:: Saturday, October 26, 2002 ::
The man who wore no mask
Yehuda Avner, one of Yitzhak Rabin's long-time staff members, writes a concise and moving tribute to his late boss.
I never wanted to see "Rudy" anyway
One of my least favorite teams in all of sports, Notre Dame football, is unfortunately still in the running for the national title after winning at Florida State. Their next three games are butt easy, and their last one is at USC, which is tough but certainly winnable. The only other teams ahead of them in the BCS rankings are Miami, which has tough games at Tennessee and at home against Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma, which has several road games left plus the conference championship game. If either of those teams lose, an undefeated Irish would almost certainly play for the title. If Miami and Oklahoma both win all their remaining games, I guess Notre Dame could still theoretically slip in ahead of Miami by moving up in the polls and because of their superior numbers in the mind-boggling computer rankings. On the other hand, the other BCS factors would all favor Miami: ND can't gain any more from its schedule strength because it's already #1 in that category, Miami will gain in schedule strength via Tennessee and Va. Tech, ND will lose that weird "quality wins" bonus that they now have from their win over Michigan because Michigan will plummet from the Top 10 after getting creamed at home by Iowa today, and Miami would gain quality win points by beating Va. Tech. Wow, that's all very complicated. And if ND does win out and still fails to make the title game, it'll be shades of the late '80s and early '90s when they repeatedly whined about not being given the national championship, like in '89 when they complained about being ranked behind Miami despite having lost to them in the final week of the regular season.
Bittersweet end to the Moscow siege
:: Friday, October 25, 2002 ::
At least 67 hostages died, but more than 700 were rescued, as the Moscow theater siege finally came to an end. There were more than three dozen terrorists holding more than 800 hostages, which must make it one of the biggest hostage crises ever. It's not clear what more the Russians could have done. Maybe they should have dragged out the negotiations more by offering concessions that could later be taken back, just to try to instill a sense of complacency in the terrorists, before storming the theater. That might have saved more lives, but who knows. It's good that so many people were rescued, as the standoff clearly could have had a much bloodier ending.
I guess they had to say something nice
:: Thursday, October 24, 2002 ::
A common theme among conservative media figures when talking about today's tragic death of ultra-liberal Senator Paul Wellstone has been "he was wrong about everything, but at least he was consistent in his beliefs." Those who covered him personally all say that they liked him, and there's no doubt that they're being honest about that, but this worshipping at the altar of political single-mindedness is pretty typical among conservatives today. Someone who's not generally a conservative but agrees with them on this or that particular issue is usually seen as having suspect motives for doing so, like the Democrats who supposedly voted for the Iraq resolution for purely political reasons instead of honest policy-based reasons. Well, OK, maybe some Democrats did vote for it despite not really wanting to, but surely some Republicans also had concerns about the President's policy but kept them to themselves in order to avoid angering their core supporters.
An unexpected and undeserved potential boost for the Democrats
Peter Beinart of the New Republic makes a pretty convincing case that the issue of Iraq could actually help the Democrats in the November election (registration is free, if required), even though their woeful performance on that issue means that they don't deserve it.
The history of "transfer"
The extreme right-wing in Israel often favors the odious idea of transfer, which refers to the forced evacuation of the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza into other Arab countries, as a solution to the conflict. Left-wing Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote in this recent article that the idea had a lot of high-level adherents among the Arabs and the British back in the 1940s. Thanks to Alisa in Wonderland for the heads-up on this interesting piece.
This one won't be Clinton's fault
:: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 ::
North Korea's revelation of its "secret" nuclear program has fired Republicans up in all sorts of ways, putting retroactive blame on Bill Clinton for the entire problem. John McCain even makes the outlandish claim that the 1994 agreement "propped up a regime that might otherwise have collapsed." While criticism of Clinton's approach is certainly justified, will right-wingers be equally critical of the Bush administration's dangerously feckless Pakistan policy? I'm not holding my breath. The reliably non-partisan Jim Hoagland takes Bush and Powell to task on that issue.
Right wing paranoia watch
National Review Online published this article against gun registration, claiming that it won't help solve crimes like the Beltway sniper. Oklahoma City bombing prosecutor James Orenstein makes the case for registration in this Washington Post op-ed. The NRO article also claims that gun registration is really just a ruse put forward by gun prohibitionists, and cites this one quote from a prominent gun control activist as evidence:
The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition — except for the military, police, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors — totally illegal. However, this quote is from more than 25 YEARS AGO, and the guy who said it is DEAD, as the NRO writers admit. So this is their evidence? This one quarter-century old quote by a dead guy proves that anyone who favors gun registration, as I do, is secretly, or maybe not so secretly, pushing a prohibitionist agenda, which I'm not? It never ceases to amaze me how paranoid so many conservatives are in this country when it comes to guns.
I can't think of any snide remarks about this search
:: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 ::
Yahoo: "Shamai Leibowitz" and "paint"
Not a believable explanation
Former President George Bush Sr. once again defends his decision not to take more action against Saddam at the end of the Gulf War. Hindsight makes that mistake seem a lot clearer than it was back then, and it's tough to claim that the US should have gone ahead and marched into Baghdad, but this reasoning from Bush is still terribly unconvincing:
Bush said the United States may have made a "miscalculation" to expect that the defeat would prompt Hussein's removal by Iraqi opponents. "We underestimated his brutality to his own people," the former president said.Can anyone really believe that? Saddam had already used chemical weapons against the Kurds at that point. His record of slaughter and torture against his own people was already a mile long. It strains credibility to think that Bush underestimated anything about him back then.
The best blog post of all time
The always excellent Little Green Footballs has gotten a lot of attention after MSNBC's "Best of Blogs" page gave creedence to a stupid charge of racism made against LGF by another blogger. In what could very well be the greatest blog post ever, ScrappleFace says out loud what all of us are really thinking: smear me too, MSNBC!
Criticism from Bizarro's world
The Economist exposes the logical fallacy underlying one of the most common criticisms of America's current foreign policy:
Some of America's critics...compose a list of useful chores for the superpower to take on right away, the one common feature of which is that none of them is Iraq. Solve Palestine, solve Kashmir, end world poverty, turn Muslim leaders into democrats, make the lion lie down with the lamb. Curiously, it is assumed in the case of Iraq that American intervention is pre-ordained to be incompetent and that the looked-for benefit will be outweighed by the unintended consequences. Everywhere else, American omnipotence is taken for granted. Solve Palestine? A decade of intensive American peacemaking led by Bill Clinton failed, yet it is blithely assumed that America has now merely to brandish a magic wand or big enough stick to make Israel disgorge the occupied territories it has been choking on for decades. Another common feature of all those suggestions is that they're the opposite of what America either is doing or wants to do. So if America is Superman, which many of these lame-brained critics seem to think it is, that would put them in the role of Bizarro, Superman's thick-headed rival who always did the opposite of what Superman did.
Looking for the Una-sniper
:: Monday, October 21, 2002 ::
Maybe the person who did this weird search knows that my office is just down the hall from a plaque that has Ted Kaczynski's (aka the Unabomber) name on it. He won the Michigan math department award for best thesis in 1967.
Google search: mathematics and the virginia sniper
Meryl delivers a thorough and well-deserved takedown of the distortions and lies being propagated about her by the truth-impaired blogger Anil Dash. Remind me never to make her mad. It looks like Anil has committed what Diane referred to as blogger-kiri.
Terrorism: defining it and fighting it
After sitting through a day-long flood of lies and propaganda last week at the divestment conference, I was happy to have the chance tonight to see a talk that was educational and based on facts. Elliot Chodoff of Mideast: On Target gave a talk called "Sociology of Terrorism," and what follows is a summary of the main points he made. He started off by emphasizing that terrorism is a method, not a belief system or a way of life, and as such it can be defined and measured. The notion that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is wrong because terrorism has a definition: targeting non-combatants with violence and the threat of its use in order to overturn a political status quo. Terrorism is always destructive, and its perpetrators almost never have a coherent plan for what they want to do if they succeed in their goals--their only clearly articulated aim is to destroy a political structure or entity. Terrorism is an indirect process: its targets are not part of the political power structure that the terrorists want to overthrow. Specifically, the 2001 assassination of Israeli politician Rehavam Ze'evi by the Palestinian group PFLP was not an act of terrorism because Ze'evi was the direct target. Bus bombings like the one today differ in that they indirectly target the whole Israeli population--the indiscriminate (but not random, as the press sometimes mistakenly says) nature of the targeting of civilians not only kills and wounds the victims but also terrorizes the rest of the population being attacked. In another specific example, the suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 also wasn't terrorism--the people attacked were soldiers in a combat zone, so they had the responsibility to protect themselves from attack. Needless to say, terrorism is not simply a synonym for something bad or evil--acts like the Ze'evi killing, the Marine barracks bombing, Pearl Harbor, etc. are obviously not good or acceptable just by virtue of their not being terrorism. But it's important to make the definition clear, with regards to the nature of the act and the people being targeted.
International law says nothing about terrorism, as there isn't even an accepted definition. The following example illustrates how problematic this is for countries fighting it: terrorists of nationalities A and B hijack a passenger jet from an airline based in country C. The hijackers keep only the passengers of nationality D on board, plus the crew. They force the plane to stop in country E, before going on to their destination in country F. Country D sends a rescue team to F, frees the hostages, and stops in country G to re-fuel on the way back to D. Now which country is the only one that violated any existing international laws? Country D! This situation did happen, of course, and you probably already know who country D was. See how many of the countries and nationalities you can name before checking at the end of the post for the answer.
Back to the talk: terrorists usually target democracies because terror is much more effective against them than it is against totalitarian or police states. One reason is that in dictatorships, the rulers control the people, so targeting the people doesn't affect the rulers very much, if at all. But in democracies, where the rulers are chosen by the people and are ultimately accountable to them, terrorism is theoretically more effective because an unhappy population on election day is usually bad news for the government in power. Another reason that terrorists go after democracies is the value that democracies put on the lives of their citizens. During the hostage crisis at the American embassy in Iran in '79, the USA stated that the one thing it was really concerned with was the lives of the hostages, which made the hostages a very valuable commodity for the terrorists. A lesser known hostage incident around that time took place in 1980, when anti-Khomeini terrorists stormed the Iranian embassy in London and took hostages among the British and Iranian people working there. The Khomeini regime basically said to the terrorists, "go ahead and kill the Iranian hostages, we don't care. But if you do, we'll kill your friends, your relatives, and their friends too." This made the Iranian hostages not only a much less valuable commodity for the terrorists, but a liability! Democracies certainly cannot and should not emulate the Khomeini regime's response, but the two examples dramatically illustrate the different levels of effectiveness that terrorism can have on free and non-free societies.
In his concluding remarks, Chodoff explained that 9/11 was not so much a failure of intelligence-gathering as it was a failure of the political system in not taking action on the intelligence that was available. The US didn't have anyone at the highest political level playing the role of a professional paranoid, someone who wakes up every day and tells everyone who will listen, "oh no, the bad guys are coming after us, and here are all the terrible things they're trying to do." Having that sort of person at a high level (it could be the Sec. of Defense, head of the CIA, national security advisor, etc.) is critical so that the people gathering the intelligence have someone to go to who can effectively advocate for taking action. A major pre-9/11 problem was the lack of political will in dealing with the intelligence--no one in a sufficiently high-up position pushed for any meaningful action to deal with the terrorist threat, so a lot of intelligence that might have made a difference didn't get high enough in the system. When it comes to the war on international terrorist networks, a problem for us is the lack of distinction between criminals and combatants: which category do terrorists fall under, and how does that affect the way we fight them? Under western democratic norms, it's probably better from the terrorists' point of view to be seen as criminals. Finally, the most important (and rather disheartening) thing to realize about fighting terror is that you can never really win. The only time you know for sure whether you're succeeding is when you fail, when the terrorists succeed in striking. Achieving a final victory over terrorism isn't really possible, only minimizing it and learning how to cope with it. Balancing freedom and security is difficult but critical--if democracies become police states in the name of fighting terror, then, by the very definition of terrorism, the democracies will have lost because the terrorists will have succeeded in overthrowing and destroying the political status quo.
It was the Entebbe rescue of July 1976.
A,B: Palestinians, West Germans
Yasser Arafat continues building his legacy
At least seven killed in northern Israel, plus dozens of other lives ruined, in the latest terror blast of what Palestinians usually refer to as "the blessed intifada."
More on the "pro-peace" divestment conference
:: Sunday, October 20, 2002 ::
Here's a summary of the conference that mentions the following struggle between the "moderates" of the Michigan student group SAFE and other "ideologues":
Citing public-relations concerns, the largely Arab-American leadership of SAFE fought vigorously to excise from the movement's guiding principles language condemning "the racism and discrimination inherent in Zionism." Members of SAFE also fought to drop from the guiding principles the statement: "As a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation." The latter statement has been labeled by critics as a pointed refusal to condemn Palestinian suicide bombings.
But more radical conference-goers — some of the most vocal of whom were non-Arab activists from Berkeley — successfully resisted the efforts to excise the language.
A visibly frustrated [SAFE leader and conference organizer Fadi] Kiblawi told those assembled, "These guiding principles are not representative of our campus's views," adding that the language that was finally adopted was "not something that I feel comfortable with."
There was, however, one resolution on which near-unanimity prevailed. As the conference was drawing to a close, an older, Jewish conference participant offered a resolution that would have explicitly stated that the divestment movement's vision of a "true peace" included "coexistence" with a "transformed and democratized" Israel and a renunciation of Palestinian claims on Israeli cities such as Haifa and Jaffa. It failed to find a single supporter.
So the "moderates" made their voices known, good for them. Thanks to Judith Weiss for the link.
Maybe there really is an "axis" of evil
Ha'aretz military affairs editor Ze'ev Schiff is reporting that North Korea and Iran are cooperating on their nuclear missile development programs. I guess that isn't too surprising, since rogue regimes in different parts of the world have nothing to lose from working together.
Israel's missile defense
The Jerusalem Report has an article this week about Israel's "Arrow" missile defense system. On the most pressing issue, Saddam's Scuds, everyone quoted in the article seems pretty confident about the Arrow. MI chief Aharon Ze'evi claimed recently that it won't be necessary this time because "there are no missiles in western Iraq and no such deployment is planned in the near future." I don't know where he found such optimism, but I certainly hope he's right. Former Air Force commander Eitan Ben-Eliahu, who flew one of the planes in the 1981 bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, says that the very successful tests of the system to date are close enough to battle conditions because "we are talking about a fixed ballistic course and a meeting in space with a target that doesn’t maneuver. There are far fewer potentially unexpected variables than, say, in a dog fight or a tank battle."
The article also talks about whether the Arrow might be effective against other threats in the future, most notably nuclear missiles. I don't support missile defense for America, since I think it's a hare-brained way of dealing with the nuclear threat that, especially post-9/11, clearly comes more from suicidal terrorists than from missiles fired from afar. But I'm glad that Israel has its system in place to help deal with Saddam and the other crazies in the Middle East because the ridiculous political situation there occasionally allows Arab states to launch unprovoked attacks on Israel without paying a price.