Sunday, September 28, 2003
A short while ago, I asked about the wisdom of fully opening our markets to foreign farm goods, and whether this might result in foreign control over our food supply. Steven Den Beste doesn't think so, and has an interesting essay on the topic. I am not fully convinced (just as I wasn't fully convinced before, towards either side), but it does make for good reading.
Saturday, September 27, 2003
The whackjob nuns who cut through a chain-link fence and spilled their own blood onto a Minuteman missile to make the point that weapons of mass destruction are immoral have been sentenced to jail terms.

Diane Carman of the Denver Post is not happy:

The nuns were prosecuted because they were insubordinate to the almighty U.S. government.
Imagine that: people punished for breaking the law. Oh, the injustice.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
If this story is true (which it may very well not be), the Israeli security forces are in serious need of a Clue Retrieval Team:
A German mediator told two top Lebanese detainees held by Israel that intense efforts are being made to free them as part of large-scale swap between Israel and Lebanese guerrillas, their lawyer said Tuesday.

On Monday, a Palestinian source said the deal would also include uprising leader Marwan Barghouti and hundreds of other Arab prisoners held by Israel.

The popular Barghouti, who is on trial in Israel for his alleged role in terror attacks that killed 26 Israelis, is the West Bank leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and is considered a possible successor to Arafat.
The key paragraph is here, albeit from a suspect source:
A Palestinian source close to the negotiations said Israel has agreed in principle to release Dirani, Obeid and about 400 Arab prisoners, including at least 200 Palestinians, in exchange for Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in 2000.
So the Israelis are exchanging 400 Arabs, including a terrorist mastermind, for one man and three dead bodies?! What... the... hell? Look, I understand the families' need to bury their dead, but plenty of other Israelis never made it back home for burial, and releasing this scum will only encourage the Arabs to generate more dead Israeli bodies. As negotiations go, the Arabs -- the Hizbullah, for crying out loud! -- get one sweet bargain here. Who negotiated this thing?

I will say once again that the AP is using some questionable sources here, and this could all very well be Arab propaganda ahead of the deal. I do hope so, because I find nothing positive here, and this justification isn't exactly inspiring of confidence:

An Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap including prominent Palestinians would strengthen [Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qureia] and might also help get the stalled, U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan back on track.
Please, not this "Roadmap" roundabout again...
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Gil Shterzer is unimpressed with the AP and AFP.
I think one can expect a bit more from such world famous news agencies.
One can, but one no longer does.
Monday, September 15, 2003
It never stops to amaze me just how much both the Arabs and the Israelis work against their own interests in the Middle East. Between the Arabs' inept attempts to get rid of Israel, and Israel's equally bumbling attempts to achieve stability and permanence, everyone seems to display an amazing ability keep firing away at their own toes. At times, it's simply mind-boggling; you begin to wonder whose side everyone is on.

Consider the Arabs' goal of getting rid of Israel -- or for that matter, getting rid of the Jewish communities that lived amongst them. What do they do? They isolate them, and keep them oppressed. (Yes, not as oppressed as their European contemporaries. But we're not measuring against the bottom here.) This isolation served to keep the Jewish community coherent, the way isolation always does. And after several centuries, the Arabs still had substantial Jewish communities amongst them, who were now pretty tired of being second-class citizens. Dumb.

So in the early 20th century Jews gather in Palestine to form the state of Israel. A lot came from Europe, sure, especially in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust -- but a huge number came from Arab lands as well. In the wake of Israel's formation, Jews received ever harsher treatment in places like Syria and Yemen, which naturally proved counter-productive, encouraging emigration and resentment towards the Arab countries that formerly served as their hosts.

Fine, so the Jews get some land together, and, with the goodwill of the International Community™ -- whose goodwill is always abundant for passive victims -- they form a state and a cohesive society. Well, sort of. With various backgrounds, languages, customs, religious backgrounds, and political views, the Jews were in constant conflict. Had the Arabs left Israel alone, odds are it would have collapsed from internal conflicts, possibly into a civil war, allowing Arab armies to charge to the rescue and take control. But noooo, they had to get arrogant about it, and show the lowly Jews what real armies are like. Oops. Turns out that Jews knew how to fight, and the combined Arab attack united them as no Zionist text ever could.

At this point, the Arabs were pretty deep in their hole, but they still could have prevailed -- again, by exercising a little Taoist wisdom, and not trying to win through brute force, but rather doing the exact opposite: open up trade and full diplomatic relations, connect phone and rail links, open borders, set up cultural exchanges -- in short, make the Israelis feel at home and at ease. How would this help? Simple: in the region, Arabs outnumber Jews more than 100-to-1. Allowing them to participate as equal partners with their neighbors would alter their worldview, necessarily making it more Arab-centric. Populations would drift and mix as they always do, and given the Arabs' overwhelming demographic superiority, it's safe to say that eventually, Israel would become just another Arab country, with a Jewish population only slightly higher than the rest of Arab lands, though by no means a majority. The Jewish population would assimilate, and Haifa would not be too different from pre-civil-war Beirut. Embrace-and-extend, writ large. Of course, that's not what happened: instead, the Arabs kept their hostile posture, further uniting Israel's diverse population with their hostility. Their very survival at stake, and with a society far more advanced in terms of education and social customs, the Jews ended up creating a Western society in the Middle East -- complete with superior Western technology and links to their brethren in the U.S. and Europe. It's ironic: the Arabs complain about Israel as a European colonialist state, but its tight links to the West are the direct result of being spurned by surrounding Arab nations.

And, of course, the Arabs continue to do this today, by providing Jews worldwide with a tangible, concrete threat. Even the most assimilated, secular, synagogue-phobic, sausage-pizza-and-bacon-cheeseburger-chomping Jew can't help understanding -- if only at the back of his mind -- that when someone says "death to the Jews," he is not entitled to exemption. Jews who might consider themselves French, Swedish, or American, and would not for anything live in Israel, are still glad it's there. The hostility of Arabs -- and their western sympathizers -- disallows complacency, and gives Jews in Israel and worldwide a common bond, as common enemies always do.

The Arabs could have easily destroyed Israel by embracing it; their hostility united Israel as a distinct, un-Arab political entity, and their standoffishness resulted in the very links to the West that have proven crucial to Israel's survival and prosperity. Just another bit of irony in a region where it is so abundant.

I'll save my comments on Israel's firearm pedicures for another time.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Because one man's dictator's stooge is another man's...

Get a load of this paragraph from the New York Times:
In a rash of violence against American-led coalition troops in Iraq, two coalition soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded by rebels in three separate incidents in the past 24 hours, the American military said today.
Foreign jihadis and Ba'athist bitter-enders: rebels.
With the upcoming free-trade WTO talks in Cancun, a question keeps popping up in my mind.

There's obviously a whole lot of opinion and discussion of free trade vs. protection of home-grown markets. Pro-free-trade folks argue that borders open to goods ultimately make all participants wealthier and better off -- comparative advantage and all that. Those who are for more protectionist policies respond that this might be true in the long term, but in the short and medium term, jobs will be lost, and people are not easily adaptable to other trades.

For the sake of this post, I will concede both points, as well as acknowledge that the argument is hardly limited to those two issues. But is the argument even relevant today? What about matters of national security?

Here's what I mean: I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that, in a truly free-trade environment, the U.S. would cede much of the food-growing business to other countries. Americans, with their 12+ years of schooling, are simply too expensive to use for picking lettuce -- hence our reliance on cheap, often illegal, immigrant labor. Were tariffs on food imports abolished, it is not inconceivable to think that a large portion of our food supply would come from farmers in the Third World, whose time and labor are much less expensive than ours, even when offset by lower productivity.

Ditto for steel. The likes of Russia and Brazil can make a lot of steel, and even though their workers are nowhere near as productive as Americans, they work cheap and there's lots of them. Strictly in terms of economics, it may not make any sense for Americans, with all their education and demands of safe working conditions, to be making steel, when it can be done elsewhere by willing men with a couple years of schooling, working with safety standards from the days of Andrew Carnegie.

But here's the thing: are we really comfortable with the idea of being dependent upon foreign countries for such necessities? Even if we managed to retrain every farmer and every steelworker into whatever jobs prove more viable -- are we really OK with the idea that foreign countries control our food supply? Or that a few countries can actually decrease our military strength by denying us raw or processed materials for tank replacement parts? That's a lot more leverage than another laughable UN speech, no?

(Sure, over the long term, such things would balance out, and the markets would take care of any artificial shortage created by political action. But much of life is short-term. We've all seen the costs of waiting even a few months to invade Iraq. If the American food or steel industries are supplanted by foreign suppliers, recovering them would take years, if not decades -- in strategic terms, that's not long-term, it's eternity.)

Am I missing something here? Is my case overstated? Or is there an argument to be made that economic variety and industrial independence -- in other words, the continued ability to tell "the global community" to stick it -- is worth paying a premium and accepting a lower standard of living than we might enjoy through free trade?

Monday, September 08, 2003
A warning: the post linked below has a very graphic photo of a horrifically mutilated woman. I am not joking here: if you are not strong of stomach, or have children nearby, please do not click the link.

Venomous Kate writes about the unspeakable abuse women face in Arab and Muslim societies, and puts together quite a disturbing list (links at Kate's site):

  • A 16-year-old girl who was raped by her brother and had her throat slit by another brother to protect his "honor."
  • A 7-year-old little girl's father believed she'd been raped, so he beheaded her to protect his family's "honor". An autopsy revealed the girl was a virgin.
  • Two sisters, ages 20 and 21, seen talking to men who weren't members of their families, were killed by their axe-wielding brother and cousin at a matter of "honor."
  • A 17-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped by a friend of her father, the same father who - with the help of his son - killed the girl with 8 gunshots. It was a matter of "honor."
  • A girl who refused to enter an arranged marriage and chose her own partner, killed by her father for the "shame" she'd brought him and the loss of his "honor."
  • A 25-year-old Jordanian woman who had a boyfriend and was stabbed 12 times by her father to avenge the family's "honor." (He received a 3-month sentence for the crime.)
  • A 19-year-old Jordanian woman who received gifts from and ate with a man was killed by her brother over the family's "honor". He received a 6-month sentence.
  • A 13-year-old Turkish girl who talked to boys on the street and ran away from home, stabbed and beaten to death by her father to salvage the family's "honor."
  • A 15-year-old girl who ran away from the 35-year-old husband selected for her, killed by her brothers who threw her off of a bridge for the "dishonor" she'd brought.
Kate does a perfectly fine job of dispelling the bullshit that these "men" needed to protect their "honor," so I don't need to do it again. But something else bothers me here, too: what these "men" were capable of in the name of their "honor." A brother capable of raping his own sister is horrific enough on its own, but that another brother could actually slit his sister's throat in response, or that a father can shoot or stab his daughter multiple times, or kill a family member with an axe, or that a man can behead his seven-year-old daughter... well, where does one even find the words? In any normal society -- be it a Western city or the most isolated Polynesian tribe -- such a crime would be horror itself, even if the perpetrator was a complete stranger to the victim. Yet here we have innocent, defenseless girls murdered in the most brutal way imaginable by their fathers and brothers, defying the most basic societal laws, the most precious human norms -- violating our most fundamental instincts, for crying out loud! -- and what punishment do they get? What justice is meted out by those guardians of Islamic morality, who will cut off your hand for stealing a falafel, and execute you for displaying a crucifix?
Under the existing [Jordanian] law, people found guilty of committing honour killings often receive sentences as light as six months in prison.
I suppose we should give some credit to the not-totally-insane Jordanian leaders who were trying to pass a law that would at least, like, you know, actually punish these savage Manson-wannabe child slaughterers. But it turns out they are a minority:
Islamists and conservatives opposed to the new law said it would encourage vice and destroy social values.
Just to recap: we are talking about a society where brothers murder sisters, fathers butcher daughters, and husbands mutilate wives beyond recognition, on mere suspicion of being raped. (I can barely wrap my mind around this concept, even as I type these words. It sounds like some horror novel co-written by Dante and Jonathan Swift, with post-editing by Edward Albee.) And yet we have these supposedly-educated members of the Jordanian freaking parliament who seriously worry that punishing such vivisection will "encourage vice and destroy social values"! That such people could exist is already beyond absurdity, but that they make up a majority of the parliament, in supposedly one of the most "progressive" countries in the region...

You know that canard we always hear about Islamist extremism being only perpetrated by "a few individuals"? That the majority of inhabitants of the Arab/Muslim world are "like us," with similar beliefs and values? Well, if that's true, how does one explain this absurdist horror? How is it that so many fathers and brothers can even fathom killing anyone -- much less their own daughters and sisters -- so brutally? And more importantly, how can this abomination be so common that these "men" not only get off with a slap on the wrist, but actually have people defending their actions? If these are just "extremists," why isn't their mainstream society punishing them for all it's worth? They come down hard on petty thieves, but child-killers go free? To call this "savagery" is to insult every primitive tribe that ever existed.

I don't know what percentage of Arabs or Muslims are capable of such murder, but clearly it is unacceptably high, and the number willing to defend the practice is likewise appalling. I don't know what to do about it, but I do know that "global dialogue and understanding" aren't going to work here: we can have no common ground with a "man" who beheads his own child, or the "scholar" who defends and rationalizes the murder. Nor can we take the chance that such "men" will ever have the means and opportunity to do us harm -- I am not interested in being at the mercy of "men" who can cleave their cousins or cut the throats of their sisters. The Muslim world had better get over its case of recto-cranial impaction and fast -- because I shudder to think what we'll have to do if it does not.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Are they trying to be funny?

Sometimes I wonder if those wacky Associated Press guys are just goofing around with their photo selections.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Thoughts on "going to the UN"

Some half-baked thoughts on this:

I see no concessions made here. The U.S. is not handing the UN any important matters. So far, I don't see anything handed to the UN at all, other than an acknowledgement of its presence, which was already illustrated quite clearly with a suicide bombing, thanks.

I'm guessing that this is another political ploy, just as all the "final resolutions" on Iraq were. The US will go in and ask for troops, the UN will say "not without us getting control," at which point the whole question will be tabled.

Later on, Bush will be able to say, "Look, we went to the UN, but they refused to help out." And that will wash with just enough people to keep this from being a political issue.

Troops can always be obtained from other places where other countries are already committed and have no choice -- particularly the Balkans, where Old Europe is already quite engaged. Removing most American forces from there would necessitate a commesurate increase in the German, French, etc. presence, thus giving us our foreign support without cost, and removing us from a place with zero strategic value to the U.S. (Worst-case scenario: Germany and France fail to compensate for American absence, and the Balkans deteriorate. Big deal. Milosevic isn't coming back, and Serbia was never a genuine threat to U.S. interests.)

The whole UN thing seems like political theater to me, and I seem to vaguely recall the script.

This started out as a post at Vodka Pundit, but the site got fubared just as I was about to post. No point in wasting all those words...

Update: And here come France and Germany, chomping down on the bait, right on cue.