Archive for July 2007

The Echo Chamber Myth

The blogosphere, for all its virtues, too often mirrors Sunstein’s image of large groups of people engaging in mutual intellectual back-scratching, rather than challenging their own convictions.” – Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science in New Scientist

I find it ironic to read such attacks on the blogosphere in publications like the New Scientist that rarely if ever present opinions that differ from the editorial agenda of the magazine. Invariably the attacks charge the blogosphere with being an “echo chamber” of ideas instead of a place that challenges participants convictions.The New Scientist is primarily a science magazine, which is why I read it. However it regularly expresses political opinions that invariably attack Conservatives and glorify Liberals – as in this review of Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s how the book review ended:
The Assault on Reason isn’t the kind of volume that ought to be judged by standard norms of literary criticism; it’s far too historic for that. Reading it, your mind is very much elsewhere: on the catastrophic failed presidency of George W. Bush, and – if only Gore had taken office instead – what might have been.

That’s from a book review – in a science magazine.

You want an echo chamber, pick up the New York Times and try to find a positive story about the Bush Administration. Watch CNN and try to find a positive story about Iraq. How about your local newspaper or favorite news magazine. All these sources invariably offer the same opinions, the same tired cliches, quote the same sources, and offer the same opinions. Even the New Scientist ignores arguments and evidence that challenges the belief that global warming is NOT caused by humans.

I mention this today because one of the posters on this thread thought I had banned him because I disagreed with his take on the JFK assassination. I hadn’t. Hell, I welcomed his opinion because it showed that someone reads my writing (always a good thing for a writer’s ego) and it challenged my beliefs.

A healthy immune system is one that requires regular challenges by pathogens. In fact there is some evidence that the rise of autoimmune diseases like Lupus, asthma and others may be caused by modern living in a relatively clean environment. I believe that the body of one’s opinions needs regular challenges in order to become stronger. However, the analogy ends there because there are times when the idea that you accept the idea challenging you, and your opinion changes. That has happened to me on ideas such as Israel, gun control, capital punishment and recently, global warming.

In the case of the poster on the JFK thread, it turns out the Spam Killer that protects this site decided his comments were spam and pulled them. I’ve re-added his comments and will continue to watch the program to see if the program begins pulling others. However, the only time I will pull a comment is one that takes an ad hominem attack on me or one of the other posters. I do this for fun, and will not tolerate abuse of any sort.

Does this make my site an echo chamber? How about Dean’s World – where I post along with such people as Aziz Poonwalla, Michael Demmons, Ali Eteraz, and Kevin D – all of whom I regularly disagree with on nearly every topic imaginable?

The blogosphere is much more vibrant than the printed media. It isn’t perfect but it isn’t the echo chamber that writers in true echo chambers like New Scientist thinks.

Terrorist Dry Runs: Read Between the Lines

Fox News is squawking in this report about suspicious items turning up in searches by the TSA. However they aren’t mentioning in their newscast what to me is the most obvious question:

Who are the people carrying this stuff?

The story has this tidbit:

The bulletin said the passengers carrying the suspicious items seized since September included men and women and that initial investigation had not linked them with criminal or terrorist organizations. But it added that most of their explanations for carrying the items were suspicious and some were still under investigation.

One of the items was two freezer packs wrapped with duct tape with the gel inside removed and replaced with clay.

I don’t know about you but I would love to hear that guy’s explanation…

“Play-doh is illegal in my country, and I am smuggling it in for my sister’s children.”

“That Ebay! I bought this to keep my American Coca-Cola drinks cold and the seller ripped me off. I’m must leave him bad feedback now!”

However the most likely explanation is:

“My civil rights are being violated. I am calling CAIR immediately.”

The Lure of the Conspiracy Theory

When I began the online journal I wanted to name it Occam’s Razor. This is the principle that in layman’s terms says that if you have two theories with the same evidence, the simpler is the one most likely to be true. Occam’s Razor is one of the must useful tools one has at one’s disposal. I think of it as the Swiss Army knife of logic that can be used to pry the Truth from fiction in most situations.

Occam’s Razor is particularly useful against conspiracy theories. In fact conspiracy theories are pretty much the opposite of Occam’s Razor. Where the razor cuts away the superfluous, conspiracy theories add it in order to protect the kernel of truth they rest upon. Once the razor exposes that truth, the conspiracy theory tends to fall apart under its own weight.

Unfortunately when I set this journal up in October 2001 all the domain names having the word “Occam” or “Ockham” were taken, so I had to make due with therazor.org.

Anyhow, here’s an interesting story from a recent issue of New Scientist which discusses why conspiracy theories tend to thrive in our culture.

Source: New Scientist: The lure of the conspiracy theory (subscription necessary)

Was Princess Diana the victim of drunk driving or a plot by the British royal family? Did Neil Armstrong really walk on the moon or just across a film set in Nevada? And who killed President John F. Kennedy – the Russians, the Cubans, the CIA, the mafia… aliens? Almost every big event has a conspiracy theory attached to it. The truth, they say, is out there – but where exactly? Perhaps psychology can help us find at least some of the answers.

Article removed at request of copyright owner. See New Scientist, “Lure of the Conspiracy Theory.”

Hatshepsut Discovered

I love archeology, and little fascinates me as much as Ancient Egypt.

So the discovery of the mummy of Hatshepsut, an 18th Dynasty queen turned Pharaoh, is big news.

And the Discovery Channel has done it, and broadcasts the quest in the Secrets of Egypt’s Lost Queen. It’s a quest that brings together history, forensic science, and good old fashioned detective work.

They even discovered the cause of death: poor dental hygiene.

So why did the next ruler, Tuthmosis III, attempt to erase her from history?

It wasn’t personal. Tuthmosis III replaced Hatshepsut’s cartouche with her half-brother and husband Tuthmosis II - who also happened to be Thuthmosis III’s father. It was his way of insuring the succession was patrilineal, and that it would not go to Hatshepsut’s daughter, Neferure, who apparently became his queen and bore his eldest son, Amenemhat.

It’s a fascinating program and one definitely worth watching.

A Mexican Aviator Remembered in New Jersey’s Pinebarrens

Link to story

“It’s so quiet and so calm; it gets kinda spooky,” said Carranza’s cousin, Capt. Ismael Carranza, 72, a retired pilot for Continental Airlines who has made several pilgrimages to the site from his home in Grapevine, Texas.

But the scene in Wharton State Forest will be very different Saturday when Ismael Carranza joins Legionnaires from Mount Holly Post 11 of the American Legion for the 78th annual commemoration of the young pilot’s death. The solemn event, held every year on the second Saturday in July, draws about 400 people to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens—a more than 1 million-acre natural preserve with unique history, folklore, flora and fauna. Mexican and U.S. dignitaries, Carranza family members and Latino-Americans have attended over the years.

Guests have been known to weep at the story of Mexico’s “Lone Eagle,” just 22 when he crashed on July 12, 1928, and died. Under orders from his commanding officer, Carranza was attempting to fly home after a much heralded goodwill mission during the early days of aviation in the United States.

Comcast Digital Cable – A Digital Nightmare

I am not a big fan of cable companies. I don’t trust any monopoly – especially one that is as loosely regulated as the cable TV one. However Comcast has provided me a decent analog TV service and high-speed internet, albeit for a steep price. But once you get hooked on high-speed, it becomes a necessity.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am waiting for FIOS. I have resisted getting sucked in to a long contract through Comcast over the past year while I wait. Every two or three weeks, Comcast calls me up and dangles a FREE digital upgrade. While I’m a sucker for “free” just like anyone else, I have resisted it in this case because it comes with an extended contract as well as this:
Comcast Digital Cable Remote

Take a careful look at this remote. Note the placement of buttons, their sizes as well as their apparent functions.

Now put that remote into the hands of your 80 year old mother-in-law as Comcast did recently. She upgraded because one of the handful of channels she liked, the Gameshow Network, was moved from analog to digital cable, and she needed the digital box in order to see it.

So she went from having 2 remotes – one each for TV and VCR - to three. It wasn’t long before I received a call.

The power had gone out briefly and her TV no longer worked. I went over, assessed the situation i.e. determined which remote went where then punched a few buttons seeing what turned on or off, and figured out that the digital box – which had 2 lights, a red and a yellow, nothing else – was not powered up. So I hit the “All On” button and sure enough, the TV worked.

A week later I got a call again. The TV hadn’t worked for several days. She had called Comcast numerous times to no avail. She couldn’t understand a few of the customer service reps, and others hadn’t been able to solve her problem. So she had done what any elderly woman would do in her situation: she stopped watching TV in her favorite room and instead, watched it downstairs. However her legs were bothering her, so she contacted me in the hope that I could help her again and keep her from having to climb the stairs unless she had to.

Take a look at that remote again.

While she was downstairs it took me about 10 minutes to figure out what had been turned off. Consider: You have a box with two lights controlled by that remote. Plus you have a “cable ready TV” – an analog cable ready TV that isn’t cable ready anymore. Therefore I had to figure out if it received the signal from the box on channel 3 or one of the A/V channels.

Using the power of deduction I determined that the digital cable came through on channel 4 – and the red light on the box meant “power” – which was off. So which button do I press to turn it on? I press “All On” and nothing happens. I try it again, adjusting my angle, and still nothing. Finally I stand up and realize that the infrared sensor was being blocked by the top of the TV because the digital box was pushed back.

And there was a half-second delay that meant that pressing it quickly twice apparently did nothing. So I slowed down, and got the TV on.

The TV defaulted to CN8 - a channel that Comcast advertises heavily on all of its channels but no one watches. So I pressed 65 to switch to Fox News. Two tiny black letters appeared at the top of the screen, but the channel didn’t change. I’m still not sure what that meant.

So I hit the channel + button and slowly made my way to channel 65 – again with a slight delay between pressing a button and seeing its effect.

I then discovered that when you turned off the digital cable, it defaulted back to CN8 regardless of the channel you selected. I tried entering the channel number again, and nothing happened.

Soon the mother-in-law came upstairs, wanting to see how I was doing with the TV. She claimed that a customer service rep had told her to press 00 and then the number. However when I pressed 0065 it failed. I tried 004 and the channel changed to Fox, so I tried 065 and sure enough the channel changed to Fox News.

She wanted me to show her what to do. I looked at her. Here was an elderly woman, a technophobe who had trouble answering a flipphone (she opens it to answer and inevitably presses the green button – often resulting in one hearing “BEEP! Hello?”). And there I was, a technophile who seriously wanted to take that remote and digital cable box and personally fire it from a cannon at the beautiful, mirrored skyscraper Comcast is building in Center City Philadelphia.

I shook my head. “One of the people on the phone said he had a woman break down and cry trying to get it to work,” she said.

I didn’t doubt it in the least. Comcast Digital Cable is an ergonomic disaster. From a box without a switch but with two glowing lights, to an incomprehensible remote with a time delay between button pressings, to pressing 0 or 00 plus the number of the channel you want to watch fast enough to accurately get channel 60 instead of channel 6. In between you have the usual tangle of TV and VCR idiosyncrasies that seem to be particular every household – and usually understood by a single member of that household.

I build my own PCs for fun. I can program in several different computer languages and can troubleshoot complex technical problems and business challenges. However Comcast Digital Cable nearly kicked my butt.

My mother-in-law drives me crazy at times. She is high maintenance and neurotic to an unbelievable degree. However she was completely justified in her frustration over Comcast Digital Cable. This is a technology that needs to be euthanized, destroyed, smashed by a million steam rollers, or boxed and sent to the same warehouse holding the Ark of the Covenant and Moon Landing set.

The Myth of America’s Friend – Saddam

The following is a comment posted at Dean’s World by denizen and all-around cool dude Martin Shoemaker that refutes the myth of Saddam, America’s best-buddy. Dean himself is pretty livid about the legs this myth has.

Martin writes:

Here’s the chart.

Here’s the original from the Frogman.

And here, courtesy of that notorious buncha neocons at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, is the source data.

Their other insidious propaganda tool is even more informative: the trade register. It lets you track arms deals by country and type. For the pre-Gulf War Saddam era, the USA supplied:

  • 30 Hughes-300/TH-55 Light helicopters.
  • 30 MD-500MD Defender Light helicopters.
  • (31) Bell-214ST Helicopters.
  • 26 MD-530F Light helicopters.

As best I can tell, a number in parens means the exact number is unclear.

For that same period, the USSR supplied:

  • (184) SON-9/Fire Can Fire control radars.
  • (250) BRDM-2 Reconnaissance vehicles.
  • (250) BTR-50 APCs.
  • (250) BTR-60PB APCs.
  • (100) T-12 100mm/2A19 Towed guns.
  • (100) ZSU-57-2 AAVs.
  • (550) 5V27/SA-3B Goa SAMs.
  • (6) Osa/Type-205 FACs.
  • (6) P-12/Spoon Rest Air surv radars.
  • (48) P-15U/SS-N-2B Styx Anti-ship missiles.
  • (30) S-125M/SA-3B SAM systems.
  • (15) Mi-6T/Hook-A Helicopters.
  • (90) Mi-8T/Hip-C Helicopters.
  • (60) Su-7B/Fitter-A FGA aircraft.
  • 12 Tu-22/Blinder-A Bomber aircraft.
  • (250) 3M11/AT-2a Swatter Anti-tank missiles.
  • (20000) 9M14M/AT-3 Sagger Anti-tank missiles.
  • (200) BMP-1 IFVs.
  • (100) BRDM-2 Tank destroyers.
  • (60) MiG-21MF/Fishbed-J Fighter aircraft.
  • 8 Osa/Type-205 FACs.
  • (64) P-15/SS-N-2A Styx Anti-ship missiles.
  • (1260) R-13R/AA-2C Atoll-C SRAAMs.
  • (80) Su-20/Fitter-C/F FGA aircraft.
  • (300) T-55 Tanks.
  • (100) T-62 Tanks.
  • (200) ZSU-23-4 Shilka AAVs.
  • (12) 9P117/SS-1 Scud TEL SSM launchers.
  • (20) MiG-23MF/Flogger-B Fighter aircraft.
  • (48) R-17/SS-1c Scud-B SSMs.
  • (20) 2K12 Kvadrat/SA-6A SAM systems.
  • (840) 3M9/SA-6 Gainful SAMs.
  • (50) D-20 152mm Towed guns.
  • (100) R-23R/T/AA-7 Apex BVRAAMs.
  • (6500) Strela-2/SA-7 Grail Portable SAMs.
  • 2 An-26/Curl Transport aircraft.
  • 70 MiG-23BN/Flogger-H FGA aircraft.
  • (600) T-62 Tanks.
  • (24) 9K52 Luna-M/FROG-7 SSM launchers.
  • (100) BM-21 Grad 122mm MRLs.
  • (33) Il-76M/Candid-B Transport aircraft.
  • (40) Mi-24D/Mi-25/Hind-D Combat helicopters.
  • (5) P-14/Tall King Air surv radar.
  • (50) 2S1 122mm Self-propelled guns.
  • (50) 2S3 152mm Self-propelled guns.
  • 10 Long Track Air surv radars.
  • (25) MiG-25P/Foxbat-A Fighter aircraft.
  • (8) MiG-25RB/Foxbat-B Reconnaissance ac.
  • 5 PRV-9/Thin Skin Height-finding radar.
  • (450) R-40/AA-6 Acrid BVRAAMs.
  • 50 T-72 Tanks.
  • (160) 9K31/SA-9 Gaskin Mobile SAM systems.
  • (10) BMD-1 IFVs.
  • (25) M-240 240mm Mortars.
  • (2500) Strela-1/SA-9 Gaskin SAMs.
  • (750) BMP-1 IFVs.
  • (576) M-46 130mm Towed guns.
  • (400) T-55 Tanks.
  • (10) 2S4 240mm Self-propelled mortars.
  • (50) 9K33 Osa/SA-8 Mobile SAM systems.
  • (1300) 9M33/SA-8 Gecko SAMs.
  • (10) 9P117/SS-1 Scud TEL SSM launchers.
  • (200) BM-21 Grad 122mm MRLs.
  • (576) D-30 122mm Towed guns.
  • (250) Kh-28/AS-9 Kyle Anti-radar missiles.
  • (750) MT-LB APCs.
  • (40) R-17/SS-1c Scud-B SSMs.
  • (2150) T-62 Tanks.
  • (500) T-72 Tanks.
  • (36) KSR-5/AS-6 Kingfish Anti-ship missiles.
  • (12) Mi-24D/Mi-25/Hind-D Combat helicopters.
  • (30) Mi-8/Mi-17/Hip-H Helicopters.
  • (61) MiG-21bis/Fishbed-N Fighter aircraft.
  • (50) MiG-23BN/Flogger-H FGA aircraft.
  • (30) MiG-25P/Foxbat-A Fighter aircraft.
  • (200) PT-76 Light tanks.
  • (1080) R-13S/AA-2S Atoll SRAAMs.
  • (60) 9K35 ZREB-BD/SA-13 Mobile SAM systems.
  • 15 Mi-2/Hoplite Helicopters.
  • (1500) Strela-10/SA-13 Gopher SAMs.
  • (37) Mi-8/Mi-17/Hip-H Helicopters.
  • (41) MiG-29/Fulcrum-A Fighter aircraft.
  • (800) R-17/SS-1c Scud-B SSMs.
  • (175) R-27/AA-10 Alamo BVRAAMs.
  • (582) R-60/AA-8 Aphid SRAAMs.
  • (500) Strela-3/SA-14 Gremlin Portable SAMs.
  • (46) Su-22/Fitter-H/J/K FGA aircraft.
  • 84 Su-25/Frogfoot-A Ground attack ac.
  • (180) 2A36 Hyacinth 152mm Towed guns.
  • (100) 2S1 122mm Self-propelled guns.
  • (100) 2S3 152mm Self-propelled guns.
  • (3000) 9M111/AT-4 Spigot Anti-tank missiles.
  • (360) BM-21 Grad 122mm MRLs.
  • (200) BMP-2 IFVs.
  • (40) Kh-29/AS-14 Kedge ASMs.
  • (25) Su-24MK/Fencer-D Bomber aircraft.
  • (1000) Igla-1/SA-16 Gimlet Portable SAMs.

So we supplied around 117 helicopters. The USSR supplied 239 helicopters, a little more than twice as many. Oh, yeah, and four pages of other kinds of arms and materiel.

By USSR standards, France was a relative piker:

  • 64 AS-12 ASMs.
  • 365 SS-11/AS-11 Anti-tank missiles.
  • (62) AML-60/90 Armoured cars.
  • 600 AS-12 ASMs.
  • 2050 HOT Anti-tank missiles.
  • 25 M-3 VTT APCs.
  • 3750 MILAN Anti-tank missiles.
  • 31 SA-316B Alouette-3 Light helicopters.
  • 1000 SS-11/AS-11 Anti-tank missiles.
  • 3 SA-330 Puma Helicopters.
  • 40 SA-342K/L Gazelle Light helicopters.
  • (25) AML-60/90 Armoured cars.
  • (2) AML-60/90 Armoured cars.
  • 10 SA-321G Super Frelon ASW helicopters.
  • 600 HOT Anti-tank missiles.
  • 700 MILAN Anti-tank missiles.
  • 36 Mirage F-1E FGA aircraft.
  • (534) R-550 Magic-1 SRAAMs.
  • (200) Super-530F BVRAAMs.
  • (72) AM-39 Exocet Anti-ship missiles.
  • (100) AMX-10P IFVs.
  • 50 ERC-90 Armoured cars.
  • 20 SA-342K/L Gazelle Light helicopters.
  • 100 VCR-TH Tank destroyer.
  • 1000 HOT Anti-tank missiles.
  • 23 Mirage F-1C Fighter aircraft.
  • 30 Mirage F-1C Fighter aircraft.
  • 20 SA-330 Puma Helicopters.
  • (5) AMX-30D ARVs.
  • (6) SA-321H Super Frelon Helicopters.
  • (6) TRS-2215/2230 Air surv radars.
  • (5) Volex Air surv radars.
  • (150) ERC-90 Armoured cars.
  • 13 Roland Mobile SAM systems.
  • (100) Roland Mobile SAM systems.
  • (2260) Roland-2 SAMs.
  • 85 AMX-GCT/AU-F1 Self-propelled guns.
  • (115) M-3 VTT APCs.
  • (280) AM-39 Exocet Anti-ship missiles.
  • (450) ARMAT Anti-radar missiles.
  • 5 Super Etendard FGA aircraft.
  • (240) AS-30L ASMs.
  • (2) Rasit Ground surv radars.
  • 19 Mirage F-1C Fighter aircraft.
  • 18 SA-342K/L Gazelle Light helicopters.
  • (5) TRS-2100 Tiger Air surv radars.
  • (1) TRS-2100 Tiger Air surv radars.
  • 36 AM-39 Exocet Anti-ship missiles.

Though not up to Soviet standards, they sold about the same number of helicopters as us (124)—and far exceeded us in things that shoot or explode.

Some around here have foolishly derided Poland as a military power; but for the period in question, Poland’s sales to Saddam were four timers ours in dollar amounts. And as for destructive potential:

  • 4 Type-771/Polnocny Landing ships.
  • (400) T-55 Tanks.

I have to say that 400 tanks sound a bit more destructive than 117 helicopters.

Sharansky: Leave Iraq And Brace for a Bigger Bloodbath

Natan Sharansky says what I want to say sooo much better.
Source Link to Washington Post editorial.

THE CASE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Leave Iraq and Brace for a Bigger Bloodbath

By Natan Sharansky
Sunday, July 8, 2007; Page B03

Iraqis call Ali Hassan al-Majeed “Chemical Ali,” and few wept when the notorious former general received five death sentences last month for ordering the use of nerve agents against his government’s Kurdish citizens in the late 1980s. His trial came as a reckoning and a reminder—summoning up the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s rule even as it underscored the way today’s heated Iraq debates in Washington have left the key issue of human rights on the sidelines. People of goodwill can certainly disagree over how to handle Iraq, but human rights should be part of any responsible calculus. Unfortunately, some leaders continue to play down the gross violations in Iraq under Hussein’s republic of fear and ignore the potential for a human rights catastrophe should the United States withdraw.

As the hideous violence in Iraq continues, it has become increasingly common to hear people argue that the world was better off with Hussein in power and (even more remarkably) that Iraqis were better off under his fist. In his final interview as U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan acknowledged that Iraq “had a dictator who was brutal” but said that Iraqis under the Baathist dictatorship “had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school.”

This line of argument began soon after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. By early 2004, some prominent political and intellectual leaders were arguing that women’s rights, gay rights, health care and much else had suffered in post-Hussein Iraq.

Following in the footsteps of George Bernard Shaw, Walter Duranty and other Western liberals who served as willing dupes for Joseph Stalin, some members of the human rights community are whitewashing totalitarianism. A textbook example came last year from John Pace, who recently left his post as U.N. human rights chief in Iraq. “Under Saddam,” he said, according to the Associated Press, “if you agreed to forgo your basic freedom of expression and thought, you were physically more or less OK.”

The truth is that in totalitarian regimes, there are no human rights. Period. The media do not criticize the government. Parliaments do not check executive power. Courts do not uphold due process. And human rights groups don’t file reports.

For most people, life under totalitarianism is slavery with no possibility of escape. That is why despite the carnage in Iraq, Iraqis are consistently less pessimistic about the present and more optimistic about the future of their country than Americans are. In a face-to-face national poll of 5,019 people conducted this spring by Opinion Research Business, a British market-research firm, only 27 percent of Iraqis said they believed that “that their country is actually in a state of civil war,” and by nearly 2 to 1 (49 percent to 26 percent), the Iraqis surveyed said they preferred life under their new government to life under the old tyranny. That is why, at a time when many Americans are abandoning the vision of a democratic Iraq, most Iraqis still cling to the hope of a better future. They know that under Hussein, there was no hope.

By consistently ignoring the fundamental moral divide that separates societies in which people are slaves from societies in which people are free, some human rights groups undermine the very cause they claim to champion. Consider one 2005 Amnesty International report on Iraq. It notes that in the lawless climate of the first months after Hussein’s overthrow, reports of kidnappings, rapes and killings of women and girls by criminal gangs rose. Iraqi officers at a police station in Baghdad said in June 2003 that the number of reported rapes “was substantially higher than before the war.”

The implication was that human rights may not really be improving in post-Hussein Iraq. But the organization ignored the possibility that reports of rape at police stations may have increased for the simple reason that under Hussein it was the regime—which includes the police—that was doing the raping. When Hussein’s son Uday went on his legendary raping sprees, victims were not about to report the crime.

Of course, Hussein’s removal has created a host of difficult strategic challenges, and numerous human rights atrocities have been committed since his ouster. But let us be under no illusion of what life under Hussein was like. He was a mass murderer who tortured children in front of their parents, gassed Kurds, slaughtered Shiites, started two wars with his neighbors and launched Scud missiles into downtown Riyadh and Tel Aviv. The price for the stability that Hussein supposedly brought to the region was mass graves, hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq, and terrorism and war outside it. Difficult as the challenges are today—with Iran and Syria trying to stymie democracy in Iraq, with al-Qaeda turning Iraq into the central battleground in its holy war of terrorism against the free world, and with sectarian militias bent on murder and mayhem—there is still hope that tomorrow may be better.

No one can know for sure whether President Bush’s “surge” of U.S. troops in Iraq will succeed. But those who believe that human rights should play a central role in international affairs should be doing everything in their power to maximize the chances that it will. For one of the consequences of failure could well be catastrophe.

A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to a bloodbath that would make the current carnage pale by comparison. Without U.S. troops in place to quell some of the violence, Iranian-backed Shiite militias would dramatically increase their attacks on Sunnis; Sunni militias, backed by the Saudis or others, would retaliate in kind, drawing more and more of Iraq into a vicious cycle of violence. If Iraq descended into full-blown civil war, the chaos could trigger similar clashes throughout the region as Sunni-Shiite tensions spill across Iraq’s borders. The death toll and the displacement of civilians could climb exponentially.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the political debate over Iraq is that many of Bush’s critics, who accused his administration of going blindly to war without considering what would happen once Hussein’s regime was toppled, now blindly support a policy of withdrawing from Iraq without considering what might follow.

In this respect, the debate over Iraq is beginning to look a lot like the debate about the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ‘70s. Then, too, the argument in the United States focused primarily on whether U.S. forces should pull out. But many who supported that withdrawal in the name of human rights did not foresee the calamity that followed, which included genocide in Cambodia, tens of thousands slaughtered in Vietnam by the North Vietnamese and the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of “boat people.”

In the final analysis, U.S. leaders will pursue a course in Iraq that they believe best serves U.S. interests. My hope is that as they do, they will make the human rights dimension a central part of any decision. The consequences of not doing so might prove catastrophic to Iraqis, to regional peace and, ultimately, to U.S. security.

Natan.ISS@shalem.org.il

Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who was imprisoned for nine years in the gulag, is chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem.

Recent Dean’s Posting: A Republican Goes Home

Here’s the link.

I need to post more links to my work over there.

Needledick Terrorists F*** Up Again…

Sid Vicious