Stirring the Pot

So I caught up with the blogs last night, after seeing our friend’s short movie (which was better on a big screen!), and see that I’ve triggered a small squall.

Let’s discuss.

On Friday, after the Good News embargo (yes, we have one – I tend to stop non-Good News posts after about 4pm Pacific. And yes, I do get twitchy about it sometimes, but since I think it’s a great idea – even though we don’t emphasize publishing the good news enough – I’m happy to do it), I read Matt’s post on the horrible attack in Baslem, which I’ll reproduce in its entirety here:

Not Good…

… busy as I’ve been with the convention, I haven’t been following the story of the Russian kids held hostage that’s now reached its awful conclusion. Worse, even, than the reality of the crime is the knowledge that things will get worse. The situation, clearly, can only be resolved by Russian concessions on the underlying political issue in Chechnya. At the same time, in the wake of this sort of outrage there will not only be no mood for concessions, but an amply justified fear that such concessions would only encourage further attacks and a further escalation of demands. I don’t see any way out for Russian policymakers nor any particularly good options for US policymakers. Partisanship and complaints about Bush’s handling of counterterrorism aside, this business is a reminder not only of the horrors out there, but also that terrorism is a genuinely difficult problem — I think we’ve been doing many of the wrong things lately, but no one should claim it’s obvious what the right way to proceed is.

Now I think it’s a dumb post, badly thought through and worse written, and I started to write a post that went something like this: “Does Yglesias even read what he writes before he hits ‘post’ anymore?” but the embargo was approaching, I tend to hammer on Yglesias too much anyway – and to be honest, I’m getting tired of it.I also thought this was an important post, because it profoundly misunderstands the issue with terrorist movements worldwide, and that misunderstanding lies at the heart of the policy difference between me and Matthew and his peers. Matt believes that there’s really no difference – to make a broad example – between Gandhi’s National Party and the Sepoy mutineers. They’re just different manifestations of the same political goals, and the way to respond to each would be to understand and deal with those goals.

He’s smart enough to undercut his absolute point (made in “The situation, clearly, can only be resolved by Russian concessions on the underlying political issue in Chechnya.” with what comes next: “At the same time, in the wake of this sort of outrage there will not only be no mood for concessions, but an amply justified fear that such concessions would only encourage further attacks and a further escalation of demands. I don’t see any way out for Russian policymakers nor any particularly good options for US policymakers.”

Now “Wow, we’re screwed.” is certainly one response to these issues, and it’s one that’s certainly appropriate to a personal website like the ones Matthew and I keep. But one of Matthew’s core points – one that believes that terror can only be resolved by granting political concessions to terrormasters is so wrong in my view that I thought it should get some attention.

So I forwarded the entire post to a few people, with the followon comment of

“…can only be resolved by Russian concessions on the underlying political issue in Chechnya.”


It fit neatly into Glenn’s highlight of the sarcastic post by David Kaspar, which lists the appropriate response to this act of terror as including:

1. We may not condone their killings – if there were any at all -, but we have to look for the root causes for a better understanding of their behavior. Were they inconvenienced in practicing their religion? Delays during rush hour in Chechnya? Election losses? Only if we know exactly what drove these young men and women to their somewhat regrettable actions can we make a final judgment.

2. Avoid the term “terrorists” for the hostage takers by all means. They have families with mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and it would be a great disservice for them to have their relatives labeled with derogative terms.

3. The hostage takers have full rights for proper legal procedure. They should be assigned the best lawyers available, preferably from France or Germany. Both countries have a proud tradition of setting proven terrorists free, either as a result of faulty court hearings or by giving in to blackmail.

4. It must be investigated in full detail if Putin is behind the hostage taking. He has every interest in the world to appear as a hardliner, and he desperately needed another victory over Chechnyan freedom fighters. While this is only a non-confirmed hypothesis so far, we have not heard any rejection of it from official Russian government sources – which is quite telling in itself, of course.

5. There can be no – repeat: NO – capital punishment for the hostage takers. Capital punishment is a cruel and inhuman act that violates the human rights of the accused.

6. We request that an internationally reputable organization such as the Red Cross be permitted to monitor conditions and report cases of abuse and torture in the prison where the hostage takers are held.

7. Free flow of information between the imprisoned hostage takers and their peers from Al Qaida must be permitted at all times. Access to telecommunications and the internet must be guaranteed.

8. The search for a political solution of the conflict is imperative. Meetings between representatives of the Russian government and the hostage takers, under the supervision of the United Nations, are the only way out of the crisis. The cycle of violence has got to stop!

Matthew took offense at Glenn’s link, and replied somewhat colorfully:

Fuck you, Glenn. The entire item I wrote was one goddamn paragraph long would it have killed you to accurately reproduce what I wrote?

UPDATE: Via e-mail:

Misquote you? I cut and pasted. And it seemed like what you meant, judging by the post and your comments. If it’s not what you meant, I’ll happily mention that — but it was Armed Liberal who sent me the link, and *he* certainly read it that way, too.

I’ll reproduce the post in question, this time with italics for added emphasis:

[snipped – you read it above]

What I was saying, in case this is for some reason genuinely unclear, is that to get Chechens to stop making war on Russia requires Russia to do something to resolve the underlying grievance — Russia’s mistreatment of Chechnya. At the same time, taking steps to resolve the underlying grievance would, under the circumstances, be just the sort of appeasement that would invite further attacks. Therefore, it’s not clear what the Russian government can or should do in order to prevent future massacres like this.

Yeah, Matthew, what you were saying was unclear – both times. And big points for responding with “you’re a moron” instead of “I should have been clearer.” Way to take responsibility Matthew!!

Now let me put Matthew aside (literally; I’m going to have to find a new liberal for the blogroll, because I’m done with him. Suggestion in comments, please) and go to the core point that he’s missing.

Geopolitical conflicts are not new. Religious and ethnic groups and nations have fought for control of populations, territory, and resources for quite a long time.

The Chechens mounted an army against the Russian Federation; they lost. They are engaging in guerilla war (which I’ll define as ‘terrorist tactics’ like fighting in civilian clothes, suicide and other bombing, etc. – targeted with some precision at the military of one’s opponents). And they are engaging in terrorism against the civilian population of the Russian Federation, as we saw yesterday.

I would support negotiating a political settlement with any country that was overtly at war with us, given that such a settlement was reasonably in our interest. I would not even object to a political settlement with a country that engaged in guerilla warfare against our forces.

But I am – violently – opposed to negotiating political settlements with groups that practice terrorism as a core tactic (note that in conflicts, all sides typically do some things that could be classified as ‘terroristic’) – because there is fundamentally no one home to negotiate with.

Like the legendary pirates who made their crews eat human flesh so that they could never again live in ‘civilized’ society, groups that adopt terror as the core tactic of their struggle cross a line which makes it impossible for them to live among us as members of the world ‘society of civil societies’.

Note that I am not calling for the death or imprisonment of all the individuals who are part of those groups.

But the groups themselves must, I believe, be reconstituted.

I say this because I believe that there is a simple proposition that we should keep in mind:

If terrorism is about ‘liberation’ – about birthing new states, like Chechnya or Palestine, or about ‘freeing’ states like Iraq – we have to ask ourselves what kind of states will be born or won through that process.

Take Mandela, Gandhi, Havel – the tools they used to free their people resulted in states that could act like states ready to participate in the world of civilized society.

What kind of states would be born if they were led by bin Laden, Arafat or the terror masters of Chechnya? Do we want to grant statehood or political power to people whose vision is so clouded in rage and blood?

Great Short Film: What’re You Having

In my post below, I mentioned that a co-worker of Tenacious G’s is showing a short film this weekend in West Hollywood.

Well, here’s an invitation to meet me and Tenacious G, and see a great short film (I can say it’s great, we saw a tape already) and support someone who Matthew Yglesias may someday allow to make a movie.

The movie, “What’re You Having” is a great short film that nails our common human experience – being alone, seeing that someone, and trying to figure out what to do next.

It’s playing Saturday at the Laemmle Sunset 5 at 8000 Sunset Blvd. (Sunset & Crescent Heights) in West Hollywood at 11:40 and 11:55 to qualify for an Oscar, and we’ll be there at 11:40.

Make Yglesias mad, come support amateur film!

(originally posted Sept. 3)

More Malkin

Over at Volokh, Eric Muller is discussing the standards that the mass media use when they select what works of history to cover and who to have as commentators. I’ve always assumed that they used the same standards they use in selecting what show to put on, which is – what will draw ratings without getting me in trouble?

That’s not enough for Muller (and possibly not for Timothy Burke, the historian whose post on HNN analyzing the same issue Muller riffs from). In both cases – more in Muller’s case than Burke’s, I think – the argument I read is that there is an ‘ought’ involved; i.e. that it is more than a question of

How does the mass media decide what’s worth their attention, what authors belong on talk shows and op-ed pages? This is what I take the Historians’ Committee on Fairness to have been asking about Michelle Malkin. I may have been harsh about the clumsy way they rhetorically invoked the norms of historical scholarship, but the basic question is a fair one. Why Michelle Malkin and not many other authors of readable, interesting works of history, or for that matter, authors of dense, scholarly works of history?

but that somehow, professionally legitimated works should have priority. Burke says:

If this is true, the question becomes potent: why is Michelle Malkin on the air now? Because if talk show producers consult experts on internment, they’d certainly find that almost everyone thinks Malkin’s work is shoddy and inaccurate, quite aside from its ethical character. If talk show hosts read and assess work independently to decide whether it is worth covering, then I’m hard-pressed to understand why they think Malkin’s is legitimate.

One thing that I will take away from my experience as a blogger (and no, I’m not quitting today or anything) is a profound change in how I read the newspapers and (when I do) watch the news. I am more aware of the ‘sociology’ of the media than I was before.

But as critical as I often am about the media, I’m not quite ready to write prescriptions just yet. And I’m certainly not ready to write a prescription, as Muller suggests in his letter, for ‘expert’ filtering of what we should see.

Somehow my response – that we need to be careful about filtering experience through our beliefs, no matter how legitimately held – brings up an old Latin phrase I read once in a biography of Galileo…

Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. – which means “For neither do I seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand.” –Anselm of Canterbury

The Bounce And The Drop

I’ve argued for a while on the blog and to my friends that the election wasn’t likely to be as close as the CW has showed it to be. I’ve been hard-pressed to explain exactly why, except for my total acceptance of Mickey Kaus’ “Cocoon” theory, and my own subjective impression that the media in 2004 is treating Kerry like they did Gray Davis in 2003.

That’s not a service to Kerry, as it wasn’t to Davis.

So Instapundit and Kevin Drum, link, with varying emotional responses, to the latest Time Magazine poll, showing an 11 percent lead for President Bush.

I have the feeling that it’s probably too late – the tires have lost traction and now we are just waiting for physics and gravity to do their job.

But it’d be nice to see Kerry go down fighting.And I don’t mean the kind of silly flailing he did last night.

Here are three clues I’ll offer the Senator and his staff for free; if they want more, they will have to rent them somewhere, since they seem clue-deficient themselves.

* No one who matters cares about Bush of Cheney’s Vietnam service or lack thereof. Dedicated Kerry supporters are waxing wroth about it, but they’ll vote for you anyway.

* We know you went to Vietnam, and we’re pretty darn sure you acted bravely while you were there. But we also know that you opposed the war before you went over, left early after being slightly injured, met with the North Vietnamese while a member of the Naval Reserve, and were a leader in an antiwar organization that can charitably be called ‘colorful.’ Every time you bring up your service in Vietnam without framing your complex history (and here’s the text of a free speech that might do it for you), you make people trust you less, not more.

* You’ve said a number of things that you need to explain. So has Bush, but unlike Bush, who is running on his character and personality (you wish!!), you’re running on your ideas. So every time you try and zing Bush for something he said, he just gives that Gary Cooper look to the audience and their hearts melt. (Remember the scene in ‘Blazing Saddles’ where Cleavon Little says “You’d do it for Randolph Scott…“??) Sadly, you come across – no matter how much you try and loosen up on your Serotta or snowboard – as the stiff rich guy who is the stock villain in most modern comedies. Trust me, you’re going to have to win with ideas.

So it would be nice if you had some. I’ve explicitly criticized a lot of what you’ve said about foreign policy, for example, as a combination of empty rhetoric (more internationalism!) and impractical ideas (send the Saudi money back!). Get smart and get specific. Tell us what you’d do in Iraq in the next 90 days, exactly, that’s different than what Bush has done. Tell us what international forces will come in and augment ours, and what you’ll give up to get them there.

What would be nice would be a different candidate, sadly. Is it too soon to talk about rebuilding the Democratic Party into an effective force for some progressive values that might actually make a difference?

I Can’t Get This Image Out Of My Mind

hostage1.jpgI saw this over at Gerard Vanderleun’s (welcome back, BTW), and then at the Mailbox place near our house where I was shipping a package.

It was a short clip of the large soldier, in his urban camouflage and carrying what appeared to be a gun over his shoulder (I just got a glimpse) cradling the infant in his hands and handing the baby into someone waiting in a car.

Today, we don’t have to fear that it will be one of our children.


I am not a one-issue voter, but at the end of the day whoever gets my vote will have to explain to me what he’s going to do about this image. Bush or Kerry?

My child or yours?


A few days ago, I decided not to reply to one of Matt Yglesias’ sillier posts (hey, it happens to everyone – I just seem to find them on his site more often than others), in which he suggests that the mass of American people are sheep; idiots fit only to be led by anointed experts. In his own words:

The reality, of course, is that any major party presidential candidate attracts the votes of millions and millions of people. The overwhelming majority of these people have no idea what they’re talking about. Public ignorance in the United States is massive — and exists on both sides. Ideology aside, the base of either party would be an absolute disaster if put in charge of the country — they wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do. That’s why the government is run by professional politicians, professional political operatives, and professional policy analysts, not by random members of the public. It’s like how movies are made by professional filmmakers, not by movie fans.

Now, for some reason, the first thing I thought about when I read that was Clerks. Or the short film “What Are You Having?” that a co-worker of TG’s is showing in West Hollywood this weekend – selected in order to qualify for the Oscars as a short. But don’t go see it – he’s only a temp worker at a nonprofit, not a ‘professional,’ so of course we have to treat his work as suspect. Actually, the worst movies I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot of bad self-produced drek – were mindless Hollywood fare, made with the utmost in professionalism. Like Torque, Baby Genuises 2, and, of course, Battlefield Earth.

But I felt that I’ve already killed too many electrons dinging Yglesias for the unwise things he says, and was going to let it go.

Until I read this gobsmacking bit of nonsense (via Volokh):

We represent the Historians’ Committee for Fairness, an organization of scholars and professional researchers. Michelle Malkin’s appearance on numerous television and radio shows and her comments during these appearances regarding her book IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT represent a blatant violation of professional standards of objectivity and fairness. Malkin is not a historian, and she states that she relied almost exclusively on research conducted or collected by others. Her book, which purports to defend the wartime treatment of Japanese Americans, did not go through peer review before publication.

It is irresponsible of your producers to permit Michelle Malkin’s biased presentation of events to go unchallenged as a factual historical presentation. We therefore respectfully demand that you formally apologize to the Japanese Americans who have been slandered by Ms. Malkin’s reckless presentation and invite a reputable historian to present a more even-handed view of the evidence.

Wow. There are just so many things wrong with this, I’m hard-pressed to figure out how to begin.

First, as a disclaimer, let me mention that I think that Malkin’s thesis in her book is a) historically inaccurate as to the threat posed by the Japanese community; b) mistaken in promoting racial profiling as a sound tactic in the defense against terrorism; and c) mistaken in her interpretation of the social context involved in the decision to intern the Japanese.

But as wrong as I think her book may be, I think that the free and open response which her book has garnered – including responses by Eric Muller, blogger at ‘Is That Legal?‘ and one of the signatories of the letter who ought to know better – is the answer to any ‘harm’ which may come from allowing a book written by a non-academic historian to open a discussion of history.

I think that using their professional stature to attempt to coerce media outlets – and, one would assume, readers – into either passing Malkin’s book by or granting equal time to an ‘approved’ responder is the most pernicious kind of nonsense.

And it ties neatly into Yglesias’ naked elitism.

They suggest that “We, the anointed, will tell you – how to run the country, how to live, what to watch, what to read.”

I’ve got a simple response to that: “Fuck Off“.

I made a slightly more complex one a while ago:

The most important thing is actually the simplest, which is that the genius of the American system is that there certainly are experts on game theory, diplomatic history, and policy who have substantive and valuable expertise in these areas.

And they all work for guys like me. Our Congress and our President are typically business men and women, lawyers, rank amateurs when it comes to the hard games that they study so diligently at ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration). And that’s a good thing, in fact, it’s a damn good thing.

It is a good thing because the unique power of the United States comes from our willingness to diffuse power down into the ranks – to act in ways outside what a small cadre of mandarins sitting at a capital can envision.

Now Yglesias will reply “but those politicians are professionals! I think it’s OK to give them power!”

And I’ll remind him that they have that power on loan from the women and men of this country who choose to give it to them, and whose choices must be respected.

American politicians don’t go to Little League games or Rotary breakfasts because they like dropped flies or because they miss rubber pancakes and cold sausage. They go because that’s how they show respect for the people who elect them. French politicians preside over parades and large ceremonies; they don’t need to show that respect because they rule without it.

There’s a long discussion to have about how we’re slowly slipping in that direction; I’ll leave it for others for now. But we’re not there yet, and I’ll even provide a theoretical base for my argument. I’ll suggest that formal expertise – proven in solutions to tame problems – is often outweighed by wisdom and judgment in solving wicked ones.

Or have we all forgotten the lesson of Robert McNamara so soon?

[Update: Go check out the self-correcting nature of ‘non peer reviewed’ systems over at Alex Halavais’ place. He tagged Wikipedia with twelve errors; they were corrected within hours.

I can think of three or four history texts that didn’t fare so well…]