Thursday, February 17, 2005

Economists believe that people are fundamentally motivated by personal gain. Which certainly seems to be true of the people around them:

Does what we believe about human motivation matter? In an experimental study of private contributions to a common project, two sociologists from the University of Wisconsin, Gerald Marwell and Ruth Ames, found that first-year graduate students in economics contributed an average of less than half the amount contributed by students from other disciplines.

Other studies have found that repeated exposure to the self-interest model makes selfish behavior more likely. In one experiment, for example, the cooperation rates of economics majors fell short of those of nonmajors, and the difference grew the longer the students had been in their respective majors.

But correlation is not causation. It's also possible, for instance, that economics majors tend to be greedheads (and to think everyone else is a greedhead as well) because it's greedheads who are disproportionately drawn to economics...

Tom Friedman has a column today in which he suggests that what the Lebanese need to do in response to the recent bombing attack on their Prime Minister is to trade "Hama rules" for "Baghdad rules". By which he means elections. But considering how much more frequent bombing attacks have been in Baghdad lately than in Beirut, it seems to me that someone in Beirut has adopted Baghdad rules -- the rules of the real Baghdad, not Friedman's shining Baghdad of the mind. And that's the problem.

(He also says that it's Syria that's playing by Hama rules, but the Lebanese need to make the trade anyway. Why let coherent thought get in the way of a bad mixed metaphor?)

Meanwhile, while I've been distracted more than usual, the Poor Man has been absolutely brilliant. But you didn't need me to tell you that, now, did you?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Godawful stories are circulating about the second seige of Fallujah:

"One story is of a young girl who is 16 years old," he says of one of the testimonies he video taped recently, "She stayed for three days with the bodies of her family who were killed in their home. When the soldiers entered she was in her home with her father, mother, 12 year-old brother and two sisters. She watched the soldiers enter and shoot her mother and father directly, without saying anything."

The girl managed to hide behind the refrigerator with her brother and witnessed the war crimes first-hand.

"They beat her two sisters, then shot them in the head," he said. After this her brother was enraged and ran at the soldiers while shouting at them, so they shot him dead.

"She continued hiding after the soldiers left and stayed with her sisters because they were bleeding, but still alive. She was too afraid to call for help because she feared the soldiers would come back and kill her as well. She stayed for three days, with no water and no food. Eventually one of the American snipers saw her and took her to the hospital," he added before reminding me again that he had all of her testimony documented on film.

Another story is of families being ordered to leave their homes carrying white flags -- and then being cut down by snipers in cold blood.

And another is of soldiers deliberately attacking hospitals.

That last one is known to be true. At least twice over.

As to the rest -- you'd like to reflexively disbelieve that Americans would do anything like that. Just like at Abu Ghraib. But it's worth noting that the avowed purpose of the force seizing one hospital was "to end its use as a source of anti-U.S. propaganda." Which is to say, anything that would contradict their own propaganda line, which has proven to be less than entirely reliable. That hospital was left structurally intact. The other was razed to the ground, ending its use for just about anything -- including medical treatment. If you'd like to believe that they scrupulously observed the Geneva conventions in all other respects, you're welcome to your view. I'm sure it helps you sleep easier at night than I do these days. But it was an American general that said that "It's a hell of a lot of fun" to shoot people down. And another that said "War is hell."

And remember, while you're at it, that the official position of Dubya's crew is that it wouldn't matter. That the President can order any action, regardless of laws or treaty obligations, let alone basic human decency. Patriot Act coauthor John Yoo recently explained it to Jane Mayer like so:

As Yoo saw it, Congress doesn't have the power to "tie the President's hands with regard to torture as an interrogation technique." He continued, "It's the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. they can't prevent the President from ordering torture." If the President were to abuse his powers as Commander-in-Chief, Yoo said, the Constitutional remedy was impeachment.

And the odds of that, from a Congress run on strict party loyalty, are nil.

The founding fathers had a lot to say, in the Federalist papers and elsewhere, about the danger of politicians driven by a "spirit of faction." Yet one of their deliberately chosen models was the Roman Republic. There would be some irony if the Republic they built goes the same way, gaining the world at the cost of its soul, so that one day people might say of them both: Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

via King of Zembla

Then again, as a reminder that you can't believe everything you see on the web, I offer this report which says it's quoting a French official document, then gives the translation. A translation which is remarkably exact, as the purported French original contains the English words "community", "coupled", "is", "it", and "the" -- evidently in places where some second-rate automated English to French automatic translator didn't know what to do with them...