Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I hate our government.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ambivalent Quotes of the Day

"I swore since I can remember, I'm not going to let anyone kill a Jew, just because he's a Jew," Avi Dichter, then (2003) the head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency.

"I learned, 'Remember and don't forget.' I drank it like mother's milk. It meant that Jews shouldn't be killed, but it also means that we don't kill others. You need strength to defend Israel, and on the other hand, to be a human." - Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, military chief of staff from 2002 to 2005.

The Moral Calculus of Targeted Bombings (Assassinations)

Yaalon was directing the operation by conference call from his bedroom, where he sat in a blue tracksuit, scribbling notes. The air force chief was on the line, assessing the likely impact of the bomb. He said there was a problem.

A half-ton bomb wouldn't finish the job, the air force chief said. A one-ton bomb would blow out the neighboring apartment building, which was filled with dozens of families.

Immediately, Dichter and Yaalon began to argue. Dichter favored the heavy bomb; Yaalon wanted to abort the operation. They both had worked for decades in counter-terrorism, had served in the same secret commando unit and had, as Dichter put it, "traveled together without passports deep into Arab lands."

But they had emerged with different conclusions. For Dichter, "the barrel of terrorism has a bottom." If you captured or killed enough terrorists, Dichter believed, the problem would be solved. "They deserved a bomb that would send the dream team to hell," Dichter said. "I said, 'If we miss this opportunity, more Israelis will die.' "

Yaalon disagreed: "We won't get to the bottom of the barrel by killing terrorists. We'll get there through education. Dichter thinks we'll kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. That's it -- we've won. I don't accept that."

While Yaalon said the army had to consider the support of the Israeli public -- unlikely to favor civilian deaths -- and international legitimacy, Dichter said that from an operational point of view, a one-ton bomb made sense. "There is no fair fight against terrorists," Dichter said. "Never has been. Never will be."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Least Favorite Quote of the Day

ORLANDO, Aug. 25 -- Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) said this week that God
did not intend for the United States to be a "nation of secular laws" and
that the separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to keep
religious people out of politics.

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to
legislate sin," Harris told interviewers from the Florida Baptist Witness,
the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She cited
abortion and same-sex marriage as examples of that sin.

Harris, a candidate in the Sept. 5 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, said
her religious beliefs "animate" everything she does, including her votes in

Monday, August 21, 2006

Stop Right There! You! The Matter in Your Hand is NOT Allowed

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Favorite Quote of the Day

"A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries." - The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

What's your opinion of education in rural Africa?

But they're learning. Christina Carroll, a sophomore at the College of William and Mary, tells me that conservatives on her campus are afraid to speak out and that she's trying to do something about it. She took a women's studies course last semester and the professor so disliked her conservative take that she got kicked out of class once for her opinions.

Pressed, she's vague. "I believe, I'm not exactly sure, I think that day we were talking about education in rural Africa."

"She kicked you out because you disagreed with her about education in rural Africa?"

"Well, it's more that she got fed up with me in general."

Firm in her understanding of the power of the isolated anecdote, Carroll is struggling to gain command of the convincing details. Still, she's in good company. She is being tutored.

What Bay Buchanan and Christina Hoff Sommers and YAF and Clare Boothe Luce and all the other organizations courting campus conservatives know is that the way to counter "statistically challenged" progressives is not with better statistics (after all, those might be hard to find) but with good stories. Passion motivates.

And in the battle for young minds in the academy, it's all about perception. Targeted attacks and cultivating a few loud voices can generate media attention to the conservative presence on campus. A little money, well spent, can create an illusion of discontent. And, when speaking in neighborly, over-the-fence yarns, sometimes all you need is one good anecdote.

Good comment at CT


> I bring this up because I see this all as
> part of a great tug-of-war between vigilant
> consumers and clever companies.

The typical consumer goods company has hundreds if not thousands of people working 70 hours weeks using the most sophisticated research, tools, etc. known to man to persuade (generous interpretation) or trick (more reasonable interpretation) the consumer into buying its product. The consumer has about 7 seconds at the grocery store (or 7 minutes if considering a big ticket item) to make a choice. How do you think this tug-of-war will come out?

Posted by Cranky Observer · August 14th, 2006 at 8:17 pm

In reference to DRM and P(roperty)RM

Friday, August 18, 2006

Favorite Quote of the Day

Much of Benjamin’s early writing, though always stamped with his oblique intelligence, is the small change of journalism: travel pieces, book reviews, an article on the Berlin Food Exhibition of 1928. In addition to giving Benjamin a precarious living, such work helped him adapt his extremely dense style, formed in the harsh school of German idealist philosophy, into a more appealing literary instrument. Even so, his prose remained challenging. A friend once told him, “In great writing, the proportion between the total number of sentences and those sentences whose formulation was especially striking or pregnant was about one to thirty—whereas it was more like one to two in [your] case.” (“All this is correct,” Benjamin admitted.)


"Spinoza had argued that our capacity for reason is what makes each of us a thing of inestimable worth, demonstrably deserving of dignity and compassion. That each individual is worthy of ethical consideration is itself a discoverable law of nature, obviating the appeal to divine revelation. An idea that had caused outrage when Spinoza first proposed it in the 17th century, adding fire to the denunciation of him as a godless immoralist, had found its way into the minds of men who set out to create a government the likes of which had never before been seen on this earth.

Spinoza's dream of making us susceptible to the voice of reason might seem hopelessly quixotic at this moment, with religion-infested politics on the march. But imagine how much more impossible a dream it would have seemed on that day 350 years ago. And imagine, too, how much even sorrier our sorry world would have been without it."

Thursday, August 17, 2006


"Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study."


"The café was the same one in which years ago I had interviewed the legendary mining leader Juan Lechìn, and Flores took note of the coincidence with pleasure. I asked him why, of all the many grass-roots leaders the years of misery and turbulence in Bolivia had produced, it was not a campesinoor a miners' union leader who emerged as the consensus choice to lead the party and run for president, but Evo Morales, a coca farmer who represented only a tiny sector of the population, "Because the cocaleros had a different struggle," he answered. "In my district no one was bombarding my cows or eradicating my soybeans. They weren't threatening our very livelihoods, so our farmers could choose whether or not to join the Federation or go on a roadblock. It made organizing very difficult. In the Chapare there was no choice; they had to fight. So the cocaleros would always arrive at our congresses as a tightly-knit, forceful body. Logically, Evo was elected as the leader.""

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Least Favorite Quote of the Day

On his return, Bush held a press conference during which, it seemed, he could barely contain his enthusiasm. In response to a question about progress in providing electricity, producing oil, and controlling violence, he swerved into a discussion of his encounter with the speaker of Iraq's parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. The President didn't seem to recall his name but readily remembered his religion:

"The Sunni—I was impressed, by the way, by the Speaker—Denny Hastert told me I'd like him; Denny met with him. And I was impressed by him. He's a fellow that had been put in prison by Saddam and, interestingly enough, put in prison by us. And he made a decision to participate in the government. And he was an articulate person. He talked about running the parliament. It was interesting to see a person that could have been really bitter talk about the skills he's going to need to bring people together to run the parliament. And I found him to be a hopeful person.

They tell me that he wouldn't have taken my phone call a year ago—I think I might have shared this with you at one point in time—and there I was, sitting next to the guy. And I think he enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a refreshing moment."

The incurious White House press corps never asked the obvious question: Why had the United States jailed al-Mashhadani? According to Sunnis and Shiites at the top levels of government in Iraq, al-Mashhadani was a member of, or closely associated with, two al-Qaeda-linked terrorists groups, Ansar Islam and Ansar al-Sunna. The first operated until 2003 in a no man's land high in the mountains between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran while the second has been responsible for some of the worse terrorist attacks on Iraq's Shiites and Kurds. The Iraqis say they gave the Americans specific intelligence on al-Mashhadani's affiliations with those groups and his actions in support of terrorists.

None of this seems to have mattered to a president who is as casual in his approach to national security as his defense secretary. At the same press conference Bush repeated that "the American people have got to understand that Iraq is a part of the war on terror."

Perhaps the two most important American mainstream media sources are the New York Review of Books and New Yorker.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Review of Sen's Identity and Violence

Identity and Violence is his attempt to overcome that bewilderment. As an economist Sen has been hugely influential, helping found the new discipline of social choice theory and winning the Nobel prize for economic sciences in 1998. Through his seminal studies of famine and his theory of freedom as a positive condition involving the full exercise of human capabilities, he has done more to criticise standard models of economic development than any other living thinker. In his new book he writes more as a liberal philosopher than as an economist. Impassioned, eloquent and often moving, Identity and Violence is a sustained attack on the "solitarist" theory which says that human identities are formed by membership of a single social group. Sen believes this solitarist fallacy shapes much communitarian and multicultural thinking, as well as Samuel Huntingdon's theory of "clashing civilisations". In each case it involves the fallacy of defining the multiple and shifting identities present in every human being in terms of a single, unchanging essence. In Sen's view the idea that we can be divided up in this way leads to a "miniaturisation" of humanity, with everyone locked up in tight little boxes from which they emerge only to attack one another.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Quick Thought

Hegemonic Stability Theory but for politics. The US and Israel must suffer some acts of violence (corresponding to having an open market but having developing countries being closed) and respond with diplomacy.

If this makes sense to no one else, that's fine. I just need to write it down for myself. Otherwise it goes down the memory hole.

Least Favorite Quote of the Day

I'm a proponent of developing solar energy so we can ignore that entire part of the world just like we do with Africa.

Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 08-12-06 02:24 AM

Of course, it is a joke. But it is also trenchant and profound.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Least Favorite Quote of the Day

Back to that email, Mr. Secretary. Hundreds of people have been awakened with dreams of a war with Iraq quickly escalating into World War III. What can effectively be done to limit the conflict, and what is your opinion about the possibility of a wider war breaking out?

Rumsfeld: In the event that force has to be used with Iraq, there will be no World War III. The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that. And, it won't be a World War III. And if I were to characterize the difference between 1990 and today, the United States military is vastly more powerful. And the Iraqi Army and military capability has declined substantially. The difference is, the reason for needing to disarm Iraq, and that is chemical and biological weapons today, and a very robust effort to develop nuclear weapons tomorrow. And, that is the difference between today and then.

Least Favorite Quote of the Day

"How the heck can we be in a battle in which we are fighting as Democrats and Republicans against each other, when these terrorists certainly don't distinguish based on party affiliation? They want to kill any and all of us." - Joe Lieberman

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Informative article on a CIA operator

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Informative article on Blackwater (the private military firm)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Good comment at Crooked Timber


Richard Cownie got it right. Israel and Lebanon can only lose from this madness, but Olmert and Nasrallah come out political winners. (Just as Bush gained politically from Iraq until very recently, while the national interest of the US took a big hit.) Without understanding this, it’s impossible to understand why the madness continues.
Posted by Steve LaBonne · August 1st, 2006 at 8:35 am

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Interesting Pink Floyd (just Syd, actually) footage

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Health Care

"...when one compares life expectancy in the United States with that of other countries, it quickly becomes evident that the vast sums the United States spends on healthcare buys very little health. The United States spends far more on healthcare than any other country--roughly $4,500 per person annually. Yet three-fourths of developed countries outrank America in life expectancy and infant mortality. Even some Third World countries have life tables comparable to the United States, despite miniscule spending on health care. In Costa Rica, total health care expenditures per person come to just $273 a year in 2000. And there are little more than half as many doctors per capita as in the United States. Yet life expectancy at birth in Costa Rica is 76.1 years, virtually the same as in the United Sates. Moreover, the adult population in Costa Rica has a substantially better chance of becoming elderly. In the United States, the chances of dying between age 15 and 59 are 14.4 percent for men and 8.3 percent for women. In Costa Rica, the chances are 13.4 percent for men and 7.8 percent for women.

"...the biggest reasons have to do with behavior and environment. Per capita cigarette consumption in Costa Rica is half that of the United States..The rate of car ownership (and accidents) is rising, but most Ticans spend much of their time walking up and down steep hills. There are more McDonalds and KFCs all the time, and obesity among children is starting to be a problem, but with a traditional diet based on rice, beans, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and moderate amounts of fried food, the number of overweight people is still strikingly less than in the United States."

Phillip Longman, The Empty Cradle, Basic Books, 2004, pp. 100-101

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Scary article about David Addington

Note how often the word "flexibility" comes up. Note how often the phrase "maximum flexibility" comes up. They want unbounded power. They do not believe in the rule of law.

Talking about Wikipedia

The New Yorker article reflects my ambivalent attitude towards Wikipedia. Although I love reading about DEVGRU and the drug trade (where rumors and hearsay are more fruitful than expert peer-reviewed knowledge), most topics do benefit from a cautious and belabored vetting process to arrive at truth.

Good Point


I’m waiting for market capitalism, free or fair, to be inserted into the “funamental attribution error” column, so we can quit talking about competitive management fads and get down to cooperative social solutions.

I’m still waiting.
Posted by jim · July 29th, 2006 at 2:38 am