a frog in his logo.  Here's his explanation:
In his 49 years, Quebec City economic adviser and entrepreneur Réal Bourassa has been called "frog" plenty of times, he said.

"I've heard sometimes, 'Hi, frog,' or 'Hi, froggie,' but it has never been an insult to me," he said from his home in Quebec.  "I feel good with the fact that maybe someone will say, 'You are not shy to be a frog.'  My answer will be ... 'I may be a frog, but I am proud to be a frog.'"  Mr. Bourassa purchased the team on March 31, 2004.  Immediately, he went to public-relations companies in search of a proper name and logo.

"I asked them, may I be not politically correct with my logo and my name?  But have something funny?" he said.
They suggested using a frog, but warned him of a possible backlash.

Will he get away with it?  Maybe.  Assuming the team wins.

(Did I deliberately put up something light after the previous grim post?  Yes, because we have to keep perspective in this long war, and humor will help us do that.)
- 1:36 PM, 11 August 2006   [link]


One Hundred Years Of (Mostly) Low Intensity Conflict:  As I have said more than once, for example here, I expect the war with Islamic terrorists to last a hundred years, or more.  I have held that opinion since long before the 9/11 attack, and everything I have seen since has given me more reason to believe that we face a very long struggle.

The fundamental reason for that is simple.  Religious wars are often long.  Think, for example, of the Thirty Years War, which devastated Germany between 1618 and 1648.  And that war can be seen as only a part of a much longer war between Protestants and Catholics.  (Though it did end as a more national and less religious conflict.)

And religious wars when at least one side is Islamic are often especially long.  Think, for example, of the Crusades, which continued, off and on, for about two centuries.  And the Crusades, like the Thirty Years War, can be seen as part of a much longer war, a war began by Mohammed's successors with their unprovoked attacks on the Byzantine Empire, beginning in 636, a war that for some Muslims has never ended.

And those long Islamic wars sometimes began with propaganda and low level conflicts.  Some famous Islamic dynasties have their origins in decades-long propaganda efforts (as we would now call them).  For example, the Fatimid dynasty claimed, among other things, to be descended from Mohammed's daughter, Fatima, long before they came to power anywhere.  And other Islamic dynasties had similar histories, with their accession to power being preceded by decades of propaganda and many minor attacks.  A Muslim who knew some of this history — and many do — would not be discouraged by a setback or two, or by a schedule for victory that might last a century or more.

The good, or I should say, the less bad, part of that prediction is that the conflict will be low intensity.  The 9/11 attack was horrific, but it does not compare in scope to to millions of men marching across a border, which we saw far too many times in the last century.

(Would it be possible to end the conflict more quickly with an enormous short term effort?  That isn't politically practical, and I am not sure it would succeed.  It would be far too easy for our enemies to simply lay low while we occupied their territories, and wait for us to tire of the effort.)

The current low intensity conflict might become high intensity if our enemies were to use an atomic weapon, or were to make a devastating biological or chemical attack.  It is hard to be certain about these things, but I would say that the odds are against them doing that, even if they could.  We are fighting, after all, a propaganda war and it would be hard even for radical Islamists to claim that such an attack would be just — after the fact, however much they bluster about it now.

Because this low intensity conflict will continue for many years, we must expect more attacks, even though we will succeed in detecting many, as we just did.  However much we might wish, in the words of the song, that we could "make the world go away", we can't.  We will better off in the long run if we face that grim fact, and prepare for a century long war.
- 1:16 PM, 11 August 2006
Steven Warshawsky disagrees with my conclusion that we necessarily face a long war.  As I said, I think that an enormous, World War II size effort is impossible politically (unless there is a nuclear attack on one of our cities, or something similar).  I also think that if we invaded the nations he wants us to invade (and he has quite a list), our Islamist enemies would just lie low until we went away.  And, of course, many of our enemies live among us.  I assume he is not suggesting that we invade, for example, Londonistan.  So those enemies would be untouched.
- 11:20 AM, 12 August 2006   [link]


Mail Problems:  My current internet provider is having problems with a mail server.  As a result, I have been unable to send emails for the last two days, though I can receive them.  I expect they will get this fixed some time today, and I will soon be able to send as well as receive.
- 5:54 AM, 11 August 2006   [link]


What We Know About The Latest Terrorist Plot:  Allah Pundit has a link-filled summary mostly from the British newspapers.

If you read the whole thing — and you should — you will probably be struck by two things.   The Independent, unlike most other news sources, believes that the terrorists intended to destroy the planes over American cities, presumably to cause even more civilian casualties.  Second, the plot seems to have been broken by using methods that the New York Times, and other American newspapers, have been doing their best to expose.
- 5:45 AM, 11 August 2006   [link]


Another Morning, another terrorist plot.
A major terrorist plot to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale by exploding up to nine aircraft in mid-flight between Britain and America has been thwarted, Scotland Yard announced this morning.

So far 21 suspects — believed to be British citizens, many of Pakistani origin — have been arrested in overnight raids in London, the Thames Valley and Birmingham, but police stressed that the huge, complex, security operation was still ongoing and that there may be further arrests.
. . .
Among the extra security measures announced by the Department of Transport was a ban on carrying any liquids on board, which prompted speculation that the plot might have involved either arson aboard a plane, or mixing two inert liquids to make an explosive chemical compound.
The Times of London gives us a hint at what might have motivated these would be bombers; since they are of "Pakistani origin", they just might be M******s, but no one in the "mainstream" media is going to say that out loud unless they have to.  (The BBC story buries the Pakistan connection near the end of their story.  They say that the "principal characters" are British-born, but then adds that: "There are also understood to be links to Pakistan.")

(If you want more, here's a useful timeline, and here's a Lorie Byrd post with many links.)
- 5:41 AM, 10 August 2006
To Be Fair, The New York Times did use the "M" word in their story.
- 7:53 AM, 10 August 2006   [link]


Want To Catch Up On The Fake Reuters Photos?  Then read this fine summary from "zombietime", who has done so many good photo essays of his own.  Here's the lead paragraph:
It's important to understand that there is not just a single fraudulent Reuters photograph, nor even only one kind of fraudulent photograph.  There are in fact dozens of photographs whose authenticity has been questioned, and they fall into four distinct categories.
After describing these four categories of fraud, he asks the same questions that I did in this post:  Why did the stringers send these photographs, and why did editors at Reuters accept them?  He gives four possible reasons, none of which I would disagree with.  In fact I have mentioned much the same reasons in my own post.  But he does not mention one reason that I am almost certain explains much of the behavior of the editors, the loss of skepticism that comes when journalists are chasing a big story, or looking for great photographs.

There's a phrase, common among journalists, that describes the problem.  A story (or picture) is said to be "too good to check".  The desire to be first with a hot story (or powerful photograph) causes an editor to set aside their usual skepticism.

That desire to publish a hot story helped convince editors at the Washington Post to publish a bogus story by Janet Cooke, a story that many at the Post doubted.  And then the Post dug themselves in deeper by nominating her for a Pulitzer Prize.  The publicity, after she won the prize, inspired some to check her claimed credentials — which were false.  And then the whole story unraveled and she lost her prize.  If editors at the Post had not wanted so much to publish this story, which was "too good to check", none of this would have happened.

And I think there is another factor at work.  Journalists love underdogs, and are willing to publish stories (or photos) the journalists think might help those underdogs, even if the stories are not, strictly speaking, true.  Since most journalists see the Hezbollah as the underdogs in this conflict, they automatically give stories (and pictures) that help Hezbollah the benefit of the doubt.

(There is another lesson we can learn about journalists from the Janet Cooke story.  Her big story, "Jimmy's World", was about an eight-year-old heroin addict, who was living in appalling conditions.  But Cooke, with the full support of the Post, refused to tell the police where "Jimmy" supposedly lived, in spite of the dangers to the little boy's health and life.  Most journalists believed this refusal was only good journalistic practice; most outside the "profession" thought it was both wicked and crazy.)
- 5:45 AM, 9 August 2006   [link]