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Monthly Archives: August 2009

What would God do?

August 31st, 2009 - 6:23 pm

How is religion faring in the public square? Three videos after the Read More illustrate what is and isn’t cool under the Obama administration. Do they constitute “a victory of hope over fear” or “a triumph of hope over experience”?


Rahming things through

August 31st, 2009 - 3:50 am

John Batchelor at the Daily Beast talks about how Rahm Emmanuel keeps things in line. It’s politics at its finest.

The victims are everywhere, and the Republicans know best how brilliantly brutal Emanuel’s methods can be. “Rahm puts people on a string,” a cautious Republican told me. “He did it to Dennis [Hastert, former speaker of the House]. We always knew Rahm had something on him. Maybe it was earmarks. Maybe it was something like classic car-flipping. Dennis never went after Rahm and never allowed us to go after him.”

Emanuel’s methods in the House are now writ large throughout the government. Not one of the House Democrats is suicidal enough to push back in public against what amounts to his extortion and protection racket for each successive piece of partisan legislation—witness the 219 beaten-up votes for cap and trade in the House, or the pummeled Blue Dogs during the health-care brouhaha during recess. One Democratic wag comments that Rahm Emanuel is to the Blue Dogs what Michael Vick was to pit bulls. In the beginning he feeds them steak, then they get torn apart.

They’ll stay in line until the instinct for self-preservation impels them to grow a spine. But it will be an induced, not a natural phenomenon. Wheeling and dealing can be stressful. Breitbart reports that President Obama is looking for a break from his vacation.


Santa Claus versus the Martians

August 31st, 2009 - 2:06 am

The Russian Navy has named the 4th of its Borei class SSBNs after a saint — Santa Claus to be exact. The Strategy Page says, “no one has ever named a nuclear submarine after Saint Nicholas before.” What could be more ridiculous than naming a boomer after Santa Claus? How about calling a health care “reform” bill a “a core ethical and moral obligation” and likening it to a religious crusade even as senior clerics of the Catholic Church denounce it as a Trojan horse for taxpayer funded abortion? The New York Times says: Some Catholic Bishops Assail Health Plan. By that they mean this:

The bishops’ opposition — published in diocesan newspapers, disseminated online by conservative activists, and reported in a Roman Catholic newspaper to be distributed this weekend at churches around the country — is another setback for Mr. Obama’s health care efforts. His administration has been counting on the support of Catholic leaders to help rally believers behind his health care plan. Just last week, he held a conference call with 140,000 religious voters to appeal to what he called their “moral convictions.” …

In an Aug. 11 letter to Congress, Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia, head of the bishops’ anti-abortion efforts called the proposed division of funds “an illusion,” arguing that taxpayers would still indirectly help cover abortion. He urged lawmakers to block the current House legislation from coming up for a vote unless it can be amended to expressly prohibit financing for the procedure.


The last brother

August 30th, 2009 - 4:00 am

Walter Pincus of Washington Post describes the counterterrorism masterclasses conducted by Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed stood before U.S. intelligence officers in a makeshift lecture hall, leading what they called “terrorist tutorials.” … “KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department. … The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.

When a man “breaks” under interrogation, he does more than blurt out secrets. The process truly breaks something inside him; changes something forever. The mystery is what. It isn’t morals: Mohammed’s transition from the man who boasted of decapitating Daniel Pearl to a hunter of his former associates still leaves a man who deals in violence and death. Breaking didn’t turn KSM into Gandhi; it didn’t convert him into a man you’d like to invite to dinner. Like others who have switched sides — double agents or police informers — betrayal is a lateral move within the same business.


The political soap opera

August 29th, 2009 - 7:50 am

Two news stories illustrate how relationships can change over time as the parties finally recognize each other or themselves evolve to the point when what was once a natural compatibility becomes no longer sustainable. The Islamic intellectual Tariq Ramadan, for example, has been fired from his jobs in Rotterdam and at the Erasmus University in Holland because of his role in Iranian state propaganda. The Middle East Forum says “while the U.S. authorities now seem inclined to allow him on our shores, and Britain appears untroubled by his presence – although the UK bars his associate al-Qaradawi – the Dutch have taken action to curb Ramadan’s ambitions.”

In an official statement, Erasmus University stated:

The Municipality of Rotterdam and the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) have decided to terminate the appointment of Dr. Tariq Ramadan… The reason for this is his involvement in the Iranian television channel PressTV, which is considered to be irreconcilable with his positions in Rotterdam… Press TV is a channel financed by the Iranian government. The excessive force used by this government in June against demonstrators, many of whom were students, prompted a number of journalists to cut their ties with the channel. However, Tariq Ramadan chose not to do so, and has since justified his decision in a statement…[T]here is no longer the essential public support for the contribution to the city and the university and…the credibility of Dr. Ramadan’s continued work for the city and the university has suffered lasting damage.

How did this happen? Wasn’t Ramadan an academic star? What changed was Ramadan’s relative position within the political value system of Dutch society. Ramadan, whatever his popularity as an anti-American icon might be, had offended against the Iranian demonstrators. And just as stone blunts scissors, paper covers stone: so Ramadan was out. By some alchemy of court politics, a prince had fallen from esteem in the realm.  Jeff Israely at Time Magazine describes a similar, but more gradual change in the Vatican’s relationship with Ted Kennedy.


Pathways of stone

August 28th, 2009 - 2:46 pm

A number of Liberal political advocacy groups have called for a change in the laws of Massachusetts in order to provide more votes for health care “reform”. The Washington Post’s Capitol Briefing writes:

MassVOTE, which calls itself “a non-partisan voting rights organization,” has launched a Web site, WeNeedTwo.org, asking readers to “[s]ign our petition to the Massachusetts Legislature to honor Ted Kennedy’s legacy by taking steps to ensure an immediate, temporary appointment who won’t run in the election to fill Massachusetts’s second Senate seat. … Supporting the effort are several liberal-leaning groups, including the state branches of the Service Employees International Union and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Patrick has endorsed the idea of changing the law, and leaders in the state Legislature are reportedly warming to the idea as well.


Amateur hour

August 28th, 2009 - 4:18 am

The Internet constantly introduces us to people whose existence we would never have suspected. Talent that would never have made it past the gatekeepers can always schedule a performance on YouTube, the world’s largest stage. Whether you are three guys in an apartment who’d like to walk 500 miles or a someone who walks in on a scene at the Sopranos or a Malaysian girl who has made the whole universe her cultural context from Sarawak, it’s a vast virtual world in which our avatars encounter one another and occasionally pull in the real people they represent after them. If it’s true that on the Internet nobody knows if you’re a dog; it’s also true that everyone sooner or later learns if you have talent.

BTW. There’s a new meetup being announced at the Belmont Club in Houston Twitter site. Meet the avatars in person.

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August 27th, 2009 - 3:07 am

Somebody believes the left is losing the public policy debate because they’ve got all the flagship institutions. And that’s a liability. Umair Haque, writing in a Harvard Business Publishing article, argues that the right, like al-Qaeda has mastered the art of “5th generation warfare” and is swarming all over the left. He notices that liberals have been losing the debate lately and tries to analyze why. The problem with the left, he seems to think, is that they are responding from a center, sending talking points out to a periphery, whereas the right has discovered how to attack swiftly, from a plethora of directions and in depth. The right is inside their OODA loop and Haque realizes that if this goes on long enough, the left will lose. Haque posits “10 rules” for fighting a “5th generation” information war, which I’ll leave the reader to peruse, but here is a list of of some of them.

  • Speed up response
  • Microchunk answers
  • Meta-attack — revalue facts by establishing sources of authority
  • Self-organize hyperlocally

Haque is among the first to understand that the Left is facing an truly new phenomenon. He does not make the mistake of believing that grassroots restiveness is driven by simple ignorance; nor does he fall into the error of thinking that the sudden emergence of memes like the fear of “death panels” is simply a perverse rejection of a beautiful public good. He correctly understands that the attacks are coming from everywhere in the conservative political spectrum, that its sheer leaderlessness is actually a source of strength because it means that like al-Qaeda, every group of conservative protesters can initiate and plan its own actions within the context of a shared narrative. This is why it is so deadly; and why he profers his ten points for countering it.

But having gone so far toward understanding what he’s facing, Haque fails to take his own logic to its ultimate conclusion. For some reason he believes that manipulation and the reimposition of authority can stem the tide. A change of style will set things right. The problem is that the left isn’t cool enough; get cooler and get into 5G. For example, Haque advises the left to forget about the facts; to focus on the frame. He tells them to destroy their opposition with the wow of authority.

You’re attacking with “facts.” But facts don’t matter, because your enemy doesn’t value information like you do. Life expectancy’s smaller in the States? So what — according to your enemies, you can’t trust facts from Cuba (or France). So you have to attack not with “facts”, but with meta-information about how to value facts. Start with meta-information about how to value insurance rationally — over a lifetime, not a day, for example. … discuss why smears and misinformation are unacceptable; make public and transparent who refuses to accept norms of good behaviour


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It’s between him and his maker now. Read the Wikipedia entry on the Chappaquiddick incident.  Joseph Conrad wrote in Lord Jim, “it is not Justice the servant of men, but accident, hazard, Fortune–the ally of patient Time–that holds an even and scrupulous balance.”

Losing the embed

August 26th, 2009 - 1:55 am

I got an email from Michael Yon attributing the cancellation of his embed with the British to thoughtlessness and bureaucratic oversight. he writes:

The specific problem for me was that MoD cut off the embed with zero warning and no chance for me to prepare. … MoD is giving the reason that my long stay is prompting uproar among journalists who cannot get embed slots. I’ve embedded longer in Iraq with combat troops, for instance, than any journalist of any sort. I don’t buy their backpedalling now that this is public, but even if they are being truthful the truth itself is lame reason to stop me embed. There is no journalist in the U.K. or the U.S. who spends more time in combat. It’s silly to lump me in with the war-tourist sorts who come here for a month or two (usually a week or two). Among those who do come, most rarely if ever go on true combat missions to see what our lads are dealing with.

Part of the problem is that bureaucracies designed for the transient type of journalist will probably find a Michael Yon a square peg in a round hole.