May 30, 2004

Bias, Ethics and Terrorism

Stephen Den Beste writes an exhaustive post on the topic of whether or not reporters and news organizations ought to, or can, remain unbiased. (Whether they are or not, is another matter.) But I think he does make one error that, although it impacts his case only marginally, suggests an institutional blind spot that we need to correct. The correction to his error (assuming it is an error, and I'm not simply mistaken) brings into stark relief a glaring inadequacy in our criminal justice system. Stephen makes the following, possibly erroneous, comparison:

Suppose that a defendant was free on bail, and when consulting with his attorney he said things which make clear that he was actively planning to rape and murder some specific child. Situations like that have come up, and in some of those cases the attorneys in question informed the authorities in hopes of preventing the crime. (Presumably in such a case the attorney would also refuse to further represent that client.) That is what I would hope most defense attorneys would do in such cases. To stand by and do nothing would be wrong.

When I took alternative dispute resolution from Beryl Blaustone at Willamette Law School back in 1991 (I was a management, rather than a law student, but got an ADR certification) we discussed the role of lawyer/client privilege and ethics. The dilemma was similar to the one mentioned above, where a client reveals an intention to commit a crime and a lawyer or arbitrator must make a decision about whether to reveal the impending crime to authorities. Ms. Blaustone's verdict on the matter was that if you choose to reveal the crime, it constitutes a violation of professional ethics and ought to result in your resignation from the profession, at the very least. However, there was an exception, and it applied not merely to arbitrators but to lawyers. The exception, specifically, involves child abuse. If the impending crime involves a child you are bound to reveal the circumstances to authorities. You have no choice. Moreover, if you don't make the revelation you can be prosecuted, and imprisoned (or at least disbarred).

Ms. Blaustone was an instructor at CUNY Law School (she was visiting Willamette) so it's possible she was talking only about New York law. But she seemed quite adamant, and I got the distinct impression that this had to do with national statute, though I can't provide a citation.

The issue is relevant because although Stephen argues that the logic of striving for an unbiased presentation of the news "does not hold infinite weight" the fact that a definite exception exists to such a broadly accepted ethical practice suggests that what we deem acceptable risk or threat for adults is not acceptable for children. Their innocence begs an exception, and could therefore become the basis for further exceptions involving similar comparisons. Clearly national defense ought to be another, especially in the case of terrorism. For if we have decided that it's unacceptable to make children the brunt of an ethical rule that serves a broader purpose, then surely the specter of mass casualties ought to lead us to something like the same bright line for terrorism.

Of course the purpose of Stephen's post isn't about legal ethics. In fact, he only brings that topic up to illustrate that such idealistic arguments don't carry infinite weight, and all I've done is make them a little more definite. Well, a lot more definite, actually. But leaving aside the issue of press bias, it's important for us to begin to consider paradigmatic changes in the way our criminal justice system operates, and especially with regard to the principle of an "innocent until proved guilty" standard. That is one possible formulation of non-bias, that is subject to a tradeoff that optimizes the risk of a particular type of error: the erroneously acqutted defendent. There's another formulation of non-bias that involves the presumption of guilt, and that also optimizes a characteristic error: the erroneously convicted defendent. It ought to be manifestly obvious that even though we must choose one or the other paradigm neither is really entirely unbiased. What we are doing is choosing to minimize one kind of error at the expense of mazimizing another. And the only thing that's really unbiased is that it's our choice of which paradigm to use.

This consideration is new to society. We don't have much precedent that deals with it, unless one goes back to some of the early and very extreme punishments for treason, deemed acceptable because what harmed the sovereign harmed the state. We know that the consideration is new because although we've created an exception to attorney/client privilege when the negative consequences befall children, we still hold to the presumption of innocence standard when we try a defendent for child abuse. This has been thought through and settled. But there is currently no statutory exception to attorney/client privilege for terrorism, although the scale of damage far exceeds the negative consequences to a child. And at the very least, it's unlikely that a mass terrorist attack could be perpetrated without directly harming a child. So, we clearly have not thought this through yet either in terms of common law precedent, or statute. And it's high time we did.

Update: Charles, in a comment below, holds that in his state (and presumably therefore in the nation as a whole) there is no such special rule for child abuse. In my defense I should say that I undersold Judge Blaustone a bit. She wasn't merely "an instructor" but was on the founding faculty of CUNY Law School. Either she is wrong, however, or (somewhat more likely) my recollection is off, and the rule she refers to is or was a state statute only. Now that I think of it her admonition may have been that some states had passed such laws, making the revelation of a crime involving child abuse obligatory. Since this was 13 years ago, I don't know whether those laws are still on the books.

I don't think the fact that the child abuse exception isn't universal necessarily weakens the argument that we need to think through the issue of the presumption of guilt for terrorist offenses. Objections that are concerned with potential abuse of such a standard by government prosecutors could conceivably be addressed either adjusting the standard required for indictment and/or the penalties for false arrest and. The "standard" that we currently have isn't much of a standard at all, since it's being applied on an ad hoc basis, using contrivances like "enemy combatant" designations. Furthermore there aren't clear systems of authorization and accountability for misapplication. I don't think there's much precedent in this area to go on, but we might as well start building it. Given the extreme importance of the issue it ought to be garnering more debate.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:35 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 28, 2004

I'm Slaving Away

Currently working on a lengthy post on the "nation-building thang," so I apologize for the paucity of words. Also, Typepad is scheduled for an outage for 12:00 Midnight to 2:00 AM on May 29th, so don't be surprised if you get one of those 404 messages. Should post the new article tomorrow, if I don't get bogged down in writer's block, or get too soused on G-G-Gabernet. In the mean time check out Soldier of the Mind, which is well written and worth the effort, as well as Armies of Liberation, Spartac.US, and MyPetJawa which are,... also.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 26, 2004

The New York Times: Truth and Method

Wretchard offers a scathing analysis of the NYT's inadequate attempt at self-criticism. "History" dooms itself to repetition.

The key graf:

The real source of error was more basic: sloppy fact checking, the lack of collateral confirmation for important stories and the absence of an internal mechanism to detect mounting inconsistencies within the developing story. The Times feebly fumbles at this, but fails to understand its significance. It admits it ran stories based on material provided to it, but "the Times never followed up on the veracity of this source or the attempts to verify his claims". The paper found that its own follow up articles on the same story contradicted the own original accounts, but failed to see the significance of it. "Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all." The media inability to make sense of its own story and update the basic account based on new information has been highlighted in Belmont Club's The Wedding Party series. As a consequence, the Times was not even aware that it was refuting itself.

And, of course, that's exactly what it's doing now in its coverage of the reconstruction. It is biased, yes, but everyone is biased. That bias can't become institutionalized if professionals make a dedicated effort to follow proper method. And that other New York publication should take note as well. For the malady includes Sy Hersh's well known predispotiion to employ a conspiracy theoriist's method of limiting his search for evidence to that which supports his hypothesis. And if Hersh is setting the standard of investigative journalism, and Moore the standard of documentary journalism, we oughtn't be that surprised at the resulting train wreck. Max Weber used to say that if your evidence and analysis fail to change your original opinion you've probably done something wrong. It's not a bad heuristic for the NYT to adopt. It would at least be a start.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 24, 2004

Another Thought or Two on Weddings and Media

Assuming that our generals aren't lying, and our troops don't have standing orders to send armed commando teams out to massacre wedding parties or baby showers (which seems a wasteful use of highly trained troops) it just seems to me that the enemy has a propaganda machine that's clicking on all eight cylinders. And in that event something bothers me about this statement from Gen. Kimmet:

"Now, having said that, there are still some inconsistencies. We still remain open-minded about this. We will continue to look into everything that is provided to us in the way of evidence."

He's acting as though all the news services are really in the game of attempting to get at the truth, rather than colluding with jihadis to manufacture the news. Isn't this a little, well... naive? If it turns out that the news services did, in fact, participate in what amounts to a hugely effective hoax don't you then have to at least consider the possibility that they're combatants?

At the very least shouldn't we have a propaganda machine of our own on the ground there, ready to kick into high gear to investigate stories like this, so that we can undo the damage by providing a counter-wave of intelligence and commentary? Isn't this really the sort of war we're in? Isn't this, in fact, one of our main reasons for being there? And since such a unit would have the assistance of the US military they could doubtless provide more compelling footage than either the western networks or the Arab jihadi networks. I mean, who could doubt that if we put our mind to it we could outperform them in this new kind of warfare?

In this instance a crack counter-propaganda outfit could contact people seen giving false testimony in the film and grill them 60-Minutes style to reveal inconsistencies and coaching. From a military intelligence standpoint we ought to find out who put them up to such lies. If it turns out that there's an active cell of propaganda-specializing Al Qaeda or something, we could target them. (Provided they're not throwing a birthday party or something, of course.)

Isn't this the way we really need to fight this sort of war? I'm getting tired of seeing the enemy clean our clocks because we insist on a kind of collegial "openness" with the media. Just a thought.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 22, 2004

The "Wedding" is About Syrian Belligerence

From The Belmont Club (but read it all for some surprises):

The three metaphorical elephants that will be sitting in the room when President Bush begins his speech on Monday are the unacknowledged belligerence of Syria, Iran and the role the syndicate of corruption centered around the Oil for Food Program plays in shaping postwar Iraq. None of these three forces, which have been vying for influence in post-Saddam Iraq, have been given prominent coverage by the media, which has focused on Abu Ghraib. Yet neither the heavy April fighting, nor the continuing maneuvers against Moqtada al-Sadr nor the brouhaha over Chalabi and most of all the process of selecting the interim government can be understood without them. The shape of the next fifty years in the Middle East will be determined by these hulking, but largely invisible issues while viewers are regaled with the sight of Ba'athists crowned with women's underpants. It will be interesting to see whether President Bush mentions Syria, Iran or the power politics being played through Lakhdar Brahimi at all in his coming speech at the War College, and if he does, how long it will take before the media switch to a replay of the gallery at the 9/11 commission heckling Rudy Giuliani.

If you don't know what's going on, your decisions are just somebody else's decisions, in your head.

[More on the imaginary nuptuals at The Command Post]

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May 21, 2004

New Wine, Old Bottles

It is a foundational precept of liberalism that truth ultimately triumphs over blind belief, and one would think that this value were upheld and honored by liberal media. However, if one goes by the slow establishment of the four pillars of anti-war wisdom, the liberal media has now adopted as it's own, the principle of the hermeneutic circle and the notion that reality can be socially constructed. There is currently no appreciable doubt that Saddam was caching Weapons of Mass Destruction, in direct contravention of almost 20 UN resolutions. We can also infer, to a virtual certainty, that Zarqawi was a rather substancial lackey shuffling between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Either that, or the honorific with which he addresses his colleagues in Al Qaeda is just a habit of speech, and his obvious deference to them, likewise, an exotic rut. That's two down.

And one would expect the collapse of these pillars to change the whole complexion of the debate over the Iraq War. The problem is that the "powers that be" haven't acknowledged that the point upon which their "angels" have been dancing vanished, and they're currently doing a nervous impression of Wiley Coyote before he takes the inevitable glance earthward.

We are having trouble confronting Totalitarianism 3.x because we're stuck operating within the limitations of Liberalism 2.x "software," and it places us at a disadvantage. Ralph Peters observes that this has cost us a victory in Fallujah, and will likely cost us more victories in the War on Terror. Not surprisingly, the pattern resembles the bombing halts in Vietnam, but the difference is that we can't afford to lose a war against this current enemy and still win the larger war without an untold cost in lives.

I'm reluctant to sign on to the bandwagon calling for censorship of the media, although I recognize that it has nearly become an enemy weapon. The thing is that I'm still convinced that an accurate and unbiased media, or as Wretchard calls it, "public intelligence," is an essential ingredient in Liberalism 3.x, and therefore an essential component of a successful "War on Terror." What we have as we observe the legs of our Hermetic messengers spinning desperately just beyond the edge of the precipice, is a direct confrontation between the Enlightenment, which understands the law of gravity, and the Counter-enlightenment, which believes that gravity can be deferred.

I just finished watching a segment of Aaron Brown in which he interviewed some white-haired pundit (Richard Stokley?), asking him whether he thought the public had seen "too much" of the Abu Ghraib pictures. Has the public been overloaded? Well I have. How about you? And, even if it weren't obvious to an eight-year-old you could always check out Glenn's recap of the public's unerring sense of gravity. But this old fellow has the benefit of no such counsel or intuition, allowing from within his monstrously paternalistic fantasy world, that if the public is a little fed up that ought to just stiffen the resolve of the media to push those images even harder, because we're too used to seeing our military portrayed as heroes. I don't know what he said after that because I blacked out, swallowed by a shock-and-anger-induced stupor. Never mind that the press corps is pushing the pictures because they're too busy cowering within the green zone out of the not unreasonable fear that they might be the next Daniel Pearle or Nicholas Berg, to actually cover the war. And Lord knows there's no reason we need to see that!

"Are these people really that crazy and out of touch," I ask m'self fearfully? "Well yeah," I answer m'self tenderly. "I'm afraid there's just no doubt about it. Nuttier than fruitcakes, they are." They live in a world where all one needs to do to put things right is manipulate a few pictures, no matter how distorted a "truth" that tells us. And about the last thing they want to hear is a word of dismay from the peanut gallery.

But I don't recall electing Aaron Brown to the fourth estate. In fact, I'm not awful sure I want Aaron or his editors deciding what we ought to see, as though the public were some sort of jizzed-up adolescent that needs to be grounded once in awhile for its own good. I'm sorry but that's not the country that George, and Thomas, and John built. I know that much at least. And it's also not the country that my father's brother died in a bomber over Germany to defend in 1944, or that two other uncles gave up their youth and innocence, risking their lives in fighters over Italy, Germany and Korea to defend, either. Is there some way of subjecting this too-full-of-himself fool to a little public humiliation? How come Aaron didn't have the presence of mind to punch his lights out?

And now it appears that CNN couldn't let well enough alone, but broke a story about a "secret interrogation center." Secret, you say? I wonder why the heck they'd be keeping secrets? I wonder if it's such a great idea that the enemy knows we have a secret interrogation center near the airport? Well, fair's fair guys. We told you where ours is, so where's yours? Where do you plan to saw off the head of the next American you plan to kidnap? Surely they're playing by the same sophomoric rules of that our press corps thinks we ought to be playing by, bless their hearts?

This is just spinning out of control, and I don't think there's a way to finesse it. Our own press now has a knife at our throats acting as a kind of "smart weapon" of the enemy. As Mort Kondrake put it in a recent article:

The American establishment, led by the media and politicians, is in danger of talking the United States into defeat in Iraq. And the results would be catastrophic.... The decapitation of Nicholas Berg - which, it merits reminding, required several cuts of the knife to stop his screaming - was a front-page story for just one day. Only one newspaper that I know of, the Dallas Morning News, plus the Weekly Standard magazine, made the point that Berg's murder is "why we fight."

You mean we're fighting for something? How'd that happen? Really? Actually fighting?

It occurs to me that what has happened while we were looking at the parade of pictures is a major heist of the public's bandwidth, and it has simply slipped the mind of these media moguls that they exist by feeding from a public resource. It might be a good idea to remind them of that dependency relationship once in awhile. Just a thought.

Stephen Den Beste made the point recently that protestors who don't pay the price for their actions aren't very mindful of the public good. And following up on that point, Drumwaster observes that all manner of harm and injury comes to those who lose the ability to sense negative feedback. Somehow we have created a media "establishment" that can't be sanctioned effectively by the market. It has managed no insulate itself, I don't know how, and now regards itself admiringly as a fair representation of a saintly father figure. Surely more noble than an image of leeches with delusions of grandeur, which is a lot closer to the truth.

The function they see themselves as uniquely qualified to perform can, in fact, be performed by others. It isn't magic. Editorializing creatively and insightfully is, in fact, a fairly common gift. What isn't so easy to come by, or hasn't been until now, is the platform to test and train a broad swath of the population who have such aspirations, so they've been bottlenecked in professional broadcasting schools. It's not so much a training requirement as a racket. The "medium" that the "media" must utilize to run their Hermetic errands doesn't actually belong to them. Furthermore, the task could be bid out to those with the skill rather than the "contacts" any time we so choose. Indeed, it was precisely this insight that created the land rush that installed my homesteading ancestors as propertied citizens with a legacy and stake in the nation. And it surely isn't appropriate that the legacy of the "public airwaves" (although it's more than that nowadays) be held in fief by those whose allegiances are so weak that they all but race to do the enemy's bidding? It's worse than unseemly. As Kondracke puts it, it's calumny.

Can we not establish some sort of negative feedback system to reign in this monster, before it saws through our neck while imagining itself fulfilling some faux paternalistic mission? I'm disgusted. Does it show?

Posted by Demosophist at 04:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

At Least the Bugs Aren't Bugging Me

I haven't seen that many cicadas. A few writhing on the sidewalk at school that looked like they were in distress, or ecstasy, and there was this rather persistent whir that sounded like an alien mothership landing, but no plague of bugs. Just thought I'd mention it. The whole thing was rather hyped.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2004

The Four Pillars of Anti-War Wisdom

In response to Gerard's comment: under The Daily Depress:

There will be a state of press censorship in the United States before this is over. The problem is that the cost of this will be one American city.

and in partial response to Rusty's lengthy post on press censorship:

Given the political realities I fear that will be the price, yes. I'm having trouble conceptualizing the impact of press censorship, except to speculate that it would raise the stock of internet news and editorial sources. Censorship on the internet would pretty much have to be like quality control in a factory, or random reinforcement. All violators couldn't be prosecuted, and the job of monitoring all sources other than the largest would be astronomical. And we might well see some new methods for hopping out of the reach of censors. Tactics would probably adopt the Napster squelching approach. So there's a sort of precedent, I guess. Clearly some big holes though. And what about satellite TV? I had planned to subscribe to Al Jazeera as I learn Arabic, just to monitor what they're saying.

Right now I'd just settle for an untwisted media, but have come to think of that is well nigh impossible.

I'm thinking that the source of the massive distortion we're seeing is a result of the enormous power of big media as much as it's bias. It's almost a given that it would develop a herd mentality. The effect of major media censorship would be to slow down the propagation of a highly distorted news pattern, and it's the very weight that we give "big media" that provides that power to distort. There would clearly be huge holes in any censorship barrier, and, as I said, the mere attempt at censorship would raise the stock of internet news and editorial sources. But there's potentially a huge advantage in that. The Internet provides a far more level playing field than exists in the major media realm right now. There is also some evidence that the very fact of a level of parity and constant competition creates a self-correcting environment. Big errors tend to persist in major media out of pure dumb inertia. They don't last long in the blogosphere.

I agree something has to be done. The enemy seems more or less unfettered in their ability to bombard us with phony images that find willing eyes, and with lies that find willing ears and hearts. The growth and impermeability of the "four great memes" of the Iraq War testifies to the fact that we are up against something entirely new, that challenges our ability to perceive reality accurately. Those memes are, as briefly outlined by James Safire:

1. No WMD in Iraq. This means no WMD, and no future threat of WMD either. Was it true?

2. No Saddam/Qaeda connection. We now know to a high degree of certainty that such a connection existed. We don't know the details of it, though.

3. No human rights high ground can be claimed by the coalition, a perspective that by implication equates "sleep deprivation with life deprivation and humiliation with mass murder." How is this even remotely coherent?

4. No Arab nation is culturally prepared for political freedom. Why doesn't this deserve a committed test?

These are the four pillars of the anti-war movement's "wisdom." Who would be foolish enough to stake their life on any one of them being true, let alone the lot? And yet they are all accepted as axiomatic by the majority of Americans now. Clearly a kind of press censorship and propaganda campaign has already been imposed, from the editing room. What we need is a media that pushes from the bottom up, rather than filters from the top down. And perhaps some form of censorship is just the ticket.

Update. Wretchard's recent post suggests that the internet may have further advantages

One of the challenges facing intellectuals at a time when the political and cultural dimensions of war have grown in relation to the purely military is how to make sense of information acquired through the public intelligence system: the news media. Because modern American warfare now involves only a very small percentage of the population it has become a kind of spectator sport where the plays are actually called from the stands. One would hope on good information. Yet a news industry whose techniques were adequate to cover traffic accidents, murders or cumbrous wars in which armies moved a few hundred yards a day must now must cover events whose complexion can alter in hours. The difference is that this time there is no low-tech acetate overlay, maps, or timeline in battalion notebook. Battlefield events are still reported like isolated traffic accidents, conveying no sense of spatial location, temporal development or continuity. -- Wretchard. Read the rest.

More relevant thoughts on runaway domestic masochism in the absence of negative feedback, from Drumwaster (Hat tip: USS Clueless)

Posted by Demosophist at 09:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Daily Depress

OK, I read this by MyPetJawa. The theme is coherent enough, and I basically agree. Having entered a "state of war" on Sept. 11, 2001 we have divided up our western society into teams, in order to act out the theme of war that isn't present in our day to day experience. Nice, safe "liberals" that I knew and liked before 9/11 are now idiotarians, while to them I'm some sort of war-mongerish fascist. And the whole red pill/blue pill thing has created the most biased and partisan press I've ever seen, running directly into and undermining the war effort.

I understand the attraction of censorship. I'm almost there. We've had anti-sedition laws during wartime before, when the "state of war" resulted in partisan ideological bickering that threatened the nation's security. Surely Ted Rall ought to be in a dungeon somewhere, right? Yes, I understand.

But I don't understand how it could possibly work, with the internet and all?

Could we possibly institute some sort of simple metric that let people know precisely, and I mean to a pretty fine measure just how biased their favorite news outlet has become? Say, it's something like what Edith Efrom used in her classic book Twisted Media? Something that even a third rate academic, or a hair stylist could get their head around? That would give us some sort of leverage that allowed the market to do it's work. Can we call a summit with the Annenburg School to flesh out a few ideas?

Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Body Count, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, 9-11 Hearings, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Body Count, Terrorist Explosion, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah, blah

I mean, this has gone about as far as we can tolerate, hasn't it? It's almost self-parody.

And does anyone have the lyrics to the song "Daily Depress" by some obscure acoustic artist in the eighties? Anybody remember that? It could be our theme song.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:34 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Another Contrast to Abu Ghraib

Questions: is the Oil-for-Food scandal characteristic of the UN, or not? Is the Abu Ghraib scandal characteristic of the US Armed Forces, or not?

Which body acted swiftly to investigate? Which body opened itself to public hearings and condemnations? Which body put the bad guy in the dock, held a trial, and pronounced sentence? -- Lilecks

Posted by Demosophist at 01:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 19, 2004

The Paradigmatic Watershed of the Sarin Shell

I've been preparing a longish post on the topic of media bias, for awhile, that touches on the Sarin shell discovery, but I thought I'd just get online and offer a few observations. "Pro-war" folks have become somewhat innoculated to the issue of WMD, so the discovery of the Sarin shell that was used in an IED recently has relatively minimal impact on us. But it's a seminal event to the anti-war crowd. Even though the story is being soft-pedaled by the media it can't be buried completely, and after an initial reference or two in the anti-war community to "obvious conclusions that it was a pre-1991 holdover of minimal importance" it soon became apparent that none of their low-ball explanations cut it. From the FOX News article:

The munition found was a binary chemical shell, meaning it featured two chambers, each containing separate chemical compounds. Upon impact with the ground after the shell is fired, the barrier between the chambers is broken, the chemicals mix and sarin is created and dispersed.

Even by UNSCOM's own standards the weapon could not have been manufactured as part of Saddam's early arsenal. They not only had no "binary" weapons that separated the two components within the device, but had, in fact, declared no binary artillery shells at all! From Blaster's Blog:

The Iraqis owned up to binary agents in aerial bombs and missile warheads. The technology UNSCOM reports, and US estimates refer to, is a "fill before firing" - i.e., one component is in the round, a second component added before use of the weapon. An aerial bomb would be veryeasy to do this with - it is basically a big metal tank. A fill plug is easy to include and use. Same with a missile warhead.

An artillery shell is different. It is much more likely to remain closed - thus requiring both components to be sealed in the shell - or have a removable baseplate, and two canisters put in with the components.

There are various declarations one can point to that show sarin in artillery, and binary capability, but you will not find a binary, mix in flight, artillery shell assigned to Iraqi capability.

That's what makes it a big discovery.

Yes indeed, Sarin is relatively easy to produce, and difficult to use to devastating effect on the battlefield, but the bottom line is that it's a WMD, and more importantly an undeclared WMD. As Bill Krystol held recently on NPR's Fresh Air program, the argument made by the US in the UN was not so much that Saddam had WMD capable of being used against allies in the near future, but the simple fact that he had, and was concealing, WMD., in direct violation of the UN resolution So, as the anti-war people know even better than most of the pro-war crowd, we've crossed a threshold. We know to a virtual certainty that Saddam had WMD that, for some reason, he chose to conceal from UNMOVIC. We can speculate about how much more is to be found in the future, and what it's utility was to Saddam, but the line that the anti-war movement established of it's own accord has been formally crossed, and their ability to use that argument seriously, perhaps fatally, compromised. They know this is devastating to them, even as their media downplays its significance. The paradigm has been broken.

What we have is a growing disparity between the social constructions produced by big media, and the actual situation being reflected through direct connections to the front and through the internet. We have to do something about the situation, quickly.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:50 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Where's the President?

Do we have a President? We're in the midst of a critical war in the Middle East. There's only one story, according to the press, and it's none of these (HT: Glenn). And now is when the President chooses to take a powder?

Can we have our convention back, maybe?

Honestly, I'm about fed up with this.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

No Hits, No Runs, No Walks, No Errors

The Big Unit: Perfection.

It's like a comet.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 17, 2004

The Arab Crisis

BBC Radio 4 has an excellent program on the Arab Crisis. The basic thesis is that this is the last chance for the Arab World. Unless there's massive political reforn the region will become a collection of failed states. (Thanks Dermot)

Posted by Demosophist at 01:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 15, 2004

Wisdom of the People?


These are the results of a series of polls conducted by Princeton Survey Research for Newsweek from July, 2003 to May, 2004 (lastest was conducted yesterday). The poll is of "registered voters," rather than "likely voters," and is for a two-way race between the candidates. Other polls of "likely voters" have been breaking more toward the President. The vote margin is well within the 4% margin of error for the poll, so for all practical purposes it's still a tie. Note that Kerry has not only failed to pull away from the President over the last few weeks, in spite of a great deal of negative news from Iraq, but the gap actually appears to have been narrowing consistently (though the narrowing itself is probably not significant). There has also been a slight upward trend in undecideds during this period, again within the margin of error.

What this poll doesn't show is the fact that something like 70% of the public feels that things are going badly in Iraq, although that is, in fact, not really the case. Relatively speaking, in terms of the war things are actually quite a bit better this week than last and both the Sunni and Shia "uprisings" are under control.

I would have to say that these poll results are not terribly encouraging for the Kerry Campaign, which could reasonably have expected to gain from the release of the Clarke, Woodward and Wilson books as well as the turmoil in Iraq. But the news is really bad for the mainstream press, because there appears to be a kind of innoculation against the press's persistent drumbeat of negative perspective. And in this sense Americans probably have something in common with Iraqis. Both constituencies seem to have acquired some immunity from the media onslaughts that have pummeled them, which may be because both actually have some grasp and understanding that transcends that of the dominant media and political groups attempting to influence their allegiences. I hestitate to call this "wisdom of the people," but it's as good a tag as any, however tenuous it may be.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Out of the Frying Pan

What's to be done?

First, on the abstract issue that what's done very badly ought not be done at all, which is the position that seems to have been taken by the "get out now" crowd, that sorta depends on what "it" is, how badly "it's" being done, and what the alternative consequences are of doing something else. And that's a counterfactual argument that might be interesting to have some time, but it's not really relevant to the case of Iraqi Freedom. Because the irony, of course, is that things are actually going better in Iraq than they are practically everywhere else. Americans, other than those plugged into the blogosphere, that is, don't see or hear that because it just doesn't fit into the media's "gotcha" agenda. The hype is over bad news, and there just isn't any good news to balance it, no matter how much good is actually happening. And the consequence is that we're going from the frying pan, where things were managable and where the learning curve was slowly but surely kicking in, to the fire that the Marxisant Left still doesn't quite credit as being real.

Well, that's not entirely true, because they have begun to comprehend the consequences a little bit. Well, actually, they aren't thinking of consequences so much as scape goats, and predictably even this is Bush's fault There are now legions of conspiracy theories out there about the Berg killing, as the perpetrators and their western allies desperately try to unring this bell. I won't link all of them, but even the The Gaurdian is peddling this foul toilet-broth. They leapt right over the argument that Bush somehow manipulated Zarqawi into perpetrating this act, making him the "real victim." Turns out Bush actually did it and just framed Zarqawi, which is a little more efficient anyway, I think. So what's the theory here, that the US produced a snuff film to undermine its own commitment to its own neocon project? Who does this make sense to? I mean, who but an idiot would even entertain such a notion? Unless someone somewhere sees a little gotcha gold in it. You want a big payoff you have to take a big risk, and up the stairway to madness we climb.

Apparently there just aren't enough negative images of "the other" out there, and we need a few more. It's like an obsessive-compulsive cutting off his nose to balance the aesthetics of a face that somehow just never achieves the perfection that vanity suggests must be underneath all the flesh somewhere, down deep. Drag out the gotcha tool with the megawatt power supply and start digging. Ignore the smell.

And while the media establishment hyperventilates over S&M in our prisoner detention system our legislators (apparently motivated by the outmoded notion that the media speaks for the public because they say they do) have now virtually forbidden military intelligence from using effective interrogation techniques that might so much as embarass or shame a terrorist, or make his life unpleasant. Apparently it's all this unpleasantness that's causing the problem. Maybe we'll win them over with kindness? We just haven't been nice enough to them. That's what our legislators believe we think. That's what they believe will get them reelected. Seriously. Well, some of them. Enough of them to cut our own throats to save our neck.

Where's this train heading? The public has been seeing and paying attention to something else. They know the media not only doesn't speak for them, but has no idea what they think, or why.

Back in the real world where gotcha is usually recognized as rude and unproductive, and even downright tedious, the story is no longer Abu Ghraib, it's Nick Berg. And the story about Nick Berg isn't the preposterous notion that our intelligence and security system was derelict because they held him for a few days, or the even more preposterous notion that the Bush led CIA actually commited the murder for its own devious purposes (presumably to get rid of responsibility for all that nasty dirty oil in Iraq). Nope, that's not the story at all. The story is that, because of the way the war has been covered, Americans have just begun to doubt whether Arabs are worthy of being on the planet with the rest of us. In other words, they're on the verge of deciding there just ain't no such thing as a "good Arab." And they aren't too sure there's such a thing as a "good European" or a "good journalist" either.

Welcome to Jacksonian America.

So, although we haven't quite made the leap into the fire yet (and prayer isn't such a bad idea right now, even for an agnostic) we're being led in that direction as a side effect, and it's probably just a matter of time. Lee Harris has it about right, I think (hat tip: American Digest):

Liberals complain that the Bush administration's approach is too simplistic. Quite frankly, it is nuanced to the point of incoherency. It asks of Americans that they hate only "the bad guys" in the Arab world, while it simultaneously calls on Americans to be willing to sacrifice their sons and their pocketbooks in order to create a happy future for "the good guys" in the Arab world. Yet our television and computer screens are full of the images of the bad guys of the Arab world doing unspeakably ghastly things to us, while we search in vain for the image of even one of the good guys for whom our nation has staked its resources and its prestige. Show us just one photograph of Iraqis publicly denouncing this gruesome act as a slander against Islam and a blasphemy against God.

From the photographs of men and women jumping from the World Trade Center to the videotape of Nick Berg's butchery, our enemy has flooded us with images that will haunt us all until our dying day. But Americans have been given no images of our friends in the Arab world; and certainly none that can match the potency of the images offered by our enemies.

The enemy's compelling images show what we are fighting against in Iraq; but there are no equally compelling images that show us what we are fighting for -- an "image gap" that is already causing many well wishers of the administration to question a policy in which we are endlessly willing to help a people who refuses to offer us even a single image of themselves caught in the act of displaying friendliness toward us -- a people who, on the contrary, take every photo opportunity given to them to show how much and how deeply they hate us; and who, when not given such an opportunity by us, are quite able to make one for themselves.

Most Americans are from Missouri: we must see it before we believe it. And we are not seeing why we should be fighting in Iraq for the good guys; indeed, we are not seeing the good guys at all, and many of us are beginning to wonder if there are any good guys, in our sense, to be found there; and if so, why they so adamantly refuse to show their faces to the camera.

Except it's even worse than that, because it's not a two-way conflict.

The problem is, of course, that you can't show the good Arabs, or the good that's being done and appreciated in Iraq, or the good Europeans, or even allow the good journalists to get a word in edgeways for that matter, without casting the Bush Administration in something of a positive light. It just can't be done. And the upshot is this rather ghastly side effect that the Indymedias of the world are hailing as a victory, 'cause they just don't know no better.

We have two, or possibly three, cultures which, largely for internal political reasons, are unwilling or unable to show good images of any of the others, and who present to their publics nothing but the absolutely most degrading images possible of the others, and not incidentally of themselves. Is it really a mystery any longer where we're headed?

Prayer is a pretty good idea. Well, it's the best idea I have, anyway.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

Liberalism 3.0: What Advantage Is There In Preserving A Lie?

What I fear, and see happening to at least some degree, is a "turning to type" of conservative Americans, very gradually. And it affects me because I've grown weary of the constant wishful-thinking, carping, and lack of self-inspection of the "progressive left" and the equally draining gotcha gaming that our media calls arrogantly, "journalism." Nation-building and all things like it are liberal rather than conservative endeavors, by definition. The conservative impulse is to lay waste when confronted with a threat, and just who are we protecting by not making this clear?

Since the US was founded as a liberal society, even its conservatives are essentially liberal, but what I am beginning to see now, and have long expected, is a combination of fatigue with the constant drumbeat of the left, and the gotcha press; embarrassment at the discovery that evil, or at least "bad," is part of us; and a surrender to the fear/conviction that the terrorists actually do "represent" the Arab and possibly the Muslim world, to some not insignificant degree. The effect of the recent gruesome murder (for some reason I have a problem remembering Nick Berg's name) is not just to relieve the pressure of embarrassment about the behavior of some of our soldiers, or to reassure me about, at least, the relative goodness of my own civilization, because I frankly don't need such reassurance. It is, rather, to reinforce a disposition to see Arabs or Muslims as medievalists, and therefore not worth the trouble. Fear and weakness isn't really what the "Black Hawk Syndrome" is about, is it? We aren't paper tigers. We're papier mache saints.

I think support for this "reconstruct-the-swamp" approach to fighting terrorism would have waned long ago had it been launched by an "unclassically liberal" President. The green-wishful-thinkers would have resisted at least as much as they do now and most conservatives would never have come on board in the first place.

And I have to say that a big part of my own fatigue is that much of the modest effort I, and the far greater effort and value that others, make to explicate and support this President's policy is accepted gratuitously without thanks or acknowledgement, while he doesn't appear to even pull his share of the load. It isn't a huge stretch to call him "aloof," and it's curious that at this genuinely critical juncture he chooses to be largely absent from public view. Leaders lead, and I would prefer to serve someone with a better political sense, or at least a political sense. The upside, of course, is that I get to keep my own council and don't have to conform to a party line. But I too grow weary of constantly defending the rescue of a culture that fails to cough up this Zarqawi like the filthy and degenerate hairball that he is. Could such a character remain at large here for longer than a week or two? And if he finds such great refuge within a society that can't even manage to claim a $20M reward for turning him in what in the world am I doing entertaining the vain notion that such a society can be reformed at all? What business do I have making such demands on our troops? Let the Arab Middle East descend into the pit if they choose, and if they choose we'll deal with it then, not with a rescue but a shovel.

So no, Abu Ghraib wasn't the primary burden for me. It was the barbaric "execution" of Nick Berg. I feel as though we need to make a few things clear to this culture that nearly 1,000 of our best, brightest, and bravest have died to benefit. We want those wretched persons in the photo with Nick Berg in our hands by date certain, or we leave. That's the "referendum" that will, in fact, mean something. And if we leave, and ever see that medievalst threat approach our civilization in larger form and aspect, what you'll hear from us is the utter silence of speechless alienation, and the click of a billion TV sets switching off, and finally the cascading and overlapping light splashes of precision-targetted thermonuclear amnesia.

All your options, and all our options are here in this moment and no other, so don't think our dilemma isn't yours. We are committed if you are. And if you are not, we'll find a way to strain the radioactivity from the oil when you're no longer sensibly present. We aren't here as Crusaders to take your land or resources. We could have that cheaply, by simply taking it. We're here as a brother civilization to lend a hand, and only insist that you find a way to tame the impulse to bite that hand off. It's a small thing, but the alternative isn't a pony. It's a long long road alone, and ultimately if you cause us grief, oblivion. It won't be our choice. It is yours.

And, if and only if we get an affirmative response to this referendum, we promise to commit at least twice the troop strength we now have in country. Because I think Larry Diamond is correct that absent that level of commitment the project isn't viable.

Now that would be compassion... and the start of a new Liberalism.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:27 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Diamond in the Rough

Larry Diamond, one of Seymour Martin Lipset's better students who is currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution and was an advisor to the CPA for several months, appeared last night on CNN to discuss the Bush Administration's handling of the Iraq Reconstruction. He was not lauditory. The three main points:

1. The cooption of the Ba'athists in Fallujah was probably necessary, and may be a good thing.

2. A similar attempt to coopt Sadr's militias is decidedly unnecessary, and almost certainly a disaster for Iraqi democracy.

3. We need about twice as many troops in Iraq as we currently have in country. Without those additional troops, democracy doesn't have a prayer.

I think he's right, and I'm worried.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:29 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Is the Moment Fading?

Are Tucker Carlson's latest rant, recent editorials in TNR, and from the likes of George Will the tipping point in our commitment to practical idealism? Are the conservatives on the verge of "returning to type," and giving up on what their better instincts may have always told them was a misguided rescue mission to save what amounts to a community of insects? That head dangling from Zarqawi's hand is close to closing the deal. The moment is passing, and will soon be gone. Nice work, Indymedia, A.N.S.W.E.R., Daily Kos,, etc. Very impressive. You managed to reach out with your appalling ignorance and naivete to touch the appalling ignorance, innate apathy and shame within the ranks of the opposition, using the leverage of the appalling ignorance and volatility of the object culture. Presto, a political miracle!

Maybe I need more sleep, but all I can think of is the head. Today's another day.

Posted by Demosophist at 08:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 13, 2004

Zarqawi couldn't have chosen a more opportune victim.

His father apparently contributed to A.N.S.W.E.R. through his son's business, which is just wierd. (Hat Tip: Justin Katz) There's a contributor list here, with the following entry:

Michael S. Berg, Teacher, Prometheus Methods Tower Service, Inc., West Chester, PA

So blaming Bush isn't exactly a new wrinkle. And just to reiterate what, to most people, would represent a few salient facts:

1. His son was in country of his own volition, presumably in knowledge that Iraq is a dangerous place.

2. If his son had remained in US custody awhile longer, though I'm sure he'd be walking around with a pair of women's panties over his head according to Sy Hersh, he'd probably still be alive.

3. So, one might argue that since Nick Berg was out of US custody partly because of the stink the older Berg made about his incarceration, it was Papa Berg who really set his son up to be snatched.

4. Although, if the accounts are correct the younger Berg was offered a free ticket stateside upon his release, but turned it down. So strictly speaking he placed himself in harm's way, as he had a perfect right to do. And we've come full circle.

It just might strike a few people, considering these facts, that blaming George Bush for Nick Berg's death is just a bit short of a full load. It's true his son wouldn't have been there were it not for George Bush, but he also wouldn't have been there but for Nick Berg. And if we can't blame Nick Berg for being complicit in his own murder, how the hell can we blame George W. Bush?

This is just immensely sad, because it's clear that about the last thing Nick would have wanted was for his death to serve the purpose of obstructing and undermining Iraqi Freedom. I still think the left is setting itself up for an enormous stumble. Aren't the ravings of the elder Berg a little like a "don't take this route" anti-drug commercial? I mean, for a normal person?

I'm still waiting for someone to suggest that Bush manipulated Zarqawi to commit the murder. And I'm half serious.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:04 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

So, since it came up, why don't we behead people?

I mean, it's so darned embarrassing to have to say we don't behead people. Who do I talk to about that?

When you think about it, compared to drawing and quartering, the damned lesser muslims are humane as all get out. Jeez, what a bunch of complainers we've turned out to be.

The problem with this discomfort as an unshared responsibility, where one side is trying to claim the high ground, is that it places all the Democrats in the benighted position of being softies on security. There was some Democrat Senator grilling Wolfowitz today about how making prisoners stand in one place naked for a long time with a hood over their head was "inhumane," and kept after Wolfy aggressively until he had to eventually allow as how it was prolly a little inhumane, yeah. What great fun! Well heck, we sure wouldn't want to be inhuman, or... well, "unpleasant," to this Zarqawi fellow, or his lieutenants, if we catch any of them.

So what's the upshot of this politicization of the rush to be more outraged? Well, after the next mass terrorist attack on the US in which the soft-soap interrogation techniques forced on us by this national blood-letting could conceivably be said to have let us down, all those great Democrat humanitarians will be bunched up into a nice tight little political target of opportunity.

In the side pocket.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

It's Been a Pretty Bad Week

and it's not getting much better. I'm waiting for the explosion on left blogs of Nick Berg's father's words that George Bush is to blame for his son's death, and that George Bush is as bad as Al Qaeda.

Brainwashed in the Marxisant-left, Lennonism mode. Or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he's insane with grief. Still, I think if I were Nick Berg looking down on all of this I'd be fairly ashamed of my Dad. I'd understand I guess, but I'd still be ashamed.

His son chose to go, because he had a noble idea. He didn't know there were really people like Zarqawi in the world. How would he, with a Dad like that? But we know, and the Marines and Special Forces there know, and we'll hunt that ^*(*(^$!#@ down... and put him where we currently have Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, that other decapitating warrior of the lesser islam.

I suppose the next step in this logical progression is to see Zarqawi, his executioner, as the victim of the Bush Administration.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 11, 2004


beheading goodguys

It's not funny... yet it is.

(Good guys photo courtesy of Sisu)

Posted by Demosophist at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Bush Hole Card? [Update]

Ed Morrisey posted awhile back about some new information uncovered by the intrepid Jay Epstein concerning the Iraq/Qaeda connection. Ed's post refers to an article by Laurie Mylroie on Frontpage, which in turn refers to an Epstein piece on the topic. Well I'm a believer, but this new information doesn't offer very much. Even worse, the way it's presented tends to undermine the credibility of the whole case. But if some critical information is missing from the case, I wouldn't necessarily give up hope.

First though, when I read the following statement it didn't exactly fill me with confidence:

The discovery of the notation in al-Ani’s appointment calendar about a meeting with a “Hamburg student” provides critical corroboration of the Czech claim.

Epstein's contention, and Mylroie's, is that the Hamburg student was Atta, and the entry in the appointment calendar fits into an elaborate and dynamic problematique that Jay has constructed, involving Atta and Iraqi Intelligence. Mylroie's article also suggests that both Czech and US Intelligence are holding other critical evidence. Fair enough, but as one who would love to see this proved, but also as one who knows a bit about proper methodology, I have to say that the above statement is extremely sloppy. Looked at from the perspective of someone already convinced of the connection the appointment book entry might seem like obvious and critical corroboration. But from the perspective of a skeptic, which is the proper perspective for a researcher attempting to falsify the "null hypothesis" that there was no link, the obvious problem is that there are probably millions of students in Hamburg, many of whom might have been contemplating a trip to the CZ Repubic on that day. Plug the probability into the equation, and multiply it times the other known probabilities, and it doesn't really enhance the case against the null hypothesis very much. Now, the case may be very good without that piece, but what I'm saying is that making such a statement betrays what could be a fatal bias that taints the entire problematique. Indeed, for all we know the appointment wasn't even kept.

[Update: A rather lengthy rebuttal by Blixa, in a comment below, compelled me to reconsider my position a little. If the Czechs have synched up the appointment in the calendar, with the meeting that was eye-witnessed, then it is important corroboration. That's because people can't be in two places at the same time, so we've linked the two accounts such that they can't be unlinked. That means we don't need to consider the independent probability that the appointment in the calendar was Atta. We can consider a conditional probability, because we know two things about the same person. We know he was a student from Hamburg, and we know he looked like Atta. But if the times aren't synched, we don't have that luxury, and we're back to square one. The student in the appointment book could be practically anyone from Hamburg.]

The problem with proper methodology is that it seems inconvenient and overly demanding to most people, because they're focused on "proving a positive" rather than "falsifying a negative." But there's a very good reason for such an inconvenient approach. There just isn't any other way to make reliable inferences without fooling yourself, because we humans have a tendancy to do that a lot. It's one of our "key traits." We're experts at it.

That said, I agree with one of Ed's commentors, that we may see some rather surprising and extraordinary information coming to light as the months progress toward November, involving the two main theses upon which the anti-war folks and Democrats have hung their fortunes: no WMD in Iraq, and the Iraq/Qaeda connection. They don't seem to have noticed, but without both of those pillars the doorway will collapse into an impregnable wall, and if it happens late in the campaign there just won't be time to build another doorway.

Ask yourself this question: If you were G.W. Bush facing the sort of implacably tenacious opposition he has been confronting since 9/11 wouldn't you like an ace in the hole, that you could pull out after the inevitable late-day muckraking of a Sy Hersh expose', or a Zarqawi-ordered tet-like-offensive in Iraq just before the election? If I were in that postion, holding something that was a genuinely critical piece of the puzzle (assuming that holding it back didn't jeapardize national security), I'd be inclined to play it pretty close the the vest, right now. In fact, I'd probably be baiting the opposition to raise the stakes.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:54 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

May 10, 2004

Seymour, let's talk, shall we, heart to heart?

Another article by Sy Hersh.

In interviews, however, retired and active-duty officers and Pentagon officials said that the system had not worked. Knowledge of the nature of the abuses—and especially the politically toxic photographs—had been severely, and unusually, restricted.

So, with a little less irony, Sy is saying, basically, that they weren't anxious to jump off a cliff? That's pretty hard to believe, frankly. I mean, can we be confident they weren't masochistic enough to want those pics on the internet? How perverse!

The Pentagon official told me that many senior generals believe that, along with the civilians in Rumsfeld’s office, General Sanchez and General John Abizaid, who is in charge of the Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, had done their best to keep the issue quiet in the first months of the year.

Well those unmitigated BASTARDS! Imagine, trying to hold down the cacophony of accusations so that we could, with some deliberation, actually fight a war in which Americans were risking their lives? But, amazingly, the Pentagon decided to wave the red flag in front of the press anyway, didn't they? Way back in January? "Come 'n get it!" And this Gerry Springfield of the press corps, bless his heart, managed to make a sweet deal with the attorney of one of the defendants. Yeah, he's almost a saint. Sorta, kinda.

The official chain of command flows from General Sanchez, in Iraq, to Abizaid, and on to Rumsfeld and President Bush. “You’ve got to match action, or nonaction, with interests,” the Pentagon official said. “What is the motive for not being forthcoming? They foresaw major diplomatic problems.”

So the accusation is that they, surprisingly, "weren't forthcoming?" That's IT? They said, in effect, "We aren't going to deliberately subject our troops to the inevitable onslaught of enemy propaganda that these pictures would surely enable, but we'll tell you that something is out there, and you can dig what you think you need to dig to find and reveal it yourself." Sorry, but that's not really much of a coverup, frankly. Maybe I'm insufficiently reckless, but that seems like a pretty decent and honorable policy, in fact. Do you protect your testacles when someone swings a baseball bat at them? Coward!

In fact, it appears, that like the issue of WMDs the Bush administration pretty much functions on the idea that you just ignore bad facts, or anything that goes against your prevailing wish and ideology. No evidence of WMDs? Just twist and interpret until you can say there are, and then ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Uhm, purely a technical detail of course, but Hersh has not exactly established that the White House knew thing one about this. Of course we all know that gum'nt has telepathic powers... but technically speaking, this is just... er, BS?

Secrecy and wishful thinking, the Pentagon official said, are defining characteristics of Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, and shaped its response to the reports from Abu Ghraib. “They always want to delay the release of bad news—in the hope that something good will break,” he said. The habit of procrastination in the face of bad news led to disconnects between Rumsfeld and the Army staff officers who were assigned to planning for troop requirements in Iraq.

I'm just gonna cut to the chase here. Hersh is intelligent. If he's saying that there's a penchant within this administration to ignore facts that, if acknowledged openly, would lead to a more effective prosecution of the war, then fair enough. Where do I sign up? I'm not totally convinced that's true, but I'm open. Where are we heading though, with Hersh's muck? And just to promote the relevent eloquence of an individual I wouldn't mind calling a friend:

Cleaning out the military of miscreants is of a piece with ridding it of its institutional blindness. Nothing, least of all illusion, survives contact with the enemy. Neither wishful thinking nor the fantasy of safety in flight will help us in our hour of need. And while we may sincerely say 'my country right or wrong, my mother drunk or sober', better right and better sober. -- Wretchard

Parsing reality during times like these is not always a matter of "us and them," and just so the reader doesn't forget that there are other things going on, check out Wretchard's update on Fallujah. Though we are winning, the political and ethnic divisions within Iraq are apparently the real uncertainty, as they've always been.

Rumsfeld said that he had not actually looked at any of the Abu Ghraib photographs until some of them appeared in press accounts, and hadn’t reviewed the Army’s copies until the day before. When he did, they were “hard to believe,” he said. “There are other photos that depict . . . acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman.” Later, he said, “It’s going to get still more terrible, I’m afraid.” Rumsfeld added, “I failed to recognize how important it was.”

And we should decry the fact that we have a Cabinet Secretary who is capable of reflecting on his own mistakes in judgment? That's the point? Sorry, I'm just not on board. This article doesn't really seem like much of a revelation.

Posted by Demosophist at 05:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Few Peeves About the Abuse Coverage

A couple of peeves I need to get off my chest:

First, I don't think I'll get into a deeply hermeneutic argument about the abuse of language, and I know that blurring the line between atrocities such as those in Hussein's Iraq, Rawanda, etc. and mere rape, or even murder, as criminal acts seems to be rampant. I know that hyperbole is the order of the day, and of course some people consider learning calculus "torture." But just let me say that I do think that the failure to make those distinctions between criminal acts that, unfortunately, aren't absent from the prison system of any nation, and the events that tend to happen to millions of people in totalitarian regimes, has pretty ominious implications in this context.

And look, I know it's not the order of the day to, in any way, grant an assumption of innocence to Americans. I mean who'd want to apply the standards used by the "internationalists" for Saddam Hussein to the US, for heaven sake? But is this picture what it appears to be?


Specifically, is this picture of a hooded individual standing on a box with his body attached to wires actually being tortured? I'm not a military legal expert, but it seems to me that as long as the wires weren't attached to a power source there is nothing about the picture itself that necessarily violates the rules of just conduct of detainee interrogation, at least not in these guidelines. (Hat tip: Ed Morrissey) Maybe some details of his state of hygeine might a violation, or it may be a violation if the proper approval wasn't sought, or maybe it was hard to breath through the hood and he was in danger of suffocation. But merely threatening someone with electrical shock, in the absence of an intent to actually carry out the threat, is probably allowable isn't it? (At least, I think that's the case. I'm not an expert, of course.) It is certainly cruel, but so are terrorists who murder innocent people, so in spite of the fact that the picture looks sensational it doesn't necessarily document statutorily significant abuse.

And about the following quote concerning worse pictures and allegations to come:

NBC News later quoted U.S. military officials as saying that the unreleased photographs showed American soldiers “severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi prisoner, and ‘acting inappropriately with a dead body.’ The officials said there also was a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys.”

I suppose it's possible that the difference in wording between the behavior of Americans "having sex with" a female prisoner, and Iraqis "raping" their charges, could just mean that some American was filming a fraternization. I mean, people do that sort of thing I've heard. But it's not very likely, so odds are they're talking about rape in both instances, and as a friend of mine pointed out recently Arabs might be inclined to take offense at such a selective use of language. Anyway, they are just allegations, so far. Maybe there was a distinction that requires the use of selective language.

As for "acting inappropriately with a dead body,' while that's undoubtedly disgusting (and probably a crime) I'm not at all sure that it amounts to prisoner abuse, at least from the facts we've been presented. And though I don't want to make light of allegations that, almost certainly, involve serious abuse of helpless people, there was a pretty humorous movie that involved a lot of inappropriate necro... something. Lets not get ahead of ourselves.

By the way, here's a nice fisking of Sy Hersh by the Mudville Gazette. (Hat tip: Instapundit)

Posted by Demosophist at 01:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 08, 2004

What About Evidence of Competence?

I mean, if the dawn of truth is breaking you'd think somebody'd be bringing up the general high moral and ethical standards of guards and prison officials somewhere, unless there is no such thing of course. It's part of the story isn't it? And if you're going to indict the entire policy, doesn't the policy deserve to have its case presented somewhere? The ironic thing is that the only people talking about the overall good behavior of American and Allied MPs are Iraqis. Isn't that an example of information-age irony that belongs in the Guiness Book of Records?

Also, according to the same source the Abu Ghraib proceedings aren't playing all that poorly in the Middle East, and they're playing much differently in Iraq than elsewhere. (Hat tip for both items: Omar, at Iraq the Model)

I'd like to order another, bigger, helping of silver lining, with a glass of lemonade on the side, please.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Allegation Race

Here's something that's been troubling me. If I'm correct, that the "silver lining" in this whole Abu Ghraib mess is that it casts the behavior of totalitarians and terrorists in higher relief, then there's an obvious motivation on the part of the totalitarians to make more and more outrageous allegations. It distracts attention from their own shortcomings, and even confers tactical, if not strategic, advantage. And the issue is then no longer how to deal with real problems of abuse, but how to deal with the appetites of belief, the attractions of paranoia. If totalitarianism succeeds in finding allies on the left willing to promote outrageous allegations (and there's now one floating around the British Isles that the Americans torture children, and all too many willing to believe it) then they will have won a major victory, the cost of which is inestimable.

If it turns out to be one of the weaknesses of the human psyche that the more outlandish the claim, the more credibility it has, then we're in for quite a rough ride. Our efforts to uncover the "truth" about events at Abu Ghraib may actually be a little quaint and naive.

But the Jews have been on the receiving end of this sort of malign for generations, where no accusation was too harsh, and where the sum total of belief seemed to justify genocide.

Except that most of the tools of genocide are in the hands of the target of the rumors. Can our enemies think this through?

This was, in fact, my nightmare scenario about the Middle East. That the tide of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism would be the key that unlocks the political paranoia of the entire region, and sweeps the harbingers of lies to power. It's the worst of all possible worlds for us, and the worst of all possible worlds for the Arab Middle East.

So the next time you hear the hyperbole of Seymour Hersh, et al, consider what we ought to do if truth is no longer an issue... if the only issue is what people are willing to believe, and the more foul smelling the muck, the better.

Plato, in Republic, asked a telling question that later became the theme of the "Passion of the Christ" (not the movie, but the real thing). Paraphrasing, it went something like: "Who is truly happy, a good man who is taken for evil and tortured and killed on the rack, or the evil man who all the world takes to be good, and who lives his life in luxury and adulation?"

What is our motivation, in other words, to play the naive game of discovering the truth about our own shortcomings, rather than the game of exploiting belief, and power, especially if our enemies find an edge in playing the latter game? I am not yet certain that the exploiters of paranoia have the advantage, but it keeps me awake at night. It's beginning to worry me quite a lot.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 06, 2004

Gay Marriage Again.

From Andrew Sullivan:

This is a cop-out on many levels. National Review regularly and rightly publishes many, many articles on the issue of marriage rights and gays. They have recently run several pieces about the issue in Norway, Holland and Scandinavia - even down to nuances such as variations within Norway. They are covering the national debate as they should. How many pieces have you read about Massachusetts in NRO? But a major state has done something just as radical as Massachusetts in reverse. And Republicans who have said they do not seek to harm gays do not comment when Virginia does such a thing. This cannot be an oversight. It is deliberate blindness to their own extremes. Jonah's second point is simply insulting.

Well, insulting is in the eye of the beholder, but the fact is that I live in Virginia, and haven't the foggiest notion of what they've done. I oppose gay marriage, so if they've done something to forestall the establishment of that institution I'm probably for it (depending on the specifics), but I'm ignorant because, frankly, the issue around Fallujah has just driven such considerations out of my ken. Take offense if you must. (And I guess you must.)

But just so there's no misundersting, I oppose gay marriage because I'm concerned about the consequences for child-rearing, and I just refuse to allow those concerns to play second-fiddle to my genuine desire that gays participate in every aspect of institutional and cultural advantage that can be afforded by our liberal society.

So I'd probably have been just as offensive had I been awake. That's just the way I am.

Posted by Demosophist at 06:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 05, 2004

The 3-Way War, Again

Steven Den Beste has written another post about his theory of a long-term three-way conflict between P-Idealism, Empiricism and Islamism. I think the thing that bothers me about his typology is that it assumes that religion exists in a kind of sub-basement of the philosophy "main house." It's an interesting typology, but it fails to provide any comprehensive approach to the phenomenon of totalitarianism, nor does it really explain the emergence of Islamism, which I believe is an offspring of a religio/cultural condition and what he'd identify as P-Idealism (Teleology), and which I see as the European Counter-enlightenment. But one edge of congruence exists between my perspective and his: the Counter-enlightenment involved turning back towards a worldview that had carried through the classical world and deeply into Catholicism. The "interpretive turn" that began with Kant, was an attempt to resurrect the classical teleological principles.

However, I submit that there is an empericist version of P-Idealism, and that it's related to an approach toward the "interpretive element" of human nature that can be studied empirically in the cognitive sciences. There is, I think, a profound difference between actual beauty and the dried out husk that P-Idealism identifies as "aesthetically pleasing." The difference is as great as the difference between a statue of a horse, and a living, breathing equine.

Well, a typology is only a model anyway, and the reason it's not entirely accurate in every detail is that to be entirely accurate it would actually have to be the thing that's modelled. So let's not get too excited about the shortcomings of one typology vs another, and just be glad we aren't stuck with only one,... or two. As the following passage demonstrates, whatever route we took got us to the same place:

France in particular, and Belgium and Germany and Spain, are strongly dominated by p-idealism. And what that means is that they are not allies. We in America are not engaged in a shooting war with them, but diplomatically speaking they are our opponents and they are actively working to bring about our defeat in this war. It isn't that the US as a nation is seen as an enemy by France as a nation; it's that American empiricism and America's power and influence which have resulted from the success of empiricism is seen as an enemy by p-idealists in France, with their failed embrace of socialism and bureaucratic autocracy.

They have no love for Islamists, but they hate us even more. An Islamist victory over America is preferable to an American victory over Islamism. (Mutual defeat would be better yet.)

The current American strategy for the war, which aims to maximize the effectiveness and rate of spread of American soft power in the middle-east in order to cause liberalization and reform there, is seen by p-idealists as a horrible threat. In the terms of the three-way struggle, they see it as (cultural) imperialism of the worst kind, whether the US as a nation actually exercised political control over nations in the middle east or not. P-idealists see it (correctly, I might add) as an attempt by us to convert the entire region to empiricism by trying to encourage populist democracy, capitalism, classical liberalism, and realism.

That's why I can't take seriously any political rhetoric about "cooperating with our alienated allies". They aren't allies.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 04, 2004

Abu Ghraib and the Totality of Shame

Seymour Hersh has been making the rounds with his latest big fat GOTCHA, like a dog with the biggest juiciest bone he's ever found, and I've decided that it's not really the factual inaccuracies, or the obvious glee with which he pushes the hyperbolic notion that this is the My Lai of our age, or even the fact that he obviously hasn't bothered to look around the corner at what might happen should we really blow it as badly as he claims we have. Nope, what bothers me about Hersh is the way he treats the very idea of shame, as though it's a prerogative of Islamic culture that we've failed, in our typically Philistine-like way, to give proper credence, as though inducing shame were actually equivalent to mass murder!

Isn't it the ultimate example of Tu Quoque that Hersh perceives the exposure of shame as something especially and uniquely damning the West, while it simultaneously absolves the East of any responsibility for giving birth to Totalitarianism 3.0 or the suicide terrorist as a "smart weapon?" Even if our clandestine services did, in fact, routinely inflict the sort of shame on Muslim men that these pictures suggest, does it really amount to atrocity? Is it equivalent, for instance, to Amritsar?

Just why is it that we think it's fair for the Muslim world to characterize the entire US as equivalent to our lowest common denominator, when they obviously expect a pass on the issue of suicide terrorism, even while an enormous plurality (majority?) of folks in the Middle East support it whole-heartedly? Does shame (both theirs and ours) really deserve that much deference?

What I'm driving at here, and possibly giving only inept expression, is the anima mundi expressed eloquently by Frederick Turner that elevating the avoidance of shame to the degree played in both Western Counter-enlightenment culture, and the world of Islam, dulls our capacity to recognize both beauty and ugliness. And it is only that capacity for experiencing Beauty that holds out any real promise of guiding both our cultures out of this mess. It seems to me that we don't have to indulge in the sacrilege that suggests we abandon our best motives in deference to our worst. This event has given us a golden opportunity to cross an immense cultural divide, but not if we listen to the likes of Seymour Hersh... because he's just far too ashamed of his own culture, and far too fearful of that shame, to participate in any sort of communicative act that goes much beyond rank condescension falsely masquerading as "respect."

If we did, in fact, engage in the sort of things Hersh claims are all but routine in our prisons, just how does that "shock" the Arab Middle East, as an Arab pundit recently claimed on PBS Nightly News, when it really appears that they expect much much worse of us? In fact, wouldn't one be tempted to think they might be a little relieved at these revelations, as opposed to the stark contrast that they fear? I mean, perhaps it'll result in a net decline in the balance of shame in the Middle East, if we can deal effectively with the muckrakers and their shameless cultural perversions, rather than succumb to them. (And it can't really be that tough to deal with, can it? I mean, they aren't really very formidable.)

Now, I'm not attempting to rationalize these things. The events at Abu Ghraib were pretty bad, although I would like to know whether that fellow standing on the box was really connected to a power source, or he was merely told that (which would be something reminiscent of an episode of Fear Factor). But I think I can live with the fact that we fall well short of perfect, and I damn well expect the people of the Middle East to make that leap as well, because I don't feel inclined to condescend to their absolutely ugly self-image. I'm prepared to see something amazing. And, for their part, if they really expected perfection of us then their eventual disappointment was inevitable.

The deep and abiding social problems that persist in that land weren't created by us, and it's just possible that a sense of understanding that emerges from some source other than the Arab world's own tortured self-image, might actually be something to celebrate. But we really do need to do something about this Western media establishment, because it just isn't "getting it." I don't think I want to give up on democratizing the Middle East, avoiding Wretchard's "Second Conjecture," just because Hersh wants to milk the Gotcha for all it's worth. I think I can give it the proper weight without consulting a media community that no longer has any respect for any damn thing other than the latest and greatest Tu Quoque. Anyway, I think this is part of the reason we're in the Middle East in the first place, and it certainly doesn't represent the reason we ought to get out. What we need, instead, is a thorough fisking of the Counter-enlightenment notions that would equate the exploitation of shame with mass murder. It says something about the philosophy that holds such a value, that it just isn't quite, er... rational.

Seymour Hersh has always been a muckraker, and that's probably all he'll ever be. My Lai? C'mon, it's time to grow up a little.

[Update: Here's a link to an article by VDH that struggles with some of the same issues I've raised in this post.]

Posted by Demosophist at 02:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 03, 2004

The "Good News" about Abu Ghraib

Just to second Armed Liberal's opinion, I get the impression that people don't quite view his position that this event is, in fact, "good news," as quite sincere. I know A.L. well enough, and his positions are close enough to my own, that I think I can vouch for the fact that he is sincere in viewing this as a positive. He is not painstakingly "looking for the silver lining," as many of his respondents appear to believe. In a few words, there is not an element of cynicism in his "realism."

Paul Berman wrote a book recently on the theme that "liberalism" in the 20th Century wasn't quite up to the task of defeating totalitarianism once-and-for-all, chiefly because it was a little naive about human nature. To combat Totalitarianism 3.x we may, in fact, need the equivalent of Liberalism 3.x, and in a sense that involves the recognition that whatever aspects of human nature that tend to rot the foundations we've establish must be confronted and expunged as they occur, regardless of the consequences. It's the "marathon view" of culture.

We be doin' it, and that is good news; because absent that element of realism and "grit" in the decoction of the elixir we're attempting to administer we're more or less doomed to keep going over the same old ground, interminably. So let the totalists and the professional pessimists have their little say, because what's revealed here is that they have no real long term strategy in the race. What this says is that we can probably defeat totalitarianism, though it'll be a very long haul. Longer than most of the naive liberals think... So it's the naive liberals that probably need the most compassion here; the folks like j. Kerry and e. Kennedy, whose faith is not yet on par with their doubts. They can be understood, in context.

As an aside, I once had a Jordanian roommate who had been a cadet at Sandhurst. He was, without a doubt, the best roommate I ever had. I thought the fellow was both philosophically deep, humanely genuine, funny, and loving. I regret that our friendship hasn't picked up where it left off in 1998 when he returned to Jordan to become part of the Abdullah regime. During his stint at Sandhurst, where he achieved the distinction of becoming the top foreign cadet at that storied institution, he was given a dispensation, because of his profound modesty, to shower separately from the rest of the Sandhurst cadets. We really need to understand how profoundly these pictures violate that sense of male modesty in the Muslim world. It really isn't the concept of "torture," in the sense that we normally think of it, that defines that sense of outrage. It's the violation of that sense of modesty that we have to understand, and speak to in compassionate terms. That will get us heard, and perhaps understood. Because, in fact, we have a common and rather profound sense of shame, that could form the basis of a new understanding and respect. We are not so unlike, after all.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack