July 31, 2005


I'm not sure why I've been thinking about Todd so much lately. It's partly because, I guess, I happened to share with him certain common fears about adulthood just as the Vietnam War was ramping up. (No, this isn't a war memoir.) And it's partly because I enjoyed the fellow so much, and feel a sense of loss that he passed away so young (in his late teens). I feel the loss of the innocence of youth for myself, particularly in the wake of 9/11, preserved in my memories of Todd. To some degree Todd represents an era that was relatively free of these encounters with unmitigated evil. As unsavory as the Cold War was, there was but one big evil to complicate life, and that fairly abstract and distant, at least for awhile.

Todd came from one of the more affluent families in Dallas, Texas. He was the grandson of a legendary developer and oil man, and the family is still in those businesses as far as I know. But when I met Todd at a military prep school in the Midwest I had no inkling of this impressive family history. Even though I didn't think of myself as "rich" I wasn't especially intimidated by those who were unambiguously marinated in wealth. And when it came right down to it, Todd was just a pudgy kid with an irrepressible sense of humor, rather than heir of a powerful family. He didn't think of himself as rich any more than I did.

Todd was a year behind me in school, but we both participated in the intramural rowing program, and we both hated the sort of institutional chow that cadets were served during group meal assemblies. For relief we'd take whatever opportunity the rules afforded to walk the mile or so along the lake to a small cafe that catered to students longing for a little non-institutional food. We'd always order a "hamburger steak with cheese," which was about the only decent thing on the menu. The meal came with fries and a small sprig of parsley, so it wasn't exactly nutritious... but it didn't taste like hospital food, which went a long way. We'd walk to the little cafe during the spring as waves quietly lapped the seawall, and we'd make the same trek in the dead of the brutal winter, when the ice curled up the seawall to the handrails and groaned at us like the doom of Shackleton's Endurance. The Midwest isn't gentle in that season.

While eating our meals at "The Shack" we'd often discuss what miserable military men we were likely to become, since following or giving orders was pretty low on our list of priorities... and Todd allowed that neither of us would stay alive very long once we were in the field. He was almost never in a serious mood, so even when he speculated about our dire fate it was in the spirit of absurdity. And there was something absurd about standing on that cusp between the world of the "greatest generation" and the world of the "Woodstock generation," though we only suspected it at the time. His favorite joke was to sneak up behind an upperclassman, goose the poor fellow suddenly with his hands clasped together, and exclaim with enormous enthusiasm and optimism: "Wunderbar!" Of course, this wasn't exactly an accurate description of the experience from their side of things--about as wonderful as being stepped on by a horse. He figured this trick would be a real icebreaker with superior officers in Southeast Asia. Can you imagine how horse-faced blue-blooded Lt. Kerry would've loved it? The image is seared, seared into my memory.

It was also common at the time to pilfer hats in the cloakroom, rather than go to the trouble of searching out your own as you rushed to a class. So to discourage the loss of a well-fitting hat Todd and I used a label-maker to place intimidating messages on the underside of the hat bill, suggesting to potential thieves that they ought to reconsider. One message implied that the original owner had an exotic scalp fungus, for instance. The details were usually so florid that they were hardly credible, but I managed to hang onto the same hat for an entire year once, so perhaps people just chose to be on the safe side.

I met Todd when I was a sophomore, during his freshman year. There isn't supposed to be much informal contact between freshmen and "upperclassmen" because of the military traditions. Freshmen were "plebes," or just a notch above a medieval serf. But these constraints had begun to relax by the time I entered the academy, and by the year after, had been largely discontinued except for the first week of school, which was dubbed "plebe week." And it just wasn't possible to avoid warming to Todd immediately anyway. He was an imp. He wasn't a rebel against the military culture so much as its lighter side. He just never even began to take any of it seriously. After all, we weren't actually in the military. We were just pretending. So he suffered it the way one suffers the verbal idiosyncrasies of a half-mad uncle. He'd listen attentively as a smile crept across the bottom half of his face. It wasn't mocking, but a reflective smile as though he were consuming a morsel of contraband candy.

That year the academy sponsored some sort of canoe trip down the aptly named "Tippecanoe River" in northern Indiana, where they maintained a woodcraft camp. Woodcraft was a summer program similar to Boyscouts, except that it was a boarding school, but at this time of year the camp was usually deserted. The idea was that one would volunteer for this sporting ordeal in order to represent one's unit in an athletic competition, and to get some time to commune with nature through the agony of defeat. The basic enterprise was a race from the starting point at the camp to a point downstream about 20 miles. Todd was somehow assigned to my canoe along with another underclassman named Foster. Since Todd and I had both participated in intramural crew we figured we had a leg up on some of the other sorry talent, but no one rightly expected the thrill of victory. So when we put into the river at about 6:00 AM it was with the full expectation of paddling like demons for the finish.

A light rain was falling as we put in, but we soon warmed up with the effort. Unfortunately the rain became more intense as the morning advanced, and the temperature plummeted. In addition, after about an hour our shoulders and arms began to feel like the arthritic hinges of old men. It wasn't so much that we were out of shape, since I was a cross-country and middle distance runner, as well as a sweep oarsman, and Todd was a decent oarsman at that level as well. The problem was that the specific paddling motion of canoe competition was new to us, and it didn't take long until we were worn out, as the work, cold and general discomfort took their toll.

And as the pace gradually wore on us, we also began to take some wrong turns. I know it seems odd that one would be able to take a wrong turn on a river, but there were lots of places where such meandering streams split at a turn, or an island or peninsula, and it was easy to follow a dead end. We seemed to find every dead end the river had to offer. At a certain point Todd decided paddling was just a cruel and wasted effort. And since we could still get downriver by just drifting... we started to take it easy. This also proved a fairly good way to avoid wrong turns. The weather cleared too, after midday, and we just drifted along talking about girls and upperclass jerks, though I don't think the term "jerk" was actually utilized. At one point Foster stood up to take a pee, and Todd seized the opportunity. Just at the point where Foster's arc had reached its theoretical and actual zenith Herr Wunderbar violently trundled the canoe from side to side with enough vigor to deposit the incompletely relieved young fellow headfirst into the waist-deep and sluggish river. And it wasn't very long thereafter before Foster had used his standing leverage to deposit the rest of us into the muddy water as well. It's amazing how heavy sweatclothes can become when wet.

At that point we'd been passed by all the other canoes in the "race," so about the only tangible objective left was to just avoid being caught out on the river after dark, which might have involved some frantic rescue efforts on the part of the adults. Someone, I think it was Foster, had a few cans of Vienna Sausages and some pop that we shared as we drifted, caked in mud and other river refuse. The sounds and smells of springtime seduced us into an utter stupor. Never has a poorly conceived enterprise turned into quite so much fun, and I have to credit Todd with being the first to see the enormous opportunity for diversion.

I'm not really sure why Todd's folks sent him to military school, because it clearly didn't suit him very well. Or rather, he wasn't cut out to excel at military pursuits, though he might have been very well suited to making the best of a bad scenario. Nor was he very athletic, tending toward pudginess, but he did have rather strong arms so was a reasonably good oarsman. But frankly I think he participated in crew simply because he savored the opportunity to get away from the campus whenever possible. Once out on the lake you were free to row anywhere you wanted, provided you could talk the other four boys into it (including the cox)... For a few hours we were almost like "normal highschool kids." Except that there were no girls, cars, or parties. Freedom is relative, I guess.

Anyway, my years as a cadet approached an end, and I was troubled as to just what to do with my life. Staying out of what had become an unpopular war was primary, and I also wanted to attend a school where I could make up for some lost time interacting with girls. I was accepted at a number of universities, but decided to attend Southern Methodist because a few of my friends had gone there, and I'd heard the place was full of "southern comfort." SMU is in Dallas, and during orientation I dropped by to visit Todd before he was scheduled to return for his final year at the academy. I showed up at what appeared to be a mansion, and there was a small TV camera (I think) monitoring people at the door. After I rang the bell Todd came down to let me in, and we went upstairs to play pool for awhile. I'm not clear whether this was his own personal playroom, or some sort of family room, but it was pretty relaxed Texas-style hospitality. Todd was typically unpretentious, and the help staff were like old friends or family. Or perhaps they were family, for all I knew. After awhile we got a bit bored and slipped out to find something more exciting.

We ducked down a number of alleys and infiltrated several intimidating hedges until we got to a local garage or filling station. Todd was wearing cutoffs with no shoes: the archetypal "uncadet." There was a young kid at the garage doing some mechanical work on several oily-looking motorcycles, and Todd talked this fellow and another into giving us rides on their Triumphs. They seemed to regard Todd as a younger brother, alternately indulging and teasing him. We rode around the neighborhood making as much deep-throated racket as we could, and tempted some of the local canines to chase us. The dogs, more intent on taking a piece out of our ass than on where they were going, slammed headfirst into a big hedge that came right down to the edge of the street. We'd then circle back to tempt them again. It didn't seem to matter much how many times we played this trick, the dogs always fell for it, slamming headfirst into the hedge as though it ought to have disappeared in the mean time. My theory is that it must have been nearly as much fun for the dogs as it was for us, though I can't be sure.

Anyway, after spending most of the day with Todd I finally made it back to campus that night, and Todd left for his last year at the academy shortly after that. I never saw him again. He graduated on schedule the following year, and entered the University of Texas at Austin, which wasn't very far from Dallas. But somehow we never connected. Early in my sophomore year, as I was being seduced by what George Will later called "that slum of a decade" we held a small party for former cadets who were attending SMU and TU during "TU/OU Weekend" (pretty much an annual drunken mardigras-like free-for-all coordinated with a football game between Texas and Oklahoma.) But for some reason Todd, who had intended to come up for the party, didn't make it. I heard a rumor, a short time later, that he had become seriously ill and later heard that he had passed away from that illness. I never checked to see if the rumor was true, because I preferred to believe it wasn't. But a short time ago I finally verified through alumni sources that Todd had, indeed, passed away. I know none of the details, which is probably just as well.

I don't know if we'd have remained friends in the midst of all the turmoil of those years. I didn't maintain friendships with anyone else from that era of my life, so it's doubtful. Perhaps one of the reasons Todd has been on my mind lately has something to do with the fact that my perspective on the world has become almost entirely my own, and that the influences of my past no longer determine the future that I see for myself and for my fellow man. This makes me almost as free, in some ways, as I was when I was 18. Having arrived at that place again, I can almost touch the earlier experience. It seems strange to think that someone I remember as a recent friend missed most of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era, as well as the entire counter-culture movement of the '60s, the era of self-discovery and craziness in the '70s, the selfish '80s, the fulfillment of the '90s with the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, and finally the whole War on Terror and the "cultural schizophrenia" of the West's struggle against Totalitarianism 3.x. He knew none of it, but sometimes I can't help wondering if his presence might have made a difference. That experience we shared when we were boys transforming into men, encapsulated so efficiently by the cloistered academy life that it rushes back to me in its entirety the instant I put my foot on the campus, was among the final memories of his short and promising life.

How fortunate we are! May we make the best of the next turn in the river.

Update: Part of the reason I decided to write this eulogy was that I figured it might contribute some experiences with Todd that his family lacked, though the truth is my familiarity with him was far less than theirs. To that end I recently told them about this post, and I hope they find some value in it. What one experiences in the cloistered atmosphere of a military boarding school has some unique characteristics, the remembrance of which might enrich their recollections.

But most of my reason for writing this memoir really has to do with finding meaning in what seems at first glance a meaningless and unfortunate death. In other words, it has more to do with my grief than anyone else's, and as much to do with the grief I feel at the loss of our cultural innocence in the wake of 9/11 as the loss of my friend... who, in spite of things, I feel is probably doing just fine. I wish Todd were still around, but if he was he'd be seasoned by many of the things that have seasoned my life, so it's doubtful that he'd have retained his youthful impishness. I am grateful for the random conditions that led to our knowing one another, however briefly, and have a sense that the posting of this item allows me to say goodbye in a way that nothing else could.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 30, 2005

I'm Changing My Email

The new email will be:


You know what to do. The Gmail thing is just too good to pass up.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:20 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Organ Donorship and the Hidden Costs of Welfarism

Wretchard, at the Belmont Club, posted a compassionate reference to an urgent appeal by the family of 25-year-old Shari Kurzrok for a donated liver, to save her life. Here's hoping the appeal is picked up by bloggers more prominent than myself, and that the effort bears fruit. There's a good discussion of the organ scarcity problem in the comment section to his post, most of it centering on the need to create an organ market. A friend, Lloyd Cohen, has written a radical proposal to create such a market motivated by the desperate circumstances of scarcity. He proposes to make organs even more scarce, by appealing to potential donors to boycott unless they're compensated. His proposal is discussed on the Volokh Conspiracy here.

So, this whole issue got me thinking about the nature of the welfare state as a writ-large example of the organ transplant problem.

It seems to me that if altruistic motives can't be counted upon to produce an adequate supply of donor organs, when the alternative is that the organs are just dumped in a hole in the ground, the conservative notion that altruism or philanthropic largesse can meet the needs associated with periodic or chronic unemployment and misfortune must largely be a fantasy. This isn't to say that there aren't an awful lot of faith-induced contributions to meet the shortfall need. It's just that any notion that supply could ever be adequate is predicated on the assumption that the "real need" must be quite small. It's possible that expectation isn't based on the realities of a modern economy.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm well aware of the problems of the welfare state. Basically they're twofold:

1. Problems associated with the distribution of power between the individual (and non-state associations) and the State, whereby making the State responsible for redistribution of income gives it ultimate power as well as ultimate potential for corruption.

2. Problems associated with moral hazard, not the least of which is that redistribution of income on the basis of need essentially pays people to be non-productive. Whether intended or not this amounts to a perverse incentive. It's also, well... perniciously counterproductive.

The current resolution of these problems seems to reside in the establishment of limits to the State's benefactor role. One could argue whether this stopgap is adequate to meet the economic need, but whether that's true or not (and there's at least some evidence that it isn't) such a resolution clearly doesn't eliminate either of the two big problems. It merely attempts to minimize their impact. People who are periodically but acutely dependent on the State, however, still experience that dependence as near-absolute for the simple reason that a bridge too short might as well be no bridge. It still influences people to behave in ways that give the State critical deference. Plus, any large scale long term unemployment, which must happen eventually in the same way that droughts are inevitable, will produce calls to expand welfare entitlements, under any economic system in which the majority of citizens make the majority of their income from their labor.

And as labor becomes less necessary, both due to capital expansion and the globalization of labor markets, the income and employment mismatch will exacerbate the calls to "expand the safety net." It's important to recognize that these calls are occasioned by real, not imagined, need. Surrendering to the calls will, because it subsidizes non-productivity, ironically produce more need

Yes, this logic cautions that we ought to minimize the welfare state... but it doesn't actually suggest a solution to the underlying problem: the non-productivity of labor relative to capital.

Now, I realize that there are people who don't believe that this problem really exists, and I don't have time or space at this point to present a definitive or exhaustive case, but it seems to me that if one favors a capitalistic economy then, by definition, a situation where over 90% of the capital is owned and controlled by less than 10% of the population can't really be called "capitalist." At best, it's a version of moderated serfdom. And one has to distort the capital ownership data quite a bit to argue that things aren't actually worse than the 90::10 relationship. In addition, it ought to be clear from the example provided by transplant organ scarcity in the absence of markets that altruism and philanthropic largesse simply aren't going to bridge the gap. Besides, in the same way that meeting the organ need by compelling people to give up their organs when they approach death has some rather serious ethical implications the forced altruism of the welfare state simply can't be viewed as a non-problematic solution to economic hardship.

We are really presented with a pretty stark set of options:

1. Accept some version of the welfare state, attempting to mitigate the two problems and their implications, while taking the risk that a mismatch between forced altruism and need won't lead to further economic, social and political disruption (and I think this is a bad bet, in the long run); or

2. Convert an economy where the majority are forced to rely on income from labor to an economy where the majority can rely on income from capital.

Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair have at least recognized that the second option is desirable, having identified it as the "ownership society" with a few token reforms. To invoke Michael Ledeen's now-familiar phrase often used to prod the national security strategy of the Bush administration: "Faster, please!"

Posted by Demosophist at 12:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 29, 2005

Confronting Cultural Duplicity in the Ummah

I've never been convinced that the problem we confront with Totalitarianism 3.x is Islam, though there are certainly one or two mountains that need climbing for the people of the Ummah. There are, for instance, cultural reasons why most Muslims have a habit of avoiding statements that might put them at odds with other believers, even when there's deep disagreement. Tarek Heggy, a courageous Egyptian Muslim, satirizes this cultural duplicity by adopting an obvious artifice: "It is not I who criticizes and raises uncomfortable questions about the Ummah and its people, but my eccentric friend." Although an "inside joke," the purpose is far from humorous. If you haven't yet read Heggy's excellent series on Winds of Change that oversight can be easily corrected:

Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (1/5): Dreams of the Arabs
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (2/5): A Word in the Palestinian Ear
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (3/5): Rejecting Progress
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (4/5): MI-6's Intelligence Failure
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend (5/5): What's in a Name?

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 10:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2005

Best News for Labor in 50 Years

Four dissident unions representing about one-third of the union members in the US will boycott the upcoming AFL-CIO Convention. The boycott is more than symbolic. Two of the unions, the Service Employees Union and the Teamsters, have already withdrawn from the federation. The reason given for the withdrawal, as announced by MSM, is that the AFL-CIO has placed too much emphasis on political lobbying at the expense of membership recruitment, and for once MSM isn't far off the mark.

If they've made a mistake in reporting the situation it is that they've allowed the impression that this is just a recent or local dispute, rather than a sea change within the "progressive coalition." But make no mistake, this is the first domino to fall in an ideological orientation that has straight-jacketed the progressive left for more than half a century.

Union density has been declining in the US, and the beginning of the decline can be traced and registered specifically with the establishment of the AFL-CIO. You see, the logic of the merger was precisely the same as the logic behind the establishment of religion in most of Western Europe. The assumption was that strength comes from unity, and that in order to adequately defend the American worker from the whims of management the unions had to operate under a single coordinated leadership. The problem is that once individual unions no longer had direct responsibility for their own programs in competition with other unions they lost the incentive to excel at their representation function.

They also lost the incentive to provide other benefits of union membership, not the least of which concerns the function of a professional association that confers kudos and respect on the people who practice a given occupation. Studies I conducted with Lipset on attitudes toward trade unionism in Canada and the US demonstrated that the segment of the worker population in the "off-diagonals," which includes workers who aren't in a union but want to be, and workers who are in a union but want to be independent, are about evenly split in Canada. In the US, however, they're almost all in the non-union category. Nearly everyone in the US who doesn't want to be in a union, isn't in one. However, there are a lot of people who would like to be in something like a union, but don't like any of the unions that represent their choices.

The reason the US is the most religious nation in the Western world is simply because we're sectarian. There are lots of little churches instead of one big one. All the little churches have to compete with one another for members, so they excel at the task. They manage to fulfill whatever it is that people are looking for in a religion, and also manage to steer clear of the taint of being associated with The State. Contrary to what many religious people believe, being too close to The State is bad for religion. The legitimacy of The State is always in periodic ebb and flow, but if the Church is subject to the same judgments determined by how well the State is doing at meeting its political expectations it's the ebb that sticks, and the flow that people forget. The result is a slow and gradual decline in the legitimacy and stature of religion. Church attendance in all countries that had a State Religion is now in single digits. On the other hand, church attendance in the US is higher than anywhere else in the "industrialized world."

But it never occurred to anyone that trade unionism might be subject to the same dynamic whereby the closer it is to The State the less legitimate it becomes, and the less well it accomplishes the task of representation. The events of this week in the AFL-CIO could well be the signs of trade unionism in the US trying to save itself from complete irrelevance and marginalization. Contrary to what the Democrats are saying, this is actually good news for the union movement. Very good news.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 02:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 26, 2005

Award: Most Accurate Encapsulated Description of the War in Iraq

To The Michael Yon [Not Wretchard. Sheesh one would think you guys would've saved me some embarrassment by cluing me in to the mistake. At least I had the link right.]

The enemy in Iraq does not appear to be weakening; if anything, they are becoming smarter, more complicated and deadlier. But this does not mean they are winning; to imply that getting smarter and deadlier equates to winning, is fallacious. Most accounts of the situation in Iraq focus on enemy "successes" (if success is re-defined as annihiliation of civility), while redacting the increasing viability and strength of the Iraqi government, which clearly is outpacing the insurgency.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 11:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Posner Responds to Comments on Same-Sex Marriage

Steven Posner's response to comments about his previous post on the topic seems to justify establishing the right of same-sex couples to marry on the same basis as the civil right of mixed-race couples. The problem is that, like Andrew Sullivan, it fails to recognize that the essential difference between race and sexual orientation isn't whether it's an innate or genetic quality, but with the reason why people marry in the first place. Clearly whether couples are same-race or mixed-race, the institutional interest in mixed-gender unions, as well as the individual-interest of the vast majority of individuals in those unions, is child rearing. Almost by definition this can't be the point of same-sex unions, even though it's possible for such couples to produce children by "borrowing" a resource from a gender not represented in the union. (Forgive the quaint phrasing. Since the Tour de France is over I have to take every opportunity to entertain myself.) The depth of Posner's confusion emerges when he, like Sullivan, expresses a preference for federalism that isn't warranted by the principle of civil rights:

My reasons for nevertheless opposing courts' ruling that it is unconstitutional to forbid gay marriage are twofold. First, the courts would benefit from a period in which experience with gay marriage in one or more states and several foreign nations, together with growing experience with civil unions, would lay a solider empirical basis than exists now for assessing the consequences of gay marriage. There is value in social experiments, and hence in not terminating them prematurely.

So, what happens if the consequences of same-sex marriage are disastrous, or mostly negative? If it's a civil right on par with inter-racial marriage we still have no rights-based argument to deny it, so making such a denial unavoidably undermines the notion of civil rights. Not a very good tradeoff. In fact the very preference for "social experiments" reveals the fact that, at least unconsciously, both Posner and Sullivan admit is the over-riding concern: children. What else would be the dependent variable in the experiment? Although it is possible for marriage to facilitate other functions for society and for people those are not its primary function: to induce those who produce children to stay together while they raise those children. Basically, then, marriage is the attractive side of an obligation, and anything that makes marriage less attractive undermines the fulfillment of that obligation.

The central issue in same-sex marriage has nothing to do with a civil right, which would be a claim on what has been identified as an attractive good (and created to be attractive, with good reason) while ignoring the obligation that gave rise to that good, and remains central to it. The central issue is simply whether modification of the institution undermines the fulfillment of the obligation. Posner and Sullivan recognize this on an emotional level, but simply don't rise to the challenge of recognizing it on an intellectual and social level.

Posner, to his credit, at least admits the primacy of this social function, by arguing that it's not the job of the courts to over-rule a broadly contrary public opinion:

Second, and at the risk of seeming to take a Realpolitik approach to constitutional law, I don't think it's the business of the courts to buck public opinion that is as strong as the current tide of public opinion running against gay marriage.

But this argument surely leaves the issue of civil rights twisting in the wind? The core confusion and incoherence need not be. It's simply inappropriate to grant people a right to something without the recognition that there's a social interest behind the obligations that the "something" was constructed to support. The reason it's inappropriate for the courts to demand the fulfillment of such a right is that there is no such independent right to the attractive half of an institution. This has little to do with what opinion people hold about it one way or the other.

Addendum: Reading the rest of Posner's post suggest that while he is aware that child-rearing is an important aspect of the opposition, he mistakenly believes that the logical and empirical dissent is located in childlessness. Opposition to gay marriage isn't based on whether gay marriages produce children, but rather on the effects of gay marriage on the obligation that parents feel to stay together. With other kinds of childless couples this is almost certainly a wash, because they look like child-producing couples in terms of their "essentials." Same-sex couples simply don't.

Also, it occurs to me that there might be some sort of conviction surviving the notion that there's no such thing as a right to the attractive half of an institution, in the sense that this gap could be fulfilled by some contractual agreement that homosexuals could make. This is entirely sentimental. If homosexuals have an interest in the obligation that child-producing couples feel to stay together it certanly isn't that they participate in such an obligation directly. (All members of society have some interest, even if it's unrecognized or acknowledged.) Most homosexual couples will not produce children. And even if they do it won't be in a way that's analogous to what happens in a heterosexual union.

But I want to be clear. It's at least theoretically possible that the differences might actually contribute to the institution. That is, for instance, the examples that lesbian couples make might actually enhance the sense of obligation that child-producing couples feel. My argument is simply that there's an irreversible risk associated with making the assumption that the institution would not be undermined or harmed. And ironically this risk will be borne (whether recognized or not) by both heterosexuals and homosexuals. It just doesn't appear to be something that homosexuals can mitigate, other than by eschewing same-sex marriage. It might be mitigated by a well designed social experiment, however.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 24, 2005

Blogging and Knowledege

As my astute remaining reader my have noticed, I've not been at the top of my blogging game recently.   Or at the middle of my game.  Or really, when it comes down to it, even been demonstrating much a measurable pulse.

Now, I suppose I could just be honest with y'all (and myself) and just fess up about being burnt out.  But, as you may all know, I am virtually incapable of recognizing when to fold them and when to hold them, vis a vis my undying interest in holding forth at great length and flapping my gums.

So, this got me all to thinking about the whole business of blogging.  Why is it, exactly, do so many spend so much time writing so much for so little benefit?  Undoubtedly some have a yen to express themselves.  For others, it's a chance to talk seriously about things they are otherwise denied the chance to talk about in daily life.  Still others are just absolute fools who don't have the good judgment to realize just how stupid they are, and instead, do their best to broadcast their sorely lacking grasp of the world.

Instead of marching off to the navel-gazing plantation to figure out why it is that I write (or wrote?), I opted for a different tack - why is it that I stopped?

What, exactly, was the big hold-up?

Well, I think that there might be a couple of causative mechanisms.  In the interests of avoiding making myself look intelligence or diligent, let's start with the least flattering reasons and then deftly slip off into weightier realms.

For starters, writing is easy - well, writing garbage is easy, writing well is hard.  More specifically, crafting ideas into a cogent, coherent, concise structure takes some time.  How much do I want to spend my free time doing something that's actually difficult work?

Trick question.  The amount of work becomes trivial if the amount of enjoyment is commensurate with the amount of effort expended.

So then, why the lack of enjoyment?  Let us just start out by discarding the obvious (perhaps trivial items) - I've been busy, overstressed, under-relaxed, and wrestling with a plethora of regular life issues.  No refuge here - that's just another set of terminology for me to procrastinate.  No, let's look more seriously about the whys.

It seems that the first point is the prospect of valiantly pissing into the wind.  For each and every ill-informed, poorly conceived point I run across, do I want to spend my time and effort correcting that, simply to have a feces-throwing monkey sort of response?  Secondly, there is an open question of sweeping away the tide.  Third, one begins to feel like a Sisyphus of the keyboard.

But doesn't all this simply go back to the core nature of blogging - one essentially writes for one's self?  It provides far too little reward and recognition for it to be anything other than essentially self-reflection.

But what's the point of self-reflection?  At a first guess, I might say knowledge.  But how does the business of public self reflection for personal self-knowledge really work?  And what does it all have to do with blogging?

Beats me.

After a fair bit of thinking about this, I can only guess that blogging really does reflect the miniscule creeping forward progress that occurs with the growth of human knowledge?  Does this remind me of watching grass grow and pain dry because it really is a snapshot into the actual growth of the human body of knowledge?

I am beginning to think that it is.  When people think about the business of expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, they tend to imagine scientific breakthroughs, and scientists in lab coats.

But one must remember that science isn't a thing, but a process.  People synthesize theory and observation, using the combination for the empirical combination of both to verify and test theories, and discard those explanations which are unsatisfying.  Moreover the vast majority of scientific research is done in painstaking data collection and experimentation.  The archetypical scientist with the breakthroughs is simply one who is able to reliably and regularly combine this incoming data, and do so in such a way as to generate continuing support for research.

So, by way of analogy, the vast rank and file of bloggers are the unsung legions of experimenters and doodlers trying to understand their world.  The Instapundits, den Bestes, Wretchards and so on (be they linkers or thinkers) occupy the role of the published PhDs or in some cases, the DaVincis, Euclids, Edisons, and Twains of this new era of collective dialog and discussion.

Now, before I sign off with this, the other thing I do think is worth mentioning, is the nature of the exchange of knowledge - first through asexual reproduction, then through the sexual exchange of genetic information, and so on, through the development of the written language and the development of mass media and rapid cultural cross-pollinating behavior.  This has been better described here and here by the incomparable Steven den Beste.  But the significant thing I've been driving at is that we may look at the internet as being an epochal change in the way that information is exchanged.  With each new epoch we do end up with a few new brilliant developments catalyzed by this new mechanism for the exchange of knowledge.

To be fair, for every Plato writing the Republic, we have countless bits of graffiti, shopping lists, and other ephemera.  But we also have the slips of data, observation and tidbits of information about the world around us.  And much like the relationship between Edison and his lab assistants, the role of bloggers may simply to function as the supporting actors and extras without whom the epic stories resonant throughout time would be impossible to tell.

With one minor difference, with blogging we are no longer cooperating to tell a specific story, but rather the story of learning to tell stories.  And that is where the unique, and often frustrating, nature of blogging resides.  Once in a while, we have to be grunts in the field if the brilliant generals are to lead the way – even if we never get a medal, or have a chance to exhibit uncommon gallantry, we just have to soldier on through the muck.  And in so doing our duty and carrying the banner forward, derive satisfaction from knowing that we’re doing our best to do what’s right.

(Cross-posted to Anticipatory Retaliation)

Posted by Bravo Romeo Delta at 11:01 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Redefining Yellow

Today a Texan with a name that sounds like it ought to belong to a character in a Buck or Roy Rogers movie won the most grueling elite endurance contest on the planet for the seventh straight time! If he had never been near death with the "big C" today's accomplishment would've been enough. Indeed, it would have been enough had he stopped six years ago, after winning in 1999, but his recovery and return to bicycle racing not only at the top of his sport, but to create a legacy that will probably never be matched, has inspired people I love to fight against a similar infirmity. (Isn't it odd that he's the second great American cyclist in 20 years to live such a lesson?)

What I like about bike racing is that it's a great analog for life. Unlike those silly survivor shows where you're almost certain to be defeated by mean-spirited and petty coalitions, a GC (General Classification) winner of a "Grand Tour" (a three-week race covering over 2,000 miles) must excel as the team captain, as an individual athlete, and as a coalition partner. There are two primary enemies that all cyclists battle against: aerodynamic drag and gravity. Except for time trials where you race alone against the clock you can defeat aero drag by cooperating with other riders in a paceline, with your own team members and with competitors. No amount of cooperation can help you defeat gravity, however. And that's why it's climbing that separates the champions from the also-rans.

It isn't clear what Lance's politics happen to be, although his girlfriend's are probably firmly idiotarian. John Kerry showed up for the penultimate stage of this year's Tour just to borrow a little of the Texan's winning glow. He sat in the pace car following Lance as he raced to the last time trial victory of his career, and his first and only stage victory this season. (He had lots of second place finishes, however, and ended in Paris with over a four-minute lead.) When his team faltered in the foothills, and his opponents isolated him (something they love to do to Americans), he played them off against each other, picked up the challenge and gained time on them all. Kerry admits he doesn't know Armstrong's politics, but it is true that in the early stages of the Tour this year Lance entertained a group of Special Forces soldiers, and was inspired by them. He wore a cap they gave him at the start of the next day's stage. So it's possible his orientation isn't as "progressive" as some people think.

One of a kind.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 07:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 20, 2005

Posner/Becker on "Gay Marriage"

One of the great legal and analytical minds of the past century, Steven Posner, manages to draft almost 2,000 words discussing the economic and social implications of same-sex marriage without even mentioning children, other than to fret that heterosexual parents are irrationally afraid their children might become homosexuals.

Gary Becker at least broaches the subject of children, but again misses the point by mistakenly assuming that the issue has something to do with the children raised by "gay parents." (A diminishingly small percentage of the population anyway.)

Let me suggest to my betters that they consider marriage as a franchise (a handy economic concept), built around the idea of socially benificial strategies for rearing the children produced by opposite sex unions (absent cloning there are no other kind). What might be the uncertainties associated with incorporation of entirely new institutional provisions, built around the concept of personal fulfillment and same-sex pairing instead of child-rearing, on, for instance, IQ, rule following, reproduction rates, etc.? Not only do both scholars ignore such clearly economic, social, cultural and even survival implications, but they both appear to gamble on the "fulfillment" role assignment for marriage without so much as a nod to five thousand years of human history.

I wonder if it's even conceivable to these towering giants of academe that one can be undisturbed by homosexuality and yet be opposed to gay marriage? I guess reputation and IQ aren't everything.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Simple Biopsy on Winds of Change

Armed Liberal asks what ought to be a simple question about the Wilson/Plame/Rove affair:

So here's where I get stuck, and could genuinely use some help.

It looks to me like Iraq did make an attempt - at least a desultory one - to buy uranium.

That's what they were accused of.

Wilson, in his original oped, slams the Administration because

In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a ''white paper'' asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them.

So I'm puzzled...it seems that the facts as he knew them supported the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium.

So help me understand this gap. Too many smart people don't see it as a gap for me to just assume there is one.

I've read through ALL of the 80 or so comments to this post, which I rarely do. Robert M. and Phil Smith get pretty close to answering Marc's question, if they haven't actually answered it. Just about everyone else is off the mark. The salient issue to close or explain the gap was whether evidence uncovered or discovered by Wilson in Niger lent credence to the notion (expressed in Bush's "16 words") that Iraq was interested in purchasing uranium in Africa. The only reservations I had about the facts concerned the confusing WaPo typo, which apparently originally read "Iraq" when it ought to have read "Iran." When that was corrected my assumption was that Wilson didn't find out anything about Iraq, which seemed strange since that was why he was sent! So thanks to Phil and Robert for clearing that up. Apparently there was evidence pointing to the possibility that both Iran and Iraq were interested in purchasing uranium from Niger, and we have some former African potentate's assurance that the overtures from Iraq were rebuffed. Boy that must have been reassuring in the uncertain conditions preceding the invasion, huh? (Wipes flopsweat from brow.)

Bush's statement was simply accurate. I mean, rigorously so. Wilson's statements were, however, unambiguously inaccurate. In short Armed Liberal seems far too modest. The gap exists. The issue is why it continues to perplex us. Whether Bush intended to mislead the American people by making an accurate statement seems hardly execrable in light of Wilson's deliberate attempt to mislead the American people by making multiple inaccurate statements.

So naturally the "real issue" has to be Valerie Plame and Karl Rove, because Wilson's behavior just doesn't match up well against George W.'s does it?

The issue that got under my skin was similar to the one Marc raised, which also hasn't been discussed much. Essentially I wanted to know why the Bush folks didn't just point out that Wilson was talking out of both sides of his mouth, and that his "report" said something that contradicted what he said in the NYT and elsewhere? In case anyone is interested, I posted something here about that. Suffice to say that the Bush Administration had no idea what Wilson had found in Africa, because he hadn't submitted a written report and the CIA notes weren't passed uphill. The Bush administration simply, and mistakenly, took Wilson at his word (as has everyone else in the media, ever since). Now, I'm not going to say Wilson lied, because he may very well have thought that what he uncovered in Niger revealed that Iraq wasn't a danger. But that just means he's either a lousy analyst or a lousy fact finder, because he failed to communicate that conclusion to the CIA during his debrief. In fact, it doesn't even appear that he tried to do so. The "gap" is real, regardless of how many smart people feel compelled to ignore or downplay it.

Yes Wilson probably lied, but that's not the half of it. The media which is supposed to clarify these things has simply not done so, either out of mendacity or incompetence. This, during a time of war.

Not good, folks. Not good at all.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 02:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reflections on Indifference

When one realizes how little it sometimes takes to create, allow, or prevent catastrophe one begins to wonder why allowing catastrophe (the neutral position supposedly), even on a small scale, isn't criminal. It would be... if there were no God. Which places God in the position of being a Scapegoat for indifference. Well, He starts as the Backup... and becomes the Scapegoat if the Backup fails after we've come up short. I think I have that right, don't I? I mean I'm trying to comprehend the nature of indifference--how people succumb to and live with it... assuming they have choice.

"So, just exactly where were you when all of this evil went down, Allah/Jehova/Elohim/Lord? Caught napping on the job again, huh?"

And there isn't much doubt that people have to succumb to indifference to some extent. I mean, I hope you don't expect Ted Kennedy or Dick Durbin to do anything to suppress their next monumentally destructive verbal indecency just because they have privileged positions as gentlemen of the US Senate? They're not God. They can't anticipate everything. We're all as likely to be blind to a need or fail to live up to a trust, as anyone, so we all need a backup as much as the next guy. (Well, to be honest Ted needs one worse than I do, but it doesn't seem to bother him much.) So the Lord is my Shepherd, and my Backup, just in case that Shepherd thing doesn't work out. If you get into trouble and I cross the street when I see you coming just remember that.

Only sometimes I wonder how far one can push that stuff, before it pushes back?

Posted by Demosophist at 02:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 19, 2005

"Yellow-cake Joe" Mystery Solved (Sort Of)

There are still lots of mysteries associated with this so-called issue, including why there's an investigation without a crime in the first place, but the thing that has always stumped me was why the Bush Administration just didn't undermine "Yellow-cake Joe's" authenticity by pointing out that his report said just about the opposite of what he was claiming in his NYT Op-ed, and on CNN. Well, it turns out the Administration couldn't have taken that direct route to clarity by referring to what was in his report, because he didn't write one.

How he got away with conducting a well-endowed national security assignment, without a written "deliverable" requirement is another matter that deserves explanation, because I doubt that I'd be able to pull than one off and I don't know anyone else who could, either. If you're paid for researching a topic, you write a report documenting that research... period. But the implication of the following paragraph from Mark Levin is that the CIA apparently held Wilson to about the same standard they'd have held Agent Cody Banks:

When Wilson returned from Niger, he never got around to filing a written report. After all, why produce a written report that would be circulated to real professionals and policymakers, who would subject it to serious scrutiny. However, Wilson was debriefed by the CIA and his debriefers did take notes. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the debriefers’ didn’t share Wilson’s information with, among others, the White House because they concluded Wilson didn't come up with much.

So that resolves the dilemma. The White House had no idea what Wilson had found, because the CIA didn't consider it significant enough to warrant distribution. Basically they handled it with the same degree of importance they'd have reserved for a Boy Scout Merit Badge. But that didn't prevent Wilson (with the complicity of his wife, as Levin points out) from touting what he claimed he'd found (a claim not substantiated by the belated committee report) as the equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant.

Calling Wilson a "liar" isn't the half of it. He's a boy pretending to be a man. Which explains why he fits in so well with what these mostly leftist authors from Unite Against Terror have appropriately tagged the "pseudo-Left." (Hat tip: Belmont Club) Turns out the great political divide, at least as related to the "War on Terror," isn't between Right and Left after all. It's between mature and immature.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 04:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 15, 2005

Carl Rove and the Arabist Prince

By Demosophist

The more I read about the Rove/Plame/Wilson affair the more confused I get. Well actually it's becoming like an aged and blended old tawny port. POwerline makes a pretty good case that no one violated a law forbidding the "outing" of a covert CIA agent because even Joe Wilson admits that his wife wasn't a covert agent at the time that she was supposedly outed. Yeah well that makes a lot of sense. We've been investigating a crime that has Judith Miller behind bars for nondisclosure of a confidential source, when according to the principal victim's husband there couldn't have been a crime. And that chocolate frog I'm looking at might just decide to hop out the window....

Jim Lindgren clears up a few more details, and makes some suggestions about what NBC might ask Joe Wilson should they be halfway interested in getting to the bottom of things. Which, of course, they weren't. Which makes me still feel like I'm waiting for a train to Hogwart's. I thought Lundgren had at least cleared up the issue of whether Wilson's report referred to possible sales of uranium to Iraq or Iran, but then in the updates to his post he acknowledges that "Iraq" was changed to "Iran" in the final version of the story. So the same old meme produced by a simple typo is still propagating six months after the fact.

Will someone please get to the bottom of this?

1. Was a crime committed during the original leak or thereafter, and if not what the deuce are we investigating and why are we tossing people in jail?

2. Is Carl Rove an evil genius, a good genius, or an over-hyped and incompetent bumbler?

3. Was Joe Wilson lying about everything or just some things. He was obviously lying when he said his wife wasn't instrumental to his assignment to Africa and a few other things, but did he totally reverse the implications of his report in order to cast the President in a bad light?

3b. If Wilson was lying, as Jim Lindgren seems to assume, why didn't the administration (who must have been advised as to the content of his report) simply point out the mismatch between what he was saying on talk shows, and what was in his report?

4. If his report mentions Iran rather than Iraq, why wasn't Iraq mentioned? I thought that was the whole point of this Africa assignment. So why was any mention of Iraq omitted?

5. Is there any way I, as a lowly muggle, and without selling my soul, can learn to perform some of these tricks?

6. Does Valerie have a secret agent sister? (Apparently twins run in the family.)

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 02:15 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 08, 2005

Conch Republic, Waiting for Dennis

I haven't been able to interest Pat at The State of Jefferson in a little geography/history quiz, inspired by the history that inspired his blog name. So rather than exercise any further restraint, I'm spilling the beans. Here was the question:

One area of the country managed to initiate a "successful" secession movement, not in the sense that the secession stuck, but in the sense that the movement achieved its objectives. The place also happens to be the only area of the "deep South" that fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War.

For fun and valuable prizes can you name the place, time and circumstances of the secession movement? (Hint: Check the title of this post.)

Yes it's the Florida Keys. During the Civil War the Union maintained a naval base and fort there (Fort Taylor), intended to service the Union Fleet and help maintain the blockade of Southern ports. 120 years later, in 1982, during the Mariel Boat Lift, the Feds returned the favor by setting up a roadblock on Highway 1, which was the only land route to and from Key West, and citizens of the Keys reacted by staging a brief secession movement. They named their new country the Conch Republic.

One minute after declaring secession the Prime Minister of the Conch Republic surrendered to the Union Forces at the Naval Base, a drama of such satirical pith that it broke the back of the Union blockade, which immediately dispersed.

Some of my family now resides in Key West, although fortunately about half of them are in Seattle for the summer, visiting other family. (Except for myself and one sister, the family tends to live at the extreme ends of the cross-national backslash.) But my neice and her daughter, as well as a few family friends, are still waisting away in Margaritaville. Dennis, meanwhile, seethes menacingly from the south.

The fact is, although the Keys are right in the heart of Hurricane Alley, Key West is rarely in danger. Due to the prevailing winds and currents most hurricanes are deflected away from the Keys, and there's almost never a direct hit on Key West. But we're watching the situation with some anxiety, and I don't know yet whether Brooke and Kamaya, and friends, intend to "bug out." If it were me though, I'd be long gone. Every once in awhile those deflecting forces don't work their magic, and Key West suffers a full scale assault and battery.


Posted by Demosophist at 05:16 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Afghanistan Daze

Larry Johnson frets:

Beyond the tragedy of the deaths of US 16 military personnel, this incident raises some disturbing issues. The ability of the Taliban to communicate with the outside world about activities in a remote area of Afghanistan is equal to if not better than that of the United States. War is not simply engagements on the ground, it also involves information flow. The Taliban are showing a very sophisticated capability in this regard.

Well, two points:

First, it's not likely that the communication by the Taliban was accurate regarding the bare facts. Wretchard calls the questions "interesting" rather than disturbing, and unlike Larry, admits that all we have to go on at this point is speculation. The claim the Taliban makes about "spies" is probably correct, at least in the sense that the original recon team was stealthily looking for information about "high value targets." However, it's not clear that any of the "spies" were actually captured by the Taliban, as they claimed. Again, according to Wretchard, that seems unlikely, not so much because such a capture is physically unlikely, but because their own communication suggests they're lying. Not only is the sort of "all-points" contact between the field forces and their spokesman, that so impresses Larry, probably more tenuous than they've represented, but their claim to have a "high ranking" Navy SEAL belies the fact that a high ranking officer probably would not have been on such a recon mission in the first place. Moreover, the information that such a prisoner is being held specifically in Kunar "in good health" is not something that a guerilla force hiding out in the mountains is likely to have communicated for public consumption.

So, there's probably no intentional information content in the centralized Taliban "communication," and it's difficult to tell how the capability to communicate only readily exposed disinformation is "superior" to saying nothing. In fact, in this case the Taliban would have been better off had they said nothing. By talking too much they've revealed more than they intended, which isn't what I'd call "sophistication," exactly.

Second, US forces actually have vastly superior decentralized communication networks between the public and men on the ground in remote places. They're called "milblogs." It's just that the Western and Arab press pay them no heed.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 09:59 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 07, 2005

Updated Thoughts on the Madrid Strategy (Updated)

In the comment section of a previous post GeoBandy chides:

I think, based on the information available, you may be overestimating the sophistication level required [for the London transit attacks].

It might be more appropriate to say that the method I'm using to account "sophistication" may not be 100% valid. I readily admit that, and it is a concern. But then no method of accounting an abstract idea like "sophistication" is 100% valid. The issue is what do we mean by the term, and why is it of interest to us? We use empirical measures to account for a quality that is far more complex than the method or test used not because we need 100% validity, but because we want enough validity to get a handle on the situation. So the appropriate question might be, "is my method valid enough?"

Well, if you look at the universe of jihadist terrorist attacks, whether they involve suicide bombings or not, only a very small minority exhibit this sort of coordination, either of multiple attacks at the same time and day, or attacks scheduled to coincide with other events, or both. (Whether or not the attacks were coordinated with the IOC announcement is certainly in some doubt, although it could have been scheduled to opportunistically shoot for a "twofer," and they just got lucky.)

Put another way, jihadist terrorist attacks are 99% "little" and 1% "big" in this sense, which means that by definition big attacks are signicant (atypical). And this attack was definitely "big." Sophistication is also relative, and perhaps a better term would be "orchestrated." The Islamic scholar, Bernard Lewis, has noted that one of the primary failings of the Muslim Ummah since the Siege of Vienna, which turned back the Ottoman advance, has been the absence of a conception of "orchestration," both in terms of politics as well as music. He makes the point that when the Ottoman ruler wanted to create a musical orchestra he was compelled to hire a western director, and to populate the orchestra with western musicians. Orchestration is a capacity that the West developed a long time ago, and ironically we acquired that sort of "sophistication" at almost the precise point in history that Islam seems to have lost it. (The turning point was actually earlier than the Siege of Vienna. That was just the event where the disparity became decisive.)

So the concept of orchestration is relevant not only in the sense of a threat represented by groups like Al Qaeda, but ironically it's also germain to the ability of the Islamic world to mature beyond a compulsion for terrorism and totalitarianism. The irony is that the ability to orchestrate terrorist attacks in this way could be symptomatic of a healthy shift within Islam that, if cultivated, might eventually eliminate the impulse to terrorism, especially if transferred to business or production, or even representative politics.

Returning to the initial question about whether this attack was "sophisticated," I think the fact that so few terrorist attacks demonstrate such orchestration suggests that there is only a smallish group of "extremists" who are so capable, so at least in a relative sense it's appropriate to call it "sophisticated." But ultimately the question must be:

Is the "Islamic World" (exclusive of the jihadists, who aren't going to change) sophisticated enough to turn swords into plowshares?


Update: The Belmont Club agrees that the London transit attacks were at a high level of "sophistication,"... even higher than the Madrid attacks, in fact, and for precisely the same reason that I've discussed: orchestration:

These coordinated attacks are, technically speaking, at far higher level of sophistication than the Madrid attacks of 3/11 which involved a single train. The attack on London was a "time on target" attack which required simultaneity so that one incident did not compromise the subsequent. By implication the personnel involved received some degree of training and planned the operation in sufficient secrecy to prevent British security services from getting wind of it. The six attacks probably mean that a minimum of forty persons were involved, if those in support roles are included. The attackers must have an egress plan or access to safe houses where they can weather the inevitable crackdown.

He also notes, however, that the increased sophistication doesn't necessarily reflect increased strenghth:

The first and most important hard fact to grasp is that this Al Qaeda strike, their first against an Anglosphere city since 9/11, has caused much less damage than that on New York. This despite the fact that Al Qaeda has had nearly four years to brood on its humiliations and losses and to plot its revenge. The reasons for this are simple: the enemy is now operating in a much more hostile environment.

Nonetheless, George Galloway and the anti-war left continue to argue that this attack proves their point that Iraqi Freedom has not made us safer. For those Americans and Brits cognizant of "sophisticated" notions like counterfactual analysis (what would have happened had we not done what we did) this simple-minded claim, in light of Wretchard's analysis, seems less than convincing.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 04:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Madrid Strategy

As I write this there's some confusion about whether there were four, or up to seven separate attacks on the London mass transit system. Early reports were confused by the fact that some explosions took place between metro stops and generated reports of attacks at the stops on either end. But it's not clear whether the current high estimate of seven was influenced by this misjudgment. Some sources are still saying only four attacks.

Even at that, however, the coordination required for simultaneous attacks coordinated to coincide with other events (the G8 summit and the announcement by the IOC of London as the site for the 2012 Olympics) is impressive and ominous. If the perpetrators were only loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda that suggests a level of pervasive sophistication, especially in the European cells, that goes beyond what was previously considered probable. However, it is not yet clear whether this is true, or whether the attacks were perpetrated by a central Al Qaeda cell. My guess is the latter, for what it's worth, but it's just a guess (and perhaps a hope).

The mother country is being tested by the "Madrid strategy," and I'm reasonably confident that the response will be greater unity and moral clarity rather than less, reflecting yet another miscalculation by the Salafists who consistently underestimate the capacity of their infidel opposition for moral clarity in the face of totalitarian method. England is not new to this game, and has already won a struggle of this sort.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia, Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 09:11 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 06, 2005

Funnel of Death, in Perspective

Bloody Angle

The Bloody Angle: Photo by Demosophist, September 2003

The next day, I stood in a tiny rut, a small bend in a shallow, grassy berm, where for sixteen hours men cursed and killed each other at point-blank range, where musket balls flew so furiously that they cut down a foot-thick oak tree. Here, at the Bloody Angle of Spotsylvania, the fighting was hand-to-hand from the break of dawn to almost midnight; uninterrupted horror that to this day remains for me the most appalling single acre in human history. There, on that unassuming, peaceful, empty field – it might as well have been the back of a high school -- men had become so agitated that they climbed the muddy, blood-slick trenches, clawed their way to the parapets to shoot at a man a foot or two away, then hurled their bayoneted muskets like a javelin into the crowd before being shot down and replaced by other half-mad, raving automatons.

What trick of time and memory, what charm or spell does history possess, that can turn such fields of unremitting violence and terror into places of religious awe and wonder? Why are some people called to these places, in America and around the world, to stand in wonder – not only at the brutality of war, but at the transcendental, ennobling power of them? How does slaughter and death turn into nobility and sacrifice? Why can we recite the names of places like Roanoke, Harrisburg, Phoenixville, Marseille, Kiev, Vanuatu and Johannesburg with no more passion than we muster while reading the ingredients on the back of a cereal box, while names like Antietam, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Verdun, Stalingrad, Guadalcanal and Rorke’s Drift thunder through time as if the earth itself were being rung like a bell? -- (from Bill Whittle's History)

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 09:51 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack