Friday, January 30, 2009

Better Not Go There...

Apparently, in addition to poker being illegal in South Carolina, so is every card game but whist and any game that uses dice. Wow. That's most of the games I play. I mean, I expect poker to be illegal most places, but D&D, Family Business, Guillotine, Uno, Monopoly, Risk? No Warhammer 40K, no Battletech, no Advanced Squad Leader, no Rail Baron? No Star Fleet Battles?*

No collectible card games, obviously... No Magic, Pokemon... I think Mage Knight (apparently now defunct, according to wikipedia, which I didn't know) and Hero Clix would be okay.

Just about all roleplaying games but Amber, Nobilis, and live-action games where you use rock-paper-scissors would be illegal. Most (but not all) boardgames too, depending on how you interpret whether a games is a "game with cards," as the statue reads. That would eliminate a lot of games where there aren't any dice and aren't cards in the traditional sense, as in cards you play. That is to say, games where, say, your character is described on a card but you don't "play" the card, for instance. I know there are good examples of such games, but of course I'm not coming up with one...

Well, not a board game, but the game of Mafia (also called, apparently, 'Werewolf' or 'Assassin') is one. The players are each given a card to secretly tell them what side they are on (the game is about trying to eliminate the other team, but only the smaller team members know who is on their team, the other other side is guessing). The only point of the cards is to randomly (and secretly) assign teams. It can be played without cards, with slips of paper, for instance, instead, which I doubt anyone would construe as "cards," but if you buy the commercially available version of the game, it uses cards.

So, is Mafia illegal if you buy the game and use the cards, but not if you use slips of paper? The cards aren't "played" in the traditional sense, in that you don't take tricks with them or anything like that, but it still, technically, if you buy the commercial version of the game and play it, you would be playing a "game with cards," wouldn't you?

Civilization! That's it, right? No dice, as I recall. But it has card decks for random events and such. Technically illegal, I guess, even though it isn't a "game with cards" in the traditional sense. Someone over at Volokh suggested Carcassone, but I've only played it once years ago, so I don't remember. (I, and the other guys I played it with, thought it suuuuuuuucked). Kremlin! I think Kremlin is a good example as well.

So let's see. Stratego, I think, would be okay. No cards. Unless it runs afoul of another clause in the law about the board being a "gaming table." Connect Four. Toss-Across. Hmmm... Battleship? It doesn't have any cards, does it?

Craziness. I presume that police in SC aren't on constant stakeouts outside gaming stores down there (I presume they have some gaming stores, right?), so I doubt the law is being enforced outside of poker and gambling, but man! Stay away if you're a gamer. I mean, you never know when the local DA and sheriff will be guys who really hated nerds in high school...

* And here I didn't even know I was a teenage criminal. But apparently I was, because I played Star Fleet Battles in South Carolina on a number of occasions when I was a teenager visiting my friend Paul down in York, SC...


In keeping with his promises of bipartisanship and working with Republicans instead of against them, President Obama met with GOP leaders in the House and Senate this week to get their opinions on the proposed stimulus package. Though the media spent a lot of time reporting how Obama had ended discussion on one point by saying, "I won," the meetings were apparently very cordial and productive, even according to GOP leaders. The bill was even amended to be more to Congressional Republicans' liking.

In return, House Republicans repaid the President's attempt to reach out to them by voting against the President's stimulus package unanimously yesterday, in a move John Boehner, apparently not ironically, called "bipartisan." I don't think that word means what Boehner thinks it means. That aside, the question now is whether Obama was foolish to try to include Republicans in the first place, and whether he should now seek to return the bill to its original form and take out the concessions put in to appease the House GOP members.

But first, let's consider the reasons why this may have happened. On Morning Joe this morning, NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd noted that one of the reasons this may have happened is because most of the moderate Republican House members aren't in the House anymore, having been defeated by Democratic rivals. The remaining House GOP members tend to be from very conservative districts and, according to Todd, and thus the most ideological. If this is true, and I suspect it probably is, then the sweep of the Democratic victory in last fall's elections, on the coattails of President Obama, may have ironically had unintential effect of making it very difficult for Democrats to work in a bipartisan manner with Republicans.

There's a good parallel, I think, between this situation and what has been happening in the medical world with antibiotics the past sixty years. Antibiotics, when used improperly, will destroy all the easily-killed bacteria and leave the bacteria most resistant, which is how we get antibiotic-resistant strains that antibiotics then can't cure. The Democrats, in the last election, essentially did the work of the antibiotic -- they "killed" off the moderate Republicans, the ones that they could have worked with, and left behind only the far right Republicans who won't work with the Democrats. The Democrats basically created, as an unintended consequence of victory, a GOP House caucus that will actually be more difficult to work with and less interested in compromise than before the elections, despite the election resoundingly showing broad support for a change in policy away from what the ideological Republicans advocate.

So, on his way to the White House, Obama promises bipartisanship, leading to Democratic victories sweeping moderate House Republicans out of office, and thereby creating a House GOP caucus uninterested in bipartisanship. Unintended consequences indeed. So, where from here?

I don't think Obama made a mistake in reaching out to House Republicans, even though he got slapped in the face in return. Obama promised bipartisanship and, I think, genuinely wants to govern with bipartisan support. I think making the attempt to bring the House Republicans in was worthwhile, in that it will be easier for the administration to deal with the crises facing the nation if the Republicans are working with the administration instead of against it, contributing to policy instead of obstructing it. There was a risk involved with reaching out, obviously, the risk that exactly what happened would happen, that the Republicans would slap the hand Obama reached out to them and then disingenuously try to spin the administration's attempts at compromise as "partisanship." But, on balance, I think the risk was worth the potential reward, even though it didn't work out.

I think, however, that Obama almost certainly has to take back the compromises he made with the House Republicans now that they have unanimously voted against the bill. He can't afford to let his desire for bipartisanship be construed by the House GOP members as weakness, and can't afford to let them get what they want at no cost, since the whole point of voting against the stimulus package is to be able to blame the Democrats if it doesn't work or work well. He has to make the point clear that compromises are given in return for support, not for free. Obama may want a new era of bipartisanship, but there can't be bipartisanship unless both sides are willing. He can't enable the Republicans by letting stunts like this work in the name of bipartisanship, or else he'll just encourage the House GOP not to work with the administration in the future. Bipartisanship comes from mutual respect, not capitulation. And I fear leaving the compromises to stand despite the GOP's actions would be tantamount to just that.

Especially in light of the more ideologically polarized House GOP caucus now in the Congress. The remaining House GOP members are the ones who will do things like the stunt they just pulled, who will leap upon perceived weakness, and who will try to spin whatever Obama does in terms of their ideological battle. They're a virulent group and they can't be allowed to fester or Obama will spend the next four years battling over and over with them, when a firm response now might make the Republicans think twice about becoming the permanent minority party and decide to take advantage of what the Democrats didn't have for the past eight years: a President in power who isn't actively thumbing his nose at them at every possible opportunity.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gave Me Vertigo...

If you get a chance, fire up Google Earth and go look at an island called Tristan da Cunha. It is supposedly the most remote archipelago in the world, and people actually live there. The mail only comes once a year! They apparently only have one phone and one fax line. (Though I have to think with the advent of satellite that this will change). The one radio station broadcasts the BBC World Service four days a week. The people live on one little slice of the island because most of it is too steep, since it's the top of an oceanic volcano. To get an idea how remote this place is, the nearest other island is called, I am not making this up, Inaccessible Island.

Anyway, the reason I brought this up is that looking at Tristan da Cunha on Google Earth actually gave me vertigo. It's so remote from anything else and all, it just seemed like I was going to fall into the ocean just looking at it. And people really live there!

Take a look if you get a chance.


Wow. Reading comments to posts over at the Volokh Conspiracy has really been enlightening since Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress have come into power. The level of projection on the part of conservatives posting there is absolutely amazing.

For instance, a good example is a claim made by one commenter that the left is all about ideological hiring because they can't compete on merit with job candidates from the right, but the right is all about hiring due to merit. Uh, yeah. That's why there are all those investigations going on about corrupt, illegal, ideologically-based hiring practices at the Bush Department of Justice where applicants were denied positions entirely based on their political views. Or how the personnel for the coalition transitional government in Iraq after the invasion were chosen not for their experience or skills but for the ideological leanings. (If you recall, applicants for positions doing things like restoring clean water to Baghdad were asked about how they felt about Roe v. Wade as a job qualification).

The comment was in response to a post about lawsuit being brought by an applicant to a law writing professorship at the University of Iowa. The applicant is claiming that she didn't get the position because of her political leanings -- she is a conservative and the interviewers were mostly liberals. The comments devolved, of course, into a whole screed about liberals controlling academia and keeping conservatives out and blah, blah, blah. As I have noted before, conservatives aren't well represented in academia for one simple reason: they don't become academics. If they want to be better represented in the halls of learning, more of them should become academics and fewer should sit around bitching about how liberals dominate academia. If difficult, crappy working conditions for poor pay and little prestige doesn't motivate conservatives, well, that's not the problem of the liberals who are willing to work under those conditions, now, is it? It isn't ideological discrimination that keeps conservatives out. It is self-selection.

But really. After the well-documented cronyism of the Bush regime, after Alberto Gonzales, the US Attorney firings, the attempt to put Harriet Myers on the Supreme Court, Mike Brown as head of FEMA, and other examples too numerous to count, conservatives actually have the nerve now to claim that the right is all about meritocracy and the left is about ideological purity? Methinks they doth protest too much! Lord!

There are lots of other examples of projection going on in the comments at Volokh, but you get the point. There really are these conservatives sitting around who think that Bush didn't really do anything wrong and even though liberals like myself can point out all the objectively-confirmed ways in which Bush fucked up and fucked us over, that it's really just "Bush Derangement Syndrome" and we really just hate him for no reason but to hate him. And this is how: they project and ignore reality. If those making these claims were to actually look at the facts, it would shatter their reality and they'd have to admit that conservatives have been the ones committing most of the sins they are decrying, not liberals, at least for the past eight years. So they close their eyes, forget about reality, and settle into their safe little cocoon not to come out until there's a new Republican President.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Couldn't You Load Your Gun First?

I'm a pretty ardent defender of 4th-Amendment rights here in the US, and I think, in general, that 4th Amendment rights have been eroded to next to nothing by the Federal Courts. And, while I hate guns and gun violence, I have become more of a defender of the 2nd Amendment as well, because I choose not to be a hypocrite and pick-and-choose which rights in the Bill of Rights I think are important.

But still, even I have to side with the police that they have enough reasonable suspicion to pull you over if you take both hands off the wheel to load your gun while you are driving! I mean, come on, you can't load your gun before you get in the car? Or at least when you aren't moving?

I'm pretty sure I would suspect that someone who was in such a hurry to load his gun that he couldn't pull over to do it might, just might, maybe, be planning to shoot someone from the car. Very shortly. Perhaps.

So, a tip to all you would-be criminals out there: Load your gun before you leave the house. You'll feel so much better you did!

Hat tip: The Agitator

Thursday, January 22, 2009


It doesn't exactly matter now, as Obama took the oath again yesterday just to be sure and silence those critics who claimed he wasn't President because of the bungled oath on Tuesday. But, just as a point of fact, those people are wrong. Obama was President at noon on January 20th regardless of whether he took the oath or not. What he could not, technically do, was exercise the authority and powers of the Presidency without the oath.

The Constitution, in Article II, states: "Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: 'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'"

Note what it says: Before he enter on the Execution of his Office...

That's a bit different than saying, "Before he becomes President..." Some have argued that the Office and its powers are the same, and that the Founders therefore meant, essentially, "Before he becomes President...", in disregard for the actual text.

But, supposing we humor them, it still doesn't matter. Because the Twentieth Amendment, ratified in 1933, provides that: "The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January... and the terms of their successors shall then begin." Even if the original text of Article II really meant that you couldn't become President without taking the oath, even though that's not what it says, in light of the Twentieth Amendment it is clear that Obama became President on noon of January 20th. The Twentieth Amendment doesn't mention anything about an oath.

However, technically, I do believe that Obama didn't actually have authority to exercise the powers of the Presidency until he took the Oath, subject to Article II. So, while it is untrue that there was ever a gap in Presidencies, there was, technically, a gap during which no one had authority to exercise the powers of the Presidency. Even though there was a legal Vice President, Joe Biden, and failing to take the Oath could certainly count as a "disability" that would allow Obama to be removed from office if he refused to re-do it, there's still a process Biden would have had to go through before he could assume the duties of the President, including, of course, taking the Oath himself.

Interesting little tidbit of constitutional law there, but I think, reading the text, you'd have to really want to read something into it to get out of what is there that Obama ever wasn't actually President after noon on Tuesday.


Apparently, Pat Buchanan and some others have been stirring up some shit over the pictures of Obama in his shirtsleeves yesterday in the Oval Office. The complaint seems to be that the tradition is that the President and anyone entering the Oval Office be wearing coat and tie, as if Obama is making a sudden break with tradition.

But, just as a point of fact, I know that this tradition was broken at least sixteen years ago, because it wasn't followed in the Clinton administration. When the Bushies came into office eight years ago, one of the immediate changes Bush made was to reinstate the more formal coat-and-tie rule. Obama is just reverting to what had been before Bush took office, not reversing years of tradition.

Point of fact.

(I remember reading articles about this in Bush's first days in the White House, because there wasn't much else going on but that thing with the plane in China. At least, not much going on we knew about, because of the Bushies' famous secrecy that we weren't aware of yet).

NSA Wiretapping

On Countdown last night, a former NSA analyst revealed that the NSA's wiretapping program was much broader and vaster than previously suspected. It included collecting and monitoring, according to this source, the metadata from all electronic communications in the US, whether it had a foreign component or not, as well as monitoring the communications of some organizations, such as news outlets, on a 24-7-365 basis.

Unfortunately, from what I have learned from reading about cases over at Volokh, the case law regarding whether the collection of metadata constitutes a "search" for 4th Amendment purposes is unsettled. So, if the analyst's accusations are true, then the Bush regime was certainly lying about the scope of the NSA wiretapping and about it use in cases of purely domestic communications. It is not clear to me, from what I understand of the case law, however, whether collecting metadata like this without a warrant would be considered an illegal search or not. If the NSA has been (and is) doing this, then they are clearly using the shortfalls in the law's ability to keep up with technology and skirting on the edge of legality. And, in the end, the courts may end up deciding that searching metadata is illegal, and then the NSA's actions would definitely be not only creepy and sinister but clearly against the law and Constitution.

On the 24-7-365 wiretapping of certain organizations and groups, apparently, according to this source, the NSA had a novel excuse for why it was doing this: it had to tap these particular organizations 24-7 in order to be sure they weren't accidentally tapping them when they didn't want to. That's right: the claim is that they only monitored these sources 24-7 in order to be sure they knew what communications were from them so they could avoid intercepting their communications when they didn't mean to. They aren't reading your mail... they're just opening all of it to make sure they don't accidentally read it...

We'll see what comes of this. Right now, of course, all we have is one uncorroborated source for the story, and claims that, at least in part, may not actually rise to illegality, though they should. But the idea that the NSA is even gathering the metadata on literally every single e-mail, fax, phone call, and internet search done by every American is creepy enough on its own.

I hope this isn't true. And if it is, I hope it is stopped and someone gets punished. We'll see.

Note to Keith Olbermann

As if there's any chance he would read this post, but...

I think you need to drop count of how many days it's been since Bush's "Mission Accomplished" posturing now. I think 'Still Bushed' is okay, because there's so much that needs to be explored about what happened during the Bush regime. But since the Bush regime is out of power now he has officially and finally failed to accomplish the mission in Iraq. He can't accomplish it now, so there's really no point in continuing to pile up the tally of days since he claimed he did. He failed. I think your point has been well and truly made.

Not that it's not an important point. It is. But I think this particular sin of Bush's is one that doesn't play well to keep pointing out once he's not in power. I think it's time to come up with something new. I think you're just playing into the hands of those who claim you're a left-wing ideologue with this one. It just doesn't play right now, even to me, so it's really not going to play well with others.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dream Team?

During MSNBC's pre-inauguration coverage yesterday, there was a hand-drawn sign in the crowd that read, "Obama + Biden = Dream Team." And I couldn't help thinking to myself, really?

Presumably, such a sign implies the person displaying it wanted Biden as VP before he was picked. In fact, this person was worried that Obama might not pick Biden, because then it wouldn't be the "Dream Team."

Obama + Clinton? Not the "Dream Team."
Obama + Evan Bayh? Not the "Dream Team."
Obama + Tim Kaine? Not the "Dream Team."
Obama + Chris Dodd? Not the "Dream Team."
Obama + Chuck Hegel? Not the "Dream Team."

If truly Obama + Biden is this person's "Dream Team," then no one else but Biden would have done. If Obama had picked Bayh, that person would have been like, "Crap! It's all going downhill now. He should have picked Biden. Then the ticket would have been perfect. Obama would have rolled to election. There's only one person who can rocket the ticket to victory: Joe Biden."

I mean, I like Joe Biden. My girlfriend liked him for the primaries (though he was out, like my personal favorite, Dennis Kucinich, before we got to vote in the primaries anyway). He's a fine pick, he'll do a good job if tasked. He's entertaining. His gaffes probably didn't help the campaign, but obviously didn't hurt it much either. (Though now his wife seems to be getting in on the action.) Nothing wrong with him.

But even my girlfriend, a Biden fan, couldn't get on board with the idea that anyone was really thinking that adding Biden to the ticket with Obama would put the ticket over the top and turn it into a "Dream Team."

I mean, c'mon. Do you think historians a hundred years from now are going to be talking about how critical Biden was to Obama's success?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Obama's Inauguration

I don't think I've really sat and watched a Presidential inauguration live before. If I did, I don't recall it. So Obama's may be the first one I watched live. So that may color my impressions. Of course, the fact that it was a snow day may have colored them too, since I got to stay home and watch.

It all seems too much like a coronation rather than an inauguration to me. Too much ceremony for someone taking on a job that is, in theory, simply the principle servant of the people.

Man, did Roberts bungle that oath! Probably the biggest audience he'd ever have and he couldn't get it right. That's gotta sting. But at least he didn't wear that weird gold-trimmed Chief Justice's outfit Rehnquist designed. I give him points for that.

Obama's speech I rate as a near miss. He almost hit all the right notes. He almost broke through my cynicism that he's just a man and there's only so much he can do. But not quite. The speech was good, but not great. Not a disaster, but not the Gettysburg Address either. Also, it seems to be that there must have been a section taken out right after he says something like "they say the next generation will have to settle with less" and that the US is in decline, because he followed that up with his "we will meet those challenges" bit. But after raising the specter of the US being in decline and future generations being worse off than now, I thought it was necessary for him to directly address both and say, "No, the US won't decline, no the next generation won't be worse off than their parents" or somesuch. It felt like the part where he did that was left out.

But Obama did specifically mention "nonbelievers" in his speech as part of the American body politic, in contrast to George HW Bush, who said we shouldn't be citizens. I applaud Obama being willing to acknowledge us nonbelievers on an international stage like that.

The coverage on both MSNBC and CNN was vacuous. I turned to CSPAN for part of the time. But I don't really blame the pundits and reporters... there just isn't enough to say to fill the time with all-day coverage like that. There's no way to avoid ending up saying the same things over and over and saying the most obvious, trivial stuff, if you have that much time to fill. It's a symptom of the 24-hour news cycle, I suppose, and our need for continuous coverage. But I couldn't handle it after a while. Eventually, instead of watching the parade, I switched over to USA and watched some of the House marathon, because I couldn't take it anymore.

I wasn't as happy as I thought I would be watching Bush fly away. I think I would have been happier if the Democrats had defeated him four years ago and sent him packing. But he wasn't beaten, he got his two terms and gets to fade away into the sunset. Glad to be rid of him, but it was kind of anticlimactic.

All the prayers, especially Rick Warren. Bleagh. Do you really need to remind me so many times that the most powerful people in the world actually believe they need the blessing of their invisible friend to do their jobs? Jeesh. It was a lot to sit through.

I'm glad I watched. I might not have the chance to witness such a historic event as it unfolds again. Hopefully the optimism shown at the inauguration will be repaid in the next four or eight years.

Executive Powers

There's a lot of talk and argument going on around the net about how now all the Republicans who trumpeted executive power during the Bush regime will suddenly embrace checks-and-balances now that Obama holds the reigns, and contrastingly how Democrats who have been wailing about Bush's expansion of executive power will suddenly be okay with those same power being wielded by Obama.

Already, we've seen John Bolton and John "the President can torture anyone he wants" Yoo do that exact about face in suddenly arguing that we need to reign in the President in this NY Times editorial.

So, I will come out right now and say where I stand: the powers Bush claimed and exercised that I argued were illegal and unconstitutional under the Bush regime are still illegal and unconstitutional under the Obama admininstration. I do not want any President having or using them, no matter his or her political party.

I'm no more comfortable that Obama can now, for instance, designate US citizens as "enemy combatants" and hold them indefinitely than I was when Bush could do it. It was wrong when Bush claimed the power and used it. It is wrong for Obama to have it and would be wrong for him to use it.

And I'm not comfortable with forgetting about the precedents Bush set now that Obama is in office. "Obama won't do that" isn't a comfort to me. For one thing, I can only hope Obama won't use those powers. For another, those precedents are still there whether Obama uses the powers or not. I don't want future Presidents to have those powers either.

My position on those powers us unchanged. The President should not have them, and it matters not whether there is an (R) or a (D) behind the name of the person currently occupying that office.

Friday, January 16, 2009

One Other Point

Regarding Bush's legacy. To all the people who say that Bush's most important accomplishment is that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11: Why does he get credit for that but not blame for 9/11?

Don't tell me it was unprecedented. Hell, one of the two targets of the attack, the WTC in NY, was one they had attacked before.

Don't tell me the Bush administration wasn't forewarned. Not only is the evidence overwhelming that the outgoing Clinton administration tried in vain to warn the incoming Bush regime that Al-Qaeda was the biggest threat to US national security, not only did terrorism experts who transitioned from the Clinton to Bush teams warn the Bush regime about Al-Qaeda, Bush, as we all know, was even personally briefed on Bin Laden's plans to strike on US soil.

So I just want to know why Bush gets credit for the lack of attacks during his Presidency since 9/11 but a free pass for 9/11. That's all. Do you get a free one before they count or something?

Seriously. I want to know why Bush gets credit for some parts of his term but not blame for others. If he gets the credit for keeping us safe for the past seven years, that has to be balanced against the colossal fuckup of allowing the worst terrorist attack on US soil in modern history. Even if we give him credit for the safe years, he's still like the bodyguard who has done a bangup job ever since that time he let his client get shot in the face. Sure, he's been great since then, but that whole face thing was still a pretty big screwup...

Should Obama Investigate the Bush Regime?

So, on Olbermann and other places, the debate has been raging over whether Obama should investigate Bush, Cheney, and the Bush regime for war crimes, or whether it is better not to start an investigation that will likely become a bitter partisan struggle that will end up distracting the new administration from implementing its agenda, especially in these difficult and challenging times. On the one hand, how can we let those who authorized abuse and torture go free? On the other, what's past is past, and shouldn't we move on and focus on the present rather than digging up the past?

I've heard some variation of the second argument, that we need to focus on moving forward and facing the challenges ahead of us instead of looking backward, from a number of sources, including Obama himself. This argument, if I may be so bold, is bullshit. If going back to look at the past to see if crimes have been committed is to waste resources and effort that could be used to go forward, then we should fire every judge and district attorney in the nation, we should close down the Justice Department, FBI, and every police department, and use all the money elsewhere. As a lawyer (don't know her name) said on Olbermann the other night, that line of argument sure as hell wouldn't work in court for someone accused of bank robbery. Why in the hell would it work for someone accused of war crimes?

Unless the point here is you can get away with anything as long as your crime is big enough, sensational enough, rare enough, and you are important enough, that to try you for your crimes would create a big sensation or be too much trouble that no one wants to bother. But that's a different argument, isn't it? It's the real argument being made, though. Just no one wants to make it explicitly, because it's not a very pretty argument. It was an ugly reason for Ford to pardon Nixon, and it wouldn't be any less ugly a reason for us to turn a blind eye to the Bush regime's crimes either. It turns the whole notion of justice on its head. The less powerful a person is, the less harmful the crime, the less important it is that he or she face justice. Conversely, the more important the person, the more harmful the crime, the more important it is that he or she face justice. The fact that it is easier to prosecute the powerless for trivial crimes than the powerful for heinous ones is not an excuse to give the powerful a pass. In the overall scheme of things, it doesn't matter that much if a given 7-11 clerk shoplifting a DVD player from Wal-Mart gets tried and punished or not. It matters a hell of a lot if a President who presided over war crimes walks away scot free or not. In terms of US standing in the world, US credibility, how effective US foreign policy will be in the future (especially in terms of US pressure on other countries on human rights issues), whether enemies in future conflicts with the US will obey the Geneva Conventions with regard to capture US soldiers or not, whether precedent is set that the President is above the law and can violate International Law at will, etc.

So, frankly, I think we have to firmly reject the argument that we shouldn't focus on the past and worry about the present and future. It undermines our whole system of justice and concept of holding people accountable for their actions, because those making the argument give us no reason why it applies now, to war crimes, but not at other times, to the bank robber or shoplifter. Absent such an argument, we are left with nothing but arbitrary special pleading that this particular set of crimes committed at this particular time is in the past and should be left there, but that crime committed at that particular time should be investigated and prosecuted.

So, then, what about the argument that the new administration can't afford a bitter partisan struggle that will hinder efforts to deal with all the problems facing the nation? This argument has some merit to it, but in the end, I think it's really just faintness of heart and failure to accurately assess the benefits of war crimes investigations and prosecutions in both political and non-political terms. I think it is the same mistake Nancy Pelosi made in refusing (and ruling out a priori) to impeach either Bush or Cheney. Yes, undertaking war crimes investigations and prosecutions is a huge gamble that will take a great deal of political capital and involves a great deal of risk. Certainly there will be charges of a partisan witch hunt leveled at Obama and his administration and it may become more difficult to cooperate with and work on a bipartisan basis with Republicans during the investigation and any subsequent trials. Thought not as much difficulty as one might think, given Obama's popularity and the fact that a lot of the more ardent supporters of torture are gone from Congress now, and a lot of the remaining Republicans are those who never were comfortable with "enhanced interrogations" like McCain and Specter and who won't hesitate to work with Obama just because of ongoing war crimes prosecutions against former Bush regime officials.

Plus, I think that the popularity of "enhanced interrogation" techniques has plummeted outside of the extreme right and FOX News pundits, and I think Obama could really make it difficult for the Republicans to oppose his policies in retaliation for war crimes investigations and trials by using his great talents as a communicator to make clear to the American people that war crimes trials are one thing that truly are beyond politics, unlike all the other things that this claim gets made about.

But look at what the nation gains for the risk Obama takes: a break with and an utter repudiation of the foreign policy of the Bush regime that even Obama's own election cannot completely make, including Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, Gitmo, the invasion of Iraq, the "axis of evil" speech, US failure to respect the Geneva Conventions and International Law, the whole "enemy combatants" farce, and disrespecting habeus. Bush's foreign policy would become an aberration, his acts once and for all judged illegal and thus unrepeatable, a corrupt regime acting outside its authority and thus illegitimate. Without investigations and trials, the US can say what it wants and Obama can do everything else in his power to mitigate and repudiate Bush's policies, but everything Bush did will remain legitimate acts of the US government that are only a change in the direction of the political wind away from happening again.

But by forever rejecting the Bush legacy the US can regain its moral standing, it can prove to the rest of the world that it holds itself and its own leaders to as high a standard as it holds other nations, that it corrects its own mistakes, and that no President, past or future, is above the law to act as he or she will without consequence. The leverage the US will gain to accomplish its foreign policy goals and the prestige the US will gain by actually living up to its ideals and rhetoric will be of great enough benefit to the nation and the Obama administration that, on balance, they are worth the political risk of initiating war crimes trials and investigations.

And that's not factoring in the simple moral imperative that it is immoral and wrong to let the people who abused our collective power, trust, and goodwill to do the things the Bush regime did in our name go unpunished. Bush once again insisted in his farewell speech that, though it "makes some uncomfortable" when he talks about it, that there is good and evil in the world. While Bush himself may not be an evil man, he presided over an evil regime and it is up to the rest of us, as Americans, to show the rest of the world that we do not take kindly to evil done in our name.

So, in the end, while I am sympathetic to the argument that going after Bush and his regime for war crimes won't help us deal with our current problems, I think this calculation is wrong. I think, in the end, that the US will be better off for investigating and prosecuting those who have committed such crimes, and we will find that though there may be some cost in the short-term, the benefits far outweigh those costs in the end.

Bush's Farewell

Against my better judgment, I watched Bush's farewell speech last night. Like his final press conference earlier in the week, I mostly found myself wondering if I'd somehow managed to tune into a speech being given by an alternate reality Bush in which his policies had actually worked and made sense. He clearly has not and never will accept a shred of responsibility for the cavalcade of disastrous mistakes he's made over the last eight years and won't suffer a moment's regret over them.

I was almost literally stunned during his press conference that his idea of something he might have done differently during Katrina was land Air Force One somewhere in the affected area instead of doing a flyover. I have no fucking clue how he thinks that would have helped or why he thinks that would have been better. He may actually be stupider and more vacuous than even I, a firm believer since before his election as President that he was -- with no hyperbole -- a moron, thought, if this is a good example of his hindsight and what he thinks about when he thinks about how he could have done a better job.


And he actually tried to take credit for a quick Federal response by using the rescue of victims from the roofs of homes by Coast Guard helicopters as his example. Except that those Coast Guard helicopters weren't part of any organized Federal response stood up in response to Katrina. Those Coast Guard helicopters responded independently as part of the Coast Guard's normal mission.

You see, the Coast Guard is always ready to do stuff like that, because their job is to like, you know, guard the goddamned coast, which kind of entails being ready at a moment's notice. The Bush regime didn't have a damned thing to do with it. The Coast Guard's mission was exactly the same under Clinton and they'd have done the exact same thing then, they'd have done the exact same thing if Gore had been President, and they'll do the exact same thing if something like that happens under Obama. The part Bush and his political appointees did have control and responsibility for, the part of the Federal response that isn't automatic and needs to be coordinated, the FEMA part, the Homeland Security part, the National Guard part, all that, well, that's the part that got screwed up, jackass. You don't get to take credit for the one part that happens automatically just because it is the one part that worked.

But, back to the speech, he sort of had this paternalistic, self-satisfied, almost condescending thing going on that I probably should have been pissed off about, but somehow, now that he's finally about to retire to being brush-clearer-in-chief, just reminds me of the fact that he's only acting like he knows what the hell he's talking about. That, though he thinks he's kind of wisely reiterating the past eight years from his priveleged vantage of knowledge from on high, he's really just reciting false talking points that he has come to believe are true. He's the emperor standing naked before us, but he's the only one who doesn't realize he has no clothes.

In fact, the speech made me realize that, given how we all, to a greater or lesser extent, rewrite out memories, consciously or unconsciously, Bush almost certainly believes things about himself that are clearly untrue to the most casual outside observer. It occurs to me that Bush almost certainly believes that he did not freeze in that school the morning of 9/11 in front of all those kids. I mean, he clearly did. You can see it on his face. When he's told a second plane hit the towers, he freezes up like spit in Antarctic wind. There's nothing going on behind his eyes. I think he understood, probably, that it was a terrorist attack at that point... it was pretty impossible not to (though after the Katrina 'landing Air Force One' thing I can't be sure). I'll give him that much, anyway. But there's not another damned thought in his head. There just isn't. But I'm telling you now, that Bush doesn't remember it that way. Truly, truly doesn't remember it that way. Not in a bullshit, lying to himself but knows better sort of way, either, but seriously. Things he didn't think of until hours or days later, he now thinks were running through his head in that very moment, right then, holding that children's book in that school. I just know it. No one can lie to themselves as well as Bush would have to to believe what he believes. And I'm telling you that I'd bet a lot of money on the fact that Bush believes that his mind leapt into action in that moment, the morning of 9/11, and that he didn't freeze, and you will never, ever convince him otherwise, because that is how he truly remembers it.

Amazingly, though, out there in the blogosphere, Bush still has his defenders. The people who think Bush did a great job and people like me just don't want to see it because of how much we hate Bush because we have "BDS," or Bush Derangement Syndrome. They, like Bush, talk about how Bush will be vindicated someday by history. Perhaps. It's always possible. But I wouldn't put money down on it. The evidence is pretty firmly against it, enough so that the people who make that claim are really making it on little more than wishful thinking. But it is still amazing to me how some people can really look at Bush's record and think that anyone who finds it lacking must be ideologically biased not to see that it is excellent. People who watched his speech last night and spent the whole time nodding in agreement with everything he said. Yes, it's true, there are people, who were, at the exact same moment you (if you did) and I were watching Bush's self-serving, unintentionally ironic, reality-defying speech, who, as far as they were concerned, were appreciatively watching an accurate, truthful, and heartfelt summation of Bush's legacy. It's true.

I would like to note, on the occasion of his departure, for the record, that Bush does have two accomplishments for which he deserves praise, and so I, not being deranged, will give him said praise. Firstly, he promised an increase in foreign aid for AIDS sufferers in Africa, and he did greatly increase that funding far beyond what any other President has committed. According to NPR and the BBC, Bush's AIDS programs in Africa have saved countless lives, and he deserves to be lauded for this. Secondly, though I fear that this accomplishment will come to naught as it will likely be cancelled by a cash-strapped Obama administration due to the tough economic climate, Bush did direct NASA to begin work on manned missions to both the moon and Mars. And while this may just seem like something I like because I am a science fiction geek that isn't really important, in truth, in the long run, there is nothing more important to the future of the human race than making sure we aren't all living on the same planet. Because another extinction-level event like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs isn't only likely but inevitable, and if we have all our eggs in one basket, it will be the end of us.

Now, some may wonder why I don't include the surge in Bush's accomplishments. Perhaps some would think I am unwilling to admit I was wrong about the surge, since I vigorously opposed it, and yet things are, by all accounts, in much better shape in Iraq since the surge took place. But I am willing to admit when I am wrong. I just don't know if I'm wrong here or not. The truth is that I don't know if the surge worked. And, whether he admits it or not, neither does Bush, and whether they admit it or not, neither do the neocons. Why not? Because, at the same time the surge started, the US military also started paying Sunni insurgents to stop fighting us and start fighting Al-Qaeda. Now, that's not necessarily a bad idea. It's not clear yet how that, ultimately, is going to work out, because it's not clear how long we're going to be willing to keep paying the Sunnis and what they might do after we stop paying them not to fight us. But the point is that I opposed the plan I was told about: the surge. I'm not sure what I would have thought about the surge + paying Sunnis not to fight us. And the people on the right who argued for the surge who now claim the surge worked? They were supporting the surge, not the surge + paying Sunnis not to fight us. I'm not saying it was illegitimate for the Bush regime to change its strategy or to use a multi-pronged strategy; it certainly was. It's actually wise to do so. (Though, once again, I'm not necessarily endorsing the ones they actually chose). But it does change the landscape of the debate in a way that makes talking about "the surge" as an independent entity mostly meaningless. We can debate about the Bush regime's overall strategy for the past two years or so, but to talk about the surge as a discrete event borders on the ridiculous. That's why I haven't done so, won't, and haven't.

So, anyway, how to sum up eight years? I could go on and on: Gonzales, US Attorneys, Katrina, Abu-Graib, Gitmo, warrantless wiretapping, Patriot Act, Harriet Miers, Halliburton, Rumsfeld's incompetence, the infamous Bin Laden daily intelligence brief, intelligence failures about WMDs in Iraq, Bush gazing into Putin's soul, Cheney shooting a guy in the face, failing to capture Bin Laden, military tribunals, unconstitutional "faith-based" initiatives (that look like they're here to stay), ban on stem-cell research, attempting to destroy social security, squandering a budget surplus and running up an enormous debt, "free speech" zones, the housing bubble, Cheney claiming executive powers for the VP but that the VP isn't in the executive branch, the "axis of evil" speech, letting North Korea get nuclear weapons, failing to engage with Iran and squandering the goodwill of the world after 9/11, signing statements, attempting to do away with habeus corpus, flouting the Geneva Conventions, extraordinary rendition, "losing" e-mails, abuse of executive privelege, the Valerie Plame scandal, push-polling, false claims of voter and registration fraud, illegal political hiring at the Justice Department...

And I'm sure I could think of more. But the fact is that The Onion, in one of its amazing moments of prescience, summed up the Bush regime before Bush even took office, way back in 2000, with an article with a headline that could not have been more perfect:


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

As An Example...

In this post over at The Agitator, a libertarian blog that I agree with more often than Volokh Conspiracy but still disagree with about half the time, the author takes "evangelical" atheists to task:

I’ve never really understood the evangelical atheists’ obsession with removing the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Seems to me that the real problem here—whether you’re atheist, agnostic, or devout—is the idea that we’re forcing school kids to take a loyalty oath to a swatch of cloth.
I won't get into the whole issue of why the phrase "evangelical atheist" is nonsensical and focus on the issue I want to use this as an example of: how often I notice criticism leveled at a particular person or group's opinion or position because it isn't the position those leveling the criticism would take. Instead of actually pointing out a flaw of position X, this form of argumentation seems to assert that those who voiced position X really should have taken position Y, and so position X is wrong or inadequate. We aren't told why, of course, position Y is better, of course. It's so obvious! Anyone can see it. Simply by pointing out the existence of position Y, it seems, those leveling the criticism seem to think we will see how it superior and agree.

The Agitator asks, "Why are atheists appalled by forcing school kids to utter the phrase 'under God,' but seemingly unbothered by requiring them to pledge a loyalty oath to their government?" Why wouldn't they be? What do the two things have to do with each other? The Agitator, whose bailiwick is libertarianism and anti-statism, is quite naturally bothered by a loyalty pledge to the state whose excesses and encroachments into the liberties of the people he chronicles on a daily basis. He's an agnostic, not an atheist, and religious liberty doesn't seem to be one of his major focuses. On the other hand, an atheist (or a theist) whose main focus is on religious liberty is naturally going to be more concerned with the "under God" part of the pledge and its infringement on religious liberty, and its indoctrination of kids into unthinking religosity, then the loyalty oath part of the pledge.

There was a sketch on "Mr. Show" once where that was about white people appropriating and profiting from black culture. It was pretty funny. A friend of mine, at the time, said of the sketch, "Yeah, that's great, but they didn't have the balls to point out all the ways black people appropriate and profit from white culture, did they? No, that might get them into trouble." I didn't follow up on that comment, because I didn't want to get into an argument about racism with him at that moment, but the point is that he acted as if, because the show could have done some other sketch he thought they should have done that would have reflected his opinion, that somehow the opinion in the sketch they did put on was automatically invalidated. Without him having to make an argument, just like The Agitator didn't actually make an argument why we should be more bothered by kids being forced to make a loyalty oath to the state than one to an invisible magical friend. Neat trick, that.

Taken a bit further, that rhetorical trick can invalidate almost anyone's opinion on anything. Go to a protest about gay rights and ask everyone why they don't care about breast cancer and women's health. Go to a Komen walk for breast cancer and ask them why they don't care about genocide in Darfur. Go up to the people who volunteer at the pet shelter and ask them why they don't care about homeless people. No matter what good people try to do, you can always point out they could be doing some other good. No matter what someone cares about, you can always point out they could care about something else.

It's sort of ironic, in this particular case, that a libertarian is making the implicit argument that everyone else should, by default, I guess, care about the same issues he does. He may not want goverment telling us all how to think, but he certainly doesn't show a lot of respect for others' right to think for themselves and not think like him, does he? Especially when he uses derogatory terms like "evangelical" atheist.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Hamas and Democratically-Elected Governments

One further thought while I'm thinking about Gaza and Hamas. I've been hearing from a lot of people ever since the Palestinians elected Hamas and Israel, the US, and the EU put sanctions on the Palestinian Authority, since Hamas has not renounced its stance that Israel does not have the right to exist, and the US considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization. I hear a lot that this is wrong, that this is a rejection of democracy, that the West shouldn't have asked for democracy then rejected the results. Since the West wanted the Palestinians to have a democratic government and Hamas was elected to power democratically, the West is hypocritical not to "accept" the decision of the Palestinian people and be willing to deal with Hamas.

Regardless of the merits of whether Hamas should, indeed, be considered a terrorist organization and whether or not the refusal of the US and other nations to deal with Hamas (the organization, apart from the government) is appropriate, the basic argument, that by promoting democracy the US and EU somehow commit themselves to deal with whatever government another nation elects, as long as it is elected democratically, is, in my opinion, absurd on its face. A democratically-elected government can take all sorts of forms and shapes, all sorts of positions, and can be an enemy or friend of other democratic states. I see no reason that support of democracy as a concept and a governing principle automatically must include support for every choice made democratically in every democratic state.

Further, I reject the notion that the US, EU, and Israel choosing not to deal or have relations with a Hamas-led, democratically-elected Palestinian authority government is a "rejection" of democracy or a rejection of the choice of the Palestinian people. It is simply a consequence of the choice the Palestinian people have made in choosing their leaders. Nothing about the concept of democracy compels other democratic nations to ratify or support the choices of the people of another nation. Witholding aid and support, which is the main US policy adopted in response to Hamas' electoral victory that I have heard criticized, is the US choosing not to ratify or support the particular choice of leadership the Palestinian people made when they chose Hamas to lead their government. It is not an idictment of democracy in general, simply an indictment of this particular democratically-made choice. Getting to choose your leaders also means having to live with the consequences of those choices. If you get a whole shitload of foreign aid from a nation that considers one of the parties running in your election a terrorist organization, and that foreign aid will probably stop if you elect that party, then you, the people, as voters, are choosing to accept that consequence when you choose to vote for that party.

That doesn't mean it isn't a sucky choice when there are only a couple of legitimate choices and the other one is hopelessly corrupt (as was apparently the case Fatah, which was one of the main reasons Palestinians voted for Hamas). But democracy also sucks sometimes and involves hard choices. And I don't mean that in a flip way: I don't think democracy works all that incredibly well in the US, either, and there are lots of things that should be changed here that never will be because the system won't allow it. But, nevertheless, the Palestinian people had the choice whether or not to vote for the party that was considered a terrorist organization by other nations that provided critical aid to Palestine and its people. They chose to do so. It would be a perversion of democracy to take away their right to make their own choices and live with the consequences for the US and EU act as if the Palestinians were little children who didn't understand the consequences of their own actions and act as if they didn't elect leaders who did not recognize the right of Israel -- Palestine's putative partners in the peace process -- to exist and were (according to the US) terrorists.

The US, EU, and Israel did not "reject" the results of the Palestinian elections. They accepted the results and reacted accordingly. They did not "reject" the democratic will of the Palestinian people nor did they "reject" the democratic process. They accepted both and reacted accordingly. As nations do when other nations act and change governments.

Democratic nations can and do clash. They can and do have competing interests. If someday the entire world had only democratic nations, we would not see an end to conflict and strife between and within nations. We would not see an end to repressive regimes, terrorism, religious persecution, racial intolerance, or wars of conquest. All those things can happen in democracies. If North Korea became a democracy but one still bent on conquering the South and threatening the US with possible nuclear strikes, should the US really change its policy toward it just because it became a democracy? Would that make sense? Would failing to engage with a newly-democratic but still meglomaniacal North Korea mean the US was hypocritical an anti-democracy and didn't "respect" the choice of the North Korean people?

When/if we leave Iraq, there is, in my opinion, an excellent chance that they will establish a democratic Muslim theocracy. That's what the Shi'ite majority wants, I think, and what many of the Kurds and Sunnis are afraid of, and one of the reasons they aren't excited about democracy. Because democracy doesn't have to be Jeffersonian. It can come paired with a lot of things Americans wouldn't, by and large, recognize as democratic: theocracy, communism, radical authoritarianism, etc., etc. Lots of people here in the US would like the US to be a Christian theocracy. Still a democracy (well, a republic, technically), but one ruled explicity by Christians by Christian tenets. Democracy doesn't forbid that. Democracy is fine with that. The Constitution and the First Amendment forbid it. Not Democracy.

Democracy comes in lots of forms. Expecting the US and EU to support them all is naive. And, if the Palestinians truly expected to be able to elect a group like Hamas into power and there to be no consequences, well, they got a chance to learn a lesson in democracy: elections, votes, and choices have power, and consequences. Use them wisely, because you will have to live with the results.

Y'all Probably Already Know This, But...

In this post at Volokh Conspiracy the poster makes the frequent but inaccurate claim that the Nazis were democratically elected to power in Nazi Germany. I've probably already covered this territory here before, but since I wrote a rather lengthy comment over there, I thought I would repost it here:


The OP makes an inapt comparison between voters in Germany voting the Nazi Party into power and Palestinian voters voting Hamas into power. As detailed in Henry Ashby Turner Jr.'s book Hitler's Thirty Days To Power, the Nazi Party never won a majority in any national election in Germany and Hitler was never elected to any government post. But, though in December of 1932 he looked to be finished politically in Germany, through a series of inspired back-room political dealings and gross miscalculations and undersestimation of him by by his political enemies, Hitler managed to get himself appointed Chancellor of Germany by aging and ailing President Hindenberg (Hindenberg, the President, incidentally, was elected).

Sure enough, after Hitler managed to consolidate power, set fire to the Reichstag and kicked most non-Nazi members of the legislature out, and then assumed the duties of both the President and the Chancellor without an election when Hindenberg died, he became wildly popular and probably would have won an election, but in the event, the fact is that the Nazis never won a national election in Germany, never won a majority of seats in Reichstag, and never won an election for President. Hitler took power by getting an aging and addled war hero President to appoint him to the Chancellorship. The Nazis were not elected democratically, though they eventually enjoyed wide support.

Though, since many of the economic policies and reforms that Hitler got credit for after he ascended to power were actually put in place by preceding Weimar governments, it is unlikely that the Nazis would ever have ascended to power without having it handed to them by Hindenberg. Once in power, the Nazis greatly benefited from being at the top to create support they could not have garnered otherwise.

One further note: Though at various times and to various levels of effect the Nazis played down their antisemitism when it suited them, they were never all that shy about their intention to destroy European Jewry. As a commenter above noted, the failure wasn't in the Nazis making the destruction of the Jews a plank in their policy, but rather in the world believing the Nazis would actually follow through on it.

Or, in some cases, a failure in the German people and the world to do its homework. For, while Hitler did spell out his intention to destroy the Jews (referring to them as a bacillus to be wiped out) in Mein Kampf, and post-1933 a majority of German homes (and the homes of every Nazi Party member) contained a copy of the book, it was so poorly written, boring, and difficult to get through that it was commonly joked amongst high-ranking Nazi functionaries that it was the most-purchased but least-read book in the Reich.

In any case, comparing the Palestinians electing Hamas to the Germans electing Hitler and the Nazis is an inapt comparison that fails to make the original poster's point. Nazi Germany is an example of a democratically-elected government turning power over to a violent, dictatorial government, ala Star Wars, not an example of the people of a democracy choosing an organization with a history of terrorist activity as its democratically-elected government.

Israel and Palestine

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, a site I enjoy even though I disagree with a great deal of what is posted there, especially in the comments, has become a hotbed of controversy over the recent Israeli bombing and ground attacks upon Hamas in the Gaza Strip.* Partisans on boths sides have been demonizing the other, and I've learned all kinds of interesting things, like the fact that CNN has secret Hitlerian plans to destroy the Jews and bring about a new Holocaust, that the ICRC is ardently anti-Jew, and the fact that no one is in the streets protesting the Sri Lankan government's attacks on the Tamil Tigers is proof that opposition to Israel's attacks in Gaza is really just thinly-veiled anti-semitism. Oh, and that the left thinks that Palestinians are "soft and cuddly" and all want Hamas to win.

I personally have two acquaintances who are on opposite sides of this conflict, ideologically. One sides with Israel, thinks Israel can do no wrong, while the other is the same with the Palestinians. Frankly, I never really need to discuss the latest events in the region with either one, because I can pretty accurately guess each one's opinion in advance. For instance, when Israel began its most recent bombing campaign on Gaza, I correctly predicted that my pro-Israeli acquaintance would argue that no sovereign nation could fail to protect its citizens and allow rockets to rain down on them without responding. And I correctly predicted that my pro-Palestinian friend would note how ineffective the rocket attacks had been and therefore call Israel's attacks disproportionate to the threat. I can pretty much see the arguments and points for both sides and see why the arguments for both sides are compelling to those advancing them. (I also pretty much nailed each one's counters to those arguments as well, but I won't go further with this, as it isn't my main point).

I also see why none of those arguments matter in the least and those expending great amounts of time and effort making them are wasting their effort. There's a reason that, though I have a great deal of affinity for Israel and the plight of the Jewish people, before and after the destruction of the second Temple, during the Diaspora, before and after the Holocaust, given the study I have done for my writing and the fact that they have suffered over two thousand years of persecution at the hands of Christians from religiously-motivated antisemitism, I still have trouble getting too worked up over the latest events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and don't really strongly support one side or the other.

The reason is that the conflict cannot be solved because the two sides have mutually exclusive goals. At least, the more radical elements on both sides do, and those radical elements will be sure to scuttle any peace that compromises on those mutually exclusive goals. This has already happened on several occasions. And, as such, peace is essentially impossible.

A few examples of these mutually exclusive goals are: both sides must control all of Jerusalem; both sides must control the Temple Mount; both sides must have the Galilee; etc., etc. Any peace deal, for instance, in which either side gives up control of any part of Jerusalem will be scuttled by the radical elements of its own side. Guaranteed. Neither side will relinquish control of Jerusalem. Neither side will relinquish control of the Temple Mount. (Even now Jewish radicals seek to retake the Mount and raze the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque).

So, the ceaseless arguments about what is best for peace and two-state or one-state solutions and how best to neuter Hamas and whether it is better for Israel to deal with Hamas or Fatah are all pretty much pointless, because, ultimately, the whole idea that peace between the two sides is a fiction. Hamas, by refusing to recognize the right of Israel to exist, is simply refusing to deny the truth, to play make-believe. (Though I think they are wrong, of course, and I believe Israel does have a right to exist). They are simply saying straight out what is true of many Israelis and Palestinians, that there is no real way for them to coexist due to their mutually exclusive goals.

Does this mean that all Palestinians and all Israelis feel this way? That none of them desire peace? That there aren't many, perhaps even a majority, who would compromise on these mutually exclusive goals for peace? No. It doesn't. But the problem is that in the highly charged atmosphere of conflict it only takes a few radicals to lob a rocket or blow up a school to derail any peace initiative. And neither side can control its radical elements sufficiently to prevent this from happening.

So, in the end, I don't get too worked up about who is right and who is wrong with any particular action, incursion, intafada, or whatever in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I see it as another chapter in an unfolding, probably never-ending tragedy that is going to just continue eating up lives probably for as long as I live and long after that. I see no particular reason to argue about who is right or wrong in this particular case. Both are right. Both are wrong.

And as far as I can tell, they always will be.

* Did you know that a kind of light, airy fabric called 'gauze' originally came from Gaza and is where we get the word gauze?