The biggest game in town

by Daniel on December 24, 2013

I never really got round to writing a proper Christmas sermon this year, but given that it’s been kind of topical recently, I thought I might have a go at explaining one of the phenomena of online political debate which is as persistent as it is puzzling – that is to say, why does everything end up turning into a flamewar about Israel?

Consider, reader, a person who is a bit of a nut. His very favourite thing in the world is to have arguments on the internet about the politics and government systems countries he will never visit. There are two issues in the world which he regards as massive injustices which cry out to heaven for redress – the Russian occupation of Chechnya, and the military junta in Burma/Myanmar. He also, broadly, supports the cause of the Palestinians, but this really isn’t much of an issue for him; he’s much better informed and much more concerned about Chechnya and Burma.

So why, when the NSA takes a snoop over this fellow’s online output, does he seem to spend all of his time arguing about Israel and Palestine?

Basically it is for the same reason that this guy plays a lot of poker even though his favourite card game is bezique – because you can always get a game. If you don’t speak Russian or Burmese, then you can condemn the actions of the government of both countries, but it is going to be a short conversation, because very few people are going to argue the other side. If you have an opinion about the government of Yemen, you can excoriate them in the strongest possible terms and still be at the betting shop by the time it opens, but if you get into an argument about Israel/Palestine, you can say goodbye to the morning.

Furthermore, not only can you always “get a game” in the Israel/Palestine conflict, it’s a team sport. There any many injustices and abuses in this horrible old world, but not many of them will provide you with a social life. The political argument over the Middle East, however, will give you an entire set of friends, activities, topics of conversation – nearly all the services which an American college fraternity provides for its members. So you can see why this issue is particularly salient with college students. In my hazy memory of how things went in the 90s, the Israeli side had the better food while the BDS side had the better bands, and both sides were pretty welcoming to freeloaders. Things might have changed but I doubt they have.

So this is my answer to the vexed question of why it is that the State of Israel finds itself singled out for disproportionate criticism compared to all the other unjust governments in the world. The online supporters of the State of Israel don’t understand why their conflict attracts so much attention because they can’t understand, because the reason is, basically, them. There are loads and loads of governments which carry out human rights abuses in the world, but there are really rather few governments who make apologetics for crimes against humanity clearly, in English and conveniently online. Neither are there many organisations in the world who fire rockets at nurseries, but who have a large, well-educated and English-speaking community across the world who are prepared to repeat their propaganda material. The Israel-Palestine conflict is the English Premier League of human rights debates – it might not be the best one, it might be legitimately criticised as predictable and dominated by big money, but it’s the one which has captured the imagination of the world, and if you want to see the best players in action, week in and week out, nowhere else comes close.

So having developed a theory about why these flamewars are so bloody ubiquitous, can we develop a theory about why they are generally so bloody nasty? I think I can, but first I need to do a digression, covering the ground of a post I thought about writing this year but didn’t. It’s about this news story, reporting that Goldman Sachs has started an initiative to reduce the workload on junior bankers in order to give them a better work life balance and “keep the best recruits”.

The post was going to be entitled “The Pain Is The Purpose”, and it was going to note that there’s decent reason to believe that this idea – of sparing baby bankers the pointless makework and exhaustion – could be very counterproductive. Not because of any of these well thought out but ultimately spurious rationalisations for why the work is actually necessary, but because if you take a more anthropological or sociological perspective, it’s pretty clear why investment banks make the most junior bankers work silly hours and destroy their social lives.

It’s a hazing ritual, pure and simple. Of the sort that you see in tribal societies across the world, in military organisations more or less everywhere (and despite all attempts by officers to stamp them out) and of course canonically, in those silly American student drinking societies. The purpose of all of these rituals is create loyalty to the institution, to break down external ties to anything outside the institution and to render the new recruit more likely to stick to the particular values of the institution, even when they conflict with more normal instinctive or learned rules. I would advise any readers in the academic profession who might be even thinking of feeling smug at this point, by the way, to consider the condition of graduate students and adjunct teachers, and to ponder why it is that people eight years post-diploma, with no hope of a tenure-track job, remain in many cases reluctant to “leave the academy” or even to form labour unions.

The reason why hazing rituals work is that they exploit cognitive dissonance, the phenomenon first identified by Nietszche in the great aphorism “My memory says I did that – my pride says I could not have done that – eventually, memory yields”. Putting people in nasty situations that don’t really make any sense is a great way to start the rationalisation mechanism working, and that is one of the most powerful muscles in the brain, capable of thoroughly rewiring vivid factual memories, let alone such comparatively flimsy structures as people’s sense of the right and wrong way to behave.

And to return from Digressionland, the participants in the Israel/Palestine debate basically end up, possibly accidentally, hazing each other and each committing their respective opponents further to the task. I doubt that anyone has a conscious plan to raise the temperature of the debate to such a disproportionate level, but the great thing about self-organising systems is that there doesn’t have to be a single controlling intelligence with a master plan. This is how the system replicates and perpetuates itself, and the purpose of a system, as Anthony Stafford Beer said, is what it does.

And so that’s my general theory of the biggest game in town. The problem has very little to do with deep-seated racism and surprisingly little to do with professional public relations. It’s just a self-sustaining system, produced by a congeries of poor decisions about interpersonal behaviour, which have the predictable resulting of replicating themselves by causing similar poor decisions about interpersonal behaviour. As in the popular theory about the origins of the First World War, we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.

So, merry Christmas all. The endless and pointless argument I’ve described here is the biggest game in town, but it is by no means the only one – as we all live a greater and greater part of our social life online (what? Really? Oh), we’re going to come across more and more of these strange self-sustaining abstract life-forms. The best you can do is spot them, spot the small groups of people who are always trying to get a game of some sort going, and try not to get involved in one yourself.

Happy Christmas, Yuul, Kwanzaa, Eid, Diwali, Festivus or whatever solcistial feast of whatever degree of obvious made-up-ness you choose to celebrate and see you in the New Year. And remember that when you ask yourself “why is it that my opponents are such horrible, bitter, twisted, unpleasant people?”, that the answer might be “look what they have to deal with!”



oldster 12.24.13 at 6:58 pm



P O'Neill 12.24.13 at 7:17 pm

A subsidiary hypothesis may be that I/P flamewars are especially attractive to people with law degrees, because it’s essentially an open-ended field for invoking all sorts of international legal principles and rulings. With Russia-Chechnya, there’s not much to discuss once Grozny was flattened and rebuilt. The same with barrel bombs falling on Aleppo. But with I/P, there’s always one more round to be had on even the meaning of words like “territory.” There’s quite a bit of US conservative blogging that is basically lawyer-blogging (either outright legal opinionating or arguments in the style of if-it’s-not-this-then-it’s-this law school stuff) and there’s endless demand for such skills in the I/P online battles.


cs 12.24.13 at 8:14 pm

I think that even among people who don’t generally engage in online discusion forums, the issues around Israel capture a lot more interest than any of those other countries you mentioned. But maybe there are similar mechanisms happening in the public debate more generally.


Andrew 12.24.13 at 8:34 pm

See also: anthropogenic global warming “debate”, at least in Australia and the US.


Greg 12.24.13 at 10:18 pm

Well. I was going to get involved in the previous I/P threads but I just couldn’t bring myself to be arsed.

Sure, the whole thing is tiring. I agree that few, if any other conflicts have such an army of apologists for systematic abuses of Human Rights and Humanitarian law. But I disagree with the place Daniel thinks he’s standing – that he is above this “endless and pointless argument”, this “strange, self-sustaining abstract life-form”.

I actually don’t think that you get to make that decision – that decision to be above all this. It’s a real conflict, happening to real people. The issue is there, all the sides of the debate are laid out and you have a responsibility to pick one. You can duck that responsibility if you want, but you can’t rise above it.

Sure, this is only the internet, we’re all only keyboard artists, but try telling kids growing up in Gaza, or drafted into the IDF, that it’s a pointless or abstract subject. You can do this quite easily if you want, a lot of them are online discussing the pointless and abstract subject that happens to dominate their lives.

Anyway, all this stuff aside, happy holiday / new year to Daniel and all at CT.


peggy 12.24.13 at 11:51 pm

Agreeing with all the above-a first in an I/P thread- I thought I’d add my suggestion for the quantity of rancor observed. Many of the players in the I/P debate are Jewish or at least from that background. To them this is a family fight, which as the holiday season reminds us, has the potential for great bitterness.

My side says, “We are the true Jews because we are observing the Laws and the prophets on the treatment of outsiders.
The Israelis counter with, “We are the true Jews. We have returned to Jerusalem.”

As to who has the better of the arguments which I have sketched out so crudely, I leave to the reader to decide.


Cola 12.25.13 at 12:13 am

Anyone for a few rounds of Global Warming?


Matt 12.25.13 at 12:45 am

The issue is there, all the sides of the debate are laid out and you have a responsibility to pick one. You can duck that responsibility if you want, but you can’t rise above it.

I want to suggest that this isn’t true, at least to any serious degree. I have opinions here, I suppose, but I know that, in the large majority of cases, my input isn’t going to make the tiniest bit of difference, so I see no more reason to think I have an obligation to “pick sides” in the sorts of debates at issue in the post than I do on which parties to the conflict in the Congo to “support”. (If I thought I faced an instance where that wasn’t true, I’d be happy to re-evaluate.) But, there are other issues and problems that I know about where I might at least make a contribution. I do only have so much energy and time, though, so whatever I devote the internet point-scoring on the Israel/Palestine debate is something I don’t spend on something that’s at least potentially useful.


Nine 12.25.13 at 1:58 am

Anyone who finds the I/P boards overly aggressive should head to one of many “Ashes” discussions currently online. It’s blood-curdling even to one who watches as many East Asian horror movies as i d0.

Oh … merry xmas etc.


Matt 12.25.13 at 2:09 am

It’s pretty obvious really. If your sample is English speaking, then the debate will be dominated by issues that involve the English speaking world. The troubles in Chechnya and Burma have little to do with the (recent) actions of the Anglos, but Israel was pretty much created by England and the US and is still intimately tied to the US.


marcel 12.25.13 at 3:11 am

Nine at 9: what is an “ashes” discussion? Googling it gets me things like “ashes to ashes”, “Love amid the ashes” and “Angela’s ashes”. I apparently do not (yet?) live enough of my life online.


dr ngo 12.25.13 at 4:22 am

My guess – it’s only that – is that “Ashes” refers here to the traditional trophy given to the winner of a series of 5-6 cricket matches between England and Australia. England had the Ashes (having won last time) but just lost them – badly – to Oz. And some people care profoundly about this.

As an American who knows a little about cricket (having lived in both Blighty & Oz), I enjoy the contests, but am not emotionally committed, which may be a blessing.


Realist 12.25.13 at 5:06 am

Great post–really novel thinking–please try to post once a month, Daniel–I always learn a lot from your posts.
Merry Christmas from South Carolina (Belle country!).


ponfed 12.25.13 at 5:14 am

I don’t think that the “biggest game in town” explanation is wholly without merit. But there is a simple fact that we directly and indirectly have skin in the “game”.

Israel is a representative democracy, supported by and established with the help of, most western powers. So our relationship to the conflict isn’t the same as with Myanmar or Chechnya.

It’s like the equivalence thing where some NGO criticises the US (or Canada in my case) and the local “god and country” conservatives start having fits saying : “Why don’t they focus on Myanmar or Iran!!!”

First of all, they usually do also criticise them. Second of all, I think I have a right to expect (perhaps futilely) that a representative government, which I elected, be held to a higher degree of scrutiny than a dictatorship which I have no ties to.

In the same way, we are involved in the I-P conflict. We are part of it.

It is undeniable that there is a fair amount of anti-semitism, racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia in the debate about Israel-Palestine. That in itself explains a part of the animosity and intensity of the debate.

However, it’s fairly easy to see how the fact that we have “skin in the game”, that we are partly responsible for the outcome, might up the ante a fair amount ( to continue the metaphor).


Chris M 12.25.13 at 5:16 am

Good explanation. It also seems to explain why every debate in academia eventually turns to race and gender. And people who don’t turn something into a race/gender issue get scolded for not doing so (see the case of Jared Diamond).


nick s 12.25.13 at 6:42 am

in the 90s, the Israeli side had the better food while the BDS side had the better bands, and both sides were pretty welcoming to freeloaders.

Cory Booker’s still friends with Shmuely Boteach: that’s how good L’Chaim’s bagel brunches were.


Anders 12.25.13 at 8:36 am

I absolutely LOVED the I-banking/hazing analogy. The treatment meted out to junior bankers shows definite sadism, and can build loyalty (I have certainly seen it lead to critical judgement [ie what are we doing here] being suspended). But, if it may build loyalty to the industry, it is a pretty ineffective way of building loyalty to individual I-banks themselves – albeit this may the timing of my own stint in a I-bank over the disillusioned period of 2004-10.

But I/P = hazing? Who would be the hazers, who the hazees? To which organization is loyalty being built? Abuse doesn’t seem to = sadism to me.


Mao Cheng Ji 12.25.13 at 9:05 am

This is all well and good and amounts to triviality: where the topic is controversial there is a controversy. However, the “pox on both their houses” attitude, and the idea that both sides in the controversy are channeling, mindlessly, their sides propaganda, it’s just a bad case of Broderism. If anything, one of the sides is motivated by the annoyance at the other side’s propaganda and bullying campaign. Take a side, fella.


temp. 12.25.13 at 9:13 am

The dynamics of the global warming debate aren’t similar at all. You don’t see long arguments on global warming at places like CT (at least not with multiple people on each side). Opinion on global warming is basically determined by position on the left-right political axis, so you see debate on the issue in arenas in which this is the main axis of disagreement. What’s interesting about I/P is that it turns everything into flamewar independent of context.


Belle Waring 12.25.13 at 12:25 pm

Anders: abuse doesn’t have to equal sadism to be hazing or to be effective as a method of prying one arena of thought quite from its adjacent moral geography. The answer as to who is doing the hazing and to whom is meant to be: look around! They are all doing it to one another, systemically, without any intention of doing so! The rhetoric absolutely starts with “pushing people into the sea,” and it’s hard to see how that’s going to head anywhere particularly productive. As an online participant in the I/P debate, once you’ve really unleashed some of the old ultra-violence on some totally unreasonable extremist on the other side, are you going to be able to dial it back for reasonable opponents, or is it babies with their brains dashed out on the walls of the city, forever? Like what happened with little wossname, Hector’s boy? Fucking rapacious, invading Greek motherfuckers. And they used religious practices as means of terrorist violence! Once people do things like that, there’s no point in even talking to them. Violence is the only language they understand. (You all may know that I got my MA in Violence, Latin, and Greek. And Violence. They didn’t understand Greek, it was just for show.)


Ben Alpers 12.25.13 at 2:22 pm

Another reason why I/P discussions quickly devolve into flame wars is that both sides tend to assume that the other side is arguing in bad faith and is creating a rationalization for, at best, massive human rights violations and, at worst, genocide.


Christopher W 12.25.13 at 2:35 pm

ponfed @14,

Sorry, but that explanation seems equivalent to the drunk’s explanation for why he’s looking for his car keys near the street lamp when he actually dropped them in the dark parking lot.

Within sight of I/P, thousands of Syrians are being slaughtered as we debate here (including, by all accounts, hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians) and you seem to be saying that we can only act to save them if we are ” involved”. Or, in different words, we are not really concerned about helping Palestinians, only in keeping our “own” hands clean. (I put “own” in scare quotes because, Israel is not in NATO –unlike, Turkey– and the only country actually allied with Israel is the US.)

Just to be clear, my own position is –more or less– R2P, and the fact that “we” may not be “involved” in the Central African Republic or Sudan does not mean our hands are clean. I try to look for my car keys where they were lost.


Realist 12.25.13 at 2:47 pm

Germany and France are in bed with Israel at least as much as the US. See free submarines, etc.
also, the Chinese love Israel and think Arabs are idiots.


John Quiggin 12.25.13 at 2:50 pm

I/P flamewars seem to me to be much less virulent in Australia, even though, unlike the US, there is a partisan division. The current rightwing government abstained from the UN vote on settlements, the previous Labor government voted against, with the party overriding the wishes of the PM (Gillard) who wanted (presumably) to show loyalty to Obama.

Unlike the US, the general perception is that “we” are not involved, and shouldn’t be.


Realist 12.25.13 at 2:58 pm

Yes, non-leftist Jews dislike Aussies and Brits for a reason–good luck on Wall St (not).


William Burns 12.25.13 at 3:46 pm

Realist is obviously trying to exemplify Daniel’s assertion that everything turns into an I/P flamewar.


Laurens Dorsey 12.25.13 at 4:00 pm

“strange, self-sustaining abstract life-form” (!)

Politics reduced to faction, faction reduced it turn to a ritual opposition, a perverse symbiosis, each side blinding the other to the darkling plain they have argued themselves onto.

Politics with all the “excess value” and unpredictability of actual politics finally squeezed completely out.



Farrar Richardson 12.25.13 at 5:02 pm

This is one of the most disgusting non-debates I’ve seen lately on the internet, and lord knows there are many. The flippant pseudo sophistication which Daniel and most of the commenters have exhibited on this thread is beyond comprehension in the face of this continuing 65 year old tragedy. Goodbye rotten timber.


Omega Centauri 12.25.13 at 5:02 pm

I/P resembles the Peloponnesian war, if you ain’t with us, you are again us writ large. And in the US at least we have the complication that our foreign policy is compromised by an extremely effective lobbying organization, and the fact that really horrible things had been done to the Jews which in part precipitating the formation of modern Israel.

In smaller form; on energy forums there is the issue of Nuclear power, with fierce pro/con activists fighting it out. Also not mentioned, abortion versus right to lifers. Generally there is little to no common ground available, and supporters of the opposite side are generally considered to be morally degenerates.


mattski 12.25.13 at 6:07 pm

I doubt that anyone has a conscious plan to raise the temperature of the debate to such a disproportionate level, but the great thing about self-organising systems is that there doesn’t have to be a single controlling intelligence with a master plan.

This is how culture propagates. What I think is pretty interesting and something that the internet greatly facilitates is our addiction to conflict. Of course this is something people are subject to in varying degrees. At a certain point we are all in danger of crossing over into “nutjob” territory. But the seduction of conflict is in many ways what makes the world go round.

In the parlance of spiritual awakening this mental habit (or pattern, or energy, whatever you want to call it) is referred to as the ‘pain body.’ It is an identification with negative feelings that is all too familiar to us social justice types. For a better discussion see for example here.


Jake 12.25.13 at 6:24 pm

So am I correct in saying this explanation pretty much boils down to “there’s a lot of argument about the Israel-Palestine conflict because it’s controversial”?

Everyone agrees North Korea is worse than Israel (at least I hope they do), so there isn’t really much to argue about. The same is true with most human rights violations; the right and wrong of the situation is sufficiently clear that everyone without a vested interest in the situation is on the same page.

On the other hand both the Israeli and Palestinian sides have a lot of supporters in the US, and so we argue about it.


Bruce Wilder 12.25.13 at 6:30 pm

An addiction to contradiction, combines with a distaste for conflict, to create a culture that sustains tired enactments of roles, as exemplified with unusual passion, in the I/P flamewars.

People feel they have to say, “but” when they mean, “and”. And, they expect conflict to be reconcilable — even to be eliminated in the end, in a solution — and get mad when it is not, when others don’t accept their path to the elimination of conflict.


Corey Robin 12.25.13 at 6:56 pm

As far as Crooked Timber is concerned, I’ve found the discussion threads on Israel/Palestine to be far more civil and less inflammatory than other threads I’ve been involved with here. My posts on Hayek, Thomas Jefferson, and other topics have been far more controversial and provoked nastier arguments than anything I’ve said on I/P. FWIW.


Carlos Ave 12.25.13 at 7:00 pm

I am distressed by the ho-hum, cynical attitude to human suffering and attendant tragedies. Dear me, all these poor bleeding hearts trying to worry us about torture and such when I can have such a pleasant time rereading my last article. Merry Christmas…surely you jest.


politicalfootball 12.25.13 at 7:18 pm

People feel they have to say, “but” when they mean, “and”.

I like this formulation and I will keep it in mind as I write comments, but a lot of people aren’t self-aware enough to understand they are doing this.


Hal 12.25.13 at 7:42 pm

@22 (Christopher W)

It’s not just “the light is better here”; it’s also “well, we have to start somewhere”.

Or, shorter #14: the Tibetans, Kurds, Copts, Darfuris, Chechens and Sri Lankan Tamils have the bad luck of not having Israel as their adversary.

P.S. I too accept the R2P, including the Palestinians (though Hamas makes things complicated).


dsquared 12.25.13 at 7:45 pm

Wherever you find someone saying “you must take a side”, you will find me on the side opposing him. As Surcommandante Marcos memorably said, “I shit on the revolutionary vanguards of this planet”.


alexh 12.25.13 at 8:31 pm

> Wherever you find someone saying “you must take a side”, you will find me on the side opposing him

Reasonable enough, _if_ it’s all just a game. Letting your “side” be chosen by a single piece of illogical rhetoric by one single participant might even be a good strategy. It makes you a bit manipulable, but if that’s a concern then tossing a coin might be another just dandy side-choosing strategy.

However, if real people and their tragedies are at stake, I would disagree. And while I think Greg@4 (if that’s who you are objecting to) is wrong with the talk of “responsibility” to choose a side in these not-just-a-game cases, I think he is completely right in making a distinction between “ducking” it vs taking a definite position that (tries to) go all meta and “rise above” a decision.

But then I guess your whole point is to cast P/I discussions online as, merely, games.


notsneaky 12.25.13 at 9:05 pm

It’s a hazing ritual, pure and simple. Of the sort that you see… The purpose of all of these rituals is create loyalty to the institution…

I saw a talk by Akerloff once where he had a model that fit almost exactly what you describe (he used fraternities, (weird?) religious organizations, and military schools as examples). Incentive compatibility constraints and all.

AFAICR though he just assumed hazing worked in the way you describe, but did not explain why. The cognitive dissonance explanation for why it works appears to be (your own) original contribution.


notsneaky 12.25.13 at 9:13 pm


Anders 12.25.13 at 9:54 pm

@34 “Wherever you find someone saying “you must take a side”, you will find me on the side opposing him.”

Was this entirely flippant? Because if not, it’s an interesting position – distinct from the Broderist tone of the post.


Mao Cheng Ji 12.25.13 at 10:12 pm

Right. Don’t take a side, if it’s boring to you. I hadn’t read the post carefully before commenting, and I now see that you do have a point there. Or half a point anyway. Why is it best to not get involved? Don’t get involved if you don’t want to get involved, that’s all. If you prefer Wii, play Wii.


roy belmont 12.25.13 at 10:59 pm

Corey Robin at 6:36-
Search with “abb1” and “anti-Semitic” site colon crookedtimberdotorg.
Or the “FT on Walt/Mearsheimer” CT post by Henry on April 1, 2006.
Nice little bit of disemvowelling at the end there.
Before your time here maybe.

dsquared at 7:45 pm-
You and I both know that in that inflammatory little postscript Marcos is talking, not about those on the front lines of the struggle for rights and dignity of the oppressed world-wide, who you and I both know he actively supports heart and mind, those who are technically revolutionary, technically in the vanguard – but the self-proclaiming jargon-spewing us-and-them we-know-you-don’tists who reserve terms like that for themselves as code symbols of recognition and identity.
As far as your claim to automatic support of the other side whenever commanded to choose:
There are a lot of children caught up in the sex-trafficking industry, many of them as disposable toys with very short shelf-lives. Take a side on that, for or against. Or run away from it with your assertion intact.
And wipe that fatuous bourgeoise reserve off your face.


robotslave 12.25.13 at 11:00 pm


When both sides have a very clear and well documented history of doing and saying utterly atrocious things, you’ll have to expect at least some people to say “No, Thank You” when you insist that everyone “Must Take A Side.”


dsquared 12.25.13 at 11:20 pm

There are a lot of children caught up in the sex-trafficking industry, many of them as disposable toys with very short shelf-lives. Take a side on that, for or against. Or run away from it with your assertion intact.

In case there was any doubt about the question, I shit on the revolutionary vanguards of this planet.


dsquared 12.25.13 at 11:23 pm

Belmont is completely wrong by the way; Marcos’ essay was, precisely, a response to a letter from ETA demanding that he take a side in the Basque liberation struggle, as a quick Google search will confirm


roy belmont 12.25.13 at 11:49 pm

No, dsquared is wrong, in that clever slippery way that requires so much work to engage and overcome, it was a response to a letter from ETA that he take a cooperative satance on the issue of violence in the Basque liberation struggle, and it includes his defense of the word against and above the use of violence.
Marcos says: ” One could think that to renounce these traditionally “revolutionary” methods is renouncing the advancement of our struggle. But, in the faint light of our history it seems that we have advanced more than those that resort to such arguments (more to demonstrate their radical nature and consequences than to effectively serve their cause).”
Which is point me, if you’re managing to keep an accurate score here.
Marcos’ postscript that dsquared quoted is a defiant assertion of revolutionary love against revolutionary hate, and a clear forceful rejection of the jargon-spewing etc. previously mentioned.
Plus you ran away with your assertions intact.


EWI 12.25.13 at 11:57 pm

Please. I urinate on all your petty causes, with the exception of I/P, as being trivial compared to the longevity and sheer fun of the Irish/British Question. The recent attempts at revisionism of such arguments as slavery and civil rights in the US pale in comparison to the past thirty years in these parts, and the efforts of a coalition of crypto-unionists, former Stalinist splitters from the Provos and the heirs of the Irish Party.

We even have a multitude of new 20th century permutations/proxy arguments for the age-old quarrel, such as WWI, WWII, the Northern Troubles etc.


Luc 12.26.13 at 12:30 am

To go with the premiership analogy, Corey has the ball, Chris is on the way out, Eszter is on the bench wondering why her birthright doesn’t count for anything, and Daniel is on the stands wearing a washed out shirt of one of the teams, while cursing the ref the players and everything else around. And on the way out shouting that he does not support any of these lousy, overpaid bastards (the football players that is, not the bankers of course.)

Boxing day has arrived! (Biggest game is City vs Liverpool surely?)


P O'Neill 12.26.13 at 12:47 am

@EWI, indeed “the dreary steeples of Bethlehem and Nazareth” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the original usage.

Anyway, the Premiership analogy definitely works in terms of attracting the best talent from overseas. I don’t think Mark Regev got that accent in Tel Aviv.


Hal 12.26.13 at 12:49 am

@22 (Christopher W)


We’re not “involved”… but should be. There’s only one “side”, that of humanity.


ezra abrams 12.26.13 at 2:15 am

You assert (I paraphrase) that if I post a comment on Chechen/Burmese/Russian atrocitys, I will not get a response.
but you provide no facts to back up your belief. It may well be true, but there may well be very active websites where you can gets as much of an argument on Chechnya or Burma as you want

English Language Bias/USAcentrism (last summer, the N Koreans said they would respond if S Korean/US soldiers, conducting exercises, landed on N Korean soil. The US media reported this as out of control NK belligerence).

Role of Television ?
To a regrettable extent, we respond to the images we see on TV; if there are more images from Gaza and Golan, we will respond to them.ber

number of Jews living in the USA: 5 – 7 million.
Number of Burmese: 0.1 million
Number of Chechens: low (<0.1 million)

Source: wiki articles and


Mao Cheng Ji 12.26.13 at 8:44 am

“I shit on the revolutionary vanguards of this planet”

The ASA boycott was in the news. It’s a big deal, apparently, and something new. Which means that characterizing those exchanges as “endless and pointless argument” is not entirely correct. Slowly, the worm turns, so those online exchanges might’ve had an effect, even if very small. Note that the anti-boycott post didn’t have a comment thread.

But clearly, the man is annoyed; he sounds extremely annoyed. In the spirit of the argument in question, I would like to inquire why it is that this particular topic annoys him so much, as opposed to, say, the tribulations of women in academia.


wetcasements 12.26.13 at 9:57 am

What’s difficult to understand about this? As a US citizen, my tax dollars go to support the Israeli regime/military whether I want them to or not. That bothers me, and it quite clearly motivates me to stop having my money sent to a regime that I find to be acting in an illegal, often downright racist, manner.

I felt the same way about the South African apartheid regime, but at least the amount being shovelled over to them wasn’t quite as staggering.

But I find the pearl-clucthing to be adorable — “Anyone who doesn’t fully support Netanyahu must obviously hate Jews, by definition, as if we woke up one morning and decided to become racists ourselves.

Nope. Sorry. As long as the Israeli military continues to cash my checks I reserve the full right to criticize said military.


robotslave 12.26.13 at 10:23 am

Roy @39, 43:

In the letter in question as well as its famous postscript, the subcomandante thoroughly and explicitly condemns vanguardism itself, not merely its more embarrassing manifestations, nor just its violent expressions.

To suggest otherwise would require an utterly tortured reading of almost everything the man has ever done or said.


Chris Bertram 12.26.13 at 11:05 am

Daniel is certainly right that what has often tempted me into these I/P arguments is sheer annoyance at the bad and mendacious arguments advanced by protagonists. Flying Rodent’s Encyclopaedia of Decency provides a good catalogue of the main ones:


nishijima 12.26.13 at 12:27 pm

Some responses (Greg @ 5, Farrar Richardson @ 28, Luc @ 49, I think others too), seem to fixate on the idea that Daniel is engaging in a kind of dereliction of duty by not ‘taking a side’ on I/P. But Daniel does say that he ‘broadly supports the cause of the Palestinians’ — most of his post concerns the ubiquity, pervasiveness and quality of (online?) I/P debates.

Since Daniel seems not to fall exactly in the middle of any I/P attitudes continuum, what does it mean to ‘take a side’ (or what duty do some posters imagine he is ‘ducking’)? Is it to be actively involved in political activism that concretises his ‘broad support’? Is it to reorder his priorities so that his concern about Chechnya and Myanmar become subordinate to his concern about I/P? Is it to stop being somewhat flippant and wry in his characterisations of (some) pro-Palestine organisations?

The action that Daniel has most strongly suggested his intention to ‘duck’ in this post is engaging in online discussions about I/P. It seems very, very strange to me that anyone, including the staunchest, least ‘broad’, supporter of the Palestinian cause would think this absconds from some ‘duty’. (And would indeed use his own willingness to shoulder this onerous obligation of internet discourse as evidence of his own moral superiority, as Greg @ 5.) Sometimes all a man can do is post, I guess…


Keir 12.26.13 at 12:51 pm

I am pretty sure Daniel’s aware that you can have an argument about anything on the internet, if you are desperate enough. (We are, after all, talking about the man who wrote a post in defence of Budweiser.) The point is that you can have an argument about I/P even if you’d kinda rather not.


Collin Street 12.26.13 at 2:55 pm

Daniel is certainly right that what has often tempted me into these I/P arguments is sheer annoyance at the bad and mendacious arguments advanced by protagonists.

Bad, yes, but “mendacious” implies — actually, denotes — an awareness of the falseness of the arguments you’re making that quite honestly I don’t think is reliably there. I think that by-and-large people — even people making terrible-bad-logic arguments — are working in genuine heartfelt good faith.


Andrew F. 12.26.13 at 3:34 pm

I’m a bit hazy on the first part of the argument.

Consider, reader, a person who is a bit of a nut.

That’s easy enough, as it is the holidays.

Basically it is for the same reason that this guy plays a lot of poker even though his favourite card game is bezique – because you can always get a game.

Okay, so he spends all his online time arguing about I-P because there are always others willing to do so.

And why are there always others willing to do so?

Neither are there many organisations in the world who fire rockets at nurseries, but who have a large, well-educated and English-speaking community across the world who are prepared to repeat their propaganda material.

Okay… and the reason for this is?

So having developed a theory about why these flamewars are so bloody ubiquitous, can we develop a theory about why they are generally so bloody nasty?

Wait, what theory? You’ve explained why a nut looking for any argument will latch on to I-P arguments – because they’re always available. Check.

But you leave unanswered the key question Why are they always available?

So far you’ve broken down customers of I-P discussions into two groups: nuts eager for any argument, and a large English speaking community composed of the blindly faithful. Unless you’re making a much more substantive statement about the participants in these discussions than I would have guessed (they are all either nuts or blindly faithful), I think there’s a missing part of this Christmas sermon.


Chatham 12.26.13 at 3:52 pm

1. As others have pointed out, the US is knee deep in everything the Israeli government is doing, on account of providing them both with material and political support.

2. US politicians, media outlets, and to a lesser extent the public are the target of heavy lobbying campaigns in order to ensure the continuation of #1.

3. Support tends to get scrutinized more when something is going on. US aid to Egypt got much more attention during the anti-Mubarak protests than before them. There’s usually lots of somethings going on in the Levant.

When Armenian groups got Congress to condemn the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, there was suddenly a lot of discussion regarding that issue (and the Armenian lobby). There was more discussion on the Georgian lobby during the Georgian-Russian conflict. But there’s much more support, lobbying, and activity going on with the Israel/Palestine issue, so naturally there’s more discussion.
Why does it get so nasty? I’ve seen discussions over whether Obama should try to influence the public more or if it wouldn’t make much of a difference if he did turn nasty fast. This is the internet.


mud man 12.26.13 at 5:26 pm

you must choose

Another candidate for the saddest words of tongue or pen. It isn’t possible to take a stand somewhere in the middle and try to think about actual solutions; one must join a team and allow one’s self to be hazed into enthusiasm.

“Broderism” … had to look that up, it turns out to be ad hominem as well as obscure, and therefore suitable for revolutionary vanguard rhetoric. Damn those extreme Centrists, anyway!!


roy belmont 12.26.13 at 8:17 pm

I’m thinking there’s some fecal matter adhering to that.
Quoting from my quoting of Marcos, because it seems like you didn’t get that first time through:
“(more to demonstrate their radical nature and consequences than to effectively serve their cause)”
That’s the target of his cagaderismo. He isn’t rejecting urgency or side-taking or anything like it.
He seems very clearly to be okay with serving causes there, effectively serving them anyway.
Unless I’m misreading it.
Marcos is otherwhere directly and sincerely praising of Che and Cuba.
So I guess there has to be some abstract mechanism for separating people on the front lines of revolutionary change from people in the revolutionary vanguard.
Unless you’re thinking Che Guevara was only kind of fence-sittingly concerned with, you know, people getting a fair shake and all.
I mean as opposed to laying his life on the line.
Of revolutionary change.
The front line, as close as he could get.
Kind of the vanguard of that unless you don’t like the word “vanguard”.
It’s the adoption of phraseology (see the requoted quote above) as signifier, hollow and loveless jargon. And the consequences of that mentality.
Marcos in that letter viz. ETA seems to clearly distinguish methods from desired ends.
And seems to be good with Basque freedom as goal. The criminality, no. The violence as overt offense, no.
The side he’s not taking is in there, not in the larger field of Basque indigenous liberation.
Which he seems to support.
I like Marcos, as image and as voice, especially that super-brief horseback vignette at the beginning of “Masked and Anonymous”. But just to be clear I don’t think he’s Jesus or something. And haste made me depict him as personally responding to the ETA offer of commingled support and endeavor. Which he seems to have rejected rather as spokes-balaclava for his clad.
In the quoted letter.
Then re-re.


robotslave 12.26.13 at 8:44 pm


From the letter, emphasis added:

That there are different thoughts and we should respect them. That there are those who pretend their way of thinking should be the only way and they persecute, jail, and kill (always hidden behind the reasons of the State, illegitimate laws, or “just causes”) thoughts that are different then their own.


Contrary to judge Garzo’n and you, we do not claim to represent anyone, only ourselves. […] So we have never said that the stupidities that you have dedicated to us have offended “the Mexican people” or “the Indian people”. They concern us and we don’t hide ourselves behind those we supposedly represent who, in the majority of cases, don’t even realize they are being “represented”.

and most pertinently:

We know that the Zapatistas don’t have a place in the (dis) agreement of the revolutionary and vanguard organizations of the world, or in the rearguard. This doesn’t make us feel bad. To the contrary, it satisfies us. We don’t grieve when we recognize that our ideas and proposals don’t have an eternal horizon, and that there are ideas and proposals better suited than ours. So we have renounced the role of vanguards and to obligate anyone to accept our thinking over another argument wouldn’t be the force of reason.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “vanguardism,” and the debate over it amongst various left radicals, then you’re probably very young, and far more interested in doing revolution than reading about past attempts to do it. Which is all well and good, of course, but please be aware that I didn’t just invent the word for an internet comment.


Layman 12.26.13 at 9:59 pm

‘If you’re unfamiliar with the term “vanguardism”‘

Apparently it means ‘promoting causes in a manner I don’t like’.


roy belmont 12.26.13 at 10:51 pm

Your perspicacity must rest unchallenged. My revolutionary credentials will remain unsmirched by the flung stool of recidivists, or their reactionary counterparts.
As to whatever point it is you’re actually trying to make there, with all that bolding and quoting, I’m sorry, but it’s really beyond my ability to comprehend.
If “vanguardism” is jargon first, and semantic tool second, I’m right.
If it is semantic tool first, and jargon second, I’m still right.
In my original, and still maintained, observation.
It was about an accusation, via innuendo, by D², as to Mao’s depth of engagement and concern, which is beyond the scope of my brief in this. I was then, and am still, now, going off the simple request for commitment, made by someone else, to someone else.
I haven’t yet made assertion one as regards the original post, or subsequent partisan refusals and asseverances.
Marcos’ theoretical compass, Marxist or Maoist terminologies, global socialist short-hand, any of it, all of it, doesn’t matter for my main point, which is, lost as it may be now in the smudge-pot exhalations of so much superior maturity and knowledge of the world, that Marcos, in the postscript to the communique from which the first quote attributed to him was drawn, is

not rejecting the necessity of taking a side

not. Not not not not not.
He is, as I read him there, rejecting the demand for, as he (or they, speaking through him) sees it, the false and artificial knife-edge of choosing, of being forced to choose, a moral position from within a binary construct, a false one, in which the only two places are both unacceptable, to him (or them).
Or, in our present case, murky and indistinct, at least in D²’s analysis.
Something (the quote! the original one!) that superficially, in its highjacked application (not in its authorial intent!), makes it okay to let it all keep going, which is sort of, as I found it, D² ‘s somewhat legitimately, for him by him, held, though snarkily delivered, position.
But it, the snark, as I was trying to say to him originally, is being wrongly directed at Mao’s, now practically lost, demand/request that this complacently superior attitude of refusal to commit be discarded, and a moral stance taken regarding the original post’s original subject (and its context!), originally.
The equivalencies, the artificial complexities, the fudge and shit all mixed together, that allow inhumanity to proceed unchallenged, because the discourse doesn’t move, can’t, because it’s bogged down in crap like what I’m now replying to.
Though my conscience is nagging at me big time, because the real core and background of the whole question is intentional, unnecessary, virtually psychotic inhumanity going unquestioned by its primary enablers.
Speaking from an honestly held moral position is what was honestly being asked for, and what was delivered was snarky refusal to do so.
And so it began.
Also the kids.


Peter K. 12.27.13 at 12:40 am

People who know something about the conflict, like some of the commenters here, know the context and know reasons why it is the “premiere league” of Internet flame wars. Holocaust; anti-Semitism, colonization and forced displacement; America’s massive financial and military support; Israel’s isolation in the region; UN votes; nukes; fundamentalist religions; American domestic politics; legacy of the Cold War in the Middle East; oil; suicide bombings; “terrorism,” etc. I don’t know about other nations, but of course the UK had the British Mandate.


Peter K. 12.27.13 at 12:49 am

In my experience, another way to easily ignite a flame war is to just toss out “Obamacare is good” or describe Obama in some positive way/make excuses for him.

Of course after and Obama doing selfies with the Danish Prime Minister at Mandela’s funeral, he’s harder to defend.


robotslave 12.27.13 at 3:08 am


“I’m sorry, but it’s really beyond my ability to comprehend.”

Well, I guess that’s the end of the argument, then.


GiT 12.27.13 at 3:53 am

You ought to try and comprehend Belmont’s first post on Marcos:

“You and I both know that in that inflammatory little postscript Marcos is talking, not about those on the front lines of the struggle for rights and dignity of the oppressed world-wide, who you and I both know he actively supports heart and mind, those who are technically revolutionary, technically in the vanguard – but the self-proclaiming jargon-spewing us-and-them we-know-you-don’tists who reserve terms like that for themselves as code symbols of recognition and identity.”

Belmont is clearly drawing a distinction between, let us say, “vanguards” and “vanguardists,” where “vanguards” actually lead revolutionary movements and “vanguardists” practice your “vanguardism” e.g., practice debating about who is or isn’t properly positioned or informed enough to claim to legitimately take on the role of leading revolutionary movements, detached from the actual moving or revolutionizing of anything other than their own bowels.

On Belmont’s account a “vanguard” is an empirical characteristic of most actual successful activist struggles – it turns out they had a set of major players, who may or may not have also been Leninists, or whatever.


robotslave 12.27.13 at 7:23 am


If we are to make a distinction between those who do revolution, and those who champion a revolutionary ideology, which one do you suppose will vehemently insist that we “Must Take A Side,” and which one do you suppose will not be particularly bothered by the fact that there are people who refuse to Take A Side?

Which one do you suppose will be more likely to assert that championing ideology is doing revolution? Which one will tell you that the people doing revolution are motivated by deep ideological conviction, and unflagging loyalty to their chosen Side? Which one is more likely to tell you that doing revolution actually doesn’t require much in the way of ideological commitment, nor a careful selection of the correct Side before joining the fray?


dax 12.27.13 at 10:54 am

FWIW when I was growing up the Northern Irish debate was at least as present as the I/P, and now it’s dwindled considerably. So the volume of discussion cannot be the sole explanation for the volume of discussion.


Sam Bradford 12.27.13 at 12:30 pm

It’s better to admit to your own ignorance and shrug your shoulders than to use some half-arsed ‘well, they sound like my kind of people’ or ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ semi-reasoning to support a cause you know little about and have no stake in. If you do that, you run the risk of being like the Leftists who commended the Khmer Rouge in the ’70s because they sounded like they must be on the right side.

And as robotslave says @71, my opinions have no weight and can help no one. And if they did, it would be all the more reason to withhold judgment in cases where I can only comment from a clouded distance.


Layman 12.27.13 at 2:10 pm


The history of revolutions are full of examples where those who do revolution harm those who refuse to take a side, or those who are insufficiently voluble about their revolutionary ideals. And how does one ‘do revolution’ without having first chosen the ‘side’ of the revolution? Are the powers if the existing order ‘doing revolution’, too?

Really, this seems like pithiness taken to the extreme. I have real affection for the sentiment offered by dsquared, but one mustn’t forget that the barb offered against revolutionary vanguardism is penned by a revolutionary vanguardist.


Layman 12.27.13 at 2:21 pm


I think if you were to examine your opinions carefully, you’d find that a good many of them originated in the minds of others. Perhaps those vanguardists should have simply shrugged, or shut up?


Hektor Bim 12.27.13 at 4:09 pm

How many sides are there in the I/P conflict? Can one be for the PFLP and be against Hamas? Can one be for Labor and against Israel is our Home? Can one be against BDS and against the occupation?

What are the sides that we are being asked to choose between, exactly?


roy belmont 12.27.13 at 6:59 pm

Sam Bradford at 12:30 pm-
“And as robotslave says @71, my opinions have no weight and can help no one”
A ruder person would say that in that case you should shut up.
Not me though.
The functional differences between things like voting in a free election, holding a sign in an organized protest, boycotting perceived wrong actors, leaking classified evidence of malfeasance to the public, contributing to a DDoS attack, blowing up an unoccupied building, or bombing a village, and on into the nether possibilities of human darkness – as well as the passive non-doing of anything at all and its results – they’re slight differences, pretty much those are all the same thing.
Actively expressed opinions.
We distinguish between them by their intentions and consequences, but they’re all acts more or less centered around, and springing from, ethical stands, opinions.
Even the shrugged shoulders of helpless ignorance, the humble acknowledgment of unknowing the unknowable, that’s an act expressing an opinion.
Degrees of conscious intent versus unconscious manipulation and propaganda-induced delusion etc, degrees of measurable consequence “Think of the lives we’re saving!” versus the unseen and immeasurable consequences the future will bear, all those things are what we’re talking about specifically.
But the general topic rests on the question of whether or not the assertion that expressed opinions do matter is valid. You can say they don’t all you want, but the evidence is pretty strong the other way.
What you mean, I think, in your ruffled sort of way, is that you don’t get to see the results of your expressed opinions orbiting the world with your personal chop on them. You don’t get to point to the tangible results of your opinions having been expressed. Therefore they don’t matter, they have no weight and can help no one.
It’s consumer morality.


Sam Bradford 12.28.13 at 3:08 pm

I was vague and overstated the case — asserted opinions do matter, because they have a social effect. I was overreacting to what seems like a very dangerous rhetorical move — the suggestion that deciding not to take sides is morally blameworthy (presumably in every case).
I want to be allowed my humility. To me it seems crass to pretend I know anything about reality in Palestine, other than that people are suffering. Of course I have an opinion — I don’t think humans are capable of learning about a conflict without forming some kind of an opinion — but none of the people demanding it really want to hear it. They just want to know whether I’m on their side.


Bruce Wilder 12.28.13 at 4:21 pm

There’s an old saying, more elegantly phrased than I can reproduce from memory, to the effect that when slaves dream of freedom, they don’t imagine a world without slavery, they imagine a world where they are the masters. I suppose I am against slavery, but I’m not going to take sides in a dispute about who is to be master.


roy belmont 12.28.13 at 11:26 pm

Sam Bradford-
How about not “is” morally blameworthy, but “can be”. So there isn’t a universal go-to law governing choosing sides or refusing to. Some things require immediate commitment, some don’t. It goes meta pretty fast when things heat up.
If you’re a morally conscious person, but feel like you don’t have enough solid info in this case to choose, and I’m on the morally less defensible side, I don’t want you getting that info.
People trying to get that info to you will have to face my obstructive efforts. Which may be considerable and pervasive.
Once that condition’s operating we’re not just talking about abstractions like academic freedom in an otherwise clear field of information exchange – we’re talkin ’bout a revolution.
Bruce Wilder-
Slaves don’t all dream the same dreams.


Collin Street 12.29.13 at 12:20 am

deciding not to take sides is morally blameworthy (presumably in every case).

There’s actually a tricky bit of equivocation here. Your individual acts[1] harm some people and benefit others. So in that sense you can’t “not take sides”, because you can’t do nothing and all your potential choices have consequences.

But there’s also “take sides” as in “arrange your actions/choices always with an eye to the benefit of one group and the harm of another”, and, yeah, this isn’t something you have to do, no. The people who say, “you gotta take sides” generally mean the latter[2], and… good ideas don’t need bad rhetoric.

[1] Remember, you can’t not-act: whatever it is you do, be it sit on your arse, murder dissidents, or burn down police stations, is an act.

[2] And will argue the former. In good faith, too: equivocation is a pretty easy mistake to make, and very difficult to spot if you’re not trained.


Ed Herdman 12.29.13 at 12:25 am

Peter K. @ #68:

Good thing you didn’t go on to make a silly statement…oh woops.

So, let’s see: Obamacare certainly got fudged but I don’t see the value in saying the President loses credibility over mistakes, especially minor implementation bumps outside their control. The Mandela funeral business is completely a non-issue though; we don’t live in a time where proximity to technology means President Johnson can put on his game face. Like most times somebody accuses a Republican of being a dolt or a Democrat of being insincere, it’s the kind of thing you say when you really don’t have anything to add to the discussion.

Really, there wasn’t anything particularly objectionable about President Bush and Barney looking for armadillos on the ranch with Barney or President Obama taking a fun (if stupid) picture at a fun event, unless you subscribe to some naive beliefs about the qualities of Presidents compared to the rest of us. What remains the same are the partisan divide and team spirit that drives people to quibble over nothings.

Agreed at roy belmont’s posts above, btw. I would also add that not only do slaves not all dream the same dreams, but people who aren’t in an abusive relationship might ask themselves if they have some perspective and freedom to think of a way out of that situation, as assistance to the person locked in.


Greg 12.29.13 at 1:43 pm

dsquared: yep, see alex h @38.

Basically I respect someone who says that they don’t have a position because they don’t understand the issues well enough. Fine. You can’t get around to each and every one of your responsibilities as a social being. There isn’t time.

Maybe you are just bored by the online arguments, so you don’t want to participate. Also fine.

But I don’t believe you can rise above the argument by saying that “it’s abstract” or “it’s endless and pointless”. These are untrue statements. They are just excuses, rationalisations.

And I have no idea who the revolutionary vanguards of this planet are that you’re shitting on, but go right ahead.


Peter K. 12.29.13 at 5:53 pm

@82 Ed Herdman

The mention Obama’s selfie at Mandela’s funeral was a poor attempt at a light-hearted joke. It seems like we agree for the most part. I believe will be forgotten come election time. It looks like the Justice department will look into the poor performance of the private contractors. Likewise, there was a double standard regarding the performance of private companies around Christmas time as Krugman blogged about: Amazon and UPS had problems and I’d add Target which had security problems.

I believe Obama’s biggest mistake was the sequester. It was good that he stared the Republicans down over the debt ceiling and hostage taking – those more left than me left us to believe he was too weak-willed. It was good he didn’t bomb Syria and that he nominated Janel Yellen.


Peter K. 12.29.13 at 5:55 pm

And then there’s the NSA stuff.


Ed Herdman 12.30.13 at 7:31 pm

@ Peter: Thanks for the explanation – sorry for being harsh on your attempt at a joke; I’m just a bit fed up with the whole “us and them” stuff. Not sure what you mean by the NSA here – I think this Administration may well actually be more amenable to rolling back some of that stuff, based on the panel recommendations and Congressional pressure if nothing else.

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