Saturday, May 21, 2011

Modes of Religion

In the movie Traitor,  Don Cheadle plays a Sudanese-American Muslim working deep cover to penetrate an Islamic terrorist network.  

Since I’m recommending the movie, I don’t want to give away too many plot points.  But the movie nicely illuminates several analytical points I want to make about religious psychology.

Religion – any religion, really, but especially Islam in our present historical moment – exists in at least two psychological modes.  On the one hand, there is “true” religion, or elite religion as I have referred to it in earlier posts.  This is religion at its purest theological essence.  My own religious tradition, orthodox Presbyterian, excels (and is recognized to excel) at addressing the central tenets of Christianity:  “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man”, in the words of the Westminster catechism.  On the other, there is religion as an expression of ethno-cultural nationalism, less an ethical code or spiritual insight than a component of in-group loyalty.  It is this second mode at which Islam as practiced especially among expats (and perhaps among Russian Orthodox) succeeds wildly and at which American Protestantism fails.  Indeed, one reading of the New Testament is that Christianity was in its essence a reaction against the extent to which Judaism had become little more than a shibboleth, elevating circumcision and other symbolic gestures of loyalty to the ethnic Jewish community above true righteousness.  (Arguably, it is in this mode that Judaism persists to this day.)*

It is in this context that I want to recall the John Updike novel Terrorist, about a half-Arab young man in New Jersey who falls in with a radical cleric and volunteers to become a suicide bomber.  The novel was criticized for presenting an inauthentic portrait of an actual terrorist as far as its central character was concerned, which is true – but I think that’s the point Updike was making by showing the tension between Islam as a theology (as represented by the young man) and Islam as an expression of ethnic nationalism (as represented by his confederates).  Ultimately, the elite nature of the young man’s faith is precisely what makes him back away from executing his plans.**

Similarly in the movie Traitor.  Cheadle is far more of a devout Muslim in the elite sense than the Arabic terrorists he his trying to stop, who are motivated by anger at the “crimes” of Westerners against their people (the precise nature of which are never elaborated).  This particular aspect is perhaps overplayed, and I was especially disappointed that the Christian FBI agent (Guy Pierce) is only shown in religious observance at the point of duress.  Why is it that Hollywood is willing to portray devotion to an alien religion in a positive light but feels the need to mute that devotion when the subject is a Christian?

That said, the movie is about as right-wing as a terrorism movie of  this caliber could hope to be.  There isn’t a treacherous white Christian who turns out to be the real bad guy (although the movie makes a couple of feints in this direction).  “Racial profiling” gets handled far more lightly than we would expect, and indeed, the movie explicitly shows the danger posed by immigration since the terrorist network infiltrates the U.S. on student visas.  Although the ethnic origins of these terrorists look far more ambiguous than is likely in the real world, they and their moles inside American intelligence are for the most part obviously Arabic or African.

The movie may not break any artistic ground, but it squarely hits what it aims at.  It invests the audience in the characters, creates plenty of suspense and just enough action, and keeps us guessing throughout.  So, two thumbs up.

* Just to clarify:  as an ethno-nationalist myself, I tend to see the absence of in-group solidarity in American Christianity as a shortcoming, and am almost uniformly disappointed with the church’s haphazard and incoherent forays into politics and policy.

** Also just to clarify:  it is not the business of American policy, and surely beyond its competence, to attempt to cleave “true” Islam from “nationalist” Islam.  In point of fact, nationalist Islam has become such the dominant mode that our endless appeals (a la Gen Petraeus) to an allegedly “authentic” non-terrorist version is surely beside the point.  Perhaps because I can identify with Islam’s nationalist aspirations that I can recognize how dangerous it is when allowed to flourish on our shores.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sold Down the River on the Liberal Plantation

Megan considers an academic paper on partisanship and the anti-war movement.  She observes:

Have you noticed all the huge antiwar demonstrations in the last twelve months?  Yeah, me neither.  It turns out that a lot of the energy for the movement seems to have been provided by Democrats who are a lot less worried about wars conducted by Democratic presidents.  Or at least who believe that advancing the Democratic agenda is much more important than trying to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, this is not limited to the anti-war movement.  I can think of three other examples.

  • Environmentalists once understood – correctly – that greater human populations put greater stress on the environment and that immigration into the U.S. put greater stress on American environmental goods specifically and the global environment generally.  Yet the environmental movement has completely abandoned its opposition to immigration, sometimes in exchange for cold cash, but more often to assure its organizations a seat at the table of the grand Left-wing Democrat coalition.
  • The leadership of the labor movement, from Samuel Gompers to Cesar Chavez, once understood – correctly – that as the supply of cheap immigrant labor went up, the ability of labor unions to command higher wages for their members went down.  Yet our present crop of union organizations, most conspicuously the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), agitates for more immigration on the grounds that more low-wage workers = more low-wage dues-paying union members, even if the union fails at increasing wages.  And, yeah, it also assures them of a seat at the table of the grand Left-wing Democrat coalition.
  • The feminist movement advertises itself as the protectors of women’s interests.  Yet in the 1990’s in two high-profile cases involving the mistreatment of women – Bill Clinton’s alleged rape of Juanita Broderick and O.J. Simpson’s murder of Nicole Brown – the leadership of feminist organizations suddenly went mute:  in the first instance, to protect a politically valuable ally; and in the second, to avoid offending blacks.  Again, the titular objectives took a back seat to assuring a seat at the table of the grand Left-wing Democrat coalition.

Megan quotes someone claiming that the Tea Party faces similar pressures, yet I can’t think of any examples of Right wing partisanship this egregious.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Flirt-deaf Men

An interesting article from the Daily Mail (H.T.:  Savvy) about how men can’t tell whether a woman is ‘flirting” or “being friendly”, commonly mistaking one signal for the other. 

The researchers also found that women overestimate men's ability to pick up on sexual signals.

They argue that many females wrongly believe that the men are well aware of their attempts to woo, but are just not interested in responding.

"Failure to pursue could be an indicator of misperception but could easily be explained by noninterest,” the scientists write in the journal Psychological Science.

In contrast, women are very aware that males get the wrong end of the stick when they are simply being friendly.

This is because, the researchers argue, men who misconstrue a friendly gesture as a come-on are more likely to follow through with inappropriate behaviour.

Such embarrassing encounters will lodge more keenly in a woman's memory, and she will also be more likely to discuss it with her friends.

Of course, this is the only time men get feedback, too.  When we make Type II errors, we generally never know it, going our way thinking our assumption that the young lady was “just being friendly” was correct.  So you can see how exclusively negative feedback would over time make us very conservative in our estimation of female attraction.

This line was funny:

"The average bloke either doesn't realise that we fancy him until we are giving birth to his children in the labour ward; or he presumes all women fancy him all the time.”

I find it comforting – and therefore suspicious – to think that those kind alpha girls were actually flirting with me back then.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Γ’s Story

As is:

Quietly he padded along really silently. Staring around with icy grey ghost eyes. He could stare down a human with those eyes, if he wanted to. Dimmed by hazy heat of the night his sleek black coat still gleamed faintly. In and out he had no boundaries, (do to his canny ability to unlock doors). Taking orders from one only. This cat went by the name of Pouncer.

As for the only one that he listened to she was the girl. Who was the girl? Her name is Aquilla. She sort of owned Pouncer. Pouncer mostly completely actually liked her. She would have been completely normal except for her eyes. They were a vivid shade of purple.

Then there was Mister Rooster, Pouncer arch enemy. Rooster liked to chase Pouncer vigorously. Unfortunately Mister Rooster was not afraid of Pouncer. It was always the other way around. Mister Rooster was mean and nasty.

One fairly normal evening Pouncer quietly sat on the roof. When out of the blue he heard a piercing yell from the front of the barn. “Quit it, ow, stop it” Aquilla was getting chased by Mr. Rooster. Looking up she spotted him. “Pouncer help me!” “I can’t.” He said. Aquilla made a disparaging noise, and ran inside.

“You could have helped me,” growled Aquilla, “instead you just stood there.” “I had a fairly good reason to.” Replied pouncer. “No you didn’t,” said Aquilla savagely as she sat on the bed, “you just didn’t want to get pecked!” He met her gaze. “I have other reasons.” Tired by the days events Aquilla instantly went to sleep and dreamed about psychotic roosters and defiant cats.

When Aquilla woke up she was very grumpy, very tired, and very short tempered. “Where have you been,” demanded Pouncer, “the eggs are stone cold.” “Exactly why do you care seeing as you sleep half the day?” Aquilla said grumpily. “Accusing me of sleeping half the day is an unfounded accusation.” Pouncer said reproachfully. “Because I do nothing of the sort.” Aquilla snarled. “Don’t be such a grouch.” Scolded Pouncer. “Just leave me alone.” Snapped Aquilla. “Fine.” Said Pouncer coolly, with that he left.

Thinking time was hard to find in the barn. Because of all the noise, it was near impossible. Therefore when Aquilla found some, she used it to its fullest extent. How to get rid of Mister Rooster? She had to but how? “Stop thinking so hard, you will hurt yourself.” Chided pouncer. “Do you have any ideas?” “As a matter of fact I do.” “You do, tell me” Pouncer told her and they decided to put the plan into action the following day.

She finished what she was doing, and went inside for lunch. “Good, you’re on time.” Said pouncer. “At least you are happy,” said Aquilla. When lunch was over they took a walk outside. “Cock-a-doodle-doo.”, Said Mister Rooster. “Oh be quiet!” Complained Pouncer. For that, he got chased. Since she was tired when Aquilla went to bed she went right to sleep.

Aquilla was outside. Evening had just begun and the sun was setting. Staring up at the sunset she knew that she was dreaming. She knew she had to wake up but could not bring herself to do it. As she watched the sunset showed a picture it showed the plan failing. Because she had slept too late. Finely her hand found her leg which she pinched hard. She woke up with a start just in time to hear her alarm go off.

“u-u-u-h-h” said aquilla. “What kind of sound is that?” Questioned pouncer. “It’s [5:00] in the morning, what else do you expect me to say.” “Just get up.” In the end the plan whet perfectly. They trapped mister rooster in a box. When the post lady came they told her it was a special delivery to the psychotic rooster facility. The post lady looked puzzled but took the box any way. “I am glad he is gone, he drove me mad.” Aquilla did not answer for she was fast asleep. Γ

Friday, May 13, 2011

War of the Elites

An article in the Small Wars Journal entitled “Development in Afghanistan’s Counterinsurgency:  A New Guide” is worth reading in its entirety, as it questions the efficacy of our dumping billions of dollars into Afghan infrastructure as a way of fighting the Taliban.  But one aspect jumped out:  the importance of co-opting social elites:

Both population-centric COIN and development theory rely on a basic formula that can be summarized as follows: popular grievances cause insurgency, so counterinsurgents should adopt a set of methods that gain the support of “the people” by redressing these grievances.6 This formula, which shall be called the “grievance formula,” has three critical weaknesses, all of which bear directly on the employment of development aid. All three result from a failure to assign adequate importance to leaders, who are the central actors in counterinsurgency.7 They shall be addressed in order.

The first of these weaknesses is that grievances do not cause insurgencies. Insurgencies are caused by determined elites who have the talents required to organize military operations, operate shadow governance structures, and mobilize the population against the government. Grievances can make their job easier, but are not essential to their success. In a given counterinsurgency, we often find a lack of insurgent activity where the population has numerous grievances, and intensive insurgent activity where it has relatively few grievances. By contrast, we seldom find a lack of insurgent activity where able insurgent elites are present, and we never find intensive insurgent activity where such elites are absent.

The insurgent elites obtain popular support by doing the government’s job better than the government is doing it, particularly in the areas of security and governance. When choosing whether to support to the insurgents or the counterinsurgents, the number one criterion for most people living amidst an insurgency, including most Afghans at the present time, is security. Governance comes second, and development is well back in third place.8 This ordering differs from that in population-centric COIN, which puts governance first, and development theory, which puts development at the top. Support of the government increases sharply as security improves, somewhat less sharply when governance improves, and very little when development improves. In Afghanistan and numerous other cases, the insurgents have been able to control large amounts of territory with little or no expenditures on development, by outperforming the government in security and governance.9

. . . .

In other insecure areas, the insurgents allow development to proceed in order to leech off of it. Numerous development contractors in Afghanistan pay protection money to private security companies or local power brokers because the counterinsurgents lack sufficient forces in the area, and oftentimes this money falls into Taliban hands through intimidation or collusion. Military superiority also allows the insurgents to reap the economic benefits of completed projects. For instance, the United States spent more than $100 million repairing and upgrading the Kajaki hydropower plant to provide electricity to Helmand and Kandahar provinces, but last year half of its electricity went into areas where the insurgents control the electric grid, enabling the Taliban to issue electric bills to consumers and send out collection agents with medieval instruments of torture to ensure prompt payment. The consumers in these places use the power for the irrigation of fields that grow poppies, which in turn fuel the opium trade from which the Taliban derive much of their funding.

Where good governance is lacking, development money often finds its way into the pockets of corrupt officials or shady businessmen. Development spending without good governance also exacerbates corruption within the government, by encouraging unscrupulous and rapacious individuals to enter into government service. Some positions in the Afghan government are sold for tens of thousands of dollars to such individuals, ensuring that the buyers will seek to squeeze large sums from foreign donors and ordinary Afghans in order to recoup their investments. Some senior Afghan officials have become so addicted to the money they skim from aid programs that they abet the insurgents as a means of convincing foreign donors that additional spending is required.

. . . .

Success in security and governance, and also in development, depend more than anything else on the quality of the leaders in the local area. The second weakness of the grievance formula lies in its contention that effectiveness in COIN hinges on finding the right methods, and its inattention to finding the right leaders.13 Most COIN methods, whether in security, governance, or development, do not work in all cases, and most succeed only when implement by leaders with the proper capabilities. Insurgent and counterinsurgent leaders use their intellects to determine the combination of methods best suited to mobilizing the population, co-opting elites, and capturing or killing implacable enemies in their areas, and then draw on a broad range of leadership attributes to implement those methods. In most counterinsurgencies, the side with the more talented and motivated leaders ultimately prevails.

. . . .

In dispensing development aid, the first challenge facing the counterinsurgent leader is deciding on the beneficiaries. Herein can be found the third deficiency in the grievance formula, the treatment of “the people” as an undifferentiated mass. As a consequence of the reigning COIN and development theories, the United States routinely has funded and continues to fund numerous projects in Afghanistan that provide the same benefits or job opportunities to everyone in the community.15 The commanders who have made the best use of development aid in counterinsurgency, however, have figured out that aid benefits the counterinsurgency most when aimed at the elites of a society, and have invested much effort into finding the right elites and seeking to influence them with aid.

Within any society, only a small minority of the population has the talent, resolve, and social status to organize economic, political, or military activities that will antagonize violent insurgents. The members of this elite group must be co-opted or else rendered incapable of abetting the insurgents. Co-option of elites differs in important ways from the “mobilization” by which most of the population can be brought to support the counterinsurgents. Mobilization requires changing people’s allegiances and leading them. Co-option requires only changing allegiances, for elites do not need others to lead them, and can themselves lead and mobilize substantial numbers of people. With co-option, as with mobilization, the security and governance lines of operation are generally more important than the development line in altering an individual’s allegiance, but development spending can have a greater impact in co-option than in mobilization. It can be concentrated on the few individuals capable of leading the rest of the community, and this concentration can ensure that those elites remain above others in power and wealth, which elites usually believe they deserve in such circumstances since they are taking the most risks and doing the most difficult work.

. . . .

A development strategy focused on bolstering a society’s elites will ensure that socioeconomic inequality persists, and it will let the society’s elites decide how much wealth should go towards poverty alleviation, which may or may not be as much as we would like. The international community, however, must be disabused of the idea that eradicating inequality and poverty in Afghanistan lies within our reach, as well as the idea that such an outcome is required for the success of the counterinsurgency. We have not been able to eradicate inequality or poverty in our own countries, despite far larger expenditures, much better governance, and an absence of insurgency. We can, nevertheless, take some comfort in the fact that the average Afghan will be better offer economically and socially if our side prevails than if the Taliban returns to power. Ending insurgent violence will allow NGOs and governmental development organizations to operate freely and much more effectively throughout the country. In addition, by influencing which elites gain the most power, we can help weed out the most predatory and corrupt of them, which will do much to facilitate long-term stability and prosperity.

There’s a lot in this article.  The authors are very candid about the kind of government NATO has wound up creating here in Afghanistan:  a government of thieves (and pederasts, while I’m at it).  But it also occurred to me how America’s “meritocracy” has successfully co-opted anybody likely to effectively challenge the elite’s multiculturalist paradigm.  Thus we have continue runaway immigration in the teeth of widespread popular opposition.

Thursday, May 12, 2011



The Cub Scouts write:

The boys and families of Cub Scout Pack 3 in Flyover Country would like to thank you tremendously for your service and your sacrifice.

While we are learning how to “Do Our Best” and “Be Prepared” – you are living it.

We want you to know that while you are standing in harm’s way away from home – we are thinking of you.

We know that many of you sat in Cub Scout meetings as we do now and we hope to have your courage if we are ever called to be in a position like yours.

Please accept this package as a reminder that we believe you are and your unit are True Heroes!  Thank you.

Pack 3

Flyover Country

I am filled with self-loathing.

It’s bad enough that Americans are over here being shot and blown up for no good purpose – and I didn’t even get to do that.  After nearly 20 years of riding a desk, I came over here with visions of riding in convoys and shooting ragheads, only to find out I’m still riding a desk, except now it’s in a dirty overcrowded connex instead of an office building.

It’s not even that I’ve finally realized that I’ve spent the last 20 years, not protecting and defending the constitution of the United States against all enemies, but instead creating a sideshow to distract ourselves from its subversion.  That our military adventurism, especially post-9/11, has been for the sole purpose of hiding the fact that our very nation is being given away to our mortal enemies.

No, what fills me with despair tonight is that our propaganda has become so metaphysically pristine in its effectiveness that across the country roomfuls of little boys now believe, as I myself once believed, that the soldiers in Afghanistan are somehow securing the blessings of liberty to them their posterity.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How Do You Know

How Do You Know:  If Reese Witherspoon has ever looked hotter in a movie, I can’t remember it.  And her acting, as she plays a recently cut professional softball player, required her to purge most of her femininity, a very different kind of role for her.  This doesn’t make her character especially likable, but as with Amy Adams in The Fighter, I respect the chops.

Low femininity may be what we would expect of a professional softball player, but it makes her an atypical specimen to whom few of the usual generalizations we make about women in these here parts apply.  She finds herself the center of a love triangle involving a supplicating beta (Paul Rudd) and a womanizing alpha (Owen Wilson) who nonetheless also comes across as a supplicating beta.  While we the audience are assured that her character is good in the sack, it is evident she doesn’t seem to know or understand much about male psychology with regard to relationships. 

Here is a scene that nicely illustrates all of these character traits:

Call me whatever you want, but Wilson has a point here.  Considering that Witherspoon had dated him and that he obviously carried a torch for her, Rudd was in fact a sexual competitor, and it was very bad form for her to be caught with him in Wilson’s apartment.  Yes, I also understand how Witherspoon objects at this characterization of what she considered their shared space, but part of that sharing is accepting limits on their personal autonomy.  Wilson gets this, even as he struggles with it; Witherspoon seems not to have a clue.

I won’t ruin the story, but the takeaway is this:  it is one thing to get a woman’s hamsters going by making her suspect you might be, um, exercising your options; it is quite another to flat-out confirm those suspicions.  No amount of alpha cred makes a woman tolerant of unapologetic cheating.

Let me say in summary that, while watchable, this is not an especially great film.  It raises more questions than it answers.  It clearly wants us to root for Rudd without giving us a compelling reason why we should.  And while its characters are not wholly implausible, they are too odd to provide us much insight into sexuality or relationships in general.

Monday, May 09, 2011

“Americans make the best tourists.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because they’re not mean, just ignorant,” replied the USAF colonel, embed in one of the ministries as an “Afghan Hand”, which meant he grew out his beard and wore civilian clothes.  His politics are decidedly to the left of mine, so I was kind of surprised to hear him say something nice about American tourists.

“I was in France in 2003,” he continued.  “Because of its opposition to the Iraq invasion, France was in the doghouse in America.  One of the consequences of this was that American tourism to France had dropped to almost nothing.

“But I was visiting [some French town] and I saw that it was festooned with American flags!  I asked the locals about this, and they said they were trying to get the Americans to come back.  ‘If we’re going to have tourists, please let them be Americans.’  They gave two reasons.  First, they spend money across the economic spectrum.  Asian tourists, in contrast, only buy from the high-end stores, reflecting their obsession with brand-name status.  But Americans will also buy stuff at little places nobody will ever hear of.

“The second reason is that, even though Americans don’t know much about the places they visit, they’re teachable.  If you explain to an American that local customs require that he do or not do thus-and-so, they say, ‘Oh, okay.’  Other Europeans may know more, they just don’t care, and Asians are even worse.

“Americans seldom appreciate how unrepresentative the 'chattering classes’ of Europe are of either their governments or their common people.  This was especially true in the late 00’s, by which time many countries had elected center-right governments.  I spoke with Europeans who had experience with diplomats representing both the Bush and Obama administrations, and they told me that, whatever else you might say about him, with Bush’s diplomats you knew what you were getting.  If Bush said something, you knew he meant it.  But with Obama?  You could never be sure if the story would be the same from one day to the next.”

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Whither Civility?

Via Half Sigma, an interview with Brad Scharlott, who describes an email he received from Bill McAllister:

Last week I sent a copy of my paper to Sarah Palin’s former press secretary asking if he had any comments, since he is mentioned in an unflattering way. He went ballistic. He called me a “scumbag” who is “in the service of evil.” He said he would slap me if he ever saw me, and that in a former age he would have challenged me to a duel. And then, under the heading “Brad Scharlott disgraces your university” he sent that critique of me in an email to all my colleagues in my department. I’m guessing he was used to using strong-arm tactics like that in Alaska.

HS believes this reaction says something substantive about Scharlott’s allegations.  Scharlott himself seems to think it has something to do with Alaska.  But the weird thing is, I seem to read about these kind of tantrums on a regular enough basis to notice a pattern connected to politics.  (Though not regularly enough to recall any specific example.  Sorry.)

One advantage of having a blog is that I can express my opinions about other people in terms far less moderate than I would ever use in real life.  Because in real life, people of my class and profession do not call each other scumbag.  We have thought it about a lot of people.  We may sometimes refer to each other in those terms.  But directly picking a fight like that?  Never mind colleagues; I’ve fought lawsuits with people with more restraint.  I don’t want to claim any moral high-ground here:  such restraint seems in my own self interest.  Verbal escalation seems a way of getting in to serious trouble with no obvious upside.

But I wonder:  what is it about a person that causes them to attempt basically junior-high-school level verbal bullying?  Is it just a matter of class?  Is it the personality type (or T-cell level) of people inclined to go into working politics?  Does this kind of vituperation work often enough to make it a viable tactic on a routine basis?

But maybe I’ve just lead a sheltered life?

Friday, May 06, 2011

CAIR and Hamas

From Pajamas Media:

Last Thursday, I reported here exclusively at PJM on a DOJ memo dated March 31, 2010, from Assistant Attorney General David Kris to Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler. The memo effectively ended the prosecution of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) co-founder and Chairman Emeritus Omar Ahmad — in addition to the prosecution of other prominent American Muslim leaders — for helping support the Hamas terrorist organization. This decision, according to my source, was not made based on the overwhelming evidence that had been compiled over the past decade by the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas, but was made due to potential political embarrassment for the Obama administration and out of fear of inflaming the American Muslim community.

But another troubling claim came out during our interview: “Muslim outreach” programs by U.S. government agencies to terror-tied Islamic groups have directly interfered with ongoing terrorism investigations’

The DOJ’s behavior here is not especially surprising.  I had pretty much decided that our government – Democrat and Republican – is led by quislings, so everything else is just coloring in the details.  But I am surprised at CAIR.

That CAIR, Hamas, Al Qaeda share the same goal – to a first approximation, the destruction of Western Christendom and the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, notwithstanding the different specific fronts at which they attack us – is obvious to anyone not blinded by political correctness.  But CAIR, at least momentarily, forgot the way terrorist organizations and political organizations work together.  By itself, terrorism, defined as the premeditated attack on non-combatants by non-state actors, almost never “works”:  almost all Western governments have standing policies never to negotiate with terrorists, and we seldom violate those policies.  But what they will do is what we are in fact doing:  respond to terrorism by finding political organizations that advertise themselves as advancing the interests, by non-violent means, of the same demographic from which the terrorist organization draws its members and surrender to them, concession by concession.  So while the terrorists seldom achieve power in the sense that its leaders replace the existing government, it wins on policy by seeing its objectives granted to an organization seeking identical ends.

CAIR has fulfilled its role in this symbiotic relationship quite well.  But it would ordinarily have been exceedingly risky for them to have formal ties with Hamas.  I say “ordinarily” because for one thing there was a chance that the USDOJ would have done its job and enforced the law against CAIR.  But for another, the popular tolerance for seeing their self-government surrendered will not survive the widespread realization that the “good Muslims” to whom they are surrendering are in fact the very same Muslims who are murdering them.  CAIR should have realized this.

As it happens, CAIR’s allies at USDOJ are covering for them.  But it could have gone badly.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Redistribute Sex

For those who haven’t followed it, Robin Hanson called attention to a video in which college students in favor of “wealth redistribution” are asked their opinion about “GPA redistribution”.  Unsurprisingly, their reaction is negative yet largely incoherent.

Robin writes:

My point isn't to say one can't come up with reasons to treat these differently. One could, for example, argue that we prefer differing school signals to help employers sort people into jobs, to achieve higher productivity so that the pie is bigger when we redistribute money. My point is that most people can't think of such reasons, making it pretty unlikely that such reasons are the cause of their opinions.

Robin then allowed that little can be learned from the inability of college students to instantly articulate their objections to such an off-the-wall proposal as GPA redistribution.  On reflection, XPostFactoid lists some objections, which Megan rebuts, although I think she give short shrift to this point:

[I]t's still true that student performance bears a closer relationship to grade than the social utility of the average person's work does to that person's earnings.

More specifically, metrics for assessing student academic performance are specifically contrived to measure individual mastery of the subject matter.  Leaving aside for the moment Half Sigma’s notion of the difference between “value creation” and “value transference” in the modern economy (a notion I find broadly persuasive, by the way), consider that if GPA was accumulated the same way as wealth in the market economy, then students would be free to exchange the answers to test questions they know for answers they don’t know – complete with IP protection!  But of course, this isn’t allowed:  testing conditions are set up to most resemble those of subsistence farming, in which wealth and GPA are only a function of an individual’s ability to extract them from the raw earth.

If we really want students to reconsider the morality of wealth redistribution, then Brandon’s comment on Megan’s post is apropos:

But what about sex redistribution? It's not fair that a small number of people are having lots of sex with many attractive partners while others have sex only infrequently with unattractive partners, if at all. The government needs to step in and do something to address this inequity.

I chimed in:

So much of the welfare/affirmative action/civil-rights apparatus, in effect if not in design, redistributes wealth and opportunity from men (who create and control it) to women.

Yet not only will women object to redistributing the resource they control, they have set about dismantling such equality-inducing arrangements such as marriage / legally enforced monogamy as once existed.

Conservatives believe in economic freedom, and we are prepared to tolerate a fair amount of economic inequality to preserve it.  Yet we frown on social inequality and would enforce social regulation to prevent it.

Liberals, in contrast, believe in economic equality and happily redistribute wealth to that end.  But they believe in “social” (i.e. sexual) freedom and positively revel in the inequality that results.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Hollywood: “Bin Laden’s death is tragic and all, but at least it will help Obama fight the real enemy.”

Or words to that effect.

  • Adam Levine:  "I dont know how I feel about 'celebrating' death. But im just glad this happened during a good man's presidency."
  • Kim Kardashian:  "Osama Bin Laden is dead!!! I can't wait to hear President Obama's announcement!!!"
  • Pete Wetz: "Wow obama 1, 2 punch: lion king video than osama dead. seriously i wanna see who runs in 2012..."
  • Jimmy Fallon:  "Got Bin Laden AND interuppted Celebrity Apprentice? Win for Obama all around."

I remarked a few years ago that the MSM covered the war, not from a strategic perspective on American power and security, but solely in terms of its impact on domestic politics.  I see nothing has changed.

This comment is just stoopid  on a couple of levels:

  • Lady Gaga:   "an historical moment in the fight against hatred."

Bad spelling notwithstanding, this was the smartest comment:

  • Snoop Dogg:  "Rip to everybody who was taken on 911. Let the troops bac home n lower gas prices let's live happily ever after.  Bring the soilders bac home asap! They r missed! We love how they fight for us now let's fight for them!!"

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Justin Bieber

I just acquainted myself with the Top 10 Most Disliked YouTube Videos (H.T.:  Ace).  Five of them belong to Canadian singer Justin Bieber.

Not being a 12-year-old girl, and not having any 12-year-old girls yet*, I hadn’t to my knowledge ever laid eyes on young Justin, although I had come across his name in many of your blogs, usually as a punch line to a joke.  As I watched his videos, especially “One Less Lonely Girl”, I struggled to articulate what it was about him that I found . . . annoying.  Fortunately, Wikipedia was there to help:

Bieber has often been criticized for looking and sounding younger than his age, his teen-pop music, image, and frequent media attention.

I would add, I think, that Bieber shows no particular talent in these videos.  His looks and his voice are unexceptional other than belonging to a boy of 17 instead of 13.  Most of the competent dancing in his videos is done by others; his own moves are pedestrian by the standards of the industry.  I doubt he composes his own music, although I couldn’t find any statement to this effect.  But his seems exactly the kind of over-produced, manufactured stardom for which The Backstreet Boys take so much grief**.

And there’s something especially galling about the way his videos show attractive women falling at his feet.  And knowing that, yup, they probably do that in real life too.  Pisses me off.

But that said, is he really worth all this?

He has been a frequent target for internet bloggers and message board posters—notably by users of internet message board 4chan, users of YouTube, and various Facebook groups. Pranks have included a successful campaign to push "Justin Bieber Syphilis" to the top of the Google Trends Hot Searches list; hacked YouTube videos that were altered so as to redirect users to adult websites or trigger pop-up messages saying that Bieber had been killed in a car accident; his photograph being changed to pornographic images; various rumors circulated, from rumors that Bieber had died, joined a cult, or even that his mother was offered $50,000 to pose topless in Playboy magazine—none of which were true.

Good heavens, what has the kid done to motivate his haters that much?

It seems out of proportion to me.  But one clue might be this:  Bieber identifies as Christian, although of an apparently latitudinarian sort (he passed on the opportunity to speak against fornication).  He did speak negatively against abortion, although not in a political context.  And his statement on homosexuality to Rolling Stone (“It’s everyone’s own decision to do that. It doesn’t affect me and shouldn’t affect anyone else.”) prompted this remark:  "It is not clear whether he intended to label homosexuality as a lifestyle choice."  What a totalitarian ideology liberalism has become!  It’s not enough to be tolerant of homosexuality; you have to believe the correct thing about it!***

Otherwise, I don’t know why Bieber is hated so much.  Thoughts?

* My daughters have thus far shown zero interest in the kind of things that tween girls are thought to obsess over.  The eldest’s favorite TV show is How It’s Made.  I think I have a true nerd girl.

** I want to write a retrospective on the music of the 80s and 90s.  Pursuant to this, I want to ask my readers:  hypothetically, is admitting to an enjoyment of The Backstreet Boys a socially acceptable preference, or is it a surefire ticket to blogosphere-wide mockery and ridicule?

*** As it happens, I myself don’t think homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice”, only because I think something is really, really wrong different at a visceral level about a man who would want to do the kind of things that homosexuals are alleged to do.

Lesbianism, though, I kind of get.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Reflections on bin Laden’s Death





Today, I am proud to have been here.  Not yesterday.  Probably not tomorrow.  But today, I am .

A few thoughts:

  • President Obama deserves some credit here.  He brushed aside diplomatic concerns and gave his support to aggressive operations inside Pakistan, with or without Pakistani cooperation.  This was always a high-risk strategy (and may yet generate blowback), but it seems to have yielded fruit.  Yet weirdly, judging from his speech a few hours ago, Obama seems more interested in leveraging his success for support of his domestic agenda rather than a specific set of goals with respect to terrorism.
  • Operationally, bin Laden’s death does little to diminish the near-term threat of terrorism.  Al Qaeda – and Islamism in general – has always been a highly distributed movement, with very little in the way of command and control from the top.  bin Laden himself is something of a figurehead at this point.
  • Which is not to say that figureheads are strategically valueless.  Long term, whether Osama’s death discourages would-be jihadists or provokes them to renewed efforts remains to be seen; certainly our military is predicting the second in the near term, given our worldwide elevation of alert levels and force protection measures.
  • Back to the blowback:  this is probably not good for the government of Pakistan.  Either they helped us – and collaborated with the enemies of Islam – or they didn’t – and were powerless to stop a military operation in their capital city.  Either way (and let’s face it; nothing will stop Pakistanis from believing both simultaneously), the credibility of Pakistan’s government just took a nosedive.
  • Obama ought to get a short-term bump in the polls because of this.  But more people may start to question our continued presence in Afghanistan, given that we now have what we came for.  These questions will be most urgent if, as we are expecting locally, the Afghanis riot in protest.  Since Obama is unlikely to withdraw from Afghanistan, unlikely to see his nation-building efforts result in sustainable progress, and unlikely to undertake meaningful steps to promote American security like controlling our borders, I predict Obama will find it difficult to translate this event into 2012 electoral victories.

Bleg: Tobacco Management

I’m thinking of taking up smoking.

I hear tobacco elevates the mood and concentrates the mind.  I need those things right now.  A lot.

Mainly, I’m just trying to get through this deployment, but given that nicotine is supposedly more addictive the marijuana, I’ve got to be prepared for the possibility that I won’t be able to stop once I get home.  However, my reasoning is that, at 42, I’ll probably die of something else before the lung cancer catches me.

But I have some questions:

Where do I go to learn how?  Is there a class?  Can anybody recommend a beginner’s brand of tobacco?  What kind of platform (pipe, cigar, cigarettes, bong, etc.) is easiest to get started on?

How do I manage the side effects?  I’m concerned about the smell.  Only smoke outside, obviously.  Can cigarette smell wash out of clothes, or should I plan on having an outfit dedicated to smoking?  Is it safe to wash my smoking outfit with regular clothes, or should I keep the laundry separate?

And what about smoker’s breath?  Stained teeth?  I’m pretty sure Mrs. Φ doesn’t want to kiss an ashtray.   How do prevent or mitigate these effects?

Any advice would be appreciated.