July 2006, Part 3/font>
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth Reading: Fouad Ajami's take on Lebanon. I found these two paragraphs especially significant.
But Nasrallah was in the end just the Lebanese face of Hezbollah. Those who know the workings of the movement with intimacy believe that operational control is in the hands of Iranian agents, that Hezbollah is fully subservient to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The hope that Hezbollah would "go Lebanese," and "go local," was thus set aside. At any rate, Nasrallah and his lieutenants did not trust the new Lebanon to make the ample room that a country at war--and within the orbit of Syria--had hitherto made for them in the time of disorder. Though the Shiites had risen in Lebanon, there remains in them a great deal of brittleness, a sense of social inadequacy relative to the more privileged communities in the country.But you'll want to read the whole thing.
- 11:01 AM, 24 July 2006 [link]
After A War, the amount of physical damage doesn't matter much, but straight borders do. So says Austan Goolsbee.
The negligible long-term impact of war itself is rather startling but has been noted in numerous studies. The recent work of two economists at the University of California, Berkeley — Edward Miguel and Gérard Roland — for example, "The Long Run Impact of Bombing Vietnam," . . . , starts from the fact that some 10 percent of the 584 districts in Vietnam received nearly three-quarters of the total bomb tonnage. No matter how they sliced the data, they did not find that heavier bombing during the war corresponded with any major differences in poverty rates, access to electricity, literacy, population density or consumption in the 1990's and 2000's.Second:
In a new study, three economists — Alberto F. Alesina and Janina Matuszeski of Harvard University and William Easterly of New York University — document how important internal cohesion is for the health of a society.The first finding will not surprise anyone who has read Mancur Olson's The Rise and Decline of Nations. In fact, Olson argued that being destroyed in a war was often an advantage because a nation could start fresh, without all the barnacles that special interests had added over the years.
Nor would the second finding surprise anyone who has learned from Edmund Burke, especially from his writings on the French Revolution. Simplifying greatly, we could say that Burke believed that nations must adapt to new conditions, but that those adaptions should be based on the historical precedents as well as abstract principles — or arbitrary boundary lines.
That said, it is worth adding that there is a very large nation — the United States — that has many straight boundaries, both internally and externally. We had one great civil war (and avoided others earlier in our history), but have since been at peace internally. I don't want to get Professor Goolsbee in trouble with his colleagues, but perhaps there is something they could learn from the American experience. Or, if that is too radical an idea, from the Swiss experience. The Swiss are divided by language and religion. They even fought a small civil war in 1848, but since then have somehow managed to stay at peace with each other.
(For an amusing example of how irregular boundaries can also lead to war, or almost to war, see this account of the "Pig War".)
- 10:19 AM, 24 July 2006 [link]
"But Not In The South" When I saw this thoughtful post on regional differences, I immediately thought of Stephen Potter's famous ploy. (I'm not sure which book contains the ploy. Most likely One-Upmanship, but it might be in Gamesmanship, or even Lifemanship.)
The ploy is simple. Suppose someone is discoursing at length on another country, showing their apparent expertise. You wish to get one up on them, but don't know the country well. You do that by waiting for them to make a generalization about the country and then saying quietly: "But not in the south." By making this small "correction", you appear to be even better informed than the expert.
The ploy works — most of the time — because regional differences are nearly universal. And the south is a good region to choose because, in countries that extend very far from north to south, climate differences will produce differences in ways of living and, in time, in politics between the south and the rest of the country.
In other words, we should expect every nation above a certain size to have regional differences in politics — even if the nation has a homogenous population. And I hasten to add that I do not know of any substantial nation that has a homogenous population.
(If you haven't read it already, you'll want to look at Lexington Green's post for some examples of those regional differences. I had not known, for example, that the southern part of Brazil tried to secede in the 1930s.
Have I ever used any of Potter's ploys? Not often, but I did experiment with them in games years go, and I have used some of his ploys in conversations when I was seriously annoyed.)
- 7:47 AM, 24 July 2006 [link]
Should Religion Mix With Politics? The Swedes think so.
The leaders of all the major political parties in Sweden will be answering questions at the Swedish Mission Covenant Church in Köpingsvik on the Baltic Sea island. The political discussion is set to be interspersed with prayers and hymns. The congregation will be composed of the party faithful and the Christian faithful, and is expected to number between 600 and 2,000.I'd love to see what hymns American politicians chose at a similar event.
(In contrast, a Florida Democratic politician sending his son-in-law to meet with the Christian Family Coalition in Miami makes some Democrats positively nervous. And journalist Dan K. Thomasson believes that religious people may be seen in politics, but should not be heard.)
- 3:59 PM, 23 July 2006 [link]
Hezbollah Is A Creation Of Iran: So Says Amir Taheri, who knows more than most about the Iranian regime.
What are the links between Hezbollah and Iran? In 1982 Iran had almost no influence in Lebanon. The Lebanese Shi'ite bourgeoisie that had had close ties with Iran when it was ruled by the Shah was horrified by the advent of the clerics who created an Islamic republic.Where they created a remarkably successful tool.
Terror has been its principal weapon. Throughout the 1980s Hezbollah kidnapped more than 200 foreign nationals in Lebanon, most of them Americans or western Europeans (including Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy). It organised the hijacking of civilian aircraft and more or less pioneered the idea of suicide bombings against American and French targets, killing almost 1,000 people, including 241 US marines in Beirut and 58 French paratroopers.With that record of success, one can understand why they appear so confident
Whether or not Iran directly controls Hezbollah, as Taheri suggests, it seems almost certain that the Iranian regime is influential enough to veto major operations by the terrorist organization. Why then did Iran, at the very least, give Hezbollah the green light to escalate their war with Israel? Taheri blames Bush, in part.
Why has Tehran decided to play its Lebanese card now? Part of the answer lies in Washington's decision last May to reverse its policy towards Iran by offering large concessions on its nuclear programme. Tehran interpreted that as a sign of weakness. Ahmadinejad believes that his strategy to drive the "infidel" out of the Islamic heartland cannot succeed unless Arabs accept Iran's leadership.And that requires Iran leading a campaign against Israel. (We made that reversal, in large part, to satisfy our European allies — whose predictions about the consequences of their policies in Middle East have not always been correct.)
But if Hezbollah is crushed, then that campaign fails, and Iran loses prestige all through the Arab world.
Is Taheri's analysis correct? You would have to know more about Hezbollah than I do (or perhaps anyone outside that organization knows) to answer that question. But his analysis seems more plausible than most I have seen.
(Taheri has been charged with passing on a false story about Iranian plans for making religious minorities wear distinctive badges. You can find a short discusion of the controversy in his Wikipedia biography, and you can read his statement here. He's sticking to his story.
You can find more samples of his work — which I always find interesting — here, here, here, here, and here.
Finally, here's a contrasting view from a scholar who sympathizes with Hezbollah.)
- 3:15 PM, 23 July 2006 [link]
"Honor" Killings Are A Serious Problem In Britain, according to the Guardian.
Thousands of young women in Britain are living in fear of the "hidden scourge" of so-called honour killing, a conference of police, Home Office staff and victim support groups was told yesterday.And who commits those honor killings? The Guardian does not care to be specific, but calls them "Asian". When Americans hear "Asian", we usually think Japanese or Chinese; when Britons hear "Asian", they usually think Pakistani, or perhaps Indian. But given Asia's size, there are many more possibilities.
Which Asians does the Guardian mean? The writer, Martin Wainwright, give us a hint when he names the killers of that London businesswoman, Samaira Nazir. They are her brother, Azhar Nazir, and her cousin, Imran Mohammed. But their names and Azhar's occupation (greengrocer) are all that Wainwright tells us about the two men. Maybe I am just too suspicious, but I don't think the two are practicing Buddhists, and I don't think vegetable sellers are more likely to be murderers than the average person. If the Guardian knows more about the "Asians" committing honor killings, they ought to share that knowledge with their readers.
- 8:01 AM, 23 July 2006 [link]
Journalists And Nuclear Power: This meandering piece from last Sunday's New York Times shows why it will be difficult to revive the American nuclear industry.
Consider, for example, this confused paragraph:
For 30 years the debate has been defined by a perfect and almost maddening symmetry, not only in terms of opinion but also of facts. The answer to whether nuclear power is risky can be framed many ways, for instance: you can tally the number of injuries and deaths to citizens from U.S. nuclear plants (zero) or consider the potential number of injuries and deaths in a serious accident (many). Is nuclear power clean because it doesn't produce carbon? Or is it dirty because it produces radioactive waste? Is it very expensive? Or are the economics competitive over the long run, especially if fossil fuels are taxed for warming the planet?The reporter, Jon Gertner, concedes that there have been zero civilian deaths and injuries from commercial nuclear power plants in the last half century — but he is unsure whether they are safe. All right, if zero casualties over a half century doesn't convince him, what would? (Zero may not be literally true, but the toll is very close to zero, and far lower than the toll from the main alternative to nuclear power, coal.)
And that's not all that's wrong with the paragraph. It is true that there are tiny amounts of radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants. It is also true that there are tiny amounts of radioactive waste produced by coal plants. And the coal plants produce significant amounts of much more dangerous substances, particularly heavy metals such as lead. And these substances, unlike radioactive wastes, do not become less dangerous over time.
And it is true that costs soared for nuclear power plants back in the 1970s. But one reason those costs soared is that the opponents of nuclear power were able to delay so many of the plants. And when interest rates jumped, those delays became extraordinarily expensive. The opponents then began to argue that nuclear power was just too expensive.
You'll find more confusion all through the article. But you will never find something as essential as a comparison of nuclear power to other sources. As it happens, nuclear power is safer than most other forms of power generation. (Natural gas may be an exception, though I have not seen a recent study comparing the two.) And it is not the only form of power generation that might produce very large accidents. (If that point is obscure, imagine what would happen downstream from a large hydroelectric dam, if an earthquake (or something else) were to cause it to rupture. And it is not hard to think of other examples for other forms of power generation.)
Gertner talked to experts who, I am sure, understood these simple points. But, either he didn't pay attention to their answers, or he didn't ask them the right questions, because those simple facts do not appear in this long article.
Why didn't he ask the right questions? I am not sure, though I suspect one reason is that he also interviewed non-experts, or perhaps I should say, anti-experts, from organizations such as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists (which does not require its members to be scientists). And, as far as I can tell, he took their views seriously. Since their objections to nuclear power are, more often than not, essentially religious, these anti-experts will object to nuclear power regardless of the facts.
Unfortunately, this article is all too typical of the coverage of nuclear power. Very few reporters make that fundamental comparison of nuclear power to other sources. And nearly all of them give at least some credibility to Greenpeace, the UCS, and other dubious organizations.
(Wondering about the Chernobyl accident? Here's the Wikipedia article. The number of deaths was far lower than first feared — by official estimates.
And it is worth mentioning that nuclear power can be made still safer and cheaper. There are designs, such as the pebble bed reactors, that appear to have significant advantages in both cost and safety over the current designs.)
- 2:46 PM, 22 July 2006 [link]
Worth Reading: Claudia Rosett, who has owned this story, celebrates the first conviction in the UN oil for food scandal.
While the United Nations frames its next response to crisis in the Middle East, its last grand venture in that region--Oil for Food--has finally resulted in a guilty verdict in open court. Last Thursday, a high-rolling, globe-trotting South Korean businessman named Tongsun Park was convicted in the Southern District of New York of conspiracy to launder money and act as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.Rosett deserves a victory lap. She even deserves to say a little about how much she has done to cover this story, but apparently is too modest to boast.
(By contrast, our other major newspapers, definitely including the New York Times, have shown a lack of interest in this giant story that is downright distressing.)
- 12:06 PM, 21 July 2006 [link]
And Now, Off for a hike on Mt. Rainier, where it is supposed to be "Mostly sunny and warmer", but not as warm as it will get this weekend.
- 5:08 AM, 20 July 2006 [link]
Managers Or Computer Models? Sociologist Chris Snijders thinks that computer models are better than managers for many routine tasks.
The professor, Chris Snijders of the Eindhoven University of Technology, has been studying the routine decisions that managers make and is convinced that computer models, by and large, can do it better. He even issued a challenge late last year to any company willing to pit its humans against his computer models.This finding is consistent with many others.
Snijders's work builds on something researchers have known for decades: that mathematical models generally make more accurate predictions than humans do. Studies over the years have shown that models can better predict, for example, the success or failure of a business start-up, the likelihood of recidivism and parole violation, and performance in graduate school.Snijders believes that experience does not, in general, improve managers, that some actually become worse as they accumulate experience.
I, for one, will welcome our new computer overlords. All right, that was just too much fun not to include. But if I were to be serious, I would say that these computer models help us perform mental tasks in much the same way that more familiar machines help us perform physical tasks. You could, in principle, step through these computer models by yourself, just as you could, in principle, dig a large mine by yourself. In practice, you will nearly always be better off letting a machine do the dirty work.
I'll let you decide for yourself whether you want to share this article with a manager.
(One technique commonly used by managers, personal interviews, may be worse than useless.
Other cherished decision aids, like meeting in person and poring over dossiers, are of equally dubious value when it comes to making more accurate choices, some studies have found, with face-to-face interviews actually degrading the quality of an eventual decision.If, like me, you have missed a lot of popular culture, you may want to know the origin of that line about welcoming overlords. It was spoken by a journalist.)
- 3:40 PM, 19 July 2006 [link]
"No Ideological Agenda" The New York Observer catches the New York Times (and other important newspapers) not covering a big story:
The story had everything: secret agents, political intrigue, personal betrayal and cash. Lots and lots of cash.Why didn't the New York Times cover this story? They haven't really explained, but one editor did say this:
The New York Times' foreign editor, Susan Chira, said in an e-mail, "There is absolutely no ideological agenda about the coverage of the oil-for-food trial."Absolutely. Right, Ms. Chira. Of course. After all, just how important is corruption at the United Nations? It is not as if the UN were a golf course that doesn't allow women to be members.
(There's probably a Gilbert and Sullivan song that would be a perfect reply to Chira, but I am not familiar enough with their work to think of one off hand.)
- 3:00 PM, 19 July 2006 [link]
Here's good news.
A Jordanian who killed two U.S. soldiers last month was fatally wounded in a clash with security forces, a senior Iraqi official said Tuesday. Diyar Ismail Mahmoud, known as Abu al-Afghani, was identified as the killer of the two soldiers, National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie told reporters.I only regret that we couldn't have questioned him.
(Although the article doesn't say so, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this success came, directly or indirectly, from the intelligence we found after the strike on Zarqawi.)
- 5:58 AM, 19 July 2006 [link]
Is This Torture? Here's what sometimes happened to inmates at a well known American institution:
One of these penalties was the "bootbox"—being shoved, forcibly, doubled up, into a small locker, and being left there. Another, . . . was "pumping"— [they would] drag him quailing and shaking to a nearby lavatory, bend him face upward over a trough, and pour basins of water over his face and down his throat until he went through the sensations of drowning.The second sounds much like waterboarding. I have not checked, but I would not be surprised to learn that the the first is forbidden by the Geneva conventions. And the second has drawn criticism for decades.
They are both, as it happens, routine punishments inflicted on some younger boys at the Groton prep school while Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a student there. The punishments were inflicted by the older boys — with the permission of the faculty. I took that passage from one of the best known biographies of FDR, James MacGregor Burns' Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox.
Now, were these two treatments torture? Roosevelt didn't think so while he was a student there; in fact he approved of them heartily. But he may have been wrong. Or standards may have changed, some might argue, so that what was acceptable in 1896 may be torture in 2006. That's not my view, since I think standards should be universal, but I can understand why some might make that argument.
I agree with Roosevelt. In my opinion, the "bootbox" and "pumping" were not torture then and they would not be torture now — within limits.
But I would also say that the "bootbox" would, at some point, become torture and so would "pumping". And that illustrates a point I have made before. There is no clear line separating torture from Groton's hazing or from the aggressive interrogation of terrorists. And what makes it even worse is that the line is different for different people; a person with claustrophobia would suffer far more from the "bootbox" than others. And the same is true of other questioning techniques. The Soviets learned that keeping a man standing would destroy his will quickly, but some thought will show you that when standing becomes torture would vary with the person.
Nearly all, regardless of their views on how we should conduct the war on terror, would like a clear line between between torture and aggressive interrogration. Most would prefer that, except perhaps in a few extreme cases, that we not stoop to torturing our prisoners. Unfortunately, because there is no clear line between torture and, let us call it duress, those who wish to charge us with torture will always be able to do so. And those who wish to deny that we torture (except in a few cases where individuals broke the rules) will always be able to make that claim.
That's unsatisfying, I agree. But if you are troubled by that conclusion and want some way to escape it, let me put this challenge to you: Try to come up with some clear limits on "bootboxing" and "pumping" that would be almost universally accepted as not being torture — and that would apply to nearly everyone. I think that's impossible, but I would be pleased if some one proves me wrong.
(I should add that, as far as I can tell, our interrogations have not used torture, as it is usually defined — with, perhaps, some individual exceptions. Others who use different definitions have come to different conclusions.)
- 3:28 PM, 18 July 2006 [link]
On The Other Side, Literally: There are two remarkable things about this photograph. First, the New York Times photographer, Joao Silva, was with the Mahdi army while they were trying to kill American soldiers. The radical Islamists saw him (and the New York Times) as allies in their war against the United States. At the very least, the Mahdi army thought that this photographer and the New York Times were helpful to their cause. And what serious person could disagree with that conclusion?
Second, was the comment added by the New York Times Assistant Managing Editor for Photography, Michelle McNally:
A sniper loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr fires towards U.S. positions in the cemetery in Najaf, Iraq.(She means the photographer, of course, not the sniper.)
And that is all she says about the photographer — who is taking a picture of a terrorist in the act of trying to kill American soldiers.
What kind of person is that morally blind? I can't tell for sure, but I went through the entire sequence of pictures, found this on-line Q&A, and came to some tentative conclusions about her. First, like some others in the arts, McNally is so absorbed by the esthetics of a picture that she sometimes misses the story completely. The fifth picture in the sequence shows an Iraqi prisoner with the shadow of an American soldier on him. McNally called that picture "symbolic, iconic and grudgingly aesthetic". The sixth picture shows Afghans being taken in for questioning. McNally gives this description: "Theatrical, exquisite framing." And, disgracefully, she describes the first picture, showing the murdered and mutilated American contractors in Falluja as "iconic enough to join the ranks of Eddie Adams, Joe Rosenthal and Nick Ut". (There's a mistake in the caption to the eighth picture, which may be significant. She says it shows Paris police using water "canons" to disperse a mob. She means "cannons", of course. It is a mistake someone more concerned with esthetics than military affairs might naturally make.)
(Are these four pictures any good? The fifth picture is interesting as a picture, but terrible as a news photograph. The sixth picture is terrible as both. And someone who does not see the first picture as, above all, barbaric, is missing something important, morally. And, though I am embarrassed to add this, it is not a very good picture, either. The eighth picture is pretty, but a terrible news picture.)
Second, McNally appears to be a typical leftwing journalist. She is unable to say anything significant about the third picture, the famous World War II picture of the flag raising on Iwo Jima, but she gushes over an entirely routine campaign picture of the Kerrys and Edwards. She shows the usual bigotry toward rural areas in her Q&A, saying that the New York Times would not consider hiring a photographer from a "podunk" newspaper. (Or Mark Twain, as a writer, by the same criterion.) And she gushes over a woman committing suicide with the help of the Oregon assisted suicide law. Sadly, there is nothing in either the captions or the Q&A to suggest that she has an open mind — which is also, alas, typical of our leftwing journalists.
In recent years, I have been much impressed by the photos used by the New York Times. Now that Ms. McNally is in charge of selecting them, I expect to be, more often, depressed by them. But the executives at the New York Times need not worry. I am nearly certain that Ms. McNally will never, ever do anything the least bit politically incorrect. And she does help fill at least one quota.
(I looked, but found no explanation for this particular collection of pictures, which does not seem to have a theme.)
- 1:14 PM, 17 July 2006 [link]