September 30, 2005

Creating More Terrorists

Ok, so the ACLU, courtesy Judge Hellerstein, wants to take as many Abu Ghraib images as possible and spread them high and low.  The Judge argues that he can't withhold their release on the grounds that it will incite terrorism based on the idea that terrorists aren't looking for excuses to act against us as is.

Which, I actually buy.

But the part that baffles me is the talk about Terrorist Magnets and how the flypaper strategy is foolish because it creates a even greater terrorist threat.   If our approach to Iraq is wrong because it creates more terrorists, then how is it possible to turn around and then say that releasing more Abu Ghraib photos isn't bad, although it incites terrorism? (Cross posted to Demosophia and The Daily Jawa)

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September 26, 2005

CSPAN Late Night Delight

There were two rather profound offerings on CSPAN this evening. If you missed them you can still get your fill:

The first was an interview with Tony Blankley about his new book The West's Last Chance. Although the interviewer did her best to insinuate her own conventional anti-Bush agenda she was at least respectful and allowed Tony to make his points. I guess I see pretty much what Blankley sees, and I agree that we're probably at the turning point. The other program was the incendiary "debate" between George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens that ended with Galloway standing in a pool of his own intellectual and emotional vital fluid... a fact that I'm sure escaped him. One of the highlights was Hitchens' ridicule of the "Moveon Left's" brave opposition to Dick Cheney, which he compared rather unfavorably to the revolutionary courage and leftist bonafides of the Kurdish Workers Party, and the Pesh Merga; who are (he was quick to note) fighting on our side.

What I'd like someone to tell me some day is how and why a movement that gets its inspiration and financial resources from one of the most venal and amoral capitalists on the planet, and which tacitly supports nearly every authoritarian fascist dictator in the world, can properly wear the insignia of "the Left." How did that happen? Listening to Hitchens it occured to me that the Left may have a second wind some day, since at least part of it (admittedly the smaller part) hasn't betrayed its own principles.

The "turning point" that Blankley refers to may be very close indeed. I don't know how anyone who isn't brain dead could walk away from that Hitchens/Galloway debate believing that the anti-war Left is salvaging even a morsel of dignity. Wish it had broader circulation... There's lots more, including links to video and transcripts of the debate series on Hitchensweb. Really good stuff!

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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September 25, 2005

Cindy Sheehan is no Gary Qualls

Gary Qualls was the father of Lance Corporal Louis W. Qualls, who was killed during the Battle of Fallujah on November 16, 2004. Gary observes that Cindy Sheehan refuses to read the last letter of her son. He feels this reluctance marks her cause as one of dishonor and disrespect, rather than the principled objection it claims to be. Gary unashamedly read the text of his son's final letter on the Mall today, in Washington DC... something that apparently strikes fear into the hearts of the so-called "anti-war" movement's followers, for it allows a clear comparison between their "shenanigans" and the uncomplicated notion of "duty" that inspires patriots like Qualls. The result is far from flattering to the Copperheads.

But if people think these demonstrations in DC were just about Iraq, or that after Iraq we can just pack up and pretend we aren't in a war, they've missed the point. Efforts like those of Qualls are important because we're nowhere near the end of this struggle. And in it we have both strengths and weaknesses that we really need to account for. Some of our strengths:

1. We have some people, perhaps even approaching a majority, who "get it." They know that this isn't merely about WMD or oil. This is about, if you will, the "soul" of the human race.

2. We have a pragmatic, and even brilliant, military that doesn't make any of the assumptions about policy that our 21st Century Copperheads make, and that knows how to win a war against the toughest of enemies. Whether or not there were ever strategic WMD in Iraq is, to them, beside the point.

3. We have a "new media" that, while still an infant, lacks many of the institutionalized inadequacies of the old "mainstream media" (and that has even produced a modern Ernie Pyle). It can report coherently on war, while its competitor can't even report coherently on natural disasters.

But we also clearly have weaknesses:

1. A media establishment that pretends to analyze, but is actually just surfing the latest false impression;

2. A tendency toward wishful-thinking, and the belief that fights aren't necessary;

3. A conservative establishment that simply doesn't take public opinion seriously enough to shape it, and that has an absolute aversion to detail and tactics (this criticism from the left actually has merit). It also tends to take our strengths for granted, for some inexplicably perverse reason.

And fortunately we have an enemy that systematically underestimates our strengths and overestimates our weaknesses, which may end up as our sole decisive advantage. The outcome may well be decided by which side has a greater tendency toward self-deception.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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It's the Hole...

I'm not going to DC to witness the demonstrations, because it's just too depressing. I once thought that any policy mistakes the US happens to make will get sorted out in the public debate. That's the way democracy works, I figured. But mainstream media doesn't even appear capable of discussing the 2005 hurricane phenomenon with any degree of competence, let alone the strategy and tactics we're using in the "Long War Against Irreconcilable Islam." It's not so much that they're wrong, as that there isn't even a core of sense to grab onto. It isn't that their analysis is flawed, so much as that they have no idea what they're talking about. It's like your mechanic telling you that your car isn't running because your parachute wasn't packed properly. We can't have productive discussions about policy because almost half the public doesn't realize the cheese has slid off their cracker.

And though I hate to say it, this is at least partly due to a failure of leadership. Why don't the public and media understand that terrorism and totalitarianism are different phases of the same phenomenon? It seems to me that this bit of logic is central, so why doesn't anyone bring it up from time to time? Why aren't our actions in Iraq recognizable as the components of a coherent strategy, even a wrong one? More importantly, why hasn't anyone noticed that the media has no idea what a strategy would even look like, let alone be able to analyze one properly? Wouldn't it seem kind of a professional lapse if an auto mechanic failed to notice whether or not your car had a transmission?

Motorist: "Sir, do you think one reason the car doesn't, sort of... go might be that there's a transmission problem?"

Mechanic: "Transmission? Just LOOK at that car! How could the transmission be the problem? It's RED!"

Motorist: "Yeah, but... what?"

I feel apocalyptic, as though I'm a passenger on the Titanic while the crew and other passengers engage in heated debate over the distribution of people to port or starboard; as though attaining the right balance will somehow keep the ship from sinking. It's not the balance; it's that invisible hole, down below somewhere...

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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September 23, 2005

World of Wind Too

I just wanted to clarify my earlier post, so that people don't get the idea that "those people" are all in the same category. I got another call from an elderly black woman who said that she had registered for financial assistance under her old address because she had been told to do so by the call agent. Apparently her old address was the one on her driver's license. She was eligible for assistance under her new address, but her call wasn't to apply for assistance again. She just wanted to correct her record in case the person living at her old address might be prevented from applying for aid because of the double count. She gained nothing from the call. She was simply concerned about someone else, and about fairness.

There are also a lot of people in the "affected area" who would be in pretty dire straits were it not for the Red Cross assistance. It's not as though there's much of a functioning economy there, and believe it or not landlords are ejecting people onto the street if they don't pay their rent on time. There are others with acute medical problems. One woman had a dental problem that had become abscessed because the dentist she went to wouldn't treat her until he had been paid in advance. We arranged to pay her bill through a local Red Cross chapter, but the abscess had already advanced nearly to the point of becoming systemic. Yet this dentist just couldn't bring himself to do any pro bono work. I'm afraid I don't understand that language very well either.

Also, the main reason Red Cross doesn't have any Service Centers in Louisiana is that the state and local governments refuse to invite us in. They don't want to "look bad" because they can't provide their citizens all the services they need, even though... you know, they can't. We have feeding centers and shelters, but no Service Centers to dispense financial assistance in Louisiana, although there are Centers in Mississippi and Alabama. This fact drives people in Louisiana nuts, because they think it's our fault we're not in their state.

Selfishness and goodwill both have many faces.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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A World of Wind

I'm working at a Red Cross call center and got a couple of calls today that I found upsetting. They struck me the same way Patrick McGoohan's character in The Prisoner must have felt when he drank a mug of ale and, just as he was draining the last few dregs, the words "You have been poisoned" appeared on the bottom of the tankard. The first of these incidents involved a call from a girl who said her brother had been dropped off in some Texas coastal city by the crew of the boat he had been a seaman on, and the people who were supposed to pick him up to evacuate him away from the dock didn't show. I spent about half an hour attempting to track down telephone numbers for state and private services in Texas who her brother might be able to contact to get a ride out of the city, but the problem was that she hadn't talked to him in well over an hour, and for all we knew he'd alreadly been evacuated. She said that she'd talked to the State Police who had refused to help. Anyway, it was clear that she wasn't satisfied with what I was able to do, so I asked her whether she expected the Red Cross to launch a helicopter to rescue her brother. This was my best imitation of the Jack Nicholson character in As Good As It Gets, so I expected at least a little break in the solemnity, but from her outraged response it was clear that I had inadverntently hit upon exactly what she expected. She called me every name she could think of and then suggested that I needed to think about what I'd have thought had it been one of my family who was stranded. Then she hung up before giving me time to say that my sister had already been through Rita.

Some seem to bear this seething resentment that every single one of us can't be rescued all the time. I suppose this Cindy Sheehan attitude is just human, but how am I supposed to cope? And there are lots of people who are genuinely surprised that anyone has bothered to lend them a hand at all, for they pretty much expect to be on their own. To them, the helping hand is a miracle. At most they expect help from people within arm's reach, and not from some hyper-empowered Nanny institution. I guess I don't understand why anyone would think that in the midst of the largest mass evacuation in US history the resources not only of the state, but of every public and private humanitarian organization, ought to be exhausted for the sake of reassuring one person that her sibling need not even make a pretense of finding his own way to shelter from the storm.

And I'm also fairly convinced that if I, or anyone else, had actually managed to mobilize the resources of some genuine heros playing the role of Bill Whittle's "sheep dogs," roaming the Gulf Coast willing to risk their lives to sweep down and pull her bother into the arms of safety, she'd have regarded the whole thing as routine.

This is a language I don't speak.

While I'm on the subject, there was a similar incident today where a young man called who spoke only Spanish. I got an AT&T translator on the line in a conference and after awhile it was clear that the caller was asking the Red Cross to somehow help him transcend the difficult logistical problem of evacuating Houston in the midst of a huge traffic jam of frightened people all headed in the same direction. In other words he wanted something like helicopter service. He kept asking me what he should do, no matter how many options I gave him. At one point I got exasperated and said in English "Go West young man!" That tickled the translator so much he couldn't stop laughing, but he refused to translate my advice. That refusal probably saved me from another "Jack Nicholson moment." What the man really wanted wasn't advice but to find out how far I'd be willing to go to alleviate him of any responsibility for helping himself.

So I chose to laugh... even though it'd have been just as easy (and probably more normal) to cry. If I could save all the brothers, and relieve all the anxious fears, I'd probably do it... fool that I am. But I'm not fool enough to think myself, or anyone else, a villain for falling short of that.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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September 17, 2005

Some Potential Confusion Over Katrina's Toll

A source inside FEMA told me recently that, as of a couple of days ago, the agency had granted 1,758 funeral benefits to families whose pre-disaster address was in Jefferson Parrish. These are confirmed deaths with confirmed identification, but the implication may not be what it seems. So far this number is not in the public domain, and I can't verify it by any independent sources, but I believe it. The thing is, any large population of people will have a certain number of deaths over any 2 week period, so it's not a given that all, or even most, of these deaths occured during the hurricane or flood. In fact, since identification is a fairly rigorous process it's probably accurate to infer that most of these deaths occured under non-disaster conditions, either after the event or before it, and people are simply applying for the funeral benefit because they're without funds. The critical issue isn't the number, but whether these deaths were a direct consequence of the storm, whether the storm was a secondary factor, or whether they would have occured storm or not. And that's simply unknown to us at this time.

But be advised that if numbers like these are leaked to MSM it's very likely that certain people will interpret them to mean that the death toll from Katrina is much higher than the current number of confirmed deaths (579 in the state of Louisiana according to FOX just a few moments ago).

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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September 16, 2005

Partial vs. Total War: Revisiting Tranquil Blindness

The following is an email exchange I had with Nicole Argo, one of the panel on suicide terrorism that I panned recently here. That effort was unfair to the extent that some of my criticism wasn't so much substantive as atmospheric, and it may also have been unfair to Argo. I still disagree with Pape's policy prescriptions, which I think do not follow from his analysis, and I thought Bloom's attitude rather superficial and trite, reflecting the "unseriousness" of the Moveon crowd. And I still have the sense that the way nearly all of these people frame the issue of suicide terrorism reflects a false dichotomy between "military" and "non-military" strategy.

In the 1940s Roosevelt created an agency that he called the "Board of Economic Warfare," which was chaired, rather ironically, by R. Buckminster Fuller. While this agency wasn't "military," its design purpose was unambiguously to serve the military campaign. If there is value in the work of these researchers attempting to understand the nature of terrorism it probably is not in an alternative to a military strategy, but in service to it... with the laudable objective of preventing a drift toward what Clausewitz calls "Total War."

But Argo was quite gracious in the following note, and in a follow-up (which I won't post because I haven't quite figured out how to respond yet). Anyway, here's the exchange. The quotes from my original post are in bold, her comments in italics, and my responses in plain old, plain old.

hi there,

a friend sent me this, and you actually had me laughing. i don't dispute your take on the tone of that panel, however you cite me and other incorrectly. let me correct the pieces dealing with my presentation, at least...

I was fairly bitter at the time, having just experienced some serious discrimination for my lack of "PC-ness," so my tone was a bit over the top. Sorry, but I sometimes get carried away. As soon as I have time I'll bring the post back to the top and intersperse your comments, for the record.

I neglected to mention a statement by Nichole Argo to the effect that suicide terrorists are "just like us," meaning that they are socio-economically middle class, educated, etc. That struck me as improbable, although she is supposed to be the expert.

i referenced a study of lebanese and palestinian bombers (by alan krueger) which first showed that bombers tend to be above the mean in education and income for their societies (these were all bombers, and many terrorists, from the 80s and 90s). but sageman's network analysis of 400+ qaeda bombers also shows this. and that network is growing. however, i originally chose the words "they're just like us" to sum up the study on psychopathology: we have yet to find depression or sociopathy to describe the terrorists we're finding, or those we research after the fact.

My impression, from some of the reports by our troops on milblogs, is that many of the bombers in Iraq are not above the mean in income or education, but then that's also just their impression. It does make some sense to me that literature on the psychopathology of suicide bombers follows that of other cults and extremist groups... which tends to say that we're all vulnerable. I just think that there's some deliberate exploitation of the sunni underclass in Iraq. But I don't really know.

I do agree with Jerrold Post, however, that there's something about the group dynamic itself that produces the equivalent of a psychopathology. It's pretty ugly business, but I tend to see a close relationship between these groups and more established totalitarian groups, as though they're different phases of the same phenomenon.

Later Pape, in his summary, acknowledged that only about 10-15% of the suicide bombers have been identified, and there's no way to tell if those were a representative sample.

pape was talking about bombers from iraq.

My mistake. [Here, I thought Argo's comments were about terrorists in general, and didn't know she was excluding Iraq. Well... because I didn't here her say so...]

Now, I don't know what the background of these revealed bombers was, or the roughly 85% who are still unknown, but if these were people from the same socio-economic background as the rest of us it sort of undermines the notion that terrorism is the consequence of class conflict, or the result of exploitation or deprivation.

nobody in that panel argued that terrorism was the result of class conflict, exploitation or deprivation. "grievance" was used mostly to connote "occupation" and resentment towards status change and/or oppression (another finding of alan krueger, who argues bombing will most likely occur in those countries with low civil-political liberties).

Well if that's the case (and I agree for both intuitive and analytical reasons) then I just don't understand the "principled" opposition to this project from people like Pape and Bloom. Unless they think that civil political liberties can somehow flow into a totalitarian or authoritarian state through some kind of economic bargaining and external pressure. While these things may work, they usually take a very long time and have uncertain consequences. I suppose I developed some faith in the ability of Ameriacans to sow the seeds of civil democratic reform, by force, from my association with Lipset. And I see "the Left" as, at best, unaware of that potential.

[I'm being rather diplomatic here. The truth is, I think class is essential to the left's opposition to the Iraq War, and to the whole "Neocon Project." But I can't really say that anyone but Bloom is "in the tank" on that approach. Pape might be, but I'm not sure. Several others on the panel definitely were not "class warriors."]

But the main point is that she was willing to state something as fact, which is simply still in doubt. We don't even know enough about suicide terrorists in Iraq, for instance, to make a definitive statement about what part of the Arab world they come from.

it's not in doubt. suicide bombers are not clinically depressed or psychopaths; they are not the most poor, the most uneducated, the most "weak"--often they are leaders. if you know a single scholar/expert in this subject that argues differently, you should post that report. as for the bombers in iraq, nobody on the APSA panel claimed to know where they come from, least of all me, who simply asked the field and the audience to make explicit the ways in which they thought religion motivated the act, rather than assume that people swallow whole the soundbites offered them by the local cleric, or the international terrorist.

Again, I don't think one has to posit that the folks who are susceptible to this kind of influence are necessarily psychopathic. But I do suspect (from my own experience at least) that something about them is different. They cross a threshold that most of us do not. There's some sort of trigger for that. As Post says about the Third Reich, the idea of a Jewish conspiracy fit some element of receptivity in the German public "like a key in a lock." This has more to do with the relationship between charisma and social status than individual psychopathology.

[Here, I just don't think we're talking about the same thing. The bombers themselves may very well be "like the rest of us," at least after you account for the differences in culture and socio-economics of the group they belong to (Palestinian, Arab, etc.). And there are extremists in this culture that seem to look more or less like the rest of us, for instance in the Heaven's Gate group and Jim Jones. The leaders themselves tend to be either cynically manipulative, or psychopathic, however.]

i don't know your blog, but can see you've a knack for writing. as someone who just got off a plane from the palestinian territories and was very jetlagged, i'd tend to agree that the panel functioned less than professionally at times. however, that is a different complaint than the one you make about poor analysis. indeed, your evidence misleads your audience, and explains why you walked away frustrated.

Probably. I'm very frustrated with people like Mia especially. To me they're the modern equivalent of Copperheads. And if they manage to influence the majority I think the Arab world may have a very high price to pay. I don't think they understand either the magnitude or the nature of the stakes.

all the best,

The best to you too. Thanks for contacting me. If there's some way to achieve agreement between the disparate factions in this dispute over policy I'll view it as deliverance. The harshness of the "whole thing" is beginning to tell, on me at least. I find it very depressing.

In a recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway, which Wretchard summarizes here, Galloway refers to Hitchens as "a drunk." My impression is that drinking is how Hitchens copes with the fact that his realism about the need for, and propriety of, "partial war" is in tension with his "psychological preference" for peace and cooperation. The difference between he and Galloway, is that Christopher decided that his sense of morality and ethics required him to be consistent even though he is personally repulsed by the implications. He is depressed as a result of his honesty. As for Galloway, I think Hitchens is genuinely incredulous about how he manages to live with himself given the moral inconsistencies in his public position. I think he deeply detests Galloway as a person, and also because he's one of a number of "pied pipers" of the Left, that are leading it to ruin.

The bottom line is that while those who follow Galloway's example may escape some of the depressive consequences for the time being they're doing so by deferring the real consequences of their moral and ethical inconsistency onto others, and onto their own future. This makes them precisely like the Copperheads during the American Civil War, who deferred the consequences of their own moral and ethical inconsistencies onto the black slave population, which they would have left in slavery in order to stop the war. The Moveon Left defer the consequences of their inconsistency onto the victims of totalitarianism and authoritarianism. And even as the Copperheads ultimately paid the price, politically, by remaining out of power almost seventy years the modern Copperheads may pay a similar price. It isn't difficult to see that they've become more like the reactionaries and fascists they claim to hate than have people like Hitchens.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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September 13, 2005

Chrenkoff Signs Off

Arthur Chrenkoff, who started the absolutely vital "Good News from Iraq" series, is now moving on. See his Finale on Winds of Change. His contribution is both an inspiration and an example, and we hope his future is bright.

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To Do

I have four tasks to accomplish over the next few days: sell, clean, apply and file, in that order. These tasks supercede posting a long-winded treatise on terrorism or market economies, so bear with me. I fear nothing but the unknown, and I don't love everyone.

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September 11, 2005

About the Hiatus

Sorry I haven't been posting much in the last few days, but most of my activity is over on Jawa as a result of the controversy with ClassmatesDotCom. Well let's face it, Rusty has a lot more readership than I do since his head isn't nearly as egg-shaped. I'll resume posting here in a bit, with a post on the Iraq War and the Terrorist Mystique. Meanwhile you can catch up on my dispute with the Classmates scam here, here, and finally here. They're starting to cave.

Also, Andrew Cochran has a short review of tonight's Discovery Channel film on The Flight That Fought Back, which is to my mind the distilled lesson of 9-11, no matter what the Congressional Report says.

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September 09, 2005

"All your money are belong to us."

A couple of years ago I joined as a premium, or "gold" member, on a trial basis. I decided not to renew the second year, because it simply wasn't worth anything. I didn't get one iota of value out of it. Never successfully contacted anyone, and no one contacted me. Most of the schools I went to have their own alumni organizations that have proven very effective, so this commercial one just never had much value added. I gave it a try, and figured that was that.

Well, not quite. They have this automatic renewal option, but I set to it manual at the time. Apparently somewhere along the line my renewal switch was changed to "automatic" and even though I've assumed I was no longer a member they apparently managed to slip the fee past my radar for the second year. In fact, I didn't notice that they'd deducted a membership fee until a couple of days ago, when I was surprised to see the deduction of $39 for a third year listed on my bank account. I almost missed it this time too, had not my bank manager pointed it out to me. I'm starting to get pretty steamed. I'm having trouble paying for gas money as I work independent contracts to put food on the table, and these guys are stealthily ripping me off...

I want to make clear that since that first year was a "trial," as far as I was concerned, I made certain that my renewal authorization was not automatic, and I just assumed that it would stay that way. At any rate, after having found the charge for the third year barely a week after it was entered I immediately informed them of their mistake and requested a refund. I didn't request a refund for the previous year because I just figured "well, they got me on that one," and it would be sort of messy to point out that I had no idea I even was a member for a year.

Anyway, if some software glitch inadvertently had set my renewal to automatic and I noticed it only a week into the subscription year I figured any ethical company would surely acknowledge the mistake, and issue me an immediate refund--I mean, if their intentions were the least bit honorable. But instead these guys played "gotcha." They claimed that due to their "terms of service" clause I'm not due any refund even though I pointed out the unauthorized charge within a short time. Yeah, it's hard to prove that I set renewal to manual way back when. But if that weren't basically just a cash cow for a scam, wouldn't my word be good enough? Unless, of course, they know they aren't providing any actual value...

"Your money are belong to us," they say.

So basically they ripped me off for one additional year, and are set to rip me off for a third, all because somewhere along the line they set my renewal from manual to automatic. I mean, doesn't the fact that they're playing "gotcha" with my money sort of suggest that they're not quite the customer-friendly and helpful service they claim to be? It's not as though they've ever actually given me anything for that dough, mind you. They just managed to get a hook into it, like some Nigerian bank scam, or Kojo Annan's "real good thing" at the UN.

So, what think you? Do I have a right to expect a refund? How much? One, or two years? Pain and suffering? A free trip to the Carribean? A lifetime supply of Hennessy?

I know this will garner minimal interest, but here's my email reply to their "gotcha" note:

Dear Florence:

No that won't do. I did not authorize the payment, and I also never authorized changing my renewal to automatic in the first place. YOU DID THAT ON YOUR OWN. I don't know whether it was done inadvertently through some sort of software glitch, or deliberately, but if the latter that constitutes fraud. And I would add one more thing; since you're clearly reluctant to refund my money after being informed that I did not authorize the renewal barely a week after you extracted the it, it's reasonable to infer that you changed my renewal to automatic deliberately. Not proof, mind you, but a reasonable inference based on your lack of good faith. Seriously, you just figured I wouldn't notice, right? Especially since I haven't noticed before. I wonder how many others have been in this boat?

I simply don't authorize automatic renewals for this sort, and since I didn't regard Classmates as having provided any value I would not have renewed "manually." In addition, you claim below to have removed me from automatic renewal yourselves. The instant I discovered this sitution from my bank I changed that switch (back) to manual myself, so your claim to have made the change is simply disinformation, unless, in the mean time, you had changed my renewal back to automatic! I have informed you well within a reasonable period about "your mistake," and it would be only ethical good faith for you to refund my fee without the need for further action from my bank, or from me.

Besides informing my bank and making a formal complaint I intend to post the details of this situation on a "blog" that's currently among the top thirty in the country, with over 10,000 hits per day. I may be overestimating the impact of this "infant media" but it's at least possible that, by bringing this to the attention of those few people, we might add more than $39 to your cost of business. And if there are others out there who have been similarly hoodwinked perhaps we can perform some sort of public service.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 08, 2005

Application to Become a HuffPo Blogger

This is one of the true mysteries of the Internet. Why in the world would they post this on the Huffington Post? It just rattles the foundations... I'd actually post the article itself, but it's more than a tad offensive, in a "That's no lady; that's my sister!" sort of way.

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The Sum of All Threats

A reader recently emailed me a link to this post on The Malcontent asking me to comment on the appearance of Marc Siegal on The Daily Show. Siegal is the author of a book that claims we're systematically over-estimating the threat of terrorism. Well, that depends, but it certainly is possible to over-estimate a threat. And it's somewhat ironic that the Moveon folks are currently suggesting that we underestimated the threat to New Orleans, now that the cat has escaped the bag.

Awhile ago an opinion research team conducted a survey in small-town Iowa, asking the question: "What security issue is the most urgent?" (This was long before 9-11.) Of the options, which included terrorism, bad weather, a crop blight, and a disease attacking livestock, the one most frequently mentioned was "crime in the streets." This was rural Iowa, remember. So the interviewer asked a followup: "What crime, in what streets?" Turns out they were afraid of crime in the streets of Chicago, because most read Chicago papers like The Trib or watched Chicago TV News. They were definitely over-estimating that threat, and probably under-estimating the threats to their livelihood from crop blight and livestock disease.

But the point here, upon which Dr. Siegal may have only a weak grasp, has to do with living under conditions of uncertainty. The issue isn't whether we're over-estimating the first-order threat to ourselves as individuals. That may or may not be true, but about the most one can say is that we might be over-estimating it. We don't know and we may not ever be able to know until the odds become unity, and our challenge is that we have to make a rational tradeoff between the consequences of over and under-estimation. The methodological issue is that with terrorism it's better to over-estimate than under-estimate the threat, because it's a Beta situation involving rational concern about Type II error. The point, in a Beta situation, is to minimize the odds of a false sense of security. It's precisely analogous to a concern about false acquittal. Under conditions of high uncertainty that, almost by definition, means there will be more false alarms, or in the criminal justice analogy, more false convictions. It's just the nature of the beast, and we have to learn to live with it.

There are also two components to a threat assessment: the odds that it will happen and the consequences if it does. Ideally we want low odds of occurrence and minimal consequences. Some things have low odds of occurrence, but catastrophic consequence, like the Earth being hit by a planet-killing asteroid or the eruption of a caldera volcano. You multiply the odds of occurrence times some standardized estimate of the first-order consequences, to obtain the threat. There are also primary and secondary threats, and the secondary threats have to be considered and summed. If you don't know the odds of occurrence you produce a range of threat assessments and decide what you can live with. The first-order threat from a caldera volcano eruption would be to the people within, say, a 500-mile radius. The second-order threat might be several orders of magnitude greater, impacting the entire globe, but it may also be harder to predict because the number of variables, as well as their uncertainty, are greater. Right now just about everyone thinks we ought to have planned for the possibility of a Cat 5 hurricane hitting New Orleans, but the ex-post odds of that occurrence were actually pretty low. According to the Corps of Egineers, less than 1 in 200 in any given year. Still, it's a Beta situation if the consequences of a false sense of security are greater than the consequences of a false sense of alarm. See?

Finally, there are the game-theoretical considerations which go beyond the damage assessments of the first and second-order consequences. These apply to so-called "natural disasters" to some extent because human reactions are involved (looting for example) but they're far more important to man-made disasters. For instance, one consequence of a failure to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack would be that the enemy might assume a low cost to themselves of followup attacks. Or, in Wretchard's Third Conjecture, the consequences of a tit-for-tat slow escalation after a terrorist WMD attack is that both sides would suffer catastrophic losses in a drawn out doomsday scenario. In that case it becomes less costly to initiate an all-out nuclear strike on all possible enemy targets, rather that adopting a tit-for-tat approach. Ironically, you save more lives by being merciless. The consequences are far greater than a few piddling hurricanes, probably exceeding the consequences of a caldera eruption.

And that's the real nature of the threat we face, almost universally misunderstood and discounted. That's the ultimate "sum of all fears," and there's just no rational way to minimize it except to do everything in our power to ensure that things don't go that far. We don't have the option of reducing the catastrophic consequences, so the only thing we can do is reduce the odds of occurrence. Because if we don't, our options just run out. It is possible for a situation to arise in which the only defense against genocide, is genocide.

What we fear is a real possibility, so it's not irrational to bring as much of it under our direct and indirect control as possible. And just about the most rational and far-sighted strategy we can adopt now to avoid that awful choice later is to sew the seeds of liberal democracy in place of authoritarianism and tyranny. There is naturally some uncertainty about whether the strategy is necessary, and there's even more uncertainty about whether it will work. But make no mistake, we have the best of all possible strategies, and the only question left is whether we have the best of all possible implementations.

Seriously, that's the whole of it.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2005

The Color of Character

I was pretty sure, from the way it began, that Bill Whittle's latest would make me even more depressed than I already am. But for some reason it had the opposite effect. I feel beleagured by pink, but perhaps that's just part of the initiation into grey. One of many strangely uplifting passages:

So, on one hand, we have a very blue city – New York – confronted, out of the clear morning of a perfect fall day, with no warning – with a terror attack, and they march toward the sounds of screams and falling bodies and die by the hundreds. One the other hand, we have New Orleans law enforcement – also blue – whining about wet shoes and helping themselves to the happy period of lawlessness that followed an event that had been expected for no less than seventy-two hours.

In New York, we had a governor who got every available resource on the ground as fast as it could get there, and in Louisiana we have a governor who...cried. Governor, your job is to not cry. Your job is to be strong. We have plenty of civilians crying. You want to cry, cry in the car on the way home like everybody else did four years ago. Crying Governors, race-baiting mayors and looting police do not a Finest Hour make.

In New Orleans we have a mayor who left some 400-500 buses sitting fueled and underwater in the Ray Nagin Memorial Motor Pool saying that evil white conservative America was selling out his people within 24 hours of the catastrophe, from a safe and dry and adequately toileted location, while four years ago we had a Mayor who ran to the site of the disaster so quickly it is a full-blown miracle he was not killed when a building collapsed literally on top of his magnificent, combed-over head.

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

Posted by Demosophist at 08:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Case of Tranquil Blindness at APSA

Yesterday I attended a panel at the APSA convention, chaired by Robert A. Pape, with the grandiose title: Suicide Bombing, Counter Terrorism and Mobilizing a New Generation of Bombers. From the title one might be forgiven for thinking the authors were sponsored by Al Qaeda or Hamas, but of course they meant to be ironic. And what, you might ask, does irony really contribute to such a serious topic? Nothing, I should think. But it probably makes the researchers feel better about their rather thin analysis. As one might expect (and with a couple of exceptions) it was a Bush-bashing party.

And it was "a party." The panelists spent most of their time gathered in front of the stage, before the session actually got rolling, in a party atmosphere of facial expressions and gestures reminiscent of nothing so much as haughty self-righteousness, complete with winks, inside jokes, and self-congratulatory asides slyly delivered across the backs of their hands into a companion's ear.

In addition to the Chair, Robert A. Pape (Chicago) and discussant Mohammed Hafez (Kansas), the panel included Nichole Argo (MIT), Assaf Moghadam (Harvard), Ami Pedahzur, et al (Haifa), and the inscrutable comedy stylings of Mia Bloom, with a small gum chewing entourage (Cincinnati). One can hardly blame Mia for feeling festive, since she's been assured by The Daily Show (her preferred source of news) that things are currently going very badly for the Americans in Iraq. Somebody pop a cork!

Now, the reason I went to this panel is that I think this topic critically important, so I really didn't think all the elbow-in-the-ribs cocktail party stuff was appropriate. It's unseemly, to say the least. No matter what their views of our current policies, they owe the topic some respect. But apparently these people spend their lives huddled around a small pile of kindling that represents "the data," and they have personal bonds reminiscent of those held by paleolithic anthropologists, so maybe I'm too harsh. With exceptions (the Haifa group and Mohammed Hafez) their demeanor, while delivering their findings, was something close to a caricature of the 18th Century French High Court of Louis XVI. Their noses were parked at the North Pole while their heads seemed to revolve around a polar axis. How do they manage that without putting a crick in their necks? I've seen people adopt this affectation because of bifocals, but as far as I could tell none of these people were wearing such devices, and since they weren't reading there'd have been no reason for the head tilt anyway. So, one simply has to conclude that it was an affected superiority that compelled them to look down their noses at most of their audience, even if they happened to be at the same physical level. They needed the elevation, for some reason.

But what puzzled me the most wasn't these dramaturgical embellishments, or the clubbishness and lack of respect for the topic or their audience, but the fact that they so consistently missed the point of their own observations and findings.

For instance, one of the things upon which they seem to agree was the notion that a culture like that of Arabia creates a kind or "resonance chamber," within which extremism builds. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. It's exactly what I've been thinking for about three years now. But none of the panelists seemed to grasp the obvious implication of this observation: that unless the resonance dynamic is broken by some outside intervention extremism will simply mount inexorably, as it has since the seeds of Islamism were planted by the Nazis during the 1940s and were watered and fed by additional infusions from the European Counter-enlightenment, including the ideas of Hegel, Heidegger, and the far more stylish deconstructionists from whom Qutb ripped off so much, without attribution. So given such a pervasive dynamic, why did they not see that an interruption in the feedback resonance was the only way to keep the wave from rising? Well, they weren't looking, that's why.

Because in spite of what they say, their overall approach is to view the current conflict as a war against terrorism, rather than a war against a totalitarian ideology or movement. In other words it's a war on a tactic, like a war on frontal assaults or flanking movements. Naturally, if you're just fighting a tactic all you really need to do is use your superior logic to appeal to the practitioners, or make some crafty concession, and the whole damned headache will just evaporate. How "French" is that?

In spite of the implications of the resonance chamber Jihadists are just people with... grievances. So naturally all the Iraq War did was provoke some of these grieving people. Instead of hearing out their tale of woe and offering the proper magic carrot we blew it by regarding them as (ghasp)... enemies! Mia Bloom actually claimed that going so far as to kill terrorists won't work because it only pisses off their relatives. So the threat isn't the specific danger posed by human bombs, but getting their kith and kin more P-Oed than they already are.

Imagine what your career would look like if everyone you met had, as their highest priority, the need to avoid making you angry! Would any blank check be large enough?

Dear counter-terrorism researchers: Wake the heck up!

Now, there were some exceptions to this general preference for fantasy. Mohammed Hafez seemed pretty level-headed. Even though he admitted to voting for Kerry he didn't seem to think it a stellar idea to just leave Iraq in the hands of the "insurgents." And the Haifa team, headed by Ami Pedhazur, had some really substantial analysis of terrorist networks. Their research seems to point to the same conclusion reached by Ronald Wintrobe (through a much different route) that the suicide bombers are, themselves, just a resource. They're like bullets. They're peripheral to the "hubs" of the network, so controlling them isn't really the key to anything much. But this insight seemed lost on everyone else, including Pape.

So deep is the conviction that the source of conflict lies in grievance rather than a strategic plan for power that these folks can't even draw the proper conclusions from their own findings and insights. Yet they're high-fiving as though they've found the motherload of understanding in the Terror War.

And not a single person on the panel seemed to notice that it was the first anniversary of Beslan.

Update: I neglected to mention a statement by Nichole Argo to the effect that suicide terrorists are "just like us," meaning that they are socio-economically middle class, educated, etc. That struck me as improbable, although she is supposed to be the expert. Later Pape, in his summary, acknowledged that only about 10-15% of the suicide bombers have been identified, and there's no way to tell if those were a representative sample. Now, I don't know what the background of these revealed bombers was, or the roughly 85% who are still unknown, but if these were people from the same socio-economic background as the rest of us it sort of undermines the notion that terrorism is the consequence of class conflict, or the result of exploitation or deprivation. But the main point is that she was willing to state something as fact, which is simply still in doubt. We don't even know enough about suicide terrorists in Iraq, for instance, to make a definitive statement about what part of the Arab world they come from.

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

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

September 03, 2005

A Not-So-Sunny Day in the Capital

I won't elaborate, but I'm now completely convinced that we're in a war with "the liberals" (meaning, the Social Democrats) just as much as we're in a war with "irreconcibable Islam." I'm also beginning to think that, at least as an organizing principle, we ought to start pushing to change the "working Capital" of the US from DC to Omaha, Nebraska. And it's not that I hate Omaha all that much, but it's a lot closer to the "middle" of the country than any place else I can think of, in just about every way I can imagine.

And the parking lots are epic.

Keep DC as a symbolic totem.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:50 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack