Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Small Movement Toward Rationality

The gold-covered statue of Sapurmurat Niyazov, late president of Turkmenistan, is being dismantled. The statue rotated to face the sun. Or perhaps to allow the sun the pleasure of the face of The Father of All Turkmens.

It's possible that his successor, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, may simply have in mind a more modern sort of dictatorship, but even that would be a step toward rationality.

I'm a bit more optimistic than Jamie K on this; Berdymukhamedov has opened the country a bit more to commerce with the West. Only time will tell.

Others' Shoes

I've been wanting to write a post on this subject, but haven't been able to get it right.

I have no comprehension of what may be going on in the heads of Glen Beck followers, Tea Partiers, Sarah Palin fans. I have tried, but I am so thoroughly put off by, for only one example, the idea that I and I alone am totally responsible for all the good things in my life, while the gummint is responsible for everything that has gone wrong, that my mental effort to get into their shoes just stops. I would say "aborts," but that would bring in a whole other set of problems.

And yes, I know I've loaded that paragraph in several ways. My attempts, I think, are of better faith than that paragraph; I tried to write it to get across some of my feelings during the process, which include earnestness followed by revulsion.

Today offers a couple of posts at least peripherally related to my failures to put myself in others' shoes. Michael Tomasky reminds us how important it is, and how utterly those I mentioned above reject it. This gives me a further excuse for my failure in this area, but Tomasky isn't about to let me get away with that.

It turns out that Helmut is not the only prescient blogger around. Stanley Fish cites his own earlier commentary on the changing frames for misdeeds by those in outgroups and ingroups. If it was done by someone belonging to a group we want to demonize, it's a symptom of the evil plans of that group. If it was done by one of our guys, it was just one bad apple. This too, of course, is a failure to get into someone else's shoes or to look at the evidence. It's bad faith, but it's also human psychology to make what we think and reality consistent. Unfortunately, it is sometimes too easy to bend reality rather than change what we think; the media share this psychology, although they are supposed to be more questioning of such things than the rest of us. So they wind up, all too often, reinforcing the idea that there is a terrible conspiracy by the bad guys against us good guys. And yes, it was the good guys who attended Beck's rally over the weekend.

The Shame Continues

...a majority of Republicans suspect that President Obama wants to impose Islamic law, also known as Sharia, throughout the world, according to a new national poll from Newsweek. But even as they say this, a lot of them aren't completely sure.

The poll asked: "Some people have alleged that Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world. From what you know about Obama, what is your opinion of these allegations?"

The top-line result was definitely true 7%, probably true 24%, probably not true 36%, and definitely not true 25%. Among Republicans, however, it was definitely true 14%, probably true 38%, probably not true 33%, and definitely not true 7%. [via TPM]

Monday, August 30, 2010

Rambutan

The Onion (via Lindsay on FB):
Man Already Knows Everything He Needs To Know About Muslims

...Gentries, 48, said he had absolutely no interest in exposing himself to further knowledge of Islamic civilization or putting his sweeping opinions into a broader context of any kind, and confirmed he was "perfectly happy" to make a handful of emotionally charged words the basis of his mistrust toward all members of the world's second-largest religion.

"I learned all that really matters about the Muslim faith on 9/11," Gentries said in reference to the terrorist attacks on the United States undertaken by 19 of Islam's approximately 1.6 billion practitioners. "What more do I need to know to stigmatize Muslims everywhere as inherently violent radicals?"

"And now they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero," continued Gentries, eliminating any distinction between the 9/11 hijackers and Muslims in general. "No, I won't examine the accuracy of that statement, but yes, I will allow myself to be outraged by it and use it as evidence of these people's universal callousness toward Americans who lost loved ones when the Twin Towers fell."

"Even though I am not one of those people," he added....

UPDATE:

Good grief. Check out this video John Cole posted from a couple of college student journalists interviewing people at the tea party event this past Saturday. There's a guy at around 12:45 or so who actually says, "I learned everything I need to know about Islam on 9/11."

Like, dude, do we really know what reality is?

Bits and Pieces - August 30, 2010

More on Pakistan from Steve Coll.

A mass grave in the United States.

What do you want to bet that this report on the international climate change panel gets a lot more play in the MSM than the judicial ruling against the Virginia attorney general's case against climate scientist Michael Mann.

Criminalizing travel.

Helmut and Krugman on Intolerance

Given the Beckrally over the weekend, here's a prescient post from Helmut in 2006. He's talking about the neocons, but we didn't have the Tea Party back then.
A pluralistic perspective is an acceptance that there are diverse comprehensive views and diverse individual answers about how best to live, which values are truly important, what goals are to be sought, how conflicts are to be resolved, and so on.
Which, he said, was the opposite of what the neocons were offering.

Similarly, today Paul Krugman predicts the carnival of intolerance that a Republican Congress would bring.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Pakistan Floods


Cheryl earlier linked to a post on Pakistan by Juan Cole that includes this map from the BBC. I think the map itself is worth posting.

It's Easy If All You Do Is Talk

Frank Munger explains what the Y-12 facility at Oak Ridge is doing to dismantle nuclear weapons. And there are a lot to dismantle; New START will bring down the number of deployed warheads to 1550 from the 6000 or so allowed by the START I treaty, which it supersedes, or the Moscow Treaty, which allowed 2200.

Building nuclear weapons isn't like turning out Toyotas; each warhead is hand-crafted, especially the final assembly, when fissionable material meets conventional explosive meets detonators. Taking them apart is pretty much the same thing, although sometimes more difficult. Weapons are made to destroy themselves, not to be taken apart again.

So the same sort of equipment, buildings, and trained people are needed to dismantle nuclear weapons as are needed to build them.

Most of the nuclear weapon facilities beyond the computational were built in the 1950s. Some have been partially upgraded at various times, but they are showing their age. Health and safety standards have tightened over the passage of fifty and more years. Those are the drivers behind the Obama administration's request for new facilities, particularly at Y-12, which handles enriched uranium, and the CMRR building at Los Alamos, which will handle plutonium. The difference between them is that the CMRR building will incorporate a research capability, and the handling of weapons parts will be done in the already-existing PF-4 plutonium facility.

The warheads that remain in the stockpile will need to be maintained, and these facilities will also do that. Further, in the unlikely case that the need arises, they will be able to build new warheads.

It's that last that bothers some people. While the Republicans are making noises about putting more money into these facilities before they agree to support New START, a few people are arguing that the facilities should never be built, that they are bomb factories pure and simple.

I keep wondering how those people think we are going to destroy the nukes that exist today. Those nukes are physical entities, and they contain dangerous materials, both in the sense of hazard to those around them and in the sense of needing to be kept away from those who would use them for destruction. Store them, and they will deteriorate. Bury them, and they will deteriorate faster. In either case, they will have to be guarded. Facilities for storage or burial would have to be built, probably at no less cost. There are already a great many pits stored at the Pantex facility, which does the initial disassembly.

The enriched uranium can be used in existing civilian power reactors. Already, half the electricity generated by nuclear power in the United States comes from former Soviet nuclear weapons. I'll leave the arguments about plutonium and mixed-oxide fuel to another post, but plutonium can be used in the same way once it is removed from weapons and processed into reactor fuel.

But if that is to be done safely, the plants that have a part in that process must be up to modern standards, which means new plants, as at Y-12. I keep wondering what alternatives the opponents would propose.

Pakistan Is Being Devastated By The Floods

I thought I'd headline it. I simply can't believe so little attention is being paid by the MSM, although I see that CNN has sent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Reza Sayah. How about that nice Anglo name, Anderson Cooper?

Juan Cole has more, including a very good map, and one representative of the MSM, David Ignatius, is wondering why the US isn't doing more, by private contributions, of course.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Guest Post - Eliminating Smallpox

by Robert L. Wallace

For several decades a mass murderer has waited on death row. As with other scheduled executions, this one is not without controversy, but the final decision to execute will not be made in the courts, nor will it be made by popular vote. Further, this murderer is not a person. It is the smallpox virus, and the last portions of this killer known to science are held in special vials within the cold storage chambers of two high-tech microbiology laboratories. One set of samples, numbering some 450 units, is held in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commonly known as the CDC. The other samples (about 150 units) are in Moscow at the Institute for Viral Preparations. This execution has been delayed and rescheduled—only to be delayed again. The World Health Organization (WHO) will again consider its destruction next year.
______________________________________________

The human battle with smallpox (a.k.a., variola or varida) is an ancient one, dating back at least 2,000 years. However, with mortality rates ranging from a low of 1% to a depressing 50% depending on the strain, the effect of this scourge on humanity has never been the same in all societies. Nevertheless, if not a killer, smallpox usually left evidence of its presence in the form of deep scars or pockmarks on the survivors.

Unfortunately, throughout much of history our arsenal against smallpox was limited. Progress, therefore, in overcoming this disease was very slow. The earliest records of combating smallpox come from the 10th century. These accounts chronicle early attempts to control epidemics by a practice called variolation. In China variolation was done by having people inhale dust that had been produced by crushing the dried scabs collected from the pock scars of people with variola. In the Middle East a variation of this practice was done. Here scab material or fresh fluid was ingested by, or inoculated into, a disease-free person.

To some, variolation seems to be a silly idea, but the concept was sound. Rather than waiting for an epidemic to come along, entering a population where few people were immune, a small epidemic was started. In this way the terrible scourge of an epidemic was controlled as a negligible outbreak: negligible, but only to those who did not become seriously ill. In immunological terms, variolation relies on a phenomenon known as herd immunity; the more people in a community (the herd) who are immune to an infectious disease, the less chance there is for the disease agent to establish a full-blown epidemic.

Lady Mary Wortley Montague, spouse of the British Ambassador to Turkey, introduced variolation into England in 1718 and the practice was used in England until the end of that century. Even Washington had his troops protected in this way. Variolation worked best when the milder strain of smallpox, variola minor, was used. Unfortunately, when a more virulent strain of the disease was used, variola major, the case-fatality rate could exceed 50%.

Although probably part of folk-wisdom for centuries, the knowledge that previous infection with cowpox imparts protection against smallpox was first applied as a prophylactic two decades before Edward Jenner’s celebrated attempt (Cartwright & Biddiss, 2000, pdf). These early attempts notwithstanding, modern treatment for smallpox really developed from the work of Jenner in the late 18th Century. Like those before him, Jenner noted that dairymaids in rural England usually did not carry the characteristic smallpox scars seen on those who had survived their bout with smallpox. Jenner formulated a hypothesis that the dairymaids had contracted cowpox and that this conferred immunity to variola. Cowpox generally causes little problems to humans or even to cattle for that matter. Working on this insight Jenner inoculated the arm of James Phipps with the pus from cowpox scabs from the hand of Sarah Nelmes. Then a scant three weeks later injected the boy with material from smallpox victims. Common knowledge at the time held that the boy would come down with at least the mild case of smallpox, but he did not. Thus was born the practice of vaccination, the procedure of conferring immunity against a certain disease through inoculation with a specific substance. The word vaccination is derived from the term used for the cowpox virus, vaccinia (Latin, vaccin-, of a cow).

Jenner's prophylactic for smallpox was hardly without controversy. Political cartoons at the time predicted that those inoculated with cowpox scabs would grow the heads of cows from their arms or other parts of their bodies. As vaccination proved effective its practice became widespread, but not universally. In the U.S., a modern form of vaccination was rigorously applied so that smallpox epidemics were rare in the 20th century. Eventually, the need for immunization in the U.S. declined and, except for the armed forces, it has not been possible to get a vaccination of smallpox for many years. So in the U.S. smallpox vaccination became a thing of memory even before epidemic smallpox was eliminated from the world. The elimination of routine vaccination explains the rarity of vaccination scars on the arms of people younger than about 40 years of age. At one time a large percentage of the world’s population was immune to smallpox, either through a natural active immunity (i.e., surviving the disease) or artificial active immunity (i.e., vaccination), but, of course, the level of immunity is dropping.

As humans are the only natural host of the virus, WHO saw the possibility of a worldwide immunization campaign against smallpox with the goal of its eradication. The WHO program was not without its political and religious problems, but the goal of universal immunization against smallpox was achieved late in the 1970s. Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1979 by WHO (the publication date was actually 1980) and smallpox is now considered to be a disease of the past.

To close this part of history, we should note that the last case of epidemic smallpox was diagnosed in a Somalian, Ali Maolin, on October 26, 1977; over 30 years ago. The only other case developed as a result of a laboratory accident the following year. That infection resulted in two cases of smallpox and two deaths, but only one from smallpox itself. Janet Parker, a medical photographer from Birmingham University Medical School in England, died of the disease; the other death was a suicide by the head of the smallpox laboratory. So it took about 170 years to move from Jenner’s work in 1796 to the elimination of epidemic smallpox in 1977.

The Debate — So what of the vials of the variola virus that await their fate in those deep freezers? And why is there any debate at all over their fate?

Those who favor the destruction of the smallpox virus maintain that there is no need to keep the virus for a number of reasons. We already have sequenced the genetic code of the major variants and the virus has been divided into several short fragments, which have been inserted into separate plasmids that reside in special strains of bacterial kept in laboratory culture. Thus, there are adequate ways of studying the virus without the possibility of causing an epidemic. The virus produces a relatively slow moving epidemic with easily recognizable symptoms. Therefore, any new epidemic supplied from unknown sources may be contained by quarantine. There is no evidence that there are hidden reservoirs of smallpox. Also there is no evidence that without smallpox there is a kind of empty pathological niche waiting to be filled by a related virus, a virus that will evolve into a new form of smallpox. Further, the nomination of monkeypox, as a candidate for this evolutionary step seems unwarranted. Genomic studies by Douglas & Dumbell (1992) indicate that monkeypox is not the ancestor to smallpox. It is not be necessary to keep stocks of smallpox virus on hand from which we could make vaccine; new epidemics would provide sufficient stock and of the proper variant(s) to produce new vaccines. Destruction of the viral stocks would remove forever the possibility of accidental or deliberate release. The latter could occur from hostile nations engaged in biological warfare or from terrorists. Finally, destruction of this virus will be an important symbol of hope in these days of a different plague, HIV–AIDS.

Those in favor of saving the samples argue that destruction of the samples does not eliminate the threat of additional outbreaks of smallpox. First, new epidemics could come from some unknown active pocket in a remote corner of the world, from a victim buried in the permafrost of Siberia, or from mislabeled samples that may remain in laboratories around the world. Second, an evolutionary change could occur, if not from cowpox or monkeypox, then from some other unknown source. This would permit the emergence of a new poxvirus into the human population. Therefore, smallpox reserves should be retained to permit controlled studies allowing full understanding of the biology of a deadly virus we have yet to completely comprehend. Opponents of the destruction also argue that the study of this virus might provide insights into other important diseases. Finally, they argue that we should not get into the habit of eliminating any life form—even the etiological agents of disease—as we exterminate far too many species already.

Shall science execute this plague virus or not? A morning's work with an autoclave or even a large pressure cooker in two different sites is all that is needed to send this killer to oblivion. A report from WHO scientists was prepared for the General Assembly of the United Nations and the recommendation was made to destroy the smallpox virus. After one stay of execution a second date was set for June 30, 1995, but another reprieve was granted. Now another new date for the destruction of smallpox is approaching, and the question remains: what should we do with the virus?

Humanity has wanted to eliminate this disease since the time of Edward Jenner. While the disease state of Smallpox has been purged from humanity, now we can eliminate the last known remnants of the etiologic agent—or so it would seem. What should we do with the remaining vials of smallpox: keep it or destroy it? I argue for its destruction.


Cartwright, F.F. & M. Biddiss. 2000. Disease and History. Sutton Publishing, Phoenix Mill, UK.

Douglass, N.J. & K.R. Dumbell 1996. DNA sequence variation as a clue to the phylogenesis of orthopoxviruses. Journal of General Virology 77 947–951.



Robert Wallace is Professor of Biology at Ripon College. Versions of this post were published in 1994 in The Oregonian, The Houston Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch, Providence Journal-Bulletin, Valley News, Ripon Commonwealth Press, and The Milwaukee Journal.

"Clash of Civilizations" as Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

I've got to admit, the ability of the right to "create its own reality" is now quite advanced. You kind of wish they'd create one with rainbows and pony rides.

Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy:
...the mosque has barely registered on the major jihadist forums which I frequent -- yesterday, on the leading al-Shamoukh forum, it was not mentioned in the headline of a single one of the first ten pages of posts (more than 500 in all). There have been a few threads, as Evan Kohlmann has claimed, but it's a fairly minor theme within the forum debates ("Burn a Quran Day" has actually had more traction than the NY mosque thus far, actually). Certainly no triumphalism about how they'll soon have a monument to victory, as you hear so often out there on the American lunatic fringe. I have no doubt that al-Qaeda and like-minded extremists will eventually use the anti-mosque movement in their propaganda, since it so perfectly fits their narrative of a West at war with Islam --- the very narrative which both the Bush administration and the Obama administration worked so hard to combat over the last few years. I suspect that the participants in the forums aren't talking about it much is that it simply confirms what they already believe about America. They'll use it, but don't see much to argue about.

That's the opposite of the Arab mainstream, which is vigorously arguing about what it means for the future of America's relationship with Muslims --- both in America and in the world. Where the anti-mosque movement and escalating anti-Islam rhetoric is really resonating is with the Arab mainstream --- that vast middle ground which had hoped that the election of Barack Obama would mark a real change from the Bush administration but have grown increasingly disappointed. The mosque issue has been covered heavily on Arab satellite TV stations such as al-Jazeera, and the images of angry Americans chanting slogans and waving signs against Islam have resonated much like the images of angry Arabs burning American flags and denouncing U.S. policy did with American viewers after 9/11. The recent public opinion surveys showing widespread hostility towards Islam among Americans have also gotten a lot of attention.

It all contributes to the ongoing deterioriation of their residual hope in Obama's ability to bring about meaningful change. It's confirming the worst fears of too many mainstream Arabs and Muslims, and thus providing fodder for the extremists who hope to exploit that atmosphere. It's become a cliche to say so, but it's true: by fueling the narrative of a clash of civilizations and an inevitable war between Islam and the West, this unfortunate trend is empowering extremists on all sides and weakening moderates....

But, you know, there are a lot of people who gain in the US from the perpetuation of the mythology of the "clash of civilizations." It's good for TV ratings, good for defense contracts, good for demagogic politicians, and ultimately good for those who make the coffins that'll be shipping the troops home. Burning Korans and protesting mosques may succeed as some sort of emotional release for tough-guy ignoramuses (I love the one where one idiot out of the endless stream - too lazy and too pointless to dig up the guy's name - says Muslims worship a "monkey god." That would be Allah, AKA "God" or "Yahweh," in a religion that includes "Jesus" as a prophet). But that kind of confederacy of dunces bigotry wherever it comes from is ultimately a generous contributor to homicidal and suicidal policy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 26, 2010




Beautiful color photos from Russia a century ago. Some of it still looks like these photos. (h/t to MBC)

I started some bits and pieces on dumb in response to Helmut's post. Today is dumb day, in honor of the efforts of talk radio.

If you're not feeling dumb, there is a lot of substance out there today as well. I haven't read all of these, but I hope to.

How reporters mangle science on Gulf oil. (And many other things, I might add!)

Skip peer review, just publish science like we bloggers do. I have some reservations about this, but peer review definitely has some problems. Some other thoughts.

If Israel attacks, by Bruce Riedel.

India would like to impose liability for accidents on nuclear enterprises. This could scuttle nuclear cooperation with India, which would not be an entirely bad thing.

The Afghanistan War Is Mainly About Pakistan and India. Something I've suspected for some time.

More climate science non-scandal. The responses to the denialists' accusations never seem to merit as large a font for their headlines, when they show up in the MSM. See dumb, above.

Birthright citizenship debate is a thinly veiled attack on immigrant mothers.

The long-lasting Recovery Act.

And some military dumb, also known as your tax dollars at work:
The flying laser just doesn't quit.

Getting excited about cyberwarfare, because we need to spread war into all our media. Even David Ignatius sees the dumb here.

Depressing

"The popular mind is deep, and means a thousand times more than it explicitly knows," wrote the great but largely forgotten American philosopher, Josiah Royce.

But it's pretty damn hard to hold onto this belief and a lot easier to agree with The Opinionator:
It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. Plenty of hate-filled partisans swore that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew. So what if one-in-five believe the sun revolves around the earth, or aren’t sure from which country the United States gained its independence?

But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier.

It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Loquat Leaf

Bits and Pieces - August 25, 2010

Pakistan before the floods.

Israel should give up its nuclear "opacity."

England has a free-market solution to the problem of infected hens laying infected eggs. Me, I get mine at the Farmers' Market.

The air gap works for "cyberwarfare." Maybe less than that.

Arab reaction to the Park51 hostility. Stirring up hatred toward Muslims makes a lot of sense for those who really want another war.

It has long seemed to me that Russia and China are the last empires. The difficulty of defending any boundaries in the Asian landmass drove both to incorporate more and more nationalities, many of whom still aren't happy with the arrangement. I don't think anything will change this any time soon, but here's one more comment on the difficulties of one of those empires.

Added later: An open letter to California (and other) students. Via.

Please Remove Your Shoes

Now here's a movie I haven't seen yet, but I want to.



Like "Countdown To Zero," it's about fear. But it's not using fear. It shows how being paralyzed by fear induces bad decisions. Or that's what I take away from the Armchair Generalist and Homeland Security Watch. Links to more reviews at Homeland Security Watch.

But it suffers from the same problem as "Countdown To Zero": what can the ordinary citizen do? Unlike nuclear weapons, this is something that everyone who flies faces. I have long been more concerned that I will be detained by the TSA than that my airplane will be blown out of the sky. And, like the Armchair Generalist, I resent that something I have loved, flying and travel, has been made into an occasion for fear.

Countdown To Zero

"Countdown to Zero" continues a rather standard meme within the arms control community. I found it disappointing for that reason and others. Here's an interview with the producer.

The movie relies far too much on fear. Terrorists might get a nuclear weapon, we are told by those who have said it before, Graham Allison, Matthew Bunn, and Rolf Mowatt-Larson, from Harvard's Belfer Center. The message is repeated and amplified by others, along with the possibility of an accidental exchange between the United States and Russia. The examples of near-misses in the latter all took place during the Cold War or slightly after. Some things have done to improve safety on that point, although we don't hear much about that. Should more be done? Certainly, but neither we nor the Russians expect that kind of nuclear exchange the way we did twenty years ago, so that alone makes this sort of accident less likely.

There is the usual footage of mushroom clouds and Hiroshima destruction. More of underground nuclear tests and ensuing nationalistic celebrations in Pakistan and India.

Proliferation is indeed a danger that should be addressed in a number of ways, but there is little that individual citizens can do about it. Export controls and dual-use technology are very wonky subjects indeed. The producer admits that this issue is not in the same league as "An Inconvenient Truth," also his product, in this sense. Citizens can make their views known to their elected representatives. Hmmm. The most encouraging thing he had to say was that young people, previously oblivious to this not-much-talked-about subject, were figuring out that all those nukes are not good thing.

But fear is a poor motivator. It loses its focus and becomes anxiety, and anxiety inhibits action. Fear is so much used on the political scene these days (Tea Party fear of the government they are dependent on, fear of Islam, real fear on the economy) that a single movie presenting a more specialized set of fears is hardly likely to have an impact. And those young people have been lecturing us old folks on how counterproductive our demonstrations turned out to be.

People need a positive reason for action. A world without nuclear weapons is likely to be a better world; that depends on the means toward eliminating those weapons, the negotiations and concessions that would have to take place. But none of that is as easy to present as fear in a handful of Hiroshima dust.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 24, 2010

It's disturbing that the Smithsonian is slanting its science to the desires of its large contributors.

A Shakespeare journal and a medieval journal decide to take peer review online.

Making it easy to figure out whom to vote for.

You really wanted to hear more about that non-attack on Iran, didn't you?
Tony Karon asks three good questions:
1. Does the U.S. have a right to launch wars of aggression without provocation, in defiance of international law and an international consensus, simply on the basis of its own suspicions about another country's future intentions?

2. Even if Iran were to acquire the means to build a nuclear weapon, would that be a legitimate or prudent reason for launching a war?

3. Is Iran actually developing nuclear weapons?
M. J. Rosenberg makes some similar points.

Gary Hart points out that it's Congress that declares war, and bombing Iran would be war.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 23, 2010

Places to donate to help flood victims in Pakistan.

We can hope that these will be the last words on Park51 and an attack on Iran, but somehow I'm afraid they won't be. Marc Lynch manages to make some points that haven't yet been made, including
The "war bluff" argument -- that we will be most effective at diplomacy if we can credibly threaten force, with Israel playing the "bad cop" to force Iran to deal with the American "good cop" -- only works if there is adequate trust between the U.S. and Israel. This is why the Obama administration has taken to consulting so regularly and at such high levels with Israel, in order to ensure that communication is clear and consistent. Goldberg's suggestion that Israeli officials would nevertheless be prepared to spring such a surprise undermines that trust.

If Israel truly felt such existential urgency, then wouldn't it be willing to make concessions on Gaza or the peace process in order to build international support and sympathy? If Israel hopes to build an international consensus, this has been an odd way to go about it.
Does a higher degree of income inequality cause financial crises? Or is it stupidity on the part of the bankers? Exhibit A:
“Cars go faster every year, and G.D.P. rises every year, but that doesn’t mean speed causes G.D.P.,” said Mr. Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School and co-author of the coming book “Seeds of Destruction: Why the Path to Economic Ruin Runs Through Washington, and How to Reclaim American Prosperity.”
Silly me; I thought that cars had sort of topped out on speed, since the highest speed limits in the country are maybe 75 mph, and have been for some time. But maybe that's not the case for the cars the bankers are buying. And yeah, I see that this brain trust is a professor. And I guess that my two questions aren't mutually exclusive.

Well, Duh

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he takes President Obama at his word when he says he is a Christian. [WaPo]
But look at the way this is worded, so as to maintain the element of doubt. Don't we usually take people at their word as to their religion? Or...is President Obama a...stealth Muslim?

Good grief.

Update: Jon Chait and Steve Benen pick up on McConnell's tactic too.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Unwise Falafel (and Puddle Jumping)

On a recent afternoon on the streets around Ground Zero, commuters jumped over puddles to make their trains home, French tourists snapped photos, a homeless man jangled a can, an angry woman cried into her cellphone and Ali Mohammed served falafel over rice.... (WP)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 19, 2010

Doper bears in British Columbia.

A defense contractor is penalized.

What a smart grid could do for your electric bill.

In case you haven't had enough yet on Cordoba House:
Bernard Avishai

Michael Kinsley: "Is there any reason to oppose the mosque that isn't bigoted, or demagogic, or unconstitutional? None that I've heard or read."

They're both actually pretty good.

And one more on why Israel shouldn't attack Iran from the Jerusalem Post.

Community Organizing, Continued

Ezra Klein has two sort of matching posts today on President Obama's popularity. One shows that he's more popular than recent presidents were this far into their presidencies. But Klein's theme is the general hand-wringing about what a failure Obama has been and how everyone is disappointed by him. (I'm not, but Ezra didn't ask me!)

The second post slides right into the Beltway (or somewhere?) idiom that terrible things are happening to Obama's presidency. And it's because Obama, silly man, tried to bring the political part of the nation together when the Republicans were hellbent on thwarting him. So, sad to say, he didn't get anything accomplished.

Except health care reform, financial reform, pulling the country back from a deep recession, getting out of Iraq, speaking out on the anti-Muslim anti-constitutional bigotry, modeling a home garden, and probably a few other things that don't come instantly to my mind.

All the while marginalizing the Republicans as recalcitrant fools.

Ezra, you should get out a little more!

Update: Dave Weigel offers up some appropriate headlines for all Obama occasions.

Roma Expatriation

There's a certain beauty in this. Wait for the punchline in the last sentence in this excerpt.
France expelled nearly 100 Gypsies, or Roma, to their native Romania on Thursday as part of a very public effort by conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy to dismantle Roma camps and sweep them out of the country...

Those repatriated Thursday left "on a voluntary basis" and were given small sums of money — euro300 ($386) for each adult and euro100 for children — to help them get back on their feet in their home country, a standard French practice, officials said...

"For those who left this morning, they can certainly take a plane as early as tonight and come back to France. There's nothing to prevent this," Le Cleve told Associated Press Television News in an interview. "Obviously, these people come back, they are brought to the Romanian border, then come back to France, can leave again and so on. There are some Roma people who have been sent back seven or eight times, each time receiving the famous euro300."

Basic Civics Basics

The thing I find most startling about this Pew Research Center poll finding...
Americans increasingly are convinced - incorrectly - that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, and a growing number are thoroughly confused about his religion.

Nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, said they think Obama is Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009, according to a poll released Thursday. The proportion who correctly say he is a Christian is down to just 34 percent.

The largest share of people, 43 percent, said they don't know his religion, an increase from the 34 percent who said that in early 2009.
...is that only 34% of Americans pay attention. That's being generous too since some of that 34% didn't actually know but guessed correctly. The rest are either clueless to the most basic knowledge of the government and political life or totally brainwashed (so maybe the Rev. Wright is actually a closet Muslim).

The right has successfully gotten their way by painting Obama as a Muslim and then raising an uproar over the existence of Muslims and their places of worship in the US. They've done so by tapping into the old all-Muslims-are-terrorists paranoia egged on during the Reagan administration. There's really no other way to view this. It's plain bigotry, even when in the relatively milder form of the double standard.

Apart from the basic moral bankruptcy and perversion of basic constitutional concepts and duties, don't any on the political and religious right consider their place in history?

Kiwano

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Toward a taxonomy of Lakoff-style framing: Two cents

I like and largely buy into George Lakoff's explanation of how we view and judge governance "framed," to use his keyword, as if it were parenting; which we feel ought to be nurturing or tough-lovey, depending on who we are, the circumstances, and how well the political rhetoric and information taps into these feelings. I also like and buy into the more recent explanation by many that corporations behave and serve society badly because our legal systems treat the behavior and status of a corporation as if it were a person and a citizen, which it occurs to me is also a matter of framing in the Lakoff (not the legal) sense. Lakoff's point wasn't to challenge our mental habit of judging government as if it were an individual and we his or her progeny, which is indeed the motive for explaining that we judge corporations also as individuals, because the mindset is a matter of law Congress could dissolve and reform. But I think the observation that we judge organized behavior as personal behavior--and both that we could and might do well to do otherwise--might be the more fundamental one. We seem to be hard-wired to regard any action as that of an agent and maybe in our lizard brains we always will. But hey we don't have to be just lizards.

Bits and Pieces - August 18, 2010

Attacking Iran -
One more reason why we can't.

Goldberg/Netanyahu's blackmail.

Some good stuff here that I'd like to write more about.

That Islamic Center in New York City -
Michael Berube: Conservatives Offer Compromise on Ground Zero Mosque

David Shorr on twisting the argument.

I was thinking of titling this post "Fifteen Minutes Hate Edition," but both of these hates have been going on much, much longer than that. Would be nice to limit them to fifteen minutes.

Quote of the Day

"If we do not change the common dwelling, we shall not absorb in it the other cultures that we can no longer dominate, and we shall be forever incapable of accommodating in it the environment we can no longer control... It is up to us to change our ways of changing."
- Bruno Latour from We Have Never Been Modern (Nous n'avons jamais eté modernes: Essais d'anthropologie symmétrique)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 17, 2010

New START will get our inspectors back into Russian nuclear bases. Hear that, Republicans?

Turkmenistan opens up a bit more.

Zenpundit summarizes the Chicago Boyz posts on Afghanistan 2050, including mine.

A bunch of good commentary on the Cordoba House brouhaha:
Two mosques, founded in 1970 and 1985, are already within several blocks of the proposed center. Plus a couple of other good links from Joe Klein. The Roger Simon piece is confirmatory evidence for my theory that sarcasm works extraordinarily poorly on the Web.

Steven Walt weighs in.

9/11 (with Allen Ginsberg in mind) Via.

Attacking Iran - Continued

I am becoming convinced that the noise about an attack on Iran - whether by Israel or the US - is primarily about Israel's concerns about the balance of power in the Middle East. Israel's nuclear arsenal of 100-200 bombs is now an open secret, despite Israel's policy of strategic ambiguity.

That policy once served stability in the Middle East, but hanging onto it and other features of a mythical past are serving Israel ill. Israel's past, in fact, was not so good; it has always been at war with its neighbors or in a state of tension, owing to the manner of its beginning in 1948. That can be attributed to the colonial state of mind of the British, but it is Israel that must figure out a way to live in that geography.

The idea of a land of milk and honey, and the myth (and, to some degree, reality) of the heroic kibbutniks who began the development of that land must be part of the inability or unwillingness to face the present and likely future of Israel. But turning to war will hardly fulfill these myths.

Continuing the response to Jeffrey Goldberg's beating of the war drums, Yossi Alpher points out that it's hardly plausible that the Israeli government officials Goldberg interviewed didn't have some publicity in mind, as Goldberg claims, along with a number of other good observations.

Sam Sasan Shoamenesh suggests that Iran's joining the International Criminal Court could be a game-changer. I tend to doubt this; the United States has stayed out of the ICC, and resurrecting this issue will not play well within US politics, particularly when the right is doing all it can to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment. Overlaying another of their bugaboos might occasion a break in the very fabric of reality, as Tom Tomorrow portrayed this week.

But I do agree that the negotiations with Iran need to be moved to a different issue. There is genuinely a problem in knowing which Iran is speaking on any given day, and there needs to be some way to stabilize this. On the other side, there has been too much focus too narrowly on the nuclear program, with little clarity as to what actions on Iran's part are unacceptable. Joshua Pollack makes an attempt at definitions, but it will have to be the parties to the negotiation who decide and let each other know.

On Having It Too Good

I'm a member of an organizational board that has been asking why we're doing some of the things we're doing. We have an exceptionally competent operating organization, so some of our monitoring seems superfluous when things are going so well. But it could be that if people expect to have to report on what they are doing, they may do a better job at it.

We really live good lives in America, most of us. And much of that good is in absences: of polio, diphtheria, and whooping cough for just a few things. Some of us are old enough to have personal experience with friends dying from those diseases or of hearing horror stories from older relatives of what those diseases are like. But others have lived only in a world in which those diseases are absent. So the probability of side effects from the vaccines that prevent those diseases looms larger for them. So diphtheria and whooping cough are on the rise in the United States among the unvaccinated.

Or Kevin Drum's blithe acceptance of Matt Yglesias's belief that barbers need not be licensed. It took five comments to bring out the reason for licensing: sanitation. Barbers and hairdressers use sharp instruments that can carry blood-borne diseases. They use combs that can transmit skin diseases. We don't have those problems because licensing requires sanitation in hair-dressing establishments.

Or those banking regulations that seemed so unnecessary in the 1990s...

I suppose there will always be an ebb and flow. Humans so easily learn to take good things for granted and then look at this silly structure that brought the good things and find it superfluous when it is working properly. But if we've learned anything over the past decade or so, it should be that the structures that work best make themselves seem superfluous and that that is not a reason for disassembling them.

Update: The Beloit College Mindset List for this year's college first-year students. An indicator of how things change.

A Little Reminder Re the Cordoba Issue

I'm constantly amazed that we even have to repeat such things. The NY Times:
Like President George W. Bush before him, President Obama warned against linking all followers of Islam to terrorists. “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam — it is a gross distortion of Islam,” he rightly said. It is our tolerance of others, he said, “that quintessentially American creed,” that stands in contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001...

Too many Republican leaders are determined to whip up as much false controversy and anguish as they can, right through November. Some Democrats will cave. We were disturbed on Monday when a spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said that Mr. Reid “thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”

Mr. Obama and all people of conscience need to push back hard. Defending all Americans’ right to worship — and their right to build places to worship — is fundamental to who we are.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pakistan

Every day there are smallish articles in the newspapers about Pakistan's floods. I can't imagine why it isn't more of a big deal.

The government in Pakistan is not strong, and its president was out of the country and seemingly indifferent to the floods when they first occurred. Pakistan is part of the fighting in Afghanistan, with the extremely difficult terrain in its northwest provinces open to Taliban fighters from Afghanistan. It is something of an ally to the United States, although some of its government also seems to be something of an ally to the Taliban.

The first case of cholera has been identified, and there will be more.

The United States has repurposed some of its military helicopters from Afghanistan to flood aid in Pakistan, although I can't find a report with today's dateline.

Eric Martin makes a good case for more aid from the US. But it's an uphill slog against an American public that sees aid as ten percent of the budget when it's actually far less than one percent. And we currently have a Republican Party that sees its future in whipping up xenophobia and isolationism. Um, except when they can promote wars.

Pakistan's floods are an enormous disaster. Here are some statistics. I've added comparisons to the United States to give some context.

At least 1,294 persons confirmed dead and 1,366 injured.

A total of 415,862 houses destroyed or partially damaged.

Total area of land affected: 2,698,041 acres of which 2,250,409 had standing crops. In a country of 796,095 sq km, that's 1.3% and 1.1% of the land area. (Numbers not in the Eurasia Review article are from the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia land area and population.) Pakistan's arable land is 24.4% of its total, so that's 4.5% of its arable land affected.

Other reports are of as many as 20 million people displaced. That's 11.3% of the population.

Translating that to the equivalent in the United States, it's 127,747 square kilometers affected, about the size of the entire state of Louisiana, not just the New Orleans area. It's about 35 million people, or the population of the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, and Illinois. Or we might just consider that it would be all the land for miles on either side of the Mississippi River, but with much denser population than that land actually has.

More needs to be done for Pakistan. Now. We can't afford not to.

Bits and Pieces - August 16, 2010

This could be the answer to this. The Nudge Blog collects ways in which a small action can have large consequences in citizen or consumer behavior. I find this particularly mystifying, but encouraging for improving people's eating habits, for example.

Fred Kaplan's big interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Reconstructing the Titanic.

Ezra Klein asks the right questions about an attack on Iran.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tamarillos

Appeasement

Paul Kennedy offers us an outstanding historical analysis. He looks at how appeasement has been used and appeared in various times; that it has not always been a bad thing, opprobrium to be hurled at one's opponents, but rather a useful tactic to keep one's nation focused on its priorities.

Just as importantly, he sets out how the world must have looked to British statesmen at the end of the 1930s, and their choices. History, in retrospect, looks different than does the current situation, because in reading history we know how things turned out. This is why the comparisons of Iran (or wherever) to Nazi Germany are foolishly overbroad. We don't know how it turns out with Iran. And how it turns out also depends on what we do or don't do, but we don't know how much.

There's a lot there. Read the whole thing.

And a couple of relevant bits and pieces:
On Iran, by Trita Parsi

And China, by Jamie K.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 12, 2010

Ezra Klein has some good graphs today: Who can we blame for job losses? and The Bush plan versus the Obama plan in one chart.

And one of these regions is not like the others.

Page van der Linden on Obama's nuclear budget.

One model of nuclear weapon is no more. This seems to be the first time the Department of Energy has announced something like this.

Six essential questions about the deficit, Wall Street, and Washington.

In this particular case, men remain far more trapped in their traditional gender roles than women. I think that this is generally true. Post for another day.

Some good news on the international scene.

What Sergeant James Crowley did wrong when he arrested Henry Lewis Gates.

Yellow Cake, Guantanamo

Afghanistan 2050: The Game-Changer

Chicago Boyz is hosting a symposium on Afghanistan 2050. The ground rules were to post a relevant section from a history book in 2050 and explain how we got there. My contribution is now up, and I'm reposting it here.


The Afghanistan War, 2001 – 2011
The Pakistan floods of August 2010 were the turning point. Very quietly, South Africa’s Ambassador Abdul S. Minty detached himself from an International Atomic Energy Agency delegation visiting Israel to deliver a letter from Nelson Mandela to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Appendix XIX; reproduced at the end of this post). The letter urged Netanyahu to lead an effort to bring aid to Pakistan. The stated purpose was to improve Israel’s image in the world and its relations with Turkey in particular, but Mandela’s intention also was to distract Netanyahu and Israel more generally from its fixation on Iran’s nuclear program.

Pakistan, as a central player in the Afghan war, was focused largely on its perceived enemy, India, in the same way that Israel was focused on Iran. India focused on China and Pakistan, and Iran on Israel. At the time of the floods, India and Iran were developing an allliance relative to Afghanistan which would have made Pakistan feel boxed in.

It might have been expected that Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan would have led the way to a settlement. But these two-party grudge matches, state weakness, and rivalries of the various parties with the United States made it difficult to forge the multilateral relations that would prove necessary for peace. The Mandela letter changed that.

Netanyahu began talks immediately with Turkey and Russia to provide aid to Pakistan. Within a week, the first shipments and military helicopters began to arrive. Meanwhile, the United States was diverting some of its military equipment from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Netanyahu then took a risk and sent Tzipi Livni as a special envoy to China and India. China was already providing aid to Pakistan, but Livni’s purpose was to prepare China’s leaders for India’s entry into the aid program. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States volunteered their help. India brought Iran into the relief effort.

Pakistan’s government, preoccupied with the floods, severed relations with the Taliban. After the emergency had been dealt with and the situation in Pakistan stabilized, the helpers realized that their former enemies could be worked with. The United States and Russia immediately called a conference of the neighbors, plus Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, which resulted in the Treaty of Isfahan in late 2011, ending the hostilities in Afghanistan and assigning Iran, Pakistan, and India major roles in stabilizing the country. Continuing talks resulted in a settlement between Pakistan and India on Jammu and Kashmir.

….

The Treaty of Ashkabat, which makes southwestern Asia into a nuclear-weapons-free zone, is expected to come into force in 2054. Israel is already converting its complex at Dimona to an IAEA fuel production center. Iran has sent its fissionable materials to the IAEA’s Angarsk nuclear fuel production complex. Both internationally-run complexes will convert the materials to fuel for reactors in the region. Negotiations are beginning on a Southwest Asia free-trade zone; Dubai is leading the first round.

from Southwest Asia’s Remarkable Century, 1940-2050; Svetlana M. Alekseeva, Lev D. Cohen, Courtney R. Manning, and Bashir R. Asad, Chapter 26.



My reasoning: Game-changers are infrequent in history, and it’s tempting to use one as a deus ex machina. I’ve probably made this one go too far too quickly, but game-changers are by nature unpredictable.

Two examples from the last century are the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community and the breakup of the Soviet Union. The first has grown into a partially unified Europe, certainly a game change from the constantly warring continent of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The second is recent enough that it can’t be evaluated as fully, but fifteen independent and reasonably stable countries are developing in ways that they couldn’t earlier.

Game-changers don’t come from nowhere. Both of those examples arose out of circumstances that couldn’t continue: Europe’s destruction by war and the economic devastation that the Soviet system inflicted. External factors contributed: the Marshall Plan and the American arms buildup. But ultimately, decisions had to be made internally: the formation of the ECSC and, most likely, Mikhail Gorbachev’s introduction of perestroika and glasnost, which could serve as cover and a peaceful means for revolutionaries in the republics. We would probably be seeing more rapid and positive movement from the breakup of the Soviet Union if the United States had supported it in the way it did Europe’s transformation.

The game-changer I’ve posited, Israel’s leading a relief effort for Pakistan’s current disaster, has some of those characteristics. The situation in southwest Asia, unstable in multiple dimensions with multiple antipathies, cannot continue without dreadful consequences, which could even include nuclear exchanges. South Africa has some affinities with Israel, but it is outside the current group of countries pressuring Israel in various ways. Ultimately, though, the decisions will have to come from the countries in the region: Pakistan to prize internal stability over its enmity with India, Afghanistan to prize development over regionalism, Iran to prize world integration over regional domination. The larger powers surrounding the region, mainly Russia and China, have to recognize that the current situation is untenable. And Israel must realize that it will have to live with its neighbors and stabilize its internal situation.

Another characteristic of game-changers is that they address multiple, intertwined problems. State weakness, poor governance, and a nuclear arms race are some of the problems of Southwest Asia. The bilateral rivalries and absence of candor in discussions of the issues have precluded lasting solutions.

This is not the only game-changer possible, just what this week brings. Opportunities arise constantly. But reaching out to help is unifying and healing for those who reach out as well as those who are helped.

Appendix XIX: The Mandela – Netanyahu Letter

August 10, 2010

Nelson Mandela
Mandela House
107 Central Street
HOUGHTON, 2198
South Africa

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Tel Aviv
Israel

My dear Bibi:

I retain fond memories of our last meeting. We and our countries hold so much in common.

I have a small suggestion for you that could go far. Your country, like mine at one time, feels embattled and endangered. The world is critical of many of your internal problems in ways that seem unhelpful. The same word, apartheid, has even spoken.

At such a time, it may help to look beyond, to one's religion. There are many desperate needs in the world, but one is particularly urgent just now: Pakistan’s damage from their floods. Millions of people have been displaced and crops ruined. Starvation and disease await.

Israel is well-placed to lead in providing aid. Israel has a friend, Turkey, who has recently sponsored humanitarian aid to Gaza. Let those ships bring aid to Pakistan, and let Israel join with them to heal the breach between two friends.

But don’t let it stop there. Your statesmanship can reach beyond your region. You have friends in other countries in Europe and elsewhere. Bring them into the action.

The United States, Israel’s great friend and ally, is beginning to recognize its humanitarian obligations to its other ally, Pakistan. Let there be an outpouring among the nations to support Pakistan in this difficult time.

South Africa pledges its help.

Best wishes from your friend,

Nelson Mandela

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 11, 2010

Tonight and tomorrow are the big nights for the Perseid meteors. I haven't seen a lot so far, but apparently others have. Update: Perfectly clear until sunset, then a thin veil of cloud all night.

Ben Nelson backs New START. Even without insisting on six new strategic bomber bases in Nebraska.

Senators representing their parties, not their states.

Progress in the West Bank.

Managed ignorance.

Things that should not co-exist with other things.

Jeffrey Goldberg and Bibi Netanyahu Would Like the US to Bomb Iran

That, it seems to me and to Steven Walt, to be the short version of Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic article.

There's not much point in working through Goldberg's article in detail. Most of it has been said before and discussed before. Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett give the conventional responses. Iran says it is already digging graves for Americans, but I think that was in response to something from last week.

Steve Clemons has some meat in his response, as does Steve Hynd. I may come back to these two, which deserve more discussion.

More links here.

For me, though, Bernard Avishai provided the definitive reason why neither Israel nore the United States should attack Iran. Before I explain that, some background. Israel is small enough in land area that any retaliation by Iran will wreak severe damage, missile defenses notwithstanding. The attack itself, whether by Israel or the United States, will end any special position Israel still retains in the eyes of the world. Goldberg:
When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.
Avishai gives the reason this must not happen:
What makes Israel unique--the cultural adventure that it was and is--is not simply Jewish military power, but the evolution of a modern national home, the development of a secular Jewish life, the fusing of Jewish civilization with liberal values--the "Jewish and democratic" thing...

And yet the people who made this modern Israeli culture had first learned to draw. They knew the liturgy, they knew Torah--that is, a whole world evoked by the Hebrew language. The poet Yehuda Amichai had to know the prayer for the dead, God full of mercy, El Maleh Rahamim, before he could give us the ironic poem, "God full of mercy / Were God not so full of mercy / Then there would be mercy in the world / And not just in Him." For emancipation to be poignant, there has to be an ancien regime. Otherwise, there is nothing but abstraction.
An attack on Iran would completely alter the meaning of this ancien regime, for Israel and the world. And Israel and the world would be poorer for it.

Today's Topic: Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran

Jeffrey Goldberg's much-anticipated contribution to the hysteria about Iran is now posted. Steve Clemons provides a gloss. I may have something to say after I read all that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 10, 2010

Walter Pincus documents Republican hypocrisy on New START.

Would a carbon tax spur innovation?

More on Iran.

No, no, no! Conservapedia hates the theory of relativity because it gives rise to relativism! (And, um, it's theorem, not theorum.)

Just Wondering

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is making some, possibly pre-emptive, moves toward budget-cutting.

Steven Walt is only one of the many pointing out that whatever Gates's proposals and proclivities toward budget-cutting, Congress will work to preserve defense spending and jobs back at home. This is why, even when the Defense Department proposes cutting some behemoth mechanism that is suitable only against the Soviet Union on the plains of Central Europe, the funding for that mechanism stays in the budget and is perhaps increased.

What I'm wondering is whether it would be possible for some capable and shrewd budget analyst, whether working for the administration, a think-tank, union, political party, or other organization, to work out tradeoffs for those dinosaur programs. Funding for the states is badly needed now just to keep things from getting worse and laying off teachers, firefighters, and police. But how about using the dinosaur funding for loans and other incentives for green technology startups that could use the folks that have been building that military hardware?

Monday, August 09, 2010

A Thought on Birthright

How about we do eliminate citizenship by virtue of being born in the US? In this case, all children in the US would be born illegal and would therefore be limited in their use of medical services, schools, and social security of any kind. We could ensure that these uber-anchor children do not benefit from any social services until they at least learn to speak English. This would save the country billions. We would also then have a merit system in which children would have to earn the right to be US citizens, going through the long, and sometimes decade-long, process of getting citizenship. Prior to citizenship (or denial), of course, they would have to demonstrate sufficient American-ness in the process of getting a green card. Sadly, some children, perhaps most, would not be eligible for the honor and would thus be sent back to the third world country of their birth.

Rambai

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 8, 2010

Albert Einstein on the meaning of this atomic weekend (Friday was the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima, tomorrow Nagasaki).

I will miss Tony Judt and his writing very much.

What religion is doing to ministers and, perhaps, why.

Jonathan Capehart shares yet one more of his fears with us to emphasize that either we have total naked screening of all passengers or all airplanes will fall out of the sky.

Dana Milbank continues to try to be a responsible columnist.

Gary Sick on Iran. And the Iranian lawyer who defended that woman who was to be stoned seeks asylum in Norway. (h/t to Parvati Roma for the second.)

Could this be part of the reason sperm counts are going down?

The state of California and the city of San Francisco are coming down on the side of gay marriage in the Prop 8 case. And how it feels to a newly-married, long-together couple. Meanwhile, Fox News finds that a large majority of "the people" think that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. Let's hear that from all those pundits who keep telling us what "the people" think. Sarah?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Bits and Pieces - August 6, 2010



Experts line up for the New START Treaty. Repubs don't care.

Big year for Perseid meteors! Next week is the max, but they're starting already. (h/t to RG)

Bats going extinct in northeastern US.

Infrastructure going extinct, too.

Is Google a Little Bit Evil?

Having experienced the Cerro Grande Fire from close-up (and evacuated twice), I have a lot of sympathy for Los Alamos's Russian sister city, Sarov.

The Media Filter

Two articles today in the MSM about how the MSM filters our news.

Paul Krugman:
One depressing aspect of American politics is the susceptibility of the political and media establishment to charlatans. You might have thought, given past experience, that D.C. insiders would be on their guard against conservatives with grandiose plans. But no: as long as someone on the right claims to have bold new proposals, he’s hailed as an innovative thinker. And nobody checks his arithmetic.
He's talking about Paul Ryan. The whole thing is worth reading.

When Ryan's proposal came out, I skipped over the usual voucherization (read privatization) of Social Security and other Republican memes, but what really caught my non-economist's eye was his proposal that raising interest rates would pull the money that corporations are sitting on out for investment. Um, if that money gets more return sitting there than it currently does, that will motivate alternatives? Even I can see what's wrong with that. But, as Krugman points out, very few if any of the financial reporters picked up on that rather obvious nonsense, nor the staleness of the rest of Ryan's proposal. They had a narrative, and they were running with it.

And here's Robert Kagan's read on President Obama's briefing on Iran:
It is here that this very straightforward briefing took a bizarre and amusing turn. Some of the journalists present, upon hearing the president's last point about the door still being open to Iran, decided that he was signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative. They started peppering Obama with questions to ferret out exactly what "new" diplomatic actions he was talking about and, after the president left, they continued probing the senior officials. This put the officials in an awkward position: They didn't want to say flat out that the administration was not pursuing a new diplomatic initiative because this might suggest that the administration was not interested in diplomacy at all. But they made perfectly clear -- in a half-dozen artful formulations -- that, no, there was no new diplomatic initiative in the offing. As one bemused senior official later remarked to me, if the point of the briefing had been diplomacy, then the administration would have brought its top negotiators to the meeting, instead of all the people in charge of putting the squeeze on Iran. Some journalists nevertheless left with the impression that the big "news" out of their meeting with the president was a possible new round of diplomacy.

I left feeling sympathy for this and every administration. Apparently, even spoon-feeding doesn't work. The "news" out of this briefing was that the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran. I was especially struck by the remarks of a senior official, who pointed out that one effect of Iran's growing economic difficulties has been strikes in the bazaars. The student and opposition demonstrations of the past year have been political, but these protests are about economics. If the two ever join, this official suggested, that would pose a real threat to the regime. An interesting point -- though not to the assembled journalists.
Once again, they had a narrative, and they were running with it.

Update: More on Ryan from Krugman.

And here's another bunch of e-mails and other material exposing an unambiguous conspiracy to alter the balance of our media. Let's see how much play this gets in the MSM!

In Honor of Hiroshima Day

All the nuclear explosions since then. Fortunately, only one has been in war (Nagasaki). Hisao Hashimoto has done a real service in preparing this video.

US Detainee Black Site Transfer Policy

Another small bit of evidence to throw on a very large pile that the Bush administration actively subverted, as a matter of policy, the laws of the United States and international society.
Four of the nation's most highly valued terrorist prisoners were secretly moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2003, years earlier than has been disclosed, then whisked back into overseas prisons before the Supreme Court could give them access to lawyers, The Associated Press has learned.

The transfer allowed the U.S. to interrogate the detainees in CIA "black sites" for two more years without allowing them to speak with attorneys or human rights observers or challenge their detention in U.S. courts. Had they remained at the Guantanamo Bay prison for just three more months, they would have been afforded those rights.

"This was all just a shell game to hide detainees from the courts," said Jonathan Hafetz, a Seton Hall University law professor who has represented several detainees.

Removing them from Guantanamo Bay underscores how worried President George W. Bush's administration was that the Supreme Court might lift the veil of secrecy on the detention program. It also shows how insistent the Bush administration was that terrorists must be held outside the U.S. court system.

Read the whole thing. It's a solid discussion of the global network of black sites - from Guantánamo to Poland to Thailand - and administration attempts to stay one step ahead of US law and federal and likely US Supreme Court decisions, not to mention its rather perfunctory attempts to avoid scrutiny of international law. (Except that the article, like most media and official accounts, continues to assert that Abu Zubaydah, who was tortured repeatedly, was a top Al Qaeda member. Today this is known to be almost certainly false. Start here and move on to here for more on this.).