Outside the Convention

So I go to get the materials I'm supposed to be passing out at the RNC, only to find that somebody did not bother coordinating this with the hotel where the stuff is. They want faxed authorizations, etc. etc. So basically I'm out four bucks and three hours. Eh...

I have never seen so many cops in my life, and I was in Israel during the worst of the terror attacks 2001-02. The NYPD was definitely in full riot-control mode. They must have been kept pretty busy; I didn't see any violence where I was, but every minute or two a police van came flying by, sirens blasting, so there must have been something going on.

The M.O. of the protesters was interesting. They had a few guys at a particular street corner I passed, just keeping it warm; then a few minutes later, a ton of them showed up out of nowhere and started bringing down the house. Then, in a few minutes, they all dispersed again. I can only speculate that they were trying to keep the cops off-balance. The cops were tense as hell. I understand completely; I've been at a few protests, but the mood here was the most volatile I've seen, a sort of seething anger. Things weren't even that bad at U. of Michigan when we faced down a Palestinian protest at their "Divestment Conference," and some of those protesters were genuine terrorists!

But from what I heard talking to other guys, tonight was relatively tame. It did not seem like there were too many protesters, maybe a few thousand. On the subway back to campus I found a flyer for the "International Socialist Organization," decrying Kerry's unwillingness to advocate their utopia. I couldn't help but smile. Does this make Kerry a S.I.N.O.?


Back on campus, more spy stuff, etc.

I arrived at school yesterday evening and settled in. It was surprisingly painless, for which I commend the staff. I also talked to a few of my friends; one of them spent the summer interning in Washington with a consulting firm, and had some verrry interesting things to say about it:

First off, he worked a lot with AIPAC people, and has a low opinion of them generally. He doubts that any of them would have the intelligence to run a spy network for Israel, aside from the fact that AIPAC really dislikes the present government. The average AIPAC staffer is young, liberal, and disconnected from the real world. Not my first choice for a Mossad agent.

That would fit the asessment provided by Honest Reporting on the whole issue. It's sounding fishier and fishier the more I hear about it.

The other thing my friend mentioned was that in his work for the consulting firm, he got to attend a number of committee hearings in Congress, in particular one dealing with Israel's planned disengagement from Gaza. (I'm having trouble finding it on Google.) His take was that the congressmen generally read prepared statements written by their staffers, and then embarrass themselves asking questions to the experts giving testimony. Former envoy Dennis Ross had just given his recommendation on what the U.S. should do (basically, get out of the way), and the minority leader asked him whether his view is restricted by his own perceptions of the subject.

Let's think about this for a moment... Dennis Ross, who for nearly a decade was negotiating with Arafat almost constantly, now says to cut him loose, and some blowhard thinks he knows the Palestinian Authority better than Ross does. Sure thing, bub.

The Democrats are complaining that the U.S. isn't getting involved in the process, that we should be pushing for human rights, democracy, etc. in Gaza. Almost every expert who testified said: the Egyptians are already doing a great job. Do not come in and mess everything up! Right now there are no negotiations because there is nobody to negotiate with. Arafat is on his way out, but nobody has managed to take control yet, so the PA is breaking down into anarchy.

I should be able to get more info when class starts and I see some more of my friends. A lot of them got work in key locations over the summer, so we'll see what they have to say.


Spying for AIPAC?

Oh, boy. Just what we needed. Someone leaked reports of a spying investigation on an analyst in the DOD who allegedly passed info on Iran to the American Israel Political Action Commitee, thence to the Israelis.

www.debka.com has an analysis on two possible reasons to leak this now. To summarize, either someone is doing a hatchet-job on the President, or the President is trying to show how he's not under anyone's control by trumpeting this as his idea. If the second reason is true, then somebody messed up big-time. The news services are already gleefully reporting on all the ways in which the Evil, Devious Israelis could have influenced U.S. policy on Iraq, and this is not going to end up being a plus for Bush in the elections.

A few thoughts. One, it looks like this was a case of Amatuer Night, rather than a professional intelligence operation. I doubt that a serious spook would have fed info to AIPAC, of all people, because it blows Israel's plausible deniability straight to heck, and damages an influential political organ.

Two, the same thing is true now as it was during the Jonathan Pollard case. Israel and the United States theoretically have a comprehensive information-sharing agreement. Either Israel already had the info they were given, or else the U.S. was holding out on the Israelis (which has been known to happen). Ergo, I don't really see the problem.

Three, the data in question concerns Iran. It seems obvious that if anyone is going to take action to destroy Iran's weapons program, it's going to be the Israelis, so we should be giving them all the help we've got! Heaven forbid that a U.S. ally is able to defeat the most serious threat to U.S. interests in the Middle-East...

I've got to pack now, my plane to New York leaves in the morning. Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to school we go!


Thinking things over

My father and I went to the bank today, and he remarked how surprising it was that a stable economy and the presence of money causes so much social tranquility. I asked him what he meant, and he noted how people here generally are not worried about living to see tomorrrow, they know how to get what they need, and things are much less uncertain than they are in, say, war zones.

I started thinking about this. On its most basic level, there are two reasons why the strong don't simply take what they need from the weak: enforcement of social norms by power structures like the police or armed citizens, or an understanding that theft and murder is harmful and evil. (Some would call this rational self-interest, but even granted that it is in people's interest to have a general atmosphere of respect for society, you could easily determine that a single mugging would provide a benefit to you that outweighs the slight community instability you would feel. Hence "rational self-interest" must include a moral component or break down in practice. This goes back to the tragedy of the commons, which I may talk about later sometime.) Some people, notably those in government, don't seem to appreciate how much society depends on morality, and not brute force, to keep the peace.

In my political science classes, we called this "social capital." Social capital is the accumulated trust in your communal institutions that lets you accept a check with the expectation that it can be turned into cash, or cross an intersection knowing that nobody on the cross street will run the red light.

Social capital is the first thing to go once the society goes to pieces. The orgy of looting that took place in Iraq in those first few days after Saddam fell, or the less serious reports of looting after hurricanes, demonstrate this quite well. And the police and military forces have a terrible time trying to suppress unrest, because even in great numbers they were still swamped by the looters.

Society can only have a thin layer of stability so long as people only do the right thing when everything goes well. A truly strong society needs citizens who will do the right thing, always, even if nobody is looking. For this reason, I worry when I hear about schools where the focus is on "affirming the child," not teaching about right and wrong. I worry about the prevalence of cheating at schools and colleges, including my own (which is shocking, given that it is a religious college). But, I suppose that civilization has always been like this. It just makes it all the more important for those of us who are moral to take the lead in sustaining the community. As it says in the Ethics of the Fathers, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man."

(NB: By "man" they mean "leader." It's an idiom from two thousand years ago. Don't start thinking I'm some sort of mysogynist because I don't like watering down the original language...)

I'm heading back to school in a few days. The Israel Club is calling for volunteers to pass out literature at the RNC, which should be fun. I'll post how things go.

I gotta switch browsers. I can't add weblinks in Safari. Oh, well. Looks like Mozilla Firefox as soon as I get back to the dorms.


First Post

I was browsing down a list of blogs tonight, and it occurred to me that I might want to start one myself. So here I am. I intend this to be a place where I can comment about politics, new trends, morality, and anything else that comes up. Thus endeth the introduction. Excelsior!!

It seems that Muqtada As-Sadr is having to finally move out of the Imam Ali mosque. He's been saying that he would for at least two weeks now, but he's running out of options now that Ayatollah Sistani finally got out of the hospital. It's hard to claim that you represent all of Shiadom when the real thing is knocking on the door with a mob of thousands of people. It will be interesting to see if Sadr manages to stall for much longer. He definitely doesn't want to stand down, though how he thinks he can overthrow the government is beyond me. He had his chance in April and blew it; taking over the mosque was a strategy born of desperation. If he doesn't face up to reality, he will remain very dangerous. Too bad that the government is giving him a pass on this one; Sadr needs to be in prison or dead, because it's only a matter of time before he starts up with the government again.

Interesting how John McCain is coming out against the 527 groups, given that he pushed the legislation that created them in the first place. I'm not calling him a hypocrite; he probably never considered that this could happen. But I'll bet some of the corporate-types who supported the bill did... It just goes to show that you have to be careful when writing laws to make sure that they don't cause the opposite effect to what you wanted.

In fact, I think I'll stop to point out what will now become the First Law of Mastiffdom: Beware the Law of Unintended Consequenses, Particularly When You Use the Power of Government!

All that campaign finance "reform" accomplished was to shift the big money away from the DNC and RNC, who could at least be trusted to have some standards, and into a horde of 527's with no accountability, no transparency, and in many cases no class either. How lovely.

I think that will wrap it up for tonight.