Saturday, June 07, 2003

No. Really? I Never Would Have Guessed.  

Some Analysts of Iraq Trailers Reject Germ Use
American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs. In interviews over the last week, they said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.

"Everyone has wanted to find the 'smoking gun' so much that they may have wanted to have reached this conclusion," said one intelligence expert who has seen the trailers and, like some others, spoke on condition that he not be identified. He added, "I am very upset with the process."

Friday, June 06, 2003

Berio: A Tree Is Best Measured When It's Down.  

Luciano Berio died recently. He was one of the greatest living composers. In the 50's/60's the European avant-garde revolved around three people: Stockhausen, the mad genius; Boulez, the man who could hear a pin drop in Carnegie Hall and tell you the pitch; and Berio, the most achingly human and approachable. If you don't know his music, start with Sinfonia. I always loved another piece of his, written for his first wife, Cathy Berberian, which was based on a soliloquy from Ulysses. I can hear it in my head as I write this, although I haven't heard it in reality in at least 25 years.

I met Berio once, at the house of Tom Bever, a psycholinguist who was doing experiments in the psych of music. Berio was all charm, a great guy. He told me that when he was studying, he wanted to win first prize at Paris Conservatoire in all his classes. His final exam in fugue consisted of being locked in a room with music paper, pencil and eraser. He had to compose a textbook perfect fugue illustrating some of the important fugal techniques. He told me, and I believed him, that he wrote a triple fugue, in his head, in three hours, that illustrated ALL the techniques. Of course, he was first.

I'll miss him, even though my own music was little influenced by his.

Why Does Ashcroft Hate American Values?  

This man has to resign. Immediately.
Gay rights groups denounced on Friday a decision by the Department of Justice, headed by conservative Attorney General John Ashcroft, to ban employees' annual gay pride events, saying the move sent a chilling message to its gay workers.

DOJ Pride head Marina Colby told Reuters she was taken aback when she was informed the employee group's annual awards ceremony would not be permitted because President Bush had not officially sanctioned it.

"All we want is the same opportunity to recognize contributions to and from our community like other employee associations," she said. "We don't want special treatment, we want equal treatment."

The nonpartisan Human Rights Campaign said Ashcroft canceled the events after being lobbied by conservative groups.

"It's shameful that the federal agency that is in charge of protecting civil rights in this country is singling out one group for disparate treatment," said spokesman David Smith. "It sends a chilling message that gay employees are not a welcome part of the Justice department work force."

Rant of the Month  

Go here and enjoy!

Thanks, Jeanne d'Arc for the heads up!

Arguing With the Right: "Well, would you have left Saddam in power?"  

Cursor points today towards this very interesting blog entry by Billmon, who has been doing yeoman's work collecting Administration lies about WMD pre-Iraq:
...I get the impression that the war hawks have settled on a response to the WMD snipe hunt fiasco and the broken promise of democracy fiasco. This is to respond to every bit of bad news -- and every new sign of the administration's bad faith -- by snarling the question: "Well, would you have left Saddam in power?"

This is the right-wing question de jour because they believe it puts opponents of the war in an impossible position. Say "yes," and it doesn't matter what else you say, the attack machine has you in its cross hairs. Say "no," and the obvious response is "so what you are bitching about?"

* * *

...since I'm not running for office and have no journalistic reputation left to protect, I'll answer the hawks' question: Yes, I would have left Saddam in power.

Because at the end of the day, having a brutal but aging dictator sitting in a box in Baghdad would have been far safer for U.S. national security -- and the health and welfare of the Iraqi people -- than the bloody chaos we have unleashed.

Because booting Saddam back into the criminal underground resurrected not one of his previous victims...
Billmon here lists numerous additional reasons to leave him in power, then he sums up:
Bottom line: The conservatives, their beloved president and his neocon revolutionaries have made an ENORMOUS mistake -- of the kind that keep historians busy arguing for decades: How could they have done something so stupid? It's the March of Folly, heading straight over a cliff.
Before anything else, kudos to Billmon for coming up with the best name yet for the Bush/Iraq War. From now on I will call it Bush's March of Folly.

I had some trouble with this post, not with the ideas, but with the particular tactic Billmon used. He correctly recognized that the question was loaded against him. Furthermore, he recognized that the best strategy was to focus on the here and now, not about woulda-coulda-shoulda. Nevertheless, he felt he simply had to answer the question.

I truly wish he had not risen to the rightwing bait. In doing so, he made an easily understandable but unfortunate miscalculation. He believed his arguments were so compelling that he accepted the biased question as is.

He was wrong. The attack machine easily can crank itself up and fire salvo after salvo, "Don't you realize what a monster he was? Don't you realize we had no idea what he was up to?" etc. etc. And all the reasons he gave won't matter very much. Because now, Billmon has, at best, a difficult uphill fight parrying accusations of his "moral ignorance."

It may be a noble effort to work this hard, but it is also quite unnecessary and ineffective. There never is a good reason to accept a loaded question as the premise for a debate. Either reframe the question fairly or change the subject.

Please understand: I think Bush's March of Folly was a total disaster and that of all the alternatives open to the US, a US-led war and conquest was the most idiotic and dangerous. What I am hoping to point out here is a more effective strategy to deal with loaded questions than the tactic Billmon used, because that tactic makes it very easy for a right winger to pile rhetorical zinger upon zinger and humiliate his/her hapless victim.

So, I'm going to take a stab at answering exactly the same question Billmon did, but react differently. I'll annotate what I think is going on.

Conservative: Well, would you have left Saddam in power? [Loaded question. Immediately creates an unfair playing field.]

Tristero: I never suggested such a thing. I never would. [Denying any access to a field tilted in the opponent's favor.]

Conservative: So, since you agree that Saddam should be removed, what you are bitching about? [This is the response Billmon assumes conservatives will make, which I think is a reasonable assumption. The trap, as Billmon feared, has been sprung. ]

Tristero: Are you saying the only way to remove Saddam from power was through a full scale invasion and conquest? [Turning the table.]

Conservative: All right, then, what would you have done about Saddam? [A fair question.]

Tristero: Well the last thing I would have done was gone to war. Why? Because a war will put the US in far greater danger from terrorism and "blowback" than any other reasonable solution.

Conservative: You'd let the Iraqi people continue to be tortured and killed? How could you be so unfeeling? [Appeal to emotion.]

Tristero: If I were President, it would be my job to make tough decisions. But this one is easy. My first responsibility is always to my country. To risk sacrificing the lives of my fellow citizens, to put innocent Americans in great mortal danger - which I know is the almost inevitable outcome of an Iraq invasion - is not a risk any President has the right to do, especially if all other options have not been explored. [Tilting the playing field by claiming a greater moral issue is at stake than the one originally proposed.]

Conservative: Oh, so you would have left Saddam in power because of some future hypothetical threat that his removal might cause? We had good reason to believe that Saddam was an immediate threat! [Tilting the playing field by limiting the possible options and insisting upon an immediate response. ]

Tristero: We're back to your original question which, I told you, I never so much as suggested I considered a possibility. [As before, denying access to an unlevel playing field.]

Conservative:What other alternatives were there? [A fair question. The playing field is again level.]

Tristero:When the lives of my soldiers and citizens are at stake there are plenty of alternatives. [Tilting the playing field by appealing to emotion.]

Conservative:Come on! There weren't many alternatives. People were being slaughtered by Saddam! [Tilting the playing field by appeal to emotion.]

Tristero:There were certainly more alternatives than either leaving him in power or conquering his country. In fact, there were several alternatives. And if they all failed, then we could still go to war and replace Saddam by force. [Tilting the playing field back towards the center partly by ignoring the appeal to emotion.]

Conservative: But if we don't go to war now, we run the risk that our troops will lose their edge. [expanding the argument with new objections as well as pushing for immediate action.]

Tristero: If exploring all alternatives before plunging my country into a highly dangerous war and an unknown post-war world might require more time, then as President, I would be prepared to take that time. Our troops are always committed warriors, but they, too, do not want to die. If by waiting longer we can avoid war, then none will die in combat. And we all know battlefield conditions are never perfect - war is deadly even on on a balmy spring morning. And also, the military has numerous contingencies for fighting in high heat. Imagine the "edge" our soldiers will lose if we moved too soon, miscalculated and the fight was enormous, bloody and sustained. They would suffer far greater demoralization than waiting while every alternative to war was explored. [rebutting the argument, returning the playing field to the center]

Conservative: Wait a minute! Either Saddam stays in power or he doesn't. It's a simple, elementary, logical choice. What possible alternative could there be? [A reasonably fair question.]

Tristero:Again, there are plenty. Would you give me some time to lay them out in detail? Okay, the first thing to do is [INSERT ALTERNATIVES HERE...]

The point is this. Always, always insist upon a fair debate. Always call attention to a loaded question and if you simply must answer it, reframe ti fairly. Since obviously the right wing's real arguments and evidence are usually quite weak, we will win nearly every debate on a level playing field.

More importantly, we will persuade anyone on the fence.

How To Read the New York Times  

Here is Kristof on the Iraq intelligence scandal:
As best I can reconstruct events, Mr. Rumsfeld genuinely felt that the C.I.A. and D.I.A. were doing a horrendous job on Iraq — after all, he was hearing much more alarming information from those close to Ahmad Chalabi. So the Pentagon set up its own intelligence unit, and it sifted through everyone else's information and goaded other agencies to come up with more alarmist conclusions.

"He's an ideologist," one man in the spy world said of Mr. Rumsfeld. "He doesn't start with the facts, even though he's quite brainy. He has a bottom line, and then he gathers facts to support the bottom line."

That is not, of course, a capital offense. Pentagon leaders should feel free to disagree strenuously with foolish judgments by the C.I.A. But for the process to work, top C.I.A. officials need to fight back. Instead, George Tenet rolled over.

"Tenet sided with the D.O.D. crowd and cut the legs out from under his own analysts," said Larry Johnson, a retired C.I.A. analyst.

Does this mean that Mr. Tenet should be fired? I don't think so. Despite his failure to stand up for his people, he should not be made a scapegoat for problems that arose primarily from the Pentagon's zealotry — and ousting him would leave O.S.D. more powerful than ever.

"There was a collective failure here," one senior person in the intelligence world said. "At the end of the day, it should not be George left out to dry." 
What Kristof is saying is obvious, or should be. Rumsfeld should be fired.

It is an indication of how cowed the press has become that the New York Times, at one point a very powerful force in politics, is too afraid to state what everyone knows to be true, what everyone knows is in the best interests of the country.

Quote Of The Day  

From Dr. Krugman:
There is no longer any doubt that the man who ran as a moderate in the 2000 election is actually a radical who wants to undo much of the Great Society and the New Deal.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Major L.A. Terrorism Plot Foiled?  

Via shock and awe comes news of this major terrorist arrest you never heard of before. Why not? He's not an Islamist terrorist.
A man in prison for vehicle theft is suspected of planning a significant attack, say authorities who uncovered an arsenal of semiautomatic assault weapons, ammunition, pipe bombs and barrels of jet fuel.
Authorities have not been able to identify any targets, and the man has refused to talk to investigators, said sheriff's Sgt. John Demooy.

"He was definitely planning on targeting a structure, location, individuals, and would have created significant damage," Demooy said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is investigating John Noster, 38, for firearms and explosives violations and plans to present its findings to prosecutors, said spokeswoman Latese Baker.

Noster was arrested in November during an investigation into purchases of vehicles using assumed names.

Incendiary devices found during the arrest prompted a search of two storage units Noster rented, authorities said. In the search, they said, they found three pipe bombs, two incendiary devices, six 55-gallon drums of jet fuel, five assault weapons, smokeless powder, cannon fuse, electric matches, thousands of rounds of ammunition and $188,000 in cash.
This dude was not fooling around.

Bush: "I Am the Master of Low Expectations"  

And he proves it every day. Here he is in Qatar, addressing troops about those pesky WMDs that haven't yet been found. It's troubling me: I keep thinking I've heard something like this somewhere before:
President Bush argued Thursday the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was justified and pledged that "we'll reveal the truth" on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
Dang! It reminds of somebody else...vowing to reveal the truth... searching, searching...endlesslesly searching...

Wait...wait...Oh! Now, I remember!
[OJ] Simpson announced after the verdict that he would devote the rest of his life to tracking down the real killer of his ex-wife...
But wait, there's more.
"We've made sure Iraq is not going to serve as an arsenal for terrorist groups," Bush said in a speech at Camp As Sayliyah...We're on the look. We'll reveal the truth," Bush said, without specifically promising weapons would be found. "But one thing is certain: no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime because the Iraqi regime is no more."
Ok, boys and girls, repeat after me:

Saddam had nothing whatsoever to do with the Sept. 11 attacks. Nothing. Uzbekistan or Western Pakistan is more relevant than Iraq was. We may as well have invaded Mexico for all the good it will do. And Bush's behavior has infuriated the Arab World
... [T]hen there are the dismal results in Muslim countries. It's at least understandable that Arafat and Chirac are highly regarded, but the widespread support for Osama bin Laden as a man trusted to do the right thing is just horrifying. Yeah, I know, blowback and all that, but it's still pretty discouraging.

In fact, all the results in Muslim countries are pretty horrible. Long story short, they don't like us, they don't like Bush, they wish Iraq had put up a stiffer resistance, they don't think we tried very hard to avoid civilian casualties, Iraq is worse off without Saddam than with him, and support for the war on terrorism is down considerably. Sure, opinions might bounce back some as memories of the war recede, but right now they're really in the toilet. About the only good news is that most Muslims think that Western style democracy can work in their countries.
But back to that article about Bush. Remember Harry Truman? The Buck Stops Here? Well, forget him:
The troops are trying to thwart a wave of crime that Bush blamed on Saddam, who he said emptied jail cells of "common criminals" just before the war and left his people hungry and desperate.

* * *

Bush blamed Saddam for neglecting his country's infrastructure, without mentioning damage from the war.
And finally, a little wag the dog:
Bush has blunted criticism of his role in the Iraq war by throwing his energy into drumming up support for an internationally drafted peace plan that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

* * *

[H]e added, "I am the master of low expectations. We accomplished what I hoped we'd accomplish. We met expectations."
Put it this way. He's far exceeded mine.

One More US Soldier Killed  

Who will be the last soldier to die there?
One U.S. soldier was killed and five were wounded when an assailant fired a rocket-propelled grenade at them in the restive Iraqi town of Falluja on Thursday, the U.S. military said.

It said the wounded soldiers, from the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, had been driven to a local military medical facility.

A U.S. military spokesman said two American soldiers had also been wounded in Baghdad when two attackers fired on them as they were guarding a bank. No details were available.
Falluja, 45 miles west of Baghdad, is a cauldron of hostility to U.S. forces, who killed 15 townspeople in two clashes there in April, following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

* * *

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General David McKiernan said on Wednesday that attacks on U.S. troops in the area are not organized and are the work of remnants of Saddam's government, toppled by U.S. and British forces eight weeks ago.
Yeah, right.

John B. Judis on Pres. Wilson and Bush  

Maybe it's time to resubscribe. The New Republic wasn't making too much sense for awhile. They actually thought a president who had proven himself incompetent in every other area was capable of conquering Iraq. Seems they've learned their lesson. In an article called "History Lesson", Judis examines Woodrow Wilson's recognition that imperialism is incompatible with America's ambitions in the world. He makes the point that in the second half of the 20th Century, when variations of Wilson's ideas were actually implemented, in institutions like the UN, IMF, etc, the world was much stabler than during a time of overt imperialism, eg WW I and II.

Like most such generalizations, one needs to take them cum granis salis. Nevertheless, it's hard to disagree with Judis' final paragraph:
The best way for the United States to retain its superiority, in other words, is to repudiate the very stategy that the new imperialists have devised to perpetuate it. An imperial strategy is inherently self-defeating. Wilson understood that paradox in 1919, and it was borne out by America's experience in the last half of the twentieth century. But it is a historical lesson being ingnored by the conservatives who now shape foreign policy in Washington. The believe the United States has entered a new world in which the lessons of the old no longer apply. That is almost certainly wrong. History is not physics. But we ignore its lessons at our peril.
Unfortunately, the article is only available via subscription, so you might want to pick up a copy at the newsstand because that isn't the only terrific article in this month's issue.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Franken, Ivins, and O'Reilly  

Go and look at it. It's simply incredible. Molly Ivins does a great job. Then in comes O'Reilly and note the virtuousness and self-righteousness he claims. Then comes Al Franken and O'Reilly does everything he claims he doesn't do.

Mussolini Speaks  

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power"
-- Benito Mussolini.

via Molly Ivins

You Might Think That Friedman's Been Reading Tristero  

But obviously he hasn't read this blog. Because his writing hasn't improved. Nevertheless, compare Tom's latest with this post of mine from last February. I was just shorter.

Tom on June 4, 2003:
...we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world.
Tristero on February 28, 2003:
(Headline)The Real Reason the US Is Going To War In Iraq  

because we can. No more, no less
Oh, and Tom says it's the real reason, too.

Excuse of the Day: It WAS About Oil But...  

Not about grabbing the oil.Wolfowitz interviewed in Singapore:
Q:  What I meant is that essentially North Korea is being taken more seriously because it has become a nuclear power by its own admission, whether or not that’s true, and that the lesson that people will have is that in the case of Iraq it became imperative to confront Iraq militarily because it had banned weapons systems and posed a danger to the region. 

In the case of North Korea, which has nuclear weapons as well as other banned weapons of mass destruction, apparently it is imperative not to confront, to persuade and to essentially maintain a regime that is just as appalling as the Iraqi regime in place, for the sake of the stability of the region.  To other countries of the world this is a very mixed message to be sending out.

Wolfowitz:  The concern about implosion is not primarily at all a matter of the weapons that North Korea has, but a fear particularly by South Korea and also to some extent China of what the larger implications are for them of having 20 million people on their borders in a state of potential collapse and anarchy.  It’s is also a question of whether, if one wants to persuade the regime to change, whether you have to find -- and I think you do -- some kind of outcome that is acceptable to them.  But that outcome has to be acceptable to us, and it has to include meeting our non-proliferation goals.

Look, the primarily difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil.  In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq.  The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances which are very different.
The issue is not whether the US wanted to grab oil, but rather that Saddam had economic options that made it impossible for the US to deal effectively with him. Kim, however, has no options whatsoever other than selling nukes.

Of course, this is pure poppycock. It's just the excuse of the day. There were plenty of ways to bribe Saddam to do our bidding, or use coerced inspections. The issue is Bush wanted Saddam out. And he wanted the oil.

UPDATE 6/5/03: I wrote this before doing my midday blog check; I had been involved in thinking my way through Leo Strauss's oddities. When finished I saw a friend of mine had emailed a scrambled version of the above quote from The Guardian, which claimed that Wolfowitz had admitted that Iraq was all about grabbing oil. I generally don't use The Guardian as a source, because they seem a little too partisan and hasty in jumping to conclusions. I emailed him back and said that this quote didn't sound right.

I did a google news search and found the correct transcript within minutes. Sure enough, Wolfowitz had admitted nothing; instead he was just propagating the latest excuse for the war. So I wrote the post above. Then I did my blog rounds.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that nearly all my favorites had gotten snookered and then been forced to admit that the Guardian quote was wildly out of context. The moral is: if you have the slightest doubt about the source, check it. (The offending Guardian article was taken down apparently, but it is still available here. )

Not so fast!

I told this story last evening to MSS (my smart spouse) who instantly said, "What makes you think the transcript was accurate?" I truly thought she had donned a tinfoil hat. Then I remembered a post by Josh Marshall in which he suggests that a recent, but different, Wolfowitz interview transcript had almost certainly been doctored. Hmm...

The moral of the story really is that this kind of mistrust is the inevitable result of a government that has nothing but contempt for its press and its citizens.

Leo Strauss Part Two  

Yesterday, I asked what elementary howler of a logical fallacy did Leo Strauss perpetrate in the first sentence of his essay, Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero:

"A social science that cannot speak of tyranny with the same confidence with which medicine speaks, for example, of cancer, cannot understand social phenomena as what they are."

Rabble Rabbit wrote in (thanks Rabble!) with this:
My guess would be False Analogy. The author is comparing two dissimiliar subjects (medicine and social science) and making an inference about one based on the other.

There's also a bit of Begging the Question in there. In order to believe that a social science "cannot understand social phenomena as they really are" we must first believe the premise that a lack of confidence in speaking about tyranny is equivlent to a lack of confidence in speaking about cancer in social science and medicine respectively.

And what the heck does "speaking with the same confidence" mean anyway?
I agree. It is a false analogy which assumes that social science can be approached with the same kind of tools as medical science.

Just for the heck of it, however, I took a few moments to do some simple googling. It turns out that Rabble and I both may be mistaken.

Unfortunately, that is not good news for Leo Strauss. The underlying assumption that Strauss makes (an assumption made explicit in the next few sentences of the 1959 essay) is that contemporary social science could not possibly have the rigor of medical research into cancer.

Today, when studying biological processes, like cancer, one creates hypotheses, collects data, analyses the data and reports the results to a certain "confidence level."

It turns out, of course, that there is a branch of political science (the particular social science which is frequently concerned with tyranny) called "quantitative political science" which proceeds in a similar fashion: hypotheses are generated, then data is collected and analyzed. If the results are significant to a certain "confidence level," typically .05, they are reported. (Which answers your last question, Rabble)

For some examples, go here, here, here, here, and here.

While I looked up these references, my brain was jogged back to college days. In my statistics classes, I recall my professor telling us that many of the advanced statistical methods employed throughout science today were originally developed out of problems that arose from the difficulties of making sense of quantitative data in the social sciences.

In other words, by comparing the study of cancer to the study of tyranny, Strauss may be using a very real analogy.

Which means that the rest of his essay – which rests upon the fundamental premise that modern social science cannot have the rigor of medical science and therefore, a return to ancient philosophical methods is helpful, if not required – is simply, and totally, wrong.

Now, one might rejoin that this is true now but was unimaginable in 1959 when the essay was written. Unfortunately for Strauss, it was indeed imaginable by Robert North who pioneered quantitative political science and by the late 50's had perhaps already begun the research which would lead to his 1963 tome, "Content Analysis" (which appears to be out of print).

A reasonable set of conclusions to draw from all this is that either Strauss hadn't heard of North; hadn't bothered to try to create a quantitative political science; didn't have the statistical talent to pull it off; or didn't have the imagination to think it possible. I think all are the case. But there's one more, far more important reason than any of these.

A quantitative political science, that is, a genuine empircally based science of political power, was of absolutely no interest to Leo Strauss. It was irrelevant to his entire philosophical/political project.

I believe I can go even further, given what I've read by and about Strauss. I think it is quite possible that he believed the analogy between medicine and social science was quite poor. He deliberately put it in there, for reasons that require a close study of Strauss. So Rabble, you and I may be right after all!

I will spend some time discussing all this as soon as I finish Natural Right and History. Suffice it to say that Strauss's lack of interest in genuine science – while claiming that as a philospher/gentleman, Science is all he cares about – is one of the least of the problems with Straussian thought.

The vital effort to demonstrate once again, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Strauss's approach to politics is flawed is not that difficult. To start, it requires little more than the ability to, as Strauss himself says about Plato, understand him as he understood himself. But the arguments can get knotty so it takes time and careful thought. I will give Strauss credit for this. He seems to know, truly know, the important philosophical texts. He can quote and cross reference with prolific ease. It is impressive and, if you lack confidence in your intellectual abilities, his footnotes are very intimidating texts to encounter.

However, while Strauss can cite ancient texts backwards and forwards, how well does he understand them? That is the only real question; his erudition is in a very real sense a side issue. Again, I will explain why I think this is the case in a later post.

(By the way, if anyone would care to discuss Natural Rights and History via email, please feel free to get in touch. I'm halfway done at the present, but am willing to start over. It would be especially interesting to hear from someone who likes Strauss's work. Please write to tristero1 at mac dot com.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Leo Strauss  

I've been reading someone I promised I wouldn't read, Leo Strauss. There is much to say on him, but let's get started with a short question to my readership. Here's the first sentence from an essay with the breezily informal title Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero:

"A social science that cannot speak of tyranny with the same confidence with which medicine speaks, for example, of cancer, cannot understand social phenomena as what they are."

Can you spot at least an egregious, and elementary, logical fallacy? Please email me at tristero1 at mac dot com and, if I actually get any responses, I'll post them (anonymously, if you like!).

I will comment with what I think it might be tomorrow morning.

(by the way, the essay can be found here. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a copy online.)

Molly Ivins On WMD  

Read it all. It's perfect.
In Safire's parallel universe, the problem is not that we're not finding weapons of mass destruction – which means either we were lied to by the Bush administration or there was a massive intelligence failure. No, that's not the problem at all. The problem is rather the people asking the question are "the crowd that bitterly resent America's mission to root out the sources of terror" and are "whipping up its intelligence hoax hype."

Got that? If you ask, "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" – a fairly obvious question at this point – you are the problem.

That's good, but not as good as my old favorites at the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Their June 1 editorial "Weapons of Mass Distortion" is a masterpiece. In this version, those who ask the WMD question are attempting "to damage the credibility of Mr. Blair, President Bush and other war supporters."

"But who's trying to deceive whom here?" thunders the Journal. "That Saddam had biological or chemical weapons was a probability that everyone assumed to be true, even those who were against the war." So there! And why did everyone assume it? Either because we were lied to or because there was a massive intelligence failure.
Two words:

In credible.

Anti-Americanism on the Rise Since Iraq War  

Herald Tribune:
The war in Iraq has widened the rift between the United States and the rest of the world, with a steep plunge in Americans' views of their traditional allies and a further surge of anti-Americanism in Muslim countries, a global opinion survey shows...

The poll forcefully supported the finding of an earlier survey that a U.S. war with Iraq would fuel anti-American sentiment.

As could be expected, this feeling is strongest in the Muslim world, where negative attitudes toward the United States have soared since the war on Iraq began March 20 with a wave of American air attacks over Baghdad.

One of the most extreme shifts was seen in Turkey, where the government, heeding popular sentiment, decided not to allow United States to use its soil as a base for attacks on Iraq although Washington and Ankara are partners in NATO.
The poll found that 83 percent of Turks now have an unfavorable opinion of the United States, up from 55 percent last summer.

The swing was even sharper in Indonesia, where Islamic radicalism has been rising since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
While 75 percent had a favorable opinion of the United States in 2000, 83 percent now have an unfavorable view. Similar levels of animosity hold sway in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

In fact, feelings are so intense in the Islamic world that Osama bin Laden was chosen by five Muslim publics - in Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority - as one of the three political leaders they would most trust to "do the right thing" in world affairs.

Pre-Order The War on Our Freedoms: Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism  

The War on our Freedoms looks like a fantastic book. It will be published on June 17 but you can pre-order it now. Here's the current description from Amazon. I'll post more information as I get it:
America 's leading experts on civil liberties sound an alarm about the consequences of the war on terrorism for our freedom at home.

In each generation, for different reasons, America witnesses a tug of war between the instinct to suppress and the instinct for openness. Today, with the perception of a mortal threat from terrorists, the instinct to suppress is in the ascendancy. Part of the reason for this is the trauma that our country experienced on September 11, 2001, and part of the reason is that the people who are in charge of our government are inclined to use the suppression of information as a management strategy.

Rather than waiting ten or fifteen years to point out what's wrong with the current rush to limit civil liberties in the name of "national security," these essays by top thinkers, scholars, journalists, and historians lift the veil on what is happening and why the implications are dangerous and disturbing and ultimately destructive of American values and ideals. Without our even being aware, the judiciary is being undermined, the press is being intimidated, racial profiling is rampant, and our privacy is being invaded. The "war on our freedoms" is just as real as the "war on terror"--and, in the end, just as dangerous.

The Bible, Homosexuality, And The Fallacy of Literal Interpretation  

If one reads the Bible cover to cover, one is struck by the enormous number of "Thou shalt nots" that no one in their right mind takes seriously today and for all we know never did take seriously.

To single out the Bible's imprecations against same sex sexuality and raise them to the level of absolute imperatives is an act of interpretation, unless one is prepared to raise all the Bible's exhortations to the same level of imperative. If that is the standard, then we are all equally sinners, no matter what silly biblical rule we break, for we all will fail to heed at least one biblical injunction or another.

I suppose that's fair enough if one accepts biblical authority on such subjects. But it does not explain the unique preoccupation, indeed obsession, with homosexuality and its concomitant special sinfulness by those who claim not to interpret the Bible but who persist on focusing on these prohibitions and minimize or ignore many of the others. They are creating a hierarchy of sins all the while claiming otherwise.

Such a hierarchy can only be construed as interpretive. It is rooted in the norms of the culture or cultures reading the Bible. The overweening importance of some sins is not "in" the Bible but merely in the extra-biblical norms of a community that looks at the Bible.

Regarding male homosexuality being described as "abominable" within the Bible and therefore in some sense particularly odious, there are other behaviors adjudged abominable in the Bible, including a man wearing women's clothes, and vice versa.* In fact, this was the most important charge against Joan of Arc back in 1431 and the only one for which there was credible evidence.

Is the wearing of a pair of jeans an abomination today in the US? Of course not. But at one time it was and one can argue the same about the expression of same sex sexuality. Again, those who look to the Bible for specific black and white rules to follow are inevitably compelled into an act of interpretation - two women wearing pants are ok, but two women sleeping together are sinning abominably. It is an interpretation rooted in cultural values specific to a particular time and place.

The religious right wing's fixation on homosexuality strikes me as extremely bizarre. I wouldn't presume to hazard a guess as to why they choose to emphasize something so monumentally unimportant. Nevertheless, they do. Worse, they support laws advocating discrimination against same sex unions, based in part on a crude approach to biblical exegesis.

Their religious right's crusade against homosexuality is just a specific case of a major theological and logical error which I think it is fair to call a sin.

To claim via recourse to a text, even a "sacred" text, any absolute, inalterable truth regarding human relations (as opposed to respected guidance from that text and others) is I think, the height of immorality. It privileges irrationality not only over logical thought but also over the inevitable ebb and flow of human discourse, which changes over time. It is a shirking of personal responsibility for the construction of a personal ethics which must remain contingent to be considered ethical.

The first of the Ten Commandments enjoins all believers not to worship false gods. By elevating a single "literalist" interpretation of the Bible to the level of an absolute, one comes perilously close to worshipping that interpretation rather than God, who is transcendent. The words in the holy books, as magnificent as they often are, as important as they are spiritually, culturally, and historically, are always open to differences in understanding. As I see it, to collapse the multiple meanings of any text, including the Bible, into only one, irrevocable, irreducible meaning can only be considered a sin by those who take their religion seriously.

Of course, this is not to claim that all interpretations are of equal value. Indeed some interpretations are worthless. I would put at the top of the heap of truly worthless interpretations any approach that claims to be a "true" reading.

[Revised from a letter written a while ago responding to a post by Eugene Volokh]

*A woman shall not wear the clothes of a man, nor a man the clothes of a woman. For abominable in the eyes of God are those who do so.
Deuteronomy 22:5

Another US Soldier Dies  

It's just a small little squib in the paper and will never become a big story. The soldier's name won't ever become nationally known. But right now, every family with a kid in the 4th Infantry Division is holding their breath, praying that they don't hear from the government. But sooner or later, one of them will, and they will learn that their child died senselessly and horribly while acting honorably and courageously.

And at least one person who knew that kid will soon be crying into a pillow in some room in some small town, obsessing over a shameful, blasphemous, unspeakable thought: "Fuck heroism."

Charles Rangel: My Representative  

And I'm very proud of him.
While I commend Mr. Krugman, he understates the damage the Bush plan will cause when he writes that either taxes will go up again or vital programs will be gutted. In fact, both will occur. States and cities have already raised property, sales and excise taxes to try to meet the responsibilities the Bush administration is shirking. These taxes hit middle-income families first.

The Social Security and Medicare trust funds — financed through the payroll tax on workers — are being rapidly funneled out to "give the money back" to wealthy taxpayers. This lays the groundwork for the end of those two programs — not reform, end — because the money will simply not be there.

The runaway debt and erosion of confidence in our economy will eventually shipwreck our entire society, and all the money in the world won't buy a life raft.

Krugman Takes Off One Glove  

Required reading.
The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history ? worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra.
But there is one thing that he hasn't said. He is very careful. He says the Republican National Committee is lying about taxes. But he does not say the same about Bush. He comes close, however.

What will it take to get this country to wake up?

Monday, June 02, 2003

Australians Well Knew US Intelligence Was Lying About WMDs  

via Tom Tomorrow comes this article in the Sydney Morning Herald penned by an Australian spook who resigned in protest prior to the Iraq War.
Australia's spies knew the United States was lying about Iraq's WMD programme. So why didn't the Government choose to believe them?

* * *

In their offices on the top floor of the drab ASIO building, ONA experts [Australia's spy agency] found much of the US material worthy only of the delete button or the classified waste chute to the truck-sized shredder in the basement.

* * *

wasn't just the Australians who were mystified by the accumulating US trash. The French, Germans and Russians had long before refused to be persuaded by Washington's line. British intelligence agencies were still inclined to take a more conservative position. And the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, even went so far as to say during a late April interview that "much of the intelligence on which the capitals built their case seemed to have been shaky".

So it was no surprise in some of the more mysterious corridors of Canberra last week when news broke about the CIA investigation into the US intelligence failure over Iraq. In fact, there was probably some relief, given the importance to Australian security of having the US intelligence system work properly.

After all, the Australia-US intelligence relationship is supposed to be one of the main reasons for the broader alliance between the two countries.

* * *

Australian intelligence agencies made it clear to the Government all along that Iraq did not have a massive WMD program (that dubious honour remains restricted to at least China, France, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Britain and the US). Nor was Saddam Hussein co-operating actively with al-Qaeda. And there was no indication Iraq was intending to pass WMDs to terrorists.

There could not have been any doubt whatsoever about all this in the mind of the Prime Minister or of any member of the national security committee of cabinet.

* * *

Yet Australia was happy to go along with George Bush. Shame it put thousands of Australian troops at risk, cost nearly a billion dollars and has increased the terrorist threat to Australia.

* * *

This is not to say that Iraq was of no concern or that some WMD-related materials will never be found in Iraq. Iraq had what's known in the business as a breakout WMD capability in its many dual-use facilities. The Fallujah III castor oil production plant near Baghdad, for example, was, like similar plants elsewhere in the world, suitable for conversion to a ricin toxin factory.

And Iraq, again like many countries including Australia, probably still has stockpiles of potential WMD ingredients - the chlorine needed for clean water, for example, can also be used to make deadly chemical agents.

Moreover, Iraq almost certainly had other WMD-related materials. US claims about mobile biological warfare facilities could yet prove true, though the implication that Iraq's biological weapons program relied on a handful of trailers tends to confirm the program was limited.

* * *

One of the major concerns about the war now is the way it will encourage the proliferation of WMDs. America's adversaries are being encouraged to acquire WMDs to deter US aggression. Mutually assured destruction kept the US and Soviet Union from each other's throats for decades. And, for now, Iran's and North Korea's arsenals seem to be influencing the US to back off.

Not that the US has any interest in multilateral arms control. The neo-cons in Washington think arms control doesn't work and is contrary to US interests.

* * *

"This is not going unnoticed and will come back to haunt us," says Richard Butler, the former head of the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq. "It's simply preposterous for the US to take the stand that it does on other people's WMD and ask the world to believe that its such weapons are of no such concern ..."

C'mon People Now, Smile On Your Brother  

Everybody get together
Imagine, for example, if one hundred of the most popular liberal websites joined together to create a virtual ad network. Overnight, politicians, advocacy groups, and various other entitities would have access to a platform capable of reaching hundreds of thousands of liberals at once. And in return, the participating sites would have more money to fund their publishing efforts.
Great Idea. Via Atrios

"This is bulls- - -."  

via Cursor comes this amazing description of the preparation for Colin Powell's UN speech.
For six hours that Saturday, the men and women of the Bush administration argued about what Secretary of State Colin Powell should--and should not--say at the United Nations Security Council four days later. Not all the secret intelligence about Saddam Hussein's misdeeds, they found, stood up to close scrutiny. At one point during the rehearsal, Powell tossed several pages in the air. "I'm not reading this," he declared. "This is bulls- - -."

* * *

Days before the team first gathered at the CIA, a group of officials assembled in the White House Situation Room to hear Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, lay out an indictment of the Iraqi regime--"a Chinese menu" of charges, one participant recalls, that Powell might use in his U.N. speech. Not everyone in the administration was impressed, however. "It was over the top and ran the gamut from al Qaeda to human rights to weapons of mass destruction," says a senior official. "They were unsubstantiated assertions, in my view." Powell, apparently, agreed. So one week before he was to address the U.N. Security Council, he created a team, which set up shop at the CIA, and directed it to provide him with an intelligence report based on more solid information. "Powell was acutely aware of the need to be completely accurate," says the senior official, "and that our national reputation was on the line." The team, at first, tried to follow a 45-page White House script, taken from Libby's earlier presentation. But there were too many problems--some assertions, for instance, were not supported by solid or adequate sourcing, several officials say. Indeed, some of the damning information simply could not be proved.

* * *

For months, the vice president's office and the Pentagon had been more aggressive than either State or the CIA when it came to making the case against Iraq. Veteran intelligence officers were dismayed. "The policy decisions weren't matching the reports we were reading every day," says an intelligence official. In September 2002, U.S. News has learned, the Defense Intelligence Agency issued a classified assessment of Iraq's chemical weapons. It concluded: "There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons . . . ." At about the same time, Rumsfeld told Congress that Saddam's "regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas."

* * *

The document on terrorism was 38 pages, double spaced. By the time the team at the CIA was done with it, half a dozen pages remained. Powell was so unimpressed with the information on al Qaeda that he decided to bury it at the end of his speech, according to officials. Even so, NSC officials kept pushing for Powell to include the charge that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague. He refused. By Monday night, February 3, the presentation was taking final shape. Powell wanted no doubts that the CIA stood behind the intelligence, so, according to one official, he told Tenet: "George, you're coming with me."

* * *

Some 300 sites have been inspected so far; there are an additional 600 to go, and the list is growing, as captured Iraqis provide new leads. But what if those leads turn up nothing? "It would be," says a senior administration official, "a colossal intelligence failure ."

When Semantic Differences Are Not: Part Two  

[This is the second of two posts which discuss why it is necessary to make distinctions that might, at first glance appear, relatively unnecessary. It was inspired by comments on Kevin Drum's blog between myself and Sebastian Holsclaw. ]

In Part One, I describe why it is a serious mistake to characterize Bush as a Nazi. Not only does it anger potential allies, but because it is completely inaccurate, it makes it impossible to find solutions to counter Bush's policies and rhetoric effectively.

This post will discuss why a similar but lesser noticed imprecision makes it difficult to understand and counter troubling movements in the Middle East and elsewhere. It is a mistake made by numerous non-Muslim commentators and it is a serious one, I believe.

Just as "Bush = Hitler" is willdly wrong, it is equally wrong to refer to Osama bin Laden as an "Islamic terrorist." He really is a radical Islamist. At first the distinction might seem merely academic. It is not. It is crucial if we are to get a handle on what is going on with terrorism of all kinds.


To oversimplify, Islam is the religion, Islamism is the political movement inspired by the religion. A closer analogy seems to be that Islamism is to Islam as fundamentalism of the Pat Robertson ilk is to Christianity.

Islam, which translates roughly to "submission" - submission to the will of God plus the peace that results - is a religion. Islam is based primarily on the Qu'ran (which means roughly "revelation") and the Hadith, thousands of stories told about the Prophet Muhammed to whom the Qu'ran was revealed. There are at least one billion followers of Islam - Muslims - worldwide.

Islamism, on the other hand, is a collection of religiously tinged political ideologies derived from a particular view of Islam. According to Encyclopaedia of the Orient, Islamism desires to use the sharia - the legal code extrapolated from the Qu'ran, the Hadith and many other sources - as much as possible in the governing of a society. Crucially, Islamists believe that a real Muslim culture and government cannot be secular.

Islamism is an imprecise term, to be sure. Different groups of Islamists co-exist within one country and they are often at each other's throats. But according to the Encylopedia, there are 4 main characteristics of Islamism:

1. Opposition to extreme differences in wealth.
2. A sense that the Islamic world has lost its sense of cultural worth.
3. A belief in a mythical golden age when Islam informed government policy.
4. The implementation of an Islamist regime as a genuine political alternative.

Islamists are not necessarily violent, but have become more so over the past twenty years. One typical example of an Islamist society is present-day Iran, with the mullahs interpreting sharia for the benefit of the government, which is expected to conform its policies to these interpretations. Interestingly, according to some sources I consulted (see below), neither Saudi Arabia nor Afghanistan under the Taliban represent Islamism in the strict meaning of the word. In Saudi Arabia, the Wahabbist rulers are considered too corrupt because they permit such a large disparity between rich and poor. The Taliban was more concerned with creating a country in the model of a small village rather than an Islamist society.

Here, and here are some decent references to learn more about Islamism. There are plenty more and some contradict others. The confusion about the proper use of the term is more than simply the difficulty of translating Arabic words into English. It's also symptomatic of the woeful ignorance non-Muslims have about even the most basic elements of Islamic culture. As we'll see, the term, even in its current ambiguous state, is still an important one.

Osama Bin Laden

Osama bin Laden is an extreme Islamist. As the BBC puts it:
Seen in historical perspective, Al-Qaeda is an extreme offshoot of the movement of political Islam [i.e., Islamism] which had emerged in Egypt in the 1920s.

But Bin Laden and his fighters broke with the Islamist mainstream in two important respects. While most Islamists believed in "revolution in one country" - usually their own - the new jihad was internationalist.

Its aim was to fight America not just on American soil, not just in the Middle East, but everywhere. In their eyes, the only adequate response to a global superpower was a global jihad.

But Bin Laden and his men also broke with their colleagues by resorting to violence against civilians on a scale which no other group had envisaged. The brutal climax of their war against America was the attack against New York and Washington on 11 September.
Bin Laden, with his emphasis on fascistic techniques, can rightly be described as "right wing" as Chip Berlet does on his superb site Public Eye:
[T]he Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda networks are revolutionary right-wing populists seeking to overthrow existing Muslim states. They not only want to rid all Muslim nations of the evils of secularism, humanism, and Western influence, but also seek to restore a "true" Islamic theocracy based on a militant fundamentalist version of Wahhabism. Saudi Arabia is an example of a repressive and reactionary orthodox Islamic theocracy, but it is not technically fascist. The point is not to be an apologist for the Saudi regime, but to suggest that theocratic Islamic fundamentalist totalitarianism would be worse than the already repressive Saudi oligarchy.
However, Berlet, a scholar of right-wing extremism in the US, stresses that these terms (and many others bruited about) must be used with care.

I ran into this recently on a comment board over at CalPundit. The acceptance by conservatives of the terms "Islamism" and "Islamist extremists" seemed to be stalled by describing them as "right wing." That sounds reasonable. I suppose they would have a similar objection to calling Hitler "right wing" - in which case, of course, they would need to agree that Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were not "left wing," to which I would gladly consent.

In any event, one would be accurate in describing bin Laden as an extreme right-wing Islamist but one could also describe him as a radical Islamist, an Islamist terrorist, or some similar phrase that is more politically correct, by current standards, than "right wing Islamist terrorist."

Eric Rudolph Is A "Christian" Muhammed Atta

To describe bin Laden as an "Islamic terrorist" is very insulting to Muslims because one is assuming that terrorism is, in some sense, part of the broad religion of Islam, rather than a purely secular phenomenon. Let's switch religions and societies to illustrate this and see how it feels. A perfect example was in the news yesterday, in a Washington Post article entitled Is Terrorism Tied To Christian Sect?

Eric Rudolph, the recently captured suspect in 4 bombings, two of which were lethal, considered himself a Christian. The Post asks, quite reasonably, "Is he a Christian terrorist?"

Well, Rudolph does subscribe to the values of Christian Identity, and he allegedly wrote letters claiming responsibility for the bombings of abortion clinics and a gay bar in the name of Army of God, a very violent offshoot of Christian Identity (Christian Identity is considered extremist but non-vioent).*

To determine if Rudolph was a Christian terrorist, the Post consulted a scholar:
"Based on what we know of Rudolph so far, and admittedly it's fragmentary, there seems to be a fairly high likelihood that he can legitimately be called a Christian terrorist," said Michael Barkun, a professor of political science at Syracuse University who has been a consultant to the FBI on Christian extremist groups.
But calling someone a "Christian terrorist" is surely infuriating to some Americans: Christians. Most Christians loathe Rudolph's ideology and want to be associated neither with him or his views. They would rightly be appalled by the comparison. Therefore, the Post consulted a different scholar for some clarification:
Another expert on such groups, Idaho State University sociology professor James A. Aho, said he is reluctant to use the phrase "Christian terrorist," because it is "sort of an oxymoron."

"I would prefer to say that Rudolph is a religiously inspired terrorist, because most mainstream Christians consider Christian Identity to be a heresy," Aho said. If Christians take umbrage at the juxtaposition of the words "Christian" and "terrorist," he added, "that may give them some idea of how Muslims feel" when they constantly hear the term "Islamic terrorism," especially since the Sept. 11 attacks. (emphasis added.)

"Religiously inspired terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon, and every major world religion has people who have appropriated the label of their religion in order to legitimize their violence," Aho said.

Not only in Rudolph's case, but also in the case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh and Muslim suicide bombers, "there's always the question of what comes first, is it the religious belief or the violent personality?" Aho said. "I'm inclined to believe that people who are violent in their inclinations search out a religious home that justifies their violence."
This is exactly right, I think.

In an analogy to Islamism, I would propose the term "Christianism" to describe a political ideology inspired by Christianity that advocates the replacement of a secular government with one that is profoundly informed by a self-styled "literal" interpretation of the Bible. By this definition, Rudolph is perhaps best described as a radical "Christianist," a man inspired by Christianity to effect social change through violence.

"Christianism" is without a doubt an ugly neologism. However, it is a mistake to describe as "Christian" people and groups like Robertson, Falwell, Christian Identity, and those who are even more radical in their mission to transform the US into an explicitly fundamentalist "christian" state. This confuses Christianity, a religious belief, with a purely secular agenda. Furtheremore, it is highly misleading to ignore the hijacking of Christianity and its symbols by the Rudolphs of the world simply by repressing any reference to their Christian inspirations and calling them "anti-abortion terrorists" or some similar name.


In short, not only must we make a distinction between Islam, Islamism, and radical Islamism, I think it is important to distinguish between Christianity, Christianism, and radical Christianism. (Within Judaism, by analogy, to describe the difference between the religion and religiously inspired activism and violence, one could use Judaism, Judaicism and radical Judaicism or perhaps the more familiar terms Judaism, Zionism, and radical Zionism.)

When we fail to make what appear at first to be trivial distinctions - and particularly when we do so with a religious tradition and culture that is unfamiliar - we risk not only inadvertently smearing innocent people who are appalled at the violence taking place in the name of their beloved faith,but we also render ourselves incapable of truly understanding, let alone crafting solutions for, the enormously complex issues we face in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and elsewhere, including our own country.

[UPDATE 6/05/03] David Neiwert has a superb post about the Rudolph capture. In his analysis of the Washington Post article that I also mention above, Is Terrorism Tied To Christian Sect? he disputes the extent to which there is a relationship between the Army of God and Christian Identity:
For starters, there's an important factual error, where the reporter (Alan Cooperman) refers to the Army of God as "a violent offshoot of Christian Identity." There is, as far as I know, no substantial connection between Identity and the AoG, which is strictly focused on the confrontational and violent approach to stopping abortion, an agenda which has only an intersection (the abortion of white babies) with Identity.
I did some googling on Army of God – not a happy way to spend a morning – and Christian Identity appears to be a set of beliefs, i.e. a religion, but a very bizarre one disowned by even fundamentalist "christians." Army of God supports the destruction of abortion clinics and, while I didn't spend too much time at their site, they seem to be quite supportive of violence (including murder) against doctors and nurses who provide abortions of babies.

Rudolph may have been, apparently, both an Identity follower and a member of Army of God. This does not imply any specific interrelationship or connection, as David is correct to point out, other than a shared interest in condemning the abortions of white babies.

One more point, David makes the case that, in the US, the lines may be getting somewhat blurred between more acceptable beliefs and extremist beliefs. In passing, he notes:
...the Islamists are to Islam as radical fundamentalists such as Identity are to Christianity (a reasonable analogy, in my view) ...
According to the research that I've done on Islamism, this may not be quite analogous. Not only do Islamists seem to hold a variety of beliefs about the political future of Islam, but as I understand it, devout Muslims do not necessarily believe that Islamists are considered heretical in a way analogous to the rejection of Identity by "christian" fundamentalists. David believes that the line has become extremely blurred between Islam and Islamism. From what I can tell – but as I do not have David's expertise, this is closer to a half-educated guess – Islamism is not necessarily as "out there" as Identity. At least some Islamist leaders are closer to Robertson's model.

All of this cries out for more research to determine precisely what the US is now up against in Iraq and in other nations, particularly by those of us who are not experts, but rather concerned Americans who want to understand what on earth is going on. Similarly, it begs the question of how much even a highly respected paper like the Washington Post knows about the structure of homegrown religious and right wing extremism.

UPDATE: 6.06.03 Link added to more infomation about Rudolph at the greatPolitical Research Associates website. Headline comparing Rudolph to bin Laden changed to a better comparison (Atta) per a suggestion of David Neiwert, whom I thank.

When Semantic Differences Are Not: Part One  

[This is the first of two posts which discuss why it is necessary to make distinctions that might, at first glance appear, relatively unnecessary. It was inspired by comments on Kevin Drum's blog between myself and Sebastian Holsclaw.

This post discusses a serious error that is made by a small minority of posters who, perhaps inadvertently, create a good deal of sturm und drang. The second post describes how important it is to distinguish between a religion and a political ideology inspired by that religion, a crucial distinction many of us - right, center, and left, often ignore.

"Bush is just as bad as Hitler. He is just another Nazi."

Every once in a while, somebody posts a variation of this to a comments board, or somebody appears in protest march carrying a sign with similar sentiments. They are a small minority of those deeply concerned about the rightward drift of our country since Bush was sworn in as President. But they attract a lot of emotionally tinged comments from a variety of people who are repulsed by the comparison and many conservatives use such people as a stick to bash all liberals, or most liberals, over the head.

If you know even the first thing about Bush, Hitler, or Nazism, you know that the comparison is poor. Bush is very awful, but by no reasonable standard is he awful in the same way that Hitler was. In terms of crazed zealousness and murderous intent, the comparison is thoroughly wrong: Hitler was a monster almost without peers and certainly Bush is not one of them. Instead of Nazism, Bush, his administration, and their enablers are toying with, in David Neiwert's phrase, "home grown fascism." Neiwert, an expert on the American extreme right wing, has written intelligently and at length about this on his blog.

The use of "Bush = Hitler" analogies displays not so much ignorance as a thorough lack of precision about exactly what kind of serious danger the US faces from Bush. It is not only that the scabrous analogy "doesn't help our cause" by giving right wingers an excuse to accuse liberals as being ignorant of history. Rather, the comparison of Bush to Hitler does not even begin to describe the problem we face today in a helpful manner. Therefore, criticisms and counter-strategies to Bushism which stem from this misunderstanding will almost surely fail.

Let's point to one simple example. Bush is anti-Semitic, but his anti-Semitism is nowhere near as virulent or as focused as Hitler's. Bush can rightly point to a stable full of advisers who are Jewish and the comparison to Hitler instantly falls to pieces. So, calling Bush a Nazi because of his exceedingly ugly (but rare) public comments about Jews going to hell can easily be denounced as an "outrageous canard".

However, if one points out that these mild, "gentlemanly" jokes about Jews going to hell are all of a piece with Bush's fundamentalist beliefs, a strong case can be made for strenuously objecting to his very disturbing attitudes towards Judaism amd those who have not accepted Christ.

Hitler couldn't really have cared less about Christianity. But Bush's apocalyptic faith and his sense of a calling informs his whole strategy towards Israel, which is nothing more than an opportunistic joining of right wing Jews and right wing "christians" for entirely different ends.

Bush wants the Jews "back" in Israel because it is a harbinger of the Final Days when all real Christians will ascend to heaven and all sinners, including non-believers like Jews, will go to hell. By calling attention to Bush's nutty religious beliefs and refusing to let him off the hook about them, Bush's anti-semitism, and its influence on his Middle East policy, immediately becomes apparent.

In short, by equating Bush with Hitler, one not only unnecessarily angers people who might otherwise support Bush's removal from office. More importantly, such an imprecise comparison permits Bush and his supporters to weasel away from addressing directly his batty religious beliefs and his flirtations with fascist political tactics.

Osama's Poodle  

Mary at the watch:
Walking down the street today at lunchtime, I saw this remarkable headline that made me do a doubletake:

Bush Aid: "Huge" reason for Iraq War was U.S. Pullout from Saudi Arabia

Oh, yeah? My immediate thought was, wasn't that one of Osama bin Laden's main reasons for declaring war on the US and for 9/11?
Yep, and thanks for the reminder, Mary. Yossef Bodansky in Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America goes into some detail about this.

Basically (and this is based to a good extent on Bodansky's interpretations), when Saddam invaded Kuwait, both bin Laden and the US approached the Saudi leadership to get rid of Saddam. By this time, bin Laden was a hero because of his work with the Afghan mujahadeen -incidentally, Bodansky, by no means any sort of liberal or bin Laden apologist, gives a lot of credence to the stories of bin Laden's bravery. So his offer to have his "Afghan Arabs" oust Saddam was not entirely screwy.

The Saudi royals ignored his offer for several reasons. First and foremost, the Bush I administration demanded that they put together a coalition to "save" the Middle East.; even at this early date, there was no way the Bush I administration would accept any help from bin Laden, which I gather was never offered.

Nearly as important was that bin Laden's power was growing in Saudi Arabia, a situation that made the corrupt royals very uncomfortable.

So bin Laden was dissed, the "infidels" landed on holy Saudi soil and the combination drove bin Laden, who by this time was pretty out there already, further into the hands of the most extreme Islamist elements. Bin Laden became more and more outspoken and he was forced into exile in the Sudan.

The Sec'y of Defense, a fellow by the name of Dick Cheney (a chickenhawk) had promised the Saudi government that the moment the Gulf War was over, US troops would leave the country. Well, they didn't. What a surprise.

Naturally, not one of the US military leaders back then - Cheney, Perle, and so on - took any notice of the young multi-millionaire or, for that matter, cared at all what Muslims thought. There are some intriguing exceptions in retrospect. There was no alcohol allowed and women soldiers had to cover themselves when leaving the base. Both behaviors - abstemiousness and the subjugation of women - are consonant with right wing "christian" beliefs.

Bin Laden had the money, the committment, and the obsessive personality never to forget his humiliation, and the humiliation of Islam. He determined to overthrow the Saudi government, drive the infidels out, and ultimately reunite the Caliphate into a pan-Islamic paradise.

The rest is history. And Bush II, who makes his dad look like a well-educated rocket scientist, has been following bin Laden's game plan perfectly. Sure, OBL made some miscalculations: not all of the 9/11 attacks succeeded; follow-ups had to be cancelled when the airlines were grounded; the "Arab street," while appreciative, did not rise up; and finally, the extent of the US's military retaliation was beyond his imagining. But bin Laden knew with a certainty that the US would attack Afghanistan, angering Muslims all over the world. But not even bin Laden could dare to hope that Bush II would be dumb enough to conquer Iraq without provocation.

And here we are.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Bush Lies: Claims Trailers Are WMD's  

The media, if they are truly independent, will not permit him to get away with this:
"We found the weapons of mass destruction," Bush asserted in the Thursday interview, released Friday. "We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them."
In fact, there is no proof that those trailers were in fact what Bush/Powell claimed them to be.
resident Bush may be convinced that two trailers found in Iraq were used as biological weapons labs, but the evidence is far from definitive. Referring to the two trailers in an interview with Polish television before he departed for Europe last week, Mr. Bush said the United States had found weapons of mass destruction and banned manufacturing devices in Iraq. Reports from the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency support that view, but they are based on inconclusive information.

Intelligence analysts told reporters last week that the configuration of equipment in the trailers would not work efficiently as a biological production plant, is not a design used by anyone else and would not lead anyone to link the trailers intuitively with biological weapons. The intelligence officials took all that as a sign that the Iraqis were ingeniously clever in trying to hide the true nature of what they were doing from international inspectors. But the uncertainties leave open the disquieting possibility that the trailers might not be what the intelligence agencies think they are. It seems increasingly imperative, as this page has argued before, to get an authoritative, unbiased assessment from the United Nations or some other independent body.

Why Does Italy Hate America?  

They have some strange ideas about what food is.
McDonald's has labelled as "defamatory and offensive" an influential Italian food critic, who poured scorn on the quality of the fast-food giant's cuisine.

The corporation has sued Edoardo Raspelli, a critic and commentator for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, after he compared its burgers to rubber and its fries to cardboard, in an article last year.

McDonald's is seeking undisclosed damages, possibly as much as the 21m euros (£15m; $25m) it spent on advertising in Italy last year...

The case has aroused enormous interest in Italy, where a powerful "slow-food" movement has emerged in recent years, dedicated to preserving a respect for traditional culinary values.
Sheesh, folks. Get with the program! Don't you know there's a war on? Do you really think there's anything about a plate of spaghetti to be proud of? I mean, like what's the big deal about Italian food?

Jews Should Demand a Full Explanation For This One  

WTF was he asking here?
At one point Mr. Bush turned to Ms. Swiebocka and asked, "Do people challenge the accuracy of what you present?"
Thanks to Atrios for this one.

[UPDATE] David Neiwert believes Bush was feeling sorry for himself, "They challenge your accuracy, too?" I think that is fairly generous towards Bush. To me, it reads like Holocaust denial. nevertheless, David gets furious:
Bush's tasteless willingness to play on the Holocaust imagery is particularly questionable, considering that his own grandfather was one of the great American capitalist contributors to the Nazi war machine. But this whole exercise was a gigantic public-relations gambit, intended to draw a clear parallel between Hussein and Hitler. It appears the Busheviks -- who are increasingly unpopular around the world -- are hoping they can pull the same bullshit over the eyes of the international community that they have with a substantial portion of the American public, not to mention the entire population of the punditocracy.

More Bush Bull  

So here he is in the NY Times. First, we hear about Bush's multilateralism and his willingness to let bygones be bygones.
President Bush affirmed today his commitment to the half-century relationship between Europe and the United States, but he indicated that he expected traditional allies that opposed him in the war on Iraq, like Germany and France, to conform to an American vision of a shared future...

Europeans who were listening for words of reconciliation from the American president got almost none, while France and Germany received an implicit reprimand for their past criticisms of his host, Poland, over its steadfast support of the American-led invasion of Iraq.
Charming. But this is worse. Bush in Auschwitz:
"The death camps still bear witness," he said. "They remind us that evil is real and must be called by name and must be opposed."

History, he said, "asks more than memory, because hatred and aggression and murderous ambition are still alive in the world."
This pure Pat Robertson apocalypticism. As if "hatred and aggression and murderous ambition" could ever be eliminated in the world. As if Bush could be the agent of the destruction of evil.

And now, check it out! Non-denial denials in profusion:
"We've had all kinds of reports that we're going to use force in Syria," Mr. Bush said, even though he was not asked about Syria. "And now some on the left, I guess, are saying force in Iran or force here and force there. You know, it's pure speculation. And we used force in Iraq after a long, long period of diplomacy."
And did you catch that straw man towards the end? "Some on the left, I guess are saying force in Iran..." Common Bush construction. And it masks the truth: Rumsfeld was calling for the invasion of Iran but was told no for now.

And did you catch the implication that they are undertaking "diplomacy" in Iran? As if deliberately destabilizing a country unless they do it Bush's way is "diplomacy." Sick.

One of these days, it really behooves the Times or the Post to call the sumbitch on these exaggerations, distortions, and lies. Wow! Did I just see a pig fly by?

The Latest Excuse: Saddam Is a WMD  

Once again, thanks to Atrios, the latest excuse has been uncovered. Here is Ken Adelman
We know that the main weapon of mass destruction was Saddam Hussein and his regime and that has been stopped
This crude argument may be a sign of sheer desperation. Here is the construction:

Saddam is like a WMD. Both have the capacity to kill many people. Therefore, Saddam is a WMD.

Adelman (and others) are deliberately making a grammatical error, turning a metaphorical comparison into reality. This could be called reification but I'll call it a variation of the Red Queen: words mean what I say they mean, nothing more, nothing less.

WMD is defined as specific kinds of ordnance, not a human being. What Adelman is doing - and we can expect others to do the same - is altering the definition of the word WMD to include humans.

The rebuttal is easy. If Saddam is a WMD, so is George Bush. If the term WMD is to have any meaning, it refers to ordnance, not to those who have order their deployment or cause mass death by other means.
[Update: Lewis Carrol reference corrected]

The Two Trailers  

No, this is not some kind of hip joke about two previews for a Tolkien movie. This is about a very useful, and important editorial in the NY Times about the trucks found in Iraq that Bush says is proof that weapons of mass destruction have been found.
Intelligence analysts told reporters last week that the configuration of equipment in the trailers would not work efficiently as a biological production plant, is not a design used by anyone else and would not lead anyone to link the trailers intuitively with biological weapons. The intelligence officials took all that as a sign that the Iraqis were ingeniously clever in trying to hide the true nature of what they were doing from international inspectors. But the uncertainties leave open the disquieting possibility that the trailers might not be what the intelligence agencies think they are. It seems increasingly imperative, as this page has argued before, to get an authoritative, unbiased assessment from the United Nations or some other independent body...

No traces of biological agents have been detected so far in the trailers, and search teams have yet to find the additional trailers that would be needed to convert the slurry produced by these trailers into usable weapons. The technical analysis simply argues that the trailers could be used to produce a biological slurry and that no other plausible use can be identified that would justify the high cost and effort of mobile production. Officials dismiss Iraqi claims that the units were intended to produce hydrogen as an unlikely cover story but acknowledge that trace amounts of aluminum, a residue of hydrogen production, were detected, in amounts they deem too small to be significant.
What makes this editorial so important is that it comes within the context of, to be kind, the Times being played for fools by the administration. The infamous Judith Miller article, where she was told by someone that an Iraqi scientist who she couldn't interview had claimed that Iraq had all the things that Bush claimed, was just the tip of the iceberg. The administration has planted so many false wmd stories that some 41% of Americans actually believe that they have been found.

By publishing an editorial, the Times is loudly calling attention to the latest fraud. This is fairly new. It wasn't until it was far too late that the Times editorials began to sound alarms about the Iraq war. This means that finally the editorial board is waking up to the extent they've been manipulated by the Bush administration.

Someone give them some coffee fast before they fall asleep.

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