painpill
3/20/2003

23:48  
The first day
Well I've given up on trying to keep close track of events here... again, The Agonist is doing a terrific job of updating events in real-time. He seemed a little concerned that he didn't have time to give any commentary/analysis, but the service he's providing is phenomenal. I hope the bandwidth isn't putting him in the poorhouse - and if it is, I hope he'll make it known.

After 24 hrs things seem pretty good on the war front. None of the most immediate dangers for the war itself - chemical weapons use, burning oil wells, house-to-house fighting, terrorist reprisals - have really materialized. I find that I'm impressed with the Bush admin's apparent restraint and precision with the use of military force... if only their diplomacy were so accurate! I don't by any means think we've passed the dangerous stage of this - and obviously nothing the US can do militarily will reverse the bankrupt policies that brought us to war in the first place. But for now at least - until the smoke clears - there's reason for optimism.

MORE: If you're feeling optimistic too, Michael Kinsley is a good cold shower.


23:31  
The crux of the biscuit
A quick thanks to Ruminate This, Apostropher, and The Scope for the links.



23:28  
Eliminate this
Lisa English tells us how to help fight the elimination of the estate tax, which due to a sunset provision has to pass through Congress again before 2010 to stay in effect.



19:07  
Close to home
Protestors have shut down Lake Shore Drive!



18:34  
Looking presidential
Does it strike anybody else as strange that Wesley Clark - a probable contender for the Democratic nomination in 2004 - has spent half the day on CNN explaining military tactics? I guess it will help raise his profile, but he certainly doesn't look very presidential.



15:46  
Empty flasks
ABC has this report about ricin in the Gare de Lyon (the Paris subway).

UPDATE: It turns out the flasks were found back on 3/17, although this may not be partcularly ressauring.

UPDATE: The BBC makes it sound like the flasks were full, not empty. That is somewhat reassuring.


14:30  
The home front
According to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in AZ, along with other such facilities, may be the target of Al Qaeda terrorist operations. CNN and FOX are reporting the the FBI is looking for one individual in particular who recently evaded surveillance and is a trained pilot; I can't confirm this from the FBI website.

UPDATE: His name is Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, accoridng to the NYT.


12:14  
Strategic misrepresentation
Counterspin theorizes that the Tariq Aziz defection rumors were disinformation by US intelligence designed to flush out Saddam's location - apparently with some success.



11:33  
Breaking news
Some war-related stories:

Iraqi oil wells ablaze

US artillery strikes inside Iraq

War draws condemnation

Bush administration questions Hussein video

Turkey opens airspace to US

I plan to be here through the day, but check out The Agonist for real-time updates.



3/19/2003

23:18  
Talking strategy
Maybe it's a little soon to be speculating on the war plan (!), but here's how I see it so far. Recent weeks have seen more and more talk about the "shock and awe" plan of bombing Baghdad back to the stone age in the first 24 hours. Instead, we seem to be seeing precision attacks on leadership positions. So, after setting up an expectation of spectacular attacks (with lots of collateral damage) in the minds of Iraqis, doesn't what we're seeing now look exceedingly rational and precise?

There may even be something to the fact that the attack began right at daybreak... Iraqis woke up this morning not to widespread destruction, but to precision attacks against leadsership targets. I'm reading this as a wider strategy to win the allegiance of the Iraqi people. We'll see how it works out...

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias also wonders if "shock and awe" was misinformation. If so, CNN et al are doing a great job of keeping it alive - "we'll know it when we see it" and all that.


10:28  
War and utility maximization
Matthew Yglesias writes:

Probably the strongest point the anti-war bloggers have made in the past couple days is pointing to this "Salam Pax" post explaining that he is less-than-enthusiastic about the prospect of having his country bombed by the United States.

This raises, I think, an important normative issue. Normally, one would think that one of the strongest justifications country A could have for waging war against country B is that the population of B favors such a course of action. Now it may or may not be the case that Salam is speaking for the majority of Iraqis on this point, but even if he is not, his post reminds us that some of the civilians killed in war will be civilians who were against the war. If you're comfortable applying a brute utilitarian calculus to these sorts of decisions, it doesn't really make a difference whether the dead civilians were pro- or anti-war, but if you're not this seems to matter.

If you're looking at the interests of the Iraqi people as a whole, I'm not sure you have a whole lot of tools at your disposal - here, the "brute utilitarian calculus" is the weapon of choice. When you have this many players, is there any other practical way of summing utilities? I can't think of any.

You could argue that including death (the most extreme possible outcome for an individual) in the analysis skews the equation so much that it's impossible to make any kind of rational choices. This is similar to the argument I made against creating a market for kidneys - that allowing death as a potential outcome puts entire fortunes in play, as the relevant utility function approaches infinity. Weighting death according to this kind of skewed utility - in the context of war or otherwise - just leads to the point where any risk of fatality is enough to paralyze us. If individuals consciously assume responsbility by supporting the war, their preferences don't exhibit the same distortion; but especially with a large population, won't a single naysayer will be enough to make the system impractical?


10:12  
How did things get so messed up?
According to MSNBC: No compensation for the Turks, overflight rights for the US, and Turkish troops in northern Iraq.



00:31  
Further reading...
War related news/analysis of varying scope:

US forces to use depleted uranium

Plastic sheeting and masking tape

Rounding up Iraqi-Americans (via TalkLeft)

Al Qaeda attacks a "near certainty"

The rejigging of the western alliance

The hidden costs of peace

Fred Kaplan's gameday preview

Also, check out Fred Kagan's disturbing take on the possibility of further escalations from the DPRK while we're distracted. Here's the apt comparison with Pearl Harbor:
This same combination of hostility, damaging policies and military weakness convinced the Japanese that the time had come to attack in December 1941. Interestingly, they had no expectation that they could defeat us in a war then. They hoped instead to force a change in our policies by attacking when we were distracted. What might the North Koreans try in a similar vein if they, too, become convinced that an attack or its plausible threat could lead to a negotiated settlement instead of all-out war?
To me this seems like a stretch, but who knows? There are plenty of other parallels to be drawn between the Japanese of 1941 and the North Koreans of today. But I think the conventional wisdom (and it's called wisdom for a reason) is that the Koreans are looking for some bilateral negotaion here, not a war.

So it's kind of odd when Kagan concludes we need to call up more military forces to respond to the potential threat. Maybe there's less incendiary approach we could take here?


00:15  
I think the word is dignity
The Guardian has published some emails Rachel Corrie sent to her family before she was killed by an Israeli bulldozer. Obviously they present a certain perspective on the conflict, but I found them more interesting for the insight they give into her personality - why she was there to begin with, how the experience was changing her, etc. Definitely worth a look.

UPDATE: I just wanted to express my unqualified revulsion/disgust at the related comment strings over at LGF. It's been a while since I spent any time on some of the more conservative blogs, and maybe today wasn't the best time to go back...


00:11  
Kiss me and I'll kiss you back
Smiling Politely has added me to his blogroll, so I'll return the favor. Amazingly, his blog is newer than mine! Today there are some interesting links about the legality of the war.



3/18/2003

20:55  
Gaming the Turks
Apparently the Turks are going to vote again on whether to allow American forces - although it's not clear that this concession will come soon enough for the current schedule. As I understand it, American hardware has been in Turkey for some time, but off-base.

The Turks have really been dragged through the mud for their opportunism, and no doubt cynics will have the same reaction to this late-breaking change of heart. But as I've explained before, the Turks have more at stake here than just a payout from the US government. The US invasion of Iraq will have huge unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences for Turkey. They're facing a humanitarian crisis of colossal proportions, whether they choose to aid the US or not. A Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq could have political consequences as well.

But US troops on that northern front would minimize the political danger to Turkey, and US payouts would help defray the costs of the refugee crisis in terms of damage to the Turkish economy. So why didn't the Turks vote to provide bases for US troops before?

The only satisfying answer seems to be the bungled diplomacy of the Bush administration. Because of widespread opposition to the war in the Turkish public, the Turkish parliament had incentives to vote against providing bases, especially when there was still talk of a diplomatic solution; the US apparently failed to offer and a compensation package that neutralized those incentives. Now that war is a certainty, they're backed into a corner, so in a sense, we've called the bluff. But the potential consequences for Turkey - historically a close ally of the US - are grave.

UPDATE: Now it's looking like the vote is only for flyover rights, which won't help much with the refugee problem. At this point Turkey intentds to send troops into northern Iraq, which could be a nightmare scenario if Turkish troops clash with Iraqi (or Turkish) Kurds.


20:43  
Developing institutions
Mark W. Anderson (via Sean-Paul Kelly) has a compelling draft manifesto for the role of weblogs in society.



20:37  
The president's precedent
Eugene Volokh says the precedents set by our war in Iraq won't matter:

[P]recedents chiefly influence those who care about equality and consistency and those willing to defer to the precedent-setter's judgment. The Chinese government, to take Howard Dean's example, fits neither category. When China is deciding whether or not to invade Taiwan, it will focus on its own interests, not on being consistent with what other governments have done. And Chinese officials are unlikely to be influenced by America's judgment about when a war is just: They simply don't respect our views the same way that we might respect our own Supreme Court or Congress.
I expect it's true that the Chinese will act in their own interests, but won't America's projected reaction figure into the equation somewhere? I suppose I'm making his argument for him here, since China will shocked and awed by the demonstration American military might... or maybe they'll be emboldened by our failure to deal with the DPRK?

Truth be told, my biggest concern about the precedents of this war isn't for countries like India and Pakistan. I'm much more concerned about how a successful war might reinforce destructive behaviors on the part of our good president. After all, the person he seems to be best at convincing is himself!


20:22  
Just a war
Lawrence Solum has some informative resources on just war theory.



20:20  
Link propagation
It's not clear to me why Archpundit is such a good source for local Chicago news/analysis, since he has a huge section on his sidebar devoted to St. Louis (and he's Archpundit, after all).



3/17/2003

21:24  
Don't believe everything you read
By the way, one thing about wartime is that suddenly we're faced with disinformation and propaganda, where in peactime we might have been more able to trust the media (?!). I think that's where blogging becomes so important - this network of informed and challenging readers has the potential to really chew through the bullshit sensationalism/hysteria. While there isn't much in the way of primary sources, the collective synthesis and digestion of the blog world is at least as strong as that of the traditional press, and it's incredibly important.

I for one (after my exam tomorrow, at least) intend to step up the blogging activities as the war begins, and I hope others will do the same.


21:16  
Shock and awe
As the war gets closer, there are plenty for reasons for alarm. The heightened alert status and all of the 10 minutes Bush spent on interpreting yet-to-occur terrorist attacks are probably are probably the biggest surprises for the night. It only seems logical that terrorists would time their attacks to coincide with the beginning of a US invasion of Iraq; Bush seemed to think there might be Iraqi terrorists in the mix as well. There's also the potential for terroist attacks against any occupation force - probably the biggest threat, after Bush himself, to the fragile hopes for an Iraqi democracy.

Then there's Saddam, who - if he hasn't left or been ousted within the next 48 hours - will be up against a wall, with literally nothing left to lose. If he was willing to use chemical weapons against his own people, will he really hesitate to use them against American troops, or Israel, or whoever else hppens to be standing by? He may have other nasty surprises in store for us as well... I fully expect him to blow up his oil wells before the 48 hours have even elapsed. This would be tragic not only from the perspective of paying for the occupation/reconstruction, but also because of the huge impact burning oils wells would have on the environment.

Obviously it's alarming that we're going into this with our international reputation in tatters, against the will of the people of the world, not to mention the UNSC. This will have consequences for almost anything we do on the international stage, but it's particularly relevant for the reconstruction/occupation period, or if the war goes badly. To his credit, Bush seemed to set the disagreements aside in his speech tonight, but the damage here is severe.

All along, one of my biggest objections to this war has been the precedent it sets for US intervention elsewhere. I've never seen the possession chemical weapons as a legitimate casus belli, but the idea of throwing the vile Saddam Hussein out of Iraq and founding a dempocratic government there holds some attraction for me. Obviously we've failed to bring the rest of the world into the fold on this - which is why people like Tom Friedman and Josh Marshall have been backing away from their pro-war stances in recent days. But to me, the problem we're facing with war in Iraq is way bigger than Saddam Hussein or wmd. What we're really talking about here is starting a war where there is no imminent danger to us. Our leaders, based on information invisible (still!) to the public, have determined that Iraq poses a threat, and they are resolved to remove that threat by force. In the past, this kind of war has always been known as a war of aggression.

But a successful war in Iraq will be a vindication of this policy, which may lead not only to further military adventuring by the Bush admin, but increased (and justified) paranoia on the part of some already paranoid countries. I'm talking not just about North Korea, but about Pakistan, Iran... even India, China, and Russia. It's this threat of a rearranged balance of world power that I most fear. And it's this threat that has me torn about the war effort, even on the eve of the invasion.


18:59  
Fuzzy math
Matthew Yglesias comments on the latest projections for Medicare insolvency:

Obviously, these sorts of predictions are more art than science, but I'm guessing that the combination of costly war, costly tax cuts, costly occupation, and costly addition of a prescription drug benefit is not going to make the situation any better.
Hear, hear. These kinds of insolvency predictions for Medicare and Social Security are almost impossible to gauge because it's never clear whether they include payouts from the current payroll tax surplus, or whether those surplusses are being allocated against future disbursements (a "lockbox"). Of course, there's no such thing as a lockbox - even under Clinton, we were using that surplus to buy back govt bonds - that is, to pay down the natl debt.



18:55  
A long way from celebrity
Brad DeLong has an interesting economic analysis of how positive feedback links are affecting your blogroll... mostly so far I'm apparently suffering from "linkrot".

Speaking of links, thanks to Jeff Cooper, Amygdala, and The Agonist for their links in the past couple days. Glad I can help with their b1...


3/16/2003

20:32  
The death of nonviolence
The more I think about this the more disturbing it is. The IDF obviously has a mandate to defend Israel from terrorist attacks, but I don't see anything suggesting Rachel Corrie was assoiciated with terrorists. Instead, she was engaging in the kind of legitimate non-violent protest that we associate with some of the 20th century's biggest heroes.

In other words, this is behavior to be encouraged. Arrest her? Maybe. Run her over with a bulldozer? I'm having visions of Tiananmen square.


20:22  
Let's put this in historical context
Dick Cheney's appearance on Meet the Press this morning was, well, notable for its coherence. Obviously he didn't say anything to change my mind, but I at least some of the motivations were laid out. For me, only one shocker:

We’ve been forced, partly because we were hit on 9/11, to come to grips with that very real possibility that the next attack could involve far deadlier weapons than anything the world had ever seen.
Not to suggest the threat isn't serious, or even draw a structural parallel with the situation, but didn't we drop not one but two atomic bombs (via Metafilter) on Japan in ww2? Claiming that the world has never seen nuclear weapons used before belies a serious lack of humility and perspective on the part of the vice president.



20:16  
Dos Mais
Got to see Moreno Veloso +2 at the Old Town School Friday night. I've been anticipating this concert for a long time, since Music Typewrittter has been one of my favorite albums of the last year. For those who don't know the music, it combines samba and traditional Brazilian music with tastefully manipulated electronica. I was a little worried about how the sampled sounds would operate in a live performance, but everything came together perfectly, thanks to the nimble drum-machining of Domenico Lancellotti. (According to this Guardian old review, Domenico has his own album forthcoming.)

Along the same lines, what I usually wonder with this kind of music is how highly planned things are. They did some of the songs just as they are on the album, which suggests a lot of planning and polishing. Other songs were changed dramatically, but the arrangements were complex - sudden tempo changes, etc - stuff they weren't doing on the spot. Their stage presence had exactly the opposite message of course... they were disorganized, spontaneous, and charming. But the real creative power seemed to be located in the precision of the electronica, which is naturally pre-sturctured and planned.

At any rate, I had a great time, and when they come back to Chicago I'll get tickets in second. Looking for their next album, too.





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