Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them. - Laurence J. Peter

Friday, May 19, 2006

I'll be back

My work's product launches really soon so I'm too busy to blog right now, but I'll be back.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

War, rape and slavery in the Congo

Johann Hari reports on war, rape and slavery in the Congo.
It starts with a ward full of women who have been gang-raped and then shot in the vagina. I am standing in a makeshift ward in the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the only hospital that is trying to deal with the bushfire of sexual violence in Eastern Congo. Most have wrapped themselves deep in their blankets so I can only see their eyes, staring blankly at me. Dr Denis Mukwege is speaking. “Around ten percent of the gang-rape victims have had this happen to them,” he says softly, his big hands tucked into his white coat. “We are trying to reconstruct their vaginas, their anuses, their intestines. It is a long process.”

We walk out into the courtyard and he begins to explain – in the national language, French – the secret history of this hospital. “We started with a catastrophe we just couldn’t understand,” he says softly. One day early in the war, the UNICEF medical van he was using was looted. Coincidentally, a few days later, a woman was carried here on her grandmother’s back after an eight-hour trek. “I had never seen anything like it. She had been gang-raped and then her legs had been shot to pieces. I operated on her on a table with no equipment, no medicine.”

She was only the first. “We suddenly had so many women coming in with post-rape lesions and injuries I could never have imagined. Our minds just couldn’t take in what these women had suffered.” The competing armies had discovered that rape was an efficient weapon in this war. Even in this small province, South Kivu, the UN estimates 45,000 women were raped last year alone. “It destroys the morale of the men to rape their women. Crippling their women cripples their society,” he explains, shaking his head gently. There were so many militias around that Dr Mukwege had to keep his treatments secret – the women were terrified of being kidnapped again and killed. So he became an Oscar Schindler of the Congolese mass rapes, treating women undercover for years, taking the risk he would trigger the fickle rage of the drugged-up and freaked-out teenager soldiers marauding across the country.
We have to do something. What can we do? Reading things like this makes me despair.

Victory conditions in the war

Tigerhawk, guest-blogging at the Belmont Club, writes about broad strategy and justification for the war against Al Qaeda. Just as communism lost support when it was discredited, Islamic fascism must also be discredited.
Where al Qaeda flourishes, it is able to cajole and coerce the local population -- the Average Abdul -- into cooperating. This creates a local base from which it can "vex and exhaust" the apostate regime.

We need Average Abdul to stop cooperating with al Qaeda and to start turning in the jihadis in the back of the mosque. Unfortunately, he won't turn in the jihadis because he is more afraid of them than the local regime and he will not bear any risk to defend the clown regime. The jihadis will kill him and his family for blowing the whistle, but the clown regime will neither punish him for keeping silent or induce him to fight the jihadis out of patriotism. Average Abdul, simply put, is unwilling to risk his life for the clown regime, which has not earned his devotion, even for money.

Average Abdul will, however, risk his life for an idea, just as al Qaeda's jihadis do. Once, that idea was pan-Arabism, or Communism. Today, both are discredited. "Moderate Islam," whatever that means in a dusty town in Syria, Jordan or Egypt, obviously does not have the fire to motivate Abdul to risk his life to fight the Islamists. The only idea with the juice to do the job is popular sovereignty. Democracy. This is the realist case for the Bush administration's "democratization strategy" (although it is not entirely clear how many people inside the Bush administration understand the realist case for their most important strategy).

The jihadis understand this, and fight against democracy in the Arab world with everything they've got, even if it costs them their Ba'athist allies.
For this reason, it is important to global security that the Middle East become democratic.

Moussaoui's end

Moussaoui will spend the rest of his life in the Supermax prison, locked down 23 hours a day.
Christopher Boyce, a convicted spy who was incarcerated at Supermax, left the prison about 100 miles south of Denver with no regret. "You're slowly hung," he once told The Times. "You're ground down. You can barely keep your sanity."

Bernard Kleinman, a New York lawyer who represented Yousef, called it "extraordinarily draconian punishment."

Moussaoui might be a household name today, "but 20 years from now, people will forget him," Kleinman said. "He will sit there all alone, and all forgotten."
It sounds like a fate worse than death.

Regulation of public sex

America doesn't ban speech based on how offensive it is, and I think this is the best approach. There are some exceptions to free speech of course, things like libel and shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, but the justifications for those are not simply that the speech is offensive.

If we don't ban speech because it's offensive, Amber at Prettier Than Napoleon argues, then we also ought not to ban sex in public because it's offensive.
Other people are unwilling spectators to our offensive expression and conduct all the time. I can stand on the steps of the Supreme Court and wave gory, graphic photos of dismembered fetuses at passing schoolchildren. I can wear a jacket that says “Fuck the draft” in a courthouse. I can put cartoons of Mohammed on t-shirts and wear them on the street. Lots of people would find these things offensive, but we don’t allow their religious fervor, patriotic sentiment, or just plain weak stomachs to be grounds for censoring the public sphere. Why is sex special? To use legalistic language: unlike decibel limits, this is not a content-neutral restriction. (Or is it? Is a dimension of expression, not content of expression? Can I really express myself sexually if I am not permitted to act on my feelings? In the same way that no other words really convey the sentiment "Fuck the draft," does any other mode of expression really get across what a physical gesture like a kiss does?)

Even if you don't buy the sex-as-expression argument, even though it's clearly communicating something between the parties engaged in it, why is preventing offense a legitimate state interest in this case and not in other cases? If you have a right to have sex in your home, we can't regulate it, even if your community knows what you're doing and finds it totally offensive. Why does the public actually seeing it, as opposed to knowing about it, make a difference?

It just seems odd to say that we can burn flags in public (something many people find so offensive that it provokes violence) but we can’t have sex in the bushes at the park because someone might get the vapors.
I find her argument convincing. She has a follow-up here.

Arrested for flying to Brussels

Daniel Drezner comments on the arrest of Iranian scholar Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo.
One of our invited guests to the Brussels Forum, Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo, never made it to the event as he was detained by the Iranian authorities on the way to the airport to fly to Brussels. Dr. Jahanbegloo is a well-known Iranian intellectual and human rights advocate who currently heads the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran.
At the time of his arrest, he was working on a study of Ghandi and peaceful resistance.
“The arbitrary arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo shows the perilous state of academic freedom and free speech in Iran today,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This prominent scholar should be celebrated for his academic achievements, not interrogated in one of Iran’s most infamous prisons.”
Damn. Ghandi-studying resistance fighters are what Iran needs right now.

Hitler's plans

I've heard it claimed that people outside Germany were unaware that the Holocaust was going on until the later years of the war. But Hitler announced his intentions early and often. For example, in January 1939:
"If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshivization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe." - Hitler, Speech to the Reichstag, January 30 1939.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Widespread torture by US

Amnesty International has published a report alleging "widespread" torture by the US in detention centers around the world.
Torture and inhumane treatment are "widespread" in U.S.-run detention centers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba and elsewhere despite Washington's denials, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Andrew Sullivan has more.
Whatever else this administration has done, whatever other mistakes it has made, this abandonment of long-standing American honor and decency in the military is an unforgivable offense.

Experts make bad predictions

In the New Yorker, Louis Menand has reviewed a new book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?, by Philip Tetlock.

Tetlock got a statistical handle on his task by putting most of the forecasting questions into a “three possible futures” form. The respondents were asked to rate the probability of three alternative outcomes: the persistence of the status quo, more of something (political freedom, economic growth), or less of something (repression, recession). And he measured his experts on two dimensions: how good they were at guessing probabilities (did all the things they said had an x per cent chance of happening happen x per cent of the time?), and how accurate they were at predicting specific outcomes. The results were unimpressive. On the first scale, the experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned an equal probability to all three outcomes—if they had given each possible future a thirty-three-per-cent chance of occurring. Human beings who spend their lives studying the state of the world, in other words, are poorer forecasters than dart-throwing monkeys, who would have distributed their picks evenly over the three choices.

Tetlock also found that specialists are not significantly more reliable than non-specialists in guessing what is going to happen in the region they study. Knowing a little might make someone a more reliable forecaster, but Tetlock found that knowing a lot can actually make a person less reliable. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly,” he reports. “In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on—are any better than journalists or attentive readers of the New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations.” And the more famous the forecaster the more overblown the forecasts. “Experts in demand,” Tetlock says, “were more overconfident than their colleagues who eked out existences far from the limelight.”
Via (I Will Teach You To Be Rich).

Monday, May 01, 2006

Steve doesn't like regulation much

Steve at TeenagePundit lays out the libertarian case against government regulation:
It's the perverse logic, and the foundation of most political parties, that holds two contrary positions: 1) Individuals don't have the ability to govern themselves, 2) Some individuals have the ability to govern not only themselves but others. The modern state is a replacement for the parent. It denies us the ability to grow up, as we're told what we can and can't do with our own bodies, as our decisions are influenced under the compulsion of the gun.

But as we grow up in real life, we usually strive for independence from our parents. But state intervention in one area leads to a domino effect as other rights are stripped away. It leads to the reverse - a ogical line that strips us of our rights and increases the role of the state. As soon as we pay for healthcare through tax, the state justifies banning varius substances - "the costs are so high." As soon as they distort the market by decree, they have to try and rebalance it, and in the process distort it again.

Darfur rallies

Protesters are holding rallies in America to stop the genocide in Darfur. This is great. Instapundit and others are being a little snarky about it, which is understandable but should be avoided in my opinion. Congratulations to those participating.

Michael Totten says Israel/Lebanon border "could explode at any moment"

Michael Totten is on the Israel/Lebanon border, and has written a one, two-part post about what he's found out.
Lisa and I met Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman Zvika Golan at a base in the north near the border. He told us to follow him in his jeep as he drove to a lookout point next to an IDF watch tower that opened up over Lebanon.

“You aren’t safe here right now,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “The Lebanese army wouldn’t let me anywhere near the border two weeks ago. What’s going on?”

“Hezbollah is planning an operation,” he said.

“How do you know?” I said.

“We know,” he said and nodded.

I knew he was right. The Lebanese intelligence officer more or less told me the same thing. He didn’t say the threat was from Hezbollah, but he didn’t have to.
Iran has moved into South Lebanon. Intelligence agents are helping Hezbollah construct watch towers fitted with one-way bullet-proof windows right next to Israeli army positions.

Here's what one officer said:
This is now Iran's front line with Israel. The Iranians are using Hizbollah to spy on us so that they can collect information for future attacks. And there is very little we can do about it.

More powerful weapons, including missiles with a range of 30 miles, are also being brought in.

Iran to overthrow the mullahs soon

...according to Reza Pahlavi, son of the former Shah and heir to throne.
So what you see happening is a general strike, people going into the streets, refusing to work, calling for the overthrow of the regime, and then their being backed—

Sustained. Sustained.

And then being sustained by significant elements of the Revolutionary Guards who say, “You’re gone”?

And I’m talking about a blitzkrieg of media supporting, like the BBC did before the revolution, which was practically announcing the night before where there would be a demonstration the next day. This is not myth, it is fact.

Are you in contact with some of the commanders of these [elements]?

Absolutely. Absolutely. And in fact, they keep on saying that we are being under-utilized, we have a role to play, we know the time for it, but we cannot just take the initiative. They are in No Man’s Land. You have to understand.

Are you the person who puts together the master plan? Are you the commander-in-chief of this counteraction?

Look, I think I can be effective, and the reason I have stayed behind until now was because I wanted to exhaust every avenue of possibility so that the opposition can gather itself and collectively work on a common agenda. Within the next two or three months, we’ll know if the result of two or three years of intense effort is going to pay off.

Two or three months?

Two or three months. This summer.
I'm a little suspicious of his aspirations to the throne, but I hope he pulls it off. I don't know how much credit to give to this. I'll wait for news from Regime Change Iran, the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, and Michael Ledeen.