Al Quaeda in Beslan?

by Daniel on September 3, 2004

As Chris notes below, the hideous events in Beslan are the property of the people who lived there; I don’t feel comfortable commenting on them, or in getting involved in the blame exercise of what happened and whether things could have been handled better. All we can do here is offer the profoundest sympathy, and weblogs are a particularly poor medium for doing that.

There is, however, one facet of this tragedy that non-Russians do need to think about however, and maybe we should start. According to the local police, there were ten bodies in the wreckage from Arab countries. It’s just possible that these were mercenaries, but much more likely that the longstanding rumours are correct that the Chechen independence movement has Al-Quaeda involvement.

The key question is, what the hell should be done about this? In particular:
1) Ought people with the power to do something abut Chechnya to take a different attitude to the question of Chechen independence because of this?
2) Should we expect, going forward, that all other conflicts involving Muslims on one side will be similarly compromised, and what should policy-makers do differently because of this?
3) What the hell has gone wrong with the particular strain of Islam which apparently tells people it’s OK to kill children, and what can be done about it?

Finally, Chris’s post appears to have already attracted a nasty case of trolls. All I can really say to the people who appear to think that the most important thing about the massacre at Beslan is what it says about Crooked Timber’s posting priorities is first, have a word with yourself, and second, if you think our posts on Tariq Ramadan’s visa and on the siege at Najaf don’t have anything to do with the questions outlined above, think again.

Horror in southern Russia

by Chris Bertram on September 3, 2004

I tried to write something earlier about “the horrifying developments in Russia”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3624024.stm where it seems that perhaps up to 300 people may have been murdered. I couldn’t find the words then and I can’t now after watching the scenes on TV. Parents especially will have experienced a rush of sympathy for the poor people desperate to learn whether their children had survived. There have been some bad days since September 11th, but this is one of the worst. Terrible.

iRate, iRrational, iRritating

by John Holbo on September 3, 2004

[Down]load the flying bats!

First get iTunes. Then go to the Apple music store. Scroll down; right under Eric Stoltz’ celebrity playlist is an RNC link, taking you to a bunch of free ‘audiobooks’ of the speeches. (You can also go to music store->audiobooks and get the Dem’s convention speechs. They just aren’t on the front page right now.) Oddly enough, “Bat out of Zell” Miller didn’t make the cut. No speech from him. Hmmm. Maybe they just haven’t gotten it up yet and tomorrow it will be available. (Anyone up for a little iPod ad parody photoshopping of Zell?)

More on Bush and Public Opinion

by Henry on September 3, 2004

As a supplement (or possible corrective) to my last post, this “article”:http://chronicle.com/temp/email.php?id=h8o3bh6nskvghmfkzj0lp61fmtyada3o by David Glenn in the Chronicle of Higher Education notes that six out of seven quantitative models presented at the APSA yesterday predict that Bush will win the popular vote. Note that these models aren’t trying to do the same thing as Erik and Paul’s paper – they’re predictive (sort of) rather than analytic. Note also that modelling has had a mixed success in predicting outcomes in the past. Still, all caveats aside, it’s an interesting datum.

Updated thanks to comments.

Rousseau’s suicide?

by Chris Bertram on September 3, 2004

I bought my copy of Blom’s “Encyclopédie”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0007149468/junius-20 yesterday afternoon and it promises to be an entertaining read rather than a scholarly one. Leafing through for Rousseau references I found that the author claims that JJR’s unexpected death in 1778 may have been suicide. This is the first time I’ve come across such a speculation and it is certainly at odds with what Maurice Cranston has to say in “The Solitary Self”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226118665/junius-20 . Cranston tells us that Rousseau suffered a brief illness and died of a stroke. Incidentally, the relevant page of “The Solitary Self”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226118665/junius-20 also covers Rousseau’s re-interrment in the Pantheon in 1794. The fashion these days on the libertarian right (you know, the sort of people who bang on about “the wisdom of the founders”) is to see the French and American revolutions as springing from very different impulses and to hold Rousseau as responsible for the collectivist faults of the French model. For many reasons I think this latter is deeply mistaken, but the American participation in the Pantheon ceremony at least reminds us that people back then didn’t see the two traditions as so sharply divided:

bq. The procession escorting Rousseau’s remains was led by a captain of the United States Navy carrying the stars and stripes, along with others bearing the tricolour and the flag of republican Geneva. At the end came members of the national legislature, preceded by their “beacon”, _The Social Contract_ . The American Minister in Paris, James Monroe, accompanied by his staff, was the only foreign guest invited to witness the ceremony inside the Pantheon. (p. 186).

Emile Durkheim on Zell Miller

by Kieran Healy on September 3, 2004

Well, OK not really — Durkheim died in 1917. But there’s more to crowds than “being able to estimate prices accurately”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002357.html and “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0029079373/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ is without doubt the place to begin when reflecting on the Republican Convention once the speeches are all done:

The force of the collectivity is not wholly external; it does not move us entirely from outside. Indeed … it must enter into us and become organized within us … This stimulating and invigorating effect of society is particularly apparent in certain circumstances. In the midst of an assembly that becomes worked up, we become capable of feelings and conduct which we are incapable when left to our individual resources … For this reason all parties — be they political, economic, or denominational — see to it that periodic conventions are held, at which their followers can renew their common faith by making a public demonstration of it together …

In the same way, we can also explain the curious posture that is so characteristic of a man who is speaking to a crowd — if he has achieved communion with it. His language becomes high-flown in a way that would be “ridiculous in ordinary circumstances”:http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ericzorn/chi-zornlog.story#zell; his gestures take on an overbearing quality; his very thought becomes impatient of limits and slips easily into “every kind of extreme”:http://andrewsullivan.com/index.php?dish_inc=archives/2004_08_29_dish_archive.html#109409893313020605. … Sometimes he even feels possessed by a moral force greater than he, of which he is only the interpreter … This extraordinary surplus of forces is quite real and comes to him from the very group he is addressing. The feelings he arouses as he speaks return to him enlarged and amplified, reinforcing his own to some degree. … It is then no longer a mere individual who speaks “but a group incarnated”:http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2004/09/zell.html and personified.

Continuing in a “Durkheimian mood”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emile_Durkheim, it strikes me that, by holding the convention in New York, the Republican Party has managed to have it both ways with the _conscience collective_: Party solidarity is enhanced positively as the delegates make a reverent pilgrimage to the site of the September 11th attacks, but also negatively through the buzz they get from feeling angry at and superior to the actual New Yorkers loudly protesting their presence. Thus the real New York of September 2004 provides the raw emotional energy used inside the convention hall to sanctify an image of the New York of September 2001.

Primat der Aussenpolitik

by Henry on September 3, 2004

How is the Iraq debacle affecting Bush’s popularity? This is the subject of another “intriguing APSA paper”:http://home.gwu.edu/~voeten/VoetenBrewerAPSA1.0.pdf, co-written by Erik Voeten and Paul R. Brewer.[1] Like most papers being presented at APSA this week, it’s a work in progress – for one thing there’s a couple of months’ more data to be collected – but it makes some very interesting arguments.

A couple of key points emerge. First, public opinion on the war is affecting Bush’s popularity – but the relationship is complicated. The paper suggests that public opinion on the war can be disaggregated into three different evaluations – (1) of whether the war was a good idea in the first place, (2) of whether the President is doing a good job in prosecuting the war, and (3) of whether the war is going well. According to the paper, evaluations of whether the war was a good idea in the first place should have the strongest relationship with Bush’s popularity. However, they’re also the most strongly rooted of the three, and thus the most difficult to change. Evaluations of whether the war is going successfully or not, are the most likely to be changed by events – but also have the weakest effect on Bush’s popularity. A 1% change in the number of respondents who think the war is going well corresponds to a.29% shift in the evaluation of Bush’s performance in Iraq, and only a .17% shift in the the number of respondents who think the war was worth it.

The data suggest that there is a strong relationship between support for the war and Bush’s approval rating. A 1% increase in support for the war equates to a .74% increase in Bush’s approval rating (and vice versa). However, support for the war seems perhaps to be becoming less important in relative terms – there is some tentative evidence suggesting that economic confidence is now becoming an increasingly important influence on Presidential approval ratings.

The paper is an empirical investigation rather than a political brief, but it’s hard to avoid the temptation of trying to draw political lessons from it. First, it suggests that the war is hurting Bush’s popularity – but that in order to really make substantial gains, the Democrats would have to convince waverers not only that the war is going badly, but that it was a misconceived project in the first place. Given the rather remarkable level of cognitive dissonance that many war supporters seem prepared to tolerate, this is a tall order. However, as Erik and Paul note, a major event in the war could have quite substantial positive or negative consequences for Bush’s support. Second, while the war is still a key political issue driving support (or the lack of it) for the administration, the economy may be starting to play a more important role. Structural explanations of public opinion have their limitations of course – they can’t capture the more evanescent political controversies that may affect elections. Even so, there’s good reason to believe that the war and the economy are going to continue to have a powerful effect on people’s voting intentions – and on current form, that can’t be good news for Bush.

fn1. Full disclosure – Erik is a colleague of mine at GWU and a grad-school mate of Kieran and Eszter’s.