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Thought for the Day

"Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts."

For full details, see this paper ("A False Sense of Insecurity (PDF)", John Mueller, Ohio State University.)

This is nothing new. Here in the UK we've lived through 30 years of terrorist insurgency in Northern Ireland; it only ended recently, and it claimed 3000 lives — a per-capita death rate for the UK roughly five to six times higher than 9/11 (for the UK as a whole — it's much higher if you consider only Northern Ireland). Guess what? More people died in car accidents in NI during the Troubles than in the Troubles themselves.

It used to be said that patriotism was the first resort of the scoundrel. Now terror-mongering is giving it a close run for its money. When someone tries to scare you, the first question you should ask is "who benefits?" Al Qaida and their friends carry out terrorist actsin order to terrorise you, with a specific political agenda in mind. Why are the US and UK governments trying to do the terrorists jobs for them? And what is their fear-facilitated agenda?

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1:

Answer: ID cards and the power to shut anyone up who disagrees with them.

2:

This whole situation is so damn depressing. I've never been sure who could be trusted to tell the truth - the government of my country, the governments of other countries, the media, anyone - and certainty is becoming more fleeting the older I get, as the whole damn planet trundles to hell in a handcart. I think I now understand how people end up in schizophrenic wards.

Is there any hope of people seeing past the simplistic reduction of every situation to black-and-white ethical binaries? There are no simple answers to anything, but the more complex these situations get the more polarised the polemic gets. The sooner Liftport finish their space elevator and I can get my arse off this planet and into the asteroid belt, the happier a man I'll be. I despair of my own species, at the same time as most of them are despairing of what they see as my vacillation and pluralist hand-waving.

I am aware there are no rocks left to hide under. I just wish I could make everyone else see it too. I also wish I could make them realise that the people who make the decisions that end up killing people never seem to die themselves. Our real enemies are surely the politicians and ideologues on both sides, but still we all dance at the end of their strings.

Sorry for the rant; I've been holding it in at work all day, and I had to tell someone who I thought might at least understand I'm not a traitor to 'my country'. The blogosphere - last refuge of the unpopular opinion.

3:

Neal: ID Cards are just another symptom.

But if I said what I really thought, (a) I'd get RSI, and (b) people would be commending me for the cut of my tin-foil hat.

AA: Yup, I agree with you. And, by the way, on the flight home I was reading the manuscript of Ken MacLeod's next novel, "The Execution Channel". Which starts off as a near-future technothriller and talks about exactly this sort of thing. I suspect you'll like it a lot (and I'll blog about it in due course: summary -- it's Ken's best novel to date, and it's going to be controversial).

4:

The best way to minimize the impact and threat of terrorism is through the de-centralization of power, not through military force.

5:

What Anonymous said is right, albeit a bit abbreviated.

In particular, decentralization of sovreignty tends to be an overlooked but vital tool in defusing confrontations that lead to terrorist tactics being deployed by one side or the other.

I'm not convinced that democracy is a viable form of government for nations with >5 million citizens. It permits too many disaffected 1% factions to feel they're left out of decision-making. And as for the (cough, splutter) New World Order, post 1989, that's just Imperialism 1.0 with brass knobs on.

6:

The level of effective government is the key - if you don't know (or at least have the chance to know) your representative at the level which can actually make a difference to your life, then the system is breaking down. I like the 5m figure - it feels about right - a few hundred national reps, each accounting for 20-25,000, with 50-100 local reps, each accounting for a few hundred people. That would be a lot of bureaucracy, but at least you'd be represented by someone who'd have a fighting chance of knowing your name and the feel of their constituency.

The UK's 60m is probably one level too high. My local borough councillor lives in the area, I could probably attempt to influence him if I thought it would make a difference. My London Assembly member would be pointless and my MP is a minor member of the opposition. Who stands up for me?

Plebiscites are the only answer. Mind you, I'm not sure I trust the electorate.

7:

Hear hear on the post, and I'd actually love to hear your longer thoughts on the subject of the fear-facilitating agenda, Mr Stross, tinfoil be damned. But I understand you not wanting to get RSI.

8:


I just posted rather at length yesterday about this on my blog. Key points: Governmental orgs cannot be built to with stand the rate of change society places on them. As the org ages, it becomes both brittle in it's application of power and on the ethics on which the org was built upon.

And then there's a bunch of theistic f*cktards that "believe" they are right and the end justifies the means.

Oh, yeah, ID cards are shite.

9:

Oh, so looking forward to Ken's next one - more so now. But just as well you got home on Wednesday or you might have had armed police pointing guns at you and yelling "drop that dangerous book and back away from it". Deadly terrorist weapons books and magazines, apparently. I had totally forgotten about all those TWA planes skyjacked by Arab terrorists during the 70s using rolled up magazines and bestselling paperbacks.

10:

Past experience of terrorism in Europe show that

A) Terrorist groups are eventually destroyed or self-destruct

B) They can't win in a society as stable and coherent as ours.

As for religion as the driving motor of violent fanaticism... we've had much, much worse religious wars in Europe (such as the British Civil War, or the 60 Years War). This one is tiny by comparison.

And personally I think religious extremism is defeated just as much by the force of ideas as physical force -- if not more.

The war of ideas started by Charles Darwin is not over yet.

11:

Recent research indicates that people at a pre-state level of organization had a far higher incidence of collective violence than we do -- that 25% of males and at least 5% of females were killed rather than dying of natural causes, and that this persisted year in and year out for millenia. Civilization means bigger wars but at much longer intervals with peace in between.

Government is a force-concentration mechanism, and a very effective one; that's why we live in a world dominated by a small number of large states. They ate their competitors. This is probably a very good thing -- see above.

Areas with lots of small sovereignties also tend to have lots of wars.

12:

And I can just see the reaction if the government said:

"Oh, 10 planes blown up... that's nothing compared to London's traffic accidents. All you people, stop blubbering and take it in your stride."

Political violence is not the same sort of thing as heart attacks and train derailments. People don't react to that sort of risk in the same way, nor should they be expected to do so.

13:

AA: Yup, I agree with you. And, by the way, on the flight home I was reading the manuscript of Ken MacLeod's next novel, "The Execution Channel". Which starts off as a near-future technothriller and talks about exactly this sort of thing. I suspect you'll like it a lot (and I'll blog about it in due course: summary -- it's Ken's best novel to date, and it's going to be controversial).

B'stard! Don't say things like this without giving us an indication of when we can get our grubby little hands on it ourselves!

14:

Is it real or is the announcement a cover for somethng else?

If (Blair still on holiday) then

else

15:

I was born in the late sixties and remember sponsored terrorism. Not in my own country, I'm Scottish. The pots were passed in the the pubs here to help the "Irish Brethren". Over the seas, Americans helped the cause. People died. I didn't give them any money - these people had absolutley nothing to do with me, did they? I knew people that died in Ireland, not for their political beliefs but because of which side they chose to be on.

Would it be very glib of me to say: "Protestant" vs "Catholic", cf "Christian" vs "Muslim". Is it East vs West or one form af absolutism vs another?


16:

I've been listening to the radio off and on since 11am today. Charlie, just try and get on a plane in the UK today or any time soon.

Pat from Albuquerque - who'd now sooner drive all over the cruddiest back roads through the most isolated territory, rather than fly.

Even with gas (petrol) at $3.10 per gallon (~

17:

Hey Charles. Take a look at Alex Jones' latest movie on google video. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5948263607579389947&q=terrorstorm

you'll be trading in your tin foil hat for a tinfoil full body condom...

18:

People don't react rationally to fear, that's why terrorism has the effect it does.

For example, every year the various news outlets here in the states report on "Shark Attacks!" It was especially bad in Florida, where the attacks usually occur. Maybe two or three people would get attacked, and there would be weeks of special reports on it. I've had people here in Connecticut quite seriously tell me they wouldn't swim off Florida beaches because of the sharks. This despite there being probably over 100 million individual visits to the beachs by tourists and Florida residents each year, and maybe a handful of shark attacks. You're in more danger of falling in your bathtub and hitting your head and dying that way, but people still worry.

As a result of this sort of irrational fear, the air traffic of serveral of the world's richest and most powerful nations is thrown into chaos because of a sudden fear of liquids.

19:

I've been listening to the radio off and on since 11am today. Charlie, just try and get on a plane in the UK today or any time soon.

It's not just the UK -- my sister is stuck in Memphis right now, 1000 miles from the Atlantic because of this. Both her flight from Memphis to Atlanta and the flight from Atlanta to New York were cancelled.

Interestingly, at the airport they made her get rid of her chapstick and some barbeque sauce she was bringing back, but not her bottles of shampoo and conditioner. How's that for thorough security?

20:

"Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts."

Yes, but, I can reduce my chances of dying from lightning strike by staying indoors during a thunderstorm, and I can avoid anaphalatic (sp?) shock by not eating peanut-products, and so on; how, exactly, do I avoid getting ventilated by an individual who says I must believe as he does--or die? I can only think of few, and I will not convert, nor will I go gently into that good night. The remaining pool of options is decidedly shallow.

21:

Follow the money: oil, weapons, and troop support.

After the Cold War, it only took the military-industrial complex 12 years to take over my country (U.S.) and put their puppets in office.

Now we have a "war" going that will never end.

And their profits will also never end.

22:

Steve S: Areas with lots of small sovereignties also tend to have lots of wars. Such as, oh, those United States of America you live in? (300M people, 50 states, average of 6M people per state.) Or the EU, for that matter?

As you yourself commented elsewhere, the trend since about 1850 has been for warfare to become a capital-intensive activity. Small states are mostly priced out of the game. (The glaring exception is Israel, but the Israeli military is currently the beneficiary of a huge indirect foreign subsidy.)

Reducing the capital available to would-be warmongering politicians seems like a good idea to me.

23:

Yes but the majority seems to have this 'charmingly' naieve view that elected politicians act in the best interests of the electorate.

An elected politicians ONLY purpose is to stay elected. That is all. If you start filtering what they do and say through that prism then it all becomes clearer.

Also, anyone who says 'I am right and I will not be convinced otherwise' is to my mind, mentally deranged and should be treated as such. Moral absolutes are a symptom of this as much as anything else is.

24:

Dennis, you can always lie. You *say* you're willing to convert for as long as necessary to get away from the maniac and head police-station-wards.

There's no dishonour in lying to a fanatic, nor in lying under duress.

25:

I would recommend a documentary called "Why We Fight."

I don't know if it is readily available in the UK, but Amazon has it.

It's the truth. As far as that goes.

26:

S.M. Stirling:

“Areas with lots of small sovereignties also tend to have lots of wars.��?

You can have a small number of large states but I still see that as an imperfection where the competition doesn't declare a clear winner because the person has to win, not the state as the state is working for the person.
I am more interested in a fluid government system but I think everyone should be allowed to govern themselves, which is very moral as well (personal responsibility). People can come together when and how they want. Within a society like this, the ones that governs irresponsibly get weeded out or just naturally fall into a role that doesn't harm the others;.maybe just do something else.
I would rather have several org leaders, led by one person usually, band together to form larger goals when they want to under ONE flag of humanity; or just the Universe in general.
Large static sovereignties are too powerful and tend to have more unpredictable outcomes and wars. They usually fall allot harder. To me, a large bureaucracy exactly is a bunch of disparate groups. They don't hold well together either in history and tend to be very evil, corrupt internally. I am from the Reagen era when we knocked these types of large walls down.
So I like the WTO or ICANN (the U.S. is giving Internet control over to ICANN next year), they do cover the whole world, yet they only are part of one sub-system needed by humanity or the Universe in general. And still they are usually led in a monarch fashion.

Small Balcanzations have wars but little wars are healthy like a video game or rational argument. We need to widdle it down per person or idea.

Charlie Stross:

I'm interested in the monarchy but on an individual basis. You can't rule with a democracy and no-one ever said that the U.S. or Britain were pure democracies, not even in the Constitution. We elect people and then they rule.. It's kind of like an org does what it wants and you can only influence it through democratic babble, client-side,. like this Blog,:-) We can democrasize you up a wall but you're still King. If we don't like you we just don't come because we don't have access to the controls. It's a perfect competitive market. It works today with orgs and websites because there are so many more monarchs. When people depend on democratic methods on every point of their website or government it slows things way down.

Maybe let Iraq form two countries; Shiite and Sunni. I think Balkanization
would be bad but it's better then a Soviet Union or massive country and I think it could be done .Let the cards fall where they will.

27:

Charlie: Such as, oh, those United States of America you live in? (300M people, 50 states, average of 6M people per state.) Or the EU, for that matter?

Well, the states and tribes in the US aren't really sovereign. There was a war back in the 1860s that settled that issue, more or less. Scotland has more sovereignity than a US state does.

...the trend since about 1850 has been for warfare to become a capital-intensive activity. Small states are mostly priced out of the game...

Reducing the capital available to would-be warmongering politicians seems like a good idea to me.

It's true they've been priced out of fighting with the big-boys, but just look at all the third world nations fighting wars the past 20 years. Far more people have been killed by cheap AK-47s, machetes, and technicals than in wars by the large nations. Weapons like those are laughable, but without someone with tanks and bombers to keep the peace and group with a couple thousand dollars can get started on their own private army.

28:

S.M. Stirling: Large static sovereignties are too powerful and tend to have more unpredictable outcomes and wars. They usually fall allot harder. To me, a large bureaucracy exactly is a bunch of disparate groups. They don't hold well together either in history and tend to be very evil, corrupt internally. I am from the Reagen era when we knocked these types of large walls down.

That's a commonly believed myth about Reagan, espoused especially by his most ardent supporters: That he reduced government.

I fact, the U.S. government grew under Ronald Reagan, especially the federal deficit.

If you're an American small-government, isolationist, fiscal-conservative Republican, then Bill Clinton is the president you should be looking back fondly on.

And thus do we see one reason why American federal politics is so fcuked up.


Small Balcanzations have wars but little wars are healthy like a video game or rational argument.

War is never healthy, especially if you're one of the people stabbed in the gut with a bayonet who takes 24 hours to die in the mud.

29:

One thing suddenly struck me:

The religious extremists who think they can bring the Western world to its knees with a few bombs should really be reading up on their history books.

Not medieval history, that is, but recent history: the United States, Europe and Russia killed a frightening number of each other's populations through not one, but two world wars. Without "weapons of mass destruction." And all three powers survived.

Hasn't it occurred to clowns like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad or Osama bin Laden, that they shouldn't awaken the three beasts that have been sleeping since World War II? Have they any idea of what the combined power of Russia, Europe and the United States could do to their countries? I mean, to hell with the Middle Eastern oil fields as a bargaining chip. Those are not going to last forever, anyway.

The Middle East is doomed in the short and the long run: their oil will run out, oil will be replaced by other energy sources, all the talk about jihad has come to abolutely nothing: they are so utterly and completely done for.

Why should we be scared by terrorism? Al-Qaeda is pathetic. Its aims are pathetic. Its threats are pathetic. Its "fighters" are pathetic.

Even if, by some unlikely turn of events, Islamistic terrorists got their hands on an atom bomb, this would only worsen their defeat -- because any of the three greater nuclear powers would respond by nuking their cities.

In the long run, the outcome is already determined.

30:

A.R.Yngve and others, that is why they are terrorists.

The sad fact is that you are right, the outcome is obvious, and, sadly, it is clear that from every single viewpoint, the terrorists have already won.

If you don't believe me, than answer these simple questions:
What is the goal of the terrorists?
Have the terrorists succeeded?
Have our own governments met the goals that the terrorists were trying to achieve?
Have we spent more than the terrorists?
Have we caught all the terrorists?

Hence, the terrorists already won.

They won when the UK started passing anti-terror laws that banned free speach and freedom of association, along with a large part of the religious and racial freedoms, then carried on with 4 more sets of laws that expanded those further. They won when the USA decided that torturing people to find out about acts of terror was a good way to go, and that disappearing people was a good way to get rid of those pesky people who might have disappeared others in the past.

31:

Arron Anon,

Cute, but no. The terrorists have not won. Power-mongers in our governments may well have won, but not the Jihadists. They don't want our governments to oppress us, they want Sharia law to oppress us.

Yngve is right, the terrorists are doomed. This does not mean that "We, The People" are saved, of course.

32:

What the heck is "racial freedoms"??

33:

One of the 24 "terrorists" arrested in the UK has already been released with no charges to be laid, another is up for hearing on Monday and may be released then. Sounding familiar? Air travel all around the world is in chaos, particularly in US and UK, terrorist threat levels are at highest, police and security everywhere - yet both Tony Blair and GWB are still on vacation! Imminent threat? I think not...

34:

Dennis, you can always lie. You *say* you're willing to convert for as long as necessary to get away from the maniac and head police-station-wards.

There's no dishonour in lying to a fanatic, nor in lying under duress.

Not an option. I will never live such a lie. Better my head decorating a pike-point than to live as such.

35:

Charlie: Such as, oh, those United States of America you live in? (300M people, 50 states, average of 6M people per state.)

-- the States of the Union are not sovereign, Charlie; only the Federal government is. The ability to make war is one of the basic defining features of a sovereign country. Last time I looked, Virginia and Ohio weren't mixing it up much... 8-).

That's why "Big Empires" are on the whole a good thing. They remove local groups' ability to cut each other's throats.

The low-level war of all against all (or every village against its neighbor, a la New Guinea highlands) is the natural and primordial state of human kind. That is much worse than the occasional big wars of big countries.

When an empire breaks up, the first thing that happens is generally that all the groups which have hated each other for generations get out their knives and go at it.

>Reducing the capital available to would-be warmongering politicians seems like a good idea to me.

-- capital-intensive warfare is only one form of this ancient human pastime.

The alternative to the occasional big wars with fancy tools is not peace; it's Somalia or Rwanda or Darfur, where they do things the old-fashioned labor-intensive way.

War can be limited and ameliorated, but not abolished. That's why the traditional Laws of War are neutral and don't distinguish between 'defenders' and 'attackers' or good guys and bad guys.

36:

The purpose of the terrorists is to get the rest of the world to let them impose their will on their local governments. It's not happening right now.

Let's look again in 20 years. That's the scale they're looking at. Al Quaida and the other terrorist groups are looking at the insurrections that occurred in the European colonies that ended with those colonies receiving self rule (sort of).

They now want to be the rulers and the biggest obstacles they see are foreign intervention and motivation of their supporters. They can effect both with terrorist acts. The foreign powers are placed in a financial drain fighting a nebulous force, and the supporters see them achieving something.

Most of the local activists are, like all such participants, not thinking. They are reacting to their own personal grievances that have attached themselves to the larger issue.

The side effects on our governments are unintentional. They really don't care.

Plato's Sequence of Government
Monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, dictatorship, and monarchary.

I think we're still in there and I really prefer a traditional Monarchy to a new one imposed with considerably more bloodshed.

37:

Terrorism in the Islamic world has two purposes:

One is to become enough of an expense and painful enough that the target of terrorism simply wants to give them what they want and go away. It worked in Afghanistan against the Soviets, and now it's happening again in Iraq against the U.S., and looks likely to succeed there too.

Another purpose is to win world sympathy. That's counter-intuitive, but it worked for the Palestinians. Forty years ago, they were an obscure, minority ethnic group inside Israel and in neighboring territories; now they're a global cause and they've made Israel look like bad guys to many Europeans and Americans.

I have no idea how the Palestinian/Israeli conflict will work out, except for one word: Badly. The Israelis are willing to compromise, but the Palestinians are not--the only choice the Israelis have are to be exterminated, exterminate the enemy or--the one they've been pursuing since the formation of the country--fight hard enough to keep the enemy at bay, and hope for a miracle.

38:

Mitch Wagner:

"Small Balcanzations have wars but little wars are healthy like a video game or rational argument."

War is never healthy, especially if you're one of the people stabbed in the gut with a bayonet who takes 24 hours to die in the mud.

I meant that playing a video game or a more constructive non violent way to solve arguments is readily available for the masses today (but is it?) in the form of technology and social connection. Where do you see all the major conflicts happening for the most part; places where there isn't many computers or communications.
It's amazing I don't really read paper stuff that much, when I argue with you guys I just look at the Wikipedia. I remember in 1986 my family bought an Encyclopedia Britannica collection and since I am such an avid researcher by nature, I thought I would be able to easily read the whole collection and know everything or have a good foundation at least. Now with online encyclos I am up to date by the moment so the arguments tend to wind down in a few hours instead of accumulated anger that just might evolve into a real physical war.
Anyway I think that ICANN owning the Internet will do allot of good for us all because it wont be U.S. biased. There are people right now complaining about Wikipedia but cant do much about it because of the U.S. hold as well as spying etc.

S.M. Stirling:

Also I wanted to say that 'back den' populating size was so much smaller per country size until the fall of the Roman Empire. The British empire was large but based on colonies right(?), leading to WW1.

39:

Also I wanted to say that 'back den' populating size was so much smaller per country size until the fall of the Roman Empire. The British empire was large but based on colonies right(?), leading to WW1.

Well, England's population dropped quite a lot after the fall of Rome. It was about 4 million or so under Roman rule, but in 1066 it was only about 1.1 million (and had a large influx of German and Scandinavian genes during that time).

It wasn't until the 16th century that it got back up to Roman level, at about 4.5 million in 1550. Population grow was still pretty slow, it took about 250 years to double in size until it was around 9 million people in 1800. It took only about 60 years to double after that to 18.7 million in 1861. After that it slowed down again and took 70 years to double, until a population of 37 million in 1931. It's only gotten up to about 50 million today.

40:

Yes, by all means, it will be wonderful to wrest the Internet from the hands of those censoring Americans, and give control of it to open regimes such as Libya and China.

41:

And yeah, the boogeyman really is under the bed, and in the closet. Islamic terrorists exist. And they are not a threat of the minor (outside Ulster) Provo level; hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people in the Muslim world approve of them. Not a majority, though they are a majority in some areas, but Salafists and their ilk are a very strong and probably growing minority among a quarter of the human race.

A lot of British Muslims incline that way, too, and more approve of their aims if not always of their methods. This support is stronger among the younger element, so the problem is going to get steadily worse, not better.

OBL would probably win a free election in Saudi Arabia; he's quite right that only cowardice and corruption among the Saudi princes prevents them from following his line.

Hamas (with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its charter) _did_ win an open election among the Palestinians. (A majority of Arabs worldwide believe 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy, which gives you a general idea of their worldview.)

Take these people at their word and do not underestimate them. They're not kidding. The ideology is not a disguise for "real", rational, grievances. Or economics, or whatever. It means exactly what they say it means. These people are in a different cognitive universe and no meeting of minds is possible.

They really do want to impose a global Caliphate. They really do want to kill all the Jews and/or impose dhimmitude on everyone. They really, really do hate us and despise us and want to kill us, basically because we're on top and they want to be.

They really, really do think God has commanded them to do this and will ensure that they win. They believe it right down to the bottom of their souls and in Islamic terms they have abundant justification for doing so; it's right there in the foundational documents of the religion.

The fact that they're generally speaking hopeless numbnuts when it comes to actually doing this stuff is not much consolation.

They tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1994, and failed spectacularly. They kept trying until they did it.

They tried the multiple-aircraft bombing with liquid explosives in the early 90's, too. They'll keep trying to do that, as well.

Eventually they'll get lucky or our security will screw up; then they'll do it and thousands upon thousands will die.

Eventually they will get a nuclear weapon, and they'll use it and hundreds of thousands or millions will die.

Eventually they'll get smallpox (probably genetically tweaked) or something of that nature and they will use that, too.

They're not going to stop and short of unconditional surrender nothing we say or do will alter their intentions at all. They're immune to anything but death and that doesn't much deter the ones who survive.

There's a lot of denial about this, because the implications are fairly grisly. The implications don't make it any less true, however.

42:

S.M. Stirling, are you arguing that the modern West's critical weakness is that it lacks the Härte to exterminate 1500 million Muslims?

43:

Steve, they already have nuclear weapons.

(Had Pakistan slipped your memory?)

44:

(Had Pakistan slipped your memory?)

I read him as saying the terrorists will eventually get nuclear weapons, not just Muslim states. For the time being, at least, Pakistan is unwilling to help the terrorists that much. They have more to lose. They'd be unhappy, I think, if we decided they needed to be disarmed then let in a bunch of Indian "peacekeepers" to make sure they didn't try anything.

45:

The word "terrorist" is so loaded that I'd really like to ban it from my blog.

Remember the Nazis used to use it to describe the French resistance? (And quite accurately too, given their tactics.) As a label for a type of warfare it's not terribly useful, and as a label for specific groups it's even less useful.

46:

Fair enough... Islamists would be more accurate, since we're not really talking about Tamil Tigers or drug cartels and militias down in South America that use terrorist tactics.

47:

The religious extremists who think they can bring the Western world to its knees with a few bombs should really be reading up on their history books. [...] Hasn't it occurred to clowns like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad or Osama bin Laden, that they shouldn't awaken the three beasts that have been sleeping since World War II?

I wish people would learn to distinguish Western propaganda from reality.

Osama bin Laden is a person with a distinct agenda, that of bringing down the House of Saud and imposing a "pure" Islamis regime in Saudi Arabia. Having successfully led in Afghanistan, he is a hero to millions of Muslims, and probably more popular in Saudi Arabia than the Sauds (although his star is fading elsewhere). As part of this agenda, he has inflicted mass civilian damage on Western countries, and can rightfully be called a terrorist - but his aim is not to "bring the Western world to its knees".

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an elected leader of a sovereign nation, Iran. This nation has not attacked anyone since the revolution. It is currently under pressure from the US for funding terrorist organisations in Lebanon which attack Israel (Israel also funding terrorist organisations)and for apparently wanting to obtain nuclear weapons (the US also having nuclear weapons). In no real sense can he be termed a "terrorist".

48:

[Dennis Mahon] Yes, but, I can reduce my chances of dying from lightning strike by staying indoors during a thunderstorm, and I can avoid anaphalatic (sp?) shock by not eating peanut-products, and so on; how, exactly, do I avoid getting ventilated by an individual who …

and how, exactly, do I avoid getting smashed to pulp by some motorist ? Yes, there are causes of death we can do something about (and you can avoid being in an air disaster by not flying, for that matter) but the ones outside our control aren't all down to people intent on harming us.

People (with a big helping hand from the media) pay more attention to "intentional" harm (that is, harm resulting from an action embarked on in order to cause harm) than to "accidental" harm (such as the motorists' collective certainty of killing several people today, in the course of actions embarked on with other ends in mind). There is some sense to this – by paying disproportionate attention to wilful harm, we've (collectively, as a culture) greatly reduced the amount of intentional harm by ensuring that those contemplating it have reasonable expectations of repayment in kind. However, that strategy only affects some potential assailants: it doesn't work on psychotics and it is actively counterproductive when applied to those who yearn for martyrdom.

Our politicians and journalists, by exaggerating the significance of intended harm, are stretching a strategy which has worked in one context into another. At best, they are being slow to adapt to new problems. However, in practice, it actively serves their immediate interests to be sensational. Journalists sell more newspapers that way and politicians have lots of scope for "something must be done", that perennial excuse for doing stuff they had in mind anyway (e.g. invading Iraq, which Bush &co. clearly had in mind well before 7/11) by dressing that stuff up as having something to do with the problem about which "something must be done".

The beauty of this, from a terrorist's point of view, is that he can rely on the "leaders" of his enemy to do his real work for him. All he can do is kill an embarrassingly small number of people; but our journalists and politicians can be relied on to seize on this and belabour us with it until they have us utterly terrified.

[Mitch Wagner] Terrorism in the Islamic world has two purposes:

  • One is to become enough of an expense and painful enough that the target of terrorism simply wants to give them what they want and go away. It worked in Afghanistan against the Soviets, and now it's happening again in Iraq against the U.S., and looks likely to succeed there too.
  • Another purpose is to win world sympathy. That's counter-intuitive, but it worked for the Palestinians. Forty years ago, they were an obscure, minority ethnic group inside Israel and in neighboring territories; now they're a global cause and they've made Israel look like bad guys to many Europeans and Americans.

If that's all their aims are, they're not terrorists: the above is simply a plain description of how to wage a guerrilla resistance. When you don't have the might to overcome your enemy in direct confrontation, make the cost (financial, human, any other way you can) of his intrusion into your land prohibitive. In the process, boost the morale of those who support you by scoring highly visible hits, even if only of symbolic value, against your enemy.

A terrorist's objective is to terrify people into giving him what he wants. A terrorist government kicks in your dissident neighbour's door at 4am so that you know to keep your nose down and your mouth shut. A non-government terrorist kills random civilians in hope that the general population shall pressure the government into giving in to some demands. A would-be-government terrorist targets those who participate in government programs which would, if successful, lay the foundations for resistance to his rise to power.

The difference between a guerrilla and a terrorist can be hard to tell, particularly as their methods are (at least at first sight) so simillar. What the guerrilla does to give heart to supporters is certain to be described by the authorities in exactly such terms as to disguise any difference from what the terrorist does to cause dismay among his opponents. Yet the terrorist's aim is to cause the most ghastly harm to enough people to get attention, where the guerrilla is more selective about who gets hurt and more concerned to see those few certainly dead than to turn them, as the terrorist yearns to do, into gruesome warnings of what he could do to you.

When the main difference between the two depends so plainly on their intent, it is no surprise that anyone described by some as a terrorist generally portrays himself as a guerrilla fighting for the good of his People; and it is equally to be expected that every guerrilla is condemned as a terrorist by the authorities and their friends.

As to the goals and aims of Al Qaida, I know that I don't know. Mr. Bush assures us that they hate us for our freedom: but I suspect they are far more concerned with how the Middle East is governed and by whom; I should not at all be surprised if they care as little about our freedom as they do about our lives. In the mean time, Messrs. Bush and Blair have done more to undermine our freedom than Osama bin Laden.

[Speaking of Our Tony, I recently injured my back (not so badly it isn't getting better on its own, I'm glad to say); which lead me to ask some colleagues, the other day, whether anyone had a spare spine they could lend me until mine stopped hurting. A young wag promptly replied that perhaps I should ask Mr. Blair, as he doesn't seem to be using his at the moment.]

I have no idea how the Palestinian/Israeli conflict will work out, except for one word: Badly. The Israelis are willing to compromise, but the Palestinians are not--the only choice the Israelis have are to be exterminated, exterminate the enemy or--the one they've been pursuing since the formation of the country--fight hard enough to keep the enemy at bay, and hope for a miracle.

I confess your prognosis (it'll work out badly) is disturbingly plausible. As to who's willing to compromise, I suspect you'll find plenty of folk on both sides eager to find a peaceful resolution of the mess: but referring to "the Israilis" and "the Palestinians" as if each group was of one mind is a hopeless over-simplification. Each side also seems to have its intransigents; and these know how to get their way. We saw it in Ireland plainly enough: persuade the world to see a split between Us and Them; then when Their thugs beat up one of Us, Our thugs get more recruits to go and beat Them up. The men of violence on both sides thus work hand in hand to feed one another recruits and widen the divide between their peoples, each butchering the other's innocents.

When the world can see the men of violence as a single Them, regardless of Their loudly announced mutual antipathies, then perhaps we'll have some hope of working out, between us, how to settle our differences and deal with the most pressing problem – the men of violence.

49:

Eddy, I quite agree that the Palestinians and the Israelis both have reasonable people on their side who want peace and are willing to negotiate--and compromise--for it.

And that both sides have extremists who will settle for nothing other than the utter extermination of the enemy.

The difference is this: For the Palestinians, the extremists are running things. For the Israelis, they're an influential minority.

That's a subtle difference, but it's all the difference in the world.

50:

The difference is this: For the Palestinians, the extremists are running things. For the Israelis, they're an influential minority.

And yet, the Palestinians are getting more and more squeezed year by year...

51:

I would argue that al-Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks to enrage America and draw in into wars in the Middle East. This benefits al-Qaeda both by destroying and/or discrediting the two-bit secular dictators (like Saddam, Ghaddafi, Mubarak etc) which are al-Qaeda's "near enemies" and by uniting the world's Muslim behind an anti-American banner. Al-Qaeda's plan is that the Americans will eventually be defeated by guerilla resistance, and then it will be able to establish a new Caliphate in the ruins.

52:

Mitch: the extremists have been running the show in Israel for a long time now. This doesn't exculpate the Palestinians, but it's definitely a case of "a plague on both your houses" as far as I'm concerned.

(Hint: on the basis of my ethnicity I'm eligible for an Israeli passport any time I feel like filling out a few forms -- and I wouldn't even have to do military service: my health's such that I'd get a medical exemption for sure. One of these days I probably ought to post about the teenage zionist youth leadership course I went on, and why it backfired so badly in my case.)

53:

Charlie - Up until the latest war in Lebanon, I would have said that the extremists were not running the show in Israel, that Israel was responding in a measured fashion to Palestinian terrorism.

But the latest war in Lebanon leads me to wonder whether Israel has decided that terrorism is the only option for its own survival. Which would be a terrible thing.

I wonder if there is any way to fight terrorism other than terrorism in return--doing what Israel did in Lebanon, and what has been standard military practice throughout history.

That which we call terrorism today has been a standard component of war throughout history. It was even known by that name, in the U.S. and (IIRC) Europe. Prior to World War II, the War Department had some smart people studying terrorism--not how to fight it, but rather how to do it.

The bombing of Dresden, and use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and especially Nagasaki were, arguably terrorism.

54:

Charlie: The word "terrorist" is so loaded that I'd really like to ban it from my blog.

-- I didn't say "terrorist", I said "Islamic terrorist". If you want to say "Islamist", that's fine with me.

55:

Tony Q: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an elected leader of a sovereign nation, Iran.

-- Iran has "elections", not elections. As in the "democracy" of a "People's Democracy".

"and for apparently wanting to obtain nuclear weapons (the US also having nuclear weapons)."

-- the US has not, to my knowledge, expressed a desire to kill all the Jews nor has it convened an officially supported Holocaust-denial conference.

This is moral equivalence run amok.".

56:

Tony Q: And yet, the Palestinians are getting more and more squeezed year by year...

-- well, no, they aren't. They've been offered statehood on more or less the 1948 lines (slightly less), and they've categorically refuse it and elected a rejectionist, would-be genocidal movement.

The obvious conclusion is that they simply don't want coexistance.

57:

CharlieS: Steve, they already have nuclear weapons. (Had Pakistan slipped your memory?)

-- I said Islamists, not all Muslims. But Pakistan is perennially at risk of falling into the hands of Islamists... who _would_ use the Pakistani nuclear weapons, probably prompting the first nuclear war in which both sides had 'em.

This is a really, really serious problem, Charlie. Wishing it weren't so won't make it go away.

58:

Tony Q: Osama bin Laden is a person with a distinct agenda, that of bringing down the House of Saud and imposing a "pure" Islamis regime in Saudi Arabia.

-- that's one item on his agenda, which is considerably more ambitious than that.

Read his manifesto. And take him at his word.

59:

CharlieS: the extremists have been running the show in Israel for a long time now. This doesn't exculpate the Palestinians, but it's definitely a case of "a plague on both your houses" as far as I'm concerned.

-- Charlie, this is ridiculous. There are extremist parties in Israel and they routinely get thrashed at the polls. All the Israelis want the Arabs to do is stay away and leave them alone.

Which the Arabs most manifestly refuse to do, because they refuse to accept the legitimacy of Jewish statehood.

60:

MitchW: But the latest war in Lebanon leads me to wonder whether Israel has decided that terrorism is the only option for its own survival. Which would be a terrible thing.

-- oh, please. If the Israelis had set out to cause harm to civilians in Lebanon, tens of thousands would have died, rather than less than a thousand.

They took excruciating care -- probably far too much -- to avoid collateral damage.

War kills people, including innocent bystanders. This does not mean that war is terrorism.

61:

I don't have too much time to deal with your... stuff... today, Stirling, but let's just go for the first thing.

-- Iran has "elections", not elections. As in the "democracy" of a "People's Democracy".

Let's see...:

"On May 22 2005, the Council of Guardians, as expected, significantly narrowed the field of candidates [for President] to 6 out of the 1014 persons who filed. [Two reinstated]

[First round results - 69% turnout]
Rafsanjani 21%
Ahmadhinejad 19.5%
Karrubi 17%
Qalibaf 13.8%
Moin 13.77%
Larijani 5.9%
Mehralizadeh 0.438%

[Second round, turnout 47%, Ahmadhinejad 61.8% to Rafsanjani 35.7%]

Now, let's do a comparison:

US Presidential Election 2004 - 42.5% turnout (probably higher, in terms of eligible voters - 64%?):

Bush 50.7% 286 electoral
Kerry 48.3% 251 electoral
Nader 0.4%
Badnarik 0.3%
Peroutka 0.1%
Cobb 0.1%

Bush was elected by 62 million popular votes to lead a country of 298 million (21%). As best I can tell, Ahmadhinejad was elected by 13.6 million popular votes to lead a country of 68.7 million (19.8%).

They limit their field of candidates by an unelected conservative council. You limit yours by money and corporate PACs. And judging by results, there was considerably more candidates actually electable by popular vote.

And you'll note I didn't even bring up the "D" word.

Do you really want to call them a People's Democracy?

62:

Oh, what the hell...

-- the US has not, to my knowledge, expressed a desire to kill all the Jews nor has it convened an officially supported Holocaust-denial conference.

Neither, of course, has Iran.

As regards the President of Iran:

"BLITZER: [...] This is what the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on October 26 at that World Without Zionism conference.

He said, "Israel must be wiped off the map of the world, and god willing, with the force of god behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionists." [...]

BLITZER: Does your support for the removal of Zionism mean you want to see Israel destroyed?

SOLTANIEH: I have already explained to you and reflected to you the policy echoed by our supreme leader.

It means that if in that region, the divine religion followers of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, that all three are very respectful -- and we have Jews in Iran, which are peacefully living and they are represented in our parliament, they are fully respected -- if they come with the Palestinians, homeless Palestinians, to come and through following the democratic process will decide on a government and live in peace as they were living a thousand years of coexistence of these divine religions, Iran will support because we are looking for and we support peaceful settlement of the whole issue and peaceful coexistence of these divine religions in the Middle East. Let's hope for the peace.

BLITZER: But should there be a state of Israel?

SOLTANIEH: I think I've already answered to you. If Israel is a synonym and will give the indication of Zionism mentality, no.

But if you are going to conclude that we have said the people there have to be removed or we they have to be massacred or so, this is fabricated, unfortunate selective approach to what the mentality and policy of Islamic Republic of Iran is. I have to correct, and I did so.

Come on, Steve, you're not even parrotting other people's talking points correctly. Ahmadinejad was talking about Israel; just how stupid do you think we are that we wouldn't notice you morphing that into "kill all the Jews"?

63:

They limit their field of candidates by an unelected conservative council. You limit yours by money and corporate PACs. And judging by results, there was considerably more candidates actually electable by popular vote.

What really limits the number of canidates in the US is our single round, first past the post system of elections.

Probably 40% of the US population are acutally centerist moderates. However, vocal and active minorties to the left and right have succeeded for a long time in pushing through their agendas on the main parties. A good portion of voters aren't voting *for* a candidate, but rather against the other guy.

Most libertarian leaning folks I know, for instance, are voting Republican because they are afraid of Democrat economic policies. A conservative social policy is a small price to pay in their minds for a strong economy. (Though most of them seem disenchanted at the Republicans right now, due to the huge spending spree of the current administration and congress.) It's fear that keeps the two parties in power, fear that if one faction of those parties splits off it means that the other side will win.

You can sort of think of the Democrats and Republicans as permanent coalitions between different groups.

What the US doesn't have, and needs, is a version of the Liberal Democrats in the UK. Though the name would have to be different, of course. :)

64:

Tony Q: Ahmadinejad was talking about Israel; just how stupid do you think we are that we wouldn't notice you morphing that into "kill all the Jews"?

-- because that's exactly what it means, and what he intends it to mean, and what everyone who's listened to what they say in their own languages know it means. Eg., see Hamas statements about Jews buying "airline tickets or coffins".

Except to the really, really credulous.

"Destroying Israel" means destroying the Jews of Israel. End of story. Everyone who denies this, is an accomplice.

I notice you didn't address the Holocaust denial conference.


65:

Tony Q: They limit their field of candidates by an unelected conservative council.

-- and throw the opposition in jail and torture them (not to mention the odd Canadian) and shut down newspapers and so forth.

66:

Criticizing specific Israeli actions is not necessarily evidence of anti-Jewish racism.

Demonizing or trying to delegitimize the State of Israel _is_ such evidence, and this goes without saying.

67:

"are you arguing that the modern West's critical weakness is that it lacks the Härte to exterminate 1500 million Muslims?"

-- no, and please don't try to put words in my mouth.

In point of fact, our critical weakness is wishful thinking about the crack our collective arse is in.

68:

The fact of the matter is that "we are all Israelis now", like it or not.

That is, we're at war, the war will go on indefinitely, and because of the nature of our enemies it will be bloody, merciless, and filthy, fought without restraint and without rules. (Except the Hama rules.)

If we take a step back, they take a step forward. We're not facing an enemy who wants something specific, though they'll gladly take anything specific offered, and then demand more. They want it all and they will not stop. They're unappeasable and reject the very notion of coexistance.

Or to put it another way, they're murderous nihilistic loons.

We're much stronger than they are, of course. Our main disadvantage is that we're complacent and, to be frank, weak-willed in comparison.

Witness the fatal willingness of some to let the other side salami-slice us -- "if only the Israelis would let themselves be slaughtered quietly, the Bad Men would leave us alone".

The brief post-modern vacation from history is over; it's back to the "modern" age.

Understandably (but not creditably) this makes a lot of people very cranky, and they very much wish it wasn't so(*), and throw rocks at the messenger. That doesn't change a thing.

(*) Hell, I wish it wasn't so; but it is.

69:

"However, that strategy only affects some potential assailants: it doesn't work on psychotics and it is actively counterproductive when applied to those who yearn for martyrdom."

-- however, not responding in kind means they redouble their attacks. Weakness invites aggression; this is a universal lesson of history. And of human nature -- which has no history.

The weaker side in a conflict is always tempted to break the rules -- to kick over the table and hope they can substitute sheer willpower and lack of scruple for physical force by tiring the other side out and wearing them down.

This is not something you can avoid; it's simply an unpleasant reality of a world not made to our specifications. War is the only unilateral form of communication; you can refuse to negotiate, refuse to talk, refuse to trade... but you can't refuse to fight.

If people don't care about their own lives, find something they do care about and destroy that.

There's an unfortunate Gresham's Law at work: ruthlessness drives out restraint.

70:

A more general comment: the traditional Western law of war outlawed terrorism and nearly all guerilla warfare.

This was an attempt to limit the natural tendency of all war to escalate into a brutish struggle of extermination.

To be workable, "laws of war" cannot make war impossible if you abide by them; they cannot make it impossible to win, and to secure the fruits of victory. If they _do_ make it impossible to win within the rules, then eventually people will start ignoring the rules, at first in practice and then in theory too.

Hence the traditional "cabinet warfare" of the West: you fight until one side has clearly shown it is stronger, and then the weaker side accepts that it's beaten and asks for terms. Conversely, there are limits (some, not many) on what the victor may demand.

The loser's Foreign Minister sighs, takes a pinch of snuff and hands over the province or the colony or accepts that Prince X gets to be King of Y, and resigns to his country estate. Then we all change partners and dance.

But if one side declares a no-limits, no-rules war, then eventually the other side will do so too, and we're back to extermination as a war aim.

If the physically weaker side tries to substitute willingness to escalate for sheer power, then eventually the side with the superior physical force will do the same... and we're all back where we started, except that war, which is nasty in any form, becomes much nastier.

It's analogous to the willingness of the defeated side in a democracy to accept the result of an election -- even when you're convinced you're the side of Righteousness and Truth, and the other side are Darkness and Evil. You work by the rules, and if the rules mean Darkness and Evil win this time, you accept that.

71:

Andrew G: What the US doesn't have, and needs, is a version of the Liberal Democrats in the UK. Though the name would have to be different, of course. :)

-- in a first-past-the-point system, third parties are irrelevancies at best, spoilers at worst. The UK in particular has had years of government by parties without real majority support, both Tory and Labor, because of third parties.

(And the "United Kingdom" also means that England specifically often gets ruled by an English minority group backed by the majority party in the "Celtic Fringe", but that's a specifically British problem. At least it's not as bad as it was back before the Irish left. I suspect Scottish and Welsh devolution will eventually mean an English Parliament as well, and possibly the breakup of the UK. The English won't put up with the situation forever.)

There's proportional representation, of course, but PR is... ah... not a good system. It invites sectarianism.

It rewards political "splitting" rather than "lumping", induces paralysis, and prevents voters from ever getting a really clear choice. It's also tailor-made for allowing one-issue parties representing small groups of zealots to extort blackmail from the majority.

The results in Europe (and Israel) have been pretty bad. Everything gets fudged when the coalition negotiations get going; the party platforms never mean much.

Central government turns into an endless session of cynical horse-trading, and any measure that's unpopular with any pressure group gets delayed indefinitely. Not to mention the way the 'political class' can get completely out of touch with the electorate -- much of Europe is in that situation now.

First-past-the-post, especially the national variety in the US, force the coalitions to be made _before_ the election, and to be long-term rather than temporary, and so give the voter a clearer idea of what they're going to get.

That is, they force "lumping" rather than "splitting". Nobody ever gets all that they want, but it comes closer than PR could. It also forces parties to at least try to appeal to the whole country -- witness the trouble the Democrats have had in the US since they got locked out of the South. Politics here would be much more polarized and nasty with PR.

72:

What really limits the number of canidates in the US is our single round, first past the post system of elections.

Possibly, although I note the rise of viable (even as spoiler) third parties in Westminster FPP Parliamentry systems (UK as you mentioned, Australia and New Zealand pre MMP). I don't think this is an artifact of parliamentry systems; you don't have viable third parties in Congress.

However, vocal and active minorties to the left and right have succeeded for a long time in pushing through their agendas on the main parties.

Proof, please. The stuff I've seen suggests the "left-wing" of the Democratic party has stayed right where it was, while the Republicans moved "right" and the Democratic party apparatus moved with them.

Most libertarian leaning folks I know, for instance, are voting Republican because they are afraid of Democrat economic policies.

They'd have to be pretty ignorant to do so. What exactly do they fear from the Democrats that's worse than what the Republicans have done? Or are we talking about libertarians in the sense of those who frame the debate "all taxes BAD" rather than "Which tax is worse"?

73:

I'd prefer a different system than first-past-the-post or proportional. Both have weaknesses that outweigh the flaws, to me. As Steve mentioned, PR leads to lots of small factions. I'd also prefer that people were voting for individuals rather than parties. FPP's weakness is that the umbrella parties can become over inclusive, so that you end up with groups that have very little in common. Such as Big-Labor combined with Gay Rights, or Free trade combined with the Religous Right. It's difficult for Religious Labor organizers or globalization promoters who back gay rights and legalized drugs to find a place they're comfortable.

A better system would be a ranked voting system, such as instant-runoff voting. That way people could vote for the Green candidate first and the Democrat second, if that's what they want. And you still have one winner. He may not be the #1 choice of the majority, but at least he's acceptable to it.

74:

TQ: I don't think this is an artifact of parliamentry systems; you don't have viable third parties in Congress.

On second thoughts, I suspect I'm wrong here. The party discipline in parliamentry systems is necessarily tighter; what gets sorted out by argument between parties in parliament gets sorted out by argument between factions within parties and ad-hoc coalitions in Congress. Andrew G is probably closer to the truth on this point.

Stirling: There's proportional representation, of course, but PR is... ah... not a good system. It invites sectarianism.

Uh-huh.

Andrew G: A better system would be a ranked voting system, such as instant-runoff voting.

I voted for STV myself in the referendum, but MMP is working well enough in NZ and in Germany (which, IIRC, was the closest model we used). You might want to consider the Bush vs Gore fiasco or various Congressional shenanigans before passing judgement...

Stirling: [Q: Did you think we wouldn't notice your use of "kill all the Jews"? - A:] because that's exactly what it means, and what he intends it to mean, and what everyone who's listened to what they say in their own languages know it means.

Maurice Motamed.

75:

Andrew G.: "Probably 40% of the US population are acutally centerist moderates. However, vocal and active minorties to the left and right have succeeded for a long time in pushing through their agendas on the main parties."

What are some of the radical, vocal opinions that the radical left have forced on the Democrats, Andrew G.?

For example, that flaming leftie, Hilary Clinton, the demon liberal of the Republican Party, voted for the war in Iraq, opposes gay marriage, and has taken up the banner of protecting the American family against violent video games.

There is no left in the U.S. to speak of, just the Republicans and the Republicans Lite (of course, the formal name of the Republicans Lite is the "Democrats," a quaint throwback to the good old days when they were actually qualitatively different from the Republicans.)

"Most libertarian leaning folks I know, for instance, are voting Republican because they are afraid of Democrat economic policies. A conservative social policy is a small price to pay in their minds for a strong economy."

In the words of Doctor Phil: How's that been working out for you?

Republican administrations increase spending and increase the size of government. You want small government and fiscal responsibility? Vote Democrat.

76:

Stirling: The fact of the matter is that "we are all Israelis now", like it or not.

What do you mean? Israel is built largely on stolen Palestinian land (only 5% of Mandate Palestine was legitimately purchased by the Zionists). The West proper is not, unless you're thinking of Spain and Portugal (and those lands weren't Muslim controlled for over 500 years, and there are no descendants of former Muslim owners who claim those lands as their own, unlike the Palestinian refugees).

Stirling: If we take a step back, they take a step forward. We're not facing an enemy who wants something specific, though they'll gladly take anything specific offered, and then demand more. They want it all and they will not stop. They're unappeasable and reject the very notion of coexistance.

How do you convince people of this to the extent required to engage in a war which would result in hundreds of millions of deaths?

Especially since unlike with Nazism and Japanese imperialism during World War II or Communism during the Cold War, there are no Islamist "captive nations" (ie Muslim-minority countries under Islamist rule). That's why the British almost to a man supported appeasement of Hitler, until Hitler occupied rump-Czechoslovakia in 1939.

Stirling: Eg., see Hamas statements about Jews buying "airline tickets or coffins".

Could you give a cite for this please (and not from a pro-Israel propaganda organization such as MEMRI)?

Stirling: In point of fact, our critical weakness is wishful thinking about the crack our collective arse is in.

If you do not propose extermination as the solution to the Muslim problem, what DO you propose? Forced conversion is out as you yourself have attested to Islamic tenacity in the face of non-Muslim conquest in various Usenet posts.

If Islam itself really is totalitarian in nature, then the only other possibility I see would be to develop alternative energy (so the world no longer needs Muslim oil), expel all Muslims from non-Muslim lands, and then build a wall completely encircling the Muslim lands, protected by guards with orders to shoot any Muslim trying to cross it.

77:

Steve: There are extremist parties in Israel and they routinely get thrashed at the polls. All the Israelis want the Arabs to do is stay away and leave them alone.

Which the Arabs most manifestly refuse to do, because they refuse to accept the legitimacy of Jewish statehood.

Unfortunately this ignores the fact that it is possible to be (a) a citizen of Israel, and (b) an Arab. Indeed, there's a large Arab minority there, with representation in the Knesset. (If there wasn't, people would call Israel a racist state with far more justification.)

But the big honking problem for the Zionist project, all along, has been that there is a large ethnic minority within their borders that, were it to be enfranchised and given the vote, would vote Israel into a non-Jewish state. Indeed, back in 1947 the Palestinian Arabs were near-as-dammit 50% of the population of the mandate territory. Therefore the minority had to be either expelled or neutralized if an explicitly Jewish state was to exist.

Both strategies have been pursued -- the West Bank and Gaza Strip were for many years run as Bantustans, on the South African model -- but partition isn't terribly viable in the long term because demographics shift.

Lebanon is interesting because it's a model of a nation where a Moslem and non-Moslem community managed for a long time to live together on a more-or-less democratic basis. It's no surprise that radicals in Israel focussed for many years on schemes to destabilize Lebanon politically, contributing to the civil war of the 70s and then moving the Israeli army in during the 80s (and again today): its mere existence is deeply subversive to the project of building a Jewish state -- it demonstrated the availability of an alternative one-state model -- so it had to go.

Bluntly, democracy and ethnic identity nationalism are incompatible ideologies. Democracy has been losing the argument inside Israel for decades now, as all the major parties agree (as an axiom of their participation in political life) on the necessity for ethnic identity nationalism as a foundation stone for the nation.

And while it pains me to admit this -- I still identify ethnically as Jewish -- I cannot view Israel today other than as a failed attempt at building a democracy, poisoned because the foundations of the building are tainted with racism.

78:

Charlie,
I suspect that Israel is doomed. When/if it goes under, most of the survivors are likely to leave for the USA - which is very unlikely to calm the nerves of the Arab world. In addition, when/if it does go under, the last Israelis will be the true die-hards who I think are very likely to play Samson in the Temple with the IDF's 200 or so Nukes.

79:

What are some of the radical, vocal opinions that the radical left have forced on the Democrats, Andrew G.?

Gay Rights, abortion, living wage, etc. I happen to support those, but there are Democrats who are against them. Remember, the Left in the US would probably be considered moderate over in Europe. They're still to the left of center in the US, however.

For example, that flaming leftie, Hilary Clinton, the demon liberal of the Republican Party, voted for the war in Iraq, opposes gay marriage, and has taken up the banner of protecting the American family against violent video games.

Hillary's pretty much a centerist Democrat these days, even more than her husband was. About the only left leaning thing she has backed is a national healthcare system.

There is no left in the U.S. to speak of, just the Republicans and the Republicans Lite (of course, the formal name of the Republicans Lite is the "Democrats," a quaint throwback to the good old days when they were actually qualitatively different from the Republicans.)

I agree, though now days it seems that the Republicans are just Democrats who like guns.

"Most libertarian leaning folks I know, for instance, are voting Republican because they are afraid of Democrat economic policies. A conservative social policy is a small price to pay in their minds for a strong economy."

In the words of Doctor Phil: How's that been working out for you?

Unfortunately, not that well. :) I think they're starting to catch on.

Republican administrations increase spending and increase the size of government. You want small government and fiscal responsibility? Vote Democrat.

The problem is that Democrats still support things like the minimum wage, higher taxes for the rich, labor unions, etc. Also, there's a split among libertarians over the war and illegal immigration. I think, however, we may see more people with libertarian leanings backing the Democrats in the next election.

I've tended to vote Democrat more than Republican (I never voted Republican before moving to the Northeast). I value social and personal freedoms more than economic ones. If the Republicans had their way, we'd be like Singapore.

80:

<troll>
Who gives a shit about American politics? You're all doomed, anyway: the empire's going down with the cheap oil it relied on.
</troll>

Let's talk about the rest of the world, for a change.

81:

Let's talk about the rest of the world, for a change.

Wait, you mean there's world outside of the US? :0

It looks like Mexico could probably have benefited from a ranked voting system.

82:

Andrew G., all the points you make are good ones--although, as you might expect, I disagree with most of them.

However, Charlie has asked us to stop talking about the U.S., at least for a while, so I'll go along with that.

Notice how cleverly I make myself appear to be all polite and virtuous, when the reality is I'm just too damn lazy to write up the detailed response your post deserves.

83:

Andrew G., if you shoot me your e-mail address, I'll respond to your points. Or take it to my blog, and send you a URL. Or you can do the same on your blog, if you have one.

My e-mail is mitch [ at symbol goes here ] wagmail.com.

edited by moderator to remove naked email address where spam harvesters will see it.

84:

Therefore the minority had to be either expelled or neutralized if an explicitly Jewish state was to exist.

Which in no way ever ever ever should be compared to, say, ethnic cleansing or apartheid - because only the bad guys do that...

85:

Quite.

(It's like this: "I am a freedom fighter, you are a guerilla, they are terrorists.")

86:

Talking about the rest of the world...

New Zealand has a population of ~4 million, under Charlie's 5 million threshold, uses the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system, has done so for the last four elections - each term lasting three years.

IMO, while I have issues with it, I prefer it to the system it replaced, FPP. Under FPP, it was possible to get into power with less than half the total vote, as has happened. MMP provides a more 'representative' government. Under NZ MMP, a candidate becomes an MP if a)they win the electorate they are contesting or b)their party gains 5% or more of the total vote AND the candidate is high enough in party ranking to get in. Probably explained better here.

It is complicated by Maori seats; those who identify themselves as Maori, may chose to go on the Maori roll or the general roll. Seven seats are set aside for Maori.

It's not truly democratic as e.g. I would not be able to choose to be on the Maori electorate. But on the whole, more points of view get representation. Under FPP, if you weren't Labour or National, you didn't get a look in. Under MMP, horsetrading goes on, "I'll vote for your bill if you vote for mine", and not everyone might be happy with some candidates who get in under party lists, lists that electors have no say on. But the general trend has been a tendency toward the centre, away from extreme policies.

As I see it, one of the major downsides is a lack of support for long-term plans. As a term lasts three years, if a result cannot be achieved during that term, and be used for campaigning come next election, there is little/less motivation toward it. New Zealand currently has some infrastructure issues specifically roading & energy, issues that have no quick fix.

87:

Tony Blair won the last UK general election with something like 32% of the vote ... and the support of under 20% of the electorate. He is pursuing a foreign policy that is wildly unpopular with the country he "leads". Yet he's the elected leader of the majority party.

In principle I am strongly in favour of democracy -- it sucks less than the alternatives -- but I can't help thinking something is wrong with the version we've got in the UK (and, as a spectator commenting from the outside, in the USA).

88:

It would be interesting to see what effect MMP would have on the US elections. If you devide up the 2004 House race, you'd get 214 Republicans, 203 Democrats, 2 independents, 4 Libertarians, 1 Green, and 1 Independence Party congressman.

You need 218 votes in the House to get a majority, which would mean the Libertarians would get to play spoiler on the Republicans for most things. Not too bad for me. :)

Of course, if we did switch to that system you'd probably see a lot of people jumping from the two major parties. A boost to Libertarians and Greens, most likely, and a rise in regional parties.

89:

The trouble with spoilers is that it can lead to completely jammed & ineffective governments. Some might argue that this would be a *good thing* but not me.

Andrew G., in the last election neither of the two major parties, Labour & National got enough votes to form the next government on their own. The New Zealand First party, which in comparison got a small percentage of the total vote, held the balance of power, the de facto 'kingmaker'. That's a downside of MMP where a party that got a small percentage of the total vote got a lot more leverage out of it.

90:

New Zealand First soon distinguished itself by its banana republic politics as kingmaker.

In contrast, the Greens were in a similar situation, and hammered out an agreement with Labour, who had the plurality, to support Labour on matters of supply in return for some specific issues of concern to them, and to go their own way on less important matters (IIRC).

91:

Yes, all that's needed is for politicians to behave like sensible people.

92:

Man, I enjoy these political threads on your blog, Charlie. But I hate it when people bloviate on topics about which they are empirically incorrect, at least when the data are so bloody easy to check.

Stirling: your hypothesis (and that's what it was) about the effect of proportional representation on decision-making is not consistent with the easily-obtainable empirical evidence.

I refer you to Persson and Tabellini, but you don't need that. You simply need to glance around and compare the paralyzed U.S. political system, which does a rather bad job of translating voter preferences into policy, or the rather remarkable reforms obtained by parliamentary systems recently in ... pretty much everywhere. Spain's P.R. system, for example, continuously produces very clear-cut and definitely unparalyzed governments. You might not like said governments, but "paralyzed" or "not following through on their election manifestos" they are not.

So let's say, for argument's sake, that you're referring to France, Italy, and Germany, which could indeed use many further reforms, and which do show some clear signs of political paralysis. (Other commentators: please note that I believe that past performance does not necessarily predict future results.) Well, France uses first-past-the-post to elect both the executive and the legislature. Italy elected 75 percent of the legislature using FPTP between 1993 and 2005. That leaves you with Germany. You can't make a sweeping argument from one datapoint, Steve.

In other words, your argument is demonstrably wrong, even accepting your implicit (and oddly inconsistent) definition of political paralysis.

Of course, the rest of that post is also empirically incorrect. For example, third parties have played key roles in many FPTP electoral systems. (I have no idea what you mean by "spoiler.") France comes to mind immediately, as do various Canadian provinces.

In other words, if you're intellectually-honest you will retract the entirety of the post beginning with "in a first-past-the-point system, third parties are irrelevancies at best, spoilers at worst." I submit that you are intellectually-honest.

Still looking forward to meeting you in person, Steve.

93:

And following on from Noel, there's Scotland. The electoral system is mixed -- about 70% allocated on the basis of FPTP constituencies, and the remainder on a strict-PR party list system.

You might expect this to confine the small parties to a tiny margin of seats (after all, if they get less than 50% of the PR votes in a 100 seat assembly, you'd expect them to have maybe 15 seats between them). But in fact, the Scottish assembly is a fascinating body -- we actually have a two party ruling coalition with three large opposition parties (plus the Conservatives in sixth place behind the Socialists and the Greens); and if the opposition could settle their differences and ally with the Lib-Dems there'd be a different ruling coalition with an outright majority because even the largest party (Labour) is a strict minority. Indeed, each of those five parties have >10% of the assembly seats.

I'd say that FPTP tends to decay towards a two-party duopoly -- but the horse-trading associated with a PR system is still happening; it's just that it happens inside the party/coalitions, rather than out in public, and is thus somewhat more prone to corruption.

94:

Charlie: I agree with your assessment of FPTP (and I didn't know that about Scotland!) but I'm not sure about the last bit. It sounds plausible that such systems might be more prone to corruption, but one thing I've learned is that it takes both a lot of thought to work out a priori what one thinks that the effects of a political system /should/ be, and then even more work to empirically determine whether one's a priori conclusions were correct.

Y'know, I'm not surprised that Stirling seems to have disappeared from this thread. But I am disappointed.

95:

Mitch: For example, that flaming leftie, Hilary Clinton, the demon liberal of the Republican Party, voted for the war in Iraq, opposes gay marriage, and has taken up the banner of protecting the American family against violent video games.

-- actually, Hillary is a moderate center-left type. That's why I support her as my preferred candidate in 2008. She matches my preferred positions quite closely.

The problem with the Democratic party -- the reason it lost the ability to win in normal years in 1964-68 -- is that its activist base is so far to the left of the American center that anyone who gets nominated is probably unelectable.

This is particularly true on cultural issues and foreign policy.

Note that exactly 2 Democratic candidates have been elected since 1968, and only one managed 8 years in the White House.

Both were Southerners who ran as moderates, not liberals, and one was a freak accident due to a case of Republican self-destruction (Carter). And Clinton, though our best political operative since FDR, never managed to get as much as 50% of the vote. He won in 1992 because Perot split the GOP's coalition.

96:

George: What do you mean? Israel is built largely on stolen Palestinian land (only 5% of Mandate Palestine was legitimately purchased by the Zionists).

-- and the US is built on stolen Indian land, modern Poland is built to a substantial degree on stolen German land and so is the Czech Republic, most of Russia was taken away from the Tartars et. al, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

To the victor, the spoils.

All nations are built on conquest; the only difference is that in some cases it's more recently than others. That's the nature of the beast.

And babies, I'm afraid, aren't delivered by the stork...

>How do you convince people of this

-- I don't have to. They will. A study of opinion polls in Britain getting positive responses to the question of whether people feel threatened by Islamic radicalism is illuminating.

It's gone from about 1/3 to over half in the last decade.

When Marseilles or Birmingham goes up in a gout of radioactive flame, don't say you weren't warned.

>there are no Islamist "captive nations" (ie Muslim-minority countries under Islamist rule).

-- well, there weren't any non-German nations under Nazi rule until 1939.

Ask an East Timorese about it, sometime.

>If Islam itself really is totalitarian in nature

-- most strands of it are. Some aren't; the Ismailis are quite tolerable neighbors.

The Japanese were intolerable until we hammered them hard enough. Then they had a change of heart.

So, "the floggings will continue until morale improves".

97:

Charlie: Indeed, back in 1947 the Palestinian Arabs were near-as-dammit 50% of the population of the mandate territory.

-- and they're the ones who refused to accept the UN partition plan and put it to the wager of battle instead, with the announced intention of destroying the Jews.

If you proclaim a war of extermination (as the Arabs overtly did in 1947) you forfeit all right to protest at your treatment when you lose.

You can't renounce the rules and then appeal to them when your planned extermination doesn't come off.

Vae victis. They lost, they paid, just as Germans from Danzig paid, like for example SS-Schutze Gunter Grass.

98:

Charlie: therefore the minority had to be either expelled or neutralized if an explicitly Jewish state was to exist.

-- which is precisely what happened with Poland and the Czech Republic in exactly the same period.

In 1945-1950, they became viable and effectively mono-ethnic states through the mass expulsion of the German minorities there, amounting to around 10X the number of Arabs displaced in the Israeli war of independence. Silesia and the Sudetenland and East Prussia had been German from time out of mind, and were ethnically cleansed.

(7,000,000 in those two cases; millions more from elsewhedre in Eastern Europe.)

Are Poland and the Czech republic "failures"? And if not, why not?

Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

99:

Charlie: Bluntly, democracy and ethnic identity nationalism are incompatible ideologies.

-- then most nations can never be democratic, which is absurd.

Israel is a Jewish state just as Romania is a Romanian state and Hungary is a Magyar state; both say so right in their official names.

You can be a Magyar citizen of Hungary and vice versa but nobody pretends you're a member of the "nationality of state" in that case. You're a national minority -- like Arab citizens in Israel.

Nations like the US where there's no "core nationality" are the exception, not the rule.

And the nation-state is democracy's natural home. The people can't rule unless there _is_ "a people", and in most instances, "people" is ethnically and linguistically specific.

All peoples are shifting mongrel hordes, of course... 8-).

100:

Noel: You simply need to glance around and compare the paralyzed U.S. political system

-- ah... how is the US political system paralyzed, exactly?

101:

Charlie: I'd say that FPTP tends to decay towards a two-party duopoly -- but the horse-trading associated with a PR system is still happening; it's just that it happens inside the party/coalitions, rather than out in public

-- yeah, but it requires a more genuine committment to a mixed platform than shifting coalitions between distinct parties.

Israel is a particularly horrible example of the holding-to-ransom phenomenon, but through most of its post-1945 history Italy was a close second.

I don't think you could argue that any of the Anglo-Saxon countries were more corrupt than post-WII Italy!

The French Third Republic, though...

102:

Charlie: Let's talk about the rest of the world, for a change.

-- ooops! Didn't see that until too late. My bad.

103:

Noel: Y'know, I'm not surprised that Stirling seems to have disappeared from this thread. But I am disappointed.

-- all things considered, Noel, I think it would be advisable if neither of us commented on each other's posts.

104:

Tony Q: Which in no way ever ever ever should be compared to, say, ethnic cleansing

-- on the contrary. It was ethnic cleansing.

Just like in Poland, the Czech Republic, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, etc., in the last few generations.

If people make themselves an intolerable threat to your group, are you supposed to let them kill you rather than strike first?

Note that over 100,000 Arabs survived in the areas under Israeli control in 1949.

The number of Jews who survived in areas under Arab control was negligable. In fact, every Jewish settlement overrun by the Arabs was destroyed and its people killed or expelled.

When it's a choice between Us and Them, there is no Good and Bad. Just Us and Them.

105:

FPP forces long-lasting, large coalitions. You have to vote for one or the other of the major parties or you have _zero_ influence most of the time. Hence you tend to get two or three-party systems, and it makes it harder for regional or minority-group based parties to break through nationally.

PR gives more influence to small factions. This is, IMHO, a Bad Thing.

PR doesn't _always_ result in fragmentation; if there's a broad enough consensus, you can get a reasonable degree of stability in office. But it has a tendency to work that way.

The fact that you can get an overwhelming majority in the legislature with only a plurality of the vote is a _good_ feature of FPP. It disciplines people.

106:

Charlie: Tony Blair won the last UK general election with something like 32% of the vote ... and the support of under 20% of the electorate.

-- well, those who don't vote have voluntarily forfeited their right to a say, haven't they?

Personally I prefer the Aussie compulsory-voting system, though.

107:

Steve: I have a soft spot for that other great democratic procedural paragon -- jury service. (I've toyed with the idea of an upper house, with full veto and revision powers over lower house legislation, selected by jury service rather than the vote. Just to, y'know, act as a public reality check on the elected politicians.)

FPP has a glaring weak spot: if both the major parties share a consensus about some issue that 80% of the public disagree with them about, then short of forming a new party around that single issue, nothing's going to change. And the cost of entry is so high that reform parties virtually never succeed. I suspect we're close to that situation today in the UK (as the low voter turnout, dissatisfaction with politics, and lack of apathy -- as demonstrated by, e.g. the anti-war campaign -- indicate), and Scotland is nearing the critical point already: the last NOP poll suggests that the elections due this autumn could well return an outright SNP majority and result in a referendum on independence within the next six months. Simply as a vote of no confidence in the current central government and its opposition.

Alternatively: see also the secondary mandate proposal.

108:

When Marseilles or Birmingham goes up in a gout of radioactive flame, don't say you weren't warned.

Why would Muslims launch a nuclear first strike against the West, which really WOULD produce a literally genocidal war fever there?

109:

The Japanese were intolerable until we hammered them hard enough. Then they had a change of heart.

Unfortunately I don't think nuclear weapons today have the same 'shock' effect that they had in 1945 when they were brand new...

110:

Steve: I am surprised at your return to the forum. That is the corrollary of being unsurprised at your apparent withdrawal from it.

I was going to answer your query about the evidence for political paralysis in the U.S. political system, but you have politely asked me not to comment upon your posts, and I will accede to that request in most cases.

(If Charlie asks me to universally ignore your posts, however, then I will, of course. Charlie? What is your preference? Should I refrain from commenting upon anything that Steve writes?)

In this case, however, it seems that it would be a disservice to the readers of this thread to fail to point out that you have, possibly inadvertently, mischaracterized the nature of Italian politics in the decades between WW2 and tangentopoli.

To be clear: the evidence (most markedly from the prosecutions in the tangentopoli scandals) is that the corruption in Italian politics derived from the almost-unassailable position of the Christian Democrats (and, after 1960, the Christian Democrat-Socialist alliance) rather than the demands of third parties that were able to hold the dominant coalition to ransom. If your theory was correct, one would have expected bribe-taking to be concentrated in the members of third parties, rather than the main members of the coalition.

Conceptually, of course, you need to define corruption. A priori, you have conflated corruption and log-rolling. The latter is what you hypothesize increases in PR systems, given your model of parliamentary politics. The former is simply as assertion that does not follow from the logical priors you state, although you may have another model in mind. The reason is that log-rolling is legal legislative behavior in all democratic systems, impossible to prevent without subverting the point of having a legislature; whereas corruption is a sign of weak judicial enforcement that can occur in all societies regardless of the structure of their electoral systems.

There is little evidence that log-rolling behavior is greater in parliaments elected under PR. In other words, your main reasons for preferring FPTP do not seem to be supported by the facts, and you therefore might want to follow Keynes's dictum and rethink your opinions. I do believe that you have done this in the past.

You might, of course, realize that you still prefer FPTP for other reasons. I, for example, prefer FPTP in the United States because American political culture has grown up around it and it seems better suited to a presidentialist constitution than a PR system. I am, of course, open to counterarguments both empirical and theoretical.

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