Stardate 20011222.2304 (On Screen): The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees a large number of rights to defendants in criminal trials, most especially the right to counsel. Our legal system is based on the principle of two advocates making the best case that they can in front of an impartial judge and jury who then decide which side made the best case. Even when you have a thoroughly despicable criminal on trial (e.g. McVeigh) it is important that he be given the best defense that is possible.
This is important for us, not for him. If a defense attorney, in good faith, makes the best case he can for his client and it turns out to be feeble, then this makes it easier for the jury to make the right decision to convict. By the same token, if the state makes a weak case then the defendant will rightfully go free. If only one side in the case were heard (as happens in other parts of the world) then we could never be sure. But because McVeigh got a fair trial with a competent defense, we as citizens can feel much more confident that we did the right thing to execute him.
Which is why, ironically, I must confess my gratitude to Ted Rall for existing and doing the writing he's been doing. Because he is doing his best to try to defend the anti-war position and doing such a pathetically miserable job of it, he is ironically convincing the majority of those who read what he writes that the opposite position -- that this war is one we should be fighting -- is right. Ted Rall is the Dove's gift to the Hawks. (discuss)
Stardate 20011222.1649 (Captain's log): I've got a new search engine installed for experimental purposes which seems to work pretty well. Unlike the one built into Greymatter, which is an on-demand brute force linear search of the entire site and thus slow, the new one crawls the site and creates a database. It takes about fifteen minutes to do that so I'll probably set that up as a nightly job (which would mean it would run at 4:00 AM my time, since that's when this version of Linux runs the daily cron tasks). The site currently is about 35M total, with everything, but a lot of that is the discussion system and a lot of it is graphics files. Still, there may well be fifteen megabytes of text here. The database it created is only 3M and it seems to be quite fast to access. Looks like a winner.
But as someone pointed out, one drawback of it is that it only shows five results on each page. More would be nicer. I was thinking about that, and so I reviewed the terms on this "free" code. See, it's GPL'ed:
This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.
And suddenly I realized that this is a very strong disincentive to making any change, however slight, to this program: because as soon as I do, I am legally obligated to become a redistribution site for it.
This is a considerable drawback, which had never occurred to me before I actually faced the prospect myself. One of the big arguments I keep hearing from advocates of open source is that "you have the source, you can make it do what you want and you can fix your own bugs." But you then also have to offer the modified version back to the world and pay for redistribution. So it's free -- unless you change it. Then it could become immensely expensive. Now I suspect that this particular provision of the GPL is probably more honored than obeyed, but if indeed everyone was conscientious about it then it would mean that the GPL charged developers but not users. This is not exactly a good way to motivate developers, wouldn't you think?
Of course, for the moment, there's an out: you can contribute your changes to some charity-run redistribution site such as SourceForge, rather than hosting it yourself and paying for the bandwidth yourself. But when VA Linux finally runs out of money (in about three weeks, at the rate they're going) and ceases to subsidize it, then that opportunity won't exist any longer. Will all those happy open source people out there who are merrily customizing follow through on their obligation to redistribute when it actually costs them out-of-pocket to do so? Heh. (discuss)
Andrew writes to me as follows:
Stardate 20011222.1557 (On Screen): One of the big lessons we all learned on September 11 is that in a hijacking the plane is more valuable than the passengers. Until that point, the general policy was to give hijackers whatever they wanted so as to safeguard the lives of the people on the jet. Then we learned that giving them control of the jet not only risked the lives of everyone on board, but also of thousands of people on the ground. Now I think that everyone realizes that the jet itself is the most valuable asset there.
It is reported that an attempted hijacking of a flight from France to the US was foiled today when the passengers on board struggled with the hijacker and confined him. (Two doctors were among those involved, and they drugged him into immobility after he had been physically restrained. I like improvised weapons!) No report of the nationality of the passengers involved, and the point is that it no longer matters. Everyone who has been reading the newspapers now knows the reality: you cannot give in to the demands. You have to assume that a hijacker's intentions are the worst possible. If you placate him you can't assume everything will be OK; you have to assume that everyone on the jet will die and a lot of other people, too. It's good to know that this lesson hasn't worn off. (discuss)
Update: It appears there really was a bomb; it wasn't a false alarm.
Stardate 20011222.1247 (On Screen): Arthur C. Clarke famously stated that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It seems to me that our Forward Air Observers are sorcerors. They hold a mystical object in their hand, speak special words into it -- and call devastation from the skies onto whatever they want. Can Gandalf do any better? Never mind that the mystical object is a radio and not a magic wand; does that really matter? Indeed, the destruction that an FAO can call with his magic makes the results of a wizard's lightning bolt look puny. (discuss)
Which would you rather have attack you: a dragon or a fully-armed B-52?
Stardate 20011222.1106 (Captain's log): The process of switching over from Greymatter to Citydesk is going well. I spent a lot of the time last week coming up with a new graphic look for the site, with the helpful criticism of some of the participants in the message forum, and that's pretty much straightened out now. It's going to be a bit slower to load because it's using more graphics files, but the burden shouldn't be all that great.
Finnian's shell-hack for cycling the top-page graphics worked great (Thanks!) and I've got it set up to run four times a day. I've created 41 different ones which will cycle and I'll add more as I find candidate images, so there shouldn't be too much problem with fatigue there.
One of the reasons for switching away from Greymatter was that a lot of things weren't scaling well. Most of those affected me, but the "search" mechanism had already gotten to the point of being useless. Citydesk doesn't implement a search, but I found a free-ware server-side search which indexes the site and uses a database. Trying that out is the next thing on my list of things-to-do. Not only is it faster, but it's also a much more intelligent search since it permits you to look for multiple search items which don't have to be contiguous. But it may be too much for the baby processor in this server. (discuss)
Ooops! It was Lister who provided the shell hack, not Finnian.
Stardate 20011221.1729 (On Screen): There is a lot to like about the Olympics, but there is a lot I find intensely silly. One of the latter is the tradition of the Olympic Torch. Ostensibly the flame starts in Greece somewhere or other and then is transported to where-ever the Olympics are being held where it is used to start a much larger torch which burns for the entire duration of the Olympics. It's never been clear why this is done at all, let alone why they take such an arcanely indirect route to get it there. This tradition began back when the Olympics were held in various European venues, and thus the torch could actually be carried from Greece to the site. But now the Olympics are held all over the world. So how did they get this precious flame across the Atlantic? Did they actually carry an open flame on a jet? That's a violation of federal law, and it seems as if it would set off all the smoke detectors on the jet. (discuss)
Stardate 20011221.1651 (On Screen via long range sensors): I don't go to movies very often. But one movie I did go to and enjoyed immensely was "Driving Miss Daisy". Jessica Tandy won an Academy award for it, and Morgan Freeman was nominated for one. Perhaps more surprising, so was Dan Akroyd, but I feel the nomination was completely justified. He played the part of the wealthy son of Miss Daisy (Tandy), who hired Hoke Colburn (Freeman) to be the driver for her after she demonstrated that she wasn't really capable of driving for herself any longer. Hoke was paid by Boolie (Akroyd) and there were a number of scenes in the film where Hoke went to his boss and negotiated, and it is these scenes that got Akroyd his nomination.
There are two kinds of racism. There is a deeply hostile racism, a rabid xenophobia typified by the Klan. But there's a different kind, a gentle paternalistic racism where the members of the under-group are loved and yet not respected. They are not treated like trash, but rather like children. Boolie was that kind of racist, and Akroyd struck the tone exactly right. For example, there was a scene in which Hoke asks for a raise, and Boolie offers him a certain amount: "Would this be enough?" And Hoke replies "This much more would be better" and Boolie grins at him in delight, as a parent would grin at a beloved child who had temporarily transcended himself. The Boolie character was not evil; he was hard working and even generous. He treated Hoke well throughout the period that Hoke worked for him, and yet there was never equality there. And that is the point: individual racists are not necessarily evil, even though racism is. Individual racists can be loving and kind, and racist nonetheless.
The movie worked so well because it was within the context of racism but not actually about it. It was actually a character story of two people we came to know and care about, who happened to be a white woman and a black man living in a racist time and place. Racism was part of the environment and reflected in everything that they were and did; in that sense it was a necessary part of the story because it was part of the characters. There are no villains in the movie, because it's not about that. By soft-pedaling the racism and yet never ducking it, the movie makes a more profound statement about it than some other films which pound it into the ground and paint all the characters as caricatures.
Hostile rabid racism is on the run in the US, and good riddance to it. Forty years of consciousness raising has made it socially condemned even in areas where it used to flourish. And yet that loving, condescending racism is alive and well and prospering on college campuses. It's directed towards the non-European peoples of the world. And the saddest thing is that the people holding these racist views think that they are doing so on behalf of those same non-Europeans.
The philosophic justification for the "root causes" argument that we've heard so much about is the idea that the people who attacked us were motivated by what we ourselves had done to them earlier. But it goes deeper than that: if we are responsible, then they cannot be. And that can only be because they are not capable of being responsible. They are not truly adults; they are children or beasts who respond to conditions in predictable ways. We do not hold children to the same standard of responsibility as we hold adults, and these racists don't hold the people of the world to those standards either.
If by our acts we brought this tragedy upon ourselves, then had we acted differently we would not have. Which means that we have a paternalistic obligation to control how everyone else in the world behaves, through our acts towards them. They will merely react to us; all responsibility is here. We are the only moral thinking people on earth and thus the only ones who can sin. If we can only bring ourselves to be sufficiently kind and generous to them, then they will live good lives. They are innocent, they cannot know sin, for they are not sufficiently sophisticated to do so. They are less than we are.
This is deeply loving and compassionate chauvinistic contempt. It reached its most pathological in Fisk's notorious attempt to explain away his being beaten by a crowd in Pakistan as ultimately being the result of western imperialism. This attitude is racism of the most intense kind. The ironic thing is that there is no group of people more ready to accuse others of racism than those who have these attitudes. (discuss)
The primary target in this war is people who are not guilty now but intend to become guilty in the future. We're fighting to preempt future attacks, not to punish those in the past. That's outside the purview of this or any other court. (And it should be, too; I don't like the idea of a court prosecuting people for what they think.)
In response, Nell writes to me:
But apparently you have no problem with bombing or assassinating people for what they're thinking...
You bet your sweet ass, if that's stated slightly differently: I have no problem at all bombing people for what they're planning to do to me and mine. War has nothing to do with justice and never has. Oh, sometimes political leaders will try to claim that the war they are fighting is a "just war" for propaganda reasons, but that's never what war is about.
This is right out of Clausewitz. War is always, always, fought to advance the political goals of the nations which are involved. War is always about self interest.
One of the reasons why is that justice is, actually, a luxury. It's something we choose to pay for, and we pay a price. We as a people have made the decision that it is better for the guilty to go free than for the innocent to be punished. So we have established a system whereby the state has an obligation to prove guilt before anyone can be locked up. Since the state may not always be able to do that, it means that not all of the guilty get punished for every crime they commit. As a result, we pay the price in increased crime, but that doesn't imperil the fate of the nation.
This point was made far better by someone in my discussion forum within the last couple of months, but alas I cannot find the message. To continue: when the fate of the nation itself is at stake, the price of justice is too high. Survival of the nation is the top priority, and that means that sometimes we will do unto others before they can do unto us. We cannot wait; we cannot cede first blow to all who will do us ill, for if we do we may not survive long enough to punish them afterwards.
There's a cartoon character named Cerebus. In one of his early episodes he confronts a villain in an underground cavern, on a stone bridge over a chasm. The villain expects a sword fight, but Cerebus beans him on the head with a thrown rock and he falls over the side. Another character says, "That wasn't exactly fair, was it? I mean... he thought you were going to fight to the death with swords!" And Cerebus replies, "He is dead and Cerebus is alive. You can't get much fairer than that."
I do not ordinarily take my philosophy from comic books (though if I were inclined to do so, Cerebus would have been a good choice, at least until it got terribly misogynistic). But Sim is onto something here: survival is more important than justice or fair play. We can afford justice when survival is not on the line. But in war, the only rule is "Do not lose." (discuss)
Stardate 20011221.0705 (On Screen): Another day, another less-than-convincing disclaimer from French Ambassador Bernard.
He had not used an expletive to refer to Israel, and had only brought up its small size to contrast its huge geopolitical importance, Charpentier said.
Just to review, the original report was that he characterized Israel as "that shitty little country" and asked why the world should risk World War III for them? So he's denying that he said "shitty", but admitting that he made a comment more or less along these lines. This is even less convincing than his last denial where he claimed not to remember it at all. (discuss)
Stardate 20011220.2158 (On Screen): This fluff piece tries to portray DVD burners as the "next big thing" for home computers. (Note the extremely prominent mention of the Macintosh.) I don't believe it. There are a number of reasons why, but the biggest is the love-hate relationship that the equipment makers have with their customers. For example, the much-ballyhooed DVD-R drive that Apple has been selling is deliberately crippled. You can create your own DVDs with it, but you cannot master a standard DVD or use the drive to make your own copy of a DVD. (That's why all the advertising from Apple tended to emphasize creation of home movies, as does this particular fluff piece.) But if people get these, part of what they're going to want them for is to do with video what they're doing with audio now with CD-R drives: to make their own collections of video from prerecorded sources.
Another reason is that the march of technology is making the DVD itself obsolete in many ways. Oh, I don't think that they're going to go away, but they're not going to dominate for quite a while. For example, for purposes of making compilations of home movies, a CD actually serves nearly as well now that MPEG-4 has been released. It is so much better at compression of video that it is now possible to fit an entire movie onto a single CD. The only drawback is that it has to be played on a real computer; it can't be played back on a DVD player connected to a TV. But in this day and age is that really all that important for purposes of making home movies? Stacked against that is the fact that CD-R drives are cheaper and more readily available, and CD-R blanks cost less than 5% of what DVD-R blanks cost.
So far from taking off in the immediate future, I expect DVD-R to continue to be a niche market, growing slowly. It will only take off when DVD-R drives and blanks are released at a price comparable to CD-R, and which do not include copy protection mechanisms. And that will happen when hell freezes over, if the MPAA has anything to say about it. (discuss)
Update: Michael writes to tell me that most DVD players can play properly encoded video CDs, which can be mastered on a PC and burned with a CD-R drive. In that case, there doesn't seem to be anything that a DVD-R drive can do that a CD-R player can't do as well for less money.
Stardate 20011220.2058 (On Screen): Mines are extremely effective at what they're designed to do: area denial. If you have a relatively fixed area you need to defend and absolutely want to make sure it will be extremely expensive to take, you create a mine field in front of it. This means you can guard the area with a lot smaller force of men, thus permitting you to keep more men in a mobile reserve. Mines serve best in areas where the lines are relatively static. For example, after action in North Africa slowed in 1942 in the area of el Alamein, both sides laid minefields between their lines. This was one of the things which hampered the British when they finally made their push. In modern times, the DMZ between North and South Korea is very heavily mined. Mines are also used around military installations. (I believe there is a mine field around the gold depository at Fort Knox, for instance.)
Mines come in all kinds of forms; some of them are immensely powerful and can cause wide spread damage when they go off. Sometimes they're very small. They can be laid by hand or by machine or can be dispersed by aircraft or from missiles. There's one version which can be deployed by a Tomahawk cruise missile. One weapon we have for attacking airfields works by dropping a mix of bomblets intended to crater the surface of a runway and mines to prevent workers from easily repairing it afterwards. Such an attack can take an airfield out of the war for up to a week, and of course that can be repeated.
Mines also vary enormously in sophistication. Sometimes the trigger is ridiculously primitive: during the Viet Nam War, the Vietnamese would take a tube blocked at one end, place several hand grenades in the tube which had had their pins pulled but which still had their handles, and then block the end off with a thin rod. This would be hung from a tree with a tripwire connected to the rod; if someone ran into the wire it would pull out the rod, and all the grenades would fall out and go off.
Some of the most sophisticated ones are called "Bouncing Betties". Often these are also set off by a trip wire. They jump up about five feet and then detonate, spraying shrapnel in all directions causing wounds or deaths in a quite wide area.
But the majority of mines are basically buried bombs, or bombs sitting on the ground. They can be set off with pressure fuses, or sound sensors, or with magnetic detectors which look for large metallic masses nearby (i.e. tanks). They might contain shrapnel or concentrate on concussion. Mines are a nearly ideal defensive weapon; nothing can bring an attack up short more effectively than a mine field. Mines are extremely cheap and very effective, and they brook no arguments.
They're also a bitch to clear. Traditionally mines were made of metal, so they could be detected electromagnetically, with a great deal of work. A lot of mines now are made of plastic and are damned difficult to detect at all. Sometimes the mines have smart fuses so that they don't necessarily detonate on the first (or third) opportunity. In many cases the only way to get through a mine field was literally to go through on your hands and knees sticking a probe into the ground looking for hard buried objects. Doing that under fire was, shall we say, a bit daunting. So the next plan was to try to find faster ways of handling the problem.
One trick invented all the way back in WWII was to hang a big rotating drum out front of a tank, with lengths of chain welded to the drum. It would rotate rapidly and beat the ground with the chain, setting the mines off harmlessly before the tank was near enough to be damaged. The British landed a few of these "flail tanks" at Normandy and used them to clear mines off the beaches there, which worked because the mines in question used pressure fuses.
The best approach available now to the US to clear a track through a mine field involves a specially equipped APC. It has a rocket launcher mounted on it which fires over the suspected mine field. The rocket trails behind it a length of primer cord (plastic explosive) and after the whole thing is on the ground, it goes off and will set off all mines within a few yards on either side just from the concussion. That makes a channel through a minefield that vehicles and men can move through, but it doesn't clear the whole mine field. If you're not quite in as much of a hurry, you can mount a bulldozer blade on the front of a tank and push your way through, leaving a sunken road behind.
The reason that mines are used so heavily is that they're cheap, easy to use and very effective. The US is capable of laying a very large mine field in just a few hours with a modified version of a cluster bomb. After Tora Bora fell, there were reports of large numbers of al Qaeda moving along a pretty restricted mountain path towards Pakistan: this would have been a classic case where mines would be useful for area denial. We could mine it by air and close it off to prevent them from escaping. We may have actually done that, in fact; I haven't seen any reports of them actually making it to Pakistan.
The big drawback of mines is also their biggest advantage: they never tire, they never give up, they wait patiently until they're detonated. They keep doing that even after the war is over. All over the world, there is a steady toll of mine casualties in areas where wars have been fought (added to the casualties from unexploded munitions). The process of clearing an unknown mine field is much slower and more hazardous than laying one in the first place, and there are millions of them out there.
So there's been an international political movement to try to ban landmines, because of their negative effects on civilians both during wars and during the years and decades afterwards. The US has largely been cool to this -- yet another of those American policies which have been criticized from around the world -- and hasn't signed the treaty in question. One of the reasons why is that there are a number of places where we really need mines (i.e. Korea) but another is that the treaty in question is bogus. It's another of those international treaties which wouldn't actually accomplish what it is claimed to. Leaving aside the usual immense issues of verification, the biggest problem with it is that it doesn't really ban all landmines. It only bans anti-personnel land mines.
Land mines are intended for different targets, but all of them have the same goal as any other weapon: to reduce the enemy's ability to fight. In the cold, hard logic of war, it was realized early on that anti-personnel mines were more effective if they wounded rather than if they killed. That paradoxical result comes from the fact that if a man is dead, his fellows can keep advancing -- but if a man is wounded, someone's got to carry him to the rear. Another strange fact is that having someone killed instantly affects morale less than having someone laying there screaming in agony from a serious wound. If you kill an enemy soldier, he's down one man. If you wound him badly, you take at least three men out of the line (him, and two guys to carry him to the rear) and reduce the ability of all the others to fight. In addition, wounded men have to be cared for in hospitals, which means the enemy has to have hospitals and the supplies that they consume, which increases the burden on enemy logistics and potentially reduces his capacity to bring ammunition forward for use against your own men. So modern anti-personnel mines are actually quite small and relatively unpowerful; their goal is to take off someone's foot without killing him outright. (Which is indeed what happened to Corporal Chandler at the Kandahar airport.) Historically a very large proportion of wounded men were able to return to combat, but a man who loses his foot is out of the war for good. So the mines are designed to do that for certain without killing the man.
Thus the logic of war has led to the development of smaller mines which maim but do not kill. Those are the ones which that treaty would ban. But the treaty does not ban anti-armor and other anti-vehicle mines. What differentiates them? Well, according to the treaty:
"Anti-personnel mine" means a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered anti-personnel mines as a result of being so equipped.
Which is to say: design intent. An anti-vehicle mine is one which could plausibly damage a vehicle if used properly. About the only practical difference is that anti-vehicle mines are going to be more powerful. Such mines can also be set off by infantry, only when that happens the detonation will nearly always kill the poor bastard, and wound his fellows in a wide area around. But anything an anti-personnel mine can do, anti-vehicle mines can also do. It's just that they'll cost more -- and be more deadly.
So by analogy, this is just the same as if there were a treaty trying to control infantry firearms which banned bolt-action single shot weapons while leaving machine guns unregulated. The result? More machine guns. What would be the result of this particular treaty? No important reduction in use of land mines in future, but a switch to the use of larger, more powerful, more deadly ones. Exactly how is this an improvement? (discuss)
Stardate 20011220.1308 (On Screen):Regarding a successor for Arafat, this article states:
Of the half-dozen or so Palestinian figures usually mentioned as prospective leaders, none combines the veneer of legitimacy, popular support and muscle to make a strong candidate.
Your honor, I object: this statement makes an assumption not yet proved in court. It assumes that Arafat himself actually has popular support and "muscle", thus trying to claim that replacing Arafat would lead to a less powerful leader less capable of making a deal.
But the evidence at this point is that Arafat himself is not capable of that, either. The only thing that a new leader will have less of is fame and exposure; he won't have any less power, because Arafat actually has damned little. When Israel declared Arafat "irrelevant" it was because it finally decided that Arafat himself is impotent. There isn't any point in negotiating with someone who can't actually deliver what he promises. So they're putting it on the line now, and forcing Arafat to prove that he actually can back up any deal he makes. After thirty years, he is now in the position of having to prove that he is capable of pacifying the Palestinian zone for one week. So far he's failed even in that. He's made a lot of pretty speeches, but the attacks continue.
This article contends that if Arafat is deposed then the situation will become worse. That's not obvious, by any stretch. It will be bad, but it's already bad. (discuss)
Stardate 20011220.1259 (On Screen): Sometimes the results of a survey depend very heavily on how the questions were asked, and who was asked. The International Herald Tribune has done a survey of Americans and others around the world asking questions about the September attack and about the war which resulted. As should not be too surprising, the Americans they talked to had different opinions that did the people from around the world. Of course, as soon as you see the description of who they talked to, alarm bells go off: "opinion leaders". How do they decide who an "opinion leader" is? (And just how successful have "opinion leaders" actually been at leading opinion? The evidence recently is "not very.")
Asked if many or most ordinary people consider U.S. policies to be "a major cause" of the Sept. 11 attacks, fewer than 1 in 5 respondents from America said they do. But in the rest of the world, nearly 3 out of 5 agreed that they would.
I'd love to see how that question was actually phrased, and I'd love to see the answers they allowed, because I think that given a choice about 98% of Americans would have answered this question "I don't give a damn." But that probably wasn't a choice. Here's the critical question on this subject I bet they didn't ask: Does this convince you that those American policies were wrong? I suspect that the vast majority of Americans would have answered "no" to that. The fact that someone else objects to our policies, perhaps even violently, doesn't in itself prove that those policies were wrong. American foreign policy does not have as its goal making us popular in the world.
It found strong support for the U.S. war on terrorism, when the fight was described in broad terms. About 6 in 10 of non-Americans said that most or many ordinary people believed that "the U.S. is doing the right thing for the world by fighting terrorism." Support rose to 9 in 10 in Western Europe.
That's hardly surprising; there are a lot of people out there who are suddenly feeling distinctly vulnerable. The US was much less scary when it was a "hyperpower" which sat back fat, contented and happy. Now the US is thoroughly aroused and beginning to use its military and economic might actively, and its military might is revealed as being even more formidable than many people realized. The US committed only a quarter of its carrier battle groups, perhaps a tenth of its air force, and less than half a division of ground forces and annihilated the Taliban. What nation could stand if we really exerted ourselves? So of course they're worried.
A lot of people out there are hoping against hope that the US will, once having pummeled the Taliban, again return to complacency. That isn't going to happen; American voters think that would be the height of idiocy -- and we're the only ones whose opinions count in making those decisions. (Sorry, "world opinion leaders"; that's the breaks.) So many of those people are worried about what else we may do before we're finished, in their nations or in nations that they have economic or political interests. They really wish we wouldn't. Tough shit.
Among Americans, 7 in 10 believed that the United States is taking into account its partners' interests in the fight against terrorism. But among those surveyed abroad more than 6 in 10 said instead that the United States was "acting mainly on its own interests."
The truth is somewhere in between, but mostly in line with the "mainly in its own interests" side. In some regard there has been extensive consultation and cooperation with allies, particularly in sharing of intelligence and in work to find and take out cells and agents of al Qaeda and to seize bank accounts and to shut down fund raising operations. In military matters, the US has been keeping its allies very loosely informed but has not been asking advice nor waiting for permission, and has been setting the goals for the military operations largely without consultation. The goals are not being deliberately chosen to screw over third parties, but their interests are secondary.
I'm extremely skeptical about this survey because I don't believe the sample. Merely by the fact that they claimed that they talked to "opinion leaders" that suggests that this was not a random sample. They specifically chose the people that they talked to. So who picked the sample, and what criterion did they use, and was it biased? Of course it was biased; the question is how. In other words, were "opinion leaders" people that the pollsters wished were leading the opinions of the world, those whose opinions coincided with the pollsters themselves?
They only spoke to 275 people. If that were the number consulted in a single nation, that would be a little light (typically these kinds of polls try to reach about 1200). But this is 275 people in something like 20 nations, and they're sometimes breaking the result down by region. As a result, when they say that 6 out of 10 respondents in Islamic countries considered the US attack to be an overreaction (which they did) that may be based on as few as 30 people (who were not chosen randomly), which makes the result completely meaningless.
Whenever I see a poll which clearly serves a particular political position and which is severely methodologically flawed, I immediately have to wonder whether those who commissioned the poll had an ulterior motive, and in this case I think there was one. The purpose of this one is obvious: it's yet another attempt by European "opinion makers" to rein in the US and convince us to return to safe-and-sane multilateralism. (discuss)
Update: Iain Murray writes to point to this article which gives more details about this survey. It's even worse than it looked on first examination; the sample is ridiculously small and not statistically significant. This survey cannot be extrapolated in any meaningful sense. The US result was based on 40 people, and in most nations they only talked to 10 folks. And the ones they talked to were not even remotely randomly chosen. Another problem with it is that it was done over a period of a month extending from November 12 through December 13, and during that interval the situation was very fluid; it's not clear that they're even getting consistent results.
Stardate 20011220.0703 (On Screen): In the end, all forms of government derive their mandate from the governed, even if it is as a negative (we're not sufficiently angry about it to rise up in revolt). The form of a government cannot really be imposed from outside, and any attempt to do so will ultimately fail. Yet Robert Scheer wants us to do exactly that in Afghanistan: not merely to kick the Taliban out, but to rebuild Afghanistan in our own image afterwards. Not only would this be the height of arrogance, but futile too.
The only way that the new government in Afghanistan can succeed is if it is created by the Afghans, to serve Afghan needs, and to do so in a manner that Afghans expect. The last time someone tried to impose a government on Afghanistan, the attempt resulted in 9 years of bloody warfare. There are a lot of things which it would be nice if the new Afghan government included -- but what's desirable and what's possible don't always have a large intersection. Secularism comes with rising commercial success: if, over the course of 20 years, we can establish a strong market economy there then secularism will come of its own accord. But any attempt to impose it from outside will simply set off yet another civil war. (discuss)
Stardate 20011220.0656 (On Screen): If there is controversy about the proposed International Criminal Court, at least those who proposed it tried to establish its legitimacy through treaty and negotiations. Such cannot be said about the nation of Belgium, who decided a couple of years ago that its laws and its courts had world-wide jurisdiction. Anyone anywhere who has a gripe with anyone can file suit against them in Belgium, as has just happened against Arafat. Long time readers will know that I'm no fan of Arafat, but this is not the way to deal with him. In the mean time, Belgium needs to reverse this policy. (discuss)
Stardate 20011220.0628 (On Screen): The differences of opinion about the size, makeup and mission of the upcoming Afghan peacekeeping force are coming to a head, and it's becoming blatantly obvious that the entire concept was unwanted by the Afghans themselves. Somehow or other, the existence of a peacekeeping force was someone's price for participating in the Bonn negotiations. Evidently it was external nations who were pushing it, not including the US.
US statements about this peacekeeping mission have been: we're not going to participate, and make sure that they don't get in our way as we continue to prosecute this war. (Which, if you think about it, is a complete repudiation of the entire concept of "peacekeeping".) Some of the Afghans themselves originally said in Bonn that they didn't want peacekeepers at all (and then changed their minds after backchannel wrangling), and now what they're saying is that they don't want many and they too don't want them to get in the way.
Fahim said the peacekeepers' role will be largely symbolic, with 2,000 of the 3,000 peacekeepers on humanitarian aid missions or as a reserve force, out of sight at the Baghram air base north of the capital.
"They are here because they want to be" means they are here because we were forced to accept them. The contrast in attitude about them to how the Afghans seem to feel about the Americans couldn't be more stark, and it does not bode well. The new rules approved by the interim Afghan government largely make the peacekeeping force meaningless. Only a thousand of them will actually be permitted to patrol, and they won't actually have the power to act. They'll be a show force. It's hard to say just what good they'll do.
It's almost like they're a security blanket. There seem to be people in the world who just won't believe that a war can end without peacekeeping forces. But it sure as hell isn't the Afghans who need their blankee. At the rate they're going the whole mission is going to be a shambles anyway. If the US war in Afghanistan demonstrated how best to run a military effort, this peacekeeping mission is demonstrating all the things not to do. They have no clear mandate, no clear mission, and they're being imposed on the locals; they are already suffering from coalition command; they're going to be there in insufficient numbers and operating under rules of engagement which wll make it largely impossible for them to be effective, and they'll be confined to a small part of the country (the Kabul area). No soldier should be given an assignment like this; they're being let down by their leaders. (discuss)
Is it too soon to start referring to it as the "International peacekeeping farce"?
Stardate 20011219.2000 (On Screen): When we finally went to war in Afghanistan, the goal was not just to take out al Qaeda, but to destroy the Taliban, too. And now we see the payoff for that. Suddenly there is enormously greater interest in other nations in actively attacking and taking out the local al Qaeda operations. The message has been received loud and clear: clean up your act, or we'll clean it up for you.
This is why the bombing could not stop, even when the Taliban were weakened and al Qaeda were on the run. It's the reason that the job had to be cmpletely finished. (discuss)
Stardate 20011219.1402 (On Screen via long range sensors): A couple of days ago, there was a report from the UK of generally ugly anti-semitic attitudes held by certain members of both the British elite and those from the continent. One of the reports said that an unnamed ambassador from a major European country had mouthed some decidedly un-nice things about Israel.
Later reports indicated that it had been the French ambassador to the UK. Now he says that he doesn't remember saying those things. Note: he's not claiming that he didn't say them, only that he doesn't recall doing so. This is a denial that doesn't deny. What exactly is he trying to prove here? (discuss)
Stardate 20011219.1344 (On Screen): With absolutely impeccable timing, Italian and French jets are now joining American jets patrolling the skies over Afghanistan. The first Italian sortie was three days ago, and today marked the first French sortie. Just in passing, the last remaining hostile stronghold at Tora Bora fell just before the first Italian flight. This is not exactly what I would call being fashionably late for a party. (discuss)
Stardate 20011219.1150 (On Screen): There's no such thing as "cold". Cold is a fiction. What there is is absence of heat. Equally, there's no such thing as "darK"; there's rather absence of light. (Which is why no-one has yet perfected the Dark-Emitting Diode.) You can't make cold. What you have to do is to remove heat, and then cold results. You also can't make dark; but you can remove light.
There's no such thing as "Peace". It's a fiction. What there actually is, though, is absence of conflict. You can't make peace, but you can remove or prevent conflict. So a "peacekeeping mission" is on the face of it a contradiction in terms; it's not "keeping peace", it's preventing conflict. (Or it isn't, if it fails.) If you want peace, you have to give people a reason to stop fighting.
Which is why we have two international efforts regarding trying to create a peaceful situation in Aghanistan right now. One is going to succeed, and one is going to be a pointless waste of time (assuming they can ever work out the details of it and get it going).
First, there's going to be a force of "peacekeepers". But if the locals are determined to continue to fight each other, they'll be no more successful than they were in Bosnia. The most they can hope for is to become one of the parties in conflict, which is a forlorn hope indeed.
The real way to achieve peace in Afghanistan is through the other means: conditional aid. I believe that's going to work. Donor nations of the world are going to promise a couple of billion dollars worth of aid to Afghanistan per year for many years if and only if civil war doesn't break out again. That means that no matter how frustrated any given warlord may feel about being snubbed in a given government, if he starts a war then he and everyone else lose out on the flow of foreign loot. That's a powerful incentive for everyone to play nice. (discuss)
Stardate 20011219.0947 (On Screen): Efforts are proceeding in the Netherlands to set up a permanent war crimes tribunal. The US ambassador has made it very clear that the US is not supporting this effort or consenting to it in any regard, and the Senate unanimously rejected the treaty, and has now voted to give the President permission to "use all means necessary" to free US citizens held by that court.
Dutch Minister Jozias van Aartsen is peeved about that; the US is raining on his parade.
Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Jozias van Aartsen said the Sept. 11 terror attacks are "precisely" the sort of crimes that should be prosecuted by the permanent court. The U.S. fears are "simply not realistic," he said.
That particular rhetoric is past its sell-by date. Minister van Aartsen needs to read the newspapers. Seems to me that the US has actually done quite well going-it-alone so far. That's no guarantee that it's going to continue going nearly perfectly, of course, but it's clear that the US has a reasonable chance of prevailing, even if it continues to go it alone.
The war on international terrorism is not a police action, and it cannot be solved with courts. By the time the perpetrators of these attacks are in custody, the problem is already largely solved. Moreover, to really end the threat it will be necessary to take out a lot of people for which no proof exists of culpability. Such people would be acquitted in a trial and would go free, which is intolerable. The problem with a court is that by its nature it intends to punish the guilty. The primary target in this war is people who are not guilty now but intend to become guilty in the future. We're fighting to preempt future attacks, not to punish those in the past. That's outside the purview of this or any other court. (And it should be, too; I don't like the idea of a court prosecuting people for what they think.)
The primary objection to a permanent tribunal is Parkinson's Law: "Work expands to fill the time available." Create any bureaucracy with any mission and it will find things to keep itself busy. The mere fact that it has solved the problem it was assigned to deal with, or that there actually isn't any problem at the moment, won't keep it from continuing to work. If there are no war criminals, they'll look for some. I think that the US believes that it is better to form temporary tribunals as needed, and then disband them when their function is fulfilled, because that way they won't be seeking war criminals when there are none so as to justify their existence. (discuss)
Stardate 20011219.0916 (On Screen): A German military official says that the next target for the US is going to be Somalia. He may well be right, and he implies that he's privy to our plans. My comment on this is that this is a good example of one of the reasons that we haven't been letting the Europeans in on our planning. If we had wanted that known, we'd have said it ourselves.
That said, there's a de-facto acknowledgement here that the US is not going to stop with Afghanistan. There was a point when the Europeans were hoping that we'd feel sated after tromping on the Taliban, and would stop fighting. It's clear they've given up on that idea and accepted that this war is not over. Which is true: it's hardly begun. This early success is very gratifying, but there is much yet to do. (discuss)
Stardate 20011219.0635 (On Screen): I'm having strong feelings of deja vu. There was a suicide attack on the Indian Parliament building, which because of simple chance (and incompetence on the part of some of the plotters) just missed becoming a major massacre of top Indian politicians. India has not lashed out in anger, yet. But they are investigating the attack and say that it was launched by forces under control of Pakistan.
The Pakistani government denies it. For the moment war has not broken out. And that's where I am getting this feeling of having been here before: India now reminds me overwhelmingly of what the US did in late September. My intuition is that India is going to attack.
From the things I've been reading, I'm getting the impression that Musharraf doesn't actually control everything in Pakistan. There is a shadow group, the ISI, which seems to operate largely on its own and which has its own foreign policy. They appear to be behind the attack on the Indian Parliament building; they were also the group which backed the Taliban. Musharraf either can not or will not stop them. It's uncannily like the al Qaeda and the Taliban, with Musharraf playing the role of "Mullah Omar" in the big screen version. I think he would do well to ponder that fact.
This bothered me:
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said India had a legitimate right to self-defense, but that the attack on its legislature "is not a reason for India or Pakistan to take action against each other."
But if, indeed, it is the case that the attack was ultimately inspired by a rogue agency in the Pakistani government which Musharraf can not or will not control, then how is India's situation any different than that of the US in late September? President Bush declared that nations which harbor and support terrorists will be treated as terrorists. Does that not apply here?
Fleischer's reaction is based solely on the fact that a new war between India and Pakistan would massively complicate the US operation in Afghanistan. In such an eventuality, the Pakistani government might well ask for a quid pro quo, and that would put the US in a tricky situation. So it's understandable that he's hoping that won't happen. But India is the victim here, and even-handedness in diplomacy is a sham. If the attack on the Indian Parliament really was sponsored by a Pakistani agency, then the solution is for Musharraf to shut it down. (discuss)
Stardate 20011218.1543 (On Screen): Motorola had a conference call today discussing their current quarter, and the news remains bad. And as usual, the semiconductor group is the darkest spot on a very dark cloud. Some groups actually made money, most notably cellphone handsets, but the semiconductor group is dying fast. Sales are down by half from a year ago, and Moto announced another 4100 layoffs from that group plus closings of several fabs.
There comes a point where layoffs cause more harm than help, and Moto is long past that point. A year ago August the company had 150,000 employees; a year from now it's scheduled to have about 102 thousand. The effect on morale of a 35% cut cannot be described, but it also cannot be ignored. And the Semiconductor group has taken a disproportionate share of those cuts. (discuss)
In other news, Mac fan sites are abuzz with rumors that Motorola's Semiconductor group is about to release a new version of the PPC which will catch back up with AMD in the compute-power wars (i.e. which will perform competitively on more than just selected Photoshop filters), thus erasing a two year competitive deficit in one stroke.
Stardate 20011218.1224 (On Screen): What are the purported goals of multiculturalism? To understand other people and how they live, to accept them for what they are. What would be the best test of that? To actually live among them and to blend in, wouldn't it be? So what group of Americans are the foremost multiculturalists of our time?
The Green Berets, of course. Could anyone from Marin County uproot and move to Afghanistan at a moment's notice and blend in the way they have? They've been wearing native clothes, they've often eaten the local food, and they even participate in local sports. Can you imagine anyone from Marin County participating in a game of buzkashi? (discuss)
Stardate 20011218.1114 (Crew, this is the Captain): I had dreams last night about Flight 93. I don't remember what they were, but I ended up getting up for a couple of hours because of them. And I was thinking about the people on that doomed flight, and how they fought back. Three jets hijacked and used to hit major targets, one jet hijacked which hit a field in Pennsylvania, because the passengers fought back.
I started thinking about the Second Amendment. There is probably no provision in the Constitution more despised by Europeans, who have never fully understood what it is about. And it occurred to me that every right granted to us in the Constitution also places a duty on us.
For instance, the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the press and of free assembly are there primarily to protect political speech, so as to permit the voters of the United States to rationally discuss the issues of the day and to vote responsibly. But it also lays a duty on the citizens to vote conscientiously.
The Second Amendment is more up front about its duty than any of the others:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
So we have the right to own firearms. But the reason we do is because we all have a duty to defend this nation when it becomes necessary. That's what the founders meant by "a militia"; an ad-hoc collection of armed citizens in time of emergency to augment the regular armed forces. When you take away the right to bear arms, you also tell people that they are not responsible for defending their nation.
And that obligation doesn't end when we're not carrying weapons, and Flight 93 proved it. We'll never know exactly what happened, but we know that the passengers on the plane learned of previous attacks, knew that their own plane was intended for another such attack, and decided to prevent it from happening. The cockpit voice recorder has sounds of a struggle and voices speaking both in English and in Arabic, and the best guess is that the passengers really did come close to prevailing and were on the edge of regaining control when the terrorist pilot put the plane into a steep dive and hit the ground. Surely an open field was not their target, so whatever their target actually was intended to be was spared because the civilians on that jet fought back. Which was their duty. They didn't have guns, but they had hands and feet and dedication and that was enough. The hijackers didn't have guns, either. It's possible that some of the passengers were wounded or even killed in the fighting; all we know is that they were prevailing. They didn't have to be told to do this; deep down they knew. Ultimately all of us know that we bear this burden, and when called on we all must defend the nation, even at the cost of our lives.
"What good can a handful of men with rifles do against a foreign army?" That's the rhetorical question often posed by Europeans who wish that we'd repeal the Second Amendment. Well, sometimes the threat isn't an army, and what citizens can do is to actually be there at the right time and place. We citizens are everywhere; the US Army isn't. Sometimes time and place matter more than anything else. There weren't any Army troops on that jet, but there were citizens who knew their duty and fulfilled it. And that was sufficient, and something important like the Capitol or the White House was spared. (discuss)
Stardate 20011217.2011 (On Screen via long range sensors): Former Iranian President Rafsanjani has made a speech suggesting that at such time as a Muslim nation gets nuclear weapons, it should use them on Israel because, in essence, "it'll hurt them a lot more than the response will hurt us." Right now only one Muslim nation admits to having the bomb: Pakistan. It's very unlikely that any power in that area will get thermonuclear weapons any time soon. Those are very complicated to produce. So what we're talking about here are fission weapons, likely 30 kilotons or less. As scary as nukes are, a weapon like that is much less devastating than you might think. Israel looks mighty small on a map, but it would actually take a lot of such weapons to really defeat the nation. The Tel Aviv area would require more than one; and you've got several other cities which would require one each. And it's unlikely that any Muslim would ever agree to nuke Jerusalem. Still, that could cause drastic damage to the Israeli cause. But what would the response be?
First, there's Israel itself. If such an attack were launched, there can be no question that they would respond in kind, and likely indiscriminately. Exactly how many such weapons they have has never been revealed to my knowledge, but I have no doubt they have at least a couple of dozen. Major Arab targets within reach of the Israeli air force: Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, Amman, Riyadh. Some of those would be one-way trips, but you can believe that Israel could find people to fly such missions.
"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in its possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world."
I don't know about that.The jackpot prize would be Mecca, which is less than a thousand miles from Israeli territory. How would a devout Muslim like Rafsanjani feel if Mecca were reduced to radioactive rubble? Would that count as "just damage"?
But that would be the least of their worries. If any nation like that (or Israel itself) ever uses nuclear weapons first-strike, it's going to face a large-power reaction that will make Afghanistan look like a walk in the park. No matter who does it, it sets off World War III (though not necessarily between major powers). I really hope that Rafsanjani is aware enough of the world situation to understand what an awesomely stupid act that would be. And I wish he'd stop trying to give ideas to people. (discuss)
Stardate 20011217.1805 (On Screen): Forester researcher Eric Scheirer releases an extensive report on how the digital revolution will change all the media. In some regards it's quite frank, and it's refreshing to see someone say that the revolution cannot be stopped. (Too many of these industry analyses tend to concentrate on "how we can prevent it".) On the other hand, he betrays a rather unimaginative viewpoint about a lot of things, not to mention a startling ignorance of relevant case law.
The primary change will be that customers will control packaging from now on and not producers. Customers want -- and will get, one way or another -- exactly what they want, without added extras tossed in. They want to create their own anthology CDs consisting of exactly the tracks they like; so the business of packing a few good tracks with a lot of dreck onto a CD and selling it for a premium price is probably going to decline. People are getting in the habit of getting data feeds a la carte, so omnibus web sites and big one-stop-shopping media sources are screwed, especially the largest ones (like the NYT) who try to be all things to all people. And all this is true.
He misses the point, however, that at least one major form of media has long since adapted to this and undergone the change which is required: the magazines. When I was a kid, the magazine business was dominated by a relatively small number of high-circulation publications like Time, Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. Even into the 1960's you still routinely had publications with monthly circulation into 8 figures, but that's very rare now; TV Guide may well be the only one left, and what it contains is really rather prosaic. Instead, what we have is thousands of smaller magazines which cover much more specific topics. As a result they attract a much more concentrated clientele, which are more desirable to certain advertisers, and therefore can charge a higher ad rate. Finally, there is a sort of reverse economy of scale involved in production of content: smaller is more efficient, producing absolutely less, but more per employee. Fifty organizations with 20 employees each will produce far more than one organization with a thousand employees, and that's what the magazines did. As a result, anyone can find a publication catering to their interests, and often more than one. Keep this in mind.
He also points out that centralized news reporting (he uses Dan Rather as his example) is probably doomed; as budgets continue to rise while audiences continue to shrink (through dilution by competition), it simply won't make economic sense any longer.
Where he loses it a bit is this:
Scheirer acknowledges the critics who contend that as content becomes more directed at the individual, the informaton "commons" could disappear. Dan Rather delivering the key national news of the day becomes all but irrelevant as audiences get the option of receiving only specialized news delivered from, say, a particular political bent, or just refuse to select news with any political content at all. "Guides will accelerate this erosion," Scheirer writes.
Not unless the CDA decision is overturned, which seems very unlikely. While hearing a constitutional challenge against the Communications Decency Act, the Third Circuit Court made a very broad analysis of the Internet to decide what model should be used for First Amendment jurisprudence here. The Government tried to contend that it should be managed the way that TV is, where the government has considerable ability to both mandate and to ban content. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, tried to claim that it should be governed as newspapers are, where the government has very little control. The Third Circuit Court disagreed with them both: It decided that the Internet deserved even more protection against government interference than newspapers get. Their conceptual model for web sites was a soapbox in the town square. Within those parameters, the government will have absolutely no right to force any web site to carry anything whatever, and almost no ability to ban material. Basically, the well-known cases: sedition, libel, inducement to riot, violation of copyright, child porn, conspiracy to commit a felony -- could be controlled, but not really a lot else. (And many of those things can only be controlled through civil law.)
The real place where I disagree with Scheirer is the pervasive feeling he seems to have that there's some sort of crisis happening. I suppose that's because he aligns mostly with the traditional companies which are about to be badly hurt as their existing business models erode. But this has happened before. As mentioned, the magazines recovered quite nicely from it, but only because they accepted the reality of the situation and rolled with the punch. Large media companies will prosper or die in direct proportion to how rapidly they abandon their obsolescent concepts about distribution and instead embrace new models. There's a fortune to be made by companies which are not paralyzed by nostalgia. But the world will larn 'em or kill 'em; they're not going to hold back the tide. (discuss)
Stardate 20011217.1019 (On Screen): USS Kittyhawk was the only carrier in this operation whose job was shrouded in mystery. It was announced that most of its air wing was unloaded and that it was reloaded primarily with helicopters, but it was never really announced why they were there or what they were intended for. I assumed that it was to provide more aircraft for the Marines to compensate for the fact that they would eventually be operating much further from their own LHD's than they ordinarily would, and also for the fact that they would be operating in places where amphibious landings were not possible. So, of course, there was the impression that Kittyhawk was sitting out there doing little while Vinson and Roosevelt were doing the real work.
That turns out to be wrong, and now Kittyhawk's real mission has been revealed. It was supporting the Special Forces. They were based on it; those helicopters were theirs. I feel as if I should have guessed that. The actual base from which the Special Forces were operating was always rather hazy; there was this idea that it was from some nebulous base in Pakistan somewhere. Indeed there probably were such bases, but home base was on a ship. That just makes immense sense; I wonder why no-one I've read had guessed it? (discuss)
Stardate 20011217.1001 (On Screen via long range sensors): I remember when I was young and began to discover girls. Women are nice to watch; and frankly doing so is involuntary. I couldn't stop even if I wanted to. At first I was embarrassed by it, but I got over that. Of course, while the low level mechanisms co-opt the eyeballs and steer them at attractive targets, it's inevitable that higher brain functions should operate on the images being captured, and inevitably there was scoring: OK; how good looking is she? So what you do is to start with some standard of perfection (say, Sophia Loren) and then to tally up all the ways that the particular woman within view failed to live up to this high standard. This led to me concentrating on a woman's bad points, and also led to a growing sense of dissatisfaction. Then I got a grip: the right way to do this is not to compare agains Miss Loren, but agains Selma Thump of Oshkosh, the most ugly woman in the world (an imaginary creation which fused the worst characteristics imaginable; she's the one who rolled snakeeyes a hundred times and crapped out). Then the idea was to look for all the ways that this particular lady was better than that, and to concentrate on her good parts. So if her face was perhaps a big plain, then maybe she has a nice ass -- and that's what to look at. And suddenly I realized that world was full of beautiful women, and I became a much happier man.
But that other attitude, of painting an image of the best possible outcome and then complaining when reality doesn't match up, is unfortunately common -- not just in girl watching but in all things. We're seeing a lot of it now from anti-war writers who are trying to find some way of justifying the fact that they weren't really wrong to have opposed the war in Afghanistan, since the result turned out to be so lousy. That's what Ted Rall did a couple of days ago, and that is also what Adrian D'Hage does here. Both are trying to prove that since the situation in Afghanistan hasn't achieved instant perfection then the effort there must have been a total failure. There isn't any room in their elucidation for the idea of a partial success, or a limited objective. Thus they place the goal so far away that reality could not possibly match up, and thus "that girl is ugly" even if she's a knockout.
The unexpected speed of the Taliban's defeat is welcome news. But before we drink too much champagne, let's be wary of the challenges we're likely to face in the war against terrorism. It is still not a stretch to argue that the present strategy is a potential quagmire. It does have echoes of Vietnam.
So he beings with a grudging admission that she's really pretty darned good looking, But... Always the inevitable "But". And then the rest is a litany of all the ways she doesn't really measure up to what she really should have been in an ideal world.
There is the obligatory claim of quagmiredom and the invocation of the demon of Viet Nam. (Hey, anyone notice that the US is normalizing relations with Viet Nam, and that they are eager for trade with us?)
Yes, it's true that some of al Qaeda will get away. That's never been in doubt. But the organization has been badly hurt, and in any case the process of pursuing them was never expected to end in Afghanistan. al Qaeda may well still have the ability to launch operations against us but they are less able to do so. There will be fewer missions and they will be less well organized and likely will be much less lethal. And that is a victory.
Then there's the looming instability and chaos in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Having conducted the campaign against the Taliban mainly from the air, there is a danger that precisely the same lawlessness that allowed the Taliban to ascend to power in 1994 will prevail.
On the contrary: there's every reason to believe that any attempt to dictate peace to the Afghan people through foreign occupation is doomed to failure. It is indeed true that the current government may fail; the idea, then, is to work to make sure that doesn't happen. But if we'd attempted to actually occupy the nation and create a government in our own image, we'd have been replicating the mistake the USSR made there which lead to nine years of war. Part of why this war has been so successful is precisely that the commitment of ground forces was careful and small. And by the same token, there's every reason to believe that this maximizes the chance of this new government succeeding.
But history says otherwise. Already, many areas of Afghanistan are so dangerous that the UN cannot get winter relief supplies to ordinary Afghans, many of them children.
No-one wants widespread starvation in Afghanistan, but he's making that mistake again. It's not a question of whether it will happen, but rather whether there will be less starvation than if we had not attacked or had used some other kind of military operation than the one we did. And it's becoming clear that the current course is going to result in fewer