Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Oh, come on, Matthew..."

I remember a U.N. Plaza that was not only an interesting example of a little vein of potential false positives, but shone a light on one of the ways that such a thing can be dismissed.

I remember Matthew Lee saying, the U.N. has a sort of blacklist. I'll look this up and include a citation here. It was a bloggingheads. Matthew's buzzers and instincts are going wild. What is this list? Whose say-so says you get on? What about if there was a false positive? How do you get off if you're on by accident? And if someone was trying to clear their name, what kind of inertia would they be up against?

Okay, so then you have a good international-law liberal, very sober and calm. His basic statement is "oh, come on, Matthew." Practically every second sentence is "oh, come on, Matthew."

I don't want to pick on Mark G, but I think it's an interesting issue and Mark is sort of like an exemplar of one of the viewpoints. But actually I'm putting together a hybrid person, I'm not saying he said all of this verbatim- I'm stirring him up with other people at various times who had a similar distaste.

I got the feeling that he wasn't terribly excited about discussing corruption at the U.N. because if there actually was something there to latch on to, if Matthew got a whole series of stories, for instance, and someone really sharp (and corrupt) ended up having to step down, it could hurt the U.N.'s goals.

This idea of corruption-hunting on your own team interests me. So you take down William Jefferson and (suppose he was a Senator for a minute), you lose your majorities. Suppose you had a razor-thin 51-seat majority, taking down Jefferson leads to a switch of party control, and there is some larger investigation which Leahy will do in a strong way and Specter will do softballs. Do you deliberately let the ethics violations slide because of the bigger fish to fry? And if the person making that decision has a case for saying that Leahy's thing affects the lives of more people, could they be right?

This is a very big issue at a sort of structural level and Mark is sort of like an exemplar of one of the viewpoints. It's a question of magnification level on your microscope or for that matter, telescope.

In the eyes of a big U.N. fan, perhaps the ends justify the means. We need a U.N. It's the furthest out humanity has gone towards worldwide cooperation, beyond the nation state. He's inclined to take the hundred-year, or thousand-year view and has no particular urge to frame a conversation around something happening in 2010.

It was sort of like the person in the Mark position is saying, oh come on, Matthew, the list will be fine because the people who administer the list are ***U.N. PEOPLE*** who believe in the mission of the U.N. and should be cut sufficient slack to do their jobs without interference. That's more it. One view says, the broadly hopeful institution will lead to more cooperation over time, just consider them friends, they do good international work, critical work. They help prevent another Nazi Germany. Another view says, but what is preventing a disingenuous, dishonest yet media-savvy, spin-savvy person from making all the noises to prevent the U.N.'s philosophic allies from poking their nose around, then once they've gone away, use U.N. power to classify people (was it as terrorists? U.N. charter violators?) to go after any enemies we want.

The importance of this cluster of stuff would depend on whether it happens a little or a lot. It rings some kind of bell for me. Last several posts I have been talking about a FP/TP mix. Suppose your ratio is not that good. But you're going up against this strong bias in favor of the "serious" work of the authority-figure careers: police, military, fire perhaps. Churches, elected officials.

There is a "How dare you!" defense. For either empirically-sound or empirically-fake reasons, the viewpoint that says, I'm sure the false positives are minimal, necessary or both -they're doing god's work, they're doing grueling, thankless work - can then turn around and shut down debate with a blanket like "patriotism." So Cheney can go on TV and say that a Ned Lamont victory over Lieberman would "empower Al-Qaeda types." Presumably by saying that he's trying to get the voter to stop thinking, appeal to horror. Peter King of Long Island also comes to mind. I don't know exactly what he said, but it doesn't take much provocation to get him to say it again. You put people beyond the pale. You want to talk about false positives? Consider the messenger. Consider the source. False positives are a dead, discredited issue because the person raising it might give aid and comfort to the enemy by rooting out corruption on our own team instead of being unified.

Suppose you had a cop in a wheelchair - he's amazing, he gets a lot of press coverage because he does the job of a beat policeman and he's a pioneer, he is the first. But he happens to cause a lot of collateral damage - he has a trigger finger and has hurt bystanders. His department likes the broad PR story that he makes possible, so they are willing to turn a blind eye to violations.

Israel - broad symbolic pleasure/pride trumps bad behavior at any particular moment. We feel a sense of doing good work with the grand project as a whole, so we turn a blind eye to particular cases.

The overall point is that rhetoric is used to minimize the importance of one of the four quadrants. (TP/FP/TN/FN). The left does it too. I look for friendly, benign language like, "guy,", "folks." Sentences beginning, "Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, but..."

The invasion of Iraq for reasons that were lies, (VIPS dude, standing up in the audience and talking to Rumsfeld, "we do know where they are, they're in Tikrit..." ..) , was a bad thing. But the language that should be used is what Robert Fisk talks about at the beginning of Pity The Nation - holding two things in mind at once, without minimizing one for the other.

The holocaust was awful *AND* the forced migration of Palestinians with their deeds and metal keys, so that the land could be used for something to assuage the sense of shared acknowledgement of something awful, was also awful.

The killings that a U.N. action ends or prevents, is bad. If there is impunity within the organization, that's also bad, and there is no god-given certainty that a place lives up to its logo.

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