On the question of the causality of mystical experiences (caused by God? caused by the brain?), William James:

we must judge them by their fruits not their roots.

[For more on neurotheology and discussion, this blogginghead episode or this article by George Johnson, which comes to the same point: namely that neurotheology studies do not explain causality.]

Very interesting is their favorable comparison of James’ psychology over Freud’s.

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Published in: on April 28, 2007 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sam’s Club Republicans

Good intro piece on (Rep.)Gov. of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty by Matthew Continetti in the WeeklyStandard. [Continetti is the only WeeklyStandard writer I consistently find intelligent and I actually learn something from reading].

Pawlenty is one of the growing Sam’s Club Republicans. Pawlenty in fact coined the term. Sam’s Club Republicans are looking to cut taxes, find an affordable private-sector (but probably governmentally helped) health care fix, raise carbon emission standards, in a way “compassionate conservatism” (which Bush never tried).

The other options for Republicans is to stay hardline on the War on Terror (Giuliani, Romney, and McCain all doing this). Go for broke on hard core Reaganite libertarianism, state rights, and small government philosophy (Fred Thompson).

Or the way of a Pawlenty and perhaps more successfully Schwarzenegger.

The Upper Midwest (Minn., Wisconsin, Iowa), and the New West (Montana, Colorado) are heading Democrat. Ohio and Pennsylvania are. The whole country is shifting Democrat, even if the Republicans do manage to hold the Presidency in 08.

I would really like the Republicans to move towards #3 because with say a Democrat president and a close Senate, something like this Republican compromise on Health care seems much more better to me than an Edwards or left wing government command and control model.

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Published in: on April 28, 2007 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Failure of American Leadership

A blistering critique of the general core from the junior level of American military commanders. Read the whole thing and you will understand to the micron why the US is where it is in Iraq. This is the kind of discussion that needs to take place, not the immediate non-strategic thinking about pro/anti surge or when/how many troops to pull out.

–From Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, (2 Iraq tours, Bosnia, and 1st Gulf War)–my emphasis.

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This article began with Frederick the Great’s admonition to his officers to focus their energies on the larger aspects of war. The Prussian monarch’s innovations had made his army the terror of Europe, but he knew that his adversaries were learning and adapting. Frederick feared that his generals would master his system of war without thinking deeply about the ever-changing nature of war, and in doing so would place Prussia’s security at risk. These fears would prove prophetic. At the Battle of Valmy in 1792, Frederick’s successors were checked by France’s ragtag citizen army. In the fourteen years that followed, Prussia’s generals assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like those of the past. In 1806, the Prussian Army marched lockstep into defeat and disaster at the hands of Napoleon at Jena. Frederick’s prophecy had come to pass; Prussia became a French vassal.

Iraq is America’s Valmy.
America’s generals have been checked by a form of war that they did not prepare for and do not understand. They spent the years following the 1991 Gulf War mastering a system of war without thinking deeply about the ever changing nature of war. They marched into Iraq having assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like the wars of the past. Those few who saw clearly our vulnerability to insurgent tactics said and did little to prepare for these dangers. As at Valmy, this one debacle, however humiliating, will not in itself signal national disaster. The hour is late, but not too late to prepare for the challenges of the Long War. We still have time to select as our generals those who possess the intelligence to visualize future conflicts and the moral courage to advise civilian policymakers on the preparations needed for our security. The power and the responsibility to identify such generals lie with the U.S. Congress. If Congress does not act, our Jena awaits us.

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Published in: on April 28, 2007 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Lomborg on Newshour

Bjorn Lomborg, whom I consider to be one of the top 3 or 4 smartest people on the planet on Newshour.

There are multiple things going on but for convenience’s sake a distinction between the science and the politics (or what to do).

There is another movie making the rounds (view here) The Great Global Warming Swindle on the position against Global Warming. While it is well crafted and (tries to be) convincing just watching it, the ideas in it fall through. Critical response point by point here via

The problem I have with RealClimate is not the science but the politics. RealClimate is just straight down the line pro-Kyoto Accords, call for massive carbon cuts, etc.

This is where Lomborg is so genius. Instead of this (what I think of) useless argument pro/con, you deal with the eventuality of change and how to create human resiliency networks to deal with the consequences.

Resiliency then is the buzzword. It cuts across security (terrorist-networks), health (AIDS-malaria), and environment (Climate Change). Doesn’t get into blame games, massive economic cuts/anti-market forces as is common in green proposals.

BL says that right now it is $30/ton for carbon reduction. Better to spend the money on reducing the cost he says to $3 per.

Humans need wealth for resiliency.

Global Warming/Climate Change is not about saving the earth. The biosphere is going to explode with life due to Climate Change.

As Lomborg says we shouldn’t care about climate change per se but rather its impacts on humans.

Viruses, bacteria, weeds, many different forms of life are going to flourish in a climate change/global warming scenario. Every phase of mass life extinction on the planet (think the dinosaurs) has led to a further explosion of different forms of life. Same with this. If there is human induced change (which I do believe but am not apocalyptically so) AND change or no we are in the midst of one of 6 or so major extinction periods of life on this planet, then we are headed for a major life flourishing.

Just not of the human variety. Humans will go extinct. Not the planet. Not the Earth. So let’s cut out all “Save the Planet” bullshit. We need to talk about saving humans.

Global Warming is to the left what War on Terror is to the Right, a myth that keeps them from being responsible political beings who have to make decisions based on what is possible and what good can be done among the many many ills our society and planet faces.

This is Lomborg’s point: you can only do so much so why not do what we can do, do well, and do less expensively than all the carbon cuts, and make human communities more resilient to deal with the consequences.

As he says, “Kyoto is a bad investment.” Massive carbon cuts by the rich countries is not the issue. The mass of carbon is increasingly going to be in the courts of China and India. They are not going to stop development for the earth.

A basic understanding of Spiral Dynamics and human values systems will tell you why not.

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Published in: on April 26, 2007 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Joe Lieberman op-ed

On the continuing thread of how much tunnel-vision there is in the political class and talking heads circles, Sen. Lieberman enters the fray. His piece here.

He starts with saying there was not enough condemnation of the suicide attacks in Iraq last week (that killed almost 200). Immediately it became a talking point. Fair point, but one that was as equally true on left and right. The rest of his article then goes on to slam Democrats for voting for a timetable, so he might have followed his own wise thinking, but whatever.

Lieberman writes this about the upcoming vote for timelines:

This reaction is dangerously wrong. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of both the reality in Iraq and the nature of the enemy we are fighting there. What is needed in Iraq policy is not overheated rhetoric but a sober assessment of the progress we have made and the challenges we still face.

I agree with the Senator here. We do need sober assessment. It is unfortunate that the rest of his article gives us very little of one.

For the record, whatever the political gains of timetable tied to money bills, the real issue which neither side is doing is getting the strongmen in Iraq down to the table and work out a deal, if such a deal can be worked out. I think it has to be tried; I’m agnostic on whether it can be achieved. But everything including the sink has to be thrown at the possibility that such a deal can be hammered out.

Bush and the pro-surge folks are not having this talk because they are still locked into this notion of a central government. The Left is increasingly moving to just pulling out and having no sense of what else to do.

Lieberman points out two successes from the surge:
1–Decrease in sectarian Shia activity in Baghdad.
2–Tribal leaders in Anbar fighting “al-Qaeda.”

Recall: The Shia death squads have laid low because the Americans are doing their killing for them. And because the Shia have already won Baghdad. The cleansing of Sunnis will continue further, but basically it is done. So point 1 is a non-point.

2)This is the major flaw in Lieberman’s analysis: the intra-Sunni fight. Neither of these two points leads to anything other than still a question about the failed state and the fact that there is no state and no political solution, nor one coming, in a one-state framework.

The enemy Lieberman says is the old stand in bogeyman al-Qaeda:

The suicide bombings we see now in Iraq are an attempt to reverse these gains: a deliberate, calculated counteroffensive led foremost by al-Qaeda, the same network of Islamist extremists that perpetrated catastrophic attacks in Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and, yes, New York and Washington.

al-Qaeda in Iraq is not the Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey bombers. There is a viral theology/ideology but local resistance movements.

There is a split in the Sunni insurgency between the Islamic State in Iraq (sharia/caliphate) and Islamic Army of Iraq (Baathists mostly).

Lieberman goes so far as to say:

Indeed, to the extent that last week’s bloodshed clarified anything, it is that the battle of Baghdad is increasingly a battle against al-Qaeda. Whether we like it or not, al-Qaeda views the Iraqi capital as a central front of its war against us. Al-Qaeda’s strategy for victory in Iraq is clear. It is trying to kill as many innocent people as possible in the hope of reigniting Shiite sectarian violence and terrorizing the Sunnis into submission.

This is at best half-right and worse dangerously off course. As predicted, the surge plan was going to attract “al-Qaeda” elements to the smaller forward bases the Americans are heading to as well as to the rural areas on the outskirts of the cities (like south of Baghdad). This has happened. Which is why now the Americans are re-shifting their tactics because these places were not taken into account in the original plan.

The surge is straight outta Vietnam and assumes a rural agrarian society where people are not mobile. The counter-insurgency force can then create an oil-spot which keeps expanding radially out. In a mobile phone, urban zone, however, groups fade into civilian populations, they dis-assemble and then re-assemble somewhere else.

The Shia will continue to accept the body blows as long as the Americans continue to occupy. There is no political solution in this. The American presence is just putting a holding pattern. The surge we are told by Gen. Petraeus and Sec. Def. Gates is to buy time for a political settlement. But there is no political settlement to be had under the current circumstances. Everybody is just waiting for the Americans to leave.

Lieberman is right “al-Qaeda” is trying to push people to primary clan-militia loyalties. But this is no different in essentials from what has been going on since the beginning: the devolution and fragmentation of power.

But he is so wrong in assuming there is a battle for Baghdad. The battle is over. The clean up operations and attacks will continue for years. But the battle is over. The Sunnis lost. They have nothing really therefore to offer as a chip in a settlement scenario.

Hence the tribal leaders fighting al-Qaeda should be seen for what is possible in the future–these tribal leaders as the stakeholders of the future Sunni country/state of Anbar-istan.

Criticizing Obama Lieberman writes:

That is why the suggestion that we can fight al-Qaeda but stay out of Iraq’s “civil war” is specious, since the very crux of al-Qaeda’s strategy in Iraq has been to try to provoke civil war.

Again almost right. The reason you can not just fight al-Qaeda is not primarily because they are fighting to further explode the civil war but because they are so embedded in the society.

Lieberman with his Turkey, Indonesia reference still sees al-Qaeda in Iraq as some foreign entity. This is the same idea Bush has been peddling for a long time. They are not outsiders. They are perfectly connected into society. And the membership of these groups is fluid and alliances of convenience occur all the time. They are not so monolithic as Lieberman’s platitudes assert.

There are no doubt some extremely hardline elements who will terrorize populations but the Americans for four years have shown they can not deal with this and efforts made in one area just moves them to another. These guys are not idiots. Even with the surge and the PMC there will not be/are not enough troops to maintain control. Hence they just shift.

Today the battle is “for Baghdad and Baquba” tomorrow it will be back to Ramadi, Tal Afar, and all the rest. The surge is shifting pieces around on the board but with no political solution in sight it is not clear that is much or anything more than that.

The only ones who are going to be able to fight these guys and deal with the consequences of their presence are in fact the tribal leaders. But the Shia government is not going to give them any aid because they know eventually it will end up being used against them. These tribal leaders may be anti-Salafi revivalism (much better than al-Qaeda) but most will likely be anti-Shia government as well. The black market on guns and weapons in Iraq is one of the fastest growing markets in the country.

In other words these tribal leaders that are touted now have to be supported for their position as future heads of a separate sphere from the Shia led government. The Sunni heartland is going to be an absolute mess for years to come. And that is sad–to answer the charge that is just another political talking point. We are discussing humans and there lives of disconnection will breed further criminality, gangs, terrorism, and despair. They have no buy-in nor do they have any chips with which to buy in the current schema.

Until Joe Lieberman and others like him realize this all this political jib-jab means next to nothing in my book.

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Published in: on April 26, 2007 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Stupid NY Post Post

One of the dumber op-eds I’ve read in awhile: from Amir Taheri. This is what happens when you still think in terms of traditional war images in this post-Cold War world. i.e. In winners/losers.

Taheri is commenting on Sen. Reid’s statement that the war is lost. For the record, my position is the war was won in 2003 (against Saddam) and the peace was lost. [You’ll not see the “p” word in Taheri].

Here’s Taheri:

Because all wars have winners and losers, Reid, having identified America as the loser, is required to name the winner. This Reid cannot do. The reason is that, whichever way one looks at the situation, America and its Iraqi allies remain the only objective victors in this war.

Taheri then goes on to name three phases of the war:
1: Invasion against Saddam—America wins (I agree with him here)
2: Insurgency. Taheri claims America wins because elections were held (wow).
3: I don’t know exactly what he means here so I’ll just quote him:

The third and current war started toward the end of last year when the disparate forces fighting against the democratic government found a new point of convergence in a quest for driving America out. The Bush administration understood this and responded with its “surge” policy by dispatching more troops to Baghdad.

He does not mention the civil war going on first off which throws his whole op-ed into a Fantasyland feel.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t know where to begin, so this might have a spray in all directions feel.

Point #1, and this is absolutely crucial: there is no effective central government, democratically elected or otherwise. The idea that the second phase was won by having elections is beyond moronic.

The government only has power on the streets to the degree that they have influence with militias. This is equally true for Shia and Sunni legislators.

#2: Open-source warfare is predicated on keeping a hallow state. Not a totally collapsed state but an ineffective state. A state apparatus that can not achieve good will/trust among the people and therefore they align with the militias. And the militias do not have the responsibility of having to run a government. Who would want to run Iraq? That is so Cold War, 1980s which Taheri is completely lost in.

#3 Consequently, the whole talk of winners and losers assumes this black/white world. There are multiple winners in a failing state. Taheri assumes gangs have to gain political state power to be winners: it’s exactly the reverse. As long as lawlessness reigns, then the gangs are the winners. It’s a non-zero sum game friend. There’s a reinforcing feedback mechanism that for every suicide or car bomb attack that occurs the Shia blame the government thereby joining say the Mahdi Army. The Mahdi Army increase is used as a recruiting tool by Sunni jihadist elements. The militias want each other. They are the ones who want to create the us/them black/white worldview.

–So in a backwards way Taheri got it right on black/white just the wrong players.

#4 Taheri assumes (for ideological reasons?) this unity between the American force and the Shia government. The Shia government is just using the Americans to gain their own objectives which are not those of President Bush. The UIA is a Shia theocratic regime. Their goal is not a unified, non-sectarian government.

–Remember Friedman’s Law of Middle Eastern politics, look at what the politicians say in public in their own language to their own people, not what they say in English to Americans. What they say in public is we Shia are victorious.

The “winners” of this war are the following:
–Criminal Gangs, Kidnapping Mafia Like Rings
–And I would argue (though Taheri tries in vain to de-construct this view) Iran.

The “losers” the Sunnis.
–Particularly the 2 million refugees.
–And to a lesser degree the neighboring Sunni regimes who continue to lose face.

The peace was lost and the Shia are going to be faced with attacks from Sunnis for a decade or more.

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Published in: on April 26, 2007 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

HFord on Charlie Rose

Interview with HF on Charlie Rose.

Want to highlight something he says, but doesn’t have time to follow up on. He says (following his campaign) that a year from now we will be closer to Biden’s soft partition. That was a message to the other Democratic presidential candidates, especially Obama and Clinton.

What they got me thinking was this: events are going to shift in that direction, which may be good for a Democratic nominee. Obama’s main weakness of his speech is his Iraq policy–he needs to move, in my mind, to the Biden plan.

So I think the talking points about deadlines/benchmarks loose-strict, numbers of drawdown, forces over the horizon, etc. are all pretty worthless for now. The Democrats are going to continue to fund the war, Bush is going to keep troops to the end of his term.

And by 2008 the partition will be in effect seems to me.

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Published in: on April 26, 2007 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Invisible Children

Wonderful citizen journalism (three young American guys on a journey to Africa) about children in Northern Uganda who sleep in cities, parent-less, to avoid the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In the West there is a fadish tendency to look romantically on magical thinking. But this is magical thinking (purple) in the real world. It is brutal.

The stories of the children and their trauma is beyond heart breaking.

Sudan and Uganda are the new Congo and Rwanda. Although to be fair, the civil wars in Uganda and Sudan are roughly 20 years in the making.

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Published in: on April 25, 2007 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  


Christ the True Vine

Spent last weekend in Seattle at Church of the Apostles (Episcopal and Lutheran). Went to the Mission Learning Day with Brian McLaren.

Big thanks to Karen Ward and the whole crew at COTA.

[For a basic overview of emerging church movement, here].

Published in: on April 25, 2007 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sadr Most Brilliant Iraqi politican?

He calls for protests to the construction of walls.

As I’ve written often, Sadr is deeply influenced by the most popular politician in the Arab world–Sheik Hasan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah. While I do not support Nasrallah/Hezbollah, the man is a genius. In fact, there are few politicians on the planet who have such clarity of vision and can lead/harness a people for political ends as well as Nasrallah.

Nasrallah sleeps night to night in different locations. He evades attempts on his life. The strength of his support comes from his deep and abiding anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli policies. Sadr is also on the lamb in hiding from assassination. This gives them street cred.

Though Nasrallah is a Shia he is more approved of in Egypt (a Sunni country) than their own leader, Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, and the House of Saud all lob the “Shia crescent” meme because their populations are more and more drawn to Hezbollah, Hamas (Iranian-Hezbollah supported), and Syria to a degree.

Sadr is no moron. He is no Nasrallah for sure, but he is a decent imitator. He certainly has figured out like Nasrallah the key is to be anti-American, anti-occupation. PM Maliki is considered a pawn of Bush. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim lived in exile in Iran and is seen as too much of a Iranian-puppet.

Like in Lebanon, Sadr has called for peaceful resistance. He realizes also like Nasrallah that the key is to keep a hallowed out state, not destroy it completely. It forces people to local loyalties as John Robb would say. The Pottery Barn thesis holds for them as for us—you break it you own it. So Sadr doesn’t want to topple the regime, lest he own it. He wants it weakened and unable to provide security, employment, or civil services to the populace, so his Mahdi Army and its social outlays can (like Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas).

And when things get to the breaking point, pull a protest that unites Shia-Sunni. Nasrallah did it with the Israeli war and his support of Hamas. Sadr is now doing it with the Wall. Sunni clerics marched with him in his last protest. The walls in Iraq reminds of the Palestinians—yet more proof that the Shia now own the Palestinian issue. Sadr is doing this not the Sunnis.

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Published in: on April 25, 2007 at 3:11 pm  Leave a Comment