Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Aim High

"... we were not put here, in this greatest of all nations, to dream small dreams ..." -- Coretta Scott King

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A More Positive View

Just to balance the pessimism in Chris Bray's piece, I offer this summary assessment of the status of the war in Iraq by Karl Zinsmeister at the American Enterprise Institute. Everything he says, I see as accurate and agreeable. Here are some snippets:

... nearly every war is riddled with disappointment and pain, Iraq certainly included. But judged fairly, Iraq has been much less costly and debacle-ridden than the Civil War, World War II, Korea, and the Cold War—each considered in retrospect to have been noble successes.

... the U.S. general in charge of our National Guard put his casualties in some perspective: “I lose, unfortunately, more people through private automobile accidents and motorcycle accidents over the same period of time.”

... Fully 86 percent of Iraqi households reported having satellite TV at the end of 2005. The number of Iraqi commercial TV stations is now 44, and there are 72 commercial radio stations (there were none of either prior to 2003).

... A majority insist that despite the war, life is already better for them than it was under Saddam Hussein. By 5:1 they expect their lives will be even better one year from now.

... Since the January 2005 election, however, not a single Iraqi army unit has been defeated in battle, and not one police station has been abandoned. ... the number of Iraqi security forces killed is now declining. Monthly deaths of Iraqi soldiers and police climbed steadily to a peak of 304 in July 2005, then fell just as steadily to 193 by December 2005.

... Iraq is now creeping away from murderous authoritarianism to face the more normal messes of a creaky Third World nation: corruption, poverty, health problems, miserable public services. And that is vastly preferable to what came before.

1/31/2006 12:51 PM

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Bray and Spengler

Here is an interesting, but distressing, analysis of the war status in Iraq by Chris Bray, a historian and a soldier currently stationed in Kuwait. He points out the rich history of military happytalk. In his example, the Confederacy asserted in February of 1865, mere weeks before the surrender at Appomattox, that things were going swimmingly and people just had to buck up and be positive. Certainly, it's true, that the light was always shining at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam. Bray claims that the US government has been doing it once again with regard to the situation in Iraq. I admit that the lamentable history does induce chronic skepticism. The de-emphasis of body counts in Iraq was intended to ameliorate the problem, but opponents can always find a number somewhere. Bray cites a number of sources, including the Brookings Institute, to prove that lots of folks thought we were making progress, but, he suggests, we're not.

His conclusion:

So we have an ongoing military effort in Iraq that sweeps the same villages four and five times, declaring them free of insurgents and then returning later to clear the village of insurgents; we have estimates that show more insurgents being killed than the estimates of the number of insurgents that ever existed; we have generals declaring that the insurgents can no longer sustain operations, followed shortly by large-scale, coordinated insurgent operations that are now approaching the three-year mark, suggesting a substantial ability to sustain operations; we have insurgent attacks that climbed from 26,496 in 2004 to 34,135 in 2005. And we have a political and military establishment that has continuously claimed, since 2003, that the insurgency is desperate, on its last legs, and lashing out before it blinks out of existence.

The fact is, we are really operating on gut feel here. There are no goalposts. There are no good standards to measure our progress. Bray is right about that. Some folks have said it would be easy. Some folks have said we are making progress. I don't think the Commander-in-Chief was one of those. He has never soft-pedaled this operation. He has characterized the War on Terror as difficult and potentially lengthy. He has called for sacrifice and support. Rumsfeld has been quoted as saying that we don't even know how to win this war yet. Terrorists, he suggests, may spring up faster than we can eliminate them.

You and I cannot know everything the President knows. We have to trust him; he knows all the problems and all the costs, and he was elected to deal with the situation. And that's the real problem here. Many like Chris Bray, perhaps not Bray himself, are unwilling to accept that the President was legitimately elected, or that he knows anything worth knowing, or that we should concede one inch of political turf before the next election corrects an obvious mistake. Another thing that Chris Bray doesn’t appear to accept is that this war is serious. I believe we need to win it, and we are going to win it, in spite of an unspeakably merciless and fanatic enemy and in spite of our own ineptitude and bouts of self-doubt.

Now, I don’t want this to be just a pep talk, so I’m going to try to prove my point. First, military happytalk was also a feature of previous wars that we have won. Government press releases by the Union and Confederacy were probably indistinguishable in tone six months before the end. If we could predict the outcome from the headlines of the New York Times, we could save ourselves a lot of trouble.

Second, the President and his advisors are looking at long term problems as well as political polls. They have the benefit of the best strategic insight, shorn of party politics and political correctness. I really don't think Bush is a dim-witted individual, but even if you do, you must admit that he makes good political decisions, and he knows how to fight. Wouldn't the same characteristics serve him well in the GWOT?

Just to give you some insight into the kinds of things you and I might not know, let me quote from a certain Otto Spenglerwho writes for the Asia Times.

... Iran's oil exports will shrink to zero in 20 years, just at the demographic inflection point when the costs of maintaining an aged population will crush its state finances, as I reported in Demographics and Iran's imperial design (September 13, 2005). Just outside Iran's present frontiers lie the oil resources of Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and not far away are the oil concentrations of eastern Saudi Arabia. Its neighbors are quite as alarmed as Washington about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and privately quite happy for Washington to wipe out this capability. ...

Please understand. I love variety in people's POV. I don't think it's traitorous to doubt the President. I don't even think it's defeatest or contemptible in any way to challenge the Administration's actions. I do think it makes things complicated. All I would ask is that people respect the Office of the President and try to keep an open mind.

1/30/2006 11:09 PM

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Add Google to List of Mao's Collaborators

American hi-tech companies are betraying the interests of Freedom in the PRC. Google is the latest to capitulate to China's cruel and foolish suppression of its people's free expression. A couple weeks ago it was Microsoft, who says they had no choice. Who says they had no choice?

Here are some stories on it:

Now guess how I found this list. I think most of us are kind of locked into Google and loyal to it because of the quality of what they do. I never expected better from Microsoft, but Google always commanded my respect and trust. I'm very curious to see how they will react to the story itself. They unfortunately have some control over how it is spun – should they choose to exercise it. I have said elsewhere that we should not underestimate the enemies of the Internet. We have something precious here that should be carefully protected.

1/25/2006 11:55 PM

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Big Pharoah Joke

Big Pharaoh is fond of America. He admires our freedoms. He wishes Egypt were more like us. But he doesn't mind tweaking our nose a bit.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Extreme Sports in Iran

Wretchard at the Belmont Club is taking note of the crisis in Iran. His summation:

My own guess is that US -- and Israeli --policy towards Iran is constrained by the knowledge that the only lasting way to keep the Bomb from extremist Mullahs isn't an air strike, but regime change. If the objective is to keep Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, air strikes, however effective, can only delay the process of acquisition. But only regime change, either through an internal upheaval or an outright invasion, can put an end to the ambitions of the Mullahcracy in Teheran.

My own feeling is that we will not accomplish much against Iran because we don't have the political will. I think, however, that the youth of Iran might have that will, but are feeling apathetic. They are having no success at loosening the restraints imposed by the Mullahs, and they are having no fun.

My recommendation to them: Try streaking. Hit them where it hurts -- in their puritanical guts. The spectacle of naked men and women running together past some sober-sided rabble-rouser will leave the mullahs feeling impotent rage. I suspect it would be a very dangerous kind of fun, but fun nonetheless. Just - do - not - get - caught!

1/14/2006 3:30 AM

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High Density of Nimbys

Low Density of Power

Fordyce Maxwell of The Scotsman discusses a local success in the war against Global Warming. Unfortunately, nothing is straightforward. Efforts to construct windmill farms in Scotland are very controversial. The motives of proponents are questioned. The economic benefits are doubted. The esthetics are panned. The Scottish Executive does not presently have the clout to force a whole lot of these projects, and that's what they're going to have to do if they want to make a real difference in greenhouse gas production.

"... Campaigners call wind turbines green totem poles, he said. Enthusiasts for them might know some of the science, but have no grasp of the maths.

Take the turbines in the Moray Firth area, from Wick to Aberdeen, that have been built, are being built, or are in the planning system, he said.

There are 800, varying in height from 200ft to 500ft. Average output from all 800 would be about 480 megawatts. Peterhead Power Station alone produces more than 1,530Mw. ... "

I am strongly in favor of this effort for the simple reason that it provides variety in the sources of energy. I foresee that there will be many unexpected problems and disappointments, but I'm firmly convinced that technical monoculture is just as dangerous as the agricultural version. If they build it now, it will be there when needed. North Sea oil is already past its peak. But no matter what the project's virtures may be, I suspect that the nimbys are going to kill it. And they do have a pretty strong argument concerning the low power output per surface required.

Should I take this opportunity to express my preference for nuclear power?

1/14/2006 2:32 AM

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Friday, January 13, 2006


Austin Bay is talking about Iran and the ball of light that appeared over Ahmadinejad's head.

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Big Tip from Easterbrook

Gregg Easterbrook is fun to read, especially if you like football. His football columns contain some very creative and, if you're reading it on Tuesday morning, superlatively obvious analysis of the way the game is played. His hindsight is better than anyone's. He also talks about everything else under the sun. Here's his assessment of gambling along with a moneymaking proposition:

My compromise with my Baptist upbringing is to be pro-topless but anti-gambling. Gambling destroys lives. No one should care how much Donald Trump loses at the roulette wheel, but average people are seduced with false promises of instant wealth and gamble away money they need to pay their bills. Government lotteries, which exist to bilk the poor and working-class, are as much to blame as any glittering casino or offshore sports book. That government lotteries market their tickets in convenience stores and liquor stores, places catering to the poor and working-class, ought to be a source of outrage. Since the global capital of toplessness is Las Vegas, my anti-gambling views cause me to have conflicted opinions about Nevada's glitter city. While gambling's main contributions to human existence are unhappiness and regret, erotic dancing seems something that celebrates one of the pleasures of this short life. I'd be perfectly content if Vegas was a city built on topless showgirls rather than slot machines.

My anti-gambling views declared, let me offer my annual sure-fire never-fails 800-number recorded-message free lock: bet the home teams in the NFL divisionals. Since the current playoff structure was adopted in 1990, home teams in the divisionals are 49-11. In all professional sports, no subset of teams enjoys the advantage known by NFL home teams in the divisionals round. Usually they are the best teams to begin with. They're playing at home. And they just finished a bye week, relaxing in hot tubs as their opponents were out in the cold being pounded.

He got in trouble a couple of years ago, basically for using the word "Jewish" and "money" in the same sentence. Although he explained himself the next day and elaborately apologized, he was fired from his ESPN gig. I have always thought that you should evaluate what people mean, not what they say. Trent Lott got what was coming to him, but most people slammed by the political correctness hammer, are basically innocent, and the furor has negative consequences for us all. Constantly monitoring one's speech and writings can be costly to creativity and openness. By all means, he should have been challenged, but his apology should have been easily accepted.

I mean, so what if Joe Paterno talks like a mildly misogynistic 80 year-old football coach from Brooklyn. That's what he is, and what he said had some truth to it. Cut him some slack! He may be from a different era, but he is honest, decent, generous and brave. He has done as much good for the Pennsylvania State University as the half-dozen presidents he has outlasted, and he is striking a blow against ageism as we speak. He also agrees with Gregg Easterbrook and me on the gambling thing. I don't know about the topless part, though.

It's also obvious here that NOW has succumbed to the PETA syndrome. Picking on Joe Paterno is not going to win you many friends.

1/13/2006 2:22 PM

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Fertile Soil or Leadership?

Daniel Pipes is discussing the role of democracy evangelism in US foreign policy. He is skeptical saying that sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but not likely in the Middle East. He thinks the right institutions and habits have to be in place first. It's certainly not just elections.

I wonder sometimes whether it requires a benevolent dictator to make it work. Could the US have adhered to the Constitution without Washington imposing his will on the states, followed by deliberate abdication? Does it take an Ataturk or a Pinochet to make Turkey and Chile into true democracies? Could Sadat have done the same for Egypt? Gorbachev for Russia? MacArthur changed Japan, but might they not have freed themselves otherwise?

I don't really like the Great Man model of history, but it's hard to refute. Who could it be for Iraq? Sistani or Alawi? Or maybe the US Army.

1/13/2006 2:24 AM

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

3-D Petroleum Map

Wretchard the Cat tells us a few of the things that change with the price of oil. Apparently even reserves change. For one thing, Canada gets a lot richer. The map of proven reserves in North America depends on that third dimension, the price. The Tar Sands are completely ignored as reserves until the price covers the cost of extraction.

1/12/2006 11:35 PM

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Best Blonde Joke

Donald Sensing claims to have found the best blonde joke of all. I don't know if I approve of this sort of thing. Maybe it's funnier if you're blonde. Dude.

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James Kunstler Is Depressing

I've been reading James Kunstler's sort-of-a-blog-with-writing-samples that includes his "Manifesto" describing the less than desirable expected future for the US.

I get e-mail from people who object to what they construe to be an excessively pessimistic view of our national scene. Well, what if you suggested to the people of Germany in 1936 that Dresden would be turned into an ashtry within a decade and that Berliners would cut down all the trees in the Tiergarten to heat their homes? ...

He's very negative, but unfortunately, I agree with most of what he says, which is depressing. He's not a fan of Wal-Mart, Las Vegas, strip cities, suburban sprawl or government ineptitude. I guess the difference is that I still hold onto hope that we can fix this thing. I think instituting high gas prices now rather than later will go a long way toward ameliorating some of these problems. Instituting a carbon tax will require some critical changes in the way we are governed. We need someone we trust to tell us what the real deal is. Right now, it is the Web that nurtures my hope.

1/12/2006 5:50 PM

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The Accumulation of Understanding

" … Unlike the roots of plants, the fungal network is unbounded, unshaped. It not only conforms to the shape of the landscape, but it is one with the landscape. It is fed by external digestion of the accumulated organic material, absorbing the essence directly into the cells. The thin filaments will not be noticed in their persistent effort to absorb the available energy, until a fruiting body springs forth with almost explosive suddenness, a testament to the residual power of the sun still residing in the soil. The remarkably various toadstools and mushrooms are the monumental constructions of mighty nations of cooperating cells, as the pyramids were to the Egyptians. …" as remembered from a dusty old pamphlet in my father’s stored papers

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Stewart Brand Gets Incorrect

Stewart Brand, known primarily as the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, published an article (that I missed) in the Technology Review (thanks to commenter James Aach) explaining his four heresies against the romantic wing of the environmental movement. He thinks that the romantics will come around to the scientific point of view and accept the following propositions:
  1. Population decline is a problem now.
  2. Urbanization is good. The huge population shift from the countryside is taking pressure off the rural environment and allowing the resurgence of natural habitat. Globally, urban women are more economically free and productive. Education is one of their priorities. The associated urban tendency toward population decline, however, needs to be resisted.
  3. Genetic engineering is a good thing. GMOs can feed the hungry and fight dangerously successful invasive species.
  4. Nuclear power is good. It can be a major tool in addressing the problem of Global Warming.


Stewart Brand is the hero of a generation of the environmentally aware. I am extremely pleased to read his enlightened viewpoint on this. I haven’t been this happy since James Lovelock went pro-nuclear. Nevertheless, I need to demur a tiny bit. I agree whole-heartedly on items three and four. I am in partial agreement on item two, but I am distressed and opposed to item one. I will agree only to the extent of saying that the unfortunate distribution of population growth is a problem.

To the degree that urbanization helps relieve pressure on the surrounding countryside, I think it’s a good thing. There are two downsides, however. 1) Cities misuse their land and physical resources. They are often mislocated from an environmental perspective. Suburban sprawl is very destructive in terms of land and energy use. Network densities can reach chokepoints, such as daily gridlock. 2) Cities represent concentrated vulnerabilities. Social problems are foisted onto cities. Dense population collections represent targets both militarily and socially. Global Warming and catastrophic events are likely to claim a number of cities (and even a couple of countries) before the end of the century. Experience tells us, cities cannot be evacuated.

I would much rather see the emphasis on encouraging a network of smaller inland cities with varying characteristics. Geologic facts should be heeded. Energy efficiency and individual effectiveness should be encouraged. Humane amounts of greenspace should be mandated. It seems to me that we should incentivize rational internal migration. We have to tell Senator Schmokum that Metropolis will no longer get those big city doses of bread and circuses, but we will be glad to put empowerment zones in Rustyville and subsidize the public transit for Center City. And maybe we could slide some recreation dollars into the deal for reopening the old canal. Strategic thinking should influence policy choices. New Orleans represents an opportunity to do just that.

Now, as for my opinion on population growth. I am still opposed. Maybe Mr. Brand would think me unscientific, but I see the diversion of biomass into humans as being risky and redundant. Each life is precious, I know, but there are many with precious little to eat, precious little of everything, and what they do have they steal from the environment. Did you read about the guy who ate the last woodpecker? It was a good piece of meat, he said. I don’t know the precise nature of our Coming Collapse. Anyone who says they do risks sounding like an alarmist, but I do know it’s out there tempting us into its grasp.

Control of population growth is also not happening. Dream on. You may see certain subgroups lowering their reproduction rates, but these groups will, over time, become less and less important. Trust in the exponential arithmetic! Subgroups that have persistently high growth rates will squeeze out all the others. The world will eventually be populated entirely by those peoples who use growth as a weapon.

Remember, Malthus has never been proved wrong! Adam Smith and Norman Borlaug had something to say about bringing hope to the masses, but sooner or later we’re going to run out of tricks. I don’t know, I don’t know … maybe not … but it’s crazy irresponsible to run your train on a broken line, assuming that all the bridges will be fixed by the time you reach them. I believe the only cure is reforming the nature of society so that rational force and the force of rationality can be sensibly applied to our collective problems. Sounds impossible, I know, but I’m asking you to come up with the answer.

1/11/2006 11:55 PM

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Carbon Capture

The Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC) is initiating a geo-sequestration demonstration project in Victoria, Australia, to prove that CO2 can be separated from other gases and stored below the earth. This shows that somebody is taking the Greenhouse Warming problem seriously! The US is in on the project.

I'm not sure, though, that it's the most effective way to solve the problem. I prefer reducing our fossil fuel production by encouraging nuclear power sources and raising the carbon taxes, but if you won't swim across the river, then at least start building a boat. The good thing about building a boat is that you'll have it when you need it in the future. We may discover that we need the geo-sequestration technique in addition to our other measures.

The attractive attribute of this project is that it involves harvesting a supply of methane that is combined with large amounts of geologic CO2. The CO2 will be separated and piped to a depleted gas field where it will be reinjected into the bowels of the earth. The CO2 is not actually being removed from the atmosphere. This is why they call it a demonstration project. The methane, itself, will presumably be burned the normal way creating CO2 and other combustion products to be vented directly into the atmosphere. I hope I'm wrong about that part.

I'm glad this project is being done, but I wonder if, when we get serious about this effort, there will be enough places to inject the stuff or enough money and energy to put it there. It's usually harder getting the genie back into the bottle than it was getting him out. Or, here's a good one, you ever try to unbake a cake?

1/9/2006 1:18 AM

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

24 Steps to Liberty

I am reading an Iraqi site that is new to me, called 24 Steps to Liberty (thanks to Farouz). The first post for the new year was long and depressing, at least until I read the last paragraph. Life under Saddam was contrasted with life today. 24STL finds that it is much worse in every way, with one small proviso:

And this “free to choose,” is enough for me to keep breathing. This “free to choose,” is expensive and we paid for it and still are paying, and what comes hard and expensive is not something I would not appreciate. I would say that this “free to choose,” is the only thing to go under “now is better” I could think while writing this entry, and it is enough to make me happy that I am still alive experiencing the slow change.

I'm very curious what the 24 steps are.

To me the current trauma of Iraq is not indicative of an error on our part, but proof that we should have done something far earlier. The ME is gripped by deep currents of evil, evil which needed and needs to be uprooted. We're talking about despotism, tyranny of the worst kind, extremism, intolerable sexual inequality, slavery, religious persecution exercised in every aspect of life, repression of every civil liberty, monstrous ignorance and self-deception, xenophobia and the worshipful admiration of the worst cruelties, murder and unprovoked violence. A body can be shot in a moment for mere words spoken, for being in the wrong place, for small religious differences, for wearing the wrong clothes. Violence in Iraq is comparable to the fever of fighting a disease. The worse it gets, the more we should fear the disease, and the harder we should fight it.

1/8/2006 3:21 PM

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

100,000 yet again

I can't believe it! People are still repeating the "magic number" of 100,000 from the Johns Hopkins study and still pretending that it represents killed Iraqi civilians. Gilbert Burnham, of Johns Hopkins, is even inflating his own numbers and arguing that we, the US, have continued killing at the same rate, so 300,000 must be a better estimate than President Bush's 30,000. The BBC, certainly no friend of the War in Iraq, has already weighed in with a careful estimate of 25,000 civilians, mostly killed by AIF. Take a look at these BBC summary tables before you choose any number. Note especially the pie chart showing percentages of women and children. The prevalence of men makes it hard to sell this as a civilian count.

I really have no axe to grind in this argument. I am frankly in favor of our actions in Iraq. I certainly wish we had made no mistakes, but war doesn't usually work that way. The number doesn't sway me one way or the other because I don't know how many would be a reasonable number. I suspect we are a lot more careful with Iraqi lives than Saddam was. How many did he flush away fighting Iran, invading Kuwait and putting down insurrections? I am virtually certain that none of our prisoners will be dispatched feet first in a wood chipper.

My big complaint is that the 100,000 number is being used for political rather than statistical reasons. It was a SWAG anyway. There were so many problems with that study that it should serve as the horrible example in statistics classes. The biggest practical problem is that six interviewers, probably Sunni since they weren't killed, snuck into Iraq with Burnham in the dead of night and proceeded to do their interviews, or not do them, without supervision. What kind of results can be expected from such an arrangement? The study had all the trappings of Science, but I strongly doubt, at this point, the presence of scientific scruples among the principle investigators. I have written in the past about this and about the specific statistical problems here, here andhere.

I believe that Iraq has been ruled for decades by a minority Sunni Arab mob, not dissimilar to the KKK in attitude and behavior. Such a longstanding injustice has been hard to uproot, there as it was here. Most of the Iraqi casualties today, as you can see in the BBC article, are due to those who continue to resist this change, using despicable tactics that deliberately target innocents. The US cannot be blamed for this. In fact, I believe we err on the side of excessive gentility. To put things in perspective, Abu Ghraib was inexcusable, but it was not Mai Lai. Anti-Iraqi Forces are committing a Mai Lai every month.

1/7/2006 5:45 PM

UPDATE 1/12/2006
Andrew Cockburn has some analysis worth reading on the subject. I'd have to do a lot of work to determine whether there's some merit to the statistical suggestions he's quoting. Even so, it wouldn't address the main concerns I have that 1) the authors assume a single source of change acting over interchangeable time periods, and that 2) they have undue faith in the interviewers and subjects, who have every reason to modulate their responses. I have also ranted at length in the past about numerous statistical problems, distortions of the findings, and other issues, and with the cavalier use of a memorable point estimate. Links above.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Single Standard of Human Rights

I just discovered Phyllis Chesler, a committed feminist who has avoided the belief that, since the world is filled with suffering, America must be evil. She was innoculated as a young woman when she married a Muslim man who took her to Afghanistan and threw away the keys. She has been called the Christopher Hitchens of Feminism. Here are some snippets from one of her essays.

On December 21, 1961, when I returned from Afghanistan, I kissed the ground at New York City's Idlewild Airport. I weighed 90 pounds and had hepatitis. Although I would soon become active in the American civil rights, anti-Vietnam war, and feminist movements, what I had learned in Kabul rendered me immune to the Third World romanticism that infected so many American radicals. As a young bride in Afghanistan, I was an eyewitness to just how badly women are treated in the Muslim world. I was mistreated, too, but I survived. My "Western" feminism was forged in that most beautiful and treacherous of countries.

In 1962, when I returned to Bard College, I tried to tell my classmates how important it was that America had so many free libraries, so many movie theatres, bookstores, universities, unveiled women, freedom of movement on the streets, freedom to leave our families of origin if we so chose, freedom from arranged marriages—and from polygamy, too. This meant that as imperfect as America may be, it was still the land of opportunity and of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

My friends, future journalists, artists, physicians, lawyers, and intellectuals, wanted only to hear fancy Hollywood fairy tales, not reality. They wanted to know how many servants I had and whether I ever met the king. I had no way of communicating the horror, and the truth. My American friends could not or did not want to understand. As with my young college friends so long ago, today's leftists and progressives want to remain ignorant.

Westerners do not always understand that Eastern men can blend into the West with ease while still remaining Eastern at their core. They can "pass" for one of us but, upon returning home, assume their original ways of being. Some may call this schizophrenic; others might see this as duplicitous. From a Muslim man's point of view, it is neither. It is merely personal Realpolitik. The transparency and seeming lack of guile that characterizes many ordinary Westerners make us seem childlike and stupid to those with multiple cultural personalities.

A woman dares not forget such lessons—not if she manages to survive and escape. What happened to me in Afghanistan must also be taken as a cautionary tale of what can happen when one romanticizes the "primitive" East.

While multiculturalism has become increasingly popular, I never could accept cultural relativism. Instead, what I experienced in Afghanistan as a woman taught me the necessity of applying a single standard of human rights, not one tailored to each culture. In 1971—less than a decade after my Kabul captivity—I spoke about rescuing women of Bangladesh raped en masse during that country's war for independence from Pakistan. The suffering of women in the developing world should be considered no less important than the issues feminists address in the West. Accordingly, I called for an invasion of Bosnia long before Washington did anything, and I called for similar military action in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Sudan.

In recent years, I fear that the "peace and love" crowd in the West has refused to understand how Islamism endangers Western values and lives, beginning with our commitment to women's rights and human rights. The Islamists who are beheading civilians, stoning Muslim women to death, jailing Muslim dissidents, and bombing civilians on every continent are now moving among us both in the East and in the West. While some feminist leaders and groups have come to publicize the atrocities against women in the Islamic world, they have not tied it to any feminist foreign policy. Women's studies programs should have been the first to sound the alarm. They do not. More than four decades after I was a virtual prisoner in Afghanistan, I realize how far the Western feminist movement has to go.


Here is an interview from yesterday.

1/5/2006 4:29 PM

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

UK Knew It Would Be Mugged by Russia

The Scotsman claims that Britain was warned by its previous energy minister that it was foolish to become dependent on Russia for gas.


"The presumption has been that Russia would always be a reliable supplier, but how can that be guaranteed? No-one knows who's going to be in charge in Russia in ten or 15 years' time." - Brian Wilson, former energy minister


Britain's current energy "mix" was determined by the government's energy white paper in 2003. Currently, gas-fired power stations generate about 37 per cent of UK electricity. Coal power stations produce about 35 per cent, nuclear reactors 22 per cent and renewables, such as wind and solar power, account for about 5 per cent.

Mr Wilson left parliament last year. Although he was in office when the white paper was drawn up, he privately argued in 2002 and 2003 that Britain should derive less energy from imported gas.

"But the policy was being made in reverse," he said yesterday. "The growing dependence on gas had to be allowed in order to rationalise the rundown of coal."


The 2003 white paper was published a month before the start of the war in Iraq. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, paid little attention to the paper, leaving Patricia Hewitt, then trade secretary, and Margaret Beckett, environment secretary, in charge.

The Prime Minister is now understood to regret that and has effectively reopened the debate about energy policy, with a new government review expected to report in the summer.

The review is likely to back the building of a new generation of nuclear power stations, and the Russian row has only strengthened the hand of nuclear advocates in government.


Some good may come out of this after all if the UK goes nuclear. I hate to see Russia shoot itself in the foot like this, but one man rule leads to this sort of silly decision.

TV news last night said that Russia's efforts to squeeze Ukraine are purely punitive and illegal to boot. They allegedly have a fixed price contract with the Ukraine to supply gas through 2016. I don't have any confirmation on that, but Lithuania has similar problems with Gazprom. Perhaps Putin sees this as the big stick he needs to chase errant republics back into the fold. It could be a foreshadowing of what to expect from OPEC when Venezuela and Saudi Arabia put their heads together.

Think of this as a class 2 hurricane. Are your levees strong enough for the next level? New Orleans was also warned repeatedly of the risk.

1/4/2006 2:48 PM

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Clark's Return

The NYT has posted a letter that I would like to second.

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Free Danes

I believe that Denmark may be the only free country remaining in Europe. They are still standing up to the pressure.

There are impressive stories from WWII about Denmark. Do you think they've heard of New Hampshire?

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Land Rant

Mallory has a post up about the nature of guilt and justice regarding American Indians today. I personally reject the guilt and I'm not sure that today's justice can be or should be applied. It's not that I am against the Indians. Like most Americans, I would favor the preservation of Indian language and culture. I like the fact that Indians are persisting and even prospering in places. I also like the fact that many are prospering within the mainstream economy. As a conservationist, I would love to see Indian lands preserved in their natural condition. Tony Hillerman is one of my favorite writers. I cried watching Dances with Wolves. What can I say? I haven't shot a buffalo in years.

The issue in my mind is that we are all victims, subject to the cruel Malthusian forces of economics and nature. And we are all victors. We are the ones who are alive today, no matter what our genealogy might tell us. We are all the ones who have benefitted from the exploits and exploitations of our ancestors. We are the products of the past, but we are not the past.

The forces that made us are usually underestimated. We think that we should have done this or that, but at the time there was really less choice than you might imagine. If I choose not to take money from an anonymous lost wallet, it does not mean that the wallet will remain unmolested until the owner returns for it. Economic opportunities will be exploited without mercy. We are all descended from those who picked up the wallet.

But we don't have to settle for that. Collectively we can make the rules better. Government can and must be redesigned to have sufficient strength, competence, and wisdom to impose justice and fairness on today's transactions, to preserve the productivity of the land for future generations. We don't have to sit idly while the Pirates pilfer our pensions and poison our planet.

Our government has, in fact, always tried to act in this way, to protect the land, to promote the common interest, to defend the helpless. It is however, a stupid and corruptible government, a rickety compromise, designed to balance multiple contesting forces and preserve some residue of sanity in our collective actions.

I've talked about alot of this before, and I imagine I'll be talking about it again. At any rate, I'm re-posting the comment I left for Mallory below:

In a capitalist, market-driven society, there is a terrible pressure to make the best use possible of land -- that is, to make the most economically productive use of that land, or any other resource. On the Jersey shore, for example, you will, in many places, find developers circling like vultures, looking for any means possible to acquire an underdeveloped lot. The phenomenon is called "tear-downs". They buy the comfortable old summer homes at high prices, tear them down, rebuild with giant, attractive modern homes, and still reap enormous profits.

During my life I've seen many productive farms eaten up by the tide of suburban growth. Farmers could not afford the property taxes; their children did not wish to become farmers because of the unfavorable economics; developers squeezed them out somehow. Sometimes they sold part of the land to finance the remainder. I have heard that even Foxcatcher estates, made famous by the duPont murder case, has been sold to developers.

Standing against this tide are local zoning boards and conservation groups. They can put the profit out of reach by mandating extremely large lots, or limiting the number of water hookups, or specifying rigid building codes. Sometimes they can purchase the development rights from a farmer in order to keep the land intact.

But these organizations are staffed by people. People are subject to persuasion and bribery. Believe me, these people can be very persuasive, and there is enough money there to pay for a lot of corruption and legislative influence. For instance, they can pay a town official to promote an anti-noise or anti-odor ordinance. Then they pay community members to complain about farm odors or noises.

This is the kind of pressure the Indians were under for a couple hundred years. They were defenseless against the farmers, just as the farmers are defenseless today, because the land was economically underutilized. This profit opportunity was more dangerous than that of the Gold Rush because it was relentlessly exploited and attracted swarms of the most unscrupulous men. The process fostered a vicious and profitable anti-Indian sub-culture. Are we personally responsible for this? Not unless we are in the position to change the flow of economic history.

1/3/2006 2:46 PM

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Chomsky Rehabilitated

I recently read an old interview of Noam Chomsky in the NYT, recommended by Villagers with Torches. I was stunned to realize that I liked some of his answers. In particular you should read the final line of the interview.

I don't like his views on Israel or the War in Iraq or the concept of fungible guilt, but I will, in the future, think more kindly of him. He is not in the same class with Michael Moore.

1/3/2006 12:36 AM

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Monday, January 02, 2006

The Nodes of Our Suffering

Frank Warner is blogging on top ten lists. The Worst Britons since 1006 started it off, with Jack the Ripper, King John, and some dude who double-crossed King Canute, undoubtedly kin of the Blackadder clan. The challenge was to pick the best and worst that the US has produced in its somewhat shorter history. I think that this effort is entertaining, but not very gratifying. After all, how do we measure these attributes? What definitions do we employ? Should a person make the list for personal characteristics? Who was worse, Hitler or Dr. Mengele? Hitler never made a secret of his beliefs, and he did not relish violence or suffering. To say that Mengele betrayed his profession and oath as a physician would be supreme understatement. It is difficult to discuss his crimes with any emotional distance.

From the other end we wonder, was Florence Nightingale better than Margaret Thatcher? She did a lot of good deeds, left a lasting legacy, and I’m sure she had fewer enemies. But in the end, who did more good? Are we better people for kindnesses rendered, or for making patients take the nasty medicine against their wishes?

Nor can you fairly evaluate a person by the consequences of their actions. Margaret Thatcher caused great economic hardship in the short term. In the middling, her impact seems to have been a positive boost for the British economy. Such a phenomenon has innumerable, ungraspable positive impacts. Nevertheless, in the long term her impact could yet be negative. The UK has probably increased its energy use, fostered Global Warming, because of her, become accustomed to a softer life as well. She may have moved ahead, if only slightly, the coming days of hardship for the UK. She may have foreclosed the many strategies of poverty by giving her people a better life.

Adding tothe confusion, it’s not very hard to find people who will argue my view of the premises, not to mention my ignorance of the specific history. What indeed was the actual impact of a given person? I wager that the only way to find out is to run history over and over again like a weather model, dropping out each proposed person, one at a time, like a giant Jackknife Test. How else can you recognize the individual impact except by that person's absence. Call it the George Bailey protocol. For instance, it may turn out that Matthias Rust, the bold pilot, was more instrumental in winning the Cold War than Ronald Reagan was. I could make that argument.

But, as my wife, when she was small, asked of her mother, "I know that you don’t know the answer, Mom, but what do you think?" Historians can only do their best with these questions, and we can only do our best in drawing lessons from their stories. For my part, I think that Ben Franklin had the most beneficial long term impact on the US, and Bob Lee had the worst. I say this despite the fact that Lee was certainly the more admirable, in many ways, of the two. Why do I choose these particular men? I’ll have to let you think about it.

But keep this in mind while you are pondering. How do you decide whether President Bush was right or wrong in his decision to invade Iraq? How do you, in fact, decide how much authority to invest in the Executive Branch?

1/2/2006 11:37 PM

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Pipeline Shutdown

According to the Scotsman, the UK is feeling the pinch on heating fuel. The problem is an indirect result of two big pipeline problems far away from the UK.

The first problem is the Russian effort to put the arm on the Ukraine. They are starting to throttle back the pressure in the gas pipelines that serve the newly re-independent republic, in preparation for raising the price by a factor of three. This tactic has so unsettled the heating fuel market that no one knows what the prices will be. The UK is taking preemptive emergency measures, which seems wise to me, though I don't know whether their priority allotment system is appropriate. It seems that they are making industrial concerns take the brunt of any possible shortage.

The second problem is Global Warming. The Earth's climate is an intricate interlocking mechanism that is often counterintuitive. In this case, the melting of ice in northern Canada and Greenland is lowering the salinity of northern waters, causing a surface flow of colder fresher water to counter the normal northern trajectory of the Gulf Stream, that famous pipeline of hot water flowing north from the equator. The resulting slowdown lowers the total amount of heat released in the northern Atlantic, which is putting a serious chill on Europe. I don't know if it explains the current weather in Europe, but the UK forecast is for a cold winter, and the longterm outlook is good for Pieter Breugel wannabes.

What I want to emphasize is that any change in the global climate is likely to be bad for those who are well adapted to their current circumstances. Global Warming is making Europe colder. Not a good thing.

1/1/2006 9:14 PM

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