Entre Nous / Musings of a Former Belgian
"History occurs twice, once as tragedy, the second time as farce." (Karl Marx)
"As best as I can tell, [antiwar spin] is a parody of Stalin: one person killed by America is a tragedy. A hundred thousand killed by Saddam, or a million by Pol Pot, are a statistic." (Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds)

Reflections of a former Belgian and "liberal mugged by reality" on politics, the US-European cultural divide, the conflict with Iraq, and the Israeli-Arab conflict.

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Saturday, May 31, 2003
Woman marries herself in HollandThis had to happen eventually. What will Rick Santorum have to say about this?.

Scheer madnessStefan Sharkansky has a hilarious take on nutburger columnist Robert Scheer.

The politically incorrect rock music of RushPolitically (in)correct rock music. While websurfing I accidentally bumped upon a book-length biography (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) of what regular readers know is one of my favorite rock bands, Rush. (Astrologers and numerologists would claim this must be because I happen to share a birthday with one of the Thrilling Three. In fact the only "numerological" aspect that has relevance here is a shared fondness for odd-meter rhythms --- I cannot think of another rock band with more material in 7/8 :-))

Anyhow, while reading this material I was reminded of the music press in Belgium in my adolescence (which mean the beginning of the punk/new wave era). I must admit that I quite dug stuff like the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" and "G-d save the queen" when it first came out. But, while shouting abuse at The World's Least Successful Inbreeding Programme (a.k.a. the British Royal Family) over simplistic riffs in open-E tuning has a certain entertainment value, the joke got stale real quick.

There was of course a lot of "progressive rock dinosaur bashing" going on in the press, and some bands in that genre had arguably lost direction and were indulging themselves in pretentious projects that they didn't really have the background or musical chops for. But the infatuation of the music press then (particularly in Belgium where I grew up) with the ideology of many punk and new wave bands annoyed me even as somebody who thought of himself as a "left"-ist. (When I use "left" and "right" without quotation marks on this blog, it is by accident rather than by design.) It did not bother me that Tom Robinson sang about being glad to be homosexual or that The Clash flirted with communism and titled one of their albums "Sandinista": what bugged me was that journalists drooled over shoddy-to-indifferent musicians because of their political views. (U2 were no better musicians than the rest, but happened to have an unusual flair for songwriting as well as a very distinctive singer, and became the new Fab Four in the process.)

One band sure to offend a lot of sensibilities among such journalists was Rush. Their music was always much harder-edged than, say, Yes or Genesis, and albums like Permanent Waves or Moving Pictures contained plenty of tuneful, accessible material. What virtually guaranteed the hostility of this "socialist realist" school of rock critics -- aside from their "anti-elitist" dislike of any musicians who could actually play their instruments and weren't actively trying to hide it -- were the supposedly "right-wing" views expressed in the lyrics. Neil Peart (drummer and lyricist) never made a secret of his Libertarian leanings, and to make things even worse, clearly read Ayn Rand in his younger years --- an author whose views (whatever their merits and demerits) largely arose as an extreme reaction against authoritarian collectivism in general and Bolshevism in particular. Rush lyrics like "The Trees" or the Rand-inspired "Anthem" are sure to induce apoplexy in some.

The funny part of it is: partly because of the reputation of the band (partly because there was no pocket money left to try something new after buying all the classical and prog-rock stuff I was sure I liked :-)) I did not actually discover Rush until nearly two decades later, when Dream Theater's citing them as a major influence piqued my interest. My stereo system hasn't been the same since :-)

[PS: Nothing one writes about Rush is complete without a link to two subsites of : Xanadu (lyrics, tabs, and MIDI) and Freedom of Music (live and rare MP3s --- no commercially available material).]

Upon reflection on Den Beste's latestThe Captain was expounding yesterday on why an accurate description of today's political spectrum really needs to be carried out in n-dimensional space, rather than on a simple line. Let me comment on this for a moment. some more.

n=1 gives you the old-fashioned linear, usually "left-right", model. Or the "authoritarian-libertarian" variant proposed in not quite these words by Robert A. Heinlein ("The fundamental political distinction is between those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."); or the "stasist-dynamist" proposed by Virginia Postrel.

n=2 yields a planar two-dimensional model like the WSPQ, where the two axes describe state (non)interference in the economy and people's private lives, respectively. Or the more sophisticated Political Compass, which combines "left-right" with "authoritarian-libertarian" axes. Or indeed Jerry Pournelle's model, which combines an "anarchism-statism" with an "irrationalist-rationalist" axis.

he Friesian School is advocating a model with n=3, i.e. an ordinary cube (or 3-cube), its three dimensions being economic, personal, and political liberty.

Straight off the top of my head, I could think of at least the following dimensions to add to the Friesian cube: religion-state relationship, attitude towards science and technology, cultural chauvinism or lack thereof,... So we're up to a 6-cube without even trying :-) Upon reading Den Beste's article, I nodded in agreement at some of his choices and might end up with a 10-cube or a 12-cube. Needless to say, a 12-dimensional cube is not an object one can easily picture on one's mind, but this is the sort of thing for which vectors were invented.

Now n is not a universal constant (as Den Beste rightly points out) but varies in time and space with the political context. For instance, most of the variation in the Israeli political spectrum can easily be described in two dimensions: dovishness vs. hawkishness, and the relationship between (in practice) synagogue and state (i.e. clericalism vs. anticlericalism). For the main parties this works out to (you'll get the idea of the notation):

  • Meretz: (---,--): very dovish, moderately anticlerical
  • Labor: (--,-), i.e. moderately dovish, mildly anticlerical
  • Shinui: (+,----): mildly hawkish, very anticlerical
  • Likud: (++,0), i.e. moderately hawkish, clericoneutral
  • National Religious Party: (+++,+), i.e. very hawkish, mildly clerical
  • Shas and UTJ: (0,++++): vacillate between dovish and hawkish positions, theocratic

In days gone by, socialism vs. capitalism used to matter a lot there, but nowadays much of the supposedly "left" Labor party is more pro-market than many supposedly "right"-wing Likudniks. A small trade-unionist faction (Am Echad) and the former Communists of Chadash (who are also ultra-doves and whose entire Knesset faction consists of Arabs) are the only factions for which socio-economic views are in fact ideologically defining. (The Captain's "elitist-populist" distinction does have some relevance in the Israeli context, however, with Labor and particularly Meretz veering towards elitism.)

Now back from Israel: does it always have to be an n-cube? For instance, Virginia Postrel lumps together "back-to-nature" technophobes and technocrats in a single "stasist" category who believe the future should be "controlled", as distinct from "dynamists" who will allow techlogogy to progress unfettered and unregulated, and have "order grow out of chaos" in a quasi-biological fashion. A nice concept, but "deep ecology" vs. technocracy is hardly a distinction without a difference. If one were to use two axes instead, namely (a) "technoregressist" vs. "technoprogressist", and (b) government "technoregulation" vs. lack thereof; then the three stereotypes mentioned ("back to nature"-ist, technocrat, and dynamist) occupy three corners of the square, but the fourth (technoregressist, but noninterferer) would be somewhat self-contradictory, except perhaps as a type that would want to abolish all governmental support for scientific and technological research. (Which, in practice, would have little effect on short-to-medium term technological development but potentially catastrophic ones in the long term, unless private enterprise were able and willing to fund long-range basic research without visible short--to-medium range commercial benefits.)

In practice, then, the political space in these two dimensions would be triangular rather than square, and combining it with additional dimensions would give rise to a kind of n-prism rather than an n-cube.

(To be continued)

Friday, May 30, 2003
Baghdad fell because SRG commander made deal with Amis?The Command Post links to a story by a French weekly that claims to have information that the commander of the Special Republican Guard made a deal with the CIA not to defend Baghdad. We link, you decide. But one thing is certain: few wars in history have seen such a prominent role for 'psy-ops' as this one.

Political axis system according to Den Beste and PournelleBeyond Left and Right Redux I have previously summarized a number of multidimensional alternatives to the outdated Left-Right distinction. Now Steven Den Beste, starting from a critique of Michael Totten's builders/defenders essay, expounds his own view of the subject at length. And apparently we think alike in substance even though we disagree in particulars.

What I've been trying to do is to identify various axes, and give names to the extreme positions at the ends of each. For instance, one axis extends from "conservative" on one end to "revolutionary" on the other end. A conservative is one who tries to defend the status quo; a revolutionary is one who is attempting to change it.


Another axis extends from "liberal" to "autocrat/elitist". Liberals believe in the rights of the masses, and want to try to limit the power of the state over how the masses live their lives. That was the traditional meaning of "liberal" back when it was part of the Humanist movement in the 17th and 18th centuries. Liberals wanted to liberate people from excessive authority of the state.

Elitists and autocrats believe that the masses are foolish, and think that a concentrated group of the wise should make the majority of decisions about how everyone lives. (There is no consensus on who that group should be or how it should be selected, however.)


Both of these are axes, and few actually are at either extreme position. It's more a question of where on this scale each person actually can be located. And the point in particular is that placing a person on the "conservative/revolutionary" scale amounts to comparing their political beliefs against the state of the nation in which they're living. They're conservative to the extent that they agree with the current national policy; revolutionary to the extent that they don't.

[...]Another axis is realism versus idealism. Realists accept that the world is complicated and that when you have more than one goal they may be in conflict with one another, and that as a practical matter it is always necessary to make tradeoffs and compromises. Realism is more or less "half a loaf is better than none at all". Idealists, on the other hand, consider anything less than a perfect solution to be a failure. They've got their eyes on the stars and will accept nothing less.


[...] Another axis has to do with the extent to which someone believes in diversity. This is an odd one; in part because certain political positions that have been staked out have taken to creating their own definition for the term "diversity" which distorts the discussion. (I.e. they'll claim that they believe in diversity, while supporting policies which as a practical matter reduce it.)


From my point of view, this amounts to a measurement of the extent to which someone believes that everyone has a right to "scandalize the neighbors", by saying or doing things that the neighbors don't like, even though the neighbors are not really harmed by it.

Being tolerant doesn't mean you never get scandalized; it doesn't require you embrace all positions. Tolerance means you don't act to suppress what scandalized you by force. You can disagree with it, and express your disagreement. But conformists go further than that, and attempt to use political power to punish aberrant behavior in hopes of suppressing it.

I'm not sure this is actually a separate degree of freedom. It may rather be a way of diagnosing the extent to which someone is truly liberal. If you're really liberal, you'll also be well over on the "tolerant" end of the scale. If you are actually elitist or autocratic, you'll tend to believe more in conformism.

Conformists don't necessarily all agree on what the standard should be that everyone is supposed to conform to; that derives from other choices they've made on other axes. What makes them conformists is their willingness to use force to impose conformity of behavior.

There are a few other axes which are practical ones regarding current political affairs, and I'm not completely certain how many actual degrees of freedom are involved among them:




The second one involves the question of "identity politics"; should people be thought of as individuals or as parts of "groups"? The third one refers to the question of whether it is more important that there be equality of opportunity or equality of result. Those are strongly related and may be manifestations of the same basic axis. If one believes in individuals and not in groups, then equality of opportunity is the only defensible position.

What I think is the case is that all three of these are actually manifestations of a single deep axis which actually has to do with equality:


Go read the whole thing. I think it's unfair to quote a whole essay, and I can't do it justice by selective quoting.

In an update, he links to an essay by prolific SciFi author Jerry Pournelle, who proposes a two-axis system:

While acknowledging that not all political variation can be described by these two axes, he finds it allows him to classify all major political systems.

The two I chose are "Attitude toward the State," and "Attitude toward planned social progress".

The first is easy to understand: what think you of government? Is it an object of idolatry, a positive good, necessary evil, or unmitigated evil? Obviously that forms a spectrum, with various anarchists at the left end and reactionary monarchists at the right. The American political parties tend to fall toward the middle.

Note also that both Communists and Fascists are out at the right-hand end of the line; while American Conservatism and US Welfare Liberalism are in about the same place, somewhere to the right of center, definitely "statists." (One should not let modern anti-bureaucratic rhetoric fool you into thinking the US Conservative has really become anti-statist; he may want to dismantle a good part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, but he would strengthen the police and army.) The ideological libertarian is of course left of center, some all the way over to the left with the anarchists.

That variable works; but it doesn't pull all the political theories each into a unique place. They overlap. Which means we need another variable.

"Attitude toward planned social progress" can be translated "rationalism"; it is the belief that society has "problems," and these can be "solved"; we can take arms against a sea of troubles.

Once again we can order the major political philosophies. Fascism is irrationalist; it says so in its theoretical treatises. It appeals to "the greatness of the nation" or to the volk, and also to the fuhrer-prinzip, i.e., hero worship.

Call that end (irrationalism) the "bottom" of the spectrum and place the continuum at right angles to the previous "statism" variable. Call the "top" the attitude that all social problems have findable solutions. Obviously Communism belongs there. Not far below it you find a number of American Welfare Liberals: the sort of people who say that crime is caused by poverty, and thus when we end poverty we'll end crime. Now note that the top end of the scale, extreme rationalism, may not mark a very rational position: "knowing" that all human problems can be "solved" by rational actions is an act of faith akin to the anarchist's belief that if we can just chop away the government, man truly free will no longer have problems. Obviously I think both top and bottom positions are whacky; but then one mark of Conservatism has always been distrust of highly rationalist schemes. Burke advocated that we draw "from the general bank of the ages, because he suspected that any particular person or generation has a rather small stock of reason; thus where the radical argues "we don't understand the purpose of this social custom; let's dismantle it," the conservative says "since we don't understand it, we'd better leave it alone."

Anyway, those are my two axes; and using them does tend to explain some political anomalies. For example: why are there two kinds of "liberal" who hate each other? But the answer is simple enough. Both are pretty thorough-going rationalists, but whereas the XIXth Century Liberal had a profound distrust of the State, the modern variety wants to use the State to Do Good for all mankind. Carry both rationalism and statism out a bit further (go northeast on our diagram) and you get to socialism, which, carried to its extreme, becomes communism. Similarly, the Conservative position leads through various shades of reaction to irrational statism, i.e., one of the varieties of fascism.

On the anti-statist end of the scale we can see the same tendency: extreme anti-rationalism ends with the Bakunin type of anarchist, who blows things up and destroys for the sake of destruction; the utterly rationalist anti-statist, on the other hand, persuades himself that somehow there are natural rights which everyone ought to recognize, and if only the state would get out of the way we'd all live in harmony; the sort of person who thinks the police no better than a band of brigands, but doesn't think that in the absence of the police, brigands would be smart enough to band together.

Peace of the knaveWill the road map bring 'Peace of the brave'? Thanks to psychiatrist-turned-opinion journalist Charles Krauthammer, "peace of the knave" has just joined my political lexicon next to 'peace of the slaves' and 'peace of the grave'.

On May 23, just a week ago, the official newspaper of the supposedly reformed Palestinian Authority carried a front-page picture of the latest suicide bomber dressed in suicide-bomber regalia. It then referred to the place where she did her murdering as "occupied Afula." The town of Afula is in Israel's Galilee. It is not occupied. It is not in the West Bank or Gaza. It is within Israel. If Afula is occupied, then Tel Aviv is occupied, Haifa is occupied and Israel's very existence is a crime.

Go read the whole thing. But let me quote the conclusion anyhow:

If what Abbas means by peace is that the terrorists just lay low for a while, then it is not a peace of the brave but a peace of the knave. If that is what President Bush accepts as "peace," he not only will have betrayed Israel, he will have doomed American policy, because he will have ratified a prescription for continued and much more bloody violence.

The requirements of a successful summit are clear. Abbas has to take real steps to curb terror. Let him begin in just one city. Israel will withdraw, but only if Abbas asserts authority and actually goes after the terrorists in that town. No revolving-door arrests. No temporary cease-fire. Nothing less than "sustained . . . operations aimed at . . . dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure."

And Abbas has to do something even simpler. Stop official Palestinian media from extolling suicide bombers. Stop official Palestinian media from referring to Israel as occupied territory. Talk about peace -- in Arabic, not just in English -- the way Anwar Sadat did 25 years ago. Israel reciprocated then; it will reciprocate now. Without such elemental steps by Abbas, however, no peace is possible -- and the new Bush peace initiative will amount to nothing more than Oslo redux.

Victor Davis HansonVictor Davis Hanson's latest, on the legacy of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, is up. And don't miss this fascinating profile of Hanson in the Boston Globe. And yes, believe it or not: Hanson is a registered Democrat, despite being a favorite bête noire of the idiotarian PC "left".

Belgian boycott idiocy watchLGF comments on an idiotic "boycott Israeli fruit" campaign started in Belgium by the usual "useful idiots" and fellow travelers.

Well guys, if you really are serious about boycotting Israel, get rid of your PCs --- you have a serious chance that the CPU was either developed or produced in one of Intel's two facilities in the Jewish state. And switching to Macs won't help either --- Motorola (their CPU supplier) has a development facility in Israel. And if you ever need copaxone treatment, don't take it either -- it was developed at the Weizmann Institute and is being produced by an Israeli company. Or do you really dare use the phone? The company's billing software may have been bought from Amdocs (an Israeli company). The market leader in internet security solutions is another Israeli company (Aladdin). I could go on for another hour...

I won't even mention the rank hypocrisy and double standards: boycotts of this type (even those I would not have moral qualms about) are next to unworkable in a global economy. Who knows: next time you buy a small appliance from a European or American brand, it may actually have been manufactured in the People's Republic of China, or even in its neo-gulag system.

GreenPiss"Sane Left"-ist Joe Katzman comments on what he terms the moral desert called Greenpeace. His entry has many entries about their loud anti-war position on ostensibly ecological grounds, and their roaring silence in the face of much worse environmental catastrophes wrought by the Saddamite regime (and other anti-Western despotisms). In a follow-up post, he demolishes the common "...but we couldn't do anything about that" mantra used to justify this form of selective indignation. He quotes the exceedingly bitter reactions of Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik (Solidarnosc co-founder) to this argument.

As Porphyrogenitus rightly notes in the comments:

That "we should focus on America" line is an old Chomskyite canard, usually engaged in by folks that are uncritical of their ideological kindred; it's exposed by the fact that these people *will* engage in criticism of foreign countries, as long as they're opponents of Leftist ideology (and especially if those foreign countries are allied with America). They just are uninterested in the misbehavior of those who are on their side, ideologically.

(So this canard is really misleading, considering that the "Citizens of the World" who use it often identify more with certain foreign countries than they do with AmeriKKKa, so they're not *REALLY* criticizing their own. They're just creating an excuse for a double-standard.)

So, for example, when the *REAL* "Blood for Oil" is on the hands of the Russian and French governments, for example, well, that's just uninteresting. . .

Gitmo prisoners overfedVia Instapundit: some journalist with organic recycled oatmeal for brains apparently thinks the US are running a 'death camp' at Guantanamo Bay. In fact, the health of the prisoners is threatened in another way: on average they gained 13 pounds during their stay. Let's try the fast-food industry for war crimes at the International Kangar^H^H^H^H^H^HCriminal Court!

The New ReactionariesThe New Reactionaries Thus Roger Simon labels nostalgics for the dark underside of '60 radicalism, such as the Black Panthers. Unlike many self-professed admirers of the latter, Roger Simon actually knew them up close.

Bob Geldof turning neocon?Hear, hear Bob Geldof, organizer of the original "Live Aid", has some choice things to say about aid to Africa:

Bob Geldof astonished the aid community yesterday by using a return visit to Ethiopia to praise the Bush administration as one of Africa's best friends in its fight against hunger and Aids.

The musician-turned activist said Washington was providing major assistance, in contrast to the European Union's "pathetic and appalling" response to the continent's humanitarian crises.

"You'll think I'm off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical - in a positive sense - in its approach to Africa since Kennedy," Geldof told the Guardian.

The [...] Bush [entourage was] proving unexpectedly receptive to appeals for help, he said. "You can get the weirdest politicians on your side."

Former president Bill Clinton had not helped Africa much, despite his high-profile visits and apparent empathy with the downtrodden, the organiser of Live Aid claimed. "Clinton was a good guy, but he did f*ck all." [vrij vertaald: "hij deed geen kl*ten"]

Geldof was adamant that the EU was the greater villain for delivering just a small fraction of Ethiopia's staple needs and refusing, unlike the US and Britain, to supply any supplementary foods, such as oil, which give a balanced diet. [...] Warning that the "horror of the 80s" could return, he added: "The last time I spoke to the EU's aid people, they didn't even know where their own ships were. The food is there, get it here."


Head of al-Jazeera firedSurprise, surprise. The head of al-Jazeera was awarded the 'order of the boot' amidst charges he worked for Saddamite intelligence. [sarcasm] Gee, how would they ever come to that conclusion? [/sarcasm]
(Hat tip: Instapundit.)

Thursday, May 29, 2003
blogger stinksWell, and even Kung-Log is working again ;-)

Israeli cabinet approves 'road map' (coverage of Haaretz and Jerusalem Post). The vote went 12-7 with four abstentions (Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Limor Livnat, Health Minister Dan Naveh and Internal Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, all Likud). The 'nay' votes came from the National Religious Party and the National Union, plus three Likud ministers: Natan Sharansky, Yisrael Katz, and Uzi Landau.


Rights of Transsylvanian AmericansTom Paine has this priceless one:

Under their reign of terror, alternative-lifestyle drinking and socialising establishments have been trashed, and the civil rights of Transylvanian-Americans have been trampled.

These dangerous night-riders are a threat to American values of fairness and tolerance.

They allow for no possibility of dialogue, and openly deride the civilised approach of engaging in attempts to find common ground.

They are openly contemptuous of our shared commitment to diversity, openly seeking an ethnically cleansed Sunnydale, seeing their task as "standing against the Vampires, the Demons and the forces of Darkness".

Darkness. How sad it make us to once again hear that value-laden term applied to us. Have we not suffered enough over the centuries, that we must once again hear the old comtempt surface in the New World?

This sort of stereotyping is profoundly un-American, and deeply disappointing to the sunlight-challenged community, who merely seek to co-exist in peace with their fellow citizens.

Our spokescreatures have repeatedly denied these constantly repeated vicious rumours about people being drained of blood. There is no proof of these lies. Or at least, no witnesses.

These are typical ethnic slurs which we have unfortunately become all too familiar with with over the years, and it is hoped that an educational campaign in elementary schools, using the new textbook, "Fangy the Friendly Vampire" will go some way towards re-establishing trust between us and our fellow Americans.

At no time has any pigmentationally-deprived community member described humans as "happy meals on legs". Our legal team assures us that anyone who attempts to use that false rumour will be challenged in the courts.

As regards the "Scoobies", we should perhaps point out the ethnically homogenous nature of this gang as an indication of their motivations.

They're all white! And one of them, who has shown herself to be posessed of extremely dangerous powers, is a Zionist! First it's the Vampires, then the Demons. Who is next? Black people? Muslims?

Who among us is safe from the neo-conservative agenda of Darth Rosenberg?

We have initiated outreach programs to mosques, and would do the same with black churches, except for the difficulties we have with a certain symbol they display prominently.

Perhaps churches and Christians in general might like to consider not displaying that symbol, as a gesture of accomodation to the Undead-American community? It would certainly make our lives a lot easier.

(With apologies to those unfamiliar with the TV series Buffy the vampire slayer.)

private vs. socialized heath careJane Galt's blog has a fascinating discussion thread about private vs. socialized heath care.

Lileks on Clinton and goatsQuotes of the day (both in a column by James Lileks):

Contrary to the slogans of Orwell's nightmare, Ignorance is not strength.

Unless you're a respected journalist. Then it's job security.


So why did anyone believe the BBC story [that the Jessica Lynch rescue story was staged]? Why did Robert Scheer take the bait and write an entire column based on an uncritical acceptance of the Beeb's mad blather? The Prof [Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a. Instapundit] was on Hewitt tonight [...] and he noted that it's one of those stories that confirms the suspicions of those who wake every day believing the worst. Sure, they say the sun rises in the east, but that's just to keep you from looking west where the real action is. Each side is guilty of this - in the 90s a substantial contingent of the right was convinced that Gov. Bill Clinton ran coke out of Mena. It's almost as if you have two options:

1. I disagree with my opponent's position on taxation, and therefore I shall oppose it.

2. I disagree with my opponent's position on taxation, and therefore I believe he has sex with goats.

The second option is ever so satisfying to the lone iconoclast: the fact that the mainstream media does not report the rumors about midnight goat-deliveries confirms your worldview. And the faintest whiff of goatiness whets your enthusiasm, confirms your juicy suspicions.

But of course the sheeple won't believe it - which just proves how smart you are.

(Hat tip: Jane Galt, who comments at length and coins:)

Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

Phew! Problem solved: Blogger choked on an accidental double greater-than sign in a post. Good technique to narrow down the problem is apparently as follows: to go to settings and tell it to list only a very small number of posts (e.g., 5), then publish. If this still broken, check last 5 posts for stray tags (dollar signs, orphaned less-than and greater-than signs,...). If not broken, now pick really large number (e.g. 50) and republish. If now broken, then progressively bisect interval until you narrowed down to the problematic post.

Some posts I suspected of problems had temporarily been moved onto a spillover blog. I'll put them back shortly.

blogger still bloggered

Blogger Sucks Eggs

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Blog is suffering from serious bloggeritis again.

Friday, May 23, 2003
pygmy-eating in CongoAnd meanwhile in the former Belgian Congo, pygmy-hunting and -eating is becoming the latest craze. The pygmies are appealing to the United Nebbish for help. As Charles Johnson puts it:

Good luck, pygmies. It might be a while until the UN can get around to you; they have 12,385 resolutions condemning Israel to approve first.

Uday trying to turn himself in.Uday Hussein is reportedly trying to turn himself in on his own terms. The US is (not just playing) tough to get.

Iraqi doctors speak outIraqi doctors speak out about what life under the 'oil-for-palaces' program was really like.

Baghdad - Throughout the 13 years of UN sanctions on Iraq that were ended yesterday, Iraqi doctors told the world that the sanctions were the sole cause for the rocketing mortality rate among Iraqi children.

Now free to speak, the doctors at two Baghdad hospitals [...] tell a very different story. Along with parents of dead children, they said in interviews this week that Hussein turned the children's deaths into propaganda, notably by forcing hospitals to save babies' corpses to have them publicly paraded.

All the evidence indicates that the spike in children's deaths was tragically real - roughly, a doubling of the mortality rate during the 1990s, according to humanitarian organizations. But the reason has been fiercely argued, and the new accounts by Iraqi doctors and parents will alter the debate.

Under the sanctions regime, "We had the ability to get all the drugs we needed," said Ibn Al-Baladi's chief resident, Dr. Hussein Shihab. "Instead of that, Saddam Hussein spent all the money on his military force and put all the fault on the USA. Yes, of course the sanctions hurt - but not too much, because we are a rich country and we have the ability to get everything we can by money. But instead, he spent it on his palaces."

Doctors said they were forced to refrigerate dead babies in hospital morgues until authorities were ready to gather the little corpses for monthly parades in coffins on the roofs of taxis for the benefit of Iraqi state television and visiting journalists. The parents were ordered to wail with grief - no matter how many weeks had passed since their babies had died - and to shout to the cameras that the sanctions had killed their children, the doctors said. Afterward, the parents would be rewarded with food or money.

most effective bad music for 'torture' sessionsFollowing up on 'musical' 'crimes against humanity', there's an amusing discussion thread on LGF trying to come up with the most effective bad music for 'torture' sessions. Warning: not for the faint of heart (or ears).

VDH and SDBThe newest VDH is up, as is the newest SdB.

Sharon accepts 'road map'JPost: Sharon accepts 'road map', after receiving American assurances that Israel's concerns about the draft document would be taken into account in the final version. (Hat tip: lgf.)

France = new Soviet Union?Winds of Change has an English translation of an article by Sorbonne professor Françoise Thomé, who analyzes the Chiraqian behavior from the viewpoint of French self-interest, and finds that Chiraq in all aspects achieved the opposite of what he was after. Well duh.

More extreme is her argument that France's foreign policy, in many respects, has picked up the thread from the (thank G-d) former Soviet Union.


  • same obstructionist policy at the UN,
  • same third-world-ist demagoguery,
  • same alliance with the Arab world,
  • same ambition to take the lead in a coalition of "anti-imperialist" states against Washington.

France has resurrected Primakov's old Eurasian master plan, which consisted in creating a Paris-Berlin-Moscow-Beijing axis against the Anglo-Saxons, a goal in which Putin's Russia no longer believes but in which it encourages Paris because Russia sees it as a way of improving its position in negotiating with Washington.

The anti-American obsession means that France is less than inquisitive as to the nature of regimes to which it lends its support in the name of multipolarity. Iraq, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Sudan: in a word, France seems to get on better with the rogue states and failed states than with the United States whose civilization it shares. It claims to defend international law by leaning on states that ignore all laws.

Thursday, May 22, 2003
Bill Whitte: "Magic"Bill Whittle's latest is up: it's entitled Magic. A teaser quote from the opening:

For our entire history, right up until a hundred years ago, the idea of flying carpets and magic lanterns held people’s imaginations in thrall. Now that we have everyday miracles like jet aircraft and electric lights, all some people want is to return to a time when the belief in magic was common but the everyday blessings of magic – telephones, computers, antibiotics – didn’t exist. Back in the anti-nuclear 80’s lots of folks drove around with SPLIT WOOD NOT ATOMS bumper stickers, and I often asked myself, how much wood have these people actually split? I’ve done an hour in my 20’s and I thought I was going to die.

It’s sad, frankly – at least to people like me. I find it terribly, tragically sad that the more successful and comfortable we become, the more people pine for a time when none of these everyday miracles existed. Outdoor bathrooms on January nights and miserable coal stoves that need to be tended hourly just to heat a pathetic half-gallon of tepid water need to be experienced to be believed – and not just in a 24 hour adventure, but continuously. Death, hunger, cold, disease, infant mortality – we have fought them tooth and nail for millennia, for what? Apparently in order to so insulate people that they can long for “ancient wisdom”, return to the “holistic tribal remedies” of the past, and hold up the most primitive and achingly poor cultures on earth as being the sole repository of “authenticity” while scorning every advance that they take completely for granted.

Magical thinking is everywhere today, and it is growing. It threatens the foundations of reason, individualism, science and objectivity that have delivered this success so well and for so long. It is dangerous. If we are to continue to thrive and progress, then we need to sharpen some sticks and drive a stake through the heart of this monster, and right quick.

You know the drill: No objective reality. All truth is relative. You can believe whatever you want, when you want. You can be descended from Atlantean Priests! You can have Mental Powers to move objects, read the future, and speak to dead people! Even better, you can save six billion trillion tons of silicon, nickel and iron in the third orbit around the sun – a sphere that has endured 5 billion years of asteroid impacts, volcanoes, ice ages, and having its core knocked out and into orbit -- by holding up a piece of wood with some lettered cardboard on one end and by marching down the street chanting two-line political philosophies!


Go read it all. Not without reason, Bill Whittle and Steven Den Beste are nicknamed the Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock of the blogosphere. (Now does that make Glenn Reynolds its Lt. Uhura? :-))

UN repeals Iraq sanctionsUN Security Council repeals sanctions against Iraq, the latter having become without object. (I won't mention the former.) In what may be an attempt to mend fences with Washington, France, Germany, and Russia voted with the 14-0 majority. (I had personally expected France to abstain.) Syria took a raincheck from ("stuurde zijn kat naar") the meeting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Sigh of cosmic wearinessThe Belgian media report that the Belgian government is referring the so-called "war crimes" case against Gen. Tommy Franks to the US court system. The barking moonbat 'lawyer' who submitted the case is appealing this decision to the Council of State (Belgium's highest constitutional court), on the grounds that there is no judicial vehicle for seeking redress against Franks in the US (which, to borrow an expression from Norman Schwartzkopf, is "bovine scatology") and that the present caretaker government is overstepping its authority since this is not a "pending matter".

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Threat level raised to orange in the US.Fox News: Threat level raised to orange in the US.

pro-Nazi sympathies among... Arab immigrants in HollandFollowing disruptions of Dutch Liberation [from the Nazis] Day observances, Dilacerator reports on pro-Nazi sympathies among... Arab immigrants in Holland. An example of the "convergence of kooks" or simply the oldest Mideastern proverb in action? ("The enemy of my enemy is my friend.") Probably both at the same time, IMHO.

Anti-Idiotarian manifestoTo those writing me about it: yes, I know of famous hacker and open-source ideologue Eric Raymond's Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto. Eric is a very interesting fellow and there's lots of great reading material on his site, particularly The Cathedral and the Bazaar (an Open Source programming manifesto), but also, for example, this guide to building the perfect Linux box and this entertaining political history of science fiction.

The quarrel I have with his anti-Idiotarian manifesto lies in its being a document very much inspired by Eric's anarcho-Libertarian views. He's perfectly entitled to them, but somebody reading it as the authoritative (ahem) definition of anti-idiotarianism would not realize just how politically and ideologically diverse the "anti-idiotarian" crowd really is.

Michael Totten weighs in on the meaning of "anti-idiotarianismLiberal blogger Michael Totten weighs in on the meaning of "anti-idiotarianism".

Monday, May 19, 2003
Metallica and Barney for psy-opsTruth stranger than fiction. According to a Newsweek article, US interrogators break down the resistance of Saddamite prisoners by forcing them to listen to... Metallica, Sesame Street, and Barney (every non-toddler's least favorite singing dinosaur) at high volume.

Hey, I actually like (older) Metallica, but Barney singing... that's cruel and inhuman punishment!

UPDATE: [Blogger ate an earlier posting on this] Best of the Web has the following update which suggests that Amnesty International either loves absurd humor or has become a joke itself:

Idiocy International

Amnesty International, the self-styled "human rights group," has descended into self-parody. "Heavy metal music [such as Metallica's 'Enter Sandman'] and popular American children's songs [such as the theme songs from "Sesame Street" and "Barney and Friends"] are being used by US interrogators to break the will of their captives in Iraq," the BBC reports.

But Amnesty--which in December denounced Britain's government for reporting on Saddam Hussein's human-rights violations--"said such tactics may constitute torture."

My toddler daughter and I are hereby volunteering to take the place of the 'tortured' Iraqi --- she gets to listen to Barney and I to Metallica. Heck, if I am really obstinate they may get really really nasty and add some Slayer and Sepultura, or, better stilly, some Tool and Incubus to the 'torture'. Of course, with my luck, daughter gets to listen to Metallica (which she actually seems to enjoy) and me to a particularly gooey rendition of "I love you, you love me, we're a happy familyEEEEEP! [sound of Barney getting eaten by velociraptors]..."

light/moderate/serious/very seriousUpdate to previous post: of the 48 wounded, the condition of 9 is listed as 'serious' and of four more as 'very serious' . In deliberately understated Israeli police speak, 'serious' means "life-threatening", 'very serious' means "desperately fighting to live". Bodily harm up to and including loss of limbs --- but not directly life-threatening (i.e., no damage to vital organs) --- is conventially listed as 'in moderate condition'. 'Mere' flesh wounds are rated 'light',

And againAnd again. 2 killed, 48 wounded in islamikaze attack on shopping mall in the Israeli town of Afula, north of the West Bank (across the Green Line from Jenin). pal terror groups are falling over each other in their rush to claim responsibility. The selfless action of a security guard prevented a greater tragedy.

My guess is that the Pals are up to their old game of trying to goad Israel into a massive retaliation that would potentially sour its relations with Washington during a peace initiative pushed by the latter.

As Time Goes ByFrom today's Best of the Web:

As Time Goes By

The death toll now stands at 41 in a series of Friday night suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco. "The Friday night blasts damaged a Spanish restaurant, a Jewish community center and cemetery and a hotel. The fifth attack damaged the Belgian consulate, which faces a Jewish-owned restaurant," the Associated Press reports.

Little Green Footballs notes an early CNN report, which made the outrageous claim that "both Belgium and Spain were allies of the United States and Britain in the war against Iraq." In fact, Belgium was the junior member of the axis of weasels.

The Associated Press risibly speculates as to the political agenda behind the attacks:

The motive for the bombings was unclear. Morocco has been a staunch U.S. ally, but expressed regret that a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis could not be found. Spain supported the U.S.-led war against Iraq but Belgium opposed it.

Why not just take these barbarians at their word when they say the want to kill all infidels? But of course that would require facing our enemies' unmitigated evil, something many are reluctant to do--including the Belgians. A later CNN report says a Belgian consulate spokesman "said he believed a nearby restaurant, owned by Moroccan Jews, was the intended target--but the restaurant's owner said there was no such indication." Whatever the "intended target," let there be no doubt that the terrorists will eventually come for the Belgians if they aren't stopped.

(Emphasis mine.)

USS Clueless sails the seas of big journalismUSS Clueless sails the seas of big journalism with this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

On the ship's deck itself, this essay (replying to a self-declared raving atheist who considers SdB "soft" on atheism and worse)on why he considers his atheism to be a belief rather than a scientific conclusion, and why he intellectually respects thinking religious people like blogger and Methodist minister Donald Sensing. The essay is long but gets hotter the further it moves along (like, reportedly, "The Matrix Reloaded").

Much of it revolves around the distinction between deductive and inductive logic, and the closely related distinction between an algorithm and a heuristic. In plain English, an algorithm is a mathematical "cookbook recipe" to solve a given problem that --- if you follow it to the letter and make no mistakes --- is guaranteed to give you the answer. A heuristic is a "search strategy" that generally has a high probability of yielding the solution, but is not guaranteed to do so.

For example, if you are looking for a local minimum of a function of many variables --- if there are only two variables, that would be like looking for the bottom of any valley in a mountain landscape --- there are quite a few algorithms that, given an expression for the function (or of the function and its first and sometimes second derivatives) and a starting point, will get you to a "local minimum" in the neighborhood of the starting point.

If what you want is not a local but the global minimum, these algorithms don't do the job unless you happen to feed them a starting point that happens to be close to it. In general, there are no global optimization algorithms, only global optimization heuristics. Brute-force grid searching is a crude example: in our "landscape" example, it would just mean putting a mesh of longitude and latitude coordinates on the landscape, measuring the height at every point where they cross, and look for basins --- then at each and everyone of them carry out a local optimization. This is not 100% guaranteed to get you to the global minimum, but if the grid is sufficiently fine then it will in practice always get you there.

The problem is that it's exactly that --- a brute-force method which quickly becomes intractable for systems with many variables. Other heuristics (simulated annealing, genetic algorithms, ...) remain tractable also for a large number of independent variables, but are less certain to always get you to the global minimum --- although they may in practice almost always do so for certain problems of practical importance (e.g., molecular modeling).

Coming back to Den Beste:

[...] All of us maintain huge internal libraries of heuristics, the accumulation of a lifetime of experience, and for each we maintain an evaluation of how valuable it might be. People trade heuristics with one another; they share the ones they've found to be particularly valuable. Children absorb them from their parents. A lot of folk traditions and other kinds of orally-transmitted culture include large bodies of heuristics.

Among its many virtues, induction permits you to come to conclusions about how to operate in situations where you don't fully understand what's going on. The heuristic tells you what works, but not necessarily why it does, and you may be able to start to create useful heuristics long before you can explain them, if indeed you ever can.

Some heuristics are instinctive. Many people are aware of Pavlov's experiments in conditioning, but overestimate the importance of what he found. Pavlov was dealing with low level neural circuits, at a level little higher than reflex. Fewer people are aware of the work of B. F. Skinner, who studied forms of conditioning which appear to operate at the highest levels of cognition. What Skinner ultimately demonstrated is that vertebrates (including us) are wired to understand that correlation often implies the existence of causation. If you do something and get a good result, try doing it again.

That makes sense, of course. Places where food have been found are likely to have food if you check back. If you fly into the outdoor food court and land on the ground and cheep loudly, humans who are eating there may throw something edible onto the ground for you. Never mind why it works; the important thing is that it does – usually. It certainly works often enough so that the payoff if it does is more than worth the cost of giving it another try. If it keeps failing, eventually you discard it. But if it works often enough, you'll remember it and keep applying it. Extremely complex behaviors can be subjects of this kind of conditioning, well above the level of the salivation of Pavlov's dogs.

[...] Continuing, induction works by taking inadequate data of doubtful quality and assigning probabilities and reliability levels to what is known. It uses heuristics and experience from the past to try to fill in the gaps or to correct information which is likely to be false, and out of that it tries to yield conclusions which have the highest probability of being right, even if they're not certain. And then we act on those conclusions, and sometimes we lose because the answer was actually wrong. But if you refuse to act, you usually lose; inductive results are far better than nothing at all.

But all of this is highly subjective. The process of evaluating the reliability of each piece of data is based on prior experience and indeed may also be affected by the biology of that person's brain. Where deduction is objective, induction is not because it's based so strongly on personal experience and on prior conclusions and existing heuristics and biological differences.

All of us go through life constructing heuristics and storing them for later use; it's a constant process. We all constantly revise our valuation of those heuristics, and sometimes we discard them entirely. We actually need a pretty substantial body of them in place by the time we reach adulthood, but by their nature heuristics are also not necessarily perfect. (As the old joke goes, if a heuristic never failed it would be an algorithm.)

Some of the ones we use have been directly identified as "fallacies" ["drogredeneringen", for the Dutch-speakers]. And in fact they are, in the sense that they are not guaranteed to never fail. Some of the standard fallacies are [plain and simple] failures of reasoning (such as begging the question) or deliberate attempts by the arguer to deceive (such as the "straw man") but many of them are actually useful heuristics even if they're not totally true. [The] Post Hoc Fallacy ["post hoc ergo propter hoc", i.e., "B happened after A, so A must cause B"] is Skinner's conditioning. "Appeal to authority" can lead you astray, especially if the authority is commenting outside his field of expertise [emphasis mine], but as a practical matter it's worth listening to what wise men say, and we generally tentatively assign a high value to what such people tell us. Part of why we make these mistakes is that a lot of the time they actually give us good results.

Superstitions and prejudices are heuristics, though mistaken ones. [...] In the course of our lives we meet people and get to know them, and some of them turn out to be nice and friendly and some of them turn out to be dangerous or unpleasant. Some encounters are brief, some long lasting; some are benign, some are immensely valuable, and some are horribly damaging and may even involve physical danger. And we develop heuristics about this just like we do everything else, and try to judge each new person we meet on the basis of past experience so as to try to make a preliminary evaluation of how likely it is that this person will be worthwhile to know or someone that might be dangerous.

Like it or not, that's based on rather surface evaluations. And like all heuristics the result is error prone. But though philosophically I understand and agree that we should all try to treat every person we meet as individuals, if you think about it it's clear that some kinds of characteristics which we may fear do tend to correlate with other features we can directly observe.

Which is to say that it is not the case that every person who fits a certain "racial profile" is certain to be a crook, but they are more likely to be, and that's the kind of level that heuristics operate at. Some such heuristics are totally wrong, but some are actually based on valid statistical evaluation.

Right or wrong, we all do this to some extent. What we refer to as prejudice is cases where heuristics like this get out of control, and where people rely far more heavily on them than they should. And in fact, any heuristic becomes damaging if someone gives it more credence than they should; the reason we study those logical fallacies is that people treat them as forms of deduction (and certainty) instead of forms of induction (and persuasion). [That is, mistake heuristics for algorithms.]

Induction can operate at many levels of sophistication, and it can be implemented at a level of practical usefulness with far less compute power than exists in the human brain. It's the level on which animals think; they don't worry about why things are happening; they just observe what works and what doesn't. It's a cheap way to get pretty good answers most of the time.

Of course, if one applies more data to the inductive process, one can sharpen the result more. Humans vary in intelligence and in knowledge, and those on the right side of the scale will often arrive at quite different evaluations of the reliability value of different conclusions. Over on the left side of the scale, inductive processes use less data and less computation and tend to rely on fewer and more broad heuristics which are more prone to be incorrect. Though it yields results, the results are more likely to be erroneous. Induction increases in reliability as a function of how much data and experience and computational power are applied to it, but induction is never certain. If it were possible to actually be completely certain about a subject, we'd be using deduction and wouldn't need induction at all. (Of course, some people not familiar with deduction or without adequate access to data will use induction in such cases anyway, and as a result won't necessarily arrive at the correct answer.)

All of us use induction constantly, but most of us don't really realize it and aren't aware of what is involved. Induction doesn't offer us conclusions, in the sense that deduction does. What it gives us is a feeling of how likely it is that a given statement can be relied on, ranging on a scale from "total horseshit" on one end to "virtually indistinguishable from fact" on the other end. But you can often tell when someone is offering you an inductive conclusion rather than a deductive conclusion. If they say something like "It just makes more sense to me that..." what they're saying is that their inductive calculation arrived at a high reliability for that statement. If someone cites something as an intuition, they're talking about inductive conclusions.

If they make arguments by citing pieces of evidence that they found persuasive rather than by making actual deductive proofs, then they're talking about induction; persuasiveness is the essence of induction because it's all based on probabilities and likelihoods. What they're doing is to show some of the input to the process which they ended up giving strong weight. Of course, if someone else doesn't evaluate the weight the same way, they in turn may not find that argument persuasive at all.

Those on the left side of the scale often do arrive at poor results using this process, but it is not the case that everyone on the right hand side will [necessarily all] arrive at the same answers.

Which brings me to the key point: I am totally convinced that a mechanistic explanation for the universe is the correct one. But I arrived at that result through inductive reasoning, not through deductive reasoning. For me, mechanism is at the "virtually indistinguishable from fact" point on the certainty scale. I arrived at that point in my mid-20's, and 25 years later it's only become stronger and stronger.

But induction is not objective. Deduction is objective, and one can document the evidence, reasoning and conclusion of a deductive proof and others can look at it and will agree that it's unflawed and therefore true. Induction is not ultimately susceptible to an equivalent process of checking.

Sunday, May 18, 2003
Belgian elections: dead Greens walkingBelgian elections (De Standaard's coverage, in Dutch): major gains for joint ticket of Socialists and Flemish nationalists (admittedly, gain is realtive to historical low), major loss for Greens (who IMnsHO proved to be unfit to govern even by Belgian standards), significant gains (for the 10th time in a row) for far-right Flemish Block, and minor gains for Liberal-Democrats. Christian-Democrats roughly stationary. Expected coalition will be existing one (LD + Soc.) minus Greens.

Projected parliamentary representation according to De Standaard (with about 85% of polling stations counted):

  • SP.A-Spirit (Flemish socialists+VU offshoot) : 23 (+9)
  • PS (Walloon socialists): 24 (+5)
  • Agalev (Flemish Greens): 1 (-8)
  • Ecolo (Walloon Greens): 6 (-5)
  • VLD (Flemish Liberal-Democrats): 25 (+2)
  • MR (Walloon Liberal-Democrats, former PRL/FDF/RW): 21 (+3)
  • Vlaams Blok (Flemish far-right): 18 (+3)
  • CD&V (Flemish Christian-Democrats): 21 (-1)
  • CDH (Walloon Christian-Democrats, former PSC): 9 (-1)
  • N-VA (former VU, Flemist nationalists): 1
  • FN (Front National): 1

The awful truth: arrogant America got it rightThe Australian newspaper The Age carries this pricelessly titled opinion piece by aan anti-war leftist: The awful truth: arrogant America got it right. The moneygraf:

No one likes to U-turn in public... on wives or husbands, political beliefs, dinner party opinions. We like to state our case and stay true, fearful that any re-evaluation will make us look like intellectual sissies. It can't have been easy for the communists of the 1950s to watch the tanks roll into Hungary and see that juggernaut crush their belief system - a belief system not only at the core of their political lives, but for many, their entire lives. Hopefulness, conviction, passion, then, as now, must sometimes be sacrificed to reality's infuriating complexity - but it sometimes takes courage to admit it.

Welcome to the club, Joanna.

Anti-idiotarianismVia Instapundit: a rant on political orientations of star bloggers. Of course, out of the six "right-wing bloggers" this guy (himself a Republican) lists, one (Eugene Volokh) is a Libertarian, one (Steven Den Beste) defines himself as an "engineerist" or "radical pragmatist", one (Andrew Sullivan) is at least as much "gay"-rights activist as a socio-economic "conservative", Charles Johnson (LGF) is apolitical except for the War on Terror, Glenn Reynolds is more of a Virginia Postrel-style "dynamist" than anything else, and only James Lileks can be counted as having conservative views on most issues. At least two out of the six (Den Beste, Johnson) were declared Gore voters in the presidential elections. At least one (Den Beste) openly proclaimed himself an atheist and supports legalizing not only homosexual marriages, but group marriages as well.

Five out of the six hold views that could be called libertarian in one way or another. What all six of them have in common is "anti-idiotarianism", a term originally coined by Charles Johnson. Samizdata's blog glossary defines it as follows:

Anti-idiotarian (n.): Someone opposed to a whole raft of political values which are derived from a fundamentally irrational meta-context (world view). Anti-idiotarians can be found across a wide section of the political spectrum and are primarily characterised by vocal rational judgmentalism, generally hawkish sentiments and transcendent loathing of Noam Chomsky.

I would amend this to read: "opposed to... a world view which is either fundamentally anti-rational or anti-empirical" (that is, divorced from either logic or observable reality). My favorite definition is still this one though:

If that term [anti-idiotarian] means something to me, it means a person who thinks that Western civilization and values are worth defending. It doesn’t mean “liberal” or “conservative,” it doesn’t mean that the West is without flaws or that other civilizations have nothing to teach us. It means that you feel that the West represents the best hope for advancement of this world and that it has the right, and indeed the duty, to strike back against those who seek to destroy us.

First results from Belgian electionsFirst results from Belgian elections, at least for Flanders: (Dutch-language coverage in Gazet van Antwerpen and De Standaard). Major gains for joint ticket of SP.A (socialists) and SPIRIT (ex-Flemish nationalists), but less so compared to sum of original scores of component parties. Far-right Flemish Block posts gains: Liberal-Democrats and Christian-Democrats roughly stationary. Greens are big loser: not even certain in many places whether they will meet the 5% electoral threshold. N-VA (formerly VU, Flemish nationalist) likewise hovers around electoral threshold.

In Wallony, only results for a single electoral district in so far: voting continues in the Brussels capitol region.

Shum davar lo gomerBarely hours after Israeli PM Ariel Sharon met with PA Prime Minister Abu Mazen, an islamikaze kills seven in Jerusalem. Sharon postpones trip to US. In related news, several Israeli Arab islamist leaders are under arrest on suspicion of having funneled millions of dollars to the Islamist terror group Hamas.

spending, not squandering, goodwillJonathan Rauch, in Reason magazine, argues the difference between "squandering goodwill" and "spending goodwill":

The talk of squandering is fundamentally misconceived. Bush did not squander the world's goodwill. He spent it, which is not at all the same thing.

[...]Perhaps the most awkward and obnoxious of America's Cold War alignments were in the Arab world. Washington supported tyrannies and monarchies that wrecked their economies and stunted their politics. The Arab regimes wallowed in corruption and incompetence. They entrenched poverty and blocked middle-class aspirations. They jailed liberal dissidents and political moderates. They fertilized the soil for militant Islamists who provided the only outlet for dissent. They then attempted to neutralize Islamism by diverting its energies to hating liberalism, Americans, and Jews.

In both Iran and Iraq, Washington supported or tolerated corrupt and brutal regimes, with disastrous results in both places. Saudi Arabia has been a different kind of disaster, propagating anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism all over the world. Syria and Libya are disasters. Lebanon is between disasters. Egypt is a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe Jordan is, too.

In short, the United States has been on the wrong side of Arab history for almost five decades, and it is not doing much better than the Soviets. The old policy had no future, only a past. It was a dead policy walking. September 11 was merely the death certificate.

Bush is no sophisticate, but he has the great virtue— not shared by most sophisticates—of knowing a dead policy when he sees one. So he gathered up the world's goodwill and his own political capital, spent the whole bundle on dynamite, and blew the old policy to bits. However things come out in Iraq, the war's larger importance is to leave little choice, going forward, but to put America on the side of Arab reform.

Reform will take years, decades even, and it will mean different things in different countries. In Iraq, it meant force. In Syria, it means hostile prodding; in Saudi Arabia, friendly prodding. It means setting a subversive example for Iran, creating the region's second democracy in Palestine, building on change in Qatar and Kuwait, leading Egypt gently toward multiparty politics. Progress will be fitful, at best. But the direction will be right, for a change.

This is a breathtakingly bold undertaking. The difficulties are staggering. Everything might go wrong. But the crucial point to remember is that everything had already gone wrong. No available policy could justify optimism in the Arab world, but the new policy at least offers hope. It offers a path ahead, a future where there had been only a past. It is not dead. It puts America on the right side of history and on the right side of America.

Much of Europe is alarmed by the change, but then, it would be. American troops in Saudi Arabia guaranteed the flow of oil while turning the United States (along with Israel) into the scapegoat of choice for millions of angry Muslims, some of whom live in Europe. From Paris's or Amsterdam's or Bremen's point of view, what's not to like about that deal? Why must Washington go and stir everything up?

Exactly. And get this:

Not long before the Iraq war began, the Heinrich Böll Foundation sponsored a debate in Washington between Richard Perle and Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Perle, of course, is a hawkish American neoconservative who supported the Iraq war. Cohn-Bendit, a Frenchman, leads the Green faction of the European Parliament, but is perhaps better known as "Danny the Red" for leading student uprisings in France in the 1960s. In a telling moment, Cohn-Bendit blurted out that Perle, the conservative, was now the revolutionary, trying to reform the whole Arab world—whereas Cohn-Bendit, the former radical, was now the conservative.

The reactionary, stasist "left"ist meets the progressist, dynamist neo-"conservative". Umwertung aller Werte in action.

Saturday, May 17, 2003
Proceedings against Franks to be shitcannedAccording to the French-language Belgian daily Le Soir, a source close to Belgian PM Verhofstadt has told the newspaper, on condition of anonymity, that the Belgian government will dismiss the judicial proceedings against US general Tommy Franks, as Verhofstadt "sees it as an abuse of the law for political ends". Well duh/Allez, hoe komt ge daar nu toch wel bij?

Flemish election forecastsElectoral forecast for Flanders:
1999 poll expert prognosis
VLD (liberal-democrats): 22.6 21.9 22.1
CDV (Catholic center): 22.2 22.1 22.1
Flemish Block (far right): 15.6 17.2 17.4
SP.A (socialists)+SPIRIT (ex-VU) 15.0 19.2 19.3
AGALEV (Greens) 11.0 7.8 8.6
NV.A (Flemish nationalists, ex-VU): 8.8 5.7 5.2
VIVANT (senior citizens' rights) 2.0 1.6 1.4
Liberal Appeal (VLD splinter) --- 2.1 2.1
Others 2.8 2.3 1.8

A point of clarification: "liberal" in a Belgian context means "pro-free market". The "Liberal Appel" is a breakaway faction around Ward Beysen that feels the VLD has abandoned too much of the ideology of "classical liberalism" and of the Party for Freedom and Progress (PVV) of old. The VU is the old Flemish nationalist party, of which the Flemish Block and SPIRIT are far-rightist and leftish offshoots, respectively.

republic of fearIn the Guardian (a.k.a. the Daily Wanker), of all places, a long article by an Iraqi about what it was like to live (or rather: survive) in the Saddamite "republic of fear". Go read the whole thing.

Vlaams BlokOn the eve of the Belgian elections, the Daily Telegraph dedicates an article to the far-right and anti-immigrant Flemish Block, widely expected to be winner in tomorrow's elections.

Fifteen years ago, then-chairman of the liberal-democratic party Jean Gol declared that Belgium's political system "is suffering from AIDS in the etymological sense of the word". Despite some not entirely unsuccessful attempts to introduce a measure of transparency in Belgium's notoriously corrupt state apparatus, the political autoimmune disease has only gotten worse since. A shady party like the Vlaams Blok is laughing all the way to the ballot box.

advocaat van kwade zakenLive from Brussels weighs in on the lawsuit opened against General Tommy Franks by a Belgian "advocaat van kwade zaken" (lawyer/advocate of evil causes) affiliated with the Belgian Maoist party. (The suit was deliberately filed udring the election recess, as under the terms of the revised 'universal jurisdiction law', if no Belgian citizens are involved, the government has the authority to forward the case to the relevant foreign judiciary, in this case the US's.) LfB predicts the case will simply be buried under a mountain of red tape until the new government (tomorrow is election day, hence the timing) can quietly forward the case to the US court system.

Perhaps the US can award itself universal jurisdiction for frivolous international lawsuits. Punishment would consist of being locked up in a padded cell with a 24-hour Geraldo Rivera channel as the only entertainment. Now that is "cruel and unusual punishment" ;-)

Back to the FalklandsVictor Davis Hanson, commenting on the "road map", goes back to the future^H^H^H^H^H^H Falklands crisis (April, 1982).

And againAnd again. 24 killed in suicide bombings in Casablanca, MoroccoLGF rounds up coverage. And remarks that according to CNN:

Three booby-trapped cars exploded in front of the Belgian consulate, according to MAP [Maroc Agence Presse, presumably], and another bomb exploded near Casa D'Espangne [sic], a Spanish social club and restaurant. Both Belgium and Spain were allies of the United States and Britain in the war against Iraq.

Belgium an ally of the Coalition?!?! CNN truly stands for Contemptible News Network.

The Road Map to Appeasement AvenueBritish writer Melanie Phillips lambasts what she calls The Road Map to Appeasement Avenue.

The problem is not that the Palestinians are obsessed with creating a state: if that were their chief obsession, and if they had a vision of the state they wanted tio create, that would be a good thing. The problem is that it is trumped by their obsession with destroying or dismantling Israel. In that sense, Palestinian 'nationalism' is a deeply nihilist movement in the etymological sense of the word.

'the Belgian Malcolm X'The CS Monitor has a profile of former Hizb'allah terrorist Abu Jahjah, whom they call 'the Belgian Malcolm X'. Except perhaps to PC Sandalistas, that's no compliment at all.

Friday, May 16, 2003
brown, green and red allianceGreat minds (not) think alike? :-) Dissident Frogman refers to the "brown, green and red alliance" in much the way I refer to "rainbow fascism". He credits a French Jewish community leader (CRIF chairman Roger Cukierman) with having coined the expression.

While Mr. Cukierman's focus was on antisemitism, this is only a surface phenomenon. There is arguably a much deeper similarity between extreme ecologism, fascism, Nazism, and the reactionary left: romanticization of a supposedly pristine pre-industrial past, visceral rejection of modern, free-market, liberal democratic society, the advocacy of violence to overthrow the established order,... The judeophobia shared by all these groups is a consequence of the above --- except perhaps for the Nazis, whose racial obsessions were at the very core of their Weltanschauung.

guide to Arafat's deskA handy guide to Arafat's desk.

Who shot Mu<u>h</u>ammad al-Dura?At the beginning of Intifada II, a 12-year old boy named Muhammad al-Dura became its "posterchild martyr" after he was allegedly shot by Israeli soldiers.

I always subscribed to the "in war, sh*t happens" theory concerning this one: civilians get caught in crossfires all the time, and the fatal bullet may have come from either side. (Not too many people know that close to ten percent of Israeli casualties in the Six-Day War resulted from 'friendly fire', a.k.a. "blue on blue". Then again, Gulf War II comes close.) Now a long Atlantic Monthly article persuasively argues what I once dismissed as a conspiracy theory on the part of overzealous Israel advocates --- that the shooting was deliberately 'set up' for the benefit of the media.

In that part of the world, firstborn children were once sacrificed to an idol named Moloch. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Solutions become problemsSteven den Beste's latest long essay is up. Let me just quote the opening:

In some cases activist groups have been formed to work on certain problems, and then face the peculiar dilemma of having actually won. The March of Dimes was one such organization; it was formed to collect money for what was then known as "infantile paralysis" and is known now to most of us as polio. Some of the money they collected went to helping to pay for treatment of victims of the disease, while a lot of it was used to finance research. To a great extent because of the March of Dimes, in the 1950's two vaccines for polio were ultimately developed. The later one was superior, and using it, polio was eradicated.

At which point, what was the March of Dimes going to do? Here they had a perfectly good organization, with employees and a group of contributors and no mission. Simple: find a new one. So the March of Dimes broadened its scope.

In this case the solution didn't become a problem, it just started looking for a new problem. But in other cases the solution truly does become a problem.

The Brussels Liberation ActJust got an Email from pioneering Belgian e-entrepreneur cum Dutch-language blogger Luc Van Braekel on what the Flemish newspaper De Standaard (for-pay access only) has dubbed the "Brussels Liberation Act". This proposition (online at the Library of Congress, and officially known as the "Universal Jurisdiction Rejection Act") has been introduced by Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and would grant the President of the United States the authority to liberate --- by any required means, if necessary by armed force --- any American servicemen held prisoner under Belgium's "universal jurisdiction law". This follows the earlier enactment of the American Servicemen Protection Act (unofficially known as the The Hague Liberation Act) which grants similar authorities to the President in case any US servicemen would be held prisoner on the authority of the International Kangaroo^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Criminal Court.

This coming Sunday is election day in Belgium. Dixit Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt in his electoral propaganda flyer (this comng Sunday is Election Day in Belgium) "Open letter to the citizen": "The days are gone when this country acted like a grey mouse at international meetings. We now clearly and openly advocate our views, within NATO, within the EU[nuchs], at the U[nited] N[arcissists]. Especially in matters of war and peace. Whoever wants to make a difference, must be willing to stick his neck out." Something is being stuck out (with Louis Michel's head at the end), but I would personally use a different word that ends with "-ck".

My proposal of law would have been a different one. That whenever a Belgian court opens a case against a US serviceman or politician under this law, that the White House send a package to the Belgian goverment containing one 25-cent coin and a note saying "use this to call somebody who gives a s**t".

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
And againAnd again. In Saudi Arabia, a series of islamikaze car bombs directed against "foreign workers compounds" (a.k.a. ghettoes for the kufar) appears to have killed on the order of ninety people. A last desperate attempt at acte de présence by al-Qaeda or the beginning of a new terror strategy?

It is imperative that the US not repeat the mistake of exercising misplaced restraint in a part of the world where such restraint is seen as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve. (I've lived here long enough to know first-hand.) Churchill rightly advocated "magnanimity in victory" and personally lived by this maxim (few things were more repugnant to him than "kicking a man once he's down") but never made the mistake of inverting the order of things --- first come victory, then comes largesse.

Incidentally, like all of you I've heard my share of leftist conspiracy theorists claiming the US just wants to annex the world's primary oil producing countries. What none of those conspiracy theorists has ever been able to explain to me is why, from a leftist perspective, it would be worse for the US to be in control of the oil fields of Saudi Arabia than for a corrupt unelected medieval potentate and his cronies to line their pockets with unearned wealth being pumped from their soil, without added value.

When it Raines, it poursLight blogging for a few days --- busy as heck, and too zonked to write anything intelligent.

Best of the Web is having a field day with the latest New York Times scandal -- the dismissal of their latest boy wonder reporter for serial plagiarism and (much worse, in my opinion) fabrication. Rivers of electronic ink are flowing on this one -- but apparently this was not the worst incident of this type in the paper's history:

Well, they did use the indefinite article. A New York Sun editorial notes that the Times has had some other low points on matters rather more consequential. The low point was probably when Walter Duranty, the paper's correspondent in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, "assured readers that there was 'no actual starvation' in the midst of Stalin's forced collectivization campaign in the Ukraine. In fact, millions died of famine."

Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

"Almost as egregious," the Sun adds, "was the record of the Times' man at Havana, Herbert Matthews, who, as the 1999 Times history 'The Trust' put it, became 'emotionally involved' with Fidel Castro, whose regime he claimed was 'free, honest, and democratic.' "

At least, unlike the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation and the Daily Whanker/al-Guardian, the NYT is willing to engage in self-criticism, although perhaps too little, too late.

Monday, May 12, 2003
CWRU shooter pacifistThe perpetrator of a shooting at Case Western Reserve University, killing one and injuring two, turned out (more here) to be an "anti-war" activist.

Which political stereotype are you?Mike Silverman has a hilarious lookup table that allows you to decide where you fit on the one-dimentional left-right spectrum. Note the similarity between his leftmost and rightmost columns.

New book by paul BermanThe same Michael Totten links to a review of a new book by Paul Berman that looks like essential reading.

Left is bored by historySane-left blogger Michael Totten contributes an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal in which he eloquently laments that

After September 11, I discovered an intellectual weakness on the left that I never noticed before. For some reason, perhaps for several reasons, [American] liberals and leftists are bored by the outside world.

Compared with conservative magazines, publications like The Nation and The American Prospect rarely feature articles about what happens in other countries. They'll do it occasionally, but almost always in the context of how it relates to America. The Nation might report on the effects of Iraqi sanctions, but rarely does it publish anything about Iraq in its own context. If you want to learn about the history of the Baath Party, Saddam's human-rights abuses, the fate of the Marsh Arabs, or Iraqi public opinion, you have to seek out magazines and journals of the center and the right.


Liberals think of themselves as more worldly than conservatives. This is true in some ways, but not so in others. It seems to me that liberals are more likely to travel, and are more likely to visit Third World countries in particular. (If you meet an American traveler in, say, Guatemala, odds are strongly against his being a Republican.) Liberals are more likely to listen to "world music" and are more likely to watch foreign films. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to study the negative consequences of American foreign policy. But that's about it. If you want to find someone who knows the history of prewar Nazi Germany, the Middle East during the Cold War, or the partition of India and Pakistan, you're better off looking to the right than to the left.

I am astonished and dismayed to discover this. I'm a lifelong liberal and I devour history like food. Not until after September 11 did I learn I'm a minority on the left.

I am not sure I agree with his analysis of the reasons why. (But go read the whole darn thing anyhow.) His observations also do not necessarily translate to a European context --- I have met plenty of European classical leftists with a sometimes exceedingly detailed (if at times equally partisan) knowledge of history. It's the PC crowd (unfortunately for them, history is full of politically incorrect facts), the "moral equivalencers", and others who camouflage intellectual laziness as postmodern sophistication, who tend to be bored to tears by history or actually flee from the subject.

As the line in Dream Theater's "The Great Debate" goes: "Turn to the light... Don't be frightened of the shadows it creates." Shedding light on history inevitably creates shadows, in the guise of unpleasant facts.

Green activism kills in the Third WorldCalcutta-born blogger Suman Palit has some choice remarks (make sure to follow the links) on anti-GM and other "Green Luddite" activism, and how residents of developing countries have to literally pay with their lives for he terms the "watermelon activism" of, I can't resist quoting:

...the sophisticated and discerning Western eco-activists with their unwashed armpits, their crusty Birkenstocks and taut bellies lined with recycled organic produce...

Barbara Amiel gives it to Margaret DrabbleBarbara Amiel gives it to Margaret Drivel-Drabble, big time.

Some police stateInstapundit has this priceless item:

A WEEK AGO, it was reported that German state secretary Jurgen Chrobog called the United States a "police state."

I wonder what he has to say about this:

A German man who staged a political protest by writing "The Government is crap" on his own car, has been told to remove it or face jail.

Police failed to see the funny side of 33-year-old Stefan Lukoschek's protest at the policies of Gerhard Schroeder.

Some state. Some police.


Saturday, May 10, 2003
Incidentally, my admittedly somewhat rambling answer to Wim below brings me to a common European "liberal" myth about American politics, namely that the Democrats are by definition "the good guys" even from a liberal perspective. I have made more than a few jaws drop by explaining a thing or two about George Wallace [for non-American readers: the segregationist former Democratic governor of Alabama] and about the "Dixiecrats".

A Belgian I talked to on the phone brought up something he had read about some US Democrtic senators lambasting the carrier landing "media stunt" of George W. Bush and the "waste of money" involved. (Some sarcastic remarks on my part about the expense to the tax payer of the Lewinsky affair were met with equally sarcastic remarks about its world-class entertainment value. I plead nolo contendere on that one ;-)) I asked if he meant Robert Byrd. Sure enough. Needless to say, the newspaper had not bothered to explain that Byrd once worked as a "Kleagle" (paid recruter for the Ku Klux Klan) and continued to hold strong anti-black views for a long time afterwards (see e.g. here and here). My interlocutor (an old-school socialist) could not believe his ears. A Democrat [white-on-black] racist? Surely such a thing cannot exist?!?

Of course not, my friend, just like [sarcasm alert] there "can" be no such thing as antisemitism on the left or French politicians getting payola from oil companies...