December 31, 2005

Yet Another "Pro-Torture" Post

Bluto has a provocative post below, about the actions of a British diplomat who compromised national security for the sake of his personal convictions about the use of intelligence obtain through torture. This fellow starts off by framing the position of his opponents as "pro-torture," so he's already dealt himself out of the debate by virtue of the fact that he doesn't frame it honestly. (Boy, was that a shock!)

I've always been a bit suspicious of the argument that "torture doesn't work," mainly because it's the kind of thing we'd like to believe so it'd be understandable if we applied an empirical filter that gives us that result. It's the sort of thing that happens all the time with methodoligally flawed scholarship. I'm guessing it does work, as does the occasional credible threat of torture. The question is whether there are alternatives that always work as well. If it genuinely didn't work then we wouldn't need a ban on it, we could just apply principles of professionalism to keep sadists out of the ranks of interrogators, and that'd be that.

Moreover, to some people practicing their piano lessons or studying calculus constitutes "torture." Yes, that's not what we're talking about here... but who can doubt that we would be talking about that eventually given the sort of wishful thinking one-sided "virtue" that dominates left-talk nowadays.

There's an argument for regime change in Uzbekistan, of course. Unfortunately most of those on the left can't bring themselves to use it, because it's the same one that justifies intervention in Iraq. But ultimately the paradigm is pretty simple, and it lies behind both the arguments against state torture and the arguments favoring the displacement of tyrants: respressive regimes breed group social pathologies, including terrorism. And there's also no doubt that the credible threat of a military intervention might serve to soften or replace a tyrannical regime once in awhile.

Actually the resolution I've proposed at various times would probably result in fewer instances of torture, or even near-torture, than would bans like those McCain supports. If the situation is sufficiently grave that you can obtain an uncoerced volunteer from your own service to undergo exactly the same treatment then "torture" is justified by the circumstances and odds of success. If you can't, then the situation isn't grave enough to justify it. That leaves the option open in extreme circumstances, reduces the overall instance of torture and cruel and unusual treatment, and gives us the moral high ground. But it would also evoke a lot of complaints from the morally bankrupt left who are less interested in results than in the appearance of superficial virtue.

For what it's worth it was none other than Cleveland Amory, animal rights activist and darling of the left, who first proposed something like the above. He suggested that the triggering codes that allowed a global thermonuclear launch be implanted next to the heart of an innocent person who would accompany the President at all times. Then, if the President were compelled by circumntances to order the use of our nuclear arsenal the only way he could do so would be by using a very sharp knife to "surgically remove the codes" himself, from the chest of a living victim (with no "help" from other service personnel). It's completely "barbaric" of course, but it reflects the barbarism of the choice and it therefore seemed entirely ethical. Score one for Cleveland. Today's "left" is just not made of the same stuff.

(Cross-posted to The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 07:58 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 30, 2005

Nose Drama: Part of God's Plan?

I snore pretty loudly, or so others tell me. I've never heard it, myself. However sometimes, just as I'm falling asleep my nasal passages emit sounds like a poorly tuned reed instrument leaving me the impression, in my half-dream stupor, that there's a crowd cheering close by, or that some poor soul next door is screaming his bloody head off in agony. I usually awake with a start. I think the muscles that generally hold those passages open, relax just enough to turn the whole nasal chamber into a sound synthesizer that hits my half-conscious mind with windy reverberations it interprets as shrieks, howls and shouts. Once I even heard elephants charging and several times Mary Baker Eddy yelled at me to turn off the damn TV, which I often leave on because the sound is off anyway.

How do I know it's Mrs. Eddy? Well, she has a voice a like Louis Farrakhan's. It's the result of being dead for nearly a century coupled with the self imposed moral burden of having stolen many of her spiritual notions from the Freemasons, without attribution. So, she thinks it's her job to keep me on the narrow regarding my exploitation of major electrical appliances. Or it could just be my deep-seated religious guilt, a legacy of childhood.

Come to think of it I don't recall ever hearing this nasal racket before I turned 50, so it could be something God designed into us for its entertainment value, just to break up the monotony as things get really tedious in the autumn of life. Well, that's my theory. It could also be adenoids, I guess.

(Cross-posted to The Jawa Report)

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December 29, 2005

The Pedagogical Role of Peers.

In the comment section of a recent post about an impending "Intra-Generational Conflict" one reader (IM) observes:

I call these trustfund babies the "rage against your allowance" generation.

VDH sees something similar, but afflicting the entire culture in "The Plague of Success:"

What explains this paradox of public disappointment over things that turn out better than anticipated? Why are we like children who damn their parents for not providing yet another new toy when the present one is neither paid for nor yet out of the wrapper?

To be fair though, the "younger generation" seems able to resist the flawed perspective presented by Google and Al Gore's Current TV or Jon Stewart's The Daily Show a lot better than one might expect. In fact, better than several preceding generations. Those earlier cohorts often seem to think The Daily Show is the zenith of western rational culture, and believe anything it ridicules is, by definition, ridiculous. For instance, in a recent episode Stewart thought it hilariously ironic to point out that the government of South Africa had become "more progressive than the US" because it had legalized same-sex marriage. I'm not sure that qualifies as ironic though, since South Africa has had an avowed Marxist as President in the recent past. (Mandela may have disavowed some of his earlier statements for the sake of convenience, but his deviation from doctrine was superficial.) So there's actually nothing very funny or ironic about the state of affairs Stewart spotlighted, which would be obvious to anyone with even a residue of critical faculties surviving the indoctrination.

Similarly, VDH thinks the problem is that we don't learn history with any degree of accuracy, so we don't have much perspective:

The past is either not taught enough, or presented wrongly as a therapeutic exercise to excise our purported sins.

Either way the result is the same: a historically ignorant populace who knows nothing about past American wars and their disappointments — and has absolutely no frame of reference to make sense of the present other than its own mercurial emotional state in any given news cycle.

But this generation ultimately must pay attention to their peers to a far greater extent than did those of us who failed to welcome home the Vietnam vets (or who exploited their homecoming for its political value). This generation has a political and cultural voice that can respond to Mother Sheehan's questions before she even asks, so the indoctrination cycle is broken by a persistent, critical, and usually fairly subdued interruption. The door may be opening rather than closing, on a more historically conscious future.

(Cross-posted to The Jawa Report)

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December 27, 2005

Big Bam Boom Ban

David Bernstein thinks that Israel will almost certainly use force to prevent or hinder Iran's development of nuclear weapons, based on the public opinion numbers:

Given that the anti-Iranian consensus is so solid even on the Left, I would be very surprised if the Israeli government fails to follow through on its promise to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic weapons--assuming, of course, that Iran isn't stopped by other international forces.

But can Iran be stopped now, or are all efforts futile? This BBC article notes that the US has recently supplied Israel with 500 "bunker busters." These are conventional weapons, and the assumption is that they'd have minimal impact if the nuclear development facilities have been sufficiently hardened. Recently the US Congress, in its boundless wisdom (joined by Senator All-Over-the-Map Kerry) put the kaibosh on the US development of "nuclear bunker busters." At the time a number of bloggers noted that this ban wouldn't necessarily have the intended impact of reducing the liklihood of nuclear weapons use. Does anyone pay attention to Game Theory any more?

Fred Kaplan, in Slate, thinks we're probably at the mercy of whether the mullahs prefer carrots, because our sticks are of little avail:

But if the Iranians stay their course, if they don't want benefits and assurances, if all they really want is nukes, there might be nothing anybody can do.

Well yeah, we're all helpless before historical necessity, but nothing? Really? I'm not a weapons expert, but it seems to me that if you put together enough toothpicks you can do a lot of damage. Provided we know where the nuclear development facilities are located there's not really very much the Iranians could do to prevent Israel (or somebody) from taking them out. So their only real protection is secrecy. This, of course, is not the conventional wisdom... which may be all the cover that's necessary. Again, this is just pure speculation, but I should think that precision rather than firepower is the name of the game. While it's true that a conventional bunker buster would not be able to take out a deeply hardened target, it doesn't seem plausible that a series of five hundred strikes drilling down through the earth's crust with an average deviation from target of only a few inches could fail to eventually blow the smithereens out of anything inside the subterranean trajectory. Is this really a technical problem American and Israeli scientists can't possibly lick? Moreover, the deeper they go to reach the buried facilities the less likely the collateral damage would trigger The American Conservative's "nightmare scenario". In this case (in terms of raw explosive power) less might well be more.

Just speculating, of course. If anyone knows more about this I bow to your superior knowledge. On balance, I'm with David. And the mullahs are in for a lesson.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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An Intra-Generational Clash

This article, from the Chicago Sun Times explains why so many of these folks seem like such brats:

Harris, 19, is in her second year at Loyola University. But she has no desire to distance herself from her parents now that she no longer lives at home. Nor does she plan to rely less as a college student on her parents for help or advice.

"Something happens, your first thought is call Mom,'' she says. "Mom will fix it.''

The record number of students now at colleges and universities are bringing with them something not seen as much on campus in generations past: their parents. The current generation of students, experts say, increasingly chooses to maintain strong bonds with their parents. With cell phones and e-mail, they're able to stay in touch to a degree not seen among previous generations. The strings are so tight some experts have come up with a name for these college students -- the "coddled generation.''

I'm sure there are some good things about remaining close to your parents, but the contrast with the folks in this LA Times article by Robert Kaplan (who are from the same generation, ironically) could not be starker:

Regardless of whether you support or oppose the U.S. engagement in Iraq, you should be aware that that country has had a startling effect on a new generation of soldiers often from troubled backgrounds, whose infantry training has provided no framework for building democracy from scratch.

At a Thanksgiving evangelical service, one NCO told the young crowd to cheers: "The Pilgrims during the first winter in the New World suffered a 54% casualty rate from disease and cold. That's a casualty rate that would render any of our units combat ineffective. But did the Pilgrims sail back to England? Did they give up? No. This country isn't a quitter. It doesn't withdraw."

I see trouble brewin' when Group I clashes with Group II. More at The Belmont Club.

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December 22, 2005

One of the current arguments

One of the current arguments for the McCain "anti-torture statute" is that if there were ever a "ticking bomb" scenario the people in charge of interrogation would have the option of sacrificing their careers and futures for the common good, choosing to disobey the law in order to save thousands (h/t: Dan at WoC). Although I see some problems with this argument, especially in marginal cases or situations where the interrogators don't know there's a ticking bomb, it seems somewhat convincing. But in the analogous case where an individual deliberately chose to break a national security law "for the good of all" (Daniel Ellsberg's leaking the Pentagon Papers) the authorities chose not to prosecute. This was a mistake, regardless of whether you think Ellsberg's actions justified. I'll explain why.

Wretchard suggests that, at a minimum, two factors ought to be weighed in determining whether this self-appointment as public guardian is appropriate: the competence and responsibility of the "public" agents:

No one is above the law and the President's actions will be judged in the manner provided. But it's also important to ask -- and the answer is of more than academic interest -- when and to what extent an individual or corporation can divulge a secret military operation on the basis of a self-appointed duty. The mantle of secrecy is not absolute and few would argue that German officers with a knowledge of the Holocaust should keep it quiet out of a regard for operational security. But the wiretapping case, as Orin Kerr points out, is much more marginal. Two factors are probably relevant in making that determination. The first is competence. To what extent is an individual whistleblower or organization like the New York Times competent to judge what operations of war should or should not remain secret? The second is responsibility. Assuming that an individual or news organization were qualified to weigh operational security requirements against their duty to inform, who takes responsibility for any deaths or injury that may result?

The set of documents that Ellsberg revealed were actually part of an attempt by the Pentagon and the Johnson administration to police itself--to deal with the groupthink phenomenon by commissioning a rigorous review of history. And Ellsberg was commissioned to facilitate that process of self-correction with the understanding that he'd keep his big yap shut. He betrayed that trust, and paid no penalty. If anyone paid a penalty it was the Vietnamese who were left behind in the bug out, and the Cambodians who were left to the mercy of the Khmer Rouge. So one could argue that Ellsberg made the wrong decision, and lots of people have made that argument (including me). But had he paid the penalty for having made the decision, whether right or wrong, the institutions involved would have remained uncorrupted.

So the pro-McCain argument is simply that some corruption is necessary and good, because that's where a pardon would leave us.

Now clearly, the NYT and the person who leaked the telephone surveillance information (whoever he [she] is and whatever his [her] reasons) thought of themselves as the moral equivalent of Daniel Ellsberg. Their authority was self-appointed, as would be the case were an interrogator to take upon himself the onus of torturing an Al Qaeda detainee who might have knowledge of a WMD attack. And given the realistic possibility of a pardon for a correct decision the interrogator would have to weigh the odds that there might not be a pot-o-gold at the end of the rainbow, leaving him in the lurch. Would the public be sufficiently understanding to take into account the fact that he rightly assumed, under conditions of uncertainty, that the threat outweighed the laws against torture, regardless of whether the threat turned out to be real? The public's reaction to the threat of Saddam's WMD suggests they just aren't that wise. So, such an officer's decision process is corrupted not by the possibility that he might be wrong, but by the possibility that he might be right. And this compels him to weigh the situation in an unnatural way, side-slipped by the possibility that the public would grant amnesty and hero status if his decision were perceived to be justified.

It seems to me that such an upright officer would find that duty compels him to ignore those odds, and simply assume the worst: that he'd be prosecuted. Moreover, to preserve the integrity of the institutions the possibility of pardon ought to be removed completely, though that might be legally difficult since a President retains the right of pardon. It seems appropriate that the interrogator who chooses to torture could count on being prosecuted whether his assessment of the threat was accurate or not. Duty would then be in complete accord with law and principle.

To draw an analogy, there'd be no Christianity if Pilate had decided that Jesus' willingness to suffer and die for the sake of his faith absolved him. There'd be no Christianity, because there'd have been no sacrifice. That would have been a sentimental ending to the story. In fact, this is pretty close to the version of the story that appears in the Koran. It's a sentimental favorite, but it's also inherently corrupt.

Sorry, but that's the way it is.

So the mistake that was made those many years ago, during the Vietnam War, was to grant Ellsberg a pass. That failure to act by the Johnson administration corrupted our institutions, and we're still paying the price for that corruption. And the only way the mistake can be corrected is... to correct it. Regardless of whether the outing of the President's order regarding the telephone surveillance was justified, the only way to reestablish the integrity of our institutions is to make every attempt to apprehend, prosecute, convict, and sentence the leaker.

Sorry, but that's the way it is.

And if, for some reason, we can't bring ourselves to do that... then we ought to oppose the McCain statute and seek some sort of specific guidance for when torture is allowed. Because we're probably too sentimental to get this right.

Update: A reader in the comment section of the Jawa Report observes:

You desperately need to read history. Ellsberg was prosecuted and faced life in prison. During the case, President Nixon even went so far as to interview the presiding judge of the case to replace Hoover at FBI. The case had to be thrown out because Nixon's secret goons burgled the office of Ellsberg's doctor to get dirt on him. Ellsberg leaked the documents knowing that he might face life in jail. It was an act of honor because he was willing to pay the consequences.

Contrary to popular belief I'm not passing judgment on whether Ellsberg deserves to be sanctified, arthough I've been told by people who worked with him at RAND that he "was a cowboy," and S.M. Lipset suggested to RAND management that he be terminated long before the leak had occurred. Note that I said above that the authorities "chose not to prosecute." Mea culpa, in the strict sense that it's more accurate to say they "chose not to bring the prosecution to fruition." And the authorities, in this case, were mainly in the Federal Court. I don't see how this invalditates my point. In fact it's reinforced.

On June 13, 1971, the New York Times began publishing a series of articles based on the study. The Justice Dept. obtained a court injunction against further publication on national security grounds, but the Supreme Court ruled (June 30) that constitutional guarantees of a free press overrode other considerations, and allowed further publication. The government indicted (1971) Daniel Ellsberg, a former government employee who made the Pentagon Papers available to the New York Times, and Anthony J. Russo on charges of espionage, theft, and conspiracy. On May 11, 1973, a federal court judge dismissed all charges against them because of improper government conduct. (Source: Infoplease)

I'm suggesting that the failure to prosecute Ellsberg successfully corrupted American institutions. If anything, the need to "dig up dirt" on Ellsberg in order to convict him of a crime for which he was manifestly guilty suggests that by the time the Nixon administration was in office the instutitions of the country, including the Court, had already been severely corrupted by sentimentality, and by the reaction against it. I don't see how it's possible to more convincingly make the case that this dynamic currupts the decision-making process. In other words, the attempt by the Nixon administration to move sentimentality over to their own side by finding out irrelevant details of Ellsberg's life was just further evidence of corruption.

Whether or not Ellberg's leak was justified, what almost everyone forgets is that he only leaked what the government itself and found about their own actions, and having commissioned such a work of self-reflection apparently just got them crucified.

Do you really expect them to repeat the exercise?

The actions that produced the Pentagon Papers were methodologically sound, but Ellsberg's actions ensured that no other administration could afford to follow the same sound route. It might well be argued that this was precisely why the Bush adminstration never took the methodologically sound path of attempting to disprove their own assumptions about Saddam's WMD stockpiles. The threat of a leak prevented them from taking the risk.

I reiterate, Ellsberg should have been convicted. Sorry, but it's the truth.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Response to Gerard

I recently attempted to post the comment below to The American Digest's excellent post about "Intellectual Insanity in American life," but was blocked by Gerard's not-so-excellent Blacklist software. (The same thing happens to me on Bill Whittle's blog.) At any rate, you be the judge of whether this post was appropriately blacklisted. Oh, the irony...


Excellent essay! By way of exposing a few cracks in the bubble's surface the unremitting persecution of Dr. Jean Cobbs at Virginia State University by its thuggish President, Eddie Moore (primarily because she, a black social scientist, had the gall to ride in the Republican parade), will soon result in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the school, and has already resulted in official censure from American Association of University Professionals (not exactly the most conservative organization on the planet). For a quick backgrounder check my blog here, and also check the FIRE website here. And don't miss the ongoing discussion of these and related issues at the National Association of Scholars.

So, not knowing how to self-correct, Eddie and his pals then went after some of Jean's supporters in the VSU faculty, most notably a tenured physics prof named Carey Stronach (currently the President and Board Chairman of the Virginia Association of Scholars). Moore started by firing several untenured physicists on Carey's staff who were critical to a large research grant awarded to VSU by the US Navy. The Navy then cancelled the contract, resulting not only in the loss of a great deal of money to the university, but cheating several physics students out of the fellowships they desperately needed to obtain their education. And that too could result in a lawsuit, as well as some sort of reaction from the Virginia legislature, which isn't terribly happy with the way Eddie's administration of VSU is hemorrhaging money.


Posted by Demosophist at 12:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

Three Best Movies of All Time

Number One: Groundhog Day.

Number Two: When Harry Met Sally.

Number Three: Local Hero.

Recently, number three moved up to number two displacing Local Hero to number three (which had been number one until Bill Murray's masterpiece).

Number Four: Head Over Heels [Renamed inappropriately: Chilly Scenese of Winter] (Fatally flawed by an ideologically contrived ending.)

Posted by Demosophist at 11:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

New CSIS Report on the Iraq War

Tony Cordesman, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies has a new report on the Iraq War (h/t: Dan, at WoC). Some key excerpts:

The insurgency so far lacks any major foreign support other than limited amounts of money, weapons, and foreign supporters. It does not have the support of most Shi'ites and Kurds, who make up some 70-80% of the population. If Iraqi forces become effective in large numbers, if the Iraqi government demonstrates that its success means the phase out of Coalition forces, and if the Iraqi government remains inclusive in dealing with Sunnis willing to come over to its side, the insurgency should be defeated over time -- although some cadres could then operate as diehards at the terrorist level for a decade or more.

Apparently he didn't get the memo about the conflict being unwinnable, but he does genuflect in that general direction:

To succeed, the US must plan for failure as well as success. It must see the development or escalation of insurgency as a serious risk in any contingency were (sic) it is possible, and take preventive and ongoing steps to prevent or limit it. This is an essential aspect of war planning and no Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, service chief, or unified and specified commander can be excused for failing to plan and act in this area. Responsibility begins directly at the top, and failures at any other level pale to insignificance by comparison.

Well I don't have the endowments of Cordesman, but let me offer a few observations. First, one must assume that he's not suggesting we "plan to fail," although some will probably accuse him of that. Rather, what he suggests is that our war planning is too infused with "happy talk," and is therefore not realistic about the capabilities of this enemy. Although I have a great deal of confidence in our military, it's possible that Cordesman is right and we aren't taking the threat of "failure" seriously enough. Which raises the next issue.

There's a lot of difference between "planning for failure" in the sense of having contingencies should Iraq, or the Ummah, descend into civil war, and addressing the specific set of conditions that could lead to civil war. Conflating the two is like saying that knowing what you intend to do after the divorce is the same as dealing with the marital difficulties that could lead to divorce. Cordesman seems to imply the second meaning, but the first is also important. After all, Victor Davis Hanson doesn't think a civil war in the Middle East necessarily the worst that could happen. And if Hanson is right then what we ought to consider is what role we might play in such a war, since the consequences are probably not something we could just afford to ignore. Whether or not we "fail" in that sense isn't entirely up to us. The onus rests partly on the Iraqis.

But finally, the phrase "planning for failure" just doesn't strike this reader as appropriate to war strategy or tactics. I'm fairly certain that Eisenhower considering Project Overlord, and Grant when he made the right turn to steal a march on Lee, were both fully cognizant of the risks and contingencies involved. But I'm also pretty sure they never used the phrase "planning for failure" to describe how they dealt with those contingencies. The words don't seem to emerge from the lexicon of military planning, but from the world of diplomacy. And if we're in a war then diplomacy has already failed in the first instance. So what we're really talking about is not "failure" but cascading failures, and whether the cascade can ultimately be halted before reaching the third conjecture.

And that's the whole point behind going into Iraq in the first place. The next plateau in the cascade would be a civil war, but even that's not as bad as it gets.

[Update: The link to Three Conjectures has been corrected. Apparently the old links I had to that series have been degraded as a result of some sort of Blogger glitch.]

Posted by Demosophist at 12:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

80% Solution

I've been kind of demoralized recently for a number of reasons, so haven't been posting very much. Not the least of those reasons is the mind-numbingly aggressive schadenfreude of the so-called "democratic" party as it tries to drum up any excuse it can to shove it to the Commander in Chief. For instance, Fred Barnes has a piece in the Weekly Standard suggesting that the Iraqi poll item that has become the favorite talking point of the cut-and-runners is probably not very informative, for three reasons (h/t: Protein Wisdom):

1. We don't know the "internals," so we don't know whether the poll was representative.
2. The poll results don't reflect other polls that ask an analogous question about support for US presence in Iraq (most of which suggest that the proportion who oppose US presence is much smaller, and their views are also more conditional).
3. The specific wording of this question is ambiguous: “Do you support the presence of coalition forces in Iraq?”

The general rule in designing a survey instrument is that if a question elicits a response frequency in the neighborhood of 80-90 percent then the question is probably too crude to be useful. At the very least you have to ask follow-up questions so that you can cross-tabulate. For instance such follow-ups might try to determine what the respondent defines as "support," and under what conditions that support might change. It also might be interesting to find out what the response to such an ambiguous question might be in S. Korea, Japan or Germany. If similar (and it probably would be similar in S. Korea) would the Democrats now be demanding that we pull out of those countries?

The essence of the issue here, if I might be so bold, is the distinction between democracy (power of the people) and demosophia (wisdom of the people). For, to have a robust democracy able to defend itself and make wise decisions about what course to chart through an uncertain and dangerous future "the people" have to be well-informed. It is therefore ironic that the core case the Democrats make is that the Bush administration misled the American people about the threat posed by Iraq. That's ironic because the present situation seems to remove all doubt that deception within the context of a war that threatens the very security of civilization is central to the Democrats' agenda. They know what's best, so whether "the people" are able to make wise and informed decisions is of little importance provided they can be herded in the "correct" direction.

And it's likely to get worse, because the stakes could not be higher. As Wretchard observed a few weeks ago:

The problem with using words to trump reality is that it wagers everything on a monumental bluff. The mesmerist must carry all before him or be humiliated. A King must be obeyed or lose the throne. There is no middle ground.

And each time the bet is raised the potential loss becomes more catastrophic. Already the public has begun to suspect that things aren't going as badly in Iraq as they've been led to believe, and it's possible for most people to see that the stakes for the US outweigh any wager laid down by the Democrats or MSM. They're a long way from throwing in the towel, though.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:57 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

Feminism and the War on Terror

Recently, on Protein Wisdom, there have been a number of debates about feminism and ways to discuss broad conceptual schools of thought in feminism.  As might be predicted, this has resulted in a great deal of back and forth, but having finally settled on some basic notions and terminology,  the debate has moved on.

So, in the best spirit of a day late and a dollar short, I stumbled across something interesting.  By way of summary, the article discusses what it refers to as Gramscian and Tocquevillian schools of thought about the American experiment.  The Gramscian school refers to the philosophy which is, essentially, tied in to Marxist-Hegelian thought about power relationships and all that good stuff.  The term Tocquevillian refers, essentially, to notions of American exceptionalism.  It is worth noting that while tempting to axiomatically map this on to right and left, the association of the term with political parties is somewhat unreliable.

At any rate, the differing schools of thought map nicely on to different schools of feminism, but more interestingly suggest a relationship with the relationshhip of the left and Islamicists.

As for the different terms for feminism, Jeff prefers the term establishment and post-establishment feminists.

One way to parse the definitions is as Gramscian (for establishment) and Tocquevilian (post-establishment) feminists.  The notion intrigued me, as has interesting implications for the political role that much of feminism has assumed.

Where this lead me is the relationship between these two philosophies is interesting as it has implications for the reaction of Gramscian folk to Islamicists.  For the "you're just the same as those bad guys if you do anything less that pure" sentiment the comparison is sincere - both the Islamicists and Tocquevillian folks are "the same" because of their religiosity and aversion to the Gramscian agenda.  On the other hand, the Islamicisist movement represents "the Other" and therefore must be embraced as part of the effort to overthrow the entrenched privliges of the establishment (ie the west).  For the part of the Tocquevillian folks, they see both the Gramscian and the Islamicists camps as being antithetical to the whole notion of American exceptionalism.

The interesting thing is that it suggests why it is that the most vocal of feminist groups have taken seemingly counterintuitive positions on things like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  At first blush, one would imagine that the stereotypical feminist would support both efforts.  However, the more Gramscian establishment feminists can't quite get over their core revulsion over the strongly Tocquevillian overtones of the Bush administration, in addition to having some degree of innate sympathy for the disenfranchised "Other".

Where this becomes interesting is the inclination of many establishment feminists to focus strongly on the domestic struggles of feminism, rather than spending as much time on the feminist issues on a larger scale.  To do so is to ally themselves with the Tocquevillian neocon approach to foreign policy and implictly ally themselves with anti-Gramscian forces.  So, as a result, they resolve this implicit conflict by redefining their areas of responsibility to match their areas of greatest immediate direct influence and observation.  So, it's not so much a failure to be interested, per se, but rather a way to make the ideological and psychological accounts balance more neatly.

Now before anyone jumps off the deep end here, of course there are a multitude of exceptions, and these aren't even so much broad generalizations, but more a look at the interface of ideology and psychology and how that manifests itself in concrete behaviors.

Posted by Bravo Romeo Delta at 10:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 06, 2005

Excuse the Hiatus, and a Comment Comment

Sorry I haven't been around very much lately. As most of you know I've been working 12 hour days at the American Red Cross, and it's still going on. I'm piling up lots of ideas, to be expressed as soon as conditions change, but until then posting will be occasional at best.

In addition, I've finally had to turn on Typekey registration because I don't have time to manage the increasingly common comment spam. Hope this isn't too inconvenient for folks... but it was bound to happen eventually.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack