Archive for November, 2006

Long-Term Implications of Sharia Courts in England

November 30, 2006

The Telegraph:

In his book Islam in Britain, Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, says there is an “alternative parallel unofficial legal system” that operates in the Muslim community on a voluntary basis. …

“Sharia courts now operate in most larger cities, with different sectarian and ethnic groups operating their own courts that cater to their specific needs according to their traditions,” he says. …

Faizul Aqtab Siddiqi, a barrister and principal of Hijaz College Islamic University, near Nuneaton, Warwicks, said this type of court had advantages for Muslims. “It operates on a low budget, it operates on very small timescales and the process and the laws of evidence are far more lenient and it’s less awesome an environment than the English courts,” he said.

Mr Siddiqi predicted that there would be a formal network of Muslim courts within a decade.

(via Roger L. Simon).

The trusty old nation-state is crumbling fast, as communication, travel, financial services, and trade make political boundaries ever more porous. It may be tempting to embrace Sharia courts in England because they can enforce order and resolve disputes in their communities. But in the long term this policy must inevitably lead to the establishment of a parallel nation, with a different language, different penalties for like crimes, and different standards for contract enforcement, within England. That’s not a good situation for English policymakers or Muslim residents and citizens of England.

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Entrepreneurship and Family

November 29, 2006

Two very interesting columns by Arnold Kling at TCS Daily:

The Exceptionally Entrepreneurial Society: “[I]if our goal is to have more countries that look like America, then having them adopt a democratic political system may not be necessary and will certainly not be sufficient. Instead, our primary focus should be on fostering an entrepreneurial economic system.”

For Better or For Worse: Entrepreneurs, Families, and Inequality:[M]arital choices interact with trends in entrepreneurship to tend to increase inequality of income. Since World War II, our economy has evolved in ways that reinforce the financial differences between strong families and weak families.” This column will be interesting to contrast with Kay Hymowitz’s book Marriage and Caste in America.

However, I have to quibble with Mr. Kling’s definition of entrepreneurship:

[A]n entrepreneur is someone who both launches a new enterprise and bears considerable risk and accountability relative to its success. … Someone who has a very high degree of risk and accountability but who did not launch the business is a hired executive, not an entrepreneur.

I would submit that if you “bear considerable risk and accountability relative to [your business’s] success” (i.e., control the equity), you are not a hired executive but a business owner and entrepreneur, whether or not you launched it from scratch. An executive who bought a manufacturing or service business and grew it bears no less risk and is no less entrepreneurial than a serial founder who exits his software startups as soon as lead customers are locked in.

Orson Scott Card on the Blogosphere (in 1985)

November 29, 2006

Yesterday, Glenn and Helen Reynolds posted an interview with science fiction author and columnist Orson Scott Card. I’ve been meaning to note that in his best-known work, the anti-war novel Ender’s Game, Mr. Card described a proto-blogosphere with erie prescience:

As soon as Father got them both onto his citizen’s access, they began testing the waters. They stayed away from the nets that required use of a real name. That wasn’t hard because real names only had to do with money. They didn’t need money. They needed respect, and that they could earn. With false names, on the right nets, they could be anybody. Old men, middle-aged women, anybody, as long as they were careful about the way they wrote. All that anyone would see were their words, their ideas. Every citizen started equal, on the nets.

They used throwaway names with their early efforts, not the identities that Peter planned to make famous and influential. Of course they were not invited to take part in the great national and international political forums – they could only be audiences there until they were invited or elected to take part. But they signed on and watched, reading some of the essays published by the great names, witnessing the debates that played across their desks.

And in the lesser conferences, where common people commented about the great debates, they began to insert their comments. At first Peter insisted that they be deliberately inflammatory. “We can’t learn how our style of writing is working unless we get responses – and if we’re bland, no one will answer.”

They were not bland, and people answered. The responses that got published on the public nets were vinegar; the responses that were sent as mail, for Peter and Valentine to read privately, were poisonous [careful – some offensive content here]. But they did learn what attributes of their writing were seized upon as childish and immature. And they got better.

… Peter took note of all their most memorable phrases and then did searches from time to time to find those phrases cropping up in other places. Not all of them did, but most of them were repeated here and there, and some of them even showed up in the major debates on the prestige nets.

Naturally, I’m not the first to notice this.

UPDATE: Chris Anderson picks up on this too.

Whither Europe?

November 29, 2006

The last few days have seen a flurry of writing on a perceived potential fascist resurgence in Europe, in reaction to unrest by unassimilated Muslim immigrants. Ralph Peters says that, demographic destiny notwithstanding, Europe will destroy or expel the Muslims. Paul Belien says Mr. Peters is exaggerating because he hates Europeans, but the Islamic danger is real. Mark Steyn says that leaders and foot soldiers are lacking (via Power Line). Wretchard wonders whether latter-day socialist revolutionaries will ally with Muslims. Meanwhile, Wolfgang Bruno was writing about this in 2005:

Europe right now has all the ingredients needed for the rise of something akin to a new Nazi movement. It is an extremely dangerous mix of suppressed nationalism, high unemployment and failed economies, democratic detachment and a widespread sense of being betrayed by the ruling elites.

If the Europeans fight, what kind of regime will lead? Will the Europeans make a firm but principled stand for liberté, égalité, and fraternité, or will their new intolerance equal their current tolerance? Recall that the readiest Brownshirt recruits were recent Communists.

Fortunately, we don’t see much direct evidence of such a resurgence (Mr. Peters doesn’t provide any, aside from the persistence of Le Pen). And yet, here is a story about neo-fascist noisemaking at the World Cup. CNN reports that support for France’s Le Pen has doubled since January, to 17 percent. (Le Pen is anti-immigrant, but note this February 2006 article suggesting an entente between National Front and Muslims.)

UPDATE: Eric S. Raymond: “In the banlieus and elsewhere, Islamist pressure makes it certain that sooner or later the West is going to vomit Stalin’s memes out of its body politic. The worst way would be through a reflex development of Western absolutism — Christian chauvinism, nativism and militarism melding into something like Francoite fascism.” (via Instapundit)

UPDATE: Tigerhawk: “Actually, I’m not late to the party. I thought up the party. Back on October 27, in my review of Steyn’s excellent book America Alone, I quoted Peters and raised precisely the point that has so engaged the righty ‘sphere this week: … the chances are better than fair that Europe is only catching its breath after the calamities it inflicted upon itself in the last century.” Tigerhawk has a small roundup as well.

Catching iTunes with Classical Music

November 28, 2006

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece by Ethan Smith titled “Can Anyone Catch iTunes?” looking at strategies of iTunes competitors such as Yahoo, Microsoft, and Napster. Most focus on pricing, rights management, and device compatibility. But there is still opportunity to innovate on product performance – for example, in classical music. How would a category killer work in the online classical niche?

  • Charge for works, not tracks. Usually, each movement of a piece is a separate track, making a work like Ravel’s Mother Goose (7 movements) uneconomical. Pricing tiers should reflect the scale of a work – you would pay more for Ravel’s single-movement Bolero (15 minutes) than you would for his Pavane for a Dead Princess (6 minutes).
  • More robust searching. The iTunes heirarchy of Artist > Album > Track isn’t enough for classical music. I’d like to be able to search by the title and composer of the piece, as well as the conductor, orchestra, and soloists.
  • Shuffle pieces, not movements. Symphonies are meant to be heard as complete works, but current shuffle features can’t keep the movements together. I’d like to be able to listen to symphonies in random order while maintaining each movement as a separate track.

Naxos is the leading online classical music provider, with its entire library of 11,500 CDs online for $150 per year (I haven’t tried the service). But there’s no ecosystem to support it. As anyone knows who has typed in a track title like “Beethoven, Harnoncourt, The Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica,’ Mvt. III Scherzo – allegro vivace,” there is still opportunity to delight classical music fans.

Friday Mystery Author: Willa Cather

November 28, 2006

The most recent Friday Mystery Author is revealed: novelist of the American plains, Willa Cather. This week’s passage was from My Antonia, which breathes the very scent of the big bluestem.

July came on with that breathless, brilliant heat which makes the plains of Kansas and Nebraska the best corn country in the world. It seemed as if we could hear the corn growing in the night; under the stars on cought a faint crackling in the dewy, heavy-odoured cornfields where the feathered stalks stood so juicy and green.

Check back on Friday for the next edition of Friday Mystery Author.

RMA and the Gates Confirmation

November 28, 2006

Pejman Yousefzadeh has a good column up at TCS Daily, suggesting questions not directly related to Iraq for Robert Gates’s confirmation hearings.

Peacekeeping. Whether it was intended or not, the peacekeeping capabilities of the American military have now become part and parcel of the transformation debate. … The Rumsfeld Doctrine runs counter to the Powell Doctrine, which relied on the use of overwhelming force. … It might be worth … opting for a light and agile force to win the initial military phase of a theater conflict and then employing the heavy footprint called for by the Powell Doctrine in peacekeeping.

Take that one step farther: aside from military and military police, what functions should be integrated with the peacekeeping force? Construction? Media (propaganda)? Microlending? In Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, LTC John Nagl argued that successful counterinsurgency must incorporate political and economic intervention, as well as military, and faulted the U.S. Army for not making that leap in Vietnam. What missions does Mr. Gates foresee for the military, and how will he pursue innovation?

In Defense of Idealism, Part 2

November 26, 2006

Jon Henke at QandO says “a Realpolitik ‘strongman’ policy to stabilize Iraq [is] probably the best available option left.” Only PhoenixPat among his commenters protested that this policy effectively throws the current, elected, constitutional Iraqi government overboard. Jon responds:

You think the Iraqi Constitution “must be honored or abandoned”. But by whom?

The U.S. clearly must honor it. It’s certainly not our business to decide the government structures we sponsored suddenly aren’t up to the job. In the comments, Jon says that the Iraqi government today is a sham on par with the Palestinian apparatus – completely co-opted by “the parties” and their paramilitary arms. I think this is far from clear. For a start, let’s see what happens to the level of random violence if we tighten the seals on the Syrian and Iranian borders. (PhoenixPat gave a more thorough rebuttal.)

What are the defining or minimum features of the “best available faction?” For discussion, I submit that:

The single necessary and sufficient feature of an acceptable “strong leader” for Iraq is that it leaves office peacefully and on schedule, in accordance with a constitutional re-election cycle.

Restoring order and confidence in an Iraqi government (it seems to me) is necessary but not sufficient. Taking the form of a central (not federal) government doesn’t seem necessary. I suppose that a Sunni oligopoly could observe constitutional forms while oppressing the Shia and Kurds, but doubt it given the size and strength of those minorities.

Related: In Defense of Idealism

In Defense of Idealism

November 26, 2006

Since the midterm elections, it has become commonplace to foresee a return to “realism” in American foreign policy. James Baker is leading a study group to recommend a new course in Iraq. In The New Yorker, George Packer says, “We are all realists now. … Kissingerism is king.” In the Wall Street Journal, Michael Rubin predicts a return to dictator-backing. Kissinger himself is holding forth to the AP (Christopher Hitchens is not amused).

Leaks seem to suggest that Baker’s recommendation might take the following course: Warm up relations with the ruling cliques in Syria and Iran, which have been working mightily to fuel violence in Iraq (and Lebanon). Get them to agree to support stability in Iraq and to freeze their weapons programs in exchange for economic incentives. Once a decent period has elapsed and insurgents have dialed back the bombings and kidnappings, draw down troop levels.

It goes without saying that under this framework, liberal and pro-democracy groups within Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon cannot expect even moral support from the United States. A strongman acceptable to Tehran and Damascus will emerge to “lead” Iraq. Tentacles from the Iranian and Syrian security services will infiltrate every aspect of Iraqi life. The U.S. will hail the semblance of order in Iraq and wash its hands.

My friends, after Sept. 11, we repudiated this very “realism. ” Cold War pragmatism was bad enough when we had no choice; now it is unacceptable. Benign neglect did not help the peoples of Yugoslavia, Iraq in 1991, or Darfur today. Such a retreat will fool no one, emboldening the worst actors on the international stage.

Even at this late date, let the President say the success of Iraq is of crucial national interest, let him reiterate that oppressive regimes are beyond the pale, let him declare the determination of the U.S. to make good its promises to the people of Iraq and the world.

As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friends. … above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world.

Friday Mystery Author: Nov. 24, 2006

November 26, 2006

Here is the second installment of Friday Mystery Author (yes, a day late). Every Friday, I’ll post a passage from a more or less well known book and invite all comers to identify the author and title. The first installment is here and the answer is here. Leave your answers in the comments, or just say hello, and if you have a url, please leave that too. I hope you enjoy this one, a promise of hope for the cold months ahead:

When spring came, after that hard winter, one could not get enough of the nimble air. Every morning I awakened with a fresh consciousness that winter was over. There were none of the signs of spring for which I used to watch in Virginia, no budding woods or blooming gardens. There was only — spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere: in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm, high wind — rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted. If I had been tossed down blindfolded on that red prairie, I should have known that it was spring.

Check back on Monday for the answer. Have a good weekend.