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Saturday, September 15, 2001

Friday, September 14, 2001
historical perspective, ancient hatred (via carey)

William O. Beeman teaches anthropology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. A specialist on Middle East Culture, he has written extensively on fundamentalism and terrorism. He has worked for the past four years in Tajikistan, where he has been able to monitor developments in Afghanistan.

The United States risks a severe miscalculation in dealing with the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon on Tuesday. This event is not an isolated instance of violence. This is not an "act of war." It is one symptom of a cancer that threatens to metastasize. The root cause is not terrorist activity, as has been widely stated. It is the relationship between the United States and the Islamic world. Until this central cancerous problem is treated, Americans will never be free from fear.

Merely locating and hunting down a single "guilty party" in this case will not stop future violence: such an action will not destroy the organization of terrorist cells already established throughout the world. Of greater importance, it will do nothing to alleviate the residual enmity against America that will remain at large in the world, continuing to motivate violence. The perpetrators of the original attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 were caught and convicted. This did not stop the attack on Tuesday.

The chief suspect is the Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden or his surrogates. He has been mischaracterized as an anti-American terrorist. He should rather be thought of as someone who would do anything to protect Islam. Bin Laden began his career fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 when he was 22 years old. He has not only resisted the Soviets but also the Serbians in Yugoslavia. His anger was directed against the United States primarily because of the U.S. presence in the Gulf Region more particularly Saudi Arabia itself the site of the most sacred Islamic religious sites.

According to bin Laden, during the Gulf War America co-opted the rulers of Saudi Arabia to establish a military presence in order to kill Muslims in Iraq. In a religious decree issued in 1998, he gave religious legitimacy to attacks on Americans in order to stop the United States from "occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places." His decree also extends to Jerusalem, where the second most sacred Muslim site the al-Aqsa Mosque. The depth of his historical vision is clear when, in his decree, he characterizes Americans as "crusaders" harkening back to the Medieval Crusades in which the Holy Lands, then occupied by Muslims, were captured by European Christians.

He will not cease his opposition until the United States leaves the region. Paradoxically, his strategy for convincing the United States to do so seems drawn from the American foreign policy playbook. When the United States disapproves of the behavior of another nation, it "turns up the heat" on that nation through embargoes, economic sanctions or withdrawal of diplomatic representation. In the case of Iraq following the Gulf war, America employed military action, resulting in the loss of civilian life. The State Department has theorized that if the people of a rogue nation experience enough suffering, they will overthrow their rulers, or compel them to adopt more sensible behavior. The terrorist actions in New York and Washington are a clear and ironic implementation of this strategy against the United States.

Bin Laden takes no credit for actions emanating from his training camps in Afghanistan. He has no desire for self-aggrandizement. A true ideologue, he believes that his mission is sacred, and he wants only to see clear results. For this reason, the structure of his organization is essentially tribalcellular in modern political terms. His followers are as fervent and intense in their belief as he is. They carry out their actions because they believe in the rightness of their cause, not because of bin Laden's orders or approval. Groups are trained in Afghanistan, and then establish their own centers in places as far-flung as Canada, Africa and Europe.

Each cell is technologically sophisticated, and may have a different set of motivations for attacking the United States.

Palestinians members of his group see Americans as supporters of Israel in the current conflict between the two nations. In the Palestinian view Ariel Sharon's ascendancy to leadership of Israel has triggered a new era, with U.S. government officials failing to pressure the Israeli government to end violence against Palestinians. Palestinian cell members will not cease their opposition until the United States changes its relationship with the Israeli state.

The Mujaheddin fighters in Lebanon also direct their hostility against Israel and the United States. They also operate against the Maronite Christian community in their own country, who were supported by the French from World War I until the end of World War II. They will not cease their operations until the region is firmly in Islamic hands.

Above all, Americans need to remember that the rest of the world has an absolute right to self-determination that is as defensible as our own. A despicable act of mayhem such as those committed in New York and Washington is a measure of the revulsion that others feel at our actions that seemingly limit those rights. If we perpetuate a cycle of hate and revenge, this conflict will escalate into a war that our great-grandchildren will be fighting.


  • fighting the good fight by william o. beeman
  • the war prayer by mark twain (via boingboing)
  • mir tamim ansary on afghanistan (via metafilter)
  • welcome to the desert of the real by slavoj zizek
  • Thursday, September 13, 2001
    groupism (via world new york)

    The thinking, feeling, and behavior of a person in a group can be only partially explained in terms of how that person might interact with another individual. Although dualistic thinking and bias occur in both individual and group interactions, certain phenomena such as camaraderie, commitment to a leader or cause, and collective illusions need to be understood in the context of the group. 'Groupism' is the collective counterpart of egoism. The person in the group transfers his own self-centered perspective to a group-centered frame of reference. He interprets events in terms of the group's interests and beliefs. Ordinary selfishness is converted into 'groupishness.' He not only subordinates his personal interests to those of the group but opposes the interests of outgroup members unless they are compatible with the interests of his group.

    coordinated efforts

    The /. group is a collection of varied skills and talents. One would think that with the resources and capabilities we all have access to, what kind of information can we contribute. Sure privacy and security issues are important, but if I had the ability to retrieve any info to help, I would.

    Just a thought---

    also see what can be done about terrorism? and an "ur-editorial" via metafilter.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2001
    slashdot links:
    It's time for Sheriff Uncle Sam to get some fucking serious about destroying the terrorist groups and those who support them


    to get serious about figuring out why the USA is so thoroughly hated and then figuring out how to gain, if not friendly terms, neutral terms with other nations/cultures/peoples.
    We used the Third World (and I do mean we -- even if you didn't support it, we all payed taxes to support it whether you wanted to or not) as chess pieces in the Cold War. This geopolitical game of chess destroyed nations and killed millions of lives. It has tragically disrupted the lives of several billion people, and turned once self-reliant cultures into those begging children you see in those Save the Children commercials. Now we are all paying the price. The game is over, but the pieces haven't finished. Russia has to deal with Islamic fundamentalists who want to splinter the Russian Federation and just plain get revenge on them for Afghanistan. We have to deal with Saddam Hussein, the theocracy of Iran and the Afghani "freedom fighters" like Bin Laden. All cases of blowback.


    metafilter links:
    It's my opinion that nothing will stop this kind of terrorism except a profound change in the belief system of the terrorists. For whatever reason, certain groups have decided that the destruction of the West is a cause worth dying for. And to tell the truth, I'm not interested in no-win arguments about global capitalism, American arrogance or religious zealotry. To simply point to one as the root cause is ridiculously shortsighted. The world is more complex than what you see on CNN and read in the papers.
    Thanks for the supportive comments - I've missed this whole discussion as I didn't even realise my article had posted (and now I'm off to bed!).

    Anyway, Declan's just posted a lot of very good links if anyone's interested -



    Tuesday, September 11, 2001
    fear itself

    The world has changed, now, forever, and the boundaries that we draw around ourselves, who is in and who is out, will change forever too. We will discover who we really are in the weeks ahead.


    The contract says we are the state. The duties of a citizen include defense of other citizens; the rights of a citizen include expectation of this defense.

    Monday, September 10, 2001
    Every medium creates its desired form. It's like AM radio created the two-and-a-half-minute song, then FM radio created art rock and the double album, and TV created the video and the 22.5-second news burst.

    --douglas coupland

    The real problem is that the average man or woman's entire life is increasingly structured to avoid precisely the kinds of conflicts on which fiction, preoccupied with manners, has always thrived.

    --jonathan franzen

    "I was thinking about slime mold aggregation as a model for thinking about development, and I came across Turing's paper," Keller says now, from her office at MIT. "And I thought: Bingo!"

    --steven johnson

    Sunday, September 9, 2001
    mor schmoove moshun grafx! (via carey :) schweat, schweat sweaters [small|large]

    also apocamon :][: by patrick s. farley. the pokemon craze has died down so the satirical impact has diminished somewhat in that regard, but it's still gorjuss!

    Saturday, September 8, 2001
    hey, j. bradford delong posted that draft--the "new economy": background, questions, and speculations--he wrote with lawrence h. summers on his website! it's a great tutorial on the policy implications of advances in data processing and communication and it was presented at the annual fed symposium in jackson hole :)

    the most interesting part i thought was the discussion on the microeconomy--the impact that the "new economy" will have on property rights, institutions and the "rules of the game." nothing delong hasn't written about before [and in more detail: see spmicro on provisioning of private/public goods (rival/non-rival, excludable/non-excludable, fixed/marginal costs, increasing returns to scale, positive feedback externalities, natural monopoly, etc..:)] but it's nice to see him take a more formal stance on the issues.

    the extent of the market - "When a market is driven by positive feedback, its efficiency will be directly related to its size. Larger networks and larger production lines over which to amortize high initial fixed costs will generate cascading benefits. Thus government policies that expand the size of markets in any way--through reducing trade barriers, through improved infrastructure, through the removal of other barriers to market access--become that much more important and that much more worthwhile."

    i would add though that this makes something like wage insurance that much more necessary if free trade is ever going to be politically feasible. an open market is not an unalloyed good for workers displaced by "comparative advantage."

    monopoly - "Good public policy in such an environment [that tends toward monopoly] needs to make sure that producers with a near-monopoly position in one generation's market do not use that position to retard innovation and the growth of the next-generation market, or to guarantee themselves a large head start in the race to establish a leading position in the next-generation market."

    distribution - "In the new economy, it is clear that human capital is a strong complement to physical capital and intellectual capital. The return on investment in human capital has been rising so that it is now quite possibly the highest that it has ever been (see Goldin and Katz (1999)). It is thus doubly important to ensure that children receive the best education possible. If investments in factories were the most important investments in the industrial age--the most important investments in an information age are surely investments in the human brain. Investments in human capital also have the potential to bring the promise of equality of opportunity closer to reality."

    also on price discrimination: "An information good-providing firm that successfully engages in price discrimination can still make a profit by charging high prices to its relatively well-off core market, and can add to that profit and greatly increase the social utility of its product by charging low prices to those who are relatively poor...Effective ways of segmenting the market more completely, so that rich country customers could pay the fixed costs while poor country customers paid close to marginal cost, has the potential to create an enormous addition to world welfare."

    it's not acknowledged, but this sounds suspiciously like from each according to vis ability, to each according to ver needs :) made practical by the miracle of low marginal costs <== near limitless abundance! and possibly pioneered by the auction and reverse-auction?

    innovation and intellectual property - "...the Lockeian belief that property rights are good, that intellectual property is a form of property like any other, and thus that stronger intellectual property rights are very good is simply wrong… In the "new economy," with non-rival goods, property rights that force buyers to pay prices above very low marginal cost do not contribute to but detract from economic efficiency, and lead not to decentralization but to a greater degree of centralization in economic decision making in the hands of the owner of the intellectual property rights."

    really interesting is a novel approach to the institutional development of intellectual property, "like the French government's purchase and placing in the public domain of the first photographic patents in the early nineteenth century... The work of Harvard economist Michael Kremer (1998, 2000), both with respect to the possibility of public purchase of patents at auction and of shifting some public research and development funding from effort-oriented to result-oriented processes (that is, holding contests for private companies to develop vaccines instead of funding research directly), is especially intriguing in its attempts to develop institutions that have all the advantages of market competition, natural monopoly, and public provision."

    the conclusion is nice, too! a historical perspective of the british enclosure movement on and the US gilded age. one lesson: "The failure of Britain to evolve institutions--to provide the education, training, public health, and infrastructure needed to support not current but evolving and future technologies--meant that its mid-nineteenth century industrial leadership could not be sustained." and another: making sure "that the growing large corporations would be the economy's servants rather than the voters' masters." but also (to some chagrin): the importance of open markets to realize economies of scale.

    Friday, September 7, 2001

    Thursday, September 6, 2001
    imagine these in a darkened theatre on a big ass screen and you front and center (via carey :)

    wandered into the cafe society boards on straight dope. includes the merits and demerits of piers anthony (mostly demerits for being a chauvinist perv AND a major fuckup for passing misinformation on the death of stephen r. donaldson - i thought he was dead!) [in his defense, this is cool :]

    Wednesday, September 5, 2001
    dorkist's link of the month

    roger ebert's pauline kael obit. robot wisdom links. idea of the day - You can't look in on one way eyes, Ohio.

    Tuesday, September 4, 2001
    got back from chicago. it was nice being in a home with a couch and chairs and stuff. on the plane over i sat next to a guy (works for cable & wireless installing fiber) who after meaning to for twelve years was going on a fishing trip with his dad in canada. he had a week off. oh and taking the blue line in, i saw this guy out the window reading and driving at the same time! it wasn't like he was looking back and forth at all, he just had his book out open on the steering wheel. i was amazed.

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