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January 2009 Archives

January 31, 2009

RIP, Pajamas Media Ad Network

By Tim Oren at 19:30

The ad network portion of Pajamas Media is closing up shop as of April 1. Some members of the network are taking it better than others. The bottom line, according to Roger Simon, was red - the network was a steady money loser, with the bloggers getting more than the advertisers were paying. Here's a bit of comment from a venture capitalist's perspective:

I was one of the early readers of what became the PJ Media business plan, due to my friendship with Marc "Armed Liberal" Danziger, who was part of the team at that point. My own fund's prospectus specifically said we would not invest in content, so I wasn't a potential funding source, but I did offer advice and a few introductions to other funds that might have taken an interest in the plan.

My strongest suggestion to the team was to simplify the plan. When I saw it, it included three business ideas:

  • A branded destination website and content network with a stable of regular bloggers.

  • An advertising network reaching affiliated bloggers' sites.

  • A technology play to improve advertising sales and results in the network.

From my perspective, that was two bullet points too many. It's rather axiomatic that a startup venture gets one bet, on the nose. The increasing capital requirements and span of expertise needed mean that attempting to play multiple games usually inflates risk for a new venture, rather than hedging it. I suggested that the team pick their strongest idea and run with that alone. I'm sure the input was appreciated, but it was not heeded.

In the event, PJM found a single source to provide their financing. While having a sole investor inevitably gives up some control, it also lets a team get off the road and on with building the business. At about the same time, the third bullet point above removed itself when Marc left the Pajamas team. That still left two business concepts under one roof, competing for resources.

This week's announcement is just the dénouement of that situation. Anyone who's paid attention knows that the effective CPM for both click-through and exposure ads on blogs s***s. I mean really s***s - like up to an order of magnitude less than run-of-site ads on big, topically diffuse web properties. Gadget, finance or technology blogs can rise above the crowd, but political and opinion blogs tend to be the worst. When readers are focused on a potentially stressing discourse, they don't tend to notice or click on ads. Fancy that! And what did the PJM ad network's stable consist of?

The market has rendered its opinion on the two PJM business propositions, and the ad network came up the shortest. My guess is the combination of the end of election cycle advertising and the recession-driven fall off in general advertising were the last straws. Somebody may figure out how to make blog advertising economic, but it won't be PJM. The company has retrenched into the destination site play, and is trying expand it into the TV-via-Internet market. That's certainly no guaranteed success, but it's also rather axiomatic than a venture investor under duress will plunk on the opportunity that appears to align with a growing market. Is there a play for talking-heads-on-demand? Watch and find out.

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  • Tim Oren: Pretty weird, huh? #include twilight_zone.mp3 What was apparently going on read more
  • PD Shaw: OK, now everything that used to say anonymous is "Tim read more
  • PD Shaw: I've always understood that the means by which income is read more

January 30, 2009

Who Really Won the Second Lebanon War

By Michael Totten at 16:05

Israel's recent war in Gaza was waged for the simplest of reasons: to deter Hamas from firing Qassam and Grad rockets. Whether or not the Israelis succeeded is an open question. An Israeli soldier - who, by the way, was an Arab - was killed by a roadside bomb next to the border with Gaza a few days ago. But if the aftermath of the less successful Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah in 2006 suggests anything, Hamas is likely to cool its guns for a while. Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared a "divine victory" in August of 2006, and most Israelis agreed. Bombastic boasts to the contrary, however, Hezbollah lost, and Hezbollah knows it.

I'm hardly the first to point out that Hezbollah sat out the Gaza war. Somebody fired a salvo of rockets into Israel from South Lebanon on January 8, and Hezbollah couldn't distance itself from the attack fast enough. If the 2006 war was such a success, why wouldn't Nasrallah want to rack up another divine victory? He could hardly ask for a more auspicious time to launch the next round if that's what he was planning. The Israel Defense Forces were busy and preoccupied in Gaza, and much of world opinion had already turned sharply against the Israelis. If Nasrallah's passivity doesn't prove he feels more reluctant to pick a fight than he did in 2006, it certainly strongly suggests it.

There's something else, though, that only a handful of analysts have remarked on. Very few people in Lebanon sincerely think Hezbollah won the 2006 war. It's mostly Arabs outside Lebanon who take Nasrallah's declaration of "divine victory" seriously.

Leave aside the fact that ten times more Lebanese than Israelis were killed in that war, and that the centers of entire towns in South Lebanon were destroyed from the skies. It's theoretically possible that the Lebanese could delude themselves into thinking they won. Most Egyptians, after all, think they beat Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, though they most certainly did not. And denial is a river that flows through other lands besides Egypt.

Nasrallah, though, was all but forced to apologize to Lebanese for the death and destruction he brought down on their heads. "We did not believe," he said on Lebanon's New TV station, "even by one percent, that the captive operation would result in such a wide-scale war, as such a war did not take place in the history of wars. Had we known that the captive operation would result in such a war we would not have carried it out at all."

These are not the words of a man who thinks of himself as a victor. Nor are these the words of a man speaking to those who think they have won. He did not issue his apology because he hoped to appease his Christian, Sunni, and Druze opponents in Lebanon. He routinely, and absurdly, dismisses their March 14 coalition as the "Zionist hand." No. Nasrallah apologized because his Israeli adventure devastated his own Shia community.

It's not easy finding Lebanese who are interested in a repeat. I drove from Beirut to South Lebanon shortly after the war to survey the destruction with a couple of Hezbollah's political enemies. My guide Said succinctly summed up the reaction I heard from most when we parked amid the rubble of downtown of Bint Jbail. "So this is our victory," he sarcastically said. "This is how Hezbollah wins. Israel destroys our country while they sleep safely and soundly in theirs."

Don't assume only March-14 Lebanese feel this way. The Shias of South Lebanon feel it more acutely than most since they suffered the brunt of the damage. But even many of Nasrallah's allies elsewhere in Lebanon aren't interested in more of the same. "Both sides lost and don't want to do it again," a supporter of Hezbollah's ally Michel Aoun said to me in Beirut. "The situation in the South is finished. If it happens again, Nasrallah will lose his case."

Predicting the future in a bottomlessly complicated society like Lebanon's is a risky business, to be sure, but a clear majority have no interest in yet another bloody conflict. Most Lebanese, like most Israelis, prefer to be left alone. And most of Nasrallah's supporters will tell you they want Hezbollah to deter Israeli invasions, not to invite Israeli invasions.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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  • Another possible reason for the silence of Hezbollah: Obama will read more
  • mark buehner: I'm not sure if Gaza and Lebanon are comparable. Michael read more

The Danger of Freeing Guantanamo Detainees

By Charles Chuman at 15:59

From Robert Worth of the NYT:

The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
bq. ...
bq. Although the Pentagon has said that dozens of released Guantánamo detainees have "returned to the fight," its claim is difficult to document, and has been met with skepticism.
bq. A Saudi security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Shihri had disappeared from his home in Saudi Arabia last year after finishing the rehabilitation program.

It appears that terror rehabilitation programs exist, but their effectiveness seems to be in doubt, and Yemen is delinquent in establishing their program:

Almost half the camp's remaining detainees are Yemenis, and efforts to repatriate them depend in part on the creation of a Yemeni rehabilitation program -- partly financed by the United States -- similar to the Saudi one. Saudi Arabia has claimed that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay put the United States in an international and Constitutional bind. The US courts have argued against long-term detention without legal recourse for the detainees, and the prosecuting attorneys had to throw away evidence that was revealed while the detainees were subject to US administered torture.

However, this is not the most significant way in which Gitmo failed. President Bush and the penal colony he established in Guantanamo failed to protect the United States from the very people detained. One NYT reader responded, "The article reveals more about the incompetence of the Bush Administration than the difficulties of closing Gitmo.... Dealing with Gitmo isn't as difficult as the article suggests unless one ignores essential facts , and George Bush did just that for 8 years." He continues, "The notion that sending Mr. al-Shihri to a "Saudi rehabilitation program" could reform a known jihadist is absurd. It's as effective as throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch: there should have been no surprise that this terrorist would resurface at one of our embassies with a bomb."

Closing Gitmo brings international goodwill to the new administration without denying Americans security. However, countries that fail to effectively cooperate with the US should also be held responsible for their actions. Hopefully, the Obama Administration will find a better, legal way to deal with the detainees and protect the US from future attacks.

Eli Lake of the Washington Times has the best coverage of the Obama Administration's decisions on closing Guantanamo, CIA "black sites," and torture. Lake carefully examines the loopholes through which Obama is continuing some of Bush's secretive policies:

President Obama's executive order closing CIA "black sites" contains a little-noticed exception that allows the spy agency to continue to operate temporary detention facilities abroad.
The provision illustrates that the president's order to shutter foreign-based prisons, known as black sites, is not airtight and that the Central Intelligence Agency still has options if it wants to hold terrorist suspects for several days at a time.
bq. ...
bq. The detentions would be temporary. Suspects either would be brought later to the United States for trial or sent to other countries where they are wanted and can face trial.

In other articles, Lake notes that secret interrogating techniques will also continue under the Obama Administration.

If a US President bends the rules to protect the American people, it better be effective.

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  • Armed Liberal: I think we have that fixed, AMac... Marc read more
  • AMac: Sorry for the double entry above. It seems to take read more
  • AMac: George Friedman has an excellent analysis of Afghanistan at Stratfor. read more

Weak-kneed With Fanboyhood

By Armed Liberal at 07:35

Until tonight, I really didn't get the culture of celebrity. I grew up in Beverly Hills, hung out with the children of people who were on TV and in the movies, grew up to be interested in politics, and have met and talked with a former President, a Governor (plus I worked for one) and a dabbling of other elected officials (I negotiated with Barbara Boxer over purchasing a surplus school site when she was a County Supervisor). They're all people, and I've always been a little bemused by the chest-clutching regard in which they are held by some.


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January 29, 2009

OK, Things Ought To Be Working...

By Armed Liberal at 14:26

Commenting ought to be working, so please do!!

I've emailed all the active authors with a new password when they can use to login and then, I'd ask, create their own.

To change your password just log in, click on your name in the upper right-hand corner of the dashboard, then click on the 'change password' link.

If you're still having problems, email me at blog09 at armedliberal dot com.
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  • AMac: Test via TypeKey read more
  • Joe Katzman: Nope. Still not really working. Doesn't display under the single-post read more
  • Joe Katzman: Sort of working was more like it. Is it better read more

Introducing Charles Chuman

By Charles Chuman at 03:46

I am honored that Marc Danziger invited me to blog at Winds of Change.

Please allow me introduce myself and provide a few basic ideas that will guide my contributions to this site:

I recently returned to the United States after five years in the Middle East working in media, marketing, and market research. After living through two wars in Lebanon, the war in Iraq from two perspectives (Baghdad and Kurdistan), seeing the military and technological power of both Iran and Israel and their effect on their neighbors, working under the ever-watching eyes of dictators and secret police, and seeing how quickly deserts can bloom into international luxury destinations, my opinions are shaped more by experience than by ideology.

I returned to the US to work full-time on Barack Obama's campaign in Indiana, and I am still overjoyed and flabbergasted that we managed to carry the state. David Plouffe's brilliant strategy worked, and the support of thousands of volunteers from Indiana, Illinois, around the country, and around the world helped us carry the day.

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  • maryatexitzero: When Hezbollah is no longer needed by its sponsors, it read more
  • AMac: Welcome to Winds, Mr. Chuman. Yet, Lebanon remains tumultuous, and read more
  • Joe Katzman: Welcome to the site, Charles. read more

January 28, 2009

Credit Crunches, Surplus Countries, and the Need for Rebalancing

By Joe Katzman at 01:42

I've just had my attention drawn to a blog called the Smart Globalist. A current feature talks about the economic crisis underway, and some of its global aspects that aren't receiving a lot of discussion yet. From "Asia and Germany Need to Wake Up":

"The Anglos had a party by living beyond their means, and Asia began to get rich while Germany got even richer. But the Anglo consumers were borrowing heavily against their credit cards and the equity in their houses to pay for the party. There was bound to be a moment when they couldn't borrow any more.... It is because stimulus alone would simply perpetuate this unsustainable dynamic that rebalancing must be its companion.

....But the surplus countries need to boost their domestic demand as well. Indeed, because they have excess production capacity that can no longer be easily exported, they actually need more stimulus than the trade deficit countries. And this is where things are getting very difficult. So far, the surplus countries have been resisting.... Of course, friendly persuasion and enlightened self-interest are the preferred avenues. However, if China and other surplus countries insist on doubling down on their export-led growth strategies and resisting currency revaluation, the United States uniquely does hold and ace that can force their hands. It can export inflation...."

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  • Tim Oren: Testing... Seems to be working OK with TypePad ID now. read more
  • OpenID test comment read more
  • Marc Danziger: Test comment w/Typepad ID... read more

January 27, 2009

The Mother of All Quagmires

By Michael Totten at 18:27

I've just returned from a week-long trip through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Israel's border with Gaza, and I'm reminded all over again of what has been beaten into me during my many visits to the Middle East: there is no solution to the problems that vex that region right now. Most Americans are inherently optimistic and think just about any problem in the world can be solved. We put a man on the moon before I was born, but that was easy compared with securing peace between Israelis and Arabs.

The American Jewish Committee brought me and seven of my colleagues to Israel and set up interviews with Israeli military officers, politicians, academics, and journalists on the far-left, the far-right and at every point in between. One of my colleagues asked the eternal question during one of our meetings. "What is the solution to this problem?" He meant the Arab-Israeli conflict, of course, and the answer from our Israeli host was revealing in more ways than one. "You Americans are always asking us that," he said and laughed darkly.

Americans aren't the only ones who have a hard time grasping the idea of an intractable problem. "Unfortunately we Westerners are impatient," said an Israeli politician who preferred not to be named. "We want fast food and peace now. But it won't happen. We need a long strategy." "Most of Israel's serious problems don't have a solution," said Dr. Dan Schueftan, Director of National Security Studies at the University of Haifa. "Israelis have only recently understood this, and most foreign analysts still don't understand it."

A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs, but that's not an option. Most Arab governments at least implicitly say they will recognize Israel's right to exist inside its pre-1967 borders, but far too many Palestinians still won't recognize Israel's right to exist even in its 1948 borders. Hamas doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist inside any borders at all.

"We will never recognize Israel," senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan said before he was killed by an air strike in Gaza during the recent fighting. "There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination."

Hamas does not speak for all Palestinians. I've met Palestinians who sincerely despise Hamas and everything it stands for. But let's not kid ourselves here. Hamas speaks for a genuinely enormous number of Palestinians, and peace is impossible as long as that's true. An-Najah University conducted a poll of Palestinian public opinion a few months ago and found that 53.4 percent persist in their rejection of a two-state solution.

Far too many Westerners make the mistake of projecting their own views onto Palestinians without really understanding the Palestinian narrative. The "occupation" doesn't refer to the West Bank and Gaza, and it never has. The "occupation" refers to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A kibbutz in the center of Israel is "occupied Palestine" according to most. "It makes no sense to a Palestinian to think about a Palestinian state alongside Israel," Martin Kramer from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem said to me a few days ago. "From the Palestinian perspective, Israel will always exist inside Palestine."

"Making peace with the Palestinians is harder than making peace with other Arabs," said Asher Susser, Senior Research Fellow at Tel Aviv University. "With the Palestinians we have a 1948 file as well as a 1967 file. With other Arabs we only have a 1967 file. The 1967 file relates to our size, but the 1948 file relates to our very being. It is nearly impossible to resolve because we cannot compromise on our being."

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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Sorry About That...

By Armed Liberal at 16:39

We had an outage last night because I didn't do good capacity planning and we ran out of disc space (we're still almost out, but I've asked for the allocation to be upped...). As we get things sorted I'll update this post.
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Open for Business

By Armed Liberal at 00:44
Welcome to the new MT 4.2-powered Winds of Change.NET.

We have a (slightly) new look - which may be tweaked slightly from time to time as we shake things out.

We will be announcing some new additions to the group of writers, and I'll try and do a revision of Joe's original mission statement.

One of the design changes we've made is to make comments more prominent in several areas; this site is all about the discussions. We're making some changes there as well; we're going to require registration to comment from now on. You can use several means to do it - openid, livejournal, vox and Typekey, as well as registering directly on the site. We're working on integration with Facebook, but there are some bugs, sadly.

The goal is to promote civil, constructive disagreement through argument - which at our best we've done a lot of - rather than the usual blog commentary which sometimes tends to spiral downward into disagreement and abuse. Which I intend to minimize here in every way I can think of.

So disagree away, with me, with the other authors, with each other. But this is intended to be a place for conversation, which I've described on my work blog as:

Those manners are kind of a scaffolding around which conversation can grow. They imply a few basic truths which are at the heart of conversation.

The first is parity. When we engage in conversation with someone, the implication is that their words are as valuable as mine. We're peers in the context of this conversation.

The next is agency. We have to believe that whoever is speaking owns their words; that they are speaking from their own authentic self rather than telling us what they have been told or deceived into saying. We respect the speaker as the owner of the words and ideas that they are sharing with us.

Next is openness. We have to actually hear and accept what someone else says. In a debate, I will use my opponent's words as a springboard to make my own points. In a conversation I'll accept what I'm told, unpack it, think about it, fit it with my own understandings and beliefs and then respond. The difference is that in one case we are listening to the 'shape' of what is told us and searching for a foothold to use to push it away, and in the other, we are actually open to the possibility that what the other person says could be true - that it could actually change our views.
Let's see how we do on this.

If you've got blog technical issues for the next few days, email me at blog09 -at- armedliberal -dot- com

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January 26, 2009

The Mood in Israel Now

By Michael Totten at 16:58

The mood in Israel during the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war is markedly different from the mood in the wake of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Things felt precarious and vulnerable then. Confidence in both the government and the military disintegrated. When Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared his “divine victory,” many, if not most, Israelis shuddered and thought he might be correct. This time, by contrast, I didn’t meet a single Israeli who thinks Hamas defeated the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere near finished, and the problems in Gaza will endure for a long time, but the Israeli military and government spent two and a half years intensely studying what went wrong in Lebanon in 2006 and corrected nearly all those mistakes. Most Israelis I spoke to in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week feel a tremendous sense of relief and seem more at ease than they have been in years.

The results speak for themselves. The IDF wasn’t able to halt or even disrupt Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli cities in July and August of 2006, but Hamas’s ability to fire its own crude rockets was reduced by almost 75 percent. According to Major General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas fired 75 rockets per day at the beginning of the war, 35 rockets per day in the middle of the war, and only 20 rockets per day at the end. At the same time, Hamas was only able to inflict a tenth as many casualties on Israeli civilians and soldiers as Hezbollah did in 2006. During the final ten days of the war, again according to Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas did not kill a single Israeli. Ismail Haniyeh’s predictable declaration of “victory” could hardly sound more empty if he delivered his boast from inside a prison cell.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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  • Mark Buehner: If the purpose of war is to secure a better read more
  • PD Shaw: In some respects the comparison btw/ Hezbollah and Hamas are read more
  • Mark Buehner: "Why doesn't Israel understand that by forcing Hamas into providing read more


By Armed Liberal at 00:40

This article just appeared in the NY Times - 'How Words Might End A War' - supporting my post below by suggesting that material considerations won't settle Israel/Palestine, but also undermining my positionby suggesting that concrete nonmaterial considerations might.

Take a look and let me know what you think.

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  • AMac: Entering into negotiations under such fraught conditions usually means that read more
  • Robert M: Words matter. Look what happens when you evoke Hitler. The read more
  • Achillea: How about if the palis make the 'purely symbolic' gesture read more

January 25, 2009

Djerejian's New Foreign Policy

By Armed Liberal at 22:17

Greg Djerejian has a new missive up on his thoughts on what new foreign policies ought to be in the new Administration.

I've publicly admired and criticized Djerejian in the past, notably in a post called 'Greg Djerejian and My Heard Heart.'

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  • Armed Liberal: David, I certainly don't mean to devalue diplomacy. I believe read more
  • David Billington: One can agree that other countries and peoples exist and read more
  • Marcus vitruvius: It's not even that two sides are unwilling to compromise read more

January 24, 2009

Burn After Reading? Burn Before Watching

By Joe Katzman at 22:47

I totally agree with this NY Observer report. The experience of spending 2 nihilistic hours with your least favorite people, without any of the leavening humor promised by the teasers or reviews. The Coen Brothers have finally ascended to my "never watch their movies, not even as rentals, not even for free" list.

This paragraph from The NY Observer was better than anything in the movie:

"...the Coen brothers have generally left me with the impression of mean-spirited academic film nuts with little feeling for their hapless victims of terminal clumsiness and ineptitude. No Country for Old Men (2007) was at least ultra-competent in its villainous nihilism, but I did not share in the general enthusiasm for the film, except for its cast of virtuosos. But Burn After Reading has hit rock bottom for me. See it at your own peril."

One wonders sometimes if Hollywood makes movies like this because that's the environment and people they live with all the time, or because they have some strange vision of the outside world that corresponds? Same goes for the critics who liked it.

In contrast, I watched "Edward Scissorhands" for the first time the other night. An enjoyable film about humanity's light and dark sides, made with humanity. The contrast could not have been more vivid.

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  • Juliet: In response to Mary's Post, I am not a regular read more
  • Mary: Mary, can I suggest reading McCarthy's work before you quickly read more
  • Armed Liberal: Mary, can I suggest reading McCarthy's work before you quickly read more

The Inauguration - Under The Hood

By Armed Liberal at 16:29

Guest post by commenter TK - someone who secures these events for a living.

Ever wonder about the politics of political events? Probably not, unless you were at the inauguration or some other heavily attended event, standing in line for a few hours for a seat that you probably can't see anything from anyway, while temperatures, tempers and various levels of discomfort rise and fall around you. As you begin to notice the slight ache growing in your left foot and the warning tingle beginning in your lower back, your thoughts began to display variations of the phrase: "Who the hell planned this shindig?"

And "Why didn't anyone foresee these crowds?" Not to mention: "Who the heck is in charge here?!"

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  • Bill: I helped plan one of these events right after Desert read more
  • Larry: And most of those young, enthusiastic true believers don't have read more

January 23, 2009

Policy Shifts: From Nation-States to Nation-Tribes

By Joe Katzman at 03:55

American Mohist emails me to say:

"American foreign policy establishment (Defense & State) is in the midst of a paradigm shift. Our paradigm was and remains that of the nation-state. The first step of Phase 4 is to set up the national, central government. We have seen how well that worked in Iraq & Afgh.

Many writers have commented on the failed state and the demise of the nation-state as the dominant political force, but that never made it into our dominant security policy thinking. On the other hand, the "Awakening", which is on the tactical level, is exposing the disconnect between the nation-state centric policy and the bottom-up tactics. Events on the ground are slowly driving the policy to change paradigm."

Read his article, and see what you think.

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  • TOC: The new Bolivian constitution is interesting in this regard. there read more
  • Tom Grey: Yes to nation-tribes and other non-(central)state actors. Tribal cantons in read more
  • Demosophist: The seminal article on this topic was J.P. Nettl's "The read more

January 21, 2009

A Few Comments On Inaugural Logistics and Security

By Armed Liberal at 15:05

So we're up and around and I'm back online. I'll sort pictures today if I can and get some posted as soon as I do.

But I was to extend the comment I made in my post about the Inauguration, below.

And a huge back of the hand to whoever was responsible for organizing the crowds; there was none and what we had instead were color-coded mobs.

Others picked up this theme, and this morning on Memeorandum, I see posts by Firedoglake, Abu Muquama Abu Aardvark (sorry!!) (Marc Lynch), Tigerhawk, James Joyner, and others.

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  • TK: Some friends of mine worked in the Emergency Medical side read more
  • David Blue: I'm glad you got through that safely, Armed Liberal. Never read more
  • NukemHill: Umm ... even on the coldest days, it wasn't subzero read more

Not "Users" - People

By Joe Katzman at 02:54

SocialText's Scott Schnaars scratches a pet peeve of mine, and explains the implications well:

"Question One: When implementing a new system, any new system, for your community, how do you refer to the end users? What if you are implementing social media for your company? Who is going to use the system? Users? Employees?

What about people (maybe the title of the post gave that one away)?"

Yup. This was smart, too - and very applicable in the IT world:

"Listen, you don’t go to the doctor because you are sick. Sickness is the by-product of something deeper, something more concise. You go to the doctor because you have a headache or a stomach ache or numbness in your left arm. If you just show up at your doctor and say your sick, but can’t describe any symptoms, you’ll be given a sugar tab and sent on your way. If you have a more specific problem, you can diagnose it with a very specific solution. Your enterprise social media strategy needs a similar level of specificity in order for it to succeed."

Change "social media" to any other form of IT project, and it still makes a true point. First of all, the only other industry that talks about "users" sells drugs like heroin and cocaine. The second point is that talking or reading about "users" lights up like a neon sign to me, and says "I haven't really thought about them in any depth beyond an abstraction." Why these people then expect to create something that succeeds wildly and helps their "users," rather than something that is in their "users" way as often as not, is one of the great mysteries of technology and human nature.

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  • Paul Milenkovic: Um, there is a made-up word for "users" that reflects read more
  • Joe Katzman: Phil, I have at times posted on other blogs, on read more
  • Marcus Cicero: "User" has a functional usage, perhaps in back room discussion read more

Warfare Trends: Task Force ODIN

By Joe Katzman at 02:16
IqAF 350-ISR
IqAF King Air 350-ISR
(click to view full)

The Ottawa Citizen's defense reporter David Pugliese reports that the US military is about to spend $100 million to upgrade the facilities at Kandahar, Afghanistan, in order to accommodate up to 26 aircraft for "Task Force ODIN" in Afghanistan. At first glance, this might seem like just another infrastructure play - unless one realizes that Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify & Neutralize) may be the second-most underrated fusion of technology and operating tactics in America's counter-insurgency arsenal.

Task Force ODIN was created on orders of Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's outgoing vice chief of staff. Its initial goal involved better ways of finding IED land mines, a need triggered by the limited numbers of USAF Predator UAVs in Iraq, and consequent refusal of many Army requests. Despite its small size (about 25 aircraft and 250 personnel) and cobbled-together nature, Task Force ODIN became a huge success. Operating from Camp Speicher near Tikrit, it expanded its focus to become a full surveillance/ strike effort in Iraq - one that ground commanders came to see as more precise than conventional air strikes, and less likely to cause collateral damage that would create problems for them. From its inception in July 2007 to June 2008, the effort reportedly killed more than 3,000 adversaries, and led to the capture of almost 150 insurgent leaders.

With Secretary of Defense Gates paying particular attention to improving ISR capabilities, replication in Afghanistan was inevitable. The coming construction at Kandahar marks the beginning of that effort... but to really understand it, you need to understand what Task Force ODIN is.

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Al-Qaeda Steps Up Executions in Pakistan

By Joe Katzman at 01:14

Canadian defense reporter David Pugliese, who I happen to respect, is talking about a recent phenomenon in Pakistan. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are going around executing several people in each village, claiming that these individuals have been snitching out their positions and meetings in Pakistan, to trigger Predator UAV strikes.

As a friend put it to me a while ago, "unfortunately, not all of the people killed as American spies, actually aren't." Al-Qaeda probably has little idea, unless the ISI intelligence service is running cell phone intercepts for them (which is possible) - but it doesn't matter. Pick a few of the locals who don't seem happy enough about your presence and conduct, and kill them. Some may in fact be making cell phone calls to the Americans. Even if no-one is, however, the message is clear. And even semi-blind lashing out can end up doing a fair bit of damage to America's intelligence networks in this area. It has before.

This sort of conduct by al-Qaeda builds up a certain amount of desire for revenge, of course, but that will only break into the open if you lose control. With a base of informants and sympathizers in many tribes along Pakistan's frontier, and a very substantial manpower advantage of levies from these tribes, they can probably get away with it for now. Even if pushed, the tribes will remain divided. A united tribe might revolt on its own, though even there, the prospect of strong outside help matters - as it did Iraq's Anbar Awakening. A divided tribe will not revolt, unless confronted by an entrenched enemy that has also penetrated the tribal structure, and can wait for an event that offends the tribe as a whole.

That preparation may exist in some parts of Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies can be expected to export this tactic in the near future.

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January 20, 2009


By Armed Liberal at 21:24

Just back indoors and sitting talking about what we all just saw. I'm in this weird kind of place; this year has been a year of lots of reading about American history and the Founding - and one event that figures over and over again is the powerful one of the transfer of power between political enemies. All I could think of watching the grim face of President Bush on the Jumbotron (we were close but too far to the side to see more than the edge of the actual balcony where the ceremony took place) was that we were watching one of those turnings of the wheel.

And that - even more I think than Obama's ascension today - moved me. Because it's such a central a part of the greatness of the country that I love so much.

Obama looked weighed down - he didn't have the bounce to his step - and his speech while excellent wasn't the inspiration I hoped for. I don't think that people will be citing this speech a decade from now. I wish it had been better - when I get some time, I'll comment in more depth.

And when I get to my own computer, I'll upload some pictures, including one of Bush flying past the trees in Marine One.

But one thing that struck me was the enthusiasm of the crowds - from the full planes flying into DC Sunday to the people we walked with across Capitol Hill into the mobs, to the crowd that stretched as far back on the Mall as I could see from the base of the Capitol.

And a huge back of the hand to whoever was responsible for organizing the growds; there was none and what we had instead were color-coded mobs.

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Culver Black Horse Troop

By Demosophist at 20:38

I'm not sure why anyone on WoC would give a hoot, but just thought I'd mention that my high school equestrian unit will be marching in the inaugural parade. They have something of a long history in inaugurals, and I rode with the unit for LBJ's inaugural in 1965. I met and talked with the cadets and equestriennes who are in this parade Sunday night, and they're pretty excited. A college friend has a son in the unit who is a squad leader. They'll be toward the end of the parade (which is where they usually put the horses, for obvious reasons) in Group 6, just behind the Merchant Marine Marching Band.

Glad I'm not riding. Brrrr...

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NATO's German/ Eastern Question

By Joe Katzman at 03:37

In the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia, and Germany's quasi-support for that move, STRATFOR's founder penned "The German Question." It's pretty fundamental, if you want to understand the limits of NATO in the modern world - a subject that's very important if the new administration decides to rely on NATO as a bulwark. STRATFOR:

"Germany does not favor NATO expansion. More than that, the Germans at least implicitly told the Russians that they have a free hand in the former Soviet Union as far as Germany is concerned - an assertion that cost Berlin nothing, since the Russians do enjoy a free hand there. But even more critically, Merkel signaled to the Russians and the West that Germany does not intend to be trapped between Western ambitions and Russian power this time. It does not want to recreate the situation of the two world wars or the Cold War, so Berlin will stay close to France economically and also will accommodate the Russians.

The Germans will thus block NATO’s ambitions, something that represents a dramatic shift in the Western alliance. This shift in fact has been unfolding for quite a while, but it took the Russo-Georgian war to reveal the change.

NATO has no real military power to project to the east, and none can be created without a major German effort, which is not forthcoming...."

Now pair his analysis with observations like the fact that Germany's defense spending is fluctuating around 1% of GDP, and that it has seriously downsized its military and sold off the bulk of its equipment. Europe's unwillingness to defend itself on so many levels is certainly an issue, but STRATFOR points out that there a much larger strategic issue at play in a key country. This issue helps to explain why NATO's eastward expansion has been so slow and difficult, and could not have extended farther east. It also leaves many of the alliance's eastern members is a situation reminiscent of the 1930s - dependent on guarantees that are now worth very little. They have not yet adjusted their fiscal realities to this fact. Time will tell whether they will.

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January 19, 2009

What Sorts of Things Does CIA Tend to "Know"?

By Joe Katzman at 03:38

Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein would have had a much stronger article if he hadn;t tried to make an unfavorable comparison between the CIA's approach to collection and analysis, and that of journalists. Truth is, both do a pretty questionable overall job, and it's pretty much for the same reasons. But this bit from "Obama Faces Gaping Holes in U.S. Intelligence" was interesting, and may be eye-opening to some:

bq.. "So," I asked a former intelligence agency head over seafood this week, "if I'm President Obama, and I call Leon Panetta into the Oval office and ask him to tell me how Hamas leaders are holding up under the Israeli assault, will he be able to tell me?"

The former official shook his head, nearly blushing.

No. "That's not the kind of information" they focus on.

"Well, what do they focus on?" I asked."

p. Good question. You'd think that sort of thing might be very relevant. The Israelis, who are coordinating their military activities with Shin Bet (FBI equivalent) and enjoying much better success as a result, certainly do. Improved use of armor also helps, and upgrading their approach to the information war helps even more. Hope people in the USA are learning from both of those intel/information steps forward.

This bit on an attempt to use open source methods and approaches in the CIA was also very interesting:

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Next-Gen Think Tank? The Reut Institute

By Joe Katzman at 02:26

I'm intrigued by an Israeli think tank called The Reut Institute, which seems to be a bit ahead of the game in trying to reconfigure the think tank model for the current age. Their focus on real-time systemic strategic analysis actually comes through in their analysis and in their presentation, and there's an interesting potential tie to open-source approaches to collection and analysis down the road.

Gidi Grinstein talks about how the Reut Institute evolved from his experience with the ECF, into an idea:

"Initially, I was responsible for coordinating projects of economic cooperation among Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan. Later, in November 1996, I began to coordinate a project, which aimed to prepare the portfolios for negotiations on a Permanent Status Agreement between Israel and the PLO.... My work in the Bureau of the Prime Minister exposed me to the reality of Israel's decision-making capacities at the highest levels. I saw how meager the tools are at the disposal of those taking historic decisions, the absence of a culture of rigorous analysis of the strategic alternatives and the lack of methodology."

Welcome to pretty much any government, anywhere. From an idea, it became an organization, but only after noticing and then looking to redress a common problem set:

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January 16, 2009

Pakistan: Stalling & Lies re: LeT, and Action Against... Durrani

By Joe Katzman at 05:44

Ah, yes, the benefits of cooperation with the rulers of other countries, in order to ensure "stability" rather than those risky adventures. Asia Times:

"In line with a compliance list recently handed over by US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia Richard Boucher, Pakistan was was due on Thursday to launch a crackdown against the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and other jihadi organizations.

But the operation, which was to be coordinated by the Ministry of Interior, police and the Intelligence Bureau, was halted at the 11th hour by the Pakistani military establishment, well-placed contacts in Pakistan's intelligence quarters have told Asia Times Online.

And instead, powerful National Security Advisor retired Major General Mahmood Durrani was fired.... Durrani has been a crucial link between the US, the government of Pakistan and the Pakistan military...."

Seems that diplomacy, "stability," and law-enforcement as a preferred approach isn't always so stable after all - and it seems that there may not be much law to enforce in some places. Ball in the new administration's court... and in India's.

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Balls of Steel - But Is Sullenburger A Hero?

By Joe Katzman at 03:21

No question who deserves today's award. Chesley B. Sullenburger III, the pilot who safely landed his crippled Airbus A320 in the Hudson River, and saved all 150 of his passengers and crew after a double bird strike.

Sullenburger has flown for US Airways since 1980, after flying F-4 Phantom II fighter jets with the US Air Force during the 1970s. He owns a safety consulting firm, has served on a board that investigates aircraft accidents, and participated in several National Transportation Safety Board investigations. Experience obviously counts. Now, he has national media attention, a large Facebook fan group, and about 150 life-long friends.

Is he a hero? That's a good question...

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January 15, 2009

Suffering to "Preserve Culture"?

By Joe Katzman at 20:45

Back in 2006, the Asia Times' "Spengler" wrote something that still rings true:

"Eulogies of this kind are becoming more frequent. Perhaps 90% of the world's languages will disappear during the next century.... Many beautiful things will disappear because poor people no longer will suffer to make them. One simply cannot find decent Mexican food in the United States, in part because traditional Mexican cuisine requires vast amounts of labor. Machine-made corn tortillas never will hold the savor of the hand-made article, but Mexicans migrate to the US precisely to escape a life of making tortillas by hand."

As for Mexican food in the United States, it may or may not be authentically Mexican, just as the Chinese food Americans eat is a very modified form of Chinese. What it will be, is... exported. Probably back to Mexico, too, just as Disney took Grimm's Fairy Tales, popularized them, and built Euro-Disney in France. This sort of thing can drive people outside of America slightly crazy, especially when it's their cuisine, stories, et. al. It drives them doubly crazy when the exported returnees proceed to outsell the originals.

But underneath the indignation, it's worth contemplating the moral point. What would be required, in order to preserve the originals? The answer is usually two-fold: far-reaching political control, and/or continued poverty. Which doesn't matter so much, I guess. As long as you're not the one that's poor.

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January 14, 2009

What, I Was Serious?

By Armed Liberal at 23:27

I saw this the other day, and waited for it to get picked up and commented on. It wasn't, so I'll raise it here.

Here's Spencer Ackerman writing in the Washington Independent:

Today a cohort of progressive bloggers unveils a new effort against the planned 20,000-troop increase of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. A website called GetAfghanistanRight, set up by bloggers at the Seminal and Brave New Films - and with the support of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel - went live today, with the intent of blogging about the morass in Afghanistan this week.

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By Armed Liberal at 18:58

Patrick McGoohan, dead at 80.

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Why I support Israel and Why That Support Matters - To The Arabs.

By Armed Liberal at 17:18

Israel is in one of the periodic periods of Hot War that it's long-simmering conflict with it's neighbors goes through. And the usual cast of thinkers are out in force, explaining why what Israel is doing is wrong, must be stopped, and - most important of all - why the US must withdraw our support from Israel.

I want to take a few moments and lay out some thoughts on why it is that we're right to support Israel, why it is that our support matters to us and to them, and why our visible support of Israel matters a lot to Israel's Arab neighbors, in the Palestinian proto-state and the surrounding countries.

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Dinosaur Die-Off Theories, and the Extinction Theory of Scientific Progress

By Joe Katzman at 04:44

A Jacksonian does a fine job looking at all of the dinosaur extinction theories out there, drilling into their details and (in some cases) weaknesses. He also looks at why some species survived, including creatures like frogs that are often thought of as vulnerable.

Finally, he asks why the Yucatan asteroid theory went unnoticed and then unrecognized for as long as it did, when the evidence was staring people in the face for some time. If you're into science, or into dinosaurs, it's a good and interesting read.

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Iceland Invites Russia to Keflavik Air Base

By Joe Katzman at 04:06

During the cold war, NATO required reinforcements and supplies from North America, in order to survive a Soviet attack. That meant a second Battle of the Atlantic would have to be fought, in order to keep those sea lanes open. Which meant that Iceland was the hinge upon which all of NATO rested.

Iceland served as a key waypoint for underwater listening arrays, designed to pinpoint and broadcast the locations of Soviet subs as they sought to break out into the open Atlantic. Its air base at Keflavik was defended by American fighters, and would serve as the most important base and waystation for allied sub-hunting aircraft. Even as it operated as a key stopover point for tactical transports like the C-130 Hercules, and for reinforcing fighter jets flying their routes to Europe's front lines. Assuming, of course, that this strategic prize and ally could be defended from Soviet attack and invasion.

A couple of years ago, with the Soviet Union gone and no Battle of the Atlantic on the horizon, the USA left Keflavik AB and went home. In truth, there as little reason to stay. Iceland itself remains a NATO member, but has no standing army, no air force, and a coast guard rather than a navy. All was well, and even Russia's ambitious territorial claims in the arctic and sharp increase in patrols and incursions remained issues for others to deal with. Then along came the 2008 financial crisis, and the country hit real financial trouble. Iceland's President has criticized its Scandanavian neighbours, and the UK, for their lack of help. Russia, on the other hand.... Now Iceland is making noises about looking at new friends, and its President just invited Russia to use Keflavik. Even the Russians were stunned - but if I was Putin, I'd do a deal and base aircraft there for the psychological edge alone.

Another triumph for European diplomacy...

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  • TOC: #8 from Joe Katzman at 9:49 pm on Jan 14, read more
  • Joe Katzman: To my knowledge, nothing has happened as of yet. And read more
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Inauguration Plans

By Armed Liberal at 03:17

So we'll be flying to DC on Sunday, and flying out Thursday - me to Boston for a meeting, and TG home. We're staying in Virginia with some kind friends.

I just wanted to take this chance to offer a shoutout to the Secret Service folks checking me out online...and to see if any of you folks will be hanging in DC. We will have all day Weds free, once we wake up...

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January 13, 2009

Panetta's Arrow: CIA Delendum Est?

By Joe Katzman at 00:31

The appointment of Leon Panetta to head the CIA has certainly touched off a wave of head-scratching, second-guessing, and speculation.

Key Democrats on the Intelligence Committees like Feinstein and Rockefeller have protested openly at his lack of qualifications. One could go farther, and point to the facts that this is the guy who helped gut the CIA's human intelligence capabilities as Clinton's Budget Director, then ensured that the CIA had less access to the President than was the case for any administration in recent times when he was Chief of Staff, and finally seemed to define "torture" as "anything a terrorist doesn't enjoy" in more recent days. Former intel officer Ralph Peters does, in "An Awful Pick." Given those indicators, it's easy to see the appointment as a signal that President Obama is gutting US intelligence during an intelligence war, while openly politicizing it and cementing lethal political correctness as the norm for the CIA. The Moneyball theory of politics has to agree with that view, and CIA employees certainly seem unhappy. If this view is correct, Panetta's appointment certainly looks like living proof that all the things said by the Left and the Democratic Party about using improved intelligence instead of military action were lies, plain and simple.

Surprisingly, Panetta's appointment is getting support from people who might be expected to take the above view, including Michael Ledeen, Jack Kelly, et. al.

I'll explain their take - and also the problem. Because both views miss The Elephant in the Room.

  • The Sunnier Side?
  • The Elephant in the Room
  • Shoot, Cage, or Train?

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January 12, 2009

Hamas is Responsible

By Michael Totten at 18:22

Steven Erlanger wrote a revealing article in the New York Times about the methods of urban warfare used by the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas in Gaza. He shows that Hamas is committing war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Hamas knows better than most that Israelis take great care to avoid harming civilians despite propaganda saying otherwise.

“Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open,” he wrote, “Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms.”

Hamas is in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions here, but that’s nothing new. Hamas never agreed to uphold the Conventions in the first place. Its raison d’être is the destruction of an entire country, after all. The laws and ethics of civilized warfare are anathema to groups like Hamas.

Nevertheless, everyone should be familiar with what the Geneva Conventions actually say. The Society of Professional Journalists provides a good summary explanation that most of my colleagues should know well by now:

The Geneva Conventions and supplementary protocols make a distinction between combatants and civilians. The two groups must be treated differently by the warring sides and, therefore, combatants must be clearly distinguishable from civilians… In order for the distinction between combatants and civilians to be clear, combatants must wear uniforms and carry their weapons openly during military operations and during preparation for them… Combatants who deliberately violate the rules about maintaining a clear separation between combatant and noncombatant groups and thus endanger the civilian population are no longer protected by the Geneva Convention.

These protocols have been carefully crafted by leaders of civilized nations and are not to be lightly dismissed. It may be convenient to blame the Israelis when civilians are killed by their air strikes in Gaza, but the Geneva Conventions clearly state that Hamas fighters endangered those civilians by disguising themselves.

Not only do Israelis have a harder time figuring out who is a target and who needs protection, we all have a harder time identifying those who have already been wounded and killed. Hamas says mostly civilians have been wounded and killed in the fighting in Gaza, but its fighters look just like everyone else. They can trot out the bodies of two dead terrorists in front of the cameras and say they’re civilians, thus easily fooling just about anyone. The number of civilian casualties, therefore, appears much higher than it really is. But even if that weren’t the case, far more civilians are being killed in this war because Hamas is fighting dirty.

Israelis, in the meantime, go far out of their way to avoid harming the civilians of Gaza. They have even developed weapons for precisely this purpose.

“A new Israeli weapon,” Erlanger writes, “is tailored to the Hamas tactic of asking civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb. The Israelis are countering with a missile designed, paradoxically, not to explode. They aim the missiles at empty areas of the roofs to frighten residents into leaving the buildings, a tactic called ‘a knock on the roof’.”

If Israelis were targeting civilians, as Hamas and hysterical critics like to claim, it ought to go without saying that they would never have developed a “weapon” that scatters civilians away for their own protection.

Activists, professors, journalists, bloggers, and other uninformed individuals may believe Israelis kill civilians either negligently or on purpose, but even Hamas knows that’s a lie. Otherwise, Hamas would not ask “civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb,” as Erlanger reports.

Hamas knows the truth but uses its lie as a weapon. And it works. Millions all over the world believe Israel massacres civilians in Gaza and that claims to the contrary from the military are disinformation and smokescreen.

Israelis, by contrast, don’t use human shields to deter Palestinian rocket attacks. The very idea is absurd. Hamas aims at civilians on purpose, as much as it can aim its crude rockets. A congregation of Israeli human shields would only make a bulls-eye at which Hamas could aim.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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January 11, 2009

Movie Recommendation: Traitor

By Joe Katzman at 19:34

Rented the DVD yesterday, based on recommendations they'd been receiving from customers at the counter. Expected the standard slam-bang shoot 'em up. Got a thinking person's terrorism thriller instead, from a team that has apparently done its homework. A rare thing these days, vs. crap like "Syriana", and worth appreciating.

"Traitor" came out in summer 2008 without much promotion, and kind of sank in the quicksand. That's a shame, as it's pretty much tailor-made for Winds readers. I recommend picking up the DVD or stream next time you're looking for a movie rental.

Don Cheadle is the lead and he's excellent as the center of the movie. He had to be, as the script's midpoint is longer than usual and totally revolves around him. Said Taghmaoui shines, and Aussie/Englishman Guy Pearce does a very, very good southern baptist FBI agent. Wish that character had been developed a bit more than it was, but the movie has a lot of moving parts and that limits options. That complexity isn't integrated well enough to make it a "10" in my book, but I definitely give it a solid "8."

NOTE: Some plot spoilers in the comments.

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January 10, 2009

2008 Weblog Awards

By Armed Liberal at 03:03

We aren't up for one this year (we didn't deserve one, but watch out for us next year!), and I'll be commenting tomorrow on some of my choices.

But the Battle Royal right now is between Michael Totten and Juan Cole for best Middle East and Africa Blog. It's not just that Michael posts here, that he and I are on a page ideologically; or that that he's a great, generous guy. It's not just that he actually goes out and puts his eyes on what he writes about and offers original reporting, rather than recycled 1950's international politics.

It's that he's an honorable guy, who plays straight in his writing and life. Cole, on the other hand - famous for 'disappearing' his mistakes (scroll to the bottom) on his blog, famous for whining about how MEMRI was lawyer-lettering him - only to have been outed as someone who had done the same thing to Martin Kaplan.

There are first-rate minds who live in second-rate people, and we excuse their behavior because of what they add to our store of knowledge, art, thought, or beauty. Note that I'm not saying I think Cole is a first-rate mind (I'm doubtful - but I haven't read his real scholarship); just that I try and separate the thinking from the living. In Cole's case, though, the living is problematic enough that I'd really hate to see the guy rewarded.

Plus, he's massively wrong on Israel, on the role of 'colonialism' in modern international relations, and on pretty much everything he writes about US politics.

So go on over and vote early and often (you can vote every 24 hours).

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January 9, 2009

La Musique (updated/ fixed)

By Armed Liberal at 23:23

My ex-wife's nephew - my ex-nephew? Antoine Pierlot was an irritatingly charming little French kid when I last saw him.

He's now a handsome, talented French kid who made the finals in the Telerama magazine "Victories of Classical Music 2009."

They have videos online, and you can vote - for him, if you think he deserves it (I did, although I was impressed by the bass as well). You can go to this url to vote, and also to listen to/ watch the contestants.

Note that you'll have to give your first name, last name, and email, and the two checkboxes at the bottom of the page are acceptance of the TOS and an opt-in for all kinds of interesting French spam.

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The New Army Air Corps

By Joe Katzman at 05:37
LHD-8 construction
RQ-7 Shadow
(click to view full)

A recent development has profound implications for the balance of power between America's armed services, and ties into a growing trend.

The trend is the growing use of Army UAV drones and precision artillery/ rockets, in order to perform close air support and battlefield interdiction roles that were once the domain of the US Air Force. Don't fighter planes and bombers still work? Of course they do. But they cost $8,000 - $20,000 per flight hour to operate, plus $80 million - $1+ billion to replace once their airframe runs out of safe flight hours (usually at 8,000 -10,000 hours). Those dynamics, and the need for constant battlefield coverage, have led to an explosion in UAV flight hours.

Problem: Large UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator are a lot less expensive than fighter jets, but they're still a few million dollars apiece. Small UAVs like the RQ-7 Shadow are cheaper and there are more of them, but they have been too small to arm.

Which seems too bad - because if they could, it would change so many things...

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Detroit: And Yet....

By Joe Katzman at 02:45

I've often said that my wish for journalism would be for all areas to display the same level of writing and subject expertise we get from sports writers. Mitch "Tuesdays With Morrie" Albom grew up as a sportswriter, and he's he could have been a pretty good advert for the profession (see comments). Still....

Love letters to Detroit aren't exactly common these days. Not when their NFL Lions have just wrapped up a perfect 0-16 season. Not when its industrial team appears to be gunning for a similar record. And did we mention the Mayor's [Dem.] recent indictment and resignation?

But Mitch Albom pens one. It has more than its share of heartbreak and failure, but also hope. And it deserves to be read, widely. Outside Detroit, as well as in:

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  • Barry Meislin: Then of course, there's this.... read more
  • Standing in the Shadows: As touching as Albom's article was, I couldn't help but read more
  • Joe Katzman: Brett, It does. That's why I asked. And this take read more

January 8, 2009

Satellite Proliferation & Front Line Impacts

By Joe Katzman at 07:48

Thought this was interesting.

Sky News discusses Britain's use of its powerful ballistic missile warning radars to track satellites. Why? Because it issues alerts to its troops when commercial satellites will be over operational areas, on the assumption that they can/will be used as a form of sophisticated hostile surveillance.

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CJR: Somalia's Reminder

By Joe Katzman at 03:59

Joshua Foust of the Columbia Journalism Review looks at Matt Yglesias' American Prospect article about Somalia, which argues that (a) the country's current state is the fault of George W. Bush's "ignored adventure"; and essentially (b) that the USA should have backed the Islamic Courts.

Foust has the wit to describe the first pillar of Yglesias' argument as "laughably false," but it's this point that I really want to draw attention to, because it's a much more important larger truth:

"Indeed, any realistic take on the problems facing Somalia must consider more than just the American perspective. Somalia plays host to Islamists and at least one known al Qaeda terrorist. Somalia is the homebase of a massive and lucrative piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Somalia does not have a functioning central government, and probably won’t for a long time. But none of this is America’s fault - and examining the country only in terms America seems to care about will badly miss the point."

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By Armed Liberal at 03:52

Check out the Indian Government's dossier and timeline on the Mumbai attacks.

This is what was given to the government of Pakistan for their followup and reaction.

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  • J Aguilar: Nortius (#4) Reported by whom? Karkare, the antiterror squad chief read more
  • Mark Buehner: J, by your logic, the attacks never happened at all. read more
  • Tim Oren: Oh, lovely, now we've got 'troofers' for Mumbai to add read more

"Where Do We Go From Here" - Guest Post

By Armed Liberal at 00:45

Guest post by Marcus Vitruvius

This is a response to Armed Liberal's and Nortius Maximus' questions of where do we go from here, in the Iraq 2009 discussion.

Where we go from here depends on a lot of factors, the most important of which is, "What are we trying to achieve?" I'd say, provisionally, that what we're trying to achieve is the elimination of Islamic terror, without other loss of national power and influence. (Ideally, while increasing it.) That's a tall order. Frankly, to phrase it as the elimination of a tactic from a group makes it completely impossible without eliminating the group, so let's scale that back to a goal of greatly diminishing the prospects of Islamic terror.

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  • robohobo: From Armed in #2: Yes, the basic axis of this read more
  • David Blue: The nub of my first dissent is not really an read more
  • David Blue: #5 from Marcus Vitruvius: Mr Blue, #1: Mr Blue, #1:At read more

January 7, 2009

Proportionality - I Do Not Think Tha' Word means Wha' You Think It Means

By Armed Liberal at 17:34

There's a massive amount of crazy talk about 'proportionality' right now, centering on criticism of Israel for their bombardment and invasion of Gaza.

I instinctively was quizzical when the issues was first raised, and want to take a few moments to talk it through and suggest why I think it's an absurd notion - as it is frequently misused in the blogs and newspapers. International law seems pretty clear on it (and shockingly reasonable).

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  • TOC: The world is suffering from empathy fatigue when it comes read more
  • Tim Oren: There's one piece of crucial information that we lack: Does read more
  • Robert M: Again as to strategy: I do not think you can read more

Apple Garage Band 09: A Jaw-Dropping New Business Model

By Joe Katzman at 06:52

It takes a lot to make a tech firm drop my jaw. Apple has a lot of tech that I like, but it takes more than that. The last thing they did that dropped my jaw was iPhone 2.0... and the App Store, which was the real punch.

They just did it again, as I watched the "no Steve Jobs keynote." (Steve's sick).

iLife's Garage Band, which let musicians digitally edit their music now has some new features. Like music lessons - see the guitar (for instance), see the chording, while seeing the notes and watching a video of the instructor. That's step one. Now your software's potential audience just got a lot bigger. On to step 2. Don't just have a guitar lesson. Have Sting teach you how to play a stripped down version of "Roxanne" (or the full version, if he chooses). Or have Sarah McLachlan teach you to play "Angel" on the piano. Not to mention features like having the artist explain the story behind the song. All in Garage Band 09, of course.

That's when the bell tolled.

These are the sorts of things that I could see being part of high-end CD/DVDs on a regular basis. Or just downloaded from iTunes, for $4.99 per song lesson etc. A huge business model that never existed before just opened up for artists - and Apple. Damn, but they really are brilliant.

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  • Dan the Music Master: It doesn't surprise me that Garage Band 09 is expanding read more

Recession: In For a Long Haul?

By Joe Katzman at 06:25

Calculated Risk notes that The Fed thinks we're in for a long haul. It now projects GDP to decline in 2009 "as a whole," and unemployment to "rise significantly into 2010". The Fed also expects disinflationary pressures to continue into 2010.

Meanwhile, interesting comments here about a "balance sheet recession," which would not respond in the same way as more conventional recessions - and could be longer than 2 years if we make the wrong moves.

KT Cat adds that there's a cultural dimension, and that rings true in a "winter is coming" sort of way.

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  • Nortius Maximus: K T Cat: Last time I checked, the link to read more
  • K T Cat: Thanks for the link! As much fun as it is read more
  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA): In a lot of ways a big part of the read more

So THAT's What They Are...

By Joe Katzman at 05:41

Also known as “Barn Funnel Weavers”, “Sink Spiders” and “Those Monster Hairy Spiders That Run Like The Wind”. The Backyard Arthropod Project has more.

The good news: they'll keep your house clear of pests, and it's also apparently hard to make them bite you, even if you try. Readers in the know can earn extra spouse credits with that bit of info, just take a quick look first and make sure it doesn't have 2 really big eyes (wolf spider - use a jar) or 6 eyes/3 eye pairs (brown recluse possible if you're east of the Rockies, danger).

Two things I found most interesting: (1) Tegenaria domestica are supposed to live in houses, and don't do well outside; and (2) The author's speculation that they may be speciating and evolving.

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  • Tim Oren: Based on our experiences with having a home built for read more
  • Celebrim: I suppose it is possible that they are evolving in read more

Where are we going?

By Demosophist at 04:33

I’m not entirely sure how objective I am about the following observations concerning the banality of evil or the utility of user forums, but I’m frankly less concerned about objectivity than complacency. That’s why I’m posting this long discombobulated draft, rather than just tipping another glass. To get to the point, some recent events have suggested that I may be taking much for granted when I assume that logic and rationality are either obvious or compelling to others. I’ve recently noticed what I take to be a significant degradation in the quality of a vital technical resource that I have been taking for granted: “user groups.” Over the years I’ve placed heavy reliance on these technical user groups to give me clues about how to maintain various equipment and software, from bicycles to automobiles and operating systems. But in the past year or two I’ve begun to notice that they’ve become significantly “dumber” than I thought they ought to be. At least that’s the way it seems. And I’m pretty sure that the perception isn’t a result of the fact that I’m becoming smarter, though that would be attractive.

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  • Demosophist: alchemist: I couldn't find any useful user groups about mobile read more
  • Glen Wishard: I figure, when I see billboards that are grossly misspelled read more
  • alchemist: I generally don't use user groups for a specific vendor read more

January 6, 2009

Inauguration Bleg

By Armed Liberal at 19:45

So we just got tickets to the Inauguration (long story...).

And managed to get flights to DC, thanks to my ridiculous amount of travel over the last two years.

And now we need a place to stay. Hilton has a bunch of rooms at $2K/, no.

So - anyone out there in DC a) want to host a blogger and his amazingly tolerant wife? or b) know of a reasonable place to stay in DC from Sunday - Thursday?

We're housebroken, disarmed (for this trip at least), great company and happy to buy you nice dinners or offer a reasonable stipend...drop me a note at armed-at-armedliberal-dot-com.

Pass it along...

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Iraq 2009

By Armed Liberal at 18:05

Part of my time away from blogging was a real effort to mull over what I know and feel about Iraq, and to try and think though my own views - given the facts on the ground - about my own support for the war and my opinions on where it's brought us. this isn't meant as a tour d'horizon on what's going on there today - it's a reflection by someone who supported the war and is looking back and wondering about his own views.

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  • Jeff Medcalf: Let's look at the situation from the standpoint of September read more
  • Marcus Vitruvius: Sorry, NM, I read your previous enjoinder, nodded to myself read more
  • Nortius Maximus: Hypoc: Yes, as opposed to that. Seriously, any more drive-bys read more

Harry Reid Steps Up

By Michael Totten at 17:15

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went on Meet the Press Sunday and strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself from the terrorist army in Gaza. “For eight years they’ve been firing rockets into Israel,” he said of Hamas, and went on to describe the dynamic as follows:

They’ve become more intense the last few months. Israelis have been killed, maimed and injured. Sometimes more than 200 a day coming into Israel. If this were going on in the United States from Vancouver, Canada, into Seattle, would we react? Course we do. We would have to…Israel, for–since 1967, controlled Gaza. They gave it to the Palestinians as a gesture of peace. And all they got are a bunch of rockets in return.

He is right, of course, that if the Canadian government were launching missiles at Seattle the U.S. would react, and with force. And we all know the U.S. would not wait eight years.

Reid’s comments are an important reminder of something most of us already know. The United States is more supportive of Israel’s existence and right to defend itself than any other country on earth. The conservative and supposedly pro-Israel President of France Nicolas Sarkozy condemned Israel’s response on the very first day, while the hyperpartisan left-wing American senator stridently defended Israel after more than a week of fierce fighting. Hatred of Israel consumes the mainstream political Right as well as the Left in Europe, while hatred of Israel in the United States is relegated only to part of the intellectual class and to the left-wing and right-wing lunatic fringes.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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  • Marcus Vitruvius: Being of a somewhat cynical bent, I take this as read more
  • Glen Wishard: Hatred of Israel consumes the mainstream political Right as well read more
  • Mark Buehner: The only problem i have with this is that it read more

Back From Vacation - Blog Stuff

By Armed Liberal at 05:27

Not blogging has been interesting; on the good hand, I have more time - and TG has been really, reallyhappy about it. On the other I feel the fur building up in my brain as I relax and don't try and think about things, and worse, don't have my thinking challenged on all fronts. I have come to realize that I like blogging a lot most of all not because I get to write, but because I have to respond.

That goes to the core of what will happen with the new site. It's taken a little longer than it should have - the holidays, a change in vendors (evariste stepped in and bailed my a** out), and my own spread attention delayed it.

But it ought to be ready to launch at the end of this week, along with a work blog that I hope to keep up as well.

So let's talk about what will change.

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  • Armed Liberal: Mark B - I agree 100%, and one task I'd read more
  • Kirk Parker: LTEC: "fragile" vs "robust": our coalitions fall apart easily, rather read more
  • Mark Buehner: Cheers to a great new year. Personally i'd love to read more

January 3, 2009

Gaza and the Law of Armed Conflict

By Michael Totten at 17:55

While much of the world engages in hand-wringing, placard-waving, teeth-gnashing, and rocket-launching over Israel’s “disproportionate” response to Hamas attacks from Gaza, it’s worth looking at what the doctrines of “proportionality” actually say.

Making the rounds is a two-year old quote from Lionel Beehner’s paper for the Council on Foreign Relations in which he summarizes the principle of proportionality as laid out by the 1907 Hague Conventions. “According to the doctrine, a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante.”

The precise wording of the doctrine can be found in Article 51, not Article 49 as Beehner writes, of the Draft Articles of the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts. “Countermeasures must be commensurate with the injury suffered, taking into account the gravity of the internationally wrongful act and the rights in question.”

This is vague and open to interpretation, as Beehner admits. And it’s further complicated by the fact that the doctrine was laid out at a time when war was fought between sovereign states with standing armies rather than asymmetrically between a sovereign state and a terrorist gang.

Proportion, as defined by Beehner and the Hague Conventions, is impossible between Israel and Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces are more professional, competent and technologically advanced than Hamas and will inflict greater damage as a matter of course. And Hamas’s war aim is entirely out of proportion to Israel’s. Israel wants to halt the incoming rocket fire, while Hamas seeks the destruction or evacuation of Israel.

Beehner’s proportionality doctrine is therefore unhelpful. Each side’s ends and means are disproportionate to the other. And nowhere in that doctrine are casualty figures or the intent of the warring parties factored in.

In any case, no war has ever been fought tit for tat, and the Hague Conventions doesn’t say any war should be. The American response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor went well beyond sinking an equal number of ships in a Japanese harbor, for instance. And European Jews certainly were not entitled to execute six million German civilians after the Holocaust.

The proportionality doctrine spelled out here is really only useful up to a point. “It’s always a subjective test,” Beehner correctly quotes Vanderbilt University Professor Michael Newton as saying. “But if someone punches you in the nose, you don’t burn their house down.” That much most of us can agree on. Israel should not – and will not – implement a Dresden-style fire-bombing of Gaza City in response to Qassam and Grad rocket attacks.

So aside from the obvious, we’re wading into murky territory that could be debated forever. Another doctrine of proportionality, though, clearly applies to this war, and it’s found in the Law of Armed Conflict.

The Law of Armed Conflict “arises from a desire among civilized nations to prevent unnecessary suffering and destruction while not impeding the effective waging of war. A part of public international law, LOAC regulates the conduct of armed hostilities. It also aims to protect civilians, prisoners of war, the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked.”

Proportionality, in short and according to the law, “prohibits the use of any kind or degree of force that exceeds that needed to accomplish the military objective.”

In other words, if a surgical strike is all that is needed to take out a Grad rocket launcher, carpet bombing the entire city or even the neighborhood isn’t allowed.

Hamas is still firing rockets; therefore, the IDF is not using more force than necessary to disrupt the firing of rockets. Israel, arguably, is using less force than necessary. And the IDF, unlike Hamas, does what it can to minimize injury to civilians. “Militants often operate against Israel from civilian areas,” the Associated Press reported last week. “Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.” Israeli commanders are even warning individual Hamas leaders that their homes are on the target list so they can vacate the premises in advance.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

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  • PD Shaw: AMAC: Let me give an example of what I believe read more
  • Mark Buehner: "You state that the cessation of rocket fire from Gaza read more
  • Ian Coull: On the surface, it seems silly and uniquely human to read more

What does Hamas aspire to?

By Donald Sensing at 17:27
Michael Gerson in The Washington Post:
There is no question -- none -- that Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza is justified. No nation can tolerate a portion of its people living in the conditions of the London Blitz -- listening for sirens, sleeping in bomb shelters and separated from death only by the randomness of a Qassam missile's flight. And no group aspiring to nationhood, such as Hamas, can be exempt from the rules of sovereignty, morality and civilization, which, at the very least, forbid routine murder attempts against your neighbors.
Correct on the first point, missed on the second. Yes, Israel's elimination of Hamas' rocket threat is justified. But, no, sorry - Hamas does not "aspire" to nationhood. Hamas is entirely uninterested in creating a nation out of Gaza or the West Bank and Gaza combined.

Mr. Gerson has apparently fallen into the fallacy that the rulers of the Palestinian people desire for the "peace process" to work just as its Western proponents envision. That is the "two state solution" for which the objective is a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state of the West Bank and Gaza, with the Bank being, finally, free of Israeli presence and most (or all) of the Jewish settlements that have been built there over the years.

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  • Nortius Maximus: An aside to AJL re Golan: I am no master read more
  • Andrew J. Lazarus: I do not understand the point about Hamas aspiring to read more
  • Jeff Medcalf: There are only two stable solutions to the Israel/Palestine problem. read more

January 2, 2009

Other thoughts on proportionality

By Donald Sensing at 02:06

I have not posted here in quite awhile, but Michael Totten's piece on what an Israeli "proportional" response would look like prompted me to add my two cents.

Michael is quite right, of course, and the charges of disproportionality thrown at Israel are hurled with no evidence that the accusers have ever actually studied Just War theory, of which proportionality is one tenet.

For example,
The top U.N. human rights official says Israel's military response to the firing of rockets at its territory by Palestinian militants is "disproportionate." U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says she is distressed at the enormous loss of life in Gaza and calls on Israel to prevent collective punishment and the targeting of civilians.
I wrote on my own blog about what proportionality really means in Just War theory and why it does not mean tit-for-tat responses or responses limited in type, duration or nature to the attacks Hamas has launched against Israel. If it did mean that, then Israel would be justified simply to fire rockets back at Gaza with no regard of where they fell or whom they killed, and they'd have several thousand of such responses left to go. That is, after all, exactly what Hamas has done to Israel.
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  • Avatar: What Pournelle is getting at, and answering RHSwan's question, is read more
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