Monday, July 31, 2006

Is the U.S. the Evilest Nation in the World?

BegsToDiffer has introduced me to one "John Pilger," a writer and film maker who has an article that paints as negative a view of the United States and Israel as I have ever read. It is so unrelentingly anti-American and anti-Israeli that I suspect that he may be channeling Ayatollah Khomeini.

Mr. Pilger writes:
The attendant propaganda - the abuse of language and eternal hypocrisy - has reached its nadir in recent weeks. An Israeli soldier belonging to an invasion force was captured and held, legitimately, as a prisoner of war. Reported as a "kidnapping", this set off yet more slaughter of Palestinian civilians. The seizure of two Palestinian civilians two days before the capture of the soldier was of no interest. Neither was the incarceration of thousands of Palestinian hostages in Israeli prisons, and the torture of many of them, as documented by Amnesty. The kidnapped soldier story cancelled any serious inquiry into Israel's plans to reinvade Gaza, from which it had staged a phoney withdrawal. The fact and meaning of Hamas's self-imposed 16-month ceasefire were lost in inanities about "recognising Israel", along with Israel's state of terror in Gaza - the dropping of a 500lb bomb on a residential block, the firing of as many as 9,000 heavy artillery shells into one of the most densely populated places on earth and the nightly terrorising with sonic booms.
I am interested here in his claims that Israel, the U.S., and much of the international press has engaged in an "abuse of language." I think he means to refer to the "capture" of an Israeli soldier who was part of an "invasion force" which the forces of evil, Israel and the U. S., called a "kidnapping."

For Pilger to be allowed to get away with calling the capture/kidnapping of the Israeli soldier (I thought it was two soldiers but that doesn't matter) a "capturing" he has to be able to prove that the Israeli army was poised to attack Lebanon and the Israeli government had formed the intention to attack. If Pilger is right then calling the capture/kidnapping some sort of preemptive "capturing" would have some legitimacy. The problem is that Pilger provides absolutely no evidence either that the Israeli army was poised to attack or that Israel had formed an intention to invade prior to the capture/kidnapping of the soldier(s) and, let us not forget, the killing of some solders. I guess that doesn't matter because Israel is a Jewish state and is also a puppet of Imperial America.

In fact, one would expect Israel's military to be poised to defend Israel at all times from an attack by Hezbollah. Any other practice would be irresponsible on the part of the leadership of Israel. This brings us to the distinction between an army being "poised to attack" and "poised to defend." One sign of the former but not the latter would be a massing of troops on a border. Well, that could be proved true or false with time- and date-stamped satellite photos taken by someone we trust. Obviously Pilger would not trust photos taken by the U. S. I wouldn't trust photos taken by Iran. And around and around we go on the Merry-go-Round of International distrust.

So, a massing of troops would be one sign of an impending invasion. Moreover, troops are formed differently when poised to defend than when poised to attack. That too admits of photo proof. Pilger offers none. His views are, I believe, taken by him to be self-verifying. Saying things makes them true.

One thing is clear. If Israel was poised to attack, they did a very poor job of it. They had too few troops in place to move very far into Lebanon. Part of that could be due to inadequate forces being available and part to an underestimation of the capability of Hezbollah to engage in conventional warfare. That they have anti-tank weapons and other weapons useful against a conventional army seems clear. My view, since I do not take a paranoid view of Israel, is that they were unprepared for a war and that they did underestimate Hezbollah's capabilities. Taking that view allows us to account for the fact without engaging in Mr. Pilger's special brand of prejudice.

Israel has been slow to reinforce its invasion force (whatever it was before it is an "invasion" force now) and has been calling up reserves. This is a clear sign to me that Israel was not planning to invade Lebanon. Furthermore, it is very unclear to me why Israel would have wanted to. Hezbollah was not giving them much grief. Israel doesn't like seeing its people killed. And, Israel, as always, can expect nothing but grief from the international community when it fights against Arabs and it will risk that only when provoked.

I suggest that everyone read Pilger. The man reminds me of Chomsky in that he takes an extremely anti-American view of everything we do and he is so convinced of the correctness of his position he does not feel the need to defend what he says. Rather, he, like Chomsky has done on many occasions in the past, engages in language games to further his argument. Pilger's language game in the article cited is to call the kidnapping a "capturing." That makes it all okay. Bullshit. Pilger is a propagandist, pure and simple. It is how he earns his living. However, reading him is good for the mind. It will serve to reboot your brain.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Civilian Casualites

Hugh, whom it turns out is also BegsToDiffer, has posted a question in the comment section of an already archived post that is worth special consideration and needs to be brought to the top of the blog. I quote BegsToDiffer:
Having just read of 54 Lebanese civilians being killed I now pose another question:

IF Israel are justified in bombing Lebanese targets in order to eliminate or incapacitate Hezbollah AND incur some number of Lebanese civilian deaths in doing so, THEN how many Lebanese civilian deaths should we "permit"?

For example would it be acceptable to anyone reading this blog topic, for ALL civilians to be killed in order to achieve the goal or say 50% or 1%? or perhaps some maximum number?

Unless you are prepared to state a limit then your support for Israels action implies you are prepared to accept 100% of all civilians be killed.

Should the UN in such cases say "well you are limited to 1000 civilian deaths 500 of which may be children but after that you MUST stop bombing"?

This should elicit some interesting discourse from the readers of this topic.
Required reading for this blog is a Reuters story on the incident, as well as some history involving the same town that goes directly to Hugh's question, as well as some diplomatic consequences of this bombing attack. It should be noted that 37 of these people were children and that Israel does not deny this happened.

Hugh is concerned about Lebanese deaths. He has expressed no concern for Israeli civilian deaths. There have been fewer in part because huge numbers are living in bomb shelters, according to CNN reports I have watched. Certainly Hezbollah has been doing its best to kill Israeli civilians. That is, after all, their modus operandi when they are not kidnapping Israeli soldiers.

We know that Hezbollah has underground facilities. One wonders why they don't make these available for displaced persons who have not left the area. Actually, to be honest, I don't wonder since I know that Hezbollah, in a cynical practice used by many terrorist groups over the years and even a few military leaders (Saddam), routinely puts its weaponry in very close proximity to civilians. There have been CNN reports of their hiding weapons in people's homes. A real question not raised by Hugh is who has less respect for Muslim life, Israel or Hezbollah? I can believe that Hezbollah lured these displaced people into the building knowing that they could make it into a juicy target for Israeli bombs simply by firing some missiles from the roof and then cutting and running for cover.

You get the idea I have no respect for Hezbollah? You are right. Nor do I have any respect for Syria and Iran, who are this group's benefactors, providing Hezbollah with money, weapons, training, and perhaps even a suggestion or two as to how they can repay their benefactors such as kidnapping some Israel soldiers to entice Israel into going ballistic in the way they commonly do. This scenario requires a level of conspiracy theorizing I normally don't like to engage in but I have been a little crazy, maybe more than a little crazy, since 9/11. I don't have a warm feeling inside for Muslim extremists. You know how I feel about fundamentalist Christians so you know this isn't an anti-Muslim sentiment. Its an anti-religious extremist sentiment. But right now, right wing Christians aren't blowing up anything though I fear they are rooting Israel on given their nutty end of the world or second comings of Jesus theories, whatever it is that has led them to be pro-Israel.

One thing I learned a long time ago is that for the most part, revolutionaries are brutal sons of bitches. Not always. The American fighters of our Revolutionary War did not set up a brutal, despotic regime the way all of the Communist revolutionaries did. And, of course, those who engage in military coups are pretty much the same. Though they sometimes talk a good game -- "Elections in 18 months" or the like -- they rarely play one.

I don't know whether Hugh is a pacifist or not. I am not. I rather like our having fought WW2. I am less thrilled by the other wars we have gotten ourselves into except for the attack on Afghanistan, which was righteous. It wasn't completed unfortunately because George allowed himself to get distracted by Cheney, Wolfowitz, and others into invading Iraq. In any event, I am not going to be down on Israel for fighting Hezbollah. They have richly earned the beating they are getting, just as the Taliban and Al Queda richly deserved theirs -- too bad the job wasn't completed, as I noted. Nor will Israel be permitted to complete the job in Lebanon even assuming that doing so is possible, which I doubt.

But the civilians who have been killed didn't deserve what they got. I'm not going to blame Israel alone since I believe them when they say Hezbollah was firing missiles into Israel from that area. The problem is that Hezbollah fires its missiles during the day in a effort to kill Israeli civilians to make the point of origin more difficult to identify in time for Israel to hit them before they move to a new spot. The blame clearly also goes to Hezbollah. So, when someone calls for a cease fire, I hope they mean that Hezbollah will stop raining missiles on Israel. They must also mean that the cease fire comes with the condition that Hezbollah is forcibly disarmed by some multinational force. Otherwise, the cease fire is pointless. Hezbollah will regroup and rebuild, as terrorist groups usually do, and the next reel of Ground Hog Day will be mounted on the projector in a few years, once Hezbollah figures out another way to try to kill Israelis, and we will have to see this "show" again.

In Southern Lebanon there was some sort of rescue of Western, including American, refugees by boat. I heard a story about e-mails and cell phone calls (not sure of the details) between people wanting to get out of the area and the American embassy. Its too bad that some effort was not made, organized, perhaps, by Hezbollah to send a convoy of refugees to Northern Lebanon. Of course, that would never happen.

So, Hugh. There has been too much death in Lebanon, civilian and otherwise. It is definitely time for the bombing to stop but only if the international community, not Lebanon, guarantees the disarming of Hezbollah or Israel can figure out another way of fighting Hezbollah that does not lead to civilian deaths. One thing is for sure. They need to have a better idea who they are likely to be killing with their bombs. So, my answer to your question is conditional -- sure it is time for the bombing to stop. And for the missiles to quit flying into Israel. I presume that's not okay with you either.

[P. S. My spellchecker (the excellent gmail spellchecker) showed that Hugh spells as badly as I do so I fixed his errors along with mine since I didn't realize this was happening until I was well into checking. I hope wrong words didn't result.]

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mrs. Malaprop Stikes George Down Again

Yesterday I was half-listening to the TV news when I heard President Bush say
"Conditions change inside a country," he said. "And the question is, are we going to be facile enough to change with - will we be nimble enough - will we be able to deal with the circumstances on the ground? And the answer is, yes, we will."
I owe the exact language to the San Jose Mercury News. I was a bit taken aback by our President's use of language. I have already blogged on his infamous propensity to engage in malapropisms where I discussed a variety of explanations that have been given and won't repeat that exercise. What is remarkable is that he used the quite inappropriate word "facile," switched to "nimble," which is better, but apparently unhappy with his first two efforts went with the simplest way of forming the lie he wanted to tell.

I am inclined to believe George was told what to say by Rummy or Cheney or Rove or some general, telling him that we we must be nimble in how we adapt to changing circtumstances in dealing with what is, to say the very least, a very elusive enemy in Iraq. It is not so different from the the enemy in Vietnam, an enemy we couldn't defeat. My guess is they gave him "nimble" to work with and he slipped up and put in "facile" and things went South from there. One theory that I may not have discussed in the earlier referenced blog is that George simply doesn't know a lot of words and isn't sure how to use his more recently acquired ones.

Clearly, George did not anticipate how events would proceed in Iraq when he made the ill-fated decision to invade. He was doubtless in the throes of a testosterone rush when he made that decision. Were that not true, there would have been sufficient blood flow in his brain to have prepared a more facile -- whoops, I mean nimble post-war plan. So, we will lose in Iraq. A fundamentalist Shiite state will be created in the regions not created by the Kurds (unless the Shiites are stupid enough to go after them), as was fully predictable by anyone with a modicum of understanding of the demographics of Iraq and how Muslims view Westerners.

Bush's nimble policy won't change anything. As Shimon Peres said in a CNN interview yesterday, Hezbollah has no uniforms, does not maintain a headquarters unit, does not try to maintain a front line and hides its rockets in people's homes, which makes it difficult to fight them, much less fight them without killing civilians. He also claimed that 10,000 civilians were killed by the Allied bombing raids in Kosovo so by that standard the Israelis are doing pretty well -- or, at least, were doing well before they killed UN Observers. That will give Israel's political enemies grist for their mills, probably enough for the Euros to demand a cease fire.

The fact is that Israel cannot defeat Hezbollah and we can't defeat whoever the hell it is we are fighting in Iraq -- is it the insurgents, the Sunni militias, or the Shiite militias or all three? I doubt that Bush knows. We couldn't defeat our nimble enemies in Vietnam, and couldn't defeat the nimble Sandinistas with our proxy Contra Army. One could go back in time to the Revolutionary War where we used a nimble guerrilla-style method of defeating the Brits. Indeed, I think we may have invented guerrilla war. But we didn't learn anything from our victory if the Vietnam and Iraq wars are any measure of the wisdom we have acquired from history -- in this case our own.

So, we are left with a facile President. I am embarrassed by the man.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Liberals and the Death of the Democratic Party

If one can ignore what went on below President Clinton's beltline, he was, in my opinion, as good a President as the Democrats have had in recent years. Uh, wait a minute Mike. He's the only Democratic President we have had in recent years. One Democratic President in the last 26 years to be precise. Actually, to be fair, we had 8 years of one Democrat and 18 of various Republicans with 2 to go unless we impeach everyone in Washington who is a Republican.

I am quite sure that the Democrats will lose the next election even though it should be a slam dunk in that it will be after 8 years of the worst President in American history. Doesn't matter. The Liberals will screw it up.

After the last election, I heard/read a news report quoting some Liberal saying that though Kerry had lost, exit polls showed that the people agreed with liberal values, whatever those are. Let me tell you a story. In my late teens or early twenties I was in a rural bar in Oklahoma and struck up a conversation with an old farmer. I found that on a number of issues he and I seemed to be in remarkable agreement. I knew that we actually were poles apart politically -- we just shared some populist values. I knew that if we started getting down to specifics, then we would soon part company. The same will be true if Liberals think that the American people are with them.

The American people were with Clinton, even excusing some pretty wretched behavior. Sadly, current polls show that the preferred candidate of Democrats is Hillary Clinton. Don't be confused. All they share is a last name. Sadly. H.C. not only is preferred, if she can get in a head-to-head contest against Gore, Kerry, Edwards, or Mark Warner, whoever the hell he is, she will smash them into a pile of blood and bones. And then she will be smashed into a pile of blood and bones by Ima Conservative, whomever he or she turns out to be.

Americans don't want Liberals as their leaders. The last time they did was when Mondale, Church, et al were in the Senate and times were good. Then they were sacked in a bloody massacre and that was the last time Liberals had any real say in how the country was governed. Bill Clinton was not a liberal. He was a left-leaning Centrist and that is the best kind of thing to be. Such a person can appeal to the best impulses of the American people without scaring hell out of them.

Before Liberals get too excited about Gore because of the success of his movie, which is a filmed talk of some eloquence (where did he find that?), remember who is going to the movie. Liberals and some of their kissing cousins, people like me -- I actually haven't seen it because it has no nudity (female), violence, or destruction of property. Just kidding. I will see it at my earliest convenience. I am already a believer so there is no urgency.

I wish that moderate Democrats could pick the candidate but it is the guy/gal who can get together an army of volunteers who will win. That sounds like Hillary this time. Wake me when the next World Cup comes up (or the Red Sox are in the World Series). I can't take another Republican President.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Are Science and Religion in Conflict?

A biologist, Francis S. Collins, is arguing in lectures and in his writings that there is no inherent conflict between science and religion. His argument depends on very careful choices of terms in order to work, assuming it works at all. As a biologist, he is fully committed to the evolutionary account of the origin of the species, claiming that Creationists and other fundamentalists are setting themselves for a fall for scientists are likely to fill in the gaps in evidence as time passes, gaps that their arguments depend on. At this point it is fair to say, that most fundamentalist Christians will have fallen off the back of the truck Collins is driving. They are committed to believing that evolution is false, even the work of the Devil.

In my morning paper yesterday, he is said to be asking scientific skeptics "to investigate God with the same open-minded zeal they apply to the natural world...." The problem with this is that scientists do not investigate their domains of interest with zeal alone, but more importantly, with a scientific method, or, at least, a collection of standards that their investigations have to live up to. Such standards involve critically the use of experiment where that is appropriate or where observation is the main tool, the replicatability of observations. If I say that I have found live specimens of an extant species of some life form that has been believed to be extinct in the Big Darby Creek, then it should be possible for others to find live specimens of their own. And there would have to be agreement as to the morphological similarities of the fossil record and the living specimen.

The fact is that religious claims typically cannot be studied in the same way as are scientific questions. We can investigate specific empirical claims in the Bible, for instance, looking for the remains of Noah's Ark. I jest -- no ship big enough to have carried all these life forms could have been built then or now. It has been so long since I read the Bible that I am not sure what factual claims are made that can be verified. Can we find the crypt where the ostensibly dead body of Jesus was placed before he arose and know definitively that we have? Unfortunately, even if we found the crypt, it wouldn't prove the "risen Christ" thesis to be true. Simply studying religious issues with scientific zeal doesn't give the same reliability as studying much more limited questions pertaining to the natural world or cognitive and behavioral phenomenon.

The central issue as to whether or not science and religion are in conflict concerns whether or not they ask precisely the same questions. The question
How long ago did the Big Bang occur?
is unmistakably scientific. Religious scholars have nothing to contribute to that. The question
What is the meaning of human existence?
is either a religious or a philosophical question but it is clearly not a scientific question. On the other hand, both scientists and religious sorts feel that they have a proprietary interest in the question
When did beings like current humans first appear on this planet?
How did such humans come to appear on this planet?
This sort of situation presents a problem and we have two ways we can look at it. We could say that though scientists and religious scholars may be asking the same questions, we need not choose between their answers but can accept both. This response is quite tricky to deal with. Or we could say that Collins is simply wrong -- scientists get to answer these questions but religious scholars do not.

Suppose that a particular religion takes the view that biological humans are distinct from humans with souls, whatever that means. Given that assumption, one could give over to scientists questions as to the origin of biological humans and give over to religion the question as to when souls were first "implanted" in humans. It might be claimed that the former arose 60,000 years ago and the latter just 6,000 years ago. In such a way science and religion are not in conflict since scientists qua scientists don't have any interest in the concept of a "soul" while religious scholars do.

But don't be misled by hucksters like Collins. He is doing a disservice to certain religious persons by suggesting that their religious views are safe from scientific refutation or from a demonstration that their beliefs are inchoherent or have some other flaw of a sort scientists are good at ferreting out. They will be badly mistaken.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Terrorists and Freedom Fighters

The term "terrorism" is being bandied about rather loosely by some of this blog's commenters being used less to communicate meaning in the sense of conventional meaning in the spirit of rational argument than as weapons -- verbal grenades intended to blow up arguments rather than rationally refute them. I have blogged on the notion of Terrorism already and it remains available. What I want to do now is a bit different and deal with the distinction between Terrorists and Freedom Fighters.

The simple, perhaps simplistic, answer to the question as to how the terms "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" differ is that they don't -- at least in conventional meaning. As has been noted over and over ad nauseum is that one man's/woman's freedom fighter is another man's/woman's terrorist. And, when two terms refer to the same thing, as with "the Morning Star" and "Venus," they would normally be said to have the same conventional meaning whatever that may be. The problem we have in the case of "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" is that while we all use these terms in the same way, we do not use these terms interchangeably to refer to the same group of people.

Israelis see Hezbollah as terrorists; some members of the Lebanese community surely see them as freedom fighters. What this fact teaches us is that these two terms are useless in productive intellectual interactions -- they are, as I said, verbal grenades we lob at each other's positions hoping to blow them up. They have no other use.

In a situation like this, where our concepts/words are being used in a muddled fashion, it is useful to ask precise questions by way of evaluating the conduct of the participants in a war such as the one going on in Lebanon and Israel or in Iraq or Afghanistan. For a given group of interest, we might ask, for instance,
1. Does the group kill noncombatants?
2. Does the group target noncombatants?
3. Does the group place its military facilities where noncombatants live thereby endangering them?
4. Is the purpose of the group to liberate a population or piece of land from the control by another group and assume control itself?
5. Is the goal of the group to install a Western-style democratic government once it gets control?
Let us look, first, at Israel:
1. Yes.
2. No.
3. No.
4. Yes and No. The goal is to wrest control of Southern Lebanon from Hezbollah and exert a limited control of its own, specifically to keep Hezbollah from using Southern Lebanon as a base for attacking Israel. But Israel has no interest in governing Southern Israel. It tried that once and is too smart to do it again.
5. No. As noted, it does not mean to govern Southern Lebanon.
Now, let us look at Hezbollah:
1. Yes.
2. Yes.
3. Yes.
4. Yes.
5. No. The goal of Hezbollah would be to kill all of the Jews and install a Shiite Theocracy along the lines of Iran.
When one asks precise questions such as I have of the participants of a conflict one gets a more meaningful (significant) picture of what the group is like and whether or not we should support such a group. I have been critical of Israel from time to time since 1967 when I first became interested in the region -- sometimes quite critical. However, it is clear when one runs down the list of answers to the questions in the case of Hezbollah it is clear that no moral person who values life and values Western-style democracy could possibly support such a group.

Interestingly, every responsible Arab nation that has spoken on the attack by Hezbollah on Israel's soil to kidnap and kill soldiers has been critical of it and none have criticized Israel to my knowledge (I am somewhat trusting a columnist on this point in the Columbus Dispatch and might get burned). This is "a first" for a conflict between Arabs and Israel. What it tells me is that Arabs generally realize that Shiites pose a threat to the region, including themselves. One Iran is enough for them. Sadly, President Bush has set in motion events that will result in a second Iran in Iraq. With any luck, Israel will make sure this doesn't happen in Lebanon.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

War and Boredom

Some of you are bored with the cycle of war in the Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel area. That suggests to me that you (excepting clearly Sean) do not understand what is going on. It is a part of what could call World War III, which is also being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq (though Iraq wouldn't be in the picture, at least in the way it is right now, if the nitwit Bush hadn't invaded Iraq). It is simply the Israeli phase of the continuing war between militant Fundamentalist Muslims and the Judeo-Christian/Agnosto-Atheist (et al) West. What Israel is doing, especially in regard to Lebanon is precisely what the US did in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attack -- attacking terrorists in the country hosting them. That war continues with the Taliban, Al Queda, and imports from some of the Muslim nations of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere who are being trained in Afghanistan to fight there against the Brits, Poles, and the US and in their homelands. Had Bush continued our commitment to wiping out the Taliban and Al Queda in Afghanistan instead of going to war in Iraq, that phase of what I believe will is a 1,000 year war might be mostly over. But he didn't.

Militant Fundamentalist Muslims started this war on 9/11 though there were warm ups such as the 1993 bombing of the WTC, the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Africa, and the 2000 attack on the US vessel, the Cole. This current dust up in the Middle East is not your father's Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the first time, Hezbollah is in a position to go toe to toe with Israel in that they seem to have a lot of rockets that can reach as deeply as Haifa. And these were clearly supplied by Iran and, no doubt, went through Syria. It isn't a fair fight because Israel has overwhelming military superiority. But this, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq aren't about who has the strongest military.

Militant Fundamentalist Muslims and their supporters could point to various "provocations" to "justify" their actions -- the existence of Israel, the US presence in S. Arabia, and elsewhere in the Muslim world but these are largely irrelevant. It is quite clear to anyone familiar with the history of Al Queda, that Israel's existence had nothing whatever to do with 9/11. This is a cultural war and one thing Bush says is right -- these people hate the West because they know that Western values, from a commitment to democracy including the equality of men and women, the supremacy of secular power over religion whether this takes the form of the separation of church and state or the existence of purely secular courts, western materialism, etc. All of this is seen as a threat to Muslim fundamentalist values. And they are right. Also, most of us in the West aren't Muslim. They are religious bigots as well.

Israel, of course, is fully aware of what they are involved in. They are not interested, I think, in a cease fire nor are they interested in negotiations. Negotiations with Lebanon are irrelevant since Lebanon is afraid to control Hezbollah. And Hezbollah has nothing Israel wants. Israel wants peace and that is something that Hezbollah won't give them. Ergo, Israel must kill as many Hezbollah fighters as they can and perhaps show Lebanon that they should perhaps fear what Israel does when attacked by Hezbollah more than Hezbollah.

There are two immutable facts. The Militant Muslims cannot win and the West cannot be defeated. Ergo, a 1,000 year war.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel, and the Death of Language

The incursions into Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah to snatch Israeli soldiers and the resultant over-reaction by Israel in both cases reminds me of the movie, Groundhog Day. We have seen this sort of very dangerous dance before though, as in the movie, it isn't exactly like the previous mutual acts of violence of the past.

First let me explain my use of two terms here. The first is "incursion," which I used in connection with the special forces like operations inside of Israel by both Hamas and Hezbollah. This word was used by Nixon of an American invasion of Cambodia. Nixon's use of the term was a substantial misuse since by their nature, incursions should be relatively brief. Israel has responded in both cases with incursions of its own combined with bombing raids in an effort, allegedly, to get its soldiers back.

The second is my use of "over-reaction" in connection with Israel. Their actions have been over-reactions in the sense that they were not "an eye for an eye." That would have involved equivalent snatching operations to pluck, say, one or two Hamas and Hezbollah leaders to be used in a trade for the solders. In numbers of people killed, obviously Israel's actions have greatly exceeded the "accomplishments" of Hamas and Hezbollah and so, in purely numerical terms, what Israel has done was an over-reaction. This doesn't mean that it was an unreasonable or indefensible reaction.

The most significant change between past "dust ups" between Israel and its apparently implacable foes, Hamas and Hezbollah, is that both are parts of the governments in the countries they launched their incursions from. Hezbollah has minority representation in the government of Lebanon but Hamas has a very strong position in Palestine. Americans will recognize this situation. It parallels the hosting of Al Queda by the Taliban government of Afghanistan. The governments of Lebanon and Palestine are complicit with the actions of these groups and I, for one, don't blame Israel for attacking these countries as they have done for it is not so different from the thoroughly laudable invasion in my opinion of Afghanistan by the US to take away Al Queda's "safe house," so to speak.

Events in the North look very much like being a war or the beginnings of one and as often is said, "the first casualty of war is the truth." One can just as well say that the first casualty of war is language, for, as David Lewis has argued in his book, Convention to my satisfaction that without a convention of truthfulness, there can be no language. If you can trust only half or less of what your spouse says, then nothing he or she says can be relied on and his or her claims and promises will have no significance (one kind of meaning) and might as well not have any conventional meaning.

So, my words for you are two-fold. Do not believe anything that Lebanon, Hezbollah and its good friend, Iran, Palestine, Hamas, and Israel says. And remember that, like the movie, Groundhog Day, tomorrow is likely to be much like today. Given the on-going wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which includes the actions by insurgents in both countries to recruit and train Muslims from various countries in the area to make mischief there and in their own countries, and the issue of the possible development of nukes in Iran, I am inclined to believe that this "dust up" may have some very unfortunate consequences for everyone in the area, as well as for the United States, the only country in the world willing to put its neck on the chopping block for Israel. The U. S. could have a more balanced position but that is hard to do when the special forces units of Lebanon and Palestine are attacking inside Israel. If the U. S. is to take a balanced position it would be one that puts pressure equally on Israel, Lebanon (and Syria), and Palestine to stop making war on each other. Permanently. How likely is that?

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Does Iraq already have a Civil War?

Yesterday, the front page headline of my morning paper read, "Sunnis gunned down in Iraq." This is part of an ongoing blood bath being carried on by Sunis and Shiites, and occasionally Kurds. The Kurds seem to get involved via their participation in the Iraqi army. In mid-May, there was a case where two Iraqi military units, one Kurdish and the other Shiite, got in a firefight with each other with some Kurds being killed and wounded. Interestingly, Kurds took their injured people out of the best US military hospital in Iraq for fear that they would be killed where they lay. This news story from a San Diego newspaper suggests that Army units tend to consist of just Shiites or just Kurds, with the Sunnis not participating. I haven't been able to confirm that that is generally true. Obviously, an effective army and police force would have integrated units with all three sects represented in all units but that, it seems, is not happening.

Here is the way of things in Iraq: Insurgents kill Americans and persons cooperating with the Iraqi government. Americans kill Insurgents. Sunnis kill Shiites. Shiites kill Sunnis. Meanwhile, the Kurds sometimes are involved as the story cited above shows. Who the Insurgents are is not known precisely. There are claims that they are primarily outsiders but I suspect that they are either Sunnis or allied to Sunnis or share with Sunnis the desire that the government not succeed. What this boils down to is that George Bush has managed to put the United States military in the middle of what is a very complex sort of civil war.

The term "civil war" is key here. I may be wrong in using it. What we may have is a system of reprisals. Today, on the front page of my morning paper there is a story on Iraqis getting false IDs so that they can get through fake road checks in which Sunnis or sometimes Shiites are pulled out and killed. While one cannot tell a Sunni from a Shiite by how they look, there are names that can give away the sect they belong to. On page 3 of the paper (page 2 is devoted to brief summaries of stories that can be read elsewhere in the paper, apparently in a bid to compete with the short USA Today stories), the title of a story is "Reprisals continue as Sunnis, Shiites battle with guns, bombs". I see this as a nascent civil war, but other interpretations are possible. It could simply be a Hatfield and McCoy type feud but on a much larger scale that will go back and forth until the participants tire of it.

One thing is clear, the U. S. Military and the Iraqi government, including its army and police force, can do nothing to stop the killings that are going on. The net result is an Iraq in which the average citizen is in much more danger now than when Saddam was in power. Saddam did not go on daily killing sprees in the parts of Iraq we let him control -- don't forget the two no-fly zones that protected the Kurds and Shiites from air attacks, as well as any concerted ground attack. But now, no Sunni or Shiite seems to be safe in Baghdad. It is reminiscent of "the troubles" in Northern Ireland.

George, meanwhile, is trying to create an army and a police force. Good luck with that. To be effective, it must have Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds (who are mostly Sunni, I believe, but not allied with the Sunnis) working together for a common goal -- namely to shut down the civilian armies (militias), including the insurgents, and bring peace to the country. But from time to time reports come out suggesting that the Sunni and Shiite elements in the police force and army help out or even do wet work with their counterparts in the civilian militias. Last November, there was a story about Shiite militia members had infiltrated the police force. A story on this from the LA Times started off saying:
BAGHDAD — Shiite Muslim militia members have infiltrated Iraq's police force and are carrying out sectarian killings under the color of law, according to documents and scores of interviews.

The abuses raise the specter of organized retaliation to attacks by Sunni-led insurgents that have killed thousands of Shiites, who endured decades of subjugation under Saddam Hussein.
I don't know how you regard what is going on in Iraq. I have believed from before Bush invaded Iraq that a civil war was inevitable -- that the Kurds, always desirous of a Kurdish state, would fight to stay independent of the rest of Iraq, and that the Shiites would take control over what was left, and that the Sunnis would pay for past injustices done to Shiites. Is it a nascent civil war or a blood feud that the participants will some day tire of as the country gradually becomes a full-fledged democracy? It can't yet be a full blown civil war until we leave.

My pre-war worst case scenario was that Shiite fundamentalist Iraq would ultimately emerge. I think that is much more likely than that a functioning democracy emerges. What do you think?

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Devil Made Me Do It

The comedian, Flip Wilson. popularized the expression, "The Devil made me do it," said while in the guise of his female alter ego "Geraldine." This is the view that some leaders or nations take to justify military actions. They represent themselves as being is forced by events not under their control to do things that they would otherwise not want to do. Today in my morning paper, the headline for a story on the invasion of Gaza by Israel read "Palestinian rockets pull tanks into Gaza." This use of "pull" suggests a direct causal relationship, unmediated by any thought by Israel's leaders, between rockets being sent into Israel by Hamas soldiers and the tanks rolling into Gaza." The Devil Rockets made Israel's otherwise well-behaved tanks to start rolling into Gaza.

I don't mean to be passing judgment on Israel's actions but rather to comment on the language used in the headline which Israel is not responsible for. A classic example of this deflection of blame for one's actions is neatly captured in a near-legendaryphrase in the passage:
1998 marks one-hundred years since the explosion aboard the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor that triggered the Spanish-American War.
I found this quote at The World Socialist Web site using the search terms "bombing of the Maine triggered" trying to find the particular linguistic construction "X triggered Y." It seems that the verb phrase "triggered the Spanish-American War" and "sparked the Spanish-American War" (a common alternative -- check the World Library Journal's comments at Amazon.com) have become frozen for all time.

William R. Hearst is represented in some quarters as the architect of the Spanish-American War. If you can believe the Sparknotes account of his battle with Joseph Pulitzer for circulation of their respective New York Newspapers, Hearst exploited "Yellow Journalism" to gain subscribers. In the process he allegedly used his power to help stir up the people in support of the U. S.'s going to war with Spain over Cuba. The artist Frederic Remington went to Cuba at Hearst's behest to provide pictures he hoped would help him sell newspapers. According to this site,
[Frederic] Remington reported back to Hearst that the rumors were overblown. To this, Hearst famously replied, "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."
The essential linguistic point is that countries are presented by their leaders and the press through their linguistic choices as something like bombs that outside forces must set off before they will explode, i. e., take action.

While preparing my book on The Language of Politics, I ran across a July 11, 1093 issue of U. S. News and World Report that did its best to pound the drums of war by way of helping to promote Ronald Reagan's initiating a war against Nicaragua. One passage in the set of stories devoted to Nicaragua is priceless.
No one in Washington wants to send Americans to war. But events in the region could force Reagan's hand.
This is a classic instance of "The Devil made me do it." In language very similar to the headline that prompted this blog, the article said
A rush of developments in the first days of summer rekindled fears that U. S. military forces could be drawn into combat in Central America.
So, Israeli tanks are pulled and U. S. military forces are drawn into combat. Note also the sense of urgency of this passage (due to "rush"). The article later told of events that could
... compel Reagan to resolve the apparent inconsistency in his policy
and events that could
trigger greater U. S. involvement, perhaps even participation [in the guerilla war in Nicaragua]
The magazine goes on to say that
... events on the ground are forcing [Reagan] to expand the role of the United States
Sentence after sentence represent Reagan as having little or no freedom of action. Only the bad guys have freedom of action. This is how every free nation goes to war.

This was clearly true of George Bush's invasion of Afghanistan, an effort I applauded, and his invasion of Iraq, an effort I deplored. In both cases we had a devil and in both cases Bush represented himself as being forced to act. This goes back to a fundamental American myth, namely that we are a peace loving nation that goes to war only when we are forced to. Lyndon Johnson phrased our actions in Vietnam in this way. And Reagandid so during his Presidency as well.

Generally speaking, Presidents paint the enemy in extremely negative terms. Reagan called the Soviet Union "The Evil Empire" and more recently George Bush referred to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea "The Axis of Evil," borrowing language from WWII ("The Axis" consisting of Germany, Italy, and Japan) and Reagan. Since then we have gone to war in Iraq and are at loggerheads with Iran and North Korea. It is, of course, their fault, not ours since other nations force our hand. The USA is, of course, not the only nation that uses "the devil made me do it" rationale to defend its actions. It seems built into the human psyche. It is, of course, important therefore to listen carefully to what Presidents say and how syncophantic reporters write and talk so as not to be taken in by this devil made me do it defense of indefensible actions.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

"Hey, Fatso" and Political Correctness

I saw in my Columbus Dispatch this morning that doctors are vexed as to how to break it to those that are obese that they are obese. It seems that the government, at least the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the famous "CDC)," prefer "at risk of being overweight" for fat kids and "overweight" for obese kids. Their concern is that there is a stigma attached to the term "obese." Yo, CDC, there is a stigma attached to looking either fat or obese. I gather that the CDC sees using well-understood terms like "obese" and "morbidly obese" is piling on. There are doctors who are concerned that pussy-footing around the issue by using euphemisms is not medically helpful but are concerned with pissing off the kids and their parents.

Doctors are right to worry about what they say to obese and morbidly obese people. A cousin of mine who is a cardiovascular surgeon who dabbles with veins in other parts of the body once told a patient who was so obese she had to sleep in a chair the truth and this person threatened to sue. I don't think anything came of it but pissing patients off by telling them the truth about their weight issues is something to be concerned about.

Back when I did my research on advertising I ran across a study showing that the more negative the advertising was against cigarette smoking, the less effective it was. I believe this research has real merit for highly negative advertising can evoke people's defenses -- "Hey, I just like the taste of cigarettes" or Hey,I like myself just the way I am (i. e., fat)." The same would be true, I think, of using language with highly negative connotations in describing or characterizing a patient to the patient or his or her parent. I am not fond of political correctness but I am also not fond of overly direct, highly negative, insulting ways of referring to people.

What's the solution to this? I actually have one, learned from years of bing overweight to one degree or another for much if not most of my adult life. Here is what I would suggest doctors say to kids and adults about being overweight. I would not even say that they are overweight. I would say this (the numbers are made up by me and are for illustrative purposes only):
In your present condition at your your age, you have
an 28% chance of contracting sleep apnea
a 35% chance of contracting acid reflux
an 8$ chance of contracting glaucoma
a 65% chance of contracting high blood pressure
a 35% chance of having obstructed blood vessels in your body in some artery
a 32% chance of heart disease
a 40% chance of contracting Type II diabetes
a 6% chance of having spinal issues that could affect your ability to walk with ease
etc. Of course, should this condition persist, the odds will increase that you will contract these diseases, some of which seem to come in clusters.
I do not have heart disease or diabetes but I do have somewhat occluded carotid arteries. I do have all the other conditions or am being treated prophylactically (no glaucoma but have been treated for it prphylactically for probably 25-30 years). I would also say, "Here is a list of the names of these diseases. I want you to go home and search the internet for them at verybadthings.com and come back to me in one week for a discussion of how we can work together to avoid these things."

If the person doesn't immediately ask, "Why might I get these things?" don't worry. They already know. If they don't come back then they aren't ready to be helped.

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