Where Do I Sign Up?

Patrick Belton, over at Oxblog posts about a new group calling itself ‘Truman Democrats’; I definitely want to know more about this, but on a quick scan, I want to sign up…

The co-directors of the Truman National Security Project just sent us their interesting thoughts toward how Democrats can gain public trust on security as the party of principled strength; among other things, they explore the relationship between Realism and Wilsonianism within the Democratic party, as well as the putative values gap. Since one of the directors of the Truman Project happens to be my wife, Rachel, I’m happy to include their thoughts in full here.
It’s been just two weeks since the polls closed, and Democrats have accepted that their defeat stemmed from losing the values-debate. But in the first minutes after the election, conventional wisdom served up another theory for the Democratic loss: Americans don’t trust Democrats to protect them from terror. These voting blocks were only three points apart. But these theories are in danger of becoming mutually exclusive. Instead, they need to be unified. Americans want a candidate with a strong moral vision, and a commitment to their security. For Democrats to win elections again, we must embody strength, with principle.

War In A Time Of Information

Kevin Sites has a commentary up on his blog about the video he shot, the background of the events, and his justification for releasing the footage.

It’s a good read, and I suggest you go check it out.

It points out a subtle, but interesting thing to me.First, that there were two things he could have done with the tape. He could have informed an officer and released the tape to him to evaluate the soldier’s actions for potential prosecution.

But that would have implied that the military controlled the information flow, and that he – as a journalist – acknowledged that control.

Or he could have released them to his pool, as he did.

And he did that because to him – and in reality – the media are no longer subservient to the military, they are its peers (and some would say, its masters).

This connects with Tim Oren’s post below, in that the impact of an ‘information rich’ war is in part driven by the ability of an individual to shoot video, and distribute it widely around the world in essentially real time (a matter of days), quickly enough to drive responses to action within a decision cycle – something that would have been essentially impossible until this decade.

This changes things profoundly.

Control of information is important in two ways – operationally and strategically.

Operationally communication like two-way radios and cell phones make it possible for guerillas to communicate dynamically and to maintain an information-rich battlefield. I assume that our military is capable of and does jam the commercial frequencies (which is why the Fallouja guerillas were reduced to using signal flags).

Strategically, however, the impacts are much greater.

It’s hard to deliberately shape the perception of what’s going on when there is a relatively free flow of information from the battlefield.

And it’s harder when the two sides react in such different ways to what is shown.

I have to believe that jihadis – had the roles in the video been reversed, and a black-garbed guerilla (I use that term for our opponents in Fallouja because in this context, they are fighting against a military force – they are equally terrorists in other contexts) shot a wounded, disarmed Marine slumped against a wall – would have seen the images as an excuse to party.

One side cheers blood, the other shuns it. We love life, and they seek death.

The problem of course, is that we’re perfectly capable of cheering death.

We don’t in part because we turn away out of our acculturated politeness and in no small part because the gatekeepers of our media don’t want to show us the scenes that they know would inflame us.

The issue with that is, of course the notion that our will to win is the most important thing we bring to the fight.

We live in comfort, have the most lethal military in history, and so don’t need to want to win as badly as someone who is facing us from the other side.

But we still have to want to win. And the sad reality is that every time we see an image of one of our killing one of theirs – particularly if it isn’t ‘fair’, a little bit of that will leaks out.

We don’t know how to maintain morale in an information-rich war. We’re going to have to, because that’s what the future holds for us.

They took all the footage off my T.V.
Said it’s too disturbing for you and me
It’ll just breed anger that’s what the experts say
If it was up to me I’d show it everyday
Some say this country’s just out looking for a fight
After 9/11 man I’d have to say that’s right

– Darryl Worley ‘Have you forgotten’

Really, I’m Trying To Feel Bad About This

Despicable litigant and bad cartoonist Ted Rall was dropped by the Washington Post yesterday.

Apparently he has fans, and on his blog, he thoughtfully posted the email of the poor sap at the WaPo taking complaints on this: washingtonpost@mailnj.custhelp.com

Somehow, I have a feeling you’ll know what to do.

I believe the correct spelling is “congratulations.”

You Decide

Via Vodkapundit (how fun that is to say!), a blog that deserves wider attention – but positive, or negative, I can’t yet say.

Meet the Irate Savant – either a truly odd person writing a personal journal, or, more likely I believe, an exercise in literary style from an aspiring fiction writer.

Earlier this evening I resorted to what has heretofore been a certain cure for boredom or anxiety: the Marian Keane commentary on the Criterion Collection Notorious, always rewarding and worth any number of film classes (and, I recall, even more compelling on narcotics), and yet I find my mind wandering to my neighbor and our most agreeable adventure of the night before. While navigating the treacherous strait of courtship is an exigent, wearisome, and inevitably disappointing task, I am nevertheless more and more resolved to seize the helm and steer into those waters once again.

Stoppard on Voting And Values

I was looking for a quote I recalled about voting, in Tom Stoppard’s play ‘Jumpers‘. And of course, once TG found my copy, I sat down and read the whole brilliant thing. I saw it on Broadway in the mid-1970’s, and still remember how thrilling and funny it was.

So here’s something to keep in mind as we talk about voting and technology:

George: Furthermore, I had a vote.

Dotty: It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting, Archie says.

and since I couldn’t stop reading it and am a fast typist, something to keep in mind while I work on my post on ‘values’ (not italicized because it’s too darn long):

George: Professor McFee’s [the murdered jumper/gymnast/Professor of Logic] introductory paper, which it is my privilege to dispute, has I think been distributed to all of you. In an impressive display of gymnastics, ho ho, thank you, Professor McFee bends over backwards to demonstrate that moral judgments belong to the same class as aesthetic judgments; that the phrase ‘good man’ and ‘good music’ and prejudiced in exactly the same way; in short that goodness, whether in men or music, depends on your point of view.

By discrediting the idea of beauty as an aesthetic absolute, he hopes to discredit by association the idea of goodness as a moral absolute and as a first step he directs us to listen to different kinds of music. (He reaches for a tape recorder.) Professor McFee refers us in particular to the idea of beauty as conceived by Mozart on the one hand, and here I am happy to assist him …(Plays the Mozart again, very brief.) And on the other hand, as conceived by a group of musicians playing at a wedding feast in a part of Equatorial Africa visited only by the makers of television film documentaries, on of which the Professor happened to see on a rare occasion when he wasn’t jumping through the Vice-Chancellor’s hoop, I can’t say that, one of which he happened to see. He invites us to agree with him that beauty is a diverse notion and not a universal one. Personally, I would have agreed to this without demur, but the Professor, whose reading is as wide as his jumping is high…

(The SECRETARY raises her head)

…all right, all right, the Professor bolsters up his argument with various literary references including a telling scene from Tarzan of the Apes in which the boy Tarzan on seeing his face for the first time reflected in a jungle pool, bewails his human ugliness as compared to the beauty of the apes among whom he has grown up. I won’t dwell on Professor McFee’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction, but as regards the musical references it might be worth pointing out that the sounds made by Mozart and the Africans might have certain things in common which are not shared by the sound of, say, a bucket of coal being emptied on to a tin roof. Indeed I have brought with me tonight two further trumpet recordings, starting off with the trumpeting of an elephant…(He plays the braying sound heard before.)…and I invite Professor McFee to admit that the difference between that and his beloved Mozart may owe more to some mysterious property of the music than to his classically trained ear. Anticipating his reply that the latter sound is more beautiful to an elephant, I riposte…(He plays the remaining sound, as heard before.)

…which is the sound made by a trumpet falling down a flight of stone stairs. However it is not my present concern to dispute professor McFee’s view on aesthetics but only to make clear what those views must lead him to, and they lead him to the conclusion that if the three sets of noises which we might label ‘Mozart’, ‘elephant’, and ‘stairs’, were playing in an empty room where no one could hear them, then it could not be said that within the room any one set of noises was in any way superior to either of the other two. Which may, of course, be the case, but Professor McFee does not stay to consider such a reductio as absurdum, for he has bigger fish to fry, and so he goes on to show, likewise, but at even greater length, that the word ‘good’ has also meant different things to different people at different times, and exercise which combines simplicity with futility in a measure he does not apparently suspect, for on one hand it is not a statement which anyone would dispute, and on the other, nothing useful can be inferred from it. It is not in fact a statement about value at all; it is a statement about language and how it is used in a particular society.

Nevertheless, up this deeply rutted garden path, Professor McFee leads us, pointing out items of interest along the way…the tribe that kills its sickly infants, the tribe which eats its aged parents; and so on, without pausing to wonder whether the conditions of group survival or the notions of filial homage might be one thing among the nomads of the Atlas Mountains or in a Brazilian rain forest, and another quite in the Home Counties. Certainly a tribe which believe it confers honour on its elders by eating them is going to be viewed askance by another which prefers to buy them a little bungalow somewhere, and Professor McFee should not be surprised that the notion of honour should manifest itself so differently in peoples so far removed in clime and culture. What is surely more surprising is that notions of honour should manifest themselves at all. For what is honour? What are pride, shame, fellow-feeling, generosity and love? The prevailing temper of modern philosophy is to treat the instinct as a sort of terminus for any train of thought that seeks to trace out impulses to their origins. But what can be said to be the origin for a genuinely altruistic act? Hobbes might have answered self-esteem, but what is the attraction or point of thinking better of oneself? What is better? A savage who elects to honor his father by eating him as opposed to disposing of his body in some -to-him ignominious way, for example by burying it in a teak box, is making an ethical choice in that he believes himself to be acting as a good savage ought to act. Whence comes this sense of some actions being better than others?-not more useful, or more convenient, or more popular, but simply pointlessly better? What, in short, is so good about good? Professor McFee succeeds only in showing us that in different situations different actions will be deemed, rightly or wrongly, to be conducive to that good which is independent of time and place and which is knowable but not nameable. It is not nameable because it is not another way of referring to this or that quality which we have decided is virtuous. It is not courage, and it is not honesty or loyalty or kindness. The irreducible fact of goodness is not implicit in one kind of action any more than in its opposite, but in the existence of a relationship between the two. It is in the sense of comparisons being in order.

Here’s a simple thing. If you read the last paragraph and nodded in assent, values make sense to you.

I’ll try and do a long post on values and the election this weekend.

A Ratchet Works Only One Way

I don’t have a lot of time to write about this, but thought it shouldn’t go without comment.

In the Business section of today’s Los Angeles Times, columnist Michael Hiltzik criticizes the Governator.

That’s OK, there are a fair number of things to criticize him for. But note the implicit policy tilt in this quote:

A big risk would have been to suggest that the property tax regime created under Proposition 13 requires a serious updating; Schwarzenegger silenced his one advisor who raised the issue, Warren Buffett. (To his eternal discredit, Buffett put up with the muzzling.)

A big risk would have been to acknowledge that without higher taxes, California will spend beyond its means not only this year, but also next year and into the foreseeable future. Instead, Schwarzenegger chose to balance the budget by extracting sacrifices from the poor, the medically needy, children, teachers and families supporting college students. (The Legislature eventually forced him to abandon a few of these choices.)

The idea that Schwarzenegger’s budget reflects a sustainable strategy is mystifying. Consider the consequences of his decision to cut $4 billion in state revenue by rescinding the car-tax increase and to replace the money through bond sales, bookkeeping stunts and raids on local governments and educational institutions. The whole package looks very much like the one that helped get Gov. Davis pilloried.

For the record, there are changes to Prop 13 that I believe should be made (I’ve talked about it, specifically in assuring that corporate and partnership transfers trigger reassessment, as they are in fact sales of the property), and I don’t think that Calikfornia is overtaxed, just badly taxed.

I’ll have a longer comment on the budget here in California (and the overall fiscal crisis of state and local government). But it’s interesting to note the blindness on both sides; in this case, someone who flatly cannot concieve of any solution except to raise taxes to cover whatever spending our legislators have voted in.

Should someone send Mr. Hiltzik a copy of Demosclerosis? I just might…

On The Dangers of Contractions

…or why it might be better to say “Gladly The Cross I Would Bear” as opposed to “Gladly The Cross I’d Bear.” Say it out loud folks…just a little classical music humor from KCRW KUSC radio.

Update: David Cohen was paying closer attention to his radio dial than I was to mine…thanks for the catch, Dave!

Two Books and a Quote

I’ve been reading a bunch of books this week.

Two of them are bloggable, and I’ll get them in good time (paying work comes first).

They are Occidentalism, by Ian Baruma and Franklin and Winston, by Jon Meacham.

Franklin and Winston offers good lessons even for those who – unlike me – don’t see parallels between the threat presented by Islamist totalitarianism and Nazi totalitarianism.It talks at length about the delicate politics Roosevelt went through from 1940 to 1941 as he maneuvered to help Churchill and the British while staying barely on the side of the anti-war mainstream of American politics. This mainstream was, as it is now, both based in the wider voting population and in the administrative and media classes.

One interesting quote reminds us that the media are largely the same as they were back then:

“Mr. Prime Minster, isn’t Singapore the key to the whole situation out there?”
“The key to the whole situation is the resolute manner in which the British and American Democracies are going to throw themselves into the conflict.”

“Mr. Minister, could you tell us what you think of conditions within Germany – the morale?”
“Well, I have always been feeling that one of these days we might get a windfall coming from that quarter, but I don’t think we ought to count on it. Just go on keeping on as bad as they are, or as good as they are. And then one of these days, as we did in the last war, we may wake up and find ourselves short of Huns.”

“Mr. Minister, can you tell us when you think we may lick these boys?”

For the first time, Churchill looked puzzled. To that point, The Washington Post reported, he had been “flinging back answers that almost caught the questions in mid-air.” But he did not understand what ‘lick’ meant. Early went over and translated it for him.

“If we manage it well,” Churchill answered with a smile, “it will only take half as long as if we manage it badly.”

And to those who wonder when we’ll be done in Iraq, I’ll propose the same answer.

Where’s Smiley?

OK, this is weird.

The man who set himself on fire in front of the White House yesterday was apparently a Yemeni national who had been an undercover informant to the FBI in antiterrorism cases, including one or two major ones, according to the Washington Post.

Alanssi, who described himself as a once-successful businessman in Yemen, also said he was upset with the FBI because agents had not kept promises they made to secure his cooperation. Those promises included a large, but unspecified, amount of money, eventual U.S. citizenship and protection of his identity, he said.

Alanssi said that he went to the FBI in New York shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks and offered information on alleged financers of al Qaeda working in Yemen. He said he quickly became a major informant for the FBI, on occasion traveling to Yemen to gather intelligence.

He volunteered that the FBI paid him $100,000 in 2003. But he said he had been expecting much more because he said some agents told him he would “be a millionaire.” And although he was promised permanent residency in this country, he said, he has not received it.

John LeCarre always talked about how hard it was to manage double agents…

The Horror of War, In Our Living Rooms

None of us know what happened inside the mosque in Fallouja. The reality of war – of sending fragments of metal through men’s bodies to injure or kill them is horrible for any sane person.

It is not the least horrible thing, though.Atrios wants to end the war by bringing it home:

Of course, Kerry was telling the truth about the atrocities in Viet Nam. Every war has atrocities. Now, there’s a new one in Iraq. But it’s too icky to show on tv. Too bad. This war will end when Americans get to see every night at dinner what their sons and daughters are becoming. What the true cost is of those SUVs. If it’s too icky to show, maybe it’s too icky for us to be doing it?

I don’t want to end the war, but I don’t shy away from the icky parts, either. Any human endeavor involves some level of failure, whether it is heart surgery, rocket science, or war.

And anyone who has butchered an animal and eaten its meat knows that you can’t have life without the icky parts.

I won’t engage in ritual condemnation; I don’t know nearly enough about what happened to condemn – and neither do you, nor does anyone commenting on the subject right now.

There will be an investigation, and it is quite possible, a conviction.

That’s what makes us different from them. We put our murderers on trial. They put theirs on wall murals.

I do believe that our military – whose job it is to kill their opponents – does the best job humanely possible to avoid killing those it should not kill. I also know for a fact that there will be errors, tragedy, and wrongdoing.

We learn from the errors, weep at the tragedy, and bring justice to those who do wrong.

It doesn’t seem very complex to me.