Thursday, November 24, 2005

More lies from the Bush administration:

Earlier this month, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported what seemed to be big news. In February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had concluded that a captured Al Qaeda commander named Ibn Al Shaykh Al Libi was probably lying when he told debriefers that Saddam Hussein had provided chemical and biological weapons training to the terrorist group. Still, the newspapers reported that, even after this, the Bush administration used Libi's claims to sell the war. Colin Powell touted Libi's statements as evidence of a Saddam-Al Qaeda link in his February 2003 presentation to the United Nations; President Bush did the same in an October 2002 address to the nation.
From Needle in a Hayestack at TNR.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I'm an agnostic on withdrawing troops from Iraq, but criticism of this idea has involved some bad arguments.

Norman Geras writes,

Anyone arguing for a withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq, whether tomorrow, in six months, or at any date determined in advance rather than set by the demands of the situation and the democratically expressed will of the Iraqi people, needs to support and explain persuasively one of the following hypotheses. (1) That the presence of coalition forces is the main substantial cause of the problems in Iraq today, so that their withdrawal will more or less quickly lead to a radical improvement there. (2) That though this is not the case and therefore not the prospect, however bad things might be after a withdrawal they are unlikely to be worse than they are now. (3) It is not for us to care what would happen in the event of an early withdrawal, bad as the situation may then get. The intervention has been a disaster, it's time for us to get out, and the Iraqis must be left to sort out the mess as best they can.
No. It is also perfectly possible to argue that the continued US force presence is not helping. It is quite clear that the presence of US forces in Iraq is viewed by many as an "occupation," and that it fuels Islamic fundamentalism throughout the middle east. On the other hand, its also quite clear that US troops bring much-needed law and order to Iraq. Whether these two factors balance to our advantage, I do not know; but I can quite understand those who look at Iraq's progression over the past couple of years and think that the presence of US forces is doing more harm than good (most Iraqis routinely say in opinion polls that they want the US to leave immediately).

Anyway, the framing of the question by Geras (and by Bush) is wrong. Even the house resolution on withdrawal sponsored by Rep. Murtha does not ask for a specific date on withdrawal. I doubt that the adoption of a flexible withdrawal strategy, adaptable to the exigencies of the situation, would raise any controversy on the far left.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A good article from Peter Daou: Ten Pro-War Fallacies.

Sometimes I think its quite amazing how many people have swallowed Bush's accusation that his critics are "rewriting history" when they claim Bush mislead the American public. On the other hand, sometimes I think its not amazing at all; the American political scene seems to be composed of a large number of fairly apathetic voters caught between hard-line partisans on both sides ready to believe whatever spin is fed to them.

I will confess that when the war with Iraq began, I was pretty certain that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And in the late 1990s, the Clinton administration certainly thought Iraq had extensive weapons programs. Many Democrats had varied opinions on how far those programs got, including some who believed that Iraq posessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Here is something that neither I, nor Bill Clinton, nor any other Democrat did: take pieces of intelligence that were discredited in the intelligence community and present them to the public, claiming they demonstrated the capacity of Saddam's weapons programs.

Obvious, one would think. Nevertheless, see here for an example the rhetoric one hears today from people who cannot seem to comprehend this.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My love is broad and total for the two of them. But if there is no 'yes' to my marriage proposal, I'll continue making love to them both.
--Mexican president Vincente Fox, when asked how he can reconcile his support for the conflicting Mercosur and FTAA (source).

Monday, November 14, 2005

I just stumbled upon this sad little story. Apparently, an english prof has assigned Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States as reading and subject matter for a paper; and, surprise, surprise, he was confronted by a student who maintained that the book is flawed. The prof decided that:

The only way his argument "works," in my opinion, is if he has some fundamental belief that economically underprivileged individuals are basically evil. If that were the case, as he implies, then he'd be right-- equality couldn't exist, and even if economic equality were achieved, violence would continue to plague our society. So I decided to test him. I told him that if he typed out the following paragraph with his signature and date at the bottom and turned it in, I would award him a perfect score on this draft of his essay (he was in the "C" range under my rubric):

"I, [name], believe Zinn is wrong because socially and/or economically underprivileged individuals are inherently evil; that true freedom, justice, and equality can never exist because the world is a dark and violent place; and that those who bear the burden so that the upper class can exist deserve their fate."

I gave him this option knowing that his beliefs in Christianity play a strong influence in his life (his other papers and comments in class point to this fact) and I assumed that laying it out on the table like this would spur him to see the significance of his implications. Well, you can guess what happened: I now have a student who signed and dated this declaration of his lack of faith in humanity in order to buy a grade on an English paper.
Most commententers on this guy's blog have focused on the ethical problems of giving someone a grade based on a signed declaration of beliefs. What concerns me, though, is that he plainly does not understand what the hell he is talking about.

Consider the loaded statement he gave the student to sign. People who think that equality is impossible and that Zinn's utopian vision does not have much relevance to real life do not maintain that it is primarily poor people who are "evil," in this guy's parlance; they maintain that almost everyone is "evil," where "evil" means motivated primarily by self-interest and a lack of other moral considerations. Poor people are of course "evil" as well, since, you know, they're people: the set of poor people is a subset of the set of people.

Secondly, one need not assume everyone is "evil" to believe that utopian visions of this sort are a waste of everyone's time. I'm sure that mother theresa was quite nice. However,even if you believe that a significant percentage of people are "evil" - say 10% - you are led into the conclusion that American capitalism, or some close cousin of it, is basically as good of an economic system as we can have. A small but significant percentage of people who refuse to act except in their self-interest is enough to sink any system premised on the idea of willing cooperation.

The loaded statement this man gave to his student suggests that he does not understand these nuances - note the pathetic attempt to turn skepticism about human motivations into classist hysteria. It is sad that a person who can not sort out elementary questions of this sort has taken it upon himself to educate others in the art of making logical arguments.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Martha Nussbaum has written a series of posts on Islamic fundamentalism in southern asia, and its quite amazing how much she gets wrong. Most of it is criticism of the Hindu nationalists that anyone ought to agree with, but this bit is terribly misinformed:

Few know, for example, that Bangladesh is a thriving, if poor, Muslim-majority democracy (about 85% Muslim), with democratic self-government, two energetic women who lead the two major parties, a strongly pro-woman official policy, and a constitution that protects fundamental rights very strongly, similar to India’s constitution. Its national anthem, “Amar Sonar Bangla” (“My Golden Bengal”) is a song written by Hindu Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. As Amartya Sen says, “This must be very confusing to those who see the contemporary world as a ‘clash of civilizations’ – with ‘the Muslim civilization,’ ‘the Hindu civilization,’ and ‘the Western civilization,’ each forcefully confronting the others.” (Amartya Sen, “Tagore and His India,” The New York Review of Books June 26, 1997, 55-63.)

Few know that the Muslims of Bangladesh and the 12% or so of India’s citizens who are Muslims have virtually no ties to international Islamic radicalism or to terrorist organizations, relatively few political or organizational ties even to Pakistan. (The struggle over Kashmir is an exception, but it is not related to the events that are my focus.)
Nussbaum must not be in the habits of reading the "World" section of her newspaper, for she has missed articles over the last few years on Islamic radicalization in Bangladesh. Here is one such article from today's Times:

Indian officials and western diplomats have been alarmed by an increase in terrorist attacks by militant groups linked to Al-Qaeda and by the Dhaka government’s failure to crack down on them.

One group said to have links with the government claimed responsibility for 500 synchronised explosions in 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts in August...

The initiative follows attacks by two groups related to Al-Qaeda — Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh and Harakat-ul- Jihad-ul-Islami (Bangladesh), which was among 15 organisations that were banned in Britain last month.

Grenade and bomb explosions across Bangladesh have killed 30 and injured hundreds in the past year. Two Awami League opposition leaders were among those killed and the British high commissioner was targeted in a grenade attack.

It was the August 17 blasts that caused the most alarm. Although only two people died, they showed a new level of sophistication. There were 28 bombs in Dhaka alone and the targets included the prime minister’s office, the police headquarters and the supreme court.

Leaflets found at the bomb sites declared: “It is time to implement Islamic law in Bangladesh” and “Bush and Blair be warned and get out of Muslim countries”.

Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh is led by “Bangla Bhai”, a former vigilante who once fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Opposition leaders and diplomats believe the government has failed to act against Bangla Bhai and other terrorists because they have connections with the governing coalition.

There are two Islamic fundamentalist parties in the coalition, which is led by Begum Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist party: the Jamaat Islami (JI), which has 10% of the vote, and the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ).

The JI is increasingly respected by ordinary voters for its social welfare work, lack of corruption and the operations of its bank, the most profitable in Bangladesh. “You don’t have to pay a bribe to get a loan from them,” said a western observer.

Senior members of the IOJ have declared themselves to be “for the Taliban and for Osama (Bin Laden)”. “There’s a reluctance to acknowledge there’s a problem here,” said one diplomat, who described the IOJ as “real wackos”. He added: “These are the ones going after an anti-American armageddon. Some of the people charged with the bombings have had linkages with the main party.”

Sabir Hossain Chowdhury, an opposition leader who was detained for three months after complaining about Islamic militants linked to the government, said Bangladesh was being subjected to a campaign of intimidation and the government was guilty of complicity. “Bangladesh is probably the only government in the world that includes a group which is committed to jihad and sharia,” he said.
As for the bit about Muslims in India, it is incoherent from a logical point of view. India experiences a huge amount of terrorism every year - much more than the USA, any country in Europe, or even Israel - most of which is related in one way or another to Islamic radicalism due to the conflict of Kashmir.

For example, over the past five days: two civilians were killed by gunmen, a lawmaker was shot, two relatives of a lawmaker were killed. Last week, a car bomb killed 35 people, and a bombing in New Delhi killed 60.

But Nussbaum writes that Kashmir is "not her focus," so she will ignore all this and proceed with her thesis that India and Bangladesh are fine counterexamples to the clash-of-civilizations thesis. Its easy enough to make arguments when you can respond to counterexamples by replying that they are not "within your focus."

If Nussbaum's remark on terrorism in India is intellectually careless, her bit on Bangladesh demonstrates simple ignorance of recent events in the country. Most surprisingly, Nussbaum indicates in her posts that she is in the process of writing a book on the subject of radicalism and nationalism in southern asia. I thought people wrote books about things they knew? As opposed to things of which they had only passing knowledge? Apparently not.

Here is Geoffrey Stone, writing on the Chicago law faculty blog:
...[Bush's] assertion of absolute executive authority to detain an American citizen on American soil and to hold him secretly, incommunicado, with no access to a lawyer or to judicial review, merely on the determination of someone in the executive branch that the individual is something called an "enemy combatant." That, in my view, is a "gestapo-like" tactic, plain and simple. It goes wildly beyond anything any other American president has ever done or claimed the power to do.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Shorter George W. Bush speech: even though members of my administrations have been indicted for crimes involving the manipulation of intelligence, pointing this out to criticize me is deeply irresponsible and sends the wrong message to the enemy.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Crooked Timber on the French riots - here is Daniel Davies:

The prevailing opinion appears to be that the problem with the young French North Africans rioting in towns like Clichy-sur-Bois [1] is that "they have not integrated into French society", or possibly that "French society has not been able to integrate them", depending on which cote of the rue you're looking from.

What utter rot. These young men have got a political grievance, and they're expressing it by setting fire to things and smashing them up. What could be more stereotypically, characteristically French than that? Presumably they're setting fire to cars because they don't have any sheep and the nearest McDonalds is miles away. "French society is threatened by anarchy and lawlessness". I mean really. Everyone would do well to remember that this is France we're talking about, not Sweden or perhaps Canada.

In forthcoming weeks, I shall be applying similar analytical techniques to topics like "root and branch corruption is threatening the essence of Italian democracy" and "Muslim immigrants cannot fit into British society because they are insular, bigoted and sexually repressed".

And here is Belle Waring:

why don’t I have anything to say about the rioting in France? Well, I sort of don’t understand what the hell is going on. I’m reluctant to embrace the Victor Steyn Hinderaker death-throes of Eurabia thing, since it looks more like your run-of-the-mill broke people rioting, combined with massive state incompetence. The cheerful schadenfreude on this issue from the right is unseemly. “Remember when they mocked our social system because something terrible happened to us? Now something terrible is happening to France! I bet they wish they could go cry on the shoulder of their old friend—Saddam Hussein!” I am surprised to learn that les flics are crippled by their mushy multicultural love all all things Islam; the blogosphere really can turn you on to new ideas. Obviously, though, the French government has screwed this up royally; it’s ludicrous that it would go on this long, and that it would take Chirac more than a week to even deign to notice the situation. Some forceful police action is obviously needed; it’s not right for citizens to be cowering in their homes while every car in France is set on fire right outside. (And, damn, those things are more flammable than I ever thought. Suddenly all those 80’s TV scenes where a car going 12 mph noses into a fence and blazes up like a Pinto inferno seem realistic.) Finally, and I mean this in the nicest way, and I don’t want people to die, but doesn’t this seem like some kind of pussy rioting, frankly? It’s been going on for almost two weeks and only one or two people have died?

The latter post was followed by an update:

it isn’t very helpful or accurate to call this rioting “run-of-the-mill” when it’s so obviously serious and strange in a possibly epochal way. So, retract that. What I meant to say is that from what I have seen, ordinary underclass alienation, reaction to percieved racism, massive unempolyment among bored young men, cack-handed government responses, etc. seem to be playing the largest role, vs. the “let’s reduce impotent France to dhimmi status and take over the world with the evil powers of Islam” fantasizing one sees at many right blogs.

Apparently, this last quote was written based on the theory that replacing "run of the mill" by "ordinary" makes a large difference.

You've got to be pretty fucked up to have these sorts of reactions.

Davies tells us that French activists dismantled a half-built McDonalds, therefore violence is French! It seems that French society is very easy to assimilate into indeed; all that is required is to burn some cars and kill some people and you will be very French indeed.

As for Waring, if she really "[doesn't] understand what the hell is going on," she would do better to refrain from commenting about things she does not understand. The "cheerful schadenfreude" coming from the right is not at all schadenfreude; liberals have repeatedly pointed to Europe as a social model worth emulating, and of course these events expose the weaknesses of such a model, which many people have pointed out. Waring also seems to be unaware that there are more people in the French government than Chirac. As for the role of Islamic extremism vs. underclass alienation, its clear that these are not distinct phenomena, but that they aid and reinforce each other.

Today's news:

The fiercely split Kansas Board of Education voted 6 to 4 on Tuesday to adopt new science standards that are the most far-reaching in the nation in requiring that Darwin's theory of evolution be challenged in the classroom.

The standards press beyond the broad mandate for critical analysis of evolution that four other states have established in recent years, by recommending that schools teach specific points that doubters of evolution use to undermine its primacy in science education.

Among the most controversial changes was a redefinition of science itself, so that it would not be explicitly limited to natural explanations.

I suppose we'll just have to defer to the Kansas school board about what science is from now on.

When someone writes the next piece puzzling over reasons Republicans seem to be unable to make it in academia - and in science, as the data suggests - I hope they turn to this as one of the main reasons. If your party overwhelmingly comes from states where they teach you garbage in school, its hardly surprising that you don't amount to much in the world of ideas.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Just a friendly note:

Gu·lag, n.

1. A network of forced labor camps in the former Soviet Union.
2. A forced labor camp or prison, especially for political dissidents.
3. A place or situation of great suffering and hardship, likened to the atmosphere in a prison system or a forced labor camp.

Contrary to some opinions, there is nothing in the definition to suggest that a gulag must contain large numbers of people, involve torture, execute ethnic cleansing, and so on.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Now that French rioting has entered into its tenth day, this essay by Fukuyama is worth a read:

We have tended to see jihadist terrorism as something produced in dysfunctional parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Middle East, and exported to Western countries....There is good reason for thinking, however, that a critical source of contemporary radical Islamism lies not in the Middle East, but in Western Europe. In addition to Bouyeri [Van Gogh's murderer] and the London bombers, the March 11 Madrid bombers and ringleaders of the September 11 attacks such as Mohamed Atta were radicalized in Europe....

We profoundly misunderstand contemporary Islamist ideology when we see it as an assertion of traditional Muslim values or culture. In a traditional Muslim country, your religious identity is not a matter of choice; you receive it, along with your social status, customs and habits, even your future marriage partner, from your social environment. In such a society there is no confusion as to who you are, since your identity is given to you and sanctioned by all of the society's institutions, from the family to the mosque to the state.

The same is not true for a Muslim who lives as an immigrant in a suburb of Amsterdam or Paris. All of a sudden, your identity is up for grabs; you have seemingly infinite choices in deciding how far you want to try to integrate into the surrounding, non-Muslim society. In his book "Globalized Islam" (2004), the French scholar Olivier Roy argues persuasively that contemporary radicalism is precisely the product of the "deterritorialization" of Islam, which strips Muslim identity of all of the social supports it receives in a traditional Muslim society.

The identity problem is particularly severe for second- and third-generation children of immigrants. They grow up outside the traditional culture of their parents, but unlike most newcomers to the United States, few feel truly accepted by the surrounding society....

Integration is further inhibited by the fact that rigid European labor laws have made low-skill jobs hard to find for recent immigrants or their children. A significant proportion of immigrants are on welfare, meaning that they do not have the dignity of contributing through their labor to the surrounding society. They and their children understand themselves as outsiders.

It is in this context that someone like Osama bin Laden appears, offering young converts a universalistic, pure version of Islam that has been stripped of its local saints, customs and traditions. Radical Islamism tells them exactly who they are--respected members of a global Muslim umma to which they can belong despite their lives in lands of unbelief. Religion is no longer supported, as in a true Muslim society, through conformity to a host of external social customs and observances; rather it is more a question of inward belief.

This account is, I think, incomplete: Bin Laden is popular in the middle east as well, in addition to western Europe. Nevertheless, the point remains: a large number of terrorist acts is perpertrated by Muslim immigrants to the West.

Nor is this only a question of terrorism:

Sarkozy says that violence in French suburbs is a daily fact of life. Since the start of the year, 9,000 police cars have been stoned and, each night, 20 to 40 cars are torched.”

I'm naturally inclined towards a liberal immigration policy, but these facts suggest otherwise. Every time an immigrant from Saudi Arabia or north Africa is admitted, there is a small chance he will turn out to be a suicide bomber. This is not true for immigrants from China or Hindu immigrants from India. It is madness not to include this fact in the cost-benefit calculations associated with immigration. The right question to ask is: what is the expected number of 9/11's that we are willing to accept for the sake of a liberal immigration policy? Would we accept such an immigration policy if it meant that a 9/11 every year was probable? Every decade? Every few decades?

My answer is that the expected number of terrorist acts deriving from an immigration policy ought to be zero, or pretty damn close to zero. However, the solution is not to cut off immigration, but rather, be more selective in the type of immigrants admitted. In particular, I think immigration from countries with a high likelihood of terrorism should be about zero. The drop in immigration can be made up for by accepting more immigrants from other countries, e.g. China and so on.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Most of the readers will think this is obvious but nevertheless:

...this study compared performance of adult marijuana users and non-users...Subjects were given the twelfth grade versions of these tests (Iowa Tests of Educational Development) and other, computerized cognitive tests in successive test sessions. "Heavy" marijuana use (defined by use seven or more times weekly) was associated with deficits in mathematical skills and verbal expression....light" and "intermediate" marijuana use (defined by use one to four and five to six times weekly, respectively) were not associated with deficits. Intermediate use was associated with superior performance in one condition ("fuzzy" concepts) of a Concept Formation test.

From Effects of chronic marijuana use on human cognition, R.I. Block, M.M. Ghoneim, Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1993;110(1-2):219-28.

It seems that if you want to improve your child's score on the Iowa Test, giving him marijuana five days a week is a good idea.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

An NYT op-ed by Paul Gewirtz and Chad Golder includes some data on the likelihood of Supreme Court judges to overturn congressional laws:

Thomas 65.63 %
Kennedy 64.06 %
Scalia 56.25 %
Rehnquist 46.88 %
O’Connor 46.77 %
Souter 42.19 %
Stevens 39.34 %
Ginsburg 39.06 %
Breyer 28.13 %

It is notable that all the "judicial activists" come out on the bottom while all the conservatives come out on top. So much for the advocates of judicial restraint.

It may be objected that the data set is incomplete: perhaps judicial conservatives are less likely to invalidate state laws. This may be true, but it does not invalidate the point. As Henry Farrell writes,
...the conservative expressed preference for state law over federal law is hardly unrelated to the fact that (a) the state laws at issue are frequently substantively closer to conservative preferences than are federal laws, and (b) that a strong emphasis on states’ rights makes various forms of economic and political regulation much less feasible in an interconnected economy of 50 states. So too for liberals of course, but the point is that humility in the face of democratic legislatures isn’t the driving force here – it’s calculations about substantive outcomes.

One way or another, deference to legislatures has little to do with outcomes of rulings by conservative judges.

See also: A ritual stupidity.