:: Friday, November 01, 2002 ::
No introspection--what a surprise
:: Thursday, October 31, 2002 ::
Ha'aretz has a rather sad story about a Palestinian organization that runs a hotline and a newspaper for young Palestinians to deal with their problems. Understandably, troubles like teen-parent friction and young kids' bedwetting are seen in light of the occupation, but all too predictably, there's no discussion of how the Palestinians got into their situation and no mention of suicide bombings. Child-sacrificial jihadist terror is "a sensitive topic" according to the teen paper's editor-in-chief. My bet is that after any future peace process or unilateral withdrawal that results in Palestinian independence, all of their problems and any continuing anti-Israel terror will be blamed on "post-colonialism."
Giving credit where it isn't due, albeit unintentionally
Many right-wing Israelis and their supporters abroad argue against the idea of any unilateral withdrawal from the territories on the grounds that it would erode Israel's deterrence. As proof, they often cite the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, which happened just a few months before the intifada started in late Sept. 2000. The Palestinians and many other Arabs have given a lot of creedence to that theory by constantly singing the praises of the "Hizbullah model," which they see as Hizbaullah's "defeat" of the Israeli army in Lebanon that "forced" the withdrawal. In spite of this, the right-wingers are committing an error as basic as that committed by the Israeli left when it assumed that the Palestinians were rational enough to be trusted as negotiating partners: the right assumes that the Palestinians are rational enough to be deterred by Israel's power at some point in the future. On the one hand, to think that the Palestinians wouldn't have launched the intifada without the inspiration of the Lebanon withdrawal is to give them far more credit than they deserve--clearly, they would have found some other excuse for it. And to think that they can eventually be deterred by sheer force is also to assume that they will rationally come to the conclusion that terror won't defeat Israel. So arguing for the maintenance of a completely military approach is ill-advised for a reason similar to the one that the right often uses to criticize the left--assuming that Israel can coax the Palestinians into behaving rationally. Israel can't do that from the right any more than it could from the left.
A linguistic challenge for bloggers
:: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 ::
Reading AtlanticBlog's "Fisking" of a speech given by the man for whom the term is named makes me think that there should be a special term reserved for this, when the fiskee is Robert Fisk himself. I nominate "meta-fisking."
Well, it is a small country
:: Tuesday, October 29, 2002 ::
My dad told me that one of his college classmates and graduate school roommates in Israel was Elhanan Leibowitz, the father of terror apologist Shamai Leibowitz, whom I mentioned here a while back--he was supposed to speak at the divestment conference but couldn't make it. My dad says that Elhanan, who died of cancer some years ago, was a great guy. Too bad his son has embarrassed himself.
I made "Best of the Web"...sort of
The Saddam e-mail story mentioned below was posted on Wired early Monday, so I was surprised to see that it didn't make OpinionJournal's Best of the Web on Mon. afternoon. I sent them the link, and they used it today, giving me a credit at the bottom of the page.
A surprising number
:: Monday, October 28, 2002 ::
TNR's &c page has a post today linking to this interesting recent op-ed by E.J. Dionne, whose column I usually read, that I must have missed when he wrote it. He discusses the potential effects that Bill Clinton might have on the upcoming election and mentions this poll:
The basic political truth about Clinton remains: He is despised and admired in almost equal measure. A Gallup Poll in September found that only 14 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Clinton, while 81 percent viewed him negatively. Among Democrats, the numbers were reversed: 78 percent favorable, 18 percent unfavorable. Completing the near-perfect correlation, independents split almost evenly. The number I find surprising is the 14% of Republicans who view Clinton favorably--I'm surprised that it's that high! Seriously, I'm genuinely surprised that it's above zero. I was always stunned by the supernova-level hatred that mainstream Republican leaders and right-wing commentators expressed about Clinton every single day of his presidency. The Gore-bashing of the 2000 campaign seemed mild by comparison. I never totally got used to it, even long after I realized that they would never even consider moderating their so obviously personally motivated vitriol that not infrequently reached levels that any reasonable observer would consider un-American.
Saddam Hussein, you've got mail!
My roommate Paul comes through again with a tip, this time the lead story on Wired: Dear Saddam, How Can I Help? Someone (presumably the Wired reporter who wrote the story, Brian McWilliams) managed to guess the login and password for the equivalent of firstname.lastname@example.org on the Iraqi government's official website and shared some of what he found. Not surprisingly, some people wrote Saddam with advice on obtaining or making WMD, others wanted access for their businesses in Iraq, and others were somewhat less friendly:
A man who identified himself as a former U.S. paratrooper and Persian Gulf War veteran e-mailed on June 25 that he regretted that "a political solution decision was made before my friends and I had a chance to completely wipe your cartoon character of a leader off the face of this earth."
One AOL user sent Saddam a one-word message: "Imminent." Attached to the Aug. 6 e-mail was a photograph of an atomic mushroom cloud.
How a probability paradox relates to war
In a review of Daniel Ellsberg's "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers," Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker explains how Ellsberg's background in decision theory, in particular his study of a paradox that is now named for him, relates to how he came to view the Vietnam war:
The paradox arises from a series of games involving colored balls in urns. Let's say there are two urns, each of which contains a hundred balls, which are either red or black. One urn contains fifty red balls and fifty black balls. The proportion of red and black in the other urn is unknown. You can draw one ball from one of the urns, without looking, and if you draw a red ball you win a hundred dollars. Which urn will you choose?
Lemann concludes by relating all of this to the current situation with Saddam:
There is no good reason to think that the chance of getting a red ball is any better in one urn than in the other, but Ellsberg found that people overwhelmingly chose the urn known to have fifty balls of each color. The person running the game would then say, "O.K., you think that urn is likelier to have a red ball; now I'm going to offer you a hundred dollars if you draw a black ball." If you turned to the fifty-fifty urn for the red ball, it would seem you had a hunch that the other urn contained more black balls, and therefore you should try to draw your black ball from it. But, overwhelmingly, people chose the fifty-fifty urn again. The Ellsberg paradox is that people so strongly prefer definite information over ambiguity that they make choices consistent neither with the laws of probability nor with themselves.
The fact that Ellsberg spent years working on this kind of problem casts an interesting light on the progression of his views on the Vietnam War. When he toured the backcountry with John Paul Vann, he was struck by how different the war looked at first hand from how it looked back in Washington. American and South Vietnamese forces were supposed to be "pacifying" South Vietnam—that is, ridding rural areas of armed opposition to the government—and American officers consistently submitted reports saying that pacification was working. Ellsberg saw that it wasn't, that the reports were naïve at best and faked at worst. Having been trained to think that bad decisions were the product of inadequate information, he concluded that the Johnson Administration was pursuing the pacification policy because it was being lied to. Characterizing his own view at the time, Ellsberg says, "The solution seemed to be to find ways to get better information to the president."
For Ellsberg, the shattering revelation of the Pentagon Papers was that the American Presidents who made decisions about Vietnam had actually been well informed. Nobody was lying to them about the probability of success of American engagement, and they engaged anyway. All this contradicted not only Ellsberg's own explanation for mistaken judgments but a whole way of seeing the world, in which if decision-makers can be given good information they will make rational choices.
It is of the utmost importance right now that we understand that the decision to go to war is ideological, not informational: the reason people disagree vehemently about war in Iraq is not that the facts on the ground or the true prospects of American military success are being kept hidden. What they disagree about is under what conditions and by what means the United States should try to affect the governance of other countries. It's not what we know but what we believe in that makes all the difference. Fascinating stuff!
My roommate Paul, who is studying decision theory, showed me one of his textbooks that mentions Ellsberg's paradox. Apparently Ellsberg presented his scenario to a lot of the leading economists and decision theorists of the time, and many of them chose the "50-50" urn both times. Leonard Savage, one of the founders of decision theory, reported "with exemplary frankness" that even after carefully reconsidering the problem in light of his own theory, he would still want to make the same choices!
:: Sunday, October 27, 2002 ::
It wasn't anywhere near as dramatic as Game 6, but Anaheim won it all in style in Game 7. Did Fox really need to zoom in on Dusty Baker's son sobbing in the dugout right after the final out? That was kind of cruel. I was never very fond of Barry Bonds, but I do feel bad for him, as he did everything he possibly could have done to help his team win, and this was most likely the best chance he'll ever get to cap off one of the most amazing careers in American sports history with a championship.
We've got a lot of what it takes to get around
Zev Chafets of the NY Daily News is in the money, as are all the rest of us who have gotten e-mails from wealthy Africans in urgent need of access to our bank accounts.
Does anybody really know what time it is?
Your clueless narrator didn't realize that daylight saving time had kicked in today until after waking up. But it's nice when you mess it up in the fall, since you get an extra hour.
Don't you monkey with the monkey
Down 5-0 and with only 9 outs left in their season, the Angels pull off their latest and greatest comeback to force Game 7. Major league baseball has taken an unusual amount of crap this year, much of it totally justified, but this World Series has been awesome, and Game 6 was one of the most exciting games I've ever seen in any sport. The final chapter awaits, let's hope it's as good as the penultimate one was.