I Suppose for Bush, Death is Progress

March 6, 2007

Bush is saying that US and allied forces are making progress in Iraq; the same day, a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up at a procession of Shi’a pilgrims, killing at least 106 people. It gets worse:

The Hillah strike came after gunmen and bombers hit group after group of Shiite pilgrims elsewhere — some in buses and others making the traditional trek on foot to the shrine city of Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad. At least 24 were killed in those attacks, including four relatives of a prominent Shiite lawmaker, Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati.

This weekend, huge crowds of Shiite worshippers will gather for rites marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein died near Karbala in a 7th-century battle.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “We never promised immediate results.” She’s right insofar as Bush has never promised results that could be falsified. He’s never promised immediate results, or for that matter given a specific timeframe and stuck to it. Instead, he keeps urging people to have faith in his judgment, which has time and time again proven to be faulty.

Once Fascist, Always Fascist

March 4, 2007

Lindsay has an important story about how Iraq’s trade unions, a secular democratic interest group that was against Saddam Hussein back in the day, are under attack from both insurgents and the US. The immediate cause of this is a straightforward power struggle involving privatization; Lindsay says,

It is not surprising that Iraqi trade unions leaders have been targeted by both insurgents and occupying forces. Iraqi unions have undergone a resurgence since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, union power is a potential threat to both fundamentalist clerics and the international corporations seeking to privatize Iraq’s oil industry.

The US-backed Iraqi government approved a sweeping new privatization package for Iraq’s oil industry last Monday. Labor leaders were shut out of the negotiations leading up to the new hydrocarbon law.

One of the characteristics of totalitarianism is its destruction of every civil society structure that could make an alternative to the state and the one party. Authoritarianism tends to leave a few allied structures in place, such as a properly conservative church or mosque, but unions are always targeted for liquidation.

This holds even in authoritarian socialist states. There were no independent trade unions in the Soviet Union. Even Hugo Chavez, a budding authoritarian socialist leader, has had power struggles with the unions, which he’s trying to coopt despite their constituting allies in his fight for a more socialist Venezuela. It goes without saying then that non-socialist forms of authoritarianism, including the religious one that’s building up in Iraq, will be anti-union.

On May 1st, 1933*, Nazi Germany celebrated Labor Day and Hitler promised the workers he’d be their ally. The next day he raided their offices, destroyed them, and established in their stead a single employer-side trade union.

This goes beyond things like whether unions should be established by a secret ballot or by a card check. The freedom of association is a civil liberty that is really on a par with free speech and privacy in being one of the few that enable all the others. It’s what underpins civil society and much of free enterprise. It’s also a very unglamorous civil liberty, since the union raider appears to affect far fewer and less public people than the censor or the eavesdropper.

The US can’t even keep up the act that Iraq is a democracy. Forget insurgents, who are upfront about wanting to establish a Shi’a theocracy (let’s face it, the Sunnis aren’t winning the civil war). The US itself is actively trying to dedemocratize Iraq, just like it has so many other third-world countries over the years.

Tuesday Night Links

February 27, 2007

Echidne examines the consequences of shrinking government to the point that it can be drowned in a bathtub. She looks at what spending cuts have done to the FDA, which is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago (link). I don’t want to blow government out of proportions; I just want to increase it to the size that I can ride the subway without being infected with cholera, eat uncooked chicken without getting salmonella, and walk under a shed without worrying about the possibility of a collapse.

Ezra writes about free trade; although he has populist sentiments, he’s fairly pro-trade. In a heated argument between Brad DeLong and Jeff Faux, he comes down clearly on DeLong’s side after Faux dodges a legitimate question about free trade’s positive effects on China. Ezra takes Faux to task for ranting about Chinese domestic economic policy for being bad for the poor. Why impoverishing China by slapping tariffs on it will cause its government to change its policy when similar sanctions against other countries have miserably failed is beyond me.

Samhita asks whether it can truly be called feminist empowerment when women in Pakistan protest the demolition of illegally built mosques. The people on the comment thread tend toward realizing that, to quote EG, “Women are a huge segment of the population, and no social/political/religious movement would succeed without any support from women. But that doesn’t make the movement inherently feminist.”

Jenny explains why it’s not a feminist duty to support Hillary Clinton. Just like I don’t accuse anyone who opposes Obama of hating black people and anyone who opposes Richardson of hating Hispanics, so do I oppose allegations that opposing Clinton is something sexist. The proper feminist or antiracist or pro-gay or pro-atheist thing to do is support a candidate based on real issues, regardless of gender/race/sexual orientation/religion. Feminism doesn’t exist to empower Hillary Clinton, but to empower the 3,249,999,999 women who aren’t so powerful as to have a shot at becoming the most powerful person in the world.

Lindsay writes about the difference between the left-wing American blogosphere and the right-wing one. While the left-wing blogosphere seeks to turn itself into part of the Democratic Party, featuring a motley crew of policy analysts, movement activists, fundraisers, and screamers, the right-wing blogosphere only engages in scalping of the type Donahue did to Amanda.

Ruchira reproduces an article about Tehran that seems to strike the correct chord in depicting the city as highly cultured and developed and at the same time suffering from a fundamentalism problem. This isn’t Kandahar or even Baghdad we’re talking about, but a modern city that doesn’t have many ingrained problems a revolution won’t solve.

Brent notes that Mitt Romney is hardly the only person in the US who thinks atheists can’t be Presidents. A clueless law professor at Colorado University rants about atheists from about every imaginable angle, including coming out in support of Romney’s bigotry. Brent takes him to task for spouting inanities about atheists’ morality.

Skatje takes down arguments for preserving the Pledge of Allegiance so that you don’t have to. Hitting the nail right on the head, she says, “An oath of loyalty is something you see in totalitarian regimes, not something you’d expect in a nation that prides itself on freedom. In a classroom with children from as young as age five robotically chanting at a flag every morning, I’d also expect a big silver screen on one of the walls. I’ve already written about nationalism. Submission and obedience to a government is another leg of it.”

Tyler rants about excessive moderates who in order to look centrist compare atheists to fundamentalists. Unlike Tyler I don’t care enough for Dawkins to get agitated when someone does a hatchet job on him, but I do care enough for reality to see that atheism is as extreme as fundamentalism to the same degree that supporting full racial equality is as extreme as apartheid.

Israel and Apartheid

February 24, 2007

I don’t think I’ve ever referred to the Israeli occupation as apartheid. But now that a UN envoy who’s a South African professor of international law is saying that the Palestinians’ situation is the same as this of black South Africans in the 1970s, I’m starting to warm up to the comparison. What’s more, the envoy suggests that “Israel is imposing a policy of ‘controlled strangulation’ that is helping to give rise to a failed state on its doorstep” – in other words, that Israel is deliberately screwing Palestine’s economy to make it ungovernable.

Israel’s response is predictable: “You’re one-sided.” Israel can’t justify the occupation itself in terms that won’t make people so angry that they’ll demand sanctions. It can much less justify the specific details of the occupation – the roadblocks, the protection of settlers’ lynches of Palestinian civilians, the fence, and so on.

So, instead, when people criticize it, its best shot is to make shrill accusations of anti-Semitism, and to try delegitimizing the notion that Palestinians should have rights. The Israeli government isn’t the only organization that believes certain people’s rights depend on sufficient obsequity, but it’s the one that defends this notion the most blatantly.

Look, what Bismarck said about laws and sausages applies to liberation movements, too. Everyone likes a liberation movement, after (or right before) it achieves its goals. When it’s still not painfully obvious it’s won, it gets demonized, regardless of what tactics it uses. Even Martin Luther King was billed as a dangerous radical into the early 1960s. It then goes without saying that any political movement that isn’t blessed with fighting a relatively non-violent establishment, which can be fought non-violently, faces even greater delegitimization, regardless of whether its causes or methods are justified.

So comparisons between modern Israel and apartheid South Africa are complicated by the fact that Nelson Mandela’s success made it impolitic to defend apartheid South Africa. But in fact, once one gets over that differential, the comparison still holds. Olmert isn’t Assad or King Hussein, who slaughtered Palestinians by the thousands and myriads. South Africa wasn’t Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, either; it had no arbitrary pogroms.

Almost every regime can point to a worse regime. It’s somewhat analogous to pathological extremism, where the subsitute for radicalism is nationalism. Killing people is certainly a way of showing one’s authentic patriotism. That way, Palestinian terrorists can say they’re better than the IDF, and the IDF can say it’s better than Syria, and Syria can say it’s better than Pinochet, and Latin American fascists can say Pinochet’s better than Mussolini, and Italian fascists can say Mussolini’s better than Hitler. Nazis are sufficiently vilified that no political force needs to ever invoke them positively.

Israel isn’t Britain. The British Empire was the sort that stopped its trains when Indian independence activists lay on the railroad tracks. As Orwell noted, Gandhi could only use non-violent tactics because Britain had a conscience. Israel has no conscience; its military whitewashes its bulldozer drivers’ running over activists who stand in front of buildings that are scheduled for demolition. As such, denying human rights to all Palestinians because a small group of them commit terrorism against Israeli civilians isn’t an especially rational thing to do. And, while we’re at it, India had its terrorists, too – Subhash Chandra Bose went as far as allying himself with the Axis against Britain in World War Two.

It’s possible to typify most countries as stereotypes of people. The US used to be Vito Corleone, until Bush turned it into Sonny Corleone. In that paradigm, Israel is the annoying kid who murders someone, gets caught, and then complains to the judge, “But the terrorists are killing more people and you haven’t caught them yet!”. Yes, kid, brag about your incompetence at hiding your atrocities. When you do that, you deserve to do hard time just for stupidity.

Saturday Link Roundup

February 17, 2007

I wanted this roundup to be science-themed, but there’s been too few linkworthy science posts and too many political posts. Still, starting with the science, GrrlScientist reports about how sulfur particles cause some global cooling, which can be exploited to mitigate global warming. The only thing I have to say about that is to recall the Futurama episode where Fry says at a ski resort, “It’s a good thing global warming never happened.” Leela retorts, “It did, but the nuclear winter balanced it out.”

Orac writes about the dilemma of whether to allow individuals access to experimental drugs. He comes down strongly on the side of not allowing, explaining that,

The entire ruling also seems to rest on a misperception that there are “miracle drugs” out there that we will have to wait years for because the FDA is too slow to approve them. However, if there really were such a “miracle drug” that was amazingly effective compared to anything we have now, a large randomized phase III trial would not be necessary to detect its efficacy. Indeed, its efficacy would almost certainly show up in even a small phase I trial. There’d be examples of amazing tumor shrinkage or even outright cures. In reality, we don’t see these things in Phase I trials, because there are no miracle drugs, at least not yet. Because the effects of most new drugs against various tumors tends to be less than miraculous, we need Phase III trials to determine safety and efficacy.

Kevin Alexander Gray of Black Agenda Report skewers Obama as a bland, white-identified politician who’s not listening to the black community’s concerns. Obama happens to be black, but he’s not the black voters’ candidate; black voters prefer Clinton, who they’re backing by several percentage points more than whites do, while supporting Obama by no greater numbers than whites do. It could be due to unfamiliarity, but it could also be due to Obama’s failure to tap into traditional sources of black support.

Matthew Yglesias turns his attention to Iran. Scott McLemee has an entirely misguided column on Inside Higher Ed that accuses liberals of not caring about Iranian democracy. Matt Yglesias notes that he has no idea what he’s talking about. After all, American conservatives want to bomb Iran, a surefire way to cement support for the regime, while the liberals are letting the regime crumble under its own weight.

Via Ars Mathematica I found a long article in the New York Magazine about praise and self-esteem. The two-line conclusion is that praising children’s intelligence will only hurt them by making them complacent and causing them to view failures as embarrassments, while praising their effort will make them work harder. In addition, praise needs to be specific – e.g. “It’s good that you can concentrate for so long” – or else it will be perceived as disingenuous. Draw your own conclusions about education.

Iran War Links

February 16, 2007

6:29 am isn’t the most fruitful time for another lengthy post about the war on Iran, so instead, I’m doing a link post.

First, the Commissar has a beautiful piece of snark about the American allegations that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents. “Bush to Bomb Washington,” his mock headline exclaims. Stephen has the courage to say what I didn’t dare: the US is supplying the insurgents via its criminal incompetence, so why not bomb Washington?

On top of that, Saudi Arabia is promising to arm the Sunni insurgents if the US withdraws. Ostensibly it wants to “prevent them being massacred by Shia militias,” but as always, “prevent us from being massacred by group Y” is code for “massacre group Y.”

Brock of Battlepanda notes that the standoff is increasing oil prices, which funnels money into the coffers of the Iranian government. Since much of Ahmadinejad’s weakness comes from his inability to make good on any of his economic promises, it follows that the saber-rattling alone strengthens the regime.

Publius of Obsidian Wings, which I should really start reading and add to my blogroll, writes about how procedure isn’t enough. Clinton’s response to Bush’s latest attempt to bomb a random third-world country is to demand that he submit to Congressional authorization. Publius reminds everyone that the Democrats said the same thing in 2002, and then rubber-stamped the Iraq attack.

If Publius plays good cop with Clinton, Avedon plays bad cop. Blunt and hard-hitting as always, she says,

The reason Clinton is getting the emphasis wrong is that she’s trying to be really macho about Iran and doesn’t dare say that there are worse things than Iran getting nuclear power, and one of those things would be using military force against Iran. And she apparently does not understand that nothing makes Iran want nuclear power like the constant belligerence from the United States against Iran. So just shut up about Iran and tell Bush flat out that he can’t go there.

Kenneth Baer says on TPMCafe that Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are right to engage in waffling rhetoric about keeping all options on the table because that’s what the experts recommend. Ezra retorts by showing that Baer is just wrong. While Baer’s article is filled with his own speculations, Ezra sticks to quoting the experts, who are far less pro-war than Baer says they are.

Dan Froomkin shows how in the absence of concrete evidence Iran is supplying Shi’a extremists, Bush is resorting to florid demagogy.

Delegitimizing Peacemakers

February 16, 2007

Caroline Glick at the Jerusalem Post writes a wonderful article that aims to delegitimize every Palestinian political group, no matter how prepared it is for peace. The standard is always the same: nothing short of total acceptance is okay, and nothing short of total obsequity is peaceful. I see it among pro-Palestinian extremists who portray Israelis as uniformly oppressive, and among pro-Israeli extremists who portrays Palestinians as uniformly pro-terror.

Glick’s first contention is that Fatah is just a kinder, gentler terrorist organization than Hamas. Presumably, that Fatah is prepared to recognize Israel and focuses on nonviolent resistance to the Occupation is not enough; as long as it doesn’t tell Olmert, “Sir, you’re allowed to arrest and kill any of our citizens at will without due process,” it’s a terrorist organization.

And, of course, there’s the ridiculous attempt to delegitimize half of the debate on the I/P conflict. The gamut of views ranges from wanting to wipe out Israel and wanting to keep Palestinians subjugated indefinitely. It’s possible in principle to exclude people who advocate violence against civilians, but that will leave maybe 20% of people in, which is of course futile. But it’s never sensible to exclude people whoadvocate violence only on one side.

Israelis like to believe that the first approach to the debate must be recognizing the validity of basic pro-Israeli promises: Israeli life is inviolable (while Palestinian life isn’t necessarily), Zionism is good, non-obsequious criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, and so on. So Glick makes the incredible assertion that calling Israel an apartheid state is somehow anti-Semitic because it denies Jewish self-determination.

Look, if you want to argue that every nation deserves self-determination, go ahead. Even the most extreme pro-Palestinian intellectuals in the West – Chomsky, Judt, Said – are officially left of Fatah, to say nothing of Hamas. The people who criticized South African apartheid didn’t ever advocate killing off white South Africans, even when they supported the African National Congress’s violent activities.

If you think the debate on abortion is marked by preaching to the choir, read some magazines that deal with the I/P conflict. On that issue preaching to the choir is not only normal but also seen as the mark of good citizenship. An Israeli who doesn’t refuse a priori to talk to anyone who’s more pro-Palestinian than Peace Now is seen as a traitor; a Palestinian who doesn’t refuse a priori to talk to anyone who’s more pro-Israeli than Rachel Corrie is seen as a collaborator.

Of course, different sides have different premises. Fortunately, the world tends to offer enough facts that anyone who’s sufficiently intelligent, sufficiently familiar with the other side’s contentions, and sufficiently right can make headway. Retreating to shrill papers like Z, the Jerusalem Post, Counterpunch, and National Review, and insisting on ridiculous ground rules is the mark of the intellectual coward.

The real danger here is of course not about relatively insignificant writers on partisan papers. Rather, it’s that governments will heed those writers’ requirements and stop negotiating. As Rabin and Peres emphasized time and time again in the wake of the Oslo Accords, peace is something you make with enemies. At the time, the Hamas bombings seemed to belie that saying; now that Palestinians are ready to move on and Fatah is no longer pro-terror, it makes perfect sense.

A pro-Palestinian purist would see Rabin as an oppressor. Why wouldn’t he? During the first Intifada, Rabin didn’t pledge support for the Palestinians, but rather said that the IDF should “Break their arms and legs” (variant quote: “break their bones”). He made peace not because of humanitarian concern with Palestinian suffering but because he realized it was in Israel’s best geopolitical interest. Fortunately, Arafat had other concerns, so he negotiated.

It’s attractive for the purist to look for like-minded idealists on the other side, but it’s not happening. There are no Zionists anywhere in mainstream Palestinian politics. Likewise, there are no heavyweight pro-Palestinians in Israeli politics, or any anti-Americans in American politics, or British patriots in French politics. In realist politics, each side’s politicians are concerned with their own country’s well-being no matter what side they’re on; those on the left just see peace as more beneficial than war.

But for negotiations to go anywhere, the governments need to make sure these purists who legitimize the peacemakers have no power. Palestine is trying to do that by ensuring that the people Israel negotiates with are Fatah members; but in Israel, where the nationalist parties are more popular, it’s impossible at this stage.

The only serious solution within Israel is to delude the Likudniks into thinking they have any power while shafting them in practice. Unfortunately, there are no sufficiently skilled politicians in Israel who can do that. Sharon could and for the most part did, but he’s incapacitated now.

To paraphrase Churchill, Fatah is the worst government the Palestinians have had and the worst negotiating partner Israel has had, except for all the other alternatives. Delegitimizing that party for no good reason is not something any responsible columnist who favors peace would do.

Fatah and Hamas Form a Unity Government

February 15, 2007

Despite my low expectations, Hamas and Fatah did agree on a unity government. Prime Minister Haniyeh submitted his resignation to President Abbas, and a new unity government is expected soon.

The problem, of course, is that the Palestinians are still worried that Western governments will shun them because of Hamas. If they will then they’ll be worse than the EU is when it comes to accession criteria, considering that the main reason Hamas is forming a unity government with Fatah is international pressure.

There’s a fundamental hypocrisy involved with the treatment of Hamas. The New York Times calls it a radical group, on account of its lack of recognition of Israel. It’s certainly not a pacifist party, nor even a terribly good one, but “radical” is somewhat over the top.

Likud and Israel Beitenu, the latter of which is part of the Israeli government, don’t recognize a Palestinian state. Sharon was compelled to leave Likud for Kadima because the Likud’s core members would not accept his withdrawal from Gaza Strip, which paved the way for an Israeli recognition of Palestine. Israel Beitenu’s leader has gone so far as calling Arabs traitors and pushing for retaliatory attacks on civilian targets.

Iran Won’t Know What Hit It

February 13, 2007

Via Eurotrib: Iran’s net oil exports are shrinking so much that the government is engaging in desperate measures that will probably cause it to fall. The New York Times has the story:

Some analysts say that if this acute imbalance between stagnant production and rising demand at home continues unchecked, Iran will have no oil left over to export within a decade. Its oil exports, totaling $47 billion last year, account for half the government’s revenue.


To curb demand, which has been driven in part by subsidies that keep the domestic pump price at a mere 35 cents a gallon, the government plans to begin rationing gasoline in March, a measure so unpopular, and potentially explosive, that rationing plans have been put off several times in the past.

If Ahmadinejad were serious about staying in power, he’d put off the plan for a year, and rely on overproduction, just like the Shah did in the 1970s. In such a situation, a smart US President would wait for Iran’s oil production to plummet and then engage in minor diplomatic action to ensure that the post-revolutionary government would be pro-American. However, Bush isn’t a smart President, and his advisors are not a smart administration; they’re likely to bomb either way.

It seems almost as if Ahmadinejad is trying to ensure the regime collapses before the US has any time to bomb. If he can wait it out two more years, Bush’s hotheadedness and Congress’s spinelessness will secure his regime indefinitely. The US can’t execute an invasion, or at least not a successful one; all it can do is aerially strike, giving just enough impetus to preserve the regime.

Iran’s government is repeating the same mistakes the United States’ did, which led to the crash in Bush’s approval rate. The correct way to wean a gasoline-addicted population is gradually, via either slowly increasing taxes or investing in public transportation. The incorrect way is to ration gas. Peacetime rations have never been conducive to regime support. Regimes that the people are overall satisfied with can get away with it; regimes that have a five-year shelf life can’t.

Iran won’t know what hit it. For a government that got installed when angry mobs threw out the despised, authoritarian Shah who was keeping them in poverty, it has an awfully short memory. It has an authoritarian, despised President who can’t deliver on his economic promises, who’s propped up by an equally authoritarian Supreme Leader who’d be even more despised if he were more public.

I’m willing to stake my entire corpus of posts about the Middle East on this: barring an American or Israeli attack on Iranian soil, the current regime isn’t going to survive into the 2010s. Far stronger regimes have fallen before the might of popular discontent. A year ago, Ahmadinejad could cover up his unpopularity by clamping down on opposition newspapers. Today, he could just as well jail two thirds of the Iranian population.

Tuesday Small Hours Links

February 13, 2007

There are so many good links from the last day or two.

Jessica Dreadful breaks another abortion ban story from South Dakota, this time with exceptions for rape and incest in order to make the bill more palatable. But even then, the rape and incest exceptions are created with the most draconian restrictions possible.

[Link] The bill would allow rape victims to get abortions if they report the rapes to police within 50 days. Doctors would have to confirm those reports with police; doctors also would have to give blood from aborted fetuses to police for DNA testing in rape and incest cases.

The Commissar explains exactly what is wrong with the Bush administration’s accusations of Iranian support for Iraqi militants. Instead of trying to doubt the intelligence that was used to gather the conclusions, he shows why the conclusions themselves are implausible.

At the recent US military briefing about the Iranian mortar shells given to Iraqi Shiite militias, it was reported that these super-bombs have killed 170 US troops since June, 2004. I’m sure that Shiite IED’s have killed American troops in Iraq. How many overall? If the Iranian EFP’s have killed 170 Americans, what fraction is that of the total.


Of the 553 (82+471) where the sect of the attacker can be reliably inferred, 15% of these deadly IED attacks were committed by Shiites. Extrapolated to the full set, that would be 144 overall. That’s right. Only 144 Shiite-IED related deaths since June 2004.

Ezra has a three part series on the horrors of prison rape. While he doesn’t use the wonky style we all know and love, his posts still come off as very strong. He notes,

According to the Justice Department, “[in] 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.” This is important. The relative infrequency with which white Americans enter prison, particularly for extended periods of time, surely effects the political urgency of prison reform. Indeed, it’s likely the reason overall legislation pushes in the other direction — towards overcrowding and longer sentences and less rehabilitation.

Brent reproduces a letter about the invisibility of atheists in the US. Since atheists are impossible to immediately discern from theists, bigoted Christians can get away with assuming that everyone in their lives who is a good person shares their religion. Based on that, he urges atheists to come out publicly.

First, misconceptions about us abound because of this invisibility. People don’t realize that we are their doctor, their teacher, their spouse or the nice guy that just held the door for them. The only face of naturalism a person is likely to see is a militant one. Is there any doubt that the image of naturalists would improve overnight if politicians, stars and athletes would come out?

d of Lawyers, Guns and Money comments on a statement by Bill Kristol about Obama that makes Joe Biden look like the second coming of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, W. E. B. DuBois, and Frederick Douglass all rolled into one. Kristol says Obama would’ve supported pro-slavery politicians in the 1850s. d notes,

When Kristol suggests — wearing his arrogant smirk like a badge of honor — that Barack Obama “would have been for Douglas in 1858,” he seems not to know one important historical fact. According to the laws of Illinois in 1858, Barack Obama would not only have been incapable of voting for Stephen Douglas, but he also would not have been allowed to enter the state in the first place. In 1853, Illinois passed one of the most restrictive black codes in the so-called “free north.” Blacks from other states were permitted to remain in the state for ten days; if they did not leave, they were subject to arrest and temporary enslavement — they would be sold to bidders who would be entitled to their labor until the mandatory $50 fine had been worked off. If the offending individual remained in Illinois after his or her release, the fines increased by $50 increments for each subsequent offense.

In her latest basic concepts post, Shelley turns to prions, the proteins that cause mad cow disease. Although they are proteins rather than organisms, they have the capability to mess with existing proteins in a way that makes them infectious in a way.

The protein that prions are made of is found throughout the body normally(called PrPc), although what their non-disease function is is not yet known. These proteins are encoded by the PRNP gene, and mutations in this gene are responsibly for inherited prion diseases. The disease-state prion protein is called (PrPSc) and is resistant to proteases which would normally denature a protein and render it harmless. The theory of how prions become infectious to other proteins is detailed below.

Abbas reproduces a letter by Waleed Hazbun, a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut. Hazbun describes the city,

Walking down the streets of the Hamra district of Beirut I think to myself that more cities across the Arab world should feel this way. Even as the city is re-dividing itself politically and police and security forces stand watch over public spaces, key buildings, and the residences of leading politicians, Beirut remains a urban, cosmopolitan environment. By invoking this term I do not refer to the fancy shopping districts with Euro-American name brand shops, the haut-hipsters hanging out a Starbucks (or even the much cooler De Prague), or the late night dancing parties going on at the trendy clubs. Beirut is a costal Levantine city that has never been cut off from other Mediterranean cities and trade routes nor fully isolated from its Arab/Islamic hinterland. It is not a show case ‘modern’ city built next to a museumfied medieval era ‘madina,’ like Tunis nor an artificial metropolis emerging out of a desert landscape due to royal patronage or the flows of petrodollars. It is more like Istanbul and how cities on coast of Mandate Palestine might have developed in some alterative reality.

Also on 3QD, Dhiraj Nayyar writes about the parallels between India and the US. India is aspiring to global superpower status, complete with economic domination and massive exportation of culture. But the social problems of the US pale in comparison with those of India.

Can India possibly claim to be superpower, the new emperor, just because some of it’s corporates are taking over firms abroad. Corporate might hasn’t turned into well-being for the majority of the people who still languish in poverty, illiteracy, hunger: basically dismal human conditions. Even possessing a few nuclear weapons doesn’t change this fact. And if half a country’s population cannot read, feed or cloth itself, what does that say about the empire? Even the American empire seems hollow when it is estimated that one in six people in the US is functionally illiterate, a large number of them live in poverty, where poverty is often a function of race, and where hurricanes like Katrina leave the mighty government fumbling for solutions.

Tyler expresses skepticism of much-hyped developments in quantum computing. In principle, quantum computers can factor integers in polynomial time, compared with exponential time for normal computers. In practice, constructing a quantum computer is about as feasible as fusion power at this stage. Tyler explains,

An actual working 16-qubit quantum superconductor that can overcome decoherence and the ubiquitous errors that plague any effort to build a computing device on quantum principles would be quite an achievement. It would indeed be interesting to do a full scale quantum computation, perhaps actually executing the Shor factoring algorithm. But A.) 16-qubits isn’t going to cut it and B.) they’ve been ominously reserved about releasing any results for professionals and academics to evaluate. And needless to say, with the grandiose proclamations the folks at the company have made, I’m skeptical.

Zuzu rips into the third chapter of Dawn Eden’s book, The Thrill of the Chaste (the parts Zuzu quotes sound as unintelligent as the title).

The chapter opens with a description of a continuing education course on “Living Single.” Dawn reads the description — which is all about helping people confidently navigate the single world, whether they’ve never left it or are re-entering it — and all she sees is “lack.”

She would, wouldn’t she?

I mean, her whole life, she’s felt lacking, and though she’s changed her strategy, her goal is the same: get married. Thing is, as she does so many times, she breezes right by the point. The course is designed to alleviate some of the social pressure that single adults feel to be in a couple, that they are in fact lacking something. It’s designed to help people understand that they don’t need to be in a couple to have fulfilling lives. But Dawn just sees the course as evidence that women are mired in a pathetic, pop-culturally-dictated “single lifestyle” that is all about lack — that lack being, of course, lack of a man and lack of God.

Finally, Bora collects all Darwin Day posts in one big link post. I haven’t had time to look at them yet, but you should.

Are My Pro-Israeli Commenters the Only Ones Who Draw Rhetoric from Mein Kampf?

February 10, 2007

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that lies are more valuable than the truth because it takes less time to tell a lie than to refute it. It’s certainly true in the case of justifications for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It takes 30 seconds to digest a sentence from the pro-occupation group closest to your location; even when I wrote a refutation elsewhere, it takes me a few minutes to find it and quote the appropriate result from it.

So, please, if you feel like you have something to say about the I/P conflict, note that it’s very likely you’re saying bullshit I’ve refuted elsewhere. I’ll deal with pro-Palestinian crap when I get clueless pro-Palestinian commenters; now let me just point a few things out that pro-Israelis consistently get wrong. You can read most of it here, but if you don’t want to click the link, here it goes:

1. Most Palestinians support the two-state solution arrived at via negotiations.

[Link] Findings show that the majority of the respondents (62%) supports and 34% oppose peace negotiations between a Hamas-led government and Israel. A majority of 58% supports and 40% oppose a permanent settlement that would resolve all issues of the conflict in which Palestinians would recognize Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Israelis would recognize Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people.

2. Palestinians support the Gaza ceasefire nearly unanimously, and are increasingly viewing negotiations rather than terrorism as the key to achieving independence. The same link above says,

Findings show that the overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) supports the ceasefire agreement currently observed in the Gaza Strip while only 14% oppose it. Similarly, 85% support and 14% oppose extending the agreement to cover the West Bank as well. The widespread support for the ceasefire might reflect a decrease in the positive evaluation of the role of violence in achieving national rights. Findings show that the public is split into two equal halves on this matter with 49% believing that armed confrontations have so far helped achieve national rights in ways that negotiations could not. This percentage stood at 54% six months ago and at 68% one year ago.

3. Even those who support terrorism often view it as a way of securing independence, rather than a way of destroying Israel.

[Link] Respondents were asked whether the final goal of the Intifada should be the improvement of Palestinian negotiating conditions, ending the occupation and forming a Palestinian state based on UN resolution 242, or the total liberation of Palestine (area under British mandate before 1948).

Forty-six percent of respondents believed that the final goal of the Intifada should be ending the occupation and forming a Palestinian state based on UN resolution 242, 47% believed that it should be the total liberation of Palestine, 4% believed that it should be improving the Palestinian negotiation conditions, and 3% did not provide an answer/ did not know.

4. Of the Palestinians who don’t support a two-state solution, a majority wants a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

[Link] Fifty-seven percent of Palestinians supported the two-state solution, 24% supported a bi-national state, 9% supported a Palestinian state, 3% supported an Islamic state, 5% did not think there was a solution, and 3% did not know or did not provide an answer.

5. Most Palestinians who support a peace agreement want Israel to give refugees the right of return, although most are also willing to postpone negotiations on that and accept an interim agreement first, provided that negotiations for a final agreement proceed. However,

[Link] PSR surveys, conducted in 2003 among 4,500 refugee families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, and Lebanon, found that only 10 percent of all refugees wanted to return to Israel and only 1 percent wanted Israeli citizenship. As figure 5 shows, the rest of the refugees preferred to exercise the right of return in the Palestinian state (31 percent) or in “swapped” areas, that is, areas now in Israel that would be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty in a permanent settlement (23 percent), for a total of 54 percent of refugees preferring to live in a Palestinian state. Only 17 percent of all refugees preferred to remain in a host country, almost all of them in Jordan, and 2 percent preferred to go to a third country such as Canada, a European country, the United States, or Australia. The surveys found that 13 percent of the refugees in all three locations polled refused any of these choices. Most of those wanted to go back to their homes but refused to do so as long as it meant having to live in Israel.

6. Iran is five to ten years away from developing a nuclear weapon.

[Link] Iran is at least five to 10 years away from developing nuclear weapons, and any military attack on the country would only speed up its program, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog organization said today.

7. The Iranian population opposes the regime, approving of Ahmadinejad by about the same rate the American population approves of Bush.

[Link] Ahmadinejad’s approval rating, as calculated by the official state television station, had dipped to 35 percent in October.


For a Western traveler in Iran these days, it is hard to avoid a feeling of cognitive dissonance. From a distance, the Islamic republic appears to be at its zenith. But from the street level, Iran’s grand revolutionary experiment is beset with fragility. The state is in a sense defined by its contradictions, both constitutional and economic. It cannot be truly stable until it resolves them, and yet if it tries to do so, it may not survive.

7. Muslims have produced a few democratic states, like Turkey, Indonesia, and intermittently Lebanon. That’s not a lot, but considering that the first Catholic democracy that didn’t succumb to fascism under its own weight was Czechoslovakia, formed in 1918 (France was anti-Catholic and fought on the Protestant side in the Thirty Years’ War), saying that Islam is inherently anti-democratic is like saying Catholicism is. After all, inherent religious features don’t change in 100 years.

Islamism is simply a political response to the failures of previous movements, chiefly Ba’athism. At the time, Islamism seemed like a fresh change when Ba’athism, monarchy, communism, and liberalism were all crumbling. Tellingly, in the one country where Islamism is plainly practiced, Iran, the people are ready to move on toward liberal democracy.

Iran’s Nuclear Game

February 8, 2007

For the Iranian regime, the nuclear program serves a number of purposes. Obviously self-defense is one, but Israel’s been pointing nukes at Iran for many years. A more urgent reason is political stability, since a showdown over nukes will help the government portray its opponents as weak on America and bolster its profile in the Islamic sphere.

Khamenei’s stepping into the foray by threatening the US is just another part of this game. Khamenei knows damn well that attacking US interests will result in increased global sympathy for the US, especially if the attack is big. The idea is not to provoke a war, which will endanger the regime, but to shift national attention from domestic issues to security.

But many in Iran say they fear attack. Iranian media and websites have almost daily commentaries on a possible U.S. attack — some of them blaming hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the deteriotion in the already bad U.S.-Iranian relations by his provocative rhetoric against America and Israel.

Possibly the most neglected part of realist international relations is the role of domestic politics. It was in the United States’ interest to declare war on Germany together with Britain and France in 1939, but because of isolationist sentiment, Roosevelt had to wait until Germany declared war on the US. It was in Israel’s best interest to wait out the Hezbollah standoff last summer, but due to political pressure Olmert had to bomb in order to look tough.

That holds true regardless of how democratic a country is. In Iran, making sure the thoroughly disaffected people don’t revolt is the regime’s top priority. Like Bush, Ahmadinejad has become so unpopular that even when he does engage in saber-rattling, the people no longer rally around him.

Edwards tried explaining the situation by totalizing economic progress. That’s partly true, but part of the progress people in Iran are looking for is democratic progress. The most dangerous moment for an authoritarian regime is when it starts a process of reform and then abandons it. That happened in the early years of this decade under Khatami; since then, the people have entered a state of strong disapproval of not only the current administration but also the basic regime.

Many Iranians have said they feel under siege and fear an attack despite U.S. denials of such a plan. U.S. President George W. Bush has ordered American troops to act against Iranians suspected of being involved in the Iraqi insurgency, in addition to sending the second carrier to the region.

The best thing that could happen to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad is a war. The US and Israel aren’t going to do anything serious to Iran unless Khamenei’s brain short-circuits and Iran nukes someone. The only thing that could happen is a low-brow war, which would set Iran’s level of development back a little but ensure that the people rally behind the regime as their sole protector.

Bush has been supremely lucky in that he’s gotten a second chance, not to rescue his irrevocably tarnished legacy but to do good in global politics. He could have been serious in the War on Terror and made sure Afghanistan developed into a liberal democracy. But even after squandering that and tearing Iraq apart, he has a second chance with Iran.

He alone can deescalate the situation in order to make sure the regime has no cover with which to crack down on dissent or to shore up support at home. Iran won’t have a nuke for at least five years, but the US or Israel may go crazy and authorize a military strike way earlier.

Unfortunately, Bush is still Bush. Instead of defusing the situation and helping democratize Iran, he’s escalating it and helping the authoritarian regime sustain itself. I’m not sure whether it’s out of a misguided belief that engaging in warfare is more important than defeating an anti-American theocracy or out of a sincere desire to prop up Ahmadinejad, but either way, it’s not helping.

Generic Issues

February 7, 2007

1. I intended to dedicate this day to Giuliani, not McCain. So here it goes: Giuliani had nothing to do with the drop in crime in New York. The blue dot is when Giuliani’s predecessor, Dinkins, assumed office. The red dot is when Giuliani assumed office.


(The data comes from here)

2. Tyler blogs about a right-wing nut who complains that Israel is recognizing gay marriages performed in other countries: “The pro-family official’s concern, he explains, is that Israel’s acceptance of same-sex marriage will give ammunition to its Islamic enemies and fuel their propaganda.” Tyler notes that this is just the Dinesh D’Souza strategy of saying that conservative values are good because the terrorists hate liberal values.

My own comment on that is that the greatest number of Palestinian terrorist attacks is on settlers, who are fairly religious, and on targets in Jerusalem, a conservative city. Attacks on liberal Tel Aviv are the most spectacular, but while half of Israel’s Jewish population lives in Tel Aviv metro, far fewer than half of Palestinian attacks are on Tel Aviv metro.

3. Hat-tip to JD2718: Ray of Education and Technology rips into the Wall Street Journal, which decided to resurrect the meme that public school teachers work 7 hours a week. Based on calculating the number of hours they spend teaching, it arrived at an hourly pay figure of $34/hour. Based on calculating the actual number of hours they work, including teaching, staff meetings, and grading, $15/hour is closer to reality.

Also due to JD2718, the NYC Department of Education’s fetish for small schools combines the worst features of small schools and large schools. Ordinary small schools have their own buildings and are self-contained enough to teach 400-500 students independently. New York’s small schools share the same building with other schools, so they have to coordinate things like bells; a better way to describe them would be large schools supervised by committee.

4. Wal-Mart’s dreadful history of discriminating against women is finally resulting in a trial. Wal-Mart isn’t even denying that the discrimination exists, but instead tries weaseling out of a class action lawsuit and says individual women should sue individual stores.

In a way this is significant beyond Wal-Mart, because the company’s ridiculous claim that it “did not have a policy of discriminating against women” can help underscore a strict liability doctrine in civil rights cases. A corporation is responsible for making sure it’s an equal opportunity employer; if it isn’t aggressively punishing managers who discriminate, it’s exposed to class action lawsuits. It’s just how states are responsible for making sure their militaries don’t murder civilians when occupying a foreign country.

5. Hamas and Fatah are negotiating in Mecca. They’ve been negotiating for a while; while their leaders are talking to each other about how to forge a unity government, their foot soldiers are killing each other as well as any civilians who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

News or Links, Take Your Pick

February 4, 2007

Guestblogging on Ezra Klein, Ankush notes that Edwards is even more of a waffler than he comes off in Ezra’s interview. He notes that Edwards blames the war on intelligence failure, and rebuts,

Today, I’d like to see a presidential candidate grapple with the questions that should be raised about why so many politicians — including, if you supported the war on the basis of WMDs, you — were so wrong when it was far from inevitable. What do you plan to do about promoting and reconciling dissent within the intelligence agencies? How should a President seek out conflicting viewpoints and process the contradictions? What should be the default presumptions when, as is often the case, you have very little intelligence to work off of? Are you concerned that Washington is dominated by a fairly homogeneous, vaguely hawkish group of foreign policy types, many of whom aren’t particularly good at what they do? In essence, why were you wrong in interpreting the evidence about Iraq and what do you plan to do in order not to be wrong the next time?

Edwards’s claims that the intelligence was irretrievably tainted and that everyone was wrong about the wisdom of war — claims which, to be fair, are frequently made by many, many other politicians and pundits — are so demonstrably false as to be borderline offensive. I appreciate his sincerity about his regret over the tragic costs of this war, but, so far as evaluating one’s participation in bringing this disaster about, expressing such regret is quite literally the least you can do.

A few days ago, Hamas and Fatah set a record by holding their fire for a whole day. But as the second day of quitting smoking chocolate coffee indiscriminate violence is always harder than the first, it didn’t work out very well, and Palestinian civilians are living in fear again.

Gazans have long been accustomed to violence. But until recently, the fighting was between local militants and Israeli forces, and the lines of battle were clear.

The last few weeks of fighting between Hamas and Fatah gunmen have taken on a different feel. Gunfire can erupt at any time, poorly trained fighters shoot at random, and the target isn’t always known.

Rudy Giuliani is still not “in it to win,” but is saying there’s a “good chance he’ll run.”

He has emphasized his steady hand dealing with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. However, his moderate stances on gun control, abortion, gay rights and other social issues could be liabilities for him in a GOP presidential primary that includes hard-core conservatives as a central voting group.

For instance, in November, South Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex unions.

“The fact is I appeal to conservative Christians the way I appeal to everyone else,” Giuliani said at a news conference. “I don’t think you have separate appeals to people.”

Giuliani is right. A very big constituency in the South includes people who think it was a mistake to give black people civil rights; Giuliani has a lot to sell them. Another big constituency hates it when non-conformists have free speech; Giuliani can placate them, too. Before Southern conservatives had God, guns, and gays, they had blacks.

Foodconsumer.org has a compilation of information about the HPV vaccine, which Texas Governor Rick Perry has just made mandatory for all girls aged 11-12.

Tony Blair is not only a lame duck Prime Minister, but also under immense pressure to quit now rather than in the summer. It’s not the brown-nosing of Bush or the religious fanaticism that turned the people off, but a corruption scandal involving cash for honors.

The ICM survey for the Sunday Express found that 56 per cent of the public want him to go now rather than wait for his planned summer departure.

The poll found that 43 per cent of Labour supporters feel it is now time for him to step down.

The survey also reveals a loss of trust in the Blair regime with some 66 per cent believing that evidence relating to cash-for-honours allegations has been covered up by people in Downing Street.

Victoria Brittain notes that there is such a thing as Islamic feminism, and that it has achieved several successes in rolling back discriminatory laws in Muslim-majority countries.

Embattled Muslim women, suffering the burdens of the worst cultural attitudes to rape and adultery enshrined in medieval laws in Pakistan and Northern Nigeria; or the sexual violence and rolling back of their rights, unleashed by the war in Iraq; or the targeted killings of women activists in Afghanistan, are turning for help to Muslim women’s groups. From those in Morocco and Malaysia, in particular, the skills of self-help training, experience of long legal battles, linking scholars and activists, are in great demand.

At government policy levels some, Islamic women activists’ campaigns are having successes large and small in some surprising places: Morocco’s Moudawana (religious personal statute laws differing from civil law) have recently been revised after 30 years of struggle; in Turkey’s Ministry of Religion there is a cautious beginning by some scholars to work on the highly sensitive area of questioning the historical basis of the hadith (sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet) which seem misogynist; and in Indonesia’s rural areas teaching materials are being revised.

The Democratic Party is waffling about abortion, as its candidates deemphasize it more and more in order to appeal to Dominionist voters.

Day believes it is the beginning of getting some voters back into the fold. “If I had a nickel for every person who came up to me and said ‘I used to be a Democrat and I’d come back if they changed their stance on abortion,’ we’d be back to a 290 majority like we had in the 1970s.”

Day’s analogy is correct but incomplete. If the Democrats appeal to Dominionists, they’ll be back to a 290 majority in the House like in the 1970s; and like in the 1970s, they’ll have Southern conservatives hold key committee chairmanships that they’ll use to push the entire party to the right.

Skatje writes about homosexuality and the religious nuts who have a problem with it.

You let your bible tell you to shun gays, but you don’t pay attention when it tells you to shun women on their period? The bible says a lot of ridiculous things. You shouldn’t take the “unnatural affections” being a sin bits any more serious than the parts where it says to dash your enemy’s children against rocks or stone disobedient women to death. The reason I figure for including the part about homosexuality in the bible is the same reason they include various sorts of washing, staying away from dead bodies, etc. At the time these things were written, they didn’t know about bacteria and how disease works. They just knew that if you did such and such, you’re less likely to become ill. Anal sex can be unsanitary without the proper precautions. Back then, it was probably a good idea not to stick that there. I’m also undoubtedly sure that homosexuality is mentioned because the bible is notorious for disapproving of things that are different or unusual. Not very good justification though. Don’t let the bible tell you to hate stuff, ‘kay? Use your own head.

The best quote comes from commenter Azkyroth, who mocks a theistic commenter who confuses “canon” with “cannon,”

Also, “canon” is the official Christian doctrine; “cannon” are what they’ve been using to spread the canon since the cannon was invented.

Hat-tip to Robin: Timothy Garton Ash responds to Pascal Bruckner, who accused him of being an Islamist apologist after he criticized Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Pascal Bruckner is the intellectual equivalent of a drunk meandering down the road, arguing loudly with some imaginary enemies. He calls these enemies “Timothy Garton Ash” and “Ian Buruma” but they have very little to do with the real writers of those names. I list below some of his misrepresentations and inaccuracies, with a few weblinks for the curious.

Pascal Bruckner speaks in the name of the Enlightenment, but he betrays its essential spirit. The Enlightenment believed in free expression, without taboos. Because I disagree – courteously, precisely and giving clear reasons – with the views of a woman of Somalian origin, Bruckner does not hesitate to imply that I am a racist (he calls me “an apostle of multiculturalism,” then describes multiculturalism as a “racism of the anti-racists”) and a sexist (“outmoded machismo”, “the spirit of the inquisitors who saw devil-possessed witches in every woman too flamboyant for their tastes”). This is exactly the kind of blanket disqualification that he himself criticised in an article in Le Figaro entitled “Le chantage a l’Islamophobie,” (reprinted from Figaro here) deploring the way any critic of Islam is (dis)qualified as an Islamophobe racist. Except that here he is the blackmailer. Voltaire would be ashamed of him.

You Don’t Choose Negotiating Partners

February 3, 2007

Hat-tip to SLC in the comments: Michael Bloomberg gave his two cents on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and his advice really is worth about two cents. He said,

If [certain organizations] don’t renounce terrorism, if they don’t agree to abide by previous accords and if they don’t recognize Israel, then I personally don’t think Israel should speak with them.

Translation: Israel should negotiate with groups that already agree with it, instead of groups that represent the Palestinians. The way things are trending now, the Munich agreement’s most disastrous consequence is not going to be causing World War Two. Instead, it’s going to be giving nationalists an excuse not to negotiate, causing World War Three.

Neither Egypt nor Jordan recognized Israel at the time Israel negotiated with it. While Jordan had had relatively cordial relations with Israel for decades – King Hussein tried warning Golda Meir of the Yom Kippur War – Egypt hadn’t. Only a few years before Camp David, Sadat had teamed up with Assad in trying to militarily conquer Israel.

The main fear people have is that the other side uses negotiation as a salami method, as in Munich. And, in a way, it makes sense. If an equally powerful opponent demands cession of territory that it either doesn’t deserve or that you need to protect yourself, and if it’s about the fifth time he demands territory as a form of justice, you shouldn’t give it to him.

In the I/P case, however, a) Israel’s conventional military is far stronger than anything Palestine could muster, b) the goal of establishing a state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank but not beyond has been out in the open for at least 10 years, and c) Israel doesn’t need either of the two to protect itself because of its peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt.

Friday Link Roundup

February 2, 2007

Ann notes that HPV causes not only cervical cancer but also penile cancer, and wonders if it means legislators will be less squeamish about mandatory vaccinations.

Jenny Dreadful complains about people who argue for expanding birth control in the third world as a measure of environmental population control. Population pressure in third world countries too far away from the first world to induce massive emigration does increase the pressure on natural resources, but by less than the increase in population. The more global the issue is, the less this population growth has an effect: population explosion in Madagascar has contributed to soil erosion, a local issue, but not at all to climate change.

G. Willow Wilson writes about the Cairo Book Fair, which attracts a gigantic number of people every year. She worries mostly about the proliferation of religious propaganda:

It would be one thing if the religious texts in question were copies of the Qur’an and hadith and jurisprudence, but too often they are mere propaganda: texts that claim shaving one’s beard is a worse crime than adultery, for instance; because adultery is a momentary offense, but habitual shaving accrues bad deeds for as long as you do it, potentially years and years. I have seen Wahhabi books devoted entirely to the supreme virtue of fear.

Pam notes that Pope Benedict XVI can’t control his own church:

A yawning gulf between the stern doctrines preached by Pope Benedict and the advice offered by ordinary Roman Catholic priests has been exposed by an Italian magazine which dispatched reporters to 24 churches around Italy where, in the confessional, they sought rulings on various moral dilemmas.


Another journalist posed as a researcher who had received a lucrative offer to work abroad on embryonic stem cells. With the extra cash, he said, he and his wife could think about starting a family. So should he take up the post?

“Yes. Yes. Of course,” came the reply.

Israel’s Pelosi

January 29, 2007

Israel needs a Nancy Pelosi. The one serving in the US House of Representatives could be pretty good, but anyone who has the power to turn off the aid pipeline and is willing to use it will do. Israel’s violation of an agreement with the US not to use American cluster bombs against civilians would provide a suitable reason to stop sending aid, on top of Israel’s overt threat to authorize a nuclear first strike against Iran.

The U.S. State Department says Israel’s use of U.S.-made cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon during last summer’s war with Hezbollah may have violated an agreement with Washington over the use of the weapons.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said “there were likely violations” of the agreement under the Arms Export Control Act, which governs the use of arms sold by the United States.

Under the Act, whose provisions remain confidential, the U.S. must draft a report and send its findings to Congress, if it believes that a foreign country violated the terms of agreement over how U.S.-made weapons are used.

Israel is like a 20-year-old thug who thinks he’s all independent because he lives on his own, and then goes beating people up and gets away with it because his parents always bail him out. Harsh as it is, that thug’s parents need to tell him, “Ehud, you’re on your own. Do whatever you like, but we’re not paying a dime, and we don’t care if you can’t make rent.”

I should start writing letters to my Senators about it (my Congressman probably already agrees with me). The name Alon Levy is very valuable on a letter that tells New York Senators to stop sending Israel, which is already the most developed country outside the OECD, billions of dollars every year that have no strings attached.

Iran’s Nuclear Program and Democratization

January 25, 2007

Mohamed El-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates Iran is five to ten years away from developing a nuclear weapon.

Military strikes to knock out any suspected Iranian nuclear program would be “absolutely catastrophic” and would “accelerate a program, if it exists,” he said. Graham Allison, an international-affairs professor at Harvard University and a former Defense Department official, told the forum that there’s a 20 percent chance the U.S. or Israel will bomb Iran’s nuclear research sites within the next two years.

When it comes to Iran, a timetable of five to ten years is the diametric opposite of urgency. Iran’s regime is unpopular, and is resorting to strong-arm tactics to prevent the opposition from winning elections. In other countries in the region, Islamism looks like a fresh change from the failed status quo; in Iran, Islamism is the failed status quo.

In 2002, Iran was five years away from a democratic revolution, until Bush promptly gave the fundamentalists all the political ammunition they needed. Absent any additional American or Israeli pressure, Iran is still five years away from a revolution. Ahmadinejad’s programs have reminded people what is at stake, and whenever they get the chance to elect reformers or moderates, they do.

When enough people realize that the only way to truly reform is to remove the Supreme Leader, they will. As the series of popular democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s shows, authoritarian governments crumble when they can’t meet expectations of reform. If Khamenei doesn’t intervene, the Supreme Leader will eventually become like the Queen of England. In the more likely case where he does, he’ll find that even Ceausescu couldn’t stay in power.

Here, a pro-American reader might suggest an outside intervention by the US as a way of speeding things up. After all, he might reason, continued American pressure on the Soviet Union inspired many anti-communists in Eastern Europe. Lech Walesa’s support for Reagan is real.

However, Americanism means very different things to Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners. In Poland, there was a clear war between the Soviet Union, which was oppressing the Poles, and the United States, which wasn’t. The US seemed to promise freedom to all of Europe.

The War on Terror is nothing like that. It’s officially not a war on the entire Middle East. Iran is not occupied by a foreign government. This war has cultural undertones that the Cold War never did; communism was a failed economic system, whereas Islam is a culture. The US overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Mossadegh in 1953 and replaced it with a reviled fascist regime by the Shah.

Not coincidentally, in Iran, people never think of the US when they talk about democracy. To them, the US represents a fascist form of government that’s as stifling as what they have no. When words are forbidden, they protest not with the picture of the Shah or Bush or Bill Clinton or Reagan, but with the picture of Mossadegh.

Meanwhile, the Iranian government is getting ready to deploy anti-air missiles near its nuclear sites. I could write about how it’s a positive development since it delays the Israeli strike, but really every security-related news piece helps the militant right, just like in traditional American domestic politics. Iran’s alliance with Russia is probably a bad thing; Putin has no more interest in democracy springing up in Iran than he did in democracy springing up in Georgia and Ukraine.

In an ideal world, the liberals of Iran could coordinate with those of Palestine, the US, and Israel on a plan that would ensure Israel wouldn’t strike militarily before a democratic revolution, after which global public opinion could permanently prevent an Israeli attack. However, in the real world, any such coordination will be castigated as treasonous. There’s a reason the Liberal International does nothing but weakly promote the economic parts of neo-liberalism.

Still, to steal the quote Michelle Goldberg uses, “We are global, and they are global.” Liberal democratic thinking always requires thinking about civil liberties both at home and abroad. American liberals need to engage in the politics that helps Iran democratize. Palestinian liberals need to promote non-violent resistance to the Occupation. Spreading democracy and stopping wars of aggression should be high priorities.

Outrage Links

January 25, 2007

Lindsay has an ongoing series on Julie Amero, the teacher who is facing jail time because some spyware showed porn to her students. She has an article up on the Huffington Post about it, and a further explanation about why Amero didn’t immediately closed the offending windows.

Steve Gilliard embeds a video of someone who needs a Queer Eye makeover singing “God hates fags.” Personally I was most bothered by the line, “With a man you shall not lay.” It wasn’t the implicit sexism, but the use of “lay” when “lie” is needed (hat-tip to Bruce).

Jenny writes about the history of lobotomy, which was to treat for every psychiatric condition, real or imagined. Lobotomies have a specific purpose: to remove damaged brain tissue. Psychological problems aren’t usually about damaged brain tissue, but rather about overall chemical imbalances. To quote Simon on Firefly, “Why anyone would cut into a healthy brain…”

Skatje complains about nationalist hysteria, as manifested in the American notion that the US flag should have rights (which, incidentally, Clinton is happily flip-flopping on). Skatje comments, “Nationalism terrifies me. A country should never come before human rights. If that’s not a step towards a fascist regime, I don’t know what is. To add to my disgust, America packages nationalism as a virtue called “patriotism.” They’re more or less synonymous, but patriotism is a euphemism.”

Skatje’s dad PZ writes about a political science professor who’s under fire because she sent people an email from her university account asking to “put together a Team Franken.”

Echidne notes that the State of the Union address included lengthy references to freedom in a Middle Eastern context, without saying a single word about the USA’s role in destroying Iraq, or Israel’s role in increasing the sympathies for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Tyler posted a picture of himself. If that’s not outrage, I don’t know what is.

Jill stumbled upon a site for the vanguard of a Christian version of the Taliban‘s dress code for women. Discussion topics on the website include the importance of modesty, the need for women to make sure men don’t sin, and micromanagement to ensure that no behavior, including turning heads, causes men to sin.

On My Left Wing, There Is No Spoon is writing about the Republican threat to filibuster the minimum wage increase in the Senate. My first response is, “How the hell is Reid unable to get cloture on a bill that passed the House 3 to 1?”. My second is the same as There Is No Spoon’s: “I have absolutely no problem with watching the GOP bring Speaker Pelosi’s incredibly popular 100 hours legislation to a dead halt in the Senate by filibustering the one most popular piece of that agenda.”

More Hogwash on Iraq

January 23, 2007

General David Petraeus, Bush’s latest appointee for chief of American forces in Iraq, is trying to avoid setting any concrete failure standards for the surge. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he failed to answer any question about goals, timetables, or deadlines, and said nothing apart from the usual spiel about victory.

In his opening statement, Petraeus, 54, painted a grim picture of conditions in Iraq.

“The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard. … But hard is not hopeless,” he said.

In theory, it’s true: hard is not hopeless. In practice, the US has already lost in Iraq. It’s failed to contain the insurgency, and under its watch a large mass of Shi’as switched loyalties from pro-American Sistani to anti-American Sadr. Its original stated aim – to usher in a pro-American, democratic Iraq – is a pipedream. Bush made pro-Americanism an almost fringe view, and as early as 2003, it was obvious the alternative regime in Iraq was going to be an Iran-style theocracy rather than a liberal democracy.

Stentor once wrote about studies of irrationality. Firms that had spent three million dollars out of five on a project that then turned out to be worth only one million would always finish the project instead of cut their losses and save a million dollars. Bush’s inability to admit failure is just another example of this in action: he’d rather spend a hundred billion dollars and get two hundred thousand more Iraqis killed in the hope of achieving something that won’t even recover these costs.

Asked by McCain how soon he thought he would know whether the new strategy was working, Petraeus said, “We would have indicators at the least during the late summer.” As currently planned, he said, the last of the five additional U.S. Army brigades would be ready to fight in Baghdad by the end of May.

A good rule of thumb about Iraq is that anyone who’s hyperopic enough to institute seven-month plans has no idea what he’s doing.

Thomas Friedman has gotten away too much with saying “The next six months are crucial”; Petraeus isn’t an op-ed writer for the newspaper every political activist in the US loves to hate, but a General who’s by and large above criticism. When the additional troops fail to deliver the goods by late summer, he’ll just shift the goalposts to winter ’08, and Bush will call everyone who objects a defeatist.