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Archive for February, 2012

One book calls for another

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — of books, wars and games, three things seldom far from my mind ]

Yesterday I went thrifting with young master David, and found myself a copy of Daniel Johnson‘s White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chessboard.

This happy event makes me anxious to reclaim my copy of Scott Boorman‘s The Protracted Game: A Wei-Ch’i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy from storage.

One of the things about books is that they call to each other.


The clock in the SPECS image above is a Sunnywood 3246B Plastic Mechanical Chess Clock.

If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — selected quotes: Iranian, Israeli, US, UN Charter and Quranic, New Testament and Talmudic views on preemptive war ]

The Iranians are threatening it:

As tension grew in its nuclear dispute with the West, Iran was reported on Tuesday to have struck an increasingly bellicose tone, warning that it would take pre-emptive action against perceived foes if it felt its national interests were threatened…

Without mentioning Israel directly, Mohammed Hejazi, the deputy armed forces head, said on Tuesday: “Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions.”

The Israelis appear to be discussing it:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking for cabinet support to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran, according to a report in the Haaretz newspaper.

The story sources a high-ranking Israeli official who said that Netanyahu is hoping to build a consensus for striking the Iranian nuclear facilities believed to be part of a programme for building an Iranian nuclear warhead.

Recent weeks have witnessed an on going debate within Israel as to the possibility of a unilateral military strike against the Iranian regime, however Haaretz reported that the doves currently hold sway within the cabinet, including interior minister Eli Yishai and finance minister Yuval Steinitz.

President George W Bush suggested it to the cadets at West Point:

We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long — Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.

The UN Charter appears not to countenance it:

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.


Compare Qur’an 22:40:

Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged

and Matthew 5.44:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

My title, If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first, translates the words Haba lehorgecha, hashkem lehorgo which are found in the Talmud, Tractate Berakoth 58a.

A nation subdivided into religions — or a religion subdivided into nations?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — ISAF apologizes to Afghans, Taliban thinks the Ummah is offended, and an insight from Bernard Lewis ]

Responding to the burning of “religious materials, to include Qurans” by coalition forces in an incinerator at Bagram, Gen. John R. Allen, commander of ISAF, is quoted in an ISAF release as saying:

On behalf of the entire International Security Assistance Force, I extend my sincerest apologies to the people of Afghanistan.

Commenting on the same incident, an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan / Taliban statement said:

Last night, the American invaders, in accordance with their barbaric characteristics once again burnt copies of the sacred book of the Muslims (Holy Quran) with the purpose of desecration and with this perverted action, aroused the sensitivities of one billion Muslims worldwide including the Afghans.


As is often the case, the devil is in the details.

Note that the ISAF addresses its apology to “the people of Afghanistan” while the Islamic Emirate describes those offended by such actions as “one billion Muslims worldwide including the Afghans”.

I am reminded of Bernard Lewis‘ observation:

For a long time now it has been our practice in the modern Western world to define ourselves primarily by nationality, and to see other identities and allegiances—religious, political, and the like—as subdivisions of the larger and more important whole. The events of September 11 and after have made us aware of another perception—of a religion subdivided into nations rather than a nation subdivided into religions…


The converse of this is that those in Afghanistan and elsewhere who identify more readily with the Ummah than with an individual nationality will also more easily think of a war seemingly fought against the Ummah as being the work of Christendom aka “the Crusaders” — an idea that fits well with a centuries-long sense of history — rather than by a UN-mandated coalition that includes troops from Jordan, Turkey, and the Emirates…

Not that the 2,000-odd ISAF troops from those particular countries are likely to be the ones who burn Qur’ans.

More on Gaddis and Kennan

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Jay Ulfelder of Dart Throwing Chimp pens an intriguing review.

Drones at Volokh, Drones at the Times, Send in the Drones…..

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Kenneth Anderson, one of the legal eagles at The Volokh Conspiracy, has taken up some of the legal questions in my private drone war post:

Drones, Privacy, and Air Rights 

….Private parties over private property, engaged in aerial surveillance.  Is it lawful and in what ways?  And, lawful or not, what countermeasures are permitted to the property owner, if any?  And what general bodies of law and regulation are implicated here – property law, trespass, nuisance, etc.  Comments are open, but I’m particularly interested in informed comments that run to the possible questions of law here.  More general comments are better directed to Zenpundit’s site.

Note in advance that the pigeon shoot story is different from the precise question I am asking here.  According to the animal rights group, the drone was over public property (although this was simply one side of the story).  There is a further interesting question of whether it would ever be lawful to shoot down a surveillance drone over public property, on some theory of nuisance or trespass or the like affecting private property. But please leave that possibility in order to deal with the more obvious and conceptually prior question – what about a surveillance drone in air space over private property?

Comments there are interesting and useful.

Dr. Venkatesh Rao also drew my attention to this drone article in the New York Times:

Drones Set Sights on U.S. Skies

….A new federal law, signed by the president on Tuesday, compels the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors – from selling real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil spills and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood films. Local police and emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones.

But while businesses, and drone manufacturers especially, are celebrating the opening of the skies to these unmanned aerial vehicles, the law raises new worries about how much detail the drones will capture about lives down below – and what will be done with that information. Safety concerns like midair collisions and property damage on the ground are also an issue.

American courts have generally permitted surveillance of private property from public airspace. But scholars of privacy law expect that the likely proliferation of drones will force Americans to re-examine how much surveillance they are comfortable with.

“As privacy law stands today, you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy while out in public, nor almost anywhere visible from a public vantage,” said Ryan Calo, director of privacy and robotics at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University. “I don’t think this doctrine makes sense, and I think the widespread availability of drones will drive home why to lawmakers, courts and the public.”

Some questions likely to come up: Can a drone flying over a house pick up heat from a lamp used to grow marijuana inside, or take pictures from outside someone’s third-floor fire escape? Can images taken from a drone be sold to a third party, and how long can they be kept?

Drone proponents say the privacy concerns are overblown. Randy McDaniel, chief deputy of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department in Conroe, Tex., near Houston, whose agency bought a drone to use for various law enforcement operations, dismissed worries about surveillance, saying everyone everywhere can be photographed with cellphone cameras anyway. “We don’t spy on people,” he said. “We worry about criminal elements.”

Still, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups are calling for new protections against what the A.C.L.U. has said could be “routine aerial surveillance of American life.”

Under the new law, within 90 days, the F.A.A. must allow police and first responders to fly drones under 4.4 pounds, as long as they keep them under an altitude of 400 feet and meet other requirements. The agency must also allow for “the safe integration” of all kinds of drones into American airspace, including those for commercial uses, by Sept. 30, 2015. And it must come up with a plan for certifying operators and handling airspace safety issues, among other rules.

The new law, part of a broader financing bill for the F.A.A., came after intense lobbying by drone makers and potential customers….

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