Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sunday Secularism Blogging

There's some interesting discussion burbling through the blogosphere about religious indoctrination, militant atheism, and the role of state and society in shaping the religious views of children. (I'll try not to link to Amanda Marcotte every single day, but this subject is too juicy to pass up.)

As a semi-militant atheist and the child of semi-militant atheists, I have complicated feelings about these issues.

I definitely agree with Amanda, PZ Myers, Dawkins, and all reasonable people that it would be a very bad idea for the government to enforce a ban on all religious indoctrination of children. Though I believe the world would be a much better place if no children were indoctrinated--and, more controversially, if there were no religions to indoctrinate them into in the first place--it would clearly be a bad idea for the government to intervene to accomplish this. To point out the least of the problems with this idea, the sort of state surveillance apparatus necessary for equal enforcement would be totally unworkable, which means that the law couldn't be applied equally, which would result in de facto religious discrimination. And its enforcement would literally require a Thought Police.

I do think that state (and private) schools ought to aggressively combat indoctrination to the extent they can, by exposing students to all the world's religions and forcing them to question whatever dogmatic opinions their parents foist upon them. Schools don't do enough about this, because they are afraid of parental outrage--and rightly so, unfortunately, given the political process whereby schools are organized and funded.

Two other interesting issues lie in the background here. One involves the nature of atheism and its appropriate expression. 1) Can atheism itself become a noxious dogma, with its own equally harmful form of indoctrination--is Richard Dawkins no better than James Dobson? 2) What does truly non-judgmental parenting look like? Can/should indoctrination of all forms be avoided entirely?

(Will write more! Have to leave work!)

UPDATE: Okay, so writing more didn't really work. I'll write more on the same subject later, I promise.

I do intend to make Sunday Secularism Blogging a regular feature, though. To the extent that anything can be regular in a life as chaotically structured as my own.

They Write Books

Every Christmas in recent memory, I've received at least one of the latest batch of pop left-liberal books (Al Franken, Michael Moore, etc.). Apparently this has become the default present for me--and I suppose it's true that leftism and bibliophilia are two of my most prominent characteristics. I'm always glad to read these books, but perhaps not for the intended reasons. I never feel like I actually learn anything from them directly, but only at one degree of remove: I learn something about the projected image of leftish ideas in popular culture. Which is something worth knowing, of course.

In any event, I just finished this year's acquisition, Keith Olbermann's book version of The Worst Person In The World, based on the segment of his MSNBC show in which he runs down the most egregious atrocities of the day, which frequently involve Bill O'Reilly. I definitely enjoyed it; some parts literally made me laugh out loud, which is rare for a book. I even learned some things from it. I hadn't heard that an autistic kid from my district of birth, SE Portland, had been recruited for the Army. The recruiters earned the anti-honors, which were probably richly deserved; I'm not certain that all forms of autism ought to disqualify a person from all forms of military service, since some people with the condition can be quite functional, but still.

I did have a few qualms about the book. I hate to criticize Olbermann, whose show is the one shining light of reason in the darkness of cable news. But, as the Destroyer song says, you've got to stay critical or die.

From minor to semi-major:

1) This may be pedantic and/or unreasonable of me, but I find it somewhat annoying that Olbermann frequently awards the anti-honors to corporate entities--by which I mean not just commercial corporations like Coca-Cola, but organizations like FEMA and the DHS. Firstly, this annoys me because, Supreme Court notwithstanding, corporations are not people. Secondly, it seems like a cop-out, in a way. In every case of corporate/institutional malfeasance, there is some particular person or group of persons who is personally responsible. If you're going to give anti-honors on the basis of some FEMA fuckup, for instance, why not give them to the particular people responsible?

2) Many of the "worsts" hardly seem worst-ish to me. I realize that the main point of the segment is humor, but surely there was a worse person on that particular day than the woman who stole a parrot from a pet shop and traded it for a Kharman Ghia. The parrot was unharmed, and surely theft isn't a big enough crime to qualify for worstness. (The fact that someone, somewhere, once traded a parrot for a Kharman Ghia is truly wonderful, though; the whole thing sounds like something from a Pynchon novel.)

3) While I suppose the book is good for those (like me!) who have no cable, it's just about 100% redundant with the TV show; the text, apart from the intro, is literally just a straight transcript of the show. This seems a bit half-assed.

4) I worry a bit about Olbermann's obsession with O'Reilly. I find the Falafel Man as reprehensible as Olbermann does, but I wonder whether he's really worth all the effort. It's not going to change him, except for the worse (i.e., more defensive), or convert any of his followers. And it's only funny for the rest of us for so long.

5) Most seriously: I find it deeply vexing that Olbermann never gives top anti-honors to one of the most obvious and deserving candidates: President Bush. I can only guess about his reasons for this omission. I can think of two, neither of which seems sufficient to justify it to me.

Fistly, he might simply think that Bush's various transgressions aren't funny enough to put in the segment. He explains in the intro that the worsts detailed within aren't literally the worst people in the world, who would surely all be tyrants and murderers, but those who commit offenses against decency and good taste and civility, who are much more fun to talk about. This is fine, and might be a good reason not to talk, in this segment, about Bush's worst crimes, like waging aggressive war, authorizing torture and indefinite detention without habeas corpus, etc. But these are hardly his only offenses; Bush commits offenses against decency all the time, some of which are quite funny. Why not talk about those?

Secondly, he might think that it would be unpatriotic, inappropriate, or maybe even dangerous, to say on national television that the POTUS was the worst person in the world. I refuse to accept this as a legitimate excuse. If the president is, as is pretty clearly the case, one of the worst people in the world, it's the opposite of unpatriotic to point this out. Sometimes, presidents suck; it's important that someone point this out so that everyone knows that something should be done about it. It might be dangerous, in the sense of prompting outraged censure, and maybe death threats, from a substantial portion of the population. But that portion of the population is insane. Should we really hold back from saying things that need to be said for the sake of preserving the peace of mind of irrational people?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Aesthetics and wind power

One of my favorite bloggers, Amanda Marcotte, has a lovely post today about, among other things, the wind farms in West Texas--a place that holds a special place in my heart, though I've only been through there once. (And not only because of the wonderful Mountain Goats album.)

She makes one observation that particularly struck home for me: the people who think that wind farms are "eyesores" and don't want them in their backyard are crazy. The posted picture is the windfarm I've seen most often, in Somerset, PA, 40 miles east of my old stomping grounds in Pittsburgh. The picture doesn't do it justice by any means. When you drive by the white turbines at twilight, with their blades slowly, soundlessly twirling, it is a truly eerie and otherworldly experience. The row of them atop the line of the hills looks like the one suviving remnant of some ancient civilization, or some alien artifact.

I genuinely don't understand why anyone would find these distasteful, especially anyone who supports alternative energy on principle. I can think of many places that would actually look much better with an infusion of turbines: most of Washington County, Oregon, for instance. All of New Jersey. Most of the Upper Midwest.

Wind power can probably never be a true replacement for other, more damaging sources of power--since that would require blanketing the surface of the earth with windmills, which is hardly feasible--but it can do at least some good. And look good while it's doing it.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A tragic milestone

(Now that Christmas is over, we can get back to our customary doom and gloom...)

According to the AP, the number of American combat deaths in Iraq has now officially exceeded the death toll from the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The Iraq war is now officially a greater tragedy for the American people than the largest terrorist attack in human history.

Now, lots of people will insist that this is comparing apples and oranges: that the death of innocent civilians cannot be compared to the deaths of soldiers in the line of duty. Or that the fact that the soldiers died for a "noble" cause somehow makes their deaths less tragic. As a commentator at the loathesome Ann Althouse's blog points out, American casualties in the Pacific theater of World War II greatly outnumbered the deaths at Pearl Harbor, yet we don't generally think that these deaths somehow undermined the case for war against Japan.

The trouble with this last line of argument is that it assumes that comparing these numbers must constitute a weighing of this kind at all: that those who compare the two death tolls must be trying to say that some utilitarian calculus shows that the Iraq war is now more trouble than it is worth, since it has led to more deaths than it was intended to avenge in the first place. But this is transparently absurd. The war in Iraq and the 9/11 attacks have nothing to do with each other. Everyone who thinks otherwise at this late date must be either dishonest or utterly detached from reality.

As for the distinction between military and civilian deaths, I think that this can only be relevant when the military deaths in question occur in the line of legitimate duty. The soldiers in Iraq are and have been operating without a coherent military, political or diplomatic strategy, without a clear set of objectives, without a Congressional declaration of war or UN sanction, waging an agressive war of conquest and occupation at the whim of a deluded President whose case for war was based on lies. They should not be there at all. As such, I see no moral difference between them and civilians.

I see no way of getting around the fact that we have inflicted a worse tragedy on ourselves than the supposedly epoch-defining tragedy of five years ago. (Not to mention the tragedy we have inflicted on the Iraqi people, which is orders of magnitude greater.)

This by itself, of course, has no bearing on whether the Iraq war is "worth it". It was already clear that it wasn't "worth it". To borrow a line from the young John Kerry, we have asked nearly three thousand of our fellow citizens to die for a mistake. But even one would have been too many.

Monday, December 25, 2006


One of my very secular family's Christmas traditions for some years now has been a playing of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which, while not explicitly Christmas-related, has always struck me as good enough to (almost) justify the existence of religion.

In that spirit, here is a (semi-decent) translation of the gorgeous German poem that inspired the symphony:

Ode To Joy
by Friedrich Schiller

Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.

Whoever has created
an abiding friendship,
Or has won
a true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join in our songs of praise;
But any who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.

All creatures drink of joy
At nature's breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!

Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He set on their courses
Through the splendor of the firmament;
Thus brothers, you should run your race
As a hero going to conquest.

You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Do you fall in worship, millions?
World, do you know your Creator?
Seek him in the heavens,
Above the stars must He dwell.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Practicing Escalatio

I continue to be astonished by the surreality of American public discourse about the Iraq war. In the immediate aftermath of the midterm elections, I had some hope that this would lessen at least a little bit, and to some degree it has. It is at least no longer completely taboo to label the war as the obvious disaster it is. However, with regard to the most important subject of debate, what we ought to do now, total unreality still reigns.

The upper eschelons of the Bush Administration, as well as prominent war supporters like John McCain, are seriously contemplating escalating the conflict by sending in some tens of thousands of new troops. The Iraq Study Group and its "moderate" supporters caution against hasty withdrawal, and suggest maintaining current troop levels until some poorly-specified and unquantifiable diplomatic work has been carried out and some kind of political solution to the Iraqi civil war achieved. These two positions seem to have become the ideological poles of "reasonable" debate in Washington. As many others have noted before me, the disconnect between this debate and the opinions of the American public could not be more radical. That escalation is even on the table is bizarre; polls show that only 10-12% of the population would support it. That is considerably less than the percentage of the population that believes that aliens have contacted the US government (which, I've given to understand, usually polls around 30%), or just about any other crazy thing you can imagine. In any genuinely democratic society, escalation would be off the table.

I am less distressed by the undemocratic nature of the debate, however, than by its totally thoroughgoing confusion. The reality of the political and military situation in Iraq right now is so dire and so complex that it is hard to fully appreciate; I am perfectly willing to accept this. Some kind of abstraction from the real-world problems of occupation may be necessary to have any public debate at all. But the Iraq debate has become so removed from these problems as to have lost nearly all meaning.

If total withdrawal is not considered to be an option, as it unfortunately probably cannot be while Bush still holds office, then the debate over escalation is ultimately a debate about tactics and strategy--a debate about how to "win", not a debate about how to disentangle ourselves. As such, the debaters have to agree, or at least explicitly argue over, what constitutes winning. But here, all is darkness. Given that nearly everyone now rejects the Bush administration's early pie-in-the-sky fantasies of establishing a secular, democratic, free-market utopia, what are we really talking about? As far as I can guess, the "moderates" view their goals in primarily negative terms: an end to civil war and chaos, the establishment of some government that is not wildly unstable, or in cahoots with Al Qaeda, or a puppet of Iran. But what would this actually look like? No-one seems to spend any time thinking about this. When I try to imagine this negatively-defined state, the only two pictures I can conjure are the old pie-in-the-sky and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

A certain unclarity of goals has always bedeviled the American occupation, however, so this might seem unsurprising. The current strategic debate, however, muddies the waters even further by failing to clarify either how the preferred strategic course could actually be followed or how it would actually achieve any good whatsoever.

The proponents of escalation are particularly egregious in this regard. As Nitpicker at Unclaimed Territory points out, no-one who supports escalation has even gone so far as to clarify how the escalation itself would be logistically possible. How are we supposed to send 20 to 40K extra troops to Iraq, exactly? Where are these troops? The Army is having terrible trouble keeping up its current troop levels, and it's hard to believe that even the most sustained and well-funded recruitment drive could convince many young people to throw themselves into the meat grinder. The draft is off the table. So what are we really even talking about when we argue about escalation?

Further, it is unclear what purpose these extra troops might serve, even in the minds of the clearly-psychotic proponents of escalation. It makes perfect sense to point out, as many have, that more troops would have made a (small) difference during the initial stages of the conflict, when they might have been able to prevent the looting that helped fund and arm the insurgency in its early days. But what does this have to do with the problems facing the occupation today? What specific military tasks need to be done that cannot be done with current troop levels but could be accomplished by escalation? The standard answer seems to be "pacifying Baghdad"; but how can any military force accomplish that, short of simply wiping the city off the face of the earth? Does anyone really believe that the chaos in Baghdad can be solved by a slightly increased military presence? If so, how, and can they explain it to us? Please?

I don't expect that my political leaders will share my own beliefs, or that they will be honest all or even most of the time, but I do expect that their statements will make at least some minimal sense: that it will at least be clear what they are talking about. But it seems that I am doomed to be disappointed.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Thoughts on Pinochet's Apologists

I realize that I'm well behind the news cycle on this, but the American reaction to Pinochet's death upset me enough that I wasn't able to crystalize my thoughts about it until now. Now, of course, many others have already broached the subject and said most of the things I would like to say. (These excellent Glenn Greenwald pieces say most of what needs to be said.)

There are a few points I would humbly venture to make nonetheless:

It's hardly surprising that some right-wingers would mourn the dictator, since he was, in so many respects, their dictator, their creature. We should all be concerned, however, when the Washington Post starts wearing the same black veil.

The Post's editorial page puts a mainstream, "moderate" stamp on right-wing coldwar "realism" of the Jeane Kirkpatrick/Henry Kissinger school; this much goes without saying, and shouldn't be particularly surprising in itself. (We no longer have any reason to expect anything other than hawkish drivel from the Post, as the past five years have amply proven.) What's really remarkable here is the timing, not the message. It's one thing to say that we ought to support dictators who we believe will help us strategically in a prolonged, deadly, semi-declared global war. It's quite another to defend the legacy of those dictators themselves thirty years later. If the Post limited itself to defending America's support for Pinochet's bloody regime, I would disagree, but I would disagree respectfully and with considerably less alarm. Defending Pinochet himself, as the Post clearly does, alarms me deeply.

To say that Pinochet's massive and well-documented crimes against humanity are in some way mitigated or balanced by his restoration of free market capitalism and the oft-cited "Chilean Economic Miracle" is not just objectionable on high-minded principle, but actively dangerous. (By the way, I seem to recall another dictator having accomplished an "economic miracle" at some point. In Germany, I think. Maybe there are some parallels. Someone really ought to look into that.) The danger lies in accepting the underlying logic of the argument. The moment we begin to accept making this sort of trade-off--of fundamental human rights and democratic values for security and economic stability--in any context, we lose something. We start to see our most basic principles as things that can be traded, instead of seeing them as the things that define us, that cannot be given up without losing ourselves entirely.

I do not intend to suggest that it is never permissible to make compromises with deeply inhumane governments; sometimes no better option exists. But it is never permissible to become such a government, no matter how much it might seem to increase security, stability, or economic growth. To apologize for Pinochet constitutes permitting exactly that: if Pinochet's crimes can be mitigated by Chile's latter-day economic successes (such as they are), our own present-day crimes can appear to be mitigated by the hope of future benefits. As Greenwald points out, the logic here is essentially identical to the logic of the defenders of our own home-grown torturers in Iraq and Guantanamo.

I, personally, consider apologies for Pinochet to be even more alarming than the shockingly widespread apologies for torture as a tool in the "war on terror", for the following reason: Pinochet's use of state terrorism was almost solely directed at his internal enemies--socialists, communists, trade unionists, democratic dissidents, etc. If turning massive state force against one's own citizens can be the best case scenario, as the Post suggests, would there be any situations in which they would support turning it against us? I don't know the answer to that question. Hence my alarm.

I can understand, if not sympathize with, the idea that brutal state violence can be the lesser evil in some situations. But those situations surely require at least a powerful, relentlessly brutal adversary. In Pinochet's situation, his adversaries looked a lot like, well, me. They opposed the brutalities of unrestricted capitalism, as I do, and supported the principles of democracy and the rule of law, as I do. They were not cartoonish, scraggly-bearded terrorists living in caves and plotting mass murder--as we apparently imagine our enemies to be today--nor were they the cartoonish, scraggly-beared, Pravda-worshipping Soviet Borg we imagined them to be at the time. They were ordinary people with left-leaning politics. Not so different from me, or likely from you, the hypothetical reader of this blog. Yet one of our nation's most respected newpapers sees fit to mourn their torturer and murderer publicly. I have no words.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Racism and Opinion Polling

I don't mean to pick on, but I found their coverage of this poll on racism interesting.

The writer seems surprised that, while many Americans believe that our society is racist, and find this troubling, few people admit to being racist themselves. A sizable majority of those polled believe that racism is either a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem, but only "about one out of eight" consider themselves racist.

I, for my part, am surprised by the surprise, not the numbers. I suppose the numbers might seem odd or irrational, in the same way that it's odd and irrational that the vast majority of Americans consider themselves above average drivers. It might seem to involve the same sort of contradiction, so that a large percentage of Americans would have to be mistaken, as a matter of logic, about either their own racism or that of our society. But racism is a far more complex phenomenon than this, I think.

The term racism means not only individual attitudes about "the races" in the abstract but a whole system of enforced inequality. When we are asked whether we ourselves are racist, we usually interpret the question as being about our individual attitudes. And few of us openly believe, even privately in our own thoughts, that we harbor negative views about other races. Nonetheless, most of us, in our various ways--which can be unconscious or even unwilling--reinforce systems of racial inequality all the time. Does this mean that we, ourselves, are racist? In one sense, yes, but in another sense, no; and since we find it hard to admit our own faults, it should be unsurprising that we take the question in the way that gets us out of doing so.

According to the poll, 40% of blacks* and only 26% of whites believe that "all or many" whites dislike blacks. I wonder if we can really take this at face value, though. What do these respondents take "disliking blacks" to mean? If I were to have taken this poll, I would have said "all or many" myself. But this is not because I believe that most white people actually take personal issue with blacks per se. (Though of course many or most do take issue with blacks otherwise than per se--with black pop culture, for instance. But that's a whole other issue.) I would submit this answer because I would feel that if I did not, I would be claiming that white racism isn't that big of a deal, when I believe just the opposite. White racism is an enormous problem. I just don't believe that it only or even primarily takes the form of individual racist attitudes. Hence, I have to wonder what this poll can really tell us, since it is unclear what the respondents believe constitutes racism.

At the very least, we can be comforted that most Americans don't buy in to the right wing's decades-long effort to convince us that we live in a post-racist society.

*I don't like using these terms, but all terms like this have their problems; since these are apparently the terms used in the poll, I will use them here.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Case studies in ambiguity

The unintentionally funny and never informative reader polls on illustrate a curious linguistic phenomenon: the thin line between ambiguity and meaninglessness.

One can easily accept that any simple yes/no poll about a substantive issue will have built into it all manner of assumptions about what the participant will read into the question. The poll writer will assume that her subjects understand her words in roughly the same way she does, and that they have at least a rough working knowledge of her subject and the way (and the terms in which) it has been covered in the media. These assumptions are probably necessary--to keep the poll questions manageably short, at least. They also, by their very nature, introduce an element of ambiguity, since their presence requires us to grasp the assumptions before we can grasp the intended meaning of the question; if we reject or cannot comprehend the assumptions, we might read the question differently.

The polls are remarkable in that ambiguity infects even the assumptions they embody. Take the current poll, which asks
Will greater international involvement help solve the crisis in Iraq?
How are we supposed to take this? At least three of the assumptions are clear:

1)There is a crisis in Iraq.
2)Said crisis can, at least hypothetically, be solved.
3)Greater international involvement in trying to solve this crisis is possible. (Or is it supposed to be inevitable? Why the "will"?)

Even at the surface level, confusion abounds here. What would constitute greater international involvement? An (extremely unlikely) influx of new, non-US troops? Regional diplomatic summits? UN action? And what is the crisis, exactly? Insurgency, terrorism, civil war, anarchy? Most crucially, what would constitute solving it? Even keeping in mind the Washington conventional wisdom about the terms of "reasonable" debate about Iraq, which must lie somewhere in the background here, the question is unclear.

I, personally, believe that the situation in Iraq cannot be "solved" at this point, at least in terms that any humane person would find acceptable. We cannot stitch back together a country that we ourselves destroyed and that had no real unity to begin with. Iraq will be a continuous bloodbath for the forseeable future. I thus reject assumption 2 above.

I don't intend to defend this belief right now, only to use it to make a point about the CNN poll: Given my position, which I think is actually very widespread in the US today, what should I vote? It might seem that I should vote "no", because I do not in fact think that any realistically-possible international intervention could "solve" the problem. But will my vote be interpreted this way, or will it be interpreted as unilateralist triumphalism--as a vote to continue going it alone? I would gladly support greater international involvement in Iraq, at least in some forms, but if I were to vote "yes", that would seem to require that I believe in the possibility of an outright "solution" to Iraq's problems.

What, then, can we make of the fact that 63% of those responding to the poll voted "yes"? Absolutely nothing, because the question by itself is so ambiguous as to be literally meaningless.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

The logic of cluster bombs

Introducing an article about one of the most disgustingly ironic events in recent memory--the US State Department's condemnation of Israel's use of cluster bombs against civilian targets in Lebanon--poputonian at Hullabaloo asks a question I've wondered about for some time: What, exactly, is the difference supposed to be between a cluster bomb and "a big canister full of land mines"?

As the article points out, cluster bombs are distinguished from other antipersonel munitions by their massive failure rate. Up to 40% of the bomblets resulting from a cluster bomb strike do not explode on impact, yet remain explosive long after, awaiting the unsuspecting civilian (often a child) who happens upon them. These bomblets may not resemble landmines physically, and they are not intentionally hidden or buried--though they may in fact be hidden from sight in one way or another, obviously. But in their basic logic, both militarily and morally, they are the same weapon. They both indiscriminately target any and all human beings who come across them, friend or foe, military or civilian. In remaining explosive indefinitely, they can, in a very troubling way, make a military conflict permanent. The persistence of active munitions in the environment means the persistence of war, and the persistence of arbitrary death and disfigurement. I doubt anyone who has lost a limb or a child to a hidden explosive device would care much about any distinctions between a cluster bomblet and a mine.

Yet armies and governments have consistently treated cluster bombs and landmines quite differently. 152 countries, including such noted champions of humanitarianism as Sudan, have signed a treaty outlawing the use and production of landmines. Despite their near-indistinguishability, cluster munitions are not included in the treaty, nor does any similar global treaty exist that bans them. (Not that no-one has called for one, but suchlike are voices in the wilderness.)

Given this climate, nearly all the world's militaries, even those not signed on to the treaty, show considerable restraint in their use of landmines. Even the United States, which has not signed on to the treaty and has, under Bush, rescinded on its Clinton-era promise to move toward a ban on mines, has not used mines in over a decade, despite being one of the world's largest producers and exporters. The US has, however, used cluster bombs quite frequently in recent years. The US Air Force (in)famously dropped cluster bombs on Serbia during the Kosovo war, on Afghanistan, and now on Iraq. Read a report on the use of cluster bombs in Baghdad, from the indispensible Human Rights Watch, here. If the US military were mining the streets of Baghdad, the world (and the American people) would be up in arms, yet somehow cluster bombs fail to produce similar outrage. Even HRW itself limits itself to saying that
the use of cluster munitions in populated areas may violate the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks contained in international humanitarian law.
"May"? How can there possibly be any doubt?

To drop these weapons on a heavily populated urban center is outrageous enough, but to have the unmitigated gall to publicly chide the Israeli army for doing the exact same thing in Lebanon--with American-made bombs, nonetheless--is something else. Seriously, is this a joke? The bombs were practically made for this purpose, as we should know, having made them ourselves, and having used them repeatedly for exactly this purpose. What else could anyone have expected Israel to do with them?

If cluster bombs do have any "legitimate" military use, surely that use would be better served by a weapon that doesn't fail 40% of the time. These weapons need to be outright banned. Whatever line of illogic has kept us from understanding their moral equivalence to landmines needs to be recognized as such, and this recognition may be the first step.


testy mctestingson...