February 03, 2011

Profiles In Courage


I've been paying particular attention to one Egyptian who's been tweeting about events, whose Twitter ID is Sandmonkey. I don't know about you, but when I start following somebody via blogs or twitter and they are expressing what matters to them, I feel a bit like I know them. I start to care about them. Here are his most recent tweets (skipping the ones I can't read because they're in Arabic, and the ones that only link to another page):

Anti-Mubarak protesters are descending on downton in the thousands. They are not giving up Tahrir. #JAN25
16 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

I hear reports of Army evacuating the Square from Protesters. Is this true? #jan25
5 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

Either way, I am heading there with medical supplies. They better not block my entrance. #jan25
5 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

Then somebody telling him how to get into Tahrir:

@Sandmonkey it's open. Kasr el Nile or talaat harb.
5 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply


Reports about my dear friend @Sandmonkey being arrested in#Tahrir. So worried can anyone give me more info? @bencnn#Egypt
1 hour ago Favorite Retweet Reply

and a number of other tweets from different people reporting the same thing, including:
lisang Lisa Goldman
.@sandmonkey was arrested today & his blog has been suspended. Read his very important final post about #jan25 here: http://bit.ly/hqIJ2b
That post ends:
"This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t. I am heading to Tahrir right now with supplies for the hundreds injured, knowing that today the attacks will intensify, because they can’t allow us to stay there come Friday, which is supposed to be the game changer. We are bringing everybody out, and we will refuse to be anything else than peaceful. If you are in Egypt, I am calling on all of you to head down to Tahrir today and Friday. It is imperative to show them that the battle for the soul of Egypt isn’t over and done with. I am calling you to bring your friends, to bring medical supplies, to go and see what Mubarak’s gurantees look like in real life. Egypt needs you. Be Heroes."
Update: He is out of jail now. "He was roughed up, but is fine." Sitting here in Bangor, Maine, enjoying the peaceful, beautiful snow, I'm in awe of this kind of courage.
Later update:

Sandmonkey Sandmonkey
I am ok. I got out. I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated , my car ripped apar& supplies taken #jan25
28 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply
Sandmonkey Sandmonkey
will tell the story later . Thank you all. I just need to rest now. #jan25
16 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply


Last update, Feb 11:

The courage of Sandmonkey and all the protestors has paid off. Unbelievable to have been privileged to watch this history unfold in real time. Here's the last tweet from Sandmonkey I'll post here:


Sandmonkey Sandmonkey


To everyone who rediculed us, opposed us, wanted us to compromise, i say: YOU ARE WELCOME :) TODAY WE ALL CELEBRATE!!! #JAN25


Now, let's hope that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces doesn't turn out to just enable a continuation of the same type of authoritarian regime...







February 3, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 16, 2009

Cable News

I was stunned at how poor the Iran coverage was on cable news over the weekend. Then I saw this thought from Matthew Yglesias:

Whenever I find myself talking about new media to skeptics of an older generation who worry that the standards online are too debased, I try to remind people that the real debasing came with the rise of multi-channel cable news. In terms of the Iranian elections, the world’s top newspapers have the people on the ground reporting the main facts, and there’s lots of smart analysis from legitimate experts all over the web, but on television if it can’t be captured by two talking heads debating each other it’s like it never happened. (Hat tip to Jason Linkins, who also provided the emphasis.)
I had noticed that CNN seems to show an awful lot of discussion between experts over each event -- often much more of that than direct coverage of the event itself But I'd never thought of it in quite the way Matthew puts it. Anyway, I turned on CNN this morning to see whether, for a change, they were covering Iran.

And they were -- kind of. There was some talking head being asked about whether Obama should be taking more of a stand in favor of the protestors. The guy's opinion was that he should.

The picture is being coming clearer. Generally CNN consists of one or more talking heads in a room, taking turns talking about whether the latest news event is being handled in accordance with their personal opinion. Proportionately speaking, there seems to be not all that much actual reporting of facts.

I still don't get the reason why this is happening. Maybe it's because people find it more enjoyable than actual reporting because it's a little like gossiping about the failures of the newsmakers? Or is it that and there's a tiny bit of "human drama" when the talking heads disagree -- kind of a combination of news and reality TV? Or could it simply be that it costs less than actual reporting? (They probably don't even have to pay the talking heads, who are happy to be there to publicize themselves.)

June 16, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

June 15, 2009


If you've been following developments in Iran, and particularly the Internet's essential role in reporting (and supporting) events, I don't have much to add.

If you haven't, I strongly suggest you go to Andrew Sullivan's blog and starting following him now -- as well taking a bit of time to look through his posts from the last couple of days. He's been doing a wonderful job. Far better than any mainstream news outlet, with the possible exception of the NY Times' Lede. (Although the Lede doesn't present as much detail and analysis as Sullivan does -- with the help of his readers and well-chosen links to other sources.)

One of Sullivan's readers sums up the key role Twitter is coming to play:

Ahmadinejad's and Khamenei's websites were taken down yesterday - I saw the latter go down within a couple of minutes because of a DDOS attack organised via Twitter. @StopAhmadi is a good source for tweets on this. The other important use of Twitter has been distribution of proxy addresses via Twitter. This would be how most video and pictures of today's rally have gotten out.

One amazing thing is that it seems at least conceivable that the protests would not have been as successful as they currently appear to be if Twitter didn't exist.

Sullivan suggests wearing green in support of the protesters. I think that's a great idea.

June 15, 2009 in Current Affairs, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 06, 2009

Tom Swifties

One of my more unusual pastimes is making up Tom Swifties. Examples of my efforts in this area include:

"She said I look like a common farm animal!" Tom said sheepishly.
"Those damned cannibals! They're seasoning us with lemon juice!" Tom said sourly.

The NY Times is having Tom Swifty contest this weekend. Submissions include:

"My men will never mutiny," said the Captain blithely."

In the esthetic of the Tom Swifty, I believe that significant demerits apply to those where the description of the act of speaking doesn't really match the tone of what is said, such as this Times submission:

"She's got my photo in her locket," said Tom independently.

and this one:

"What's under this green jello," Tom asked sublimely.

Here are two particularly fine submissions, from Chris Doyle:

"I'll just have to kill the king," Reggie sighed.
"May I have this dance?" Fred asked gingerly.”

June 6, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 14, 2008

Video debunking McCain ads -- spread it.

Here's a great video debunking some of the McCain campaigns recent distortions/lies.

I've always liked McCain for being a "straight talker." Now it looks like he's decided he'd rather lose his integrity than lose an election. And it's working.

As I've noted on this blog before, the Internet gives us the possibility of strengthening the power of a truth through viral dissemination of that truth. If people don't know something, it's not going to have an effect on their thinking.

So, if you agree that people who can't be elected honestly shouldn't be elected, please spread this video around.

September 14, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 23, 2008

Hillary's Bosnia Trip and the Fate of the World

Last week I mentioned a statement out of Hillary's campaign that was so cynical I found it downright revolting. I'm following up today with a statement from Hillary herself that appears to be a blatant lie.

"I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base." --Hillary Clinton, speech at George Washington University, March 17, 2008. [Democratic Underground]

Here is a photo of the actual incident:

The photo was retrieved by the Washington Post.

Here is a video (thanks to Donklephant):

I don't know what to say other than that I don't want another unmitigated liar in the White House. Especially one who seems to be running partly on the idea of being an especially smart person, but who isn't tuned-in enough to know that her lies are often of such of a nature that they can be quickly exposed by the media. (There are plenty of other lies coming from her or her campaign that I'm not taking the time to mention here.)

Which brings me to another point. As everyone knows, the Internet is a hugely important factor in this campaign. For instance, most campaign money is now being raised through the Internet.

Sometimes people explain the Clinton's campaign approach as being based on old-school politics. Perhaps, they say, if they were of today's generation, they'd be different. It may be that Hillary has simply been trained over decades that this is the only way to win an election, and that with a different experience, she would have taken a very different approach.

I am willing to hypothesize that the main difference is the Internet. For instance, in the old days, Obama's speech in response to the Wright flap would have been seen by very few people. Instead the TV networks would run a few sound bites, and spend most of the air time conducting interviews with analysts saying that the speech wasn't going to make any difference because the Wright sound bites are much more powerful than any that could be culled from Obama's speech. (Which is basically what is happening network news today.)

But almost three million people have accessed the whole speech on YouTube. It's a great speech. Some have said it's brilliant.

I'm not sure I'd classify it that way. To me, it seems more like a reasonable and intelligent person talking directly to us as if we, too, are reasonable and intelligent. And that is historically so extremely unusual in American politics that by contrast, it's as if it is brilliant, even if it's "only" reasonable and intelligent.

He assumes what the television networks do not: that Americans have an attention span that can tolerate thoughtful speech for more than 10 seconds. But that's also the speech's drawback from the old-media perspective: there aren't many (any?) sound bites that can be extracted from it. It would not have been effective in the old-media days except for those few who would go to the trouble of finding and reading the whole thing in a newspaper. And historically, that group has not been enough to reach the critical mass that determines elections.

The ability for any American who wishes to to conveniently see such a speech is a potential game-changer, particularly because those viewers have the ability to tell their friends (and readers, in the case of bloggers) what they think. The availability of such materials on the Internet (including such materials the expose of Hillary's Bosnia lie), added to word of mouth, means that the possibility for a new style of politics is here.

I believe Obama's success so far in this campaign is a result of that possibility reaching actual fruition. I believe that we may be entering an era where lies will be less commonplace and more quickly exposed. And where the result of that is that people are elected to high office who are more honest in their approach because the old style just won't work as well. People who are fundamentally dishonest will be less likely to succeed; and those who aren't won't be trained to believe that dishonesty is the only way to win.

But a key step in that equation is the word-of-mouth piece. Sound bites on the media are still extremely powerful. Most people will still not view Obama's race speech on the Internet; they'll see the Wright sound bites on the networks. So the availability of materials like this on the Internet is not enough. Word of mouth is also required. As Obama says, "We are the solution." Those who don't view the materials directly can hear about them from those who do. Hopefully they will be inspired to view the original materials for themselves. But if not, they can still be moved by hearing from those who have done so.

Either way, it's good. Anyone who shares the information is helping the process, one way or another. Obama's success so far indicates that the two factors, combined, can reach critical mass. I think it's time to hypothesize that this election is already historic, and potentially world-changing: we may be entering a time when our elected officials will be... better. To a nontrivial degree. Nothing is ever perfect and utopia never arrives. But better is good.

Think of the music industry. The Internet is truly transforming it. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the same can't happen for politics, and for reasons that are not dissimilar. It just isn't as obvious, yet, what is changing and why.

We all have to chip in, though, to make it happen. And that's why I am posting this today.

March 23, 2008 in Current Affairs, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 10, 2008

Has she no sense of decency?

I've been keeping politics out of this blog lately, but this just takes the cake.

Howard Wolfson, Clinton's chief spokesman, said during a conference call with reporters that Clinton would not pick a running mate who has not met the “national security threshold” — as Clinton’s military advisers and Wolfson put it on the call — but that it is possible Obama could meet that threshold by this summer's Democratic convention.

In other words, if she gets to be the nominee, and she needs him as VP in order to harness his enthusiastic supperters, he'll magically gain enough experience to be President. Honestly, I find the brazenness of her cynicism amazing, astounding, and revolting.

She undoubtedly thinks that's the only way the Democrats can beat McCain. But the fact is, Obama came out of nowhere and is doing pretty darn well without stooping to such depths. It's possible to do. She just can't do it herself.

March 10, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 29, 2006

Outsourcing controversy stupid

[I had to turn off trackbacks, one by one, for each of my old blog posts because I was getting hundreds of trackback spams a day. The unfortunateness of the fact that a few parasitic people can destroy such a useful feature for everyone else needs no further comment. In any case, in the effort to turn off trackbacks I apparently made a typo that made this old post get reposted. But I think it makes a good point so I decided to let it stay, with a couple of small edits. As a side item I found it interesting to see my long-ago comments on the Iraq war, made at a time when the Katrina-like incompetence of this Administration's approach to Iraq was not yet apparent to me. I've left those for nostalgia's sake.]

Sometimes there are local increasing returns effects where a lot of resources gather in one place. That's how cities are formed.

Those formations are pretty stable, but not eternal under all circumstances. It's not religion. It's just something that happens.

When people discuss outsourcing, there often seems to be an assumption that it's America's God-given right to have an economy superior to most of the world. So, those who are for outsourcing say we'll give people in those other countries the uninteresting opportunities like call centers and software development, and assure us that (due to what, our inborn superiority?) we'll come up with whole new opportunities that will keep us in the economic lead. Those who are against it say that by erecting trade barriers we'll stay in the economic lead.

Both of those positions are fundamentally stupid, IMHO. There is no reason to assume it is possible for the U.S. to keep its economic lead forever.

There were increasing returns affects at work here that were very similar to the aforementioned creation of cities. American companies needed to have American call centers, for instance, because inter-continental broadband communications didn't exist. So the call centers ended up here. But modern technology says that they don't have to be on American soil. So the increasing returns effect with regard to that is greatly diminished. Perhaps even eliminated since the disadvantages of linguistic and cultural differences are offset by the fact that it is so much cheaper to set them up elsewhere.

Protectionism won't help; that will just make us less efficient, as whole, than other countries that don't engage in protectionism.

It may be that the only realistic way to get a grip on this is accept the fact that America and other world-leading nations may not be so different from everyone else for too many more decades. The bad news is that we'll have to change the way we do things so that people here have what they need despite our smaller relative GNP. The good news is that there will be less hardship in the world as a whole, and that has the potential to translate into fewer wars and less terrorism. Very arguably, it will be a net win for us. (That latter, after all, is one of the deeper reasons for the Iraq war; if we do successfully convert them to a functional democracy, instead of a wealth-hording dictatorship, Iraqis will be economically better-off and people living there will have less reason to hate the U.S. Other Arabs will see the example too, and movement will hopefully occur in that direction in other countries. That's the hope.)

The sooner we start thinking about how to make the likely future more workable, instead of pretending that we can hold off the inevitable, the better off we'll all be.

March 29, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 02, 2005

The U.N., the future of the world, and the Tsunami

[Note: I had linked to a Tsunami photo here, but it now appears they are the subject of a hoax or error.]

The latest Tsunami count is 141,000 dead, according to CNN. My wife and I felt we had to donate. Amazon is a convenient way to get money to the Red Cross and says it is taking no cut of the donations.

I think it may also be while to look at the even larger context. The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting piece on the last day of 2004. It's worth quoting from extensively:

Here's some context for 2004: The number of human beings who died of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa was about two million. The number of people who died of bad water and bad sanitation was more than two million. These deaths broke families and even whole communities with a force as hard as that in Sumatra this week. What is the answer?

The simple and obvious answer sits inside this final piece of disaster data: The Red Cross estimates that for the past 10 years when a natural disaster occurred in a developing country, the number of people killed was 589; but in what the Red Cross calls a country of "high human development" it was 51. That's 11 to 1. (Also, there's no full-time throat-slitting in countries of "high human development.")

The answer is to compress this ratio. We won't do that with aid, important as that is right now. We will never do it with the United Nations. The way we move the world's most vulnerable people away from the high risks of 11 and toward the relative safety of 1 is with the meat and potatoes of politics.

I may believe that liberal market economics joined to repeatable free elections is the way to a safer, more prosperous life for the Sri Lankas and Iraqs of the world. But belief alone never turned rocks into silver, even when all the world believed Poseidon caused earthquakes. Political work is the means the civilized world has for replacing men and ideas that are dumb or dangerous with something better. In the aftermath of 2004's too-numerous unnatural deaths, the only resolution possible is to re-enter the arena of politics and fight the good, slow fight. It's all we've got, and it is enough.

The typical WSJ-conservative slant on the U.N. expressed above will be counterintuitive to many readers. But consider this: if you don't consider the U.N., how many truly effective organizations are there where the main power resides in five entities, each of which has veto power? Answer: None. Effective organizations don't have that kind of veto power because if everyone has to agree, there is too much of tendency toward inaction. For instance, imagine that the U.S. Presidential elections required unanimity. Obviously no one would ever get elected. That's a very extreme example, but the same bias toward inaction holds, to lessening degrees, as the number of voting entities decreases, and is only eliminated when the number of voters is 2. You won't find any successful corporation that is managed that way, because such a corporation would have such a bias toward inaction that it couldn't compete effectively.

We can't expect a organizational structure that could not even lead to a successful corporation to be the agent that solves all the world's problems. To do so would be overoptimistic at best.

Such a structural detail might seem like a small thing, but it is not. It is the foundation from which everything else grows. It biases the U.N. toward inaction except in humanitarian areas where no one could reasonably have any objection.

The only reason the U.N. has the structure it has is that the Security Council powers didn't have the courage or faith in U.N. ideals that would have enabled them to accept majority rule (as voters in any democracy do, in order to enable elections to complete successfully). If they had had that faith, and continued to, the potential for the U.N. would be very different. But, alas, that is not the world we live in.

No, we can't rely on the U.N. But we can't remove ourselves from world affairs either: "In the aftermath of 2004's too-numerous unnatural deaths, the only resolution possible is to re-enter the arena of politics and fight the good, slow fight. It's all we've got, and it is enough."

January 2, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (6)

January 01, 2005

The War

A college friend of mine wrote to me today and mentioned, in passing, being depressed over the election victory of "this monster" Bush. Partly to explain to her, and partly because I've thought about it a lot, and partly because it's the beginning of a new year, here's a piece explaining why I voted for him.

And there's a free prize for anyone who reads through to the end! Seriously. :)

[Note, Jan 2 2005: I'm editing this piece a bit as time goes on, not to change any of the ideas, but to make them a little clearer here and there.]

George W. Bush was the first time I ever voted Republican. I spent quite some time studying the issues and thinking about them. The thing is, I believe the neocon vision that the best chance for giving the world a future is to spread liberal democracy all through it. And when dictatorship is too entrenched, as it was with Hitler or Hussein, the only way that can be done is through military action. 40 million lives would have been saved if Churchill had had his way, and attacked Hitler in the 1937 time frame. That would have been before Hitler had fully built up the German military (I've read about 7-8 books on WWII to try to give myself some background in understanding these issues).

That's just a fact, in hindsight; I don't there is any reasonable way to argue against it. But had we taken such action then, the exact same arguments would have been raised that Churchill was a monster for doing it. The 40 million unnecessary dead would never have happened, but Germany then would have looked a lot like Iraq does now. Churchill would have been reviled and hated for it. That, too, is just a fact as far as I can tell. But, such an attack on Hitler would have overwhelmingly been the best thing to do, in order to avoid the Holocaust and all else that Hitler caused. Churchill would have unquestionably been reviled for doing what unquestionably would have been, by far, the right thing.

Obviously, the moral is not that all pre-emptive attacks on countries run by dictators are fine. The moral, as I see it, is: The fact that a lot of people hate Bush does not mean that he did the wrong thing; just as many people would have hated Churchill too. Any time an action is taken that involves immediate suffering, those who take the action will be reviled by a large segment of the population. But a great tragedy of life is that sometimes, such actions are necessary to avoid far, far greater, totally unnecessary death and suffering, that would otherwise occur in the future. Hitler, and the process that led to his ability to be responsible for 40 million deaths, is the world's greatest example of that. And it's one we should really strive to learn from.

It's said that "he who does not learn from history is condemned to repeat it." But it's not enough to look at certain historical events too specifically and try to avoid those exact same circumstances again. The next crises leading to 10's or 100's of millions of deaths isn't going to look very much like Hitler. The real historical studies we need to make should have, as their main subject, the process of thinking about these issues. What process leads to conclusions that involve fewer horrific, needless deaths? In the case of World War II, a desire on the part of those in power to avoid war, which was clearly driven by good, caring impulses, was not counteracted by enough confidence in the benefits of rational thinking and study of the data that showed that something, very, very bad could happen if Hitler wasn't taken out.

Churchill spent that thought-time and made such studies, and came nearly 100% to the right conclusions, and came to them while there was still plenty of time to avert the disaster that eventually unfolded. The information was right there in Mein Kampf and in data about Germany's illicit military buildup. But putting it all together and drawing the right conclusions was abstract. What seemed real was that a pre-emptive attack on Germany would lead to terrible suffering. And that was, indeed, real. As it is in Iraq today.

But: THE ABSTRACT IS REAL TOO. Just because it is abstract, many people, in and out of power, seem to feel they can ignore it. But in reality, the abstract is just as real, and the dangers that spring from ignoring it are so gargantuan that they seriously challenge our ability to comprehend them. In fact, world events as horrific as the Holocaust cannot be comprehended. And still, the Holocaust comprised only 6 million of WWII's 40 million unnecessary, needless, terrible deaths. The abstract is as real as the immediate pain we rightly seek to avoid: THAT is a key lesson we should learn from history.

The overall long-term (though abstract) problem the world faces today, as I see it, is that with the rapid improvements in the technology of mass-destruction that is coming, it is inevitable that there will be large-scale destruction even far beyond what happened in WWII. Completely inevitable -- unless something happens to change things in a big way.

That has been obvious to me ever since I reached an age where I could think about such matters. I have been quite unhappy, to say the least, about believing things would come to such an end, but I saw no way out. I saw no evidence that those in leadership would ever do anything to change it, largely because the problem, though obvious, was not obvious enough to be taken up as a popular cause. It was too abstract; and also, the price to pay in addressing it would be very high.

But, I now believe that there is at least the possibility of a way out, and that is if the dictatorships are replaced by liberal democracy before it's too late. When the rest of the world is on a roughly similar level of prosperity as today's liberal democracies are, there will be far less psychological need for movements such as Bin Laden's.

Obviously no one is advocating attacking every dictatorship, Islamic or otherwise. But the problem with spreading liberal democracy into the Muslim world is that there is presently no major example of an Islamically-oriented, successful and prosperous democracy, embodying ideals like free speech. Iraq has the potential to become that. If it is successful, it will give the average Muslim a much better idea of what benefits a liberal democracy has. For instance, from articles I've read, the average Muslim does not believe that an American can speak ill of Bush without going to jail. They just don't have a close, concrete example of how a liberal democracy would work, demonstrating the actual reality of life in one. If our work in Iraq is successful, that example will exist. Or at least it will be a real partial step there.

And I believe that governments will change due to that, as happened to the Soviet Union. At bottom, it's all about information, or more accurately, memes. The culture in the Soviet Union was close enough to ours that the idea of a liberal democracy as practiced in the U.S., Western Europe, and elsewhere, could be understood, embraced, and fought for. (They've taken some steps backward lately, but let's continue.) Unlike the situation with the Soviet Union, it seems that the average Muslim living in an Islamic dictatorship truly doesn't have a "close enough" example to serve as a good enough model. There is thus no way for the liberal democracy meme to propagate powerfully across that chasm. This is crystalized in the apparently common belief that one cannot legally criticize Bush in the U.S. How can people with such totally wrong beliefs about liberal democracies ever hope to fight for getting one themselves?

I don't think this idea of memetic transfer of personal goals, values, and beliefs is taken nearly seriously enough. We need the concept of liberal democracy to propagate to people who can't really hear it today, because it is so foreign that it is hard for them to form an accurate picture of it. It doesn't matter how great an idea is if it's so foreign that it doesn't seem real. A success in Iraq, resulting in Muslims living with free speech and free elections, could make it seem real to many, many millions of people who do not understand it now. This is not vague psycho-babble. This is the bottom line. It's extremely concrete. People will only fight for causes that they can embrace wholeheartedly. They can't embrace them wholeheartedly if the only examples of the causes are in cultures that are so different that the relevant memes can't effectively spread across the chasm. People who assume that we in the U.S. can't criticize Bush without being thrown into jail are not going to fight for their own liberal democracy. They need to see how it works close-up. That's the only way the memes can propagate.

The reality of seeing a living situation that works is far better for meme propagation than even the most skillful propaganda. It has the benefit of being understandable, as well as being ultimately believable for the best reason possible: it's true; it's really happening.

It seems clear to me that Kerry doesn't understand the totality of this, and that Bush does. Or close enough. Hence, my vote. That vote was made despite the fact that I think that Bush has screwed up horribly in Iraq in many important ways, including real humanitarian ones.

I don't think Bush is great, but at least he has a clue about what the fundamental issue is; and without the leadership having a clue, I don't see grounds for hope. So, with regret, I voted for Bush.

And I need to give him credit: he gave me my first serious hope that perhaps those tens or hundreds of millions of needless deaths, that I always believed would one day occur due to the wrong weapon in the wrong hands, don't need to occur.

Note that there's a lot more to the story than I could outline above. I left a lot out. Almost every paragraph could be explicated in the form of a whole book. It's not a simple matter, and I don't expect to change anyone's mind with what I have said above.

It takes a lot to change someone's mind. In my case, I had to read a number of books, including books about other wars, about Islam, and about the current situation, to feel like I had a clue. I had to read blogs coming from Iraq and expressing the unfiltered opinions of actual Iraqis, which do not often appear in the U.S. media. If I hadn't done such things, I don't think I would have a basis for feeling justified in holding any opinion, one way or the other. I don't see how one could form, or change, one's opinion without going at least that far.

For some reason, people in our society seem to feel that to be a scientist or doctor, they should have to go to school for many years, but to be an expert in international affairs, one merely has to catch a few sound bytes on CNN or a few headlines in the NY Times. People tend to be absolutely sure their opinions are right, even with extremely little effort or research being expended in the process of forming those opinions. It's truly bizarre.

In fact, the world of international affairs is far more complex than the world of most scientists, and if anything, the learning entailed before forming an opinion should be greater. But of course, only a few professionals have the time resources to put in that kind of effort. The rest of us have to make do with what we can. But, I don't think there is any reason, when there are well-informed people who disagree with one, why that one should just assume he or she is right, and make no serious effort to try to understand why those others have the opinions they do. Nevertheless, depressingly, that is exactly what happens most of the time.

With that in mind, here's the free prize alluded to at the beginning: if you have a serious interest in this subject, and especially if you currently disagree with me, I will buy you a copy of Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, which I think is a great place to start. Berman is a liberal, so you'll be in good hands. ;) Just let me know to whom and where to send it.

And feel free to buy me a book that you think might aid my understanding -- ideally, it shouldn't agree with the point of view expressed above. Email me and I'll let you know where to send it. :)

January 1, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (12)