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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Shorthand to Sam Harris

Dear Sam:

You deliberately misconstrue religion in order to ask for an odd proof of God. Neither Christ, nor Mohammed, nor the Buddha (nor Jupiter, Mars, Athena, and the list goes on), said, "Here is a black stone, but truly I say, when you see it, call it white."

The great texts teach people how to relate to each other and invite them to an understanding of their life. Tell me, how does that relate to discerning a number that you have hidden (and, if you got it, would you then become a literalist fundamentalist or something more tempered or a fanatic or a Saint?)

You insist that a justification is required for this, and, for some reason, you demand a physical one. Yet, many find that the proof is in living out the truth of these texts.

And don't tell me that they are lying to themselves in doing so. Most athiests are actively engaged in trying to reconstruct the very same ethical axioms and more besides, and they have a desperately hard time making them convincing or self-evident. What's more, they smugly think that they aren't lying to themselves in doing so, that they really have a moral order of their own that they can apprehend (by science? by moments of selfless conciousness?) and teach.

Here is an interesting quote, from experience, not from your circumscribed bag of proofs:

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.

Last, at the end, you seem to be hung up on the notion that an end of religion is what is best or required to greatly end the amount of hatred in the hearts of mankind. All one can say is that there is no evidence of that.


My Tuesday Blues for AS

Those of us who jumped off this bus in 2003 have found ourselves in an increasingly crowded wilderness. Our job now is to think creatively and strategically about how best to manage the failure in Iraq for our long-term advantage, at minimal moral cost. That is the current conservative challenge. Everything else is spin.

Here is something for AS to ponder.

Thesis: there is NO creative and strategic thinking that is going to come out of the Right.

Why? Because Nation Building, the statecraft of it, is inherently Liberal. Therefore, as Peter Beinhart noted, look for "Liberals and only liberals ..."

In the end, the only thing that will coalesce Conservatives 'in the wilderness' is blame-and-run.


It's additionally bad, because the Conservative putative leader, Bush, is the target of anti-American propaganda, and the widespread forces outside the nation working to deny him "a Victory" are very strong indeed. In other words, even if a reframing was possible, it might get spoiled out of spite (don't forget that the embassy hostages were released just moments after Carter left office, not during ...).

What's more - as if that were not enough - the Conservative leader seems still to be convinced, despite the above, that he can apply the right combination of 'tools' to actually pull off a reasonably functioning central government in Iraq and pass the baton to Iraqi Security Forces, without additional help, i.e. America alone can carry the day still and the enormous go-it-alone risk will be vindicated (with all the greater glory that goes with it). Also, he still believes that changing course before the end of his term will be viewed 70 years down the road as having been shortsighted.

However, in case you think that one-sided, here is the really bad news.

The Liberals, who could really reframe this thing, are "stuck" in opposition mode, and seem, themselves unable to "be creative".

It's a double-bind. Only the French can rescue us. I don't mean that completely facetiously, either ...

There is still plenty to be done and tried, but the politics of it are exceptionally difficult.


Monday, January 29, 2007

It's a Party

O.K., so my local rag has a public invite to a Window's Vista Launch Party on the 29th. (no, that is not typed wrong).

I hear the after-party is killer, so I've asked my social secretary to clear the date and to buff up the dress leathers ... LOL.

Whose Side?

It's true. Too many people who are 'skeptical' have not adequately explained why they are so. The arguments that I've gleaned, because I intended to address this earlier, are as follows

  1. Tried to secure Baghdad before, but it didn't work

  2. Baghdad is different and clear-hold-build won't work there (and we haven't truly even tried our own strategy fully anywhere else, to boot).

  3. Political solution(s) is needed among the Iraqis before, not after, the violence ends/attenuates

  4. It's too few troops because

    1. Rules of thumb for counter-insurgency suggest more needed

    2. Baghdad is one variable and you have to solve the whole equation, simultaneously

    3. The violence and capability of insurgents and/or sectarians is escalating faster

  5. A "surge" sounds temporary and doesn't mesh with "hold"

  6. The insurgents will be able to adapt to the proposed new tactics - they have before and they are a "learning enemy".

  7. The Shi'a in power are intransigently sectarian (cf. Krauthammer)

  8. We are the problem, not the solution (this is ongoing, not specific to the surge, but it works its way into the debate)

  9. The situation is or will be too far gone for there to be any impact, short or long-term

  10. There is no one to "hold" in the mid-term - the policing system is corrupt with both fear-based look-the-other-way inaction and the exchange of terror-for-terror sectarian action; the national police are too few, out of touch with locals to be highly effective, as well as being compromised from within by tip-offs and spies; the ISF, where fully competent, lack a government and judiciary (military and civil) with political will, teeth or integrity (massive stolen money), and too few prisons or political will for administrative detentions.

  11. We are out of time - one, last six-month chance means little when counterinsurgency operations probably should be thought of in chunks of time of 2-3 years at a clip.

  12. "Secure Baghdad" is not a defined enough mission (as someone said a long time ago, in a closely linked sense of what I mean, "Mr. Rumsfeld, if you cannot secure the airport road, you cannot secure Iraq").

  13. The unknown incompetence factor

    1. For Bush: he's not been able, broadly put, so far, either on prosecuting the war or on managing the domestic politics of it

    2. For the Army: are they fully up the learning curve, is faith in one-man (Petreas) just an admission of impotence, how do we stand of "unity of effort" across all aspects of government

    3. For the general populace: are we making irrational decisions, now, stateside, based on a sense of "the revolution" in Iraq that was tried and got hijacked and, elsewhere, due to mindless anti-Americanism

  14. "It is striking that Round Two [in Baghdad in Fall, 2006] is beginning without a word as to how U.S. and Iraqi government forces intend to handle the factions other than the insurgents, with no new initiatives to try to convince militias and local security forces to support the new operation, and with no amnesty, payoff, or inclusion plan to give the militias and local insurgency forces a package of incentives" - Anthony Cordesman. 8/1/06

  15. The unknown unknown: There are scenarios in which things could get far worse (including a forced withdrawal), so it would be better to withdraw early rather than hang on in search of an optimal moment for departure.

There are counter arguments to all of that.

So, whose side are we on?

The answer is plain: the side of the Iraqi people who want peace and a functioning government with rule of law, not militiamen, sharia justice, and street fighting, and the chaos and fear that are the tools of ... criminals. This means that we are everyone's friend and no one's friend.

After that, we are on our own side, which is hopefully synonymous with all that.


Lazy Conservatives

In a rush of nostalgic animosity, the visceral distate for Hillary Rodham that I cultivated during the '90s

It's one thing to say that a person rubs you the wrong way or that you like the person, but don't like their hairstyling. It's quite another to offer up, continuously, a political analysis based on "visceral distaste" of someone.

It really behooves those who have such feelings to rationalize them, before they end up with the wrong kinds of labels on their heads.

I'm not talking about "cootie vibes", which might have been a moment of truth if you believe such a reaction has some universality to it among GOPers, but about the need to take the time to actually give voice to whatever rationality is behind such opinions or feelings.

There are just too many people trying to build dossiers with the intent to smear political opponents in the "freak show" and engage in personal destruction poltics, without having the sanguine middle wallow too long in irrationalities, however innocuous.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Senator John Kerry ... Rambles at Davos

AS says it is one word, "disgrace".

Loose lips in wartime.

All's to say that I think there is going to be more than one word on this matter.

It appears the Bush Admin is just about ready to release some Karine-A type evidence of Iran's extra-curricular activities inside Iraq ...

So Kerry has another chance to add poster-child to his resume, sadly.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Talking to Athiests and Pictures of the Firmament

Long ago, in our little village, we learned to just dance, dance, wherever you may be ... :

SOTU at End of Long Day

I thought I was the only one who noticed this. It reminded me of someone who is trying not to go to sleep during a boring meeting in a conference room that is too hot.

Cheney however, a different story:

Today's War Protests in D.C.

"Raging Grannies" who look like the Hat Sisters ...

I dunno.

Back in the day:

"Next-Ups" come to terms with their generations' anxieties ... :

... and somewhere beyond the hard and slippery work of governance:

sullylink (not up yet)

Rock and Roll Buleria

Paul Gilbert on guitar:

Friday, January 26, 2007

No Way Out

... the moral costs of withdrawal are enormous

So, when Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton offer up a way to start sharing the moral weight of the conflict, they don't get followed on it ...

Clearly, the ethics of nation building doesn't include everything and forever, right?

It is (and was) a poor conception of what needed to be done that leaves so many groping, with no way out (either that or those still deeply wedded to some odd notion of "Victory" or "winning"). Had the rhetoric for the effort been properly set up at the start, with a vision that not everything could be achieved by military force, it wouldn't be quite as difficult to change course, when needed or as needed.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Health Care at a Turning Point

Long warmed over by the GOP, health care is getting an adrenaline injection:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 — A broad coalition of business and consumer groups, doctors, hospitals and drug companies laid out a major proposal on Thursday to provide health coverage to more than half of the nation’s 47 million uninsured by expanding federal benefit programs and offering new tax credits to individuals and families.

This is a proposal not for mandates but for incentives,” said Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, senior vice president of UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest insurers. “It’s a careful balance of public and private solutions.”

The proposal, unveiled Thursday after more than two years of work, was endorsed by 16 groups including AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Pfizer and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. -NYT

I noticed this because I had just written about incentives below, mostly.


Mrs. Clinton’s proposed legislation would renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides money to states to cover Americans under age 18 whose families earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. The 10-year-old program, which now covers four million children, is to expire this fall. Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, plans to introduce a similar bill.

Mrs. Clinton’s legislation would raise the income eligibility limit so that more children could enroll; in New York, a family of four earning $75,000 would qualify. And the bill would allow any family, as well as employers, to buy insurance.
“They’re trapped between the rising costs and the broken system, and we can help them get out of that trap,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Members of the senator’s staff said they were still working out the cost of the proposal. About 8.3 million Americans under 18 do not have health care, but about 70 percent of them are already eligible for Medicaid or for the program Mrs. Clinton seeks to expand - NYT

The basic concept is that employer-provided health insurance, now treated as a fringe benefit exempt from taxation, would no longer be entirely tax-free. Workers could be taxed if their coverage exceeded limits set by the government. But the government would also offer a new tax deduction for people buying health insurance on their own.

“I will propose a tax reform designed to help make basic private insurance more affordable,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address on Saturday, “whether you get it through your job or on your own.” He did not offer specifics, but an administration official provided details of the plan.


White House officials say the health tax plan would neither increase spending nor reduce tax revenues. Supporters say it would expand coverage to some of the 47 million uninsured. But critics say it would, in effect, tax people with insurance to provide coverage to those without it.

That would amount to a tectonic shift in the way people get and pay for their health coverage, and historically it has been all but impossible to win Congressional approval for such changes. When President Ronald Reagan made a proposal similar to Mr. Bush’s in 1986, it died in Congress, with Mr. Rangel helping to lead the opposition. - NYT

more to come on these ideas and how to use the tax code efficiently ... but here is one, important starter:


State legislators should understand that the major problems of health insurance markets stem not from inadequate government regulation, but rather from an outdated set of federal and state tax policies that grew out of social and economic conditions in the 1940s and 1950s. These policies provide unlimited tax relief for persons who get their health insurance through the workplace but deny equal treatment to those who wish to buy health insurance on their own.

Not only are these outdated tax policies inequitable and unfair, but they also profoundly distort the health insurance market. They limit Americans' health insurance options and thus frustrate consumer choice of plans and benefits. They also undermine the opportunity for millions of Americans to find alternative forms of health insurance coverage, such as coverage obtained through their associations, trade and professional groups, and religious and fraternal organizations. - Heritage

New Media Has Levelling Moment of its own

The story of the gay sheep became a textbook example of the distortion and vituperation that can result when science meets the global news cycle. -- NYT

There is no escaping the need -- the struggle -- for standards ... old media, or otherwise.


Health Care Reform

In so many ways, the faith-of-our-father's battle between "socialized medicine" and some "free market" version is passe. These days, the aggressive middle, I would submit, is finding ways to offer guarantees that are wisely constructed to incent efficiency and not to become their own worst enemy.

In this study, Medicare lifts quality by offering program participants "bonus pay".

The new Medicaid part-D program has been doing better than expected in driving drug costs down, an unexpected outcome that warrents further investigation.

In other trials, preventive medicine regimes were able to cut treatment costs significantly.

Driving even 1-2% per year of costs out of US healthcare's overall economic equation is a *huge* difference to long-term projections of the cost of entitlements.

Here's the next set of perverse incentives to rightside:

But his larger point is a perfectly good one: we now know an enormous amount about how to prevent heart attacks, with powerful drugs like statins, smoking cessation, exercise and diet. With the right preventive care, people can cut their risk of a heart attack by up to 80 percent, cardiologists estimate.

“We have made major improvements in prevention,” Dr. Gregg W. Stone, the director of cardiovascular research at Columbia University, says. “But it’s difficult. It takes frequent visits, a close relationship between a physician and a patient and a very committed patient.”


There is only one problem with this shining example of a medical practice: it is losing money.

But a lack of insurance is only one of the two huge problems with health care. The other is the perverse system of incentives that nudges doctors and patients toward expensive tests and procedures when cheaper preventive measures might actually produce better results. Partly as a result, costs are rising rapidly for the 250 million people who do have insurance.


A Clarion Call - Dr. Rice, Listen Back to Our Friends and Allies

The only thing to add is that someone needs to make sure that Senator Lindsey Graham gets the message, loud and clear:

"It is critical that we understand that this new form of terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious, risk. Because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate response. By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values. I think it important to understand that this is one of its primary purposes...

London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs'.

The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement," - Britain's director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald.

See Sir Michael Howard, What's In A Name?: How to Fight Terrorism, in links section of my other, here, from 2001.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

SOTU was boring

SOTU was boring.

Having just seen part of some of the Medal of Freedom ceremonies, I thought the SOTU "Great Americans" portion was smarmy.

After a first salvo on balancing the budget, a flip-flop of Herculean proportions and a mis-statement of the problem which is what the GOP want to do about their six years without one, the rest was on borrowed time.

The Energy Policy stuff looked like a legacy grab, coming so late in his term and the longstanding problems in the mideast. The strategic petroleum reserve increase sounded like a prudent thing but also like part of a phased new war with Iran.

AND THEN, there was this. Looks like the U.S. Government unlawfully spending taxpayer money, following a description that seems to sum up to spending-by-Gentleman's-agreement:

In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate -- they are dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You didn't vote them into law. I didn't sign them into law. Yet, they're treated as if they have the force of law.

The time has come to end this practice.


Qutb a "liberal" snob?

Yep: Qutb was a liberal snob, condescending to small-town American life.

LOL. It's always amazing how Convervatives have "values", but Liberals are "snobs" in some people's lexicons (or subconscious?).

C'mon, this is the kind of penny-ante analysis that isn't worthy.

I'm not an expert on Qutb, but his massive work, In the Shade of the Qu'ran, amounts to more than some passing snobbery. (Was St. Paul a liberal snob writing letters to the Corinthians, who enjoyed their "freedoms"?)

The type of psychological dissonance Qutb encountered while immersed in a culture alien to his sensibilities is hardly unique. Because the British covered up their own "hatred"/chauvinism by calling everyone "wogs", are we to take them so much more ... er, civilized?

All's to say, more thought required on this topic ...


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Stoicism, from two sides

... to face death alone, as a purely material event, leading nowhere but physical decomposition. Part of me even respects the stoic heroism of such a stance.

The Stoics had a developed sense of the afterlife. It was cyclical in Heraclitus but without the morally progressive character that infuses eastern re-birth philosophies.

By the way, it seems to me that Hillary comes across to many as the quite typical exemplar of stoic virtue, which is an apartness that might be summed up by AS's phrase, "unbearable reasonableness". LOL.


Good Place to Pitch A Tent

All the best to Andrew in his new digs at The Atlantic, all of which is Bi-coastal in a Peter Allen kinda way!

Strife at the Party: It's not so easy

The last thing the United States should be doing is entering into a centuries' old theological dispute in the Middle East. No amount of face-saving, rationalizing, or wishful thinking can erase that fact.

I know, Hitchens was just writing something truly incisive about that ("baby sitting a civil war", or some such).

All the same ...

We know that al-qa'ida has tried to play off common prejudices and rivalries, in order to draw in the psychic energy that its own bankrupt ideology cannot muster single handedly. In that way, they are comfortable being parasitic. If one looks away from Iraq, to Southeast Asia and those following the development of al-qa'ida "inspiration" there, you also see various efforts to stoke ethnic violence, as a means to another end.

So, given that, the question is: does one have to have a strategy, other than retreat, for countering the induced spillover into open hostilities of those things in the Pandora's box of every society, such as confessional differences?

I'm not sure as a matter of the ethics of nation building that the U.S. has an unequivocal obligation to do everything to forestall the escalation of sectarian violence, but I think it is too fascile to just dismiss the question.

What's more, there is an error in rational decision making to avoid. How much of a decision to retreat in the face of sectarian lawlessness is due to the experience of the prior years? Supposing a Saddam-era Iraq had spilled over into sectarian violence in the worst way - would the World have stood by, altogether?


Monday, January 22, 2007

So muddy you just don't care ...


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sam, Sam

Here is something from Carl Jung, that might have some interest to the current debate, that I came across unexpectedly today:

From a letter, "On Resurrection":

The gospel writers were as eager as St. Paul to heap miraculous qualities and spiritual significances upon that almost unkown young rabbi, who after a career lasting perhaps only one year had met with an untimely end. What they made of him we know, but we don't know to what extent this picture has anything to do with the truly historical man, smothered under an avalanche of projections. Whether he was the eternally living Christ and Logos, we don't know. It makes no difference, anyhow, since the image of the God-man lives in everybody and has been incarnated (i.e., projected) in the man Jesus, to make itself visible, so that people could realize him as their own interior homo, their self.

Thus they had regained their human dignity: everybody had divine nature. Christ had told them: Dii estis; "ye are gods"; and as such they were his breatheren, of his nature, and had overcome annihilation either through the power of the Caesar or through physical death. They were "resurrected with Christ".

Since we are psychic beings and not entirely dependent upon space and time, we can easily understand the central importance of the resurrection idea: we are not completely subjected to the powers of annihilation because our psychic totality reaches beyond the barrier of space and time. Through the progressive intergration of the unconscious we have a reasonable chance to make experiences of an archetypal nature providing us with the feeling of continuity before and after our existence. The better we understand the archtype, the more we participate in its life and the more we realize its eternity or timelessness.

from Jung on Death and Immortality, pp. 132



There is plenty of "cheekiness" in Robbie's songs, including the one in which he pokes fun at Ricky Martin's sexuality.

Here's one of my favorite cameos:



Friday, January 19, 2007

Moral Responsibility - Whoa, big fella!

Let's not get carried away here - the jihadis are just waiting for enough people to blame themselves for the violence, so it doesn't appear to be their fault.

This is a good place to emphasize individual responsibility, not the government failing.

While the U.S. may have done more to stop violence, what ought to be discredited by the huge death toll is the pervasive notion of fighting "occupation", which is what fueled early violence and non-cooperation. Occupation today is not what it was back at the time of the Prophet. Fighting occupation as a wholesale injunction or religious duty needs very much to be rebuked.

As with much in the other issues in the region, MUCH of the clear fault lies with rejectionist attitudes.

To be sure, there is plenty of worry to go around about how quickly things were done and what was left undone. But, the central truth about the number of Iraqi dead are the attitudes that lead those to believe that violence was the solution to 'the problem' du jour (excepting that portion which was due to just plain criminality, like thievery).


Tyring to learn something from Sam Harris

Of course, people of faith are right to insist that there is more to life than being reasonable—which is to say there is much more to life than merely understanding the world and getting one’s beliefs about it to cohere. But we can have ethical and spiritual lives without lying to ourselves and to others and without pretending to be certain about things we are clearly not certain about.
- S. Harris

Where is the (scientific) evidence of these ethical and "spiritual" lives, so stylized? I mean, outside of a physicists convention, what is the historical evidence for this really quite broad conclusion?

Absent that, can't we also suggest that Sam is somehow fundamentally (pun intended) lying and pretending, too? Seriously, circa 5,000 years of recorded human history, and little evidence of humanity coming to the kinds of conclusions that Sam suggests. Wouldn't that be scientific evidence against his conclusion? Even if his argument has logic, the timeline suggests that there ought to be more than that in any compelling evidentiary explanation, and perhaps even something more than just hypothicating a persistent "delusion".

I think, for instance, that we would both rank the Islamic doctrines of
martyrdom and jihad pretty high on our list of humanity's worst ideas. - S. Harris

Depends on how you define "martyrdom" and "jihad", but suppose we were to concede the point for argument. Can we really say, unequivocally, that non-religious parties come to pinnacles of greater non-violence than so-called religious parties? Hardly. I don't think Kim Jung-il, who may well be willing to use nuclear weapons, is particularly religious, in the ordinary sense of the term. Was Pol Pot religious? Genghis Khan?

There is an old saying that there is nothing common about commonsense. I'd be interested to see Mr. Harris try to come up with 'commonsense' understandings for any number moral questions and dilemmas (I'd start with personal ethics, but it doesn't have to be limited to that). For instance, what is his rational against murder? Here's the counter-argument: I'm a stronger biological entity than my neighbor. It is easier to steal and/or murder to obtain food/wealth than to work hard for it. Therefore, as the stronger, I should logically steal and/or murder my neighbor, as needed, and thereby obtain goods and efficiently maintain my relative strength.

Besides, we just went through the holidays, and it was nice to say, for instance, "Merry Christmas and all the Joys of the Season". This invokes a whole period of joy and tradition and, even, I would say, a humanity deeper than humanists have to offer.

Notwithstanding, what do we say to our atheist friends, "Happy Calendar Day to You"? Or, "Joyous Personal Moral Sense Day to You"? LOL.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It's more than a narrative, but still

It's more than a narrative, it is about how the GOP misconstrued and mis-conceptualized the war. (On bad days, one might add deliberately misconstrued for partisan political purposes, since it is plain at points that Rumsfeld was crystal clear about the outcome of the effort as linked to the struggle within Islam.)

A conceptualization of the "war on terror" will not be advantaged by trying to cast 'terrorism' as an offshoot of different sects within Islam, I don't think. If anything, this will prolong it, as those differences are ultimately irreconcilable, IMO.

What can be done, however, is to take full advantage of stories like the one in the Guardian to discredit the Jihadis, if not the Jihad. Soldiers of fortune, taking money for killing and killing Muslims at random, are inimical to the central message of Jihad. These stories are a counter-terror propaganda treasure trove. Fanaticism is a strength of the Jihadi groups - this is what others admire in them. It is the rest of their story that can cause a widespread recoiling from them.

If sectarian violence induced by terrorist tactics (not terrorist ideology, really) and carried forward by mis-guided jihadi-wannabes has any beneficial short-term affect it will be to consolidate the notion that terrorism is the greater evil by far, for everyone, rather than afford the West an "out" from their GOP militarist conception-to-date. For the West, the only "benefit" will be that the casualties during this collective learning period, if one is needed, may not be mainly or mostly American.

While it is a consensus reconceptualization that needs to occur on the Right, mostly, what may be needed is a compelling narrative to confront radical Islam. Clearly, the American "armies of Freedom" on the march isn't doing the trick altogether, although it may be having more beneficial affects than some realize. Calling people killers is not going to to it either.

It may be diffcult to build up such a narrative. For one thing, it takes a while to get to know the jihadi message, to understand how it links into their bizarro interpretation of the world and of the Hadith, to see how they play on the ignorance of the "Arab Street", and so forth. But, it is possible to develop a counternarrative, to build counter-factuals, and to center a policy around that approach. This has to be done in a disciplined way, to put money where one's mouth is, to build a relatively consistent narrative and avoid actions that yeild propaganda points to the competiting narrative. (For those on the hard-right, the Conservative situational ethics crowd, who probably just cannot understand much what I just wrote there at all, here is another way to put it: let psy-ops lead the operations, not follow them).

That is the kind of far-reaching, long-range planning that the International Liberalists should be setting themselves about. The Conservatives simply aren't up to that task, obviously.



Monday, January 15, 2007

Of Surge Amplitude and Attitude

Folks are still groping around with this "new" strategy for Iraq. People cannot even agree whether more force is relevant; but yet, it is possible still to quibble over how many is relevant, if it is. That's our reduced hypothetical reality these days (sigh).

Here's another 2-cents. 80,000 might have been pared back on practical grounds; because, after a certain level (I forget, but I think it is in the 20-30K range), there are all sorts of support and command functions that also need to be built out. That takes time and money. The 21,5K plus-up put troop levels within the prior maximum range (?circa 160K at peak), and therefore within grasp, in a short time, albeit with a price on soldier moral due to mandatory tour extensions.

We might fault Rumsfeld's planners, if some figure like 80K is more justifiable than 21,5K. If that prior group never, ever imagined a 'surge' or escalation, that might leave us flat-footed, now, when it seems like it might be an idea with some short-term merit.

Meanwhile, one of the keys to assessing the policy is whether one fully believes the reasons for the prior efforts failing, namely that the "hold" part of the equation was wanting (the political interference probably can be taken as a given). My sixth-sense says that there are unspoken truths here. All the same, a re-ordered effort is worth a try.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Back Away

we might need to back away from the center of the conflict and let that fire burn, while keeping our troops in the north and perhaps on the southern border. And there is much that we can do, to keep both Iran and their Sunni neighbors from coming in massively to augment that conflict between the Shi‘a and the Sunnis.
Two points:

We were unable to stand aside in the last large, regional conflict, the Iran-Iraq war, so ... [and we all know how ugly our involvement in that ended ...].

If one believes that the region is on the brink of a 30-years war, how do you 'let the fire burn out' while keeping the 'neighbors from coming in massively'? (I cannot see any way to keep the neighbors out, can you - they will be MOST determined, yes?)

If one starts to look at the risks of this retreat strategy, they are pretty high. It's hard to enumerate them all wihtout unwanted signalling, but think about what could go 'wrong' and how it might get exploited as much as Abu Grahib.

It's an option, for sure, but a very risky one ...


More than words ... health care

... the most important single issue to me is which system encourages research and development. - Glenn Reynolds, agreed with 100% by AS ("every word")

I'll give Andrew a pass on this seemingly outre concurrence. Sometimes, people just think they know more about an issue than they do. (Not that I suggest that I'm an expert on health economics, but still I hardly think the central political, economic, or moral issue is research incentives ...)

A rebuttal, of sorts, for the knee-jerk Conservatives:

As the American economy has changed, so has the link between employment and benefits. Since people often no longer work for a single employer until retirement, jobs no longer provide "stable platforms for health care arrangements." Entire sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, timber, and fishing, have disappeared, leaving many of those people with neither jobs nor benefits.

Because medical, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries operate on a for-profit basis, health care costs have soared. For those who have insurance, there are no guarantees that they will continue to be covered.

As costs increase, employers look for ways to cut health benefits or to stop providing insurance altogether. When a person loses job-related insurance, most of the other options available are prohibitively expensive.

As a result, people enter what Sered and Fernandopulle refer to as the death spiral, the inability to manage one's health and one's employment:

Because employment adversity is so thoroughly entwined with medical adversity, those caught in the spiral cannot amass either the bodily or the financial resources needed to break out. Descent through the death spiral, for millions of Americans, leaves irrevocable marks of illness on their bodies and souls.

There are any number of ways a person can enter the death spiral: divorce, corporate restructuring, plant closing, accident, disability, and chronic illness, to name a few. Anything that threatens employability affects health insurance.

The negative aspects of job and insurance loss can multiply, particularly if others relied on the insurance and income. If one is ill or becomes ill, the lack of insurance creates its own Catch-22. If one is sick and cannot afford care, this can lead to chronic illness, which decreases the chance of finding a job, which in turn decreases the chances of being insured.

According to Sered and Fernandopulle, people who lack or lose access to health care become a separate caste. They use the word caste deliberately and in its traditional sense to describe a group of people who are characterized "by the absence of mobility" and by "recognizable external markers." When health affects employment and appearance, people lose the middle-class markers that define success in this country:

In a broader sense, the death spiral serves as a metaphor for the deep changes taking place in American society as the demarcation between rich and poor -- a traditionally fluid distinction in our society -- hardens into a static barrier between the caste of the healthy and the caste of those who are fated to become and remain sick.

Teeth are one of those caste markers. Healthy, white teeth are a sign of middle-class success. Almost everyone in the book said that if they were suddenly given health care coverage, the first thing they would is go to the dentist. ... [cont]


PTSD for Conservative Politicos and Adherents

Will my children, too small now to understand Iraq, take me seriously when I tell them one day what powerful men, whom their father once believed in, did to this country? Heavy thoughts for someone who is still a conservative despite it all. It was a long drive home.

For most of the 20th Century, arguably, America never saw itself as THE central-axis of the world, despite the Pax Americana that followed the second world war. The Republic was small and against the odds, and other Nations had financial, economic and military power - and willingness to exercise them.

It was only during the Reagan years that American ascendancy took on an ideological imperative - we are Number One.

As a consequence of this ideological hubris, some people were able to pen something called, "The Project for a New American Century", a doctrine and viewpoint that probably obviated its attainment.

Today, we suffer the consequences of the failure of that vision, and its attitudes of political complacency (outsourcing of everything), superiority (inevitability), and self-reference (domestic and international partisanship), of the way it blinded the media, even, in the pre-war run-up and co-opted the military officer corps.

Niall Ferguson may be right. Hard times are ahead.

Despite this, all is not lost in Iraq -- just those who were trying to achieve the wrong things have "lost". The problem is that righting that situation will not encourage them to keep their heads down, so yes, Rod's children do have to worry.


The Persistence of Gay Culture

I'd comment on the end of the clone-zone (clones predate the 90s, for pity's sake); but, of course, that would mean that I'm not sufficiently postmodern ...

Moreover, I'm never quite sure what is changing in these ad hoc sociological analyses, the culture or the observer. Didn't people mature in olden days, too?

Meanwhile, this caught my eye. Could this have been written 20 years ago by a 21-year old, too (I think so - and what does that mean about what is persistent and what has changed)?:

In fact, I feel that the older generation has done a great disservice by not giving us real role models and, instead, taking joy in anonymous sex in darkened theaters, dissolution of the family model, and wallowing in outrageousness. All of these things have contributed to a gay culture wherein I, as a politically active, liberal, professional, educated, monogamous, partnered, JCrew/LL Bean wearing, HIV Negative man am an unfortunate minority.

How am I supposed to support gay leadership when they seemingly endorse a culture of death (excessive partying, no interest in children, HIV, anonymous sex, etc.) and lament whenever another pit of self disrespect (i.e. sex shops/theaters, drag theaters) is closed? I truly love you and your words, Andrew, but enough is enough. Let us move on together ...


Boxing Boxer - Conservatives still WAY out of touch

Andrew has taken up to call on Senator B. Boxer to apologize to an Administration that he calls "minimally competent". Is this the farcical equivalent of honor among thieves?

Anyway, my point is that while the Conservatives pile on liberals to be "civil", they are, once again, out of touch with a broad (and widening?) swath of America who think and react just as Barbara Boxer did (I saw her whole line of questioning). Unless, their idea of being politically in touch is to ask for apologies from this crowd ... ?

Basically, a lot of folks want to know - and yes, feel - whether the Bush Administration really, really does have a sense for the costs of this war, in both blood and treasure, because it is something that they haven't mentioned much (and it has been clear in the past that political party election imperatives trumped G.I. lives, viz. Vietnam).

Time was that people in public office, the ruling class or ruling elite, so to speak, were generally expected to have some familial ties to the military; and no, 'welfare policy' is not even close to the making of war and peace, so that blog reader's argument can be dismissed. It's no accident that many of the British royalty have done some service, for example.

Senator Boxer included herself in her critique, so it's not 100% clear that it was an ad-hominem attack. So far, neither Andrew nor his readers have addressed the quote that Boxer put up that made the centerpiece of her argument, namely, the fact that Rice testified in 2005 that there was "no doubt" in her mind that troops would be withdrawn before now. This is a problem with the entire mindset that has led and managed the public's expectations for this military effort.

p.s. Rice was 100% wrong in part of her reply. The DoD does do estimates of expected casualties (perhaps not for this operation, but in general they do). For obvious reasons, they do not release them to the public, however.

p.p.s. One broader point is that there seem to me to be a lot of Senators and Representatives who have much to apologize for. For one, did anyone else notice how all these elected officials call these hearings "critical" and indicate "nothing more important is before our country" and "the most significant foreign policy decision in 50 years", yet, for a large part of the testimony, over 50% of the seats on the Committee(s) were vacant, sometimes with just the chairman and one or two questioning representatives present?

That is before one gets to the paucity of regional understanding that was on display, with the caricature notions that some seem to have of "al-Sadr", Shia, and more.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

A look at "alternatives"

Let me use this chance to needle the GOP.

The reason we do not have alternatives now is that so many GOP boosters viewed Victory as certain. I could make a list, but I think that so many know it.

There is some old saying that roughly goes, "Until you understand that you might lose, you cannot win."

This is why OIF (and even OEF) has always been about the struggle within Isalm and the MNF's attempt to break the deadlock and show a third-way forward, neither Arab Strongman nor Radical Islamic tyranny (except the French, who sit home, to their eternal shame).

It is only those who poorly conceptualized a "War on Terror" and "World War Three" (even "An End to Evil") who have misled themselves and, now, are left groping for alternatives, having never framed the effort properly from the outset. This is why liberals and only liberals, to borrow a phrase, can bring about the proper perspective on counterterrorism. This is what GOP "strong on defense" gets you at the opening of the 21st Century ...

Stepping off the soapbox ...

There are quite a few options available to help cut the quagmire Gordion knot. Strategic Retreat-to-Kurdistan is a fraction of the range of pressure and steps that can be tried, if there is American political will to be creative. So far, this White House seems to continue the worst of the Rumsfeldian tradition of hope-for-the-best-and-don't-plan-for-the-rest. We'll see ... what comes from Rice's new initiative may be indicative of whether there is a true shift in outlook.

Last, assuming that one is willing to leave uninvited, just as one arrived uninvited (as the Saudi Prince put it so succinctly), the question is what indicators would you use to signal that a counterinsurgency operation was failed completely, that the situation is not salvageable. The payoff to "success" is huge, so even a smallish chance of pulling it off even in some limited fashion makes for a compelling expected value, so to speak.

I have my two key criteria, which I don't share out of fear that they become self-fulfilling prophecy. One of them has been breached. The other hangs in the balance. An increase of troops may make a different in the ongoing assessment of whether, it too, has been crossed, signalling that retreat is smart.


Folks continue to look for what is the right frame of reference for looking at these questions. Charlie Rose closed his show last night by asking Fareed Zakaria, (paraphrase) "How should we think about this, what is the bigger picture?"

The Big Picture is how to confront radical Islam, globally and over time. The operation in Afghanistan was about physically ending a terrorist base of operations, supported by a radical state sponsor. The after-action has been about trying to bring about stable political institutions and to mitigate intimidation counter-campaigns.

Iraq was a gamble that grand-scale political reform was a way forward to combat the political appeal of the jihadi message. Whether attaching a nation-building exercise to the global effort to confront radical Islam was a practical undertaking is yet to be decided, although the war costs are now suggesting otherwise - that is was too much to try, even if it was worthy.

Whatever is decided, stay or leave (precipitously even), there is a perpetual need to keep pressure on the terrorist groups; and, to the extent that the chaos of a withdrawal might provide sanctuary, the option to pre-empt any overt re-organization jihadi groups ought to be maintained, in the most robust way possible (i.e. as a combination of might and right, not just fiat)


Monday, January 8, 2007

The History of Boys to Men

Gay is sad. That was a title of a sermon I heard many years ago now. There is a strong case for and against.

In particular, in this play/story, the age-old no-no of falling in love with a straight boy raises its head (was it puppy love, as well?). That seems a different kind of failed suitor sadness than a regular-way disappointment, yes? Outside the particular case, homophobia still limits what GBLT people can realize in their lives, broadly speaking, no matter what their potential.

While dishing out pity for Bennet's generation, it would be a mistake to think that Andrew's generation, despite social advances in attitudes toward gay citizens, didn't also pay a price for their sexuality, even if it didn't amount to "emotional death" (perhaps, emotional schism, put more precisely). I see elements of best-little-boy-in-the-world syndrome with Andrew (and myself?), for one thing.

Whatever the case on that score, the sublimation of thwarted passion, of ambition to achieve this or that aim, to be recognized or respected, all prefigures tragedy, no doubt; but, as with so many from Bennet's generation, the resultant 'vicarious living', as Andrew broad bushes it, opened up a personal acquaintanceship with the transcendent, with the arts, with the sublime and the tragi-comic, building a sensibility of sorts around a shared experience. Why look askance as that, entirely?

In the end, I thought the play was about teaching, and less about "homosexual character" as destiny. In fact, the entire coda in which the audience learns in what station in life each of the classmates winds up, was superfluous, an artistically unnecessary afterward. The boy (Posner) who ended up taking fully to heart "Hector"'s romantic notions of knowledge and learning ended up with a trajectory that fit that that notion.

The homosexual sub-plot I found to be quite secondary. Much of the play would have stood on its own without it, or with a variation. I thought it was there to highlight the profound idolization that can crop up, for student and teacher. As an expository device, I thought some of it led to bits that were tedious, somehow; but it also turned up one of my favorite lines from the play delievered superbly by Francis De La Tour, (paraphrase) "For pity's sake, Hector, it was a grope. Don't think it was the Annunciation!"


Return of the Native

I'm not going to be able to devote as much time to this blog in 2007 as I had been.

I need a new assignment and, while this is diversionary fun, it is probably not lucrative.

All told, more selectivity seems to be what is required.

Happy New Year!

Au revior to Clive et al. Multiblogs are hard, I find. It is interesting to look at 2-4 authors on a given topic (Post Global does this well), but I find the zig-zag of topics not arranged by author to be too non-linear.