September 2013, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Amnesty International Chose The Jihadi Over the Feminist: In this weekend's Wall Street Journal you will find Sohrab Ahmari's review of Karima Bennoune's Your Fatwa Does Apply Here, a review that reveals serious problems with Amnesty International. (And, as far as I can tell — I haven't read the book — is just the kind of review that most prospective readers would want to see, since it identifies clearly the strengths and weaknesses of the book.)
The Ahmari review may be available on the Internet, but if it is behind the Journal pay wall, you still have time to pick up a copy of the weekend Journal. Or you should be able to find it in almost any library.
Here are the first two paragraphs:
Amnesty International faced a pivotal choice in 2010. For half a decade, the global human-rights organization had been promoting Moazzam Begg, a British-Pakistani radical Islamist, and the advocacy group he founded after his release from Guantánamo Bay. In 2006, Begg delivered the Amnesty International Annual Lecture in Belfast, and the next year the organization hailed his group, Cageprisoners, as one of the six "leading human rights organizations" protesting CIA detention practices.Soon after, Sahgal was kicked out of Amnesty, and the organization was defending jihad — in self-defense, of course.
Begg is not in favor of human rights; he's a supporter of Islamic terrorists. In short, he's on the enemy side.
That's not surprising, but it is a little surprising to see Amnesty, and other "human rights" organizations, also supporting Islamic terrorists.
(There are historical precedents. The Soviet Union had considerable success during the Cold War with creating, infiltrating, or fooling organizations that claimed to be supporting human rights — but were actually attacking the West, especially the United States.
It would be interesting to know why the Bush administration released Begg, since he definitely seems to belong in Guantánamo.)
- 10:53 AM, 8 September 2013 [link]
Internet Problems: Since some time on Saturday, I have been unable to connect to the Internet from home. Before that, I was having intermittent problems of the same sort, domain name service errors.
(As most of you know, at the heart of the Internet are Domain Name Servers, computers that translate the names of web sites into the physical addresses of those web sites.)
The errors might be in error; there might be problems with a phone line, since I have DSL, with the DSL modem I use to connect to the Internet, or even with the Ethernet switch I use so that I can have two computers connected to the Internet at once.
Or, it might be some problem with my phone company, Frontier, or even with the DNS system. (The Syrian Electronic Army, which supports the Assad regime, successfully attacked the DNS system a week or so ago.)
Until I get this straightened out (or it solves itself), I'll be using my laptop to post from public sites.
- 9:40 AM, 8 September 2013
Update: I'm now back on line — but I don't know why I had the problem, and whether any of the things I did, mostly plugging and unplugging connections, solved it.
And my efforts to post from the library failed, perhaps because I was using an insecure protocol. (It's been a while since I tried to brush up on basic Internet procedures.)
- 6:23 PM, 8 September 2013 [link]
Tony Abbott And The Liberal/National Coalition Have Won The Australian House Of Representatives: By a big margin. As I write, the coalition is predicted to win 91 seats in the Australian House, with 76 needed for an absolute majority.
A look at the first choice (primary) votes shows that the election was more a defeat for Labor and their partners, the Greens, than a victory for the LNP coalition. Labor is losing 4.6 percent of the vote since the last election, and the Greens are losing 3.0 percent, while the coalition is gaining just 1.8 percent. Most likely the 5.9 percent gains for "others" will mostly go to the coalition in later rounds of vote counting.
So Tony Abbott will be the Australian prime minister, and soon.
But he will not have complete control of parliament, because, at best, the coalition will be able to break the controlling Labor/Green coalition in the upper house, the Australian Senate.
Unlike upper houses in most parliamentary systems, the Senate is vested with significant power, including the capacity to block legislation initiated by the government in the House of Representatives, making it a distinctive hybrid of British Westminster bicameralism and US-style bicameralism.Like the American Senate, members of the Australian Senate are elected for six year terms — usually. (For some of the complexities, consult the Wikipedia article.)
- 6:13 AM, 7 September 2013 [link]
Three Australian Election Predictions: One from a "psephologist" named Malcolm Mackerras. (Interesting detail: Mackerras expects Rudd to lose his own seat.)
One from crocodile named Big Weldon. (Interesting detail: The crocodile was slow to make his choice.)
And one from a bookie. (Interesting detail: The bookie made the payouts on 29 August.)
Sportsbet, Australia’s largest online betting agency, said Thursday it paid out more than 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.3 million) to punters who had backed Tony Abbott’s conservative opposition Liberal Party to win power at elections on Sept. 7.The three agree, but if they disagreed, I would go with with the bookie, in most cases.
(Those unfamiliar with Mackerras will wonder how good his prediction record is. He claims to be right in two our of three predictions. Americans will notice that he botched our 2004 presidential election prediction badly. Here's my own final prediction, for comparison.)
- 3:48 PM, 6 September 2013 [link]
What Do Professional Military Men Think Of President Obama's Plan To Attack Syria? According to retired Major General Robert Scales, not much.
After personal exchanges with dozens of active and retired soldiers in recent days, I feel confident that what follows represents the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war.As the former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, Scales probably has a good understanding of what our officers think.
Military professionals can be wrong, can even be wrong systematically. But it is foolish not to listen to them before you embark on a war.
(Our top officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, appears to share Scales's views. Dempsey was appointed, and re-appointed, to that position by President Obama.)
- 8:11 AM, 6 September 2013 [link]
Australia Votes For A New Parliament Tomorrow: And unless all the polls* are wrong, the Liberal/National coalition led by Tony Abbot will defeat the Labor Party, led, again, by Kevin Rudd.
(American journalists almost always say the "conservative Liberal Party", since in American terms the Liberal Party is the more conservative of the two major parties. It's confusing, but if you remember that many conservative parties now hold views close to those of classical liberals, understandable.)
There are lessons in this election, as there almost always are, for other nations, especially the English-speaking nations, and I'll have some posts on them over the next few days. For the moment, I'll just say that, as I expected, Kevin Rudd's honeymoon, after he drove Julia Gillard out, did not last long.
(*To read that table, remember that Australians rank the candidates, rather than just voting for one. So, for example, the 4-5 September Nielsen poll found that 46 percent of the voters made the Liberal-National coalition their first choice, and 33 percent made Labor their first choice. When you add the second and third choice votes from the Greens and other minor parties, as they would in the vote counting, the coalition vote rises to 54 percent and the Labor vote to 46 percent.
Here's a longish explanation of how instant runoff voting works. You'll note, among other things, that the system has a variety of names.)
- 7:01 AM, 6 September 2013 [link]
Management At The EPA May Have Been A Bit Loose over the last decade.
Over the past 12 years, John C. Beale was often away from his job as a high-level staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency. He cultivated an air of mystery and explained his lengthy absences by telling his bosses that he was doing top-secret work, including for the CIA.The bonuses were "retention" bonuses, so someone in the EPA must have thought he was a valuable employee.
(Just to be contrary, I'll add that I have known some employees who would have been worth their pay, even if they worked half time, and a few who would not have been worth their pay even if they had worked double time.)
- 6:39 AM, 5 September 2013 [link]
It's Everyone Else's Fault: That's a fair summary of President Obama's explanation yesterday for his failure to lead on Syria.
- 6:15 AM, 5 September 2013 [link]
Bewildered In Washington: Today's Maureen Dowd column is not enlightening, but it is, in part, entertaining.
Mostly where Ms. Dowd is not trying to be entertaining. For example:
Many around President Obama are making the case that if he doesn't stand firm on his line in the sand, having gotten so far out on a limb, he'll look weak and America will lose face and embolden its foes.I tried to picture that but failed when I tried to see Obama simultaneously standing on a line and hanging too far out on a limb.
A bit farther on she argues that everything we see about Syria is "colored" by actions President Bush, who was "so black and white", took. Being black and white is a bad thing when Bush does it.
But not when Maureen Dowd does it, two paragraphs later, when she declares: "It should not be hard to reach a consensus on trying to prevent Bashar al-Assad from killing tens of thousands and making refugees of millions more with chemical weapons and traditional ones." (She probably doesn't know that chemical weapons are quite traditional.)
And after we reach that consensus? Dowd doesn't say, which is pretty funny, if you have a perverse sense of humor, as I sometimes do, since what to do is what the debate is all about.
(Some might say, after reading that column, that Dowd's picture of George W. Bush is a little too black and white, a little too lacking in grays, much less colors.
Fans of Dowd will wonder whether she still thinks Obama is smart, and whether she throws in a movie reference. Yes to both questions, though she doesn't mention any brilliant Obama policy successes, and she just mentions John Wayne, rather than a specific movie scene.)
- 7:06 PM, 4 September 2013 [link]
How Are Hopey Changey Policies Working Out For Obama's Strongest Supporters? Poorly.
It would be wrong to give President Obama all the blame for these unfortunate trends — among other things that would allow former speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to escape their shares of the blame — but it would be equally wrong to absolve him of all responsibility.
The policies he proposed, and Pelosi and Reid passed through the Congress, failed, and failed badly for many poorer, less-advantaged Americans. Those Americans may have "Obamaphones", but far too many of them don't have full time jobs.
This should not have surprised us. President Obama has almost no experience with the
private economy — and seems to have learned little from his one year at
His time working with the Chicago machine would have taught him how to exploit
businesses for political purposes, but not how to encourage businesses to grow and prosper.
Nor are any of them prone to spending much time with ordinary working people, as Obama's choice of Martha's Vineyard for vacations shows us. So they mostly miss the chances to learn from those at, or near, the bottom of the economy.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:53 AM, 4 September 2013 [link]
Suppose We Do Decide To Strike Syria, Seriously: How much force do we have available?
According to (retired) Commander Dyer, less than I would have guessed.
Those who have continued to press for a military response in Syria seem not to understand that the situation of the U.S. military is severely compromised, due to the very real effects of not spending on readiness. We literally do not have the forces available to expand on any limited strikes we might undertake. It is invalid to discuss the proposition as if we do.In contrast, NATO used more than 1,000 planes against Kososvo in 1999, and we used more than 1,800 planes in Desert Storm and 1,200 planes in Operation Iraqi Freedom, with "nearly 600 more from the allies".
President Obama promised to rein in defense spending. He has kept that promise.
Budget-minded Republicans promised to rein in spending overall, even if it meant cutting back on defense spending. They have kept that promise.
There were other ways to control overall spending, but no other practical way, as far as I can tell, as long as Obama is president.
- 9:20 AM, 4 September 2013 [link]
You've Probably Heard About London's "Walkie Scorchie" Building: You may even have seen pictures of the sun damage caused by its convex, reflective surface.
But you may not have learned this:
The architect behind the 'Walkie Scorchie' skyscraper, which has been blamed for melting cars and scorching door mats, had similar problems with a hotel he designed in Las Vegas, it has been revealed.You would think that Mr. Vinoly would have learned from that Las Vegas error — and that the owners of this new London building would have asked him about it, before approving his design. Granted, too much sun is less likely to be a problem in London than in Las Vegas, but that history should still have given Vinoly and his clients a clue.
(Here's the Wikipedia article on the Vdara, with enough pictures to show you the similarities between the two buildings.
I have to admit that the two buildings don't look as boring as the standard glass box, though I don't find either especially attractive.)
- 7:49 AM, 4 September 2013 [link]
What Change In Voting Laws Has The Most Support From Voters? According to this McClatchy-Marist poll, requiring voters to have photo IDs.
That drew the support of 82 percent overall — and 83 percent of non-whites.
Judging by the other questions, that was not a result that McClatchy was hoping for. For example, the first question is: "The Supreme Court recently changed the Voting Rights Act. Do you think discrimination in voting is mostly a thing of the past and does not need further action by Congress, or remains a problem and should be addressed by Congress?"
(Marist found that 53 percent of adults think it is still a problem that should addressed by Congress, 37 percent think it is "mostly a thing of the past", and 11 percent are unsure. For the record: I don't know of any significant problems problems of voting discrimination in the United States. It's a big country, so I don't doubt that one could find a few isolated examples here and there, but nothing that would require new legislation.) In contrast, there were no questions in the survey on vote fraud, which is a problem in some parts of the United States.
By way of Mr. Fur, who got it from Mr. Zippers.
(There are enough problems with the poll questions that I should do a full post on them — but I won't make any promises.)
- 2:51 PM, 3 September 2013 [link]
Worth Reading: (Though longish.) An assessment of the evidence and the choices in Syria by a retired diplomat, William Polk.
The post is organized into thirteen questions and answers. Here's a sample:
5: Who are the insurgents?There's much more in the post, including an account of the evidence on the chemical weapons.
In reading it, you may want to remember that he was a member of the Kennedy administration, and that he is being recommended by James Fallows. Neither of those disqualifies him, or his views; both give us reasons to be wary.
And you should remember that he is a retired diplomat, not a retired military officer.
- 2:13 PM, 3 September 2013 [link]
The Sidney Harris Cartoon describes the kind of weapon I was thinking about in the post below.
(It's the second cartoon of the two. Incidentally, if you like science at all, you are almost certain to like his cartoons.)
- 1:50 PM, 3 September 2013 [link]
Are Chemical Weapons Uniquely Awful? Not particularly.
Nor are they uniquely modern. Chemical weapons have been used all through written history, and probably for many millennia before scribes began writing down what their rulers had done.
(Politically incorrect fellow that I am, I have often wondered whether we could develop a "knock-out" gas for use against guerrillas. If we had a gas that could render them unconscious for an hour or two, we might be able to capture many of them without casualties to us, to any civilians in the area, or even to them.
Such a chemical weapon would be far more humane than most other weapons — but I have doubts whether world opinion makers would accept it, even so.
I don't know if there is such a gas. Gases that do make people unconscious, ether for example, will generally kill people at higher doses. That's why anesthesiologists pay so much for liability insurance.)
- 7:37 AM, 3 September 2013 [link]
Labor Day Would Have Been A Good Day For Obama To Have Approved The Keystone XL Pipeline: But he missed that opportunity.
- 6:43 AM, 3 September 2013 [link]
"Justice Department Bids To Trap Poor, Black Children In Ineffective Schools" The Washington Post comes out in favor of poor black kids in Louisiana — and against the Eric Holder Justice Department.
Nine of 10 Louisiana children who receive vouchers to attend private schools are black. All are poor and, if not for the state assistance, would be consigned to low-performing or failing schools with little chance of learning the skills they will need to succeed as adults. So it’s bewildering, if not downright perverse, for the Obama administration to use the banner of civil rights to bring a misguided suit that would block these disadvantaged students from getting the better educational opportunities they are due.Sadly, from a political point of view, this is not bewildering.
But people who care about those kids will, indeed, find it "perverse".
- 9:49 AM, 2 September 2013 [link]
Here's A Partial Explanation for Prime Minister Cameron's defeat on his Syrian war resolution, a defeat that puzzled me.
Cameron was not expecting the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, to oppose the resolution, and so may not even have taken a preliminary vote count.
(The British public, for now, agrees with Miliband, but gives Cameron higher marks for his handling of the crisis. I don't have any explanation for that apparently contradictory result, but am willing to speculate that Miliband may have been too openly political in his maneuvers.
So far, I haven't been impressed by the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Miliband looks to me like a fashionable leftist, a man who can articulate the currently fashionable leftist ideas, but not a man who is likely to think hard about those ideas.
And just in case you missed it, here's an oddity: Miliband's principal competitor for Labour leader was — his brother, David Miliband.)
- 8:46 AM, 2 September 2013 [link]
Multiculturalism And The Forgotten Lessons Of World Wars I And II: Empires tend to mix nationalities and religions.
The powerful upsurge of nationalism in Europe during the 19th century made those mixtures look impractical. And so President Woodrow Wilson proposed to do some "un-mixing" in order to bring about a stable peace in Europe. Six of his Fourteen Points — 8-13 — propose specific areas where un-mixing was needed. For example, in point 9 Wilson said that Italy's borders should follow "clearly recognizable lines of nationality". Similarly, in point 13, Wilson called for an independent Poland, including "the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations".
The peace settlement did, on the whole, un-mix the nationalities, but there were exceptions. For practical military reasons, Czechoslovakia was given a boundary that included a mostly German-speaking area, the Sudetenland. Poland was given access to the sea, which split Germany into two parts.
Hitler was able to exploit these exceptions in appealing to Germans inside, and outside, Germany.
After World War II, a more drastic un-mixing occurred. Millions of Germans were expelled from Poland and Czechoslovakia, and millions of Germans found their way home, over the years, from all over Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Many other smaller nationalities were also moved, in this great un-mixing. Those moved had often lived in the other nations for many generations, but that didn't change the hearts and minds of those who moved them.
The two great exceptions were Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Both contained ethnic groups that had every historical reason to despise each other. Yugoslavia was held together by Tito, but after his death began to break up, as almost every expert had predicted it would. The same experts should have realized that the Soviet Union was similarly vulnerable, once Moscow's iron grip loosened, but mostly did not.
The un-mixing of Europe after World War II succeeded, contributing to the peace that almost all of Europe has enjoyed since 1945. (Of course the stalemate between the Soviet Union and NATO also contributed to that peace.)
So it is odd that most European nations decided that they needed to re-mix their populations and bring in large numbers of people who did not share their nationality, and, all too often did not share their religion (or lack of it).
It is as if these nations deliberately decided to forget the lessons of World War I and II.
In the United States, something similar occurred. Many began to give up on the "melting pot" model of assimilation, and argue for what is usually called multiculturalism.
Those who favored this re-mixing, this multiculturalism, ignored the lessons of recent history and the scientific evidence about our inherently tribal nature. That is barely understandable, but it is hard to forgive them their unwillingness to look at the evidence before them, at the conflicts that sprang up as new groups were brought in to mix with old.
Example: In Southern California, Mexican gangs have been fighting with black gangs for decades. In recent years, the Mexican gangs appear to have gained the upper hand and to be driving poor blacks out of areas in which they have lived for decades.
This re-mixing has not just been a matter of, as Kate McMillan likes to say, "more pavilions at Folkfest".
In parts of Europe, some of the suburbs of Paris, for example, it would be exaggerating only a little to describe the conflicts between Muslim immigrants and the larger population as a low-level civil war. Which is, in fact, how some young Muslim men describe it.
(How bad the conflicts are seems to depend on two factors, how large the new minority is, and whether it wants to assimilate, or at least get along with its neighbors. In many universities in the United States and Europe, it would be unwise to even mention those obvious points.)
- 9:40 PM, 1 September 2013 [link]
Elizabeth O'Bagy Believes That The Moderates Opposed To The Assad Regime Are Stronger than the jihadists.
Moderate opposition forces—a collection of groups known as the Free Syrian Army—continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime. While traveling with some of these Free Syrian Army battalions, I've watched them defend Alawi and Christian villages from government forces and extremist groups. They've demonstrated a willingness to submit to civilian authority, working closely with local administrative councils. And they have struggled to ensure that their fight against Assad will pave the way for a flourishing civil society. One local council I visited in a part of Aleppo controlled by the Free Syrian Army was holding weekly forums in which citizens were able to speak freely, and have their concerns addressed directly by local authorities.That's certainly an agreeable idea, and we can only hope that she is right, just as we can hope that she is right when she claims that these forces have been gaining in recent months.
But a glance at the map accompanying her op-ed will show you some of the complexity of the wars going on in Syria.
And a glance at this zoomable map (which Mr. Fur pointed out to me) will show you the underlying religious and ethnic complexity of Syria.
(The zoom.it site has other zoomable high resolution images in its collection, and is promising to add to them in time. The site appears to be in an experimental stage, right now.)
- 8:20 PM, 1 September 2013 [link]
If Elected, She Will Serve: For a while there, Nancy Pelosi had my hopes up. But then came the clarification.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's office clarified on Friday her apparent disinterest in returning to her old job as House speaker.Pelosi is the worst speaker of my life time, worse even than Jim Wright. She hasn't caused as much damage as minority leader, since she has less power in that position, but she hasn't been a positive force there, either.
- 5:00 PM, 1 September 2013 [link]
If President Obama Has Lost the NYT on his Syrian strategy, then he will soon lose more of his staunch supporters among our "mainstream" journalists, because the New York Times often sets the agenda, and tone, for many of them.
Clearly, he has lost some of the more important reporters. It remains to be seen whether the editorial writers will read those articles and analyses and think about them enough to draw any general conclusions about the Obama presidency.
(One of the things you will discover if you read the Times regularly and critically is that their opinion writers don't always read their news pages carefully, that they make mistakes in their columns and editorials that they could have avoided by more careful reading of their own newspaper.
This is not to say that the news pages don't have their own systematic problems; they do. But in spite of those problems the reporters are still doing significantly better work than the editorial writers and some of the columnists.)
- 6:46 AM, 1 September 2013 [link]