A Sign that the World is about to End:

September 30, 2006

I’m defending Michelle Malkin (but still not linking to her).

Someone found a 14-year-old picture of Michelle Malkin posing in a bikini. Malkin said it’s a fake and demanded an apology for posting the picture. Since sex sells, right now the above-linked post on Majikthise has the longest comment thread on the front page, longer than Lindsay’s torture bill and macaca threads.

So far, so bad. But then one commenter linked to a thread on Wonkette, where Wonkette basically mocks Malkin for complaining about things like Wonkette’s previous thread, entitled oh-so-civilly, “Michelle, You Ignorant Slut.”

I don’t know who’s more vicious and shallow here – Wonkette or her commenters. One of the commenters on the more recent threads inquires if Malkin made some porn movies. Because, as we all know, the Other Side’s women must be sluts who should be put in their places.

The saddest thing about it is that most of the people who’re now obsessing over Malkin’s photo rushed to Jessica’s defense when she was subjected to a similarly stupid attack.


What Fascism Isn’t

September 30, 2006

Coturnix has an impassioned post comparing the situation of the United States now to this of Yugoslavia in 1990, just before the fighting broke out. Like other bloggers writing about contemporary fascism in the US, he misses two crucial points. First, the new torture bill doesn’t change anything from previous American government practice; the atrocities the CIA has committed worldwide, even after the Cold War ended, show beyond any doubt that the difference between Bush and his predecessors is in the level of tact rather than in the level of harm.

And second, American democracy is structured in such a way that it can’t really be usurped by just one branch of government that oversteps its boundaries. Fascism won’t come from an imperial President; it will come from a mass movement of Dominionists, possibly but not necessarily allied with the militia movement.

Many of my friends and neighbors have not experienced, like I did in Yugoslavia of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the gradual transformation from a nice, sweet, proseprous, freedom-loving country into a bunch of thugs duking it out over land and religion. Tito was dead for ten years. Prime Minister was Ante Markovic. Thousands of small businesses were starting up every week. Small people were getting rich. There was ebullience in the air.

Then, in a manner eerily reminiscent of BuchCo, thugs like Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic hijacked the government and started a civil war, ending with a break up of one big strong country into six small, economically weak and dependent units.

That description is somewhat of an embellishment. Yugoslavia was never Switzerland. In 1990, it had been free from Tito’s grip for ten years; Weimar democracy fell after fourteen. The United States has something Yugoslavia didn’t have – a democratic tradition. It’s no coincidence that in the 1930s, the countries that resisted fascism were generally those with a longstanding democratic tradition: Britain, France, the US, Canada, and Switzerland, but not Germany, Poland, Hungary, or Austria.

Besides, in Yugoslavia there was something clear to fight about: ethnicity, and territorial boundaries. Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia had populist thugs fanning the flames against people of the wrong groups. The US has no such thing, except an amorphous enemy, terrorists. While terrorists are very useful to the government in its quest to oppress its citizens, they alone aren’t enough for a Bosnian-style genocide.

Glenn is optimistic.
He may be right, if we act right now. If not, within three years, I predict that Americans will be fighting Americans on American soil. Just a hunch. An eerie feeling of deja vu from someone who has seen the same signs fifteen years ago.

I don’t see much optimism in Glenn’s post – all I see is a more wonky explanation of my point that most Democrats don’t give a damn about civil liberties, and the unusually large contingent of no votes was exclusively the result of the exemption-for-4.6%-of-the-world amendment.

But anyway, Americans won’t fight Americans on American soil as long as there’s no internal enemy to fan the flames against. Just as Michelle Goldberg made a mistake in not tying in Dominionism to neoconservatism, so is Bora making a mistake in not properly viewing Dominionism as the main threat.

The key fact is that Bush hasn’t used terrorism to strike against atheists or gays, the two minorities Dominionists focus on. Falwell may have blamed secularism for 9/11, but Bush didn’t, and so far the Dominionists’ sole political success has been Alito (even Roberts drew negative comments from James Dobson).

I may have not lived in a country that descended to chaos or fascism, but I learned quite a lot about one. Germany’s usurpation of civil liberties began years before Hitler came to power; beginning in 1930, the Chancellor and the President had to continually use the infamous emergency power clause of the Weimar Constitution. It even violated some of the Versailles Treaty’s demilitarization clauses, though Hitler radically stepped those violations up.

The point is that Hitler didn’t come to power by winning an election and then slowly violating civil liberties in a trumped-up war. That would’ve taken too long. He used an internal enemy, communism, and made sure the people had just enough bare necessities to live and look the other way while he was building a totalitarian state.


“Some of my best friends are Jews”

September 30, 2006

One of the parts about Kingdom Coming that I found the most enjoyable was Michelle Goldberg’s brief mentioning of the civility of the people she talked to in researching the book. She said she was stricken by their cheerfulness and civility even when talking to a hostile journalist, describing in some length the friendliness of the people she talked to. But then she explained:

In my experience, people ae often kinder than their ideologies, and always more complicated. Yet individual decency can dissolve when groups are mobilized against diabolized enemies, especially when they believe they’re under attack.

The analogy I so wanted to appear in the next paragraph was to the saying, “Some of my best friends are Jews.” While now this saying is much derided as a sorry excuse for bigotry, in early 1930s Germany it wasn’t. In fact, it began as a perfectly honest saying: Nazis in good standing who were questioned about their anti-Semitism would immediately reply that they had Jewish friends.

These Nazis never had a problem with their dear friend Herr Cohen. The Jewish problem was in the abstract: it was about the essentialized Jew taking over Germany (itself an abstraction, like all other nations). If you were to ask the average Nazi, probably even the average Nazi Reichstag deputy, about the possibility of exterminating 6 million Jews, he’d be aghast that anyone could ever think it was possible.

Now PZ is commenting on a movie that once again depicts Christian fundamentalists as happy and blissful. He says,

They may be laughing fascists, but they’re still ethically and intellectually odious, and I think the framework Olson has used to tell his story is painfully flawed. If they are good people, they are good people who are doing very bad things. That does not come through in the movie.

I haven’t seen the movie he’s talking about, A Flock of Dodos, but it’s always crucial to draw attention to the individual-collective distinction. In the Letter from Birmingham Jail, MLK quotes Reinhold Niebuhr, “Groups are more immoral than individuals.” The individual Nazi was perfectly nice, and so was the individual Southern racist.

Individuals are rarely capable of committing atrocities, except through a collective entity such as a state or a church or a mass movement, and until anti-fascists start explaining to people that cheerful personality doesn’t matter when a person is motivated by fear of Jews or gays or atheists or blacks, fascists are going to keep having a field day telling everyone how happy they are.


4.6% is a Huge Difference, I Presume

September 29, 2006

Via Appletree: Congress has just defeated an amendment that would provide protection from American torture to 4.6% of the world’s population. Grodo editorializes,

And that’s the kind of day it was. On mostly party-line votes, the House and Senate agreed that the president could hold a person without trial, even an American citizen, simply by declaring that person an enemy combatant, or by declaring that the person has aided terrorists in some way. The House and Senate agreed to allow the use of torture, including sexual torture, against these “enemy combatants.”

Actually, the party-line vote wasn’t about “could hold a person without trial” but about “even an American citizen.” Apparently, throwing me in jail without probable cause and without trial is accepted by both sides of the political divide in the US. Says the LA Times,

The new bill, if passed, would further entrench presidential power. At the very least, it would encourage the Supreme Court to draw an invidious distinction between citizens and legal residents. There are tens of millions of legal immigrants living among us, and the bill encourages the justices to uphold mass detentions without the semblance of judicial review.

But the bill also reinforces the presidential claims, made in the Padilla case, that the commander in chief has the right to designate a U.S. citizen on American soil as an enemy combatant and subject him to military justice. Congress is poised to authorized this presidential overreaching. Under existing constitutional doctrine, this show of explicit congressional support would be a key factor that the Supreme Court would consider in assessing the limits of presidential authority.

This is no time to play politics with our fundamental freedoms. Even without this massive congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants, it is by no means clear that the present Supreme Court will protect the Bill of Rights. The Korematsu case — upholding the military detention of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II — has never been explicitly overruled. It will be tough for the high court to condemn this notorious decision, especially if passions are inflamed by another terrorist incident. But congressional support of presidential power will make it much easier to extend the Korematsu decision to future mass seizures.

The Democrats’ amendment to the whole bill, which would only protect American citizens, wasn’t even worth the paper it was written on. When Bush pushes a bill legalizing torture through Congress, offering an amendment exempting 4.6% of the world’s population from that atrocity is the height of obsequity. Senate rules permit 41 Senators to filibuster; there are in fact more than 41 Democrats in the Senate.

A significant contingent of Democrats voted yes on the final bill not because they supported torturing more than 95.4% of the world’s population, but because they were afraid of losing their seats in the coming midterm. Just like in the 2002 votes on Iraq and the Homeland Security Bill, the Democrats confused their own rhetorical ineptitude with political effectiveness.

Just because you’re too timid to slap the phrase “good old-fashioned police work” on posters and air TV ads explaining to voters that Britain’s perfectly capable of curbing terrorism without even a FISA court, let alone warrantless wiretaps, doesn’t mean that doing those things won’t work. It’s time to stop pretending that the solution to terrorism is military and that everyone who opposes fascism is weak on terrorism; doing that will only accelerate the arrival of fascism.


Liberal Intellectuals

September 29, 2006

I’ve been wanting to comment on Tony Judt’s article attacking the American liberal intelligentsia’s supposed spinelessness on Iraq for a while. Now, a blog post comparing Judt to Chomsky and one of his critics to Orwell that made it to the Carnival of the Liberals gave me a good starting point. Says Judt,

Magazines and newspapers of the traditional liberal centre – the New Yorker, the New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Times itself – fell over themselves in the hurry to align their editorial stance with that of a Republican president bent on exemplary war. A fearful conformism gripped the mainstream media. And America’s liberal intellectuals found at last a new cause.

Or, rather, an old cause in a new guise. For what distinguishes the worldview of Bush’s liberal supporters from that of his neo-conservative allies is that they don’t look on the ‘War on Terror’, or the war in Iraq, or the war in Lebanon and eventually Iran, as mere serial exercises in the re-establishment of American martial dominance.

This is already a sign of lunacy. The New Republic is centrist rather than liberal. Liberal intellectuals rallied behind Dean or Kerry in 2004; TNR endorsed Lieberman. The New York Times and the Washington Post have never been liberal outside some conservatives’ imaginations – indeed, throughout most of the Cold War, the Washington Post was closely affiliated with the CIA.

Except for The New Yorker, there are no publications in the US dedicated to liberalism; there are arenas where liberals skirmish with other leftists, like The Nation and The Progressive, and arenas where liberals skirmish with moderates and conservatives, like The New York Times.

One of the effects of the withdrawal of radical leftists from liberal ideology has been to purify liberalism of radical pathologies; liberal intellectuals are therefore far more likely than intellectuals of any other bent to engage people who disagree with them instead of write shrill articles that everybody who doesn’t already agree with will hate.

And on these two arenas, liberals have in fact opposed Bush. On the left arena, which is politically irrelevant, it’s obvious. On the central arena, Paul Krugman has attacked Bush from day one – in fact, he was for a few years the de facto leader of the opposition to Bush; and yet in giving a host of examples of pro-war liberals, Judt fails to even mention Krugman. Thomas Friedman, who Judt casts as a run-of-the-mill neocon sympathizer, referred to the war on Iraq as a war of choice and said it was imperative that Bush seek a broad coalition composed of more countries that matter in global arena than just the US and Britain.

But what’s even more insane than Judt’s claim that liberals failed to oppose Bush is his caveat:

To be sure, Bush’s liberal supporters have been disappointed by his efforts. Every newspaper I have listed and many others besides have carried editorials criticising Bush’s policy on imprisonment, his use of torture and above all the sheer ineptitude of the president’s war. But here, too, the Cold War offers a revealing analogy. Like Stalin’s Western admirers who, in the wake of Khrushchev’s revelations, resented the Soviet dictator not so much for his crimes as for discrediting their Marxism, so intellectual supporters of the Iraq War – among them Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick and other prominent figures in the North American liberal establishment – have focused their regrets not on the catastrophic invasion itself (which they all supported) but on its incompetent execution. They are irritated with Bush for giving ‘preventive war’ a bad name.

Actually, the correct Stalinist analogy isn’t to discrediting Marxism, but to letting a large political segment hate the idea of government intervention in the market. The problem with the Iraq war wasn’t that the US ousted Saddam, but that it killed civilians doing so – in fact, many more civilians per year than Saddam killed – and that it created a new Islamist hydra.

And the liberal intellectuals who’ve so vociferously criticized the US in Iraq recognize just that. For all his rhetoric about not seeing things in black and white, Judt is as monochromatic as an intellectual can be; he just reverses the traditional black and white. Thus every American foreign policy plank is necessarily bad, and the US should do nothing but retreat to its corner of the world and feel guilty.

After all, I’ve yet to see a single intellectual write about human rights abuses without offering any political or social angle on it, unless the intellectual viscerally hates the abuser. Radical anti-Americans like Chomsky have no trouble rationalizing violence whenever it’s committed by groups that aren’t allied with the United States. Charitably, then, Judt is asking liberal intellectuals to have the same skewed view of reality as Chomsky, Said, and Zinn.

But reality is less than charitable to fringe writers. Liberal intellectuals don’t even apologize for American atrocities or rationalize them. Some people, consumed and blinded by patriotism, think about human rights exclusively from a national-interest angle. Most liberals don’t; they either talk about the moral outrage of torture, or coax it in national-interest terms simply to appeal to people who disagree with them.

Judt would have you believe that pragmatism and consequentialism are dirty, which to some degree they are. For writing about politics is a dirty business, in which you have to appeal to people with worldviews vastly different from yours. It’s not that surprising that a certain segment of intellectuals, who on the left are called radicals, eschew that completely and take pride in basking in their ideological purity, political effectiveness be damned.

It’s not any more surprising that these radicals attack first and foremost the liberals. The first enemy of the radical is never the other side; it’s always the liberal or the moderate, who’s ruining the self-aggrandizing party by talking of such dirty terms as evidence, reality, results, and human rights. On the contrary, the other side is a great recruitment tool. Just as Ahmadinejad’s main enemy is the democratic movement at home, and for that purpose the US and Israel are just propaganda items, so is Judt’s main enemy liberalism, with neoconservatism being nothing more than a stick to beat liberals with.


Fractional Ideals, Part 2

September 29, 2006

First, note to any reader who doesn’t understand these posts: feel free to ask questions – that’s what I’m here for.

Second, continuing from my previous post about ideal theory, I’m going to show that given any fractional ideal I of a Dedekind domain, there exists another fractional ideal J such that IJ is precisely the domain.

Recall that a Dedekind domain R (with fraction field K) is defined by three properties:

  1. It is integrally closed. If c in K satisfies a polynomial x^n + a(n-1)x^(n-1) + … + a(1)x + a(0) = 0, then it must be in R.
  2. It is Noetherian. If I1, I2, I3… is a chain of ideals such that I(n+1) contains I(n) for all n, then for some m, we have I(m) = I(m+1) = I(m+2) = … Equivalently, if I = (a1, a2, a3…), then for some m we have I = (a1, a2… a(m)).
  3. Every prime ideal, except (0), is maximal.

I’m going to proceed in four steps. In step 1, I show that every ideal A contains a product of prime ideals. In step 2, I show that for every prime ideal P, the inverse of P defined in my previous post, call it S, satisfies PS = R. In step 3, I show that every integral ideal can be uniquely factored into prime ideals. In step 4, I show that every fractional ideal can be factored into prime ideals and their inverses. In step 5, I show that the theorem in step 2 applies to all fractional ideals.

Step 1: if an ideal I1 does not contain a product of prime ideals, it’s clearly not prime, in which case it just contains itself. So we can find ideals A and B such that AB is contained in I1, but neither A nor B is contained in I1. Now, (I1 + A)(I1 + B) = (I1^2 + AI1 + BI1 + AB) which is contained in I1. So at least one of I1 + A and I1 + B doesn’t contain a product of prime ideals; call that one I2, and note that since A and B are not contained in I1, I2 is strictly bigger than I1. We can then similarly define I3, I4, I5… which gives us an ascending chain of ideals that doesn’t terminate. But R is Noetherian, so we have a contradiction.

Step 2: if P is a prime ideal, then it’s a maximal ideal. Define Q = {q in K: qP is contained in R}. Clearly, QP is contained in R. Every element of R is in Q, since rP is in P by the definition of an ideal. Therefore, QP contains RP = P; this means that QP is P or R, since P is a maximal ideal. We show that QP = R is two steps: first we show that Q is bigger than R, and only then we show QP = R.

Let a be any nonzero member of P. The ideal (a) must contain a product of prime ideals, say P1P2…P(n); we can choose n to be the smallest number for which this holds. The product is then contained in P; since P is a prime ideal, at least one of the ideals, say P1, is contained in P. But P1 is a prime ideal, so it’s maximal. This means it’s equal to P, or else P is between P1 and R, contradicting the definition of maximality.

Now, let’s look at P2P3…P(n). By our choice of n, it is not contained in (a), so it contains an element not in (a), call it b. If b were divisible by a, it would be of the form ac, which is in (a); therefore, b is not divisible by a, so the element b/a is in K but not in R. But now bP = bP1 is in P1P2…P(n), which is in (a), so (b/a)P is in (a/a) = R, and (b/a) is in Q.

If QP = P, then QQP = QP = P, so if c and d are in Q, then so is cd. Let b/a be in Q but not in R as above; then Q contains (1, b/a, b^2/a^2, b^3/a^3…). As Q is a fractional ideal, multiplying by a suitable r in R gives an integral ideal of R. As R is Noetherian, the integral ideal has only finitely many generators, i.e. is of the form (r, rb/a, rb^2/a^2… rb^m/a^m). We then get that the fractional ideal is of the form (1, b/a, b^2/a^2… b^m/a^m). We write (b/a)^(m+1) as the sum of the generators of the ideal; by moving terms around, we get (b/a)^(m+1) + c(m)(b/a)^m + … + c(1)(b/a) + c(0) = 0. As R is integrally closed, it means b/a is in R, which is a contradiction. Therefore, we must have QP = R.

Step 3: first, we show that each ideal can be expressed as a product of prime ideals; then we show uniqueness. If I1 can’t be factored into prime ideals of R, then I1 at least contains the product P1P2…P(n); we can choose n to be the smallest integer for which this holds. Given P1, define Q1 as in step 2; then I1Q1 contains P2P3…P(n). If I1Q1 can be expressed as a product of prime ideals, then so can I1 = I1Q1P1. If I1Q1 = I1, then I1 contains P2P3…P(n), contradicting the choice of n. So I2 = I1Q1 is a bigger ideal than I1 that isn’t a product of prime ideals. We then get a chain I1, I2, I3… which is impossible since R is Noetherian.

Now, if I = P1P2…P(n) = P(n+1)P(n+2)…P(n+m), then P1 contains the product P(n+1)…P(n+m); hence it contains one of these ideals, say P(n+1); since P(n+1) is prime and hence maximal, P1 = P(n+1). We multiply I by Q1 = Q(n+1) and continue this process until all ideals in the two factorizations have been paired off, which means the two factorizations are the same.

Step 4: let I be a fractional ideal of R, and let r be an element of R such that rI is an integral ideal of R. Both (r) and rI are integral ideals, so we can write them as products of prime ideals, P1P2…P(n) for (r) and P(n+1)…P(n+m) for rI. Then I = rI/r = Q1Q2…Q(n)P(n+1)…P(n+m).

Now, if I = sI/s = Q(n+m+1)…Q(n+m+k)P(n+m+k+1)…P(n+m+k+l), then look at rsI = P(n+1)…P(n+m+k) = P1…P(n)P(n+m+k+1)…P(n+m+k+l). By uniqueness of ideal factorization, we can pair off these two sets of prime ideals. This allows us to pair off the factorizations of rI/r and sI/s, possibly after killing off pairwise inverse Q(i)’s and P(i)’s (for example, if Q1 is the inverse of P(n+1)).

More generally, if we have two equal factorizations into P’s and Q’s, we multiply each side by the P’s corresponding to the other’s Q’s. We can do this, because if Q is the inverse of P, then P is the inverse of Q, i.e. P = P* where P* = {k in K: kQ is contained in R}. To see why, remember that Q strictly contains R, so if k is not in R, then k*1 = k is not in R, which means P* is an integral ideal of R; 1Q = Q which is not contained in R, so P* is proper; and PQ = R, so P* contains P; then P* = P since P is a maximal ideal.

Step 5: if I =  Q1Q2…Q(n)P(n+1)…P(n+m), then its unique inverse is clearly P1P2…P(n)Q(n+1)…Q(n+m).
I’m going to explore fractional ideals more later, and explain a little bit about why they’re useful. But I’m going to introduce a theorem I’m not going to prove – while its proof is fairly easy, it requires a ton of theory behind it, most of which I’ve omitted so far on the grounds that it’s confusing and for now unnecessary.


Stop Talking About Abortion

September 29, 2006

Earlier tonight, Jessica made a really good point about feminism and abortion: NOW’s insistence on making abortion not only its immediate concern but also its grand selling point is hurting the feminist movement, in particular making it less appealing to young women.

In the US, abortion has been legal for 33 years. Do you know a movement that succeeded by reminding people of its past successes? Me neither. The constant threat to Roe vs. Wade helps keep committed members inside, but it doesn’t convince anyone who isn’t already part of the movement.

Fear-based appeals don’t work. They’re a staple of boundedness-oriented egalitarians, but most people aren’t egalitarians. Telling young women that if they don’t support NOW their right to abort will be revoked won’t make them support NOW; it’ll make them shrug feminism off as a relic of the past. If you don’t believe me, ask Kilgore how successful he was at running for Virginia Governor by telling everyone his anti-death penalty opponent wouldn’t have executed Hitler.

To succeed, movements have to constantly reinvent themselves. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan didn’t talk about women’s right to vote, but demonstrated that women’s rights had been slipping over the ten previous years, and raised the issues of education and work. 1960s American liberalism moved on from public works and social security to Medicare and civil rights.

I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to say it for a while, but the Democratic Party should under no circumstances bring up judicial nominations as a campaign issue in this election. Telling people “Vote Democratic so that Bush won’t overturn Roe vs. Wade” won’t get a single pro-choice voter to the polls or convince a single undecided; it’ll energize the activist base, but the activist base already supports the party.

It’s the same with the feminist movement: American women make 62 cents on the male dollar, are subjected to serious job discrimination, and are told to do nothing but raise kids while the government refuses to support them financially. If NOW really can’t rile people up with employment discrimination and sexual harassment, it should get the hell out of the way of a more serious feminist organization that can.


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