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John Spragge
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Well, there hasn't been hardly any time in the past 1000 years when the Arabs of those countries had any citizens' rights, opportunities, or dignity. Codswallop. For over half of the second millennium, the Muslim East had far greater tolerance for minority religions, better education and learning, infinitely better sanitation, a more effective and equitable legal system, and overall greater accountability from rulers to ruled than the West, which only started catching up in some areas in the seventeenth century. Whatever our emotional attitude to Arabs, we have a responsibility not to let it distort our assessment of the historical record.
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@Brett: yes, yes, we've all heard the meme of the Palestinians as impotent nuisances and Israel as all powerful forever. That bit of wishful thinking has floated around the debate since 1967, and we've all seen it before. Maybe you could answer the actual and somewhat difficult questions Israeli policies raise. To refresh your memory, I include them again below: Should Israel exist as a Jewish state? Could Israel survive as a theocratic and non-democratic state? Can Israeli democracy survive the ethnic cleansing of almost half the total population of "green-line" Israel plus the West Bank? How long can a state that excludes nearly half the people it governs from the franchise continue to credibly present itself as a democracy? Can the vision of a Jewish State that drives the high-tech entrepreneurial culture of Tel Aviv coexist with the vision of the "hilltop youth"? Please try to answer these specific questions rather than snipping a phrase out and attaching a meme that passed its best before date over two decades ago.
Toggle Commented Jan 29, 2011 on Desperation Is the Devil's Work at Obsidian Wings
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@Fred: I think you've asked the wrong questions here. Your questions appear to assume that only the Palestinians will benefit from a comprehensive peace. Let me ask a few different questions: Should Israel exist as a Jewish state? Could Israel survive as a theocratic and non-democratic state? Can Israeli democracy survive the ethnic cleansing of almost half the total population of "green-line" Israel plus the West Bank? How long can a state that excludes nearly half the people it governs from the franchise continue to credibly present itself as a democracy? Can the vision of a Jewish State that drives the high-tech entrepreneurial culture of Tel Aviv coexist with the vision of the "hilltop youth"? The same question goes for Brett: if you believe that peace will only benefit the Palestinians, then it might make sense to say they shouldn't get what they want until they get their act together and stop shooting missiles into Israel. But if you believe that to remain democratic, Jewish, and prosperous the State of Israel needs to make peace, then refusing to negotiate or trying to push for concessions the majority of Palestinians will never accept will do as much harm to Israel as to the Palestinians.
Toggle Commented Jan 28, 2011 on Desperation Is the Devil's Work at Obsidian Wings
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My perspective: now that any progress in Afghanistan appears to have stalled like a hogged rock, conservatives worry about the cost in money and lives, and liberals and leftists worry about the destruction. I agree with both perspectives, but with one important caveat: we need to have some concern about the possible consequences of just leaving. Apart from the imperative to avoid leaving behind an endless civil war if at all possible, which I agree only diplomacy can address, I have seen few people address what seems to me the major risk of simple withdrawal: the possibility of a return by al Qaeda. Many commentators I respect have suggested that the Taliban has learned from their defeat of 2002. I would like to believe this. But I see no way to guarantee that some faction in the Taliban that sees a NATO pull-out as a victory, or worse, a sign of divine favour, will not prevail and invite al Qaeda back in. If that happens, the ideology of al Qaeda will dispose them to attempt another attack on the United States. I certainly do not regard this as a foregone conclusion, and very much hope it does not happen. The possible consequences for Afghanistan, however, seem quite catastrophic to me. At the very least, I would expect the United States to respond to a Taliban government supporting al Qaeda by air bombardment: precise perhaps, targeting property rather than lives I hope, but sustained. Such a policy, combined with trade isolation as rigorous as American economic power can achieve, might consign the Afghan people to utter poverty without displacing the Taliban. And I cannot envision and American administration doing less than this; if it did, I would expect voters to replace it with an administration committed to an even more aggressive policy. I have no serious argument with people who have considered this risk and believe we cannot end the bleeding of Western and Afghan lives unless and until foreign troops take the risk of withdrawal. But I do disagree strongly with people who do not address this risk.
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As a Canadian, let me make a radical suggestion: social, political, and technological developments over the past two centuries have made the second amendment obsolete as a direct guarantor of liberty, if indeed it ever worked for that purpose. Technological developments in warfare, particularly nuclear weapons, means a violent revolution or civil war in a nuclear armed nation poses extreme hazards. Social evolution, particularly the non-violence taught by Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus of Nazareth has provided a way to make profound social change without weapons. Given these and other developments, the advantage of an armed militia, well regulated or otherwise, seems highly unclear.
Toggle Commented Jan 20, 2011 on The Fantasy of the Gun at Obsidian Wings
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I believe I already wrote that plenty of people have cast doubt on the findings of the US Army study on combat performance. However, the conclusions have held up well in the light of other studies of behaviour in combat, and the effect of changes in training. Experience appears to validate one of the main conclusions: that normal human beings have a significant resistance to killing, even in our own defence.
Toggle Commented Jan 19, 2011 on The Fantasy of the Gun at Obsidian Wings
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Phil's comment, "It's not like shootings are rare in the neighborhood in which this took place." suggests to me that American policy around guns has not succeeded.
Toggle Commented Jan 19, 2011 on The Fantasy of the Gun at Obsidian Wings
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During the second world war, the US Army did a study, and they discovered, somewhat to their surprise, that men (they didn't have women in combat then) had a significant resistance to killing, so much so that soldiers alone would often not fire even to protect their own lives. Plenty of people have since cast doubt on these findings, but I find it telling that when the US military redesigned their training to reduce the resistance to killing, rates of fire went up. I will admit to suffering from confirmation bias; when I read this, or an account of a mass shooting where the police have found victims dead with unfired guns in their hands, I tend to think: aha, it all fits. I know the world does not work in such a simple manner, but I do believe this: given the state of the evidence, it does not do for any gun owner to hold themselves up as members of an unbadged but always ready police force.
Toggle Commented Jan 19, 2011 on The Fantasy of the Gun at Obsidian Wings
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@envy: you said the people who rigged the traps could have kept using the village. But the text of the story makes it seem likely that the villagers themselves couldn't use the village, at least not safely, because the villagers didn't lay the traps. Even if they did, booby traps have a nasty record of killing or maiming children. If nobody but Taliban fighters could have used the village, I don't see the objection to demolishing it. The issue here seems to revolve around the question of whether or not the Americans or NATO and ISAF could have made the village safe for the villagers and their children without taking the drastic step of blowing it up and starting over again. I can't judge that, except to agree with anyone who finds the upbeat tone of the original foreign policy magazine inappropriate.
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First of all, novokant, I don't see how you can possibly get from my call for modesty in passing judgment on the soldiers in this situation to a call to level Afghanistan with aerial bombing. On the question of empathy, I have two points. First, empathy does not require zero-sum thinking. I can empathize with the soldiers and point out that we who observe this situation must never take the lives of people (soldier or civilian deminers) lightly. That doesn't mean I can't also feel for what the villagers went through. On your specific question, I don't know where you live, but where I come from, if a gang (say the Hell's Angels) took over my house for a grow-op and loaded it with booby traps, then the police would not risk the lives of the bomb squad merely to save my house.
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@envy: I think you've misunderstood the moral distinction I want to draw. I also think, based on what you've written, that we have different readings of the underlying facts of this situation. The way I read the account, the Taliban placed a large numbers of IEDs in the village, and the local military commander concluded he could not demine it and preserve the houses without an unacceptable risk to his soldiers. He therefore ordered the explosives removed in a manner that posed less risk to his soldiers but destroyed the buildings. In the case of a house occupied by an amateur bomb maker, LA area law enforcement personnel made a similar decision quite recently. Any person, civilian or military, has the right to comment on this decision. I would like to emphasize this: I don't make a distinction between people who wear uniforms and people who don't. But I do say that if anyone, military, civilian, or grey alien, criticizes another person for a decision that avoids danger, that criticism will have more weight if it comes with some empathy for the actual experience of taking risks. I found that empathy lacking in the the post I originally encountered this story through. Among other things, the author of that post writes: "rather than actually clearing the village—not just chasing away the Taliban but cleaning up the bombs and munitions left over—the soldiers got lazy and decided to destroy the entire settlement". I would object to that statement whether it described the actions of a military unit, a civilian demining team, or for that matter an engineering firm outside a war zone. I also note that the original foreign policy magazine entry had the opposite problem: it did indeed take the pain of the villagers lightly. I don't defend that either.
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@bobbyp: I didn't pass judgment on anybody; I pointed out what I considered and consider serious flaws in an argument. I made no personal attacks on, or claims about, the author whose work I criticized; I only described what the tone of what he wrote conveyed to me. For that I make no apologies whatever. @envy: Respectfully, if humanitarian law does require soldiers to rehabilitate war damaged property at serious personal risk, then that law contradicts the values applied in civil practice. In any North American city, if we cannot rehabilitate a property without real risks to the workers, that property gets demolished. We can replace brick and mortar; we can't replace lives. Given that we routinely refuse to risk lives for structures in civil life, I submit that we need a good reason to risk soldiers' lives for the same thing. I don't think the commentaries on the operations in Tarok Kolache have provided such a reason.
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I happened on this story at Registan, and the following passage from the story there struck me; the author at Registan, Joshua Foust quotes Paula Broadwell, the author of the original account, as saying: "the commander, LTC David Flynn, was concerned about the potential loss of life, but they could not afford to lose momentum." He later refers to that concern in these words: ...these soldiers are scared, and they’re worried about momentum (which is, yes, that thing no one can describe or measure but is nevertheless somehow very important). Best I could tell, that is their only excuse for destroying these non-combattants’ homes. Now forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but I think we on this blog have a good sense of what it means when American forces suffer "casualties", of the enormous suffering and lost potential each soldier's death means. I might disagree with an officer's decision to save lives under his command by destroying the property and livelihoods of the local people, but I would never reduce that choice to an "excuse". The whole tone of the post seems to reflect someone who does not know, or at least has not expressed, what a soldier might go through trying to remove booby traps from a village, knowing each step, each opened door, the turn of each screw or snip of each wire might mean death or a life of pain and disability. Indeed, and here I suspect I have treated the author unfairly, I even caught a faint whiff of a sense of entitlement to expect soldiers to take these risks. In any case, I would remind everyone that since in all probability none of us would ever have had to defuse the bombs in that village, we should take care in passing judgement on the people who would.
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McKinney: I understand that the provisions against ex post facto legislation do not prohibit any and all legislation that might change the terms of a contract. I have some reservations about the constitutionality of a measure passed strictly to prevent homeowners from receiving so-called windfalls due to bank errors. Even more, I consider such measures highly unwise, and to the extent that they reflect an attitude that certain people do not "deserve" to profit, I also consider them mean-spirited and unworthy. Let the laws apply, including the laws on mortgage fraud.
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I accommodate other road users whenever I can do it safely, as a cyclist, as a motorist, and as a pedestrian. I make a point of treating buses, taxis (working stiffs) as well as I can. If I get courtesy, I give it. If drivers crowd me, I take the lane.
...letting the homeowner have a windfall without paying isn't an option to me.I have two comments on this attitude. First, any effort to prevent homeowners from obtaining "windfalls" at the expense of incompetent investors involves changing the legislation governing a contract retroactively, which would almost certainly conflict with Article I.9 of the US constitution:No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.Secondly, I see no significant public policy imperative for government to intervene to prevent "homeowners" from benefiting from the bank's errors or incompetence. I suggest that simply applying the law in place in each jurisdiction should suffice.
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As someone who got my license at 28 (after a harrowing ride with a drunk, where I decided once and for all to put myself in a position where I could take the "Stevie Wonder option"), I remember an increasing struggle to get people to accept that an adult in this society would choose not to have a driver's license. I remember banking as the worst, but other circumstances in which I had to establish identity difficult as well. Our society grants a major unacknowledged subsidy to the car by making a driver's license a universal form of identification, as well as the one universal substitute for a puberty rite: Jewish kids get a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Christians get confirmed, but we all (in theory) get driving licenses.
To get back to the question of work on infrastructure: governments have not so far set goals for fixing and upgrading infrastructure the way, say, the WPA did seventy-five years ago for a number of reasons. But I would like to bet that in many cases those reasons include this one: a real uncertainty about what infrastructure we will need in the future. For example, triple A, UAW, and most corporations want the interstates fixed or upgraded, but given the twin prospects of peak oil and climate change, high speed electric trains and surface trams for in-city transportation would make more economic and environmental sense. The monetary and emotional investment in private cars collides with environmental and resource limits, and paralysis results.
Toggle Commented Oct 8, 2010 on Corporate Ennui at Obsidian Wings
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On the topic of wealth, inherited or otherwise... a guy named Richard Stallman and his friends wrote the basic gnu c/c++ library, code that probably gets executed more than any other code in existence. Richard Stallman believes that programmers should not try to get rich, or even attempt to achieve a conventional American "middle class" lifestyle. Likewise, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who developed http protocol and thust the World Wide Web didn't make billions from his invention; indeed, the non-proprietory nature of the design for the world wide web played a considerable part in its acceptance by the user community. Wealth doesn't motivate everything. Many of the greatest schievers have virtually no interest in amassing great personal fortunes. That, of course, says nothing about how we should treat people who do want to get very rich, and how or whether we should allow them to pass great wealth to their children.
Toggle Commented Sep 23, 2010 on The old-fashioned way at Obsidian Wings
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@McKinney: Let's look at where the money at issue goes. Your country has a number of major spending programs. Two of them, Medicare and Social Security, transfer money to people who have already paid into them. One of them, the military (including the cost of the wars) enjoys broad support, and would take some time to wind down anyway. The last, debt servicing, you really don't have a choice about. Taken together, these programs cost more than your government currently receives in revenues. You can argue about how much to increase taxes, and how and whether to reduce the overall size of government. But the money at issue here doesn't exactly count as yours: your government has already pledged it, with your effective permission as a citizen of a democracy. To do less simply dumps the problem onto your children. Someone has to balance the budget and at least make a start on paying down the debt. What conceivable reason can you give for not making that person you, and the generation that does it yours?
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@McKinney in Texas: This reminds me of two people in a car, heading for a brick wall at a buck sixty (in US terms, a hundred miles an hour), one screaming "step on the brake!" and the other yelling "take your foot off the gas!" The question of who should do what first has less relevance than the fact that if one of them doesn't do something, they will both end up in a very bad situation indeed. If you think I have exaggerated the problem, according to the US national debt clock, you have a public debt to GDP ratio of 62% and a deficit of over a trillion dollars a year. A very large chunk of your government expenses consist of programs like social security, for which the recipients have paid taxes in advance, and as I review your expenditures, I cannot think of any cuts significant enough to both bring your deficit under control while extending the Bush tax cuts, and possible to implement under current political circumstances. So while I applaud all efforts to eliminate unnecessary expenditures in government, I also have to say that if you want to avoid a very hard landing in the future, you have to take a responsible attitude to the situation you find yourselves in today.
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@Brett: Give it up: I did peacemaking work related to the illegal harassment of First Nations spirituality and the illegal desecration of a major First nations sacred site in 2006. The last residential schools closed in the 1970s. If you bother counting, that comes in well short of a century. And Brett, this makes the fifth time I have said this: I know that Muslims, individually and collectively, have done bad things. I have never denied this, right from the beginning. But I do deny the relevance of it. This discussion does not concern any claim to superior morality on behalf of Islam, nor that Muslims behave as well as other people. I merely want to refute the ridiculous (given the historical facts) argument that we should fear Muslims because Islam has some unique and intrinsic propensity to intolerance. You can only believe that by ignoring pretty well all of the facts. @Donald: I don't want to put my own culture and religion into the "evil Olympics". The argument made by Ms. Moon, the subject of this discussion, suggests that Muslims should not enjoy the freedom of religion the rest of us take for granted, or that they enjoy it only by the grace and favour of the majority, because Islam has a unique history of intolerance. I consider that the history decisively refutes this claim.
Toggle Commented Sep 21, 2010 on Her worth is far above rubies at Obsidian Wings
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Gwynne Dyer once remarked on the lack of seriousness in American political discussion by observing that Americans described terrorist organization using terms that could just as well have applied to the villains in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now you discuss the looming fiscal crisis in terms of the affordability of a maid. I claim no expertise on economics, but I know this: you don't live in Greece. Nobody in the world has the economic power to bail the US out of a real economic catastrophe. And if you don't change the way you approach taxation and government debt, you will reach a point at which you can no longer avoid a really painful reckoning. If it comes to that, to a serious slide in the US dollar and a corresponding spike in the price of imported oil, if you end up with double digit interest rates and double digit unemployment, then maids will rank pretty far down on your list of worries. And I, for one, will take no pleasure in any of it.
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Bernard: no, I did not and do not say that the Zionists should have predicted violence against Jewish communities in Muslim countries. I said that Muslims do not have a record of persecution driven by pure intolerance. Look, the argument made by Ms. Moon and her ilk (if you want to dignify their venting with that word) include the proposition that Muslims make bad citizens because Islam has an unusual history of intolerance. The facts simply do not back up that theory. Some Muslims, like a fraction of most ethnic or religious groups on this planet, have a bad habit of accepting the argument that goes roughly thus: people like Mr. Schwartz beat up on people like me, so now I should go beat up on Mr. Schwartz. I consider this unethical, whether Mr. Brown did it to Mr. Nakamura in 1941, or Mr. Ahmed did it to Mr. Cohen in 1948. But it doesn't mean the same thing, it doesn't pose the same objective danger, as Mr. Brown deciding Mr. White Sky believes something wrong, and therefore he will take Mr. White Sky's kids away and send them to a residential school so Mr. White Sky cannot pass on any of his traditions, with especially severe punishment available if Mr. White Sky's kids try to learn their religious heritage. Some members of almost any religious group will commit the first type of moral lapse in a conflict situation, and I simply see no evidence that Muslims will do the second. @Brett: Please go back and read the discussion. I have already explained why hauling Muslim countries into Nuremberg (or the Hague) would constitute gross hypocrisy unless those courts had already dealt harshly with Canada and the United States four our objectively much worse offences.
Toggle Commented Sep 21, 2010 on Her worth is far above rubies at Obsidian Wings
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As someone who recently bid farewell to 20 kilos through bicycling and watching what I ate, I say you can't tell people this too many times. Almost 50000 people in North America die in car crashes every year (that makes close to 200,000 people since 9/11, if anyone wants to count), but debilitating and life-shortening illnesses caused by inactivity take a much greater toll. The police talk about the horror of having to clean up after a car crash, but I have a chilling thought for them: they may actually get to deal with the luckier victims of our culture's motoring obsession.