War: An Owner’s Manual — Chapter 1

Canadian_Mounted_Rifles_posterIn order to understand your military and know whether it is operating properly you need to know why you have one.

This isn’t a vague philosophical question whose answer is inevitably “End war now.” I, along with every soldier I’ve ever met, would love to live in a world without war. Unfortunately we don’t. The question of why we have a military is actually a very important real-world question which the Pentagon itself asks and then answers every four years in its Quadrennial Defense Review.

In order to figure out how many of those tanks, sailors, nuclear war heads, fighters etc., we have to answer one very simple and complex question: What do we want the military[1] to do?

The answer at first seems obvious. Nations have militaries in order to protect themselves, right? That’s part of it, but what is it protecting us from? In some cases this is easy to determine. Israel, for example, needs protecting from neighboring states which would like it cease existing. India wants its military to protect it from its neighbors to the north, Pakistan and China, as well as rebellious groups which pop-up from time to time.

Defining protection can be quite complex and India is a perfect example of this. India has at different times fought with both Pakistan and over control of some or all of India’s northern province of Kashmir, which borders the other two nations. What’s odd about that is there is little there to fight over. Kashmir consists mostly of a part of the Himalayan Mountains. It is a beautiful, inhospitable area. It’s barely populated and so far few, if any, valuable resources have been discovered there. Not only is there little if any reason to fight over Kashmir, it is also a terrible place for military operations. It is distant from everywhere, making resupply difficult even for the nations bordering it. With the possible exceptions of the South Pole and Siberia in mid-winter, it is likely the most difficult place on the planet to conduct a war. Not that has stopped any of the three nations from trying. To this day, the armies of India and Pakistan occasionally fire artillery shells at each other just to see if anyone is paying attention.

You get the feeling that the nations themselves know this. Consider the war between India and China in 1962. It lasted about a month and resulted in about 2,000 deaths. The cause both sides claimed to be fighting for was territory, a resource both nations have in abundance.

In which case, why did they fight? At the time of the war both nations were relatively young as independent, unified political entities. India had become a free nation in 1947 when the British, who had ruled India as a colony for more than a century, handed control of the government to the indigenous people. China had become a nation united under a government of its own people at roughly the same time, after the Communists kicked out the Japanese, the Nationalists and the various colonial powers which had controlled the nation for the past century.  In 1962, China was perceived as having an expansionist foreign policy because it had conquered Tibet a few years earlier. Just before the conflict the Indian government set up some border posts on parts of the land no one really wanted but which the Chinese considered to be on their side of the border. So China attacked in order to push them back to the correct part of the land no one really wanted. In other words, two young nations/governments wanted to prove that they couldn’t just be pushed around and so 2,000 people died.[2], [3]

So we can see from this example that militaries are not just used for protection.

Certainly directly protecting the borders of the nation isn’t why the United States has such an enormous military. The U.S. is ideally situated defensively. In the east and west two oceans separate it from the rest of the world. Its two other borders are with Canada and Mexico, neither one of which have ever posed even a nominal military threat to the nation. It has been 200 years since a foreign power directly invaded the U.S.[4] The only real direct threat to the nation’s existence was 150 years ago and that came from other Americans. It is this splendid geographic position that has allowed the U.S. to develop almost entirely unmolested by nations which were much more powerful than we were for the first 150 years or so of our history as a nation.

Although national security is frequently cited when justifying the huge amount we spend on the military all it would take to defend our borders is our nuclear submarine fleet to deter anyone from launching a nuclear strike against us, a few warships to help protect our import and export capabilities[5] or attacking us at sea, some fighters and bombers and a land force perhaps the size of the Marine Corps. Except for the nuclear weapons the military would then be reduced to size and role it had prior to both World Wars I and II.

The other reason that nations in general – and our nation in particular – have militaries is to prevent other nations from telling us what to do and get them to do what we want. To understand how this works it’s necessary to look a little deeper at what war is and what it is that nations get from it.

onwarWe will begin with a book called On War by Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian officer who fought in the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Clausewitz lived during the Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement which hoped to wean society from irrational beliefs and superstitions.  This movement came about as part of the great scientific revolution which happened at the same time. The Enlightenment was, among many other things, an attempt to apply the scientific method to how people thought and acted and especially to their philosophies. In On War, Clausewitz tried to examine and define the theory of war; to look at the why of it and determine what, if any, universal rules and laws it operates under.[6]

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Groupon tries to spin away from its Super Bowl ad

grouponAfter offending pretty much everyone – including the Chinese government – with its horrible ad which said, “You can’t save Tibet but we can save you money at a Tibetan restaurant, Groupon is hoping spin will save it from having to say it’s sorry.

Groupon founder Andrew Mason wrote in his blog:

"We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes — even if we didn’t take them as seriously as we do, what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?

A really, really stupid one. That’s what type.

Kudos to Groupon for so quickly going from a neutral brand to one with significant negatives. Not easy to do when your sole public purpose is to help people save money. The ad also pulled off the unique trick of being the first thing that both the Tibetan exiles and Chinese government have ever agreed on.

Here’s my favorite piece of fallout: Even the owner of the Himalayan restaurant mentioned in the ad, is pissed at them. 

Around the world it’s Word Of The Year®™ time!

Countless (and pointless) places are taking a moment to declare the word of the year, if for no other reason than it lets them pretend they’re working. Here are the ones I’ve been able to find:

  1. Merriam-Webster: Austerity
  2. Germany picked two: One is “niveaulimbo” which translates as “limbo level”, and refers to the constantly lowered standards of television programming and conversations. The other is Wutbürger, or “enraged citizen.” 
  3. The Philippines: j3j3mon, or jejemon – a little monster who only writes in text speak.
  4. Denmark: Vuvuzela (Yawn. That is so last summer.)
  5. The Flemmings chose Tentsletje, or tent-slut, “a word for a woman who has multiple sexual partners at a music festival, a popular summer pastime for young people in Flanders.” No news yet about how the Walloons voted – but I always think Walloon should be word of the year because of how it sounds.
  6. The Dutch themselves (who live just north of the Phlegms) picked Gedoogregering – the nickname given to the current minority government. The word that came in third should have won:  bestuursobesitas — an exaggerated desire to develop company policy and carry it out.
  7. The Swiss seemed to have picked the German word Ausschaffung (deportation) which became popular in the run-up to a recent referendum to automatically expel any foreigner convicted of a serious crime. (The Swiss continue a tradition of intolerance with this choice. Last year’s word was Minarettverbot, = ‘minaret ban.)’
  8. Russia: Аномальные погодные условия — anomalous weather conditions. Re: Last summer’s sweltering weather. Followed by: Ничего подобного никогда не было (There’s never been anything like this).
  9. China: "to swell" (漲, pronounced zhang) is used when describing rapid rising prices and forms part of the Chinese word for inflation.
  10. UK: Big Society – As in the new coalition government’s dream of…

 

And what about Eyjafjallajökull? Blowout Preventer? Robo-signers?

Hen thinks it is a penguin or, when life imitates Wallace & Gromit

It’s almost August and that means the papers are filled with stories of animals as media silly season descends upon us. Nowhere is this more true than Metro UK which this week has already run stories on the bear who broke into a house and “stole” a teddy bear and another of a bear who put a safety cone on its head. This last story ran only because someone came up with the headline Cone and the barbearian. In today’s edition we have the breaking news of a Chinese hen who walks like a penguin.

henpenguin

While some may think of this as cute, in reality it is just another case of outrageous copyright infringement by the Chinese. Clearly they have trained this fowl to play the Feathers McGraw role in a horrible live-action rip-off of the classic Wallace & Gromit short “The Wrong Trousers.”

I shall recap the salient plot points for those of you poor pathetic souls who have not yet seen it (but I’m not speaking to you until you correct this error): Wallace rents a room out to a penguin. After displacing Gromit, the penguin is then revealed to be the nefarious bank robber Feathers McGraw. McGraw is a brilliant master of disguise who uses a red rubber glove to transform himself into a chicken (nudge, nudge) when he pulls off his heists. I won’t tell you anymore but I will say that the closing chase scene – involving a toy train set – is (really) one of the best and funniest things I’ve ever seen.

images wgfeath-1 feathers

Extra kudos to the W&G site for having the best competition I’ve seen in a while. “TOP BUN The best Wallace & Gromit-themed baked good uploaded to the site each month will win a set of Wallace & Gromit baking kits.” I believe they mean best picture, either that or they’ve figured out some super cool new technology.

Sergey Brin sort of has your back but maybe not right now

“I think at some point it is appropriate to stand up for your principles, and if more companies, governments, organizations, individuals did that, I do think the world would be a better place.” — Google co-founder Sergey Brin on the company’s decision to stop censoring Chinese search results.

It’s that kind of moral determination that helped Chamberlin get Hitler to sign the Munich Accords.

Google learns how to say alligator tears in Chinese

Google has “threatened” to pull out of China because – SURPRISE – the government was using Goog to get info on dissidents.

NAHHH? Really? Next you’ll tell me that Mark McGwire was using steroids.

Google … said that the company had discovered massive cyber attacks against itself and numerous other foreign companies that it said emanated from China. It prompted quick response from human rights advocates, who praised Google’s statement, and from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said Google’s allegations "raise very serious concerns and questions." "We look to the Chinese government for an explanation," Mrs. Clinton said on a visit to Hawaii. "The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy."*

Apparently The Googsters draw some sort of distinction between oppression via hacking and oppression via cooperating with government censorship. (See Google continues to be on cutting edge of hypocrisy theory for more on this. “At this point, it would take a mashup of Wittgenstein, Quantum mechanics and LSD to make sense of Google’s various explanations for what it will and won’t censor and why.”)

Not only is Google threatening to take its business and go home but the company took the “too little, too late” step of ending censorship on its Chinese search site. Previously the company 404’d searches on topics like Taiwan or the Tiananmen Square massacre. Were I a more cynical person (it could happen) I’d find it mightily convenient that Google is threatening to leave a nation where it is running a very distant second. I’d also call this threat a great PR move that generated a lot of attention in China. Fortunately I am not that cynical. (Thankfully others are: see this brilliant analysis from TechCrunch “Does anyone really think Google would be doing this if it had top market share in the country?”)

*While La Clinton is a diplomat and has to say things like this raises “very serious concerns and questions,” it is difficult to see my government get so worked about this when it has remained silent on little things like state-sponsored murder and torture. What seems to be different this time is that money is involved.

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Let the Munich, er, moral, er, Beijing Games begin!

Today is the start of the most odiferous Olympics since the widely boycotted Moscow games of 1980. It is difficult to catalog the extent of the Chinese government’s horrors — even just since Tienanmen Square — so allow me to quote someone else:

China’s well-documented and continuing abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities’ intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms. Reported abuses have included arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, worker rights, and coercive birth limitation.

And this wording is the cleaned up and diplomatic version put forth by the US State Department, an organization not generally known for its willingness to call major trading partners to task on these issues. Thankfully Mr. Bush has undercut even these slight words of criticism (as well as his own tepid comments on the subject) by attending the games.

The most fascinating thing to watch will unfortunately not be in the athletic sphere but the contortions performed by the sponsors and the media to play up allegedly idealistic goals of the games while minimizing the facts on the ground.

You can get an idea of the depth and seriousness of the journalism I am expecting by this selection of headlines from today’s USAToday:

It’s a fascinating moment when sites like OhGizmo are doing better coverage than the MSM: Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee Bans “Professional Camera Equipment” For Non-Press Visitors. It’s not a big story, but it is an indicative one and one which is based on that oh so difficult task of actually examining the record.
Also there was this one which mostly got covered by the MSM as a crackdown on prostitutes:
I should temper this rant slightly, a few MSM stories of note:

Huzzah to our dear, dear irony-free friends at Google for this inspiring post on their official blog:

I’m happy to present the 2008 Summer Games on Google, a site that features a number of our products to help you stay updated on Summer Games happenings. And it’s available in 66 countries and 31 languages, from Australia to Uruguay, and from Arabic to Vietnamese. We collaborated with a data provider to make it easy …

Given the circumstances “collaborated” is definitely not the word you want to use. How about “worked with”?

Well, since these are supposed to be a particularly environmentally friendly games (don’t breathe the air), I will reuse and recycle something written earlier under the headline Spielberg declines to help the Munich, er, Beijing Olympics

Coverage of the games is going to be fascinating to watch. Sports journalists are generally not the hardest hitting reporters and I suspect their employers won’t have much interest in covering what is actually happening in the world’s largest economy.

It would be nice to think that marketers have any concern about ill-will coming from supporting the games this year. It would be nice and it would be wrong. There will be no ill-will because consumers won’t care. Certainly here in the US these will just be another Olympics in an exotic locale. There will be no news to rival Hitler declining to shake Jesse Owens’ hand. Instead their will be pomp and circumstance and more of our collective denial. Thanks to Mr. Spielberg’s decision, though, Beijing will have to look elsewhere for an overly sentimental ending.

Graphic via ClaudiAx.net.

Beijing takes fun out of ordering Chinese food during the Olympics

As it readies for an influx of visitors for the August Games, the Chinese capital has offered restaurants an official English translation of local dishes whose exotic names and alarming translations can leave foreign visitors frustrated and famished.

  • “Husband and wife’s lung slice” is now “beef and ox tripe in chili sauce”
  • “Bean curd made by a pock-marked woman” = “Mapo tofu.”
  • “Chicken without sexual life” = “steamed pullet”

Oh the humor! Will no one think of the humor???

Is there a version of Engrish.com for China?

China approves official chant for fans at Olympics

Beijing organisers are promoting an officially sanctioned chanting routine for Chinese spectators at August’s Olympics, state media said on Thursday. Incorporating the ubiquitous Chinese sporting chant, “Jiayou” or “add oil”, the four-step routine is designed to help spectators cheer in a “smooth and civilised manner” at the August 8-24 Games. … The routine begins with “Olympics — add oil” accompanied by two claps and a double thumbs up, before continuing with “China — add oil” with two more claps and raised fists.

  1. I still prefer “Yankees SUCK!”
  2. How much did Beijing have to pay for being named “Official Chant of the 2008 Summer Olympics”?
  3. Can’t find an explanation of why “add oil” is the chant of choice in China.

What language do Chinese cellphones text in?

Listening (mostly) to the coverage of the earthquake disaster in China I learned that text messages are the most popular form of communication in China. Now I dislike using my little cellphone keyboard to send text messages in English, I can’t even fathom how it works in Mandarin. (I’m assuming they are all texting in Mandarin — China has at least six different regional/ethnic language groups most of which have about as much in common as Latin and Hungarian but Mandarin is the official default.) Now clearly they’ve got this figured out but it’s such a basic thing that no one has explained it to us outsiders.

As a typewriter collector myself I have long dreamed of adding a Japanese or Chinese typewriter to my collection. The Chinese typewriter pictured below is explained by this Wikipedia entry.

That multi-lingual typewriter was the size of conventional office typewriters of the 1940s. It measured 14” x 18” x 9”. The typefaces fit on a drum. A “magic eye” was mounted in the center of the keyboard. When the typist pressed several keys, according to a system Lin devised for his dictionary of the Chinese language, a Chinese character appeared (in the magic eye?). To select a particular character, the typist then pressed a “master” key, similar to today’s computer function key. The typewriter could create 7000 distinct characters. It could type additional “words” using combinations of characters, attaining a theoretical total of 90,000 words. The inspired aspect of the typewriter was the system Lin devised for a Chinese alphabet. It had thirty geometric shapes or strokes. These became “letters” by which to alphabetize Chinese characters. He broke tradition with the long-standing system of radicals and stroke order writing and categorizing of Chinese characters, inventing a new way of seeing and categorizing.

The StraightDope has an explanation here of how a Chinese computer keyboard works but it doesn’t do much to clear up my confusion about the whole texting thing.

Anybody clear this one up for me? Bueller?

UPDATE: NPR has come to my rescue. Apparently the Chinese use an English keyboard to type in the phonetic equivalent of a character and then that character appears in the text. Sounds clumsy to me but 1.6 billion people seem to think it works, so who am I to argue?

Microsoft worse at irony than it is at operating systems

In a recruitment effort, Microsoft is giving out decks of cards with the phrase “Hey Genius” emblazoned on their backs. The fronts are a standard deck of cards but each describes different MS products or initiative the putative genius could work on. Now where I come from you only say “Hey genius” when someone has truly, truly proved they are anything but. My favorite card, from an irony standpoint, are the jokers both of which tell people that they might be forced to work on Zune, the company’s not-yet-closed attempt to compete with the iPod.

Further proof of Redmond’s tin ear for irony can be found in the following:

MSN China has invited users of its messaging service to put a red love heart followed by ‘China’ in front of their names to support the Olympic Games.

I mean, they’ve got to be kidding, right? I certainly hope MSN users in the rest of world have the option of using that symbol of the red circle with the line through it.

How much do the official sponsors of the Munich Beijing Olympic games wish they could remove their names from being used on any ads outside of The Middle Kingdom. For once I am going to tune in to watch the coverage of the games, not the games themselves. It will be a fascinating moment to watch all these sports reporters have to cover the ongoing political insanity.

Speaking of which, here’s one story that hasn’t hit the press here in the West yet. Seems the China is doing a major effort to remove gays and lesbians from Beijing.

AIDS activists and gay rights supporters in China have sounded an alarm following one of the largest crackdowns on gays and lesbians in Beijing, evidently as part of a “clean-up” ahead of the Olympics.

The idea that Beijing is removing gays and lesbians and then having thousands of Olympic athletes come to town shows that the Chinese have a very … um … closeted view of what goes on in the Olympic village. It has also been reported that prostitutes are being “cleaned out” of Beijing, showing that the Chinese really don’t understand how to get on the media’s good side.

Spielberg declines to help the Munich, er, Beijing Olympics

olympiaI am glad to hear that Steven Spielberg will not be playing the role of Leni Riefenstahl for this summer’s Olympics. How odd though that he “withdrew on Tuesday as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing over China‘s policy on the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. Why worry about China’s foreign policy, given its great record on domestic repression?

Still, Spielberg is showing considerably more backbone than the UK. The British Olympic Committee voluntarily threatened to pull any of its athletes who had the temerity to speak out on “politically sensitive issues” while in China.

The controversy erupted in Britain after the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported that the BOA had threatened that any athlete who refused to sign the gag order would not be allowed to travel to China. Any British participant who signed the order and then spoke out during the Games would be sent home, according to the initial plan.

What makes this even more horrible is that it is quite clear that this ban did not come at the behest of Beijing.

According to a number of national Olympic committees in Asia contacted by AFP, China has put no pressure on countries to silence their Olympians and Sun insisted Beijing wanted to welcome all competitors.

Huzzah for the Brits and their pre-emptive strike against human rights!

Which is not to say that China doesn’t approve of the idea after the fact. The Chinese Olympic committee said, not surprisingly, that they thought this was a fine idea. Unsaid was the fact that they weren’t stupid enough to actually suggest it.

Fortunately the British Olympic Association is showing no more spine in the face of criticism of this issue than it did in issuing the ban in the first place. They are apparently caving faster than a watercress sandwich dipped in very hot tea.

Coverage of the games is going to be fascinating to watch. Sports journalists are generally not the hardest hitting reporters and I suspect their employers won’t have much interest in covering what is actually happening in the world’s largest economy.

It would be nice to think that marketers have any concern about ill-will coming from supporting the games this year. It would be nice and it would be wrong. There will be no ill-will because consumers won’t care. Certainly here in the US these will just be another Olympics in an exotic locale. There will be no news to rival Hitler declining to shake Jesse Owens’ hand. Instead their will be pomp and circumstance and more of our collective denial. Thanks to Mr. Spielberg’s decision, though, Beijing will have to look elsewhere for an overly sentimental ending.

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Citroen learns genocidal dictators aren’t good advertising

The French car company issued an apology to China because of an ad that ran in Spain featuring Chairman Mao making a face at a hatch-back.

MeowUnder the Biblical quotation “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” the text talked up Citroen’s position as a car sales leader in a bombastic tone. “It’s true, we are leaders, but at Citroen the revolution never stops,” the advertisement said.

The ad drew the ire of people at several Chinese web sites.

Oddly they didn’t object to using Mao’s image because it glorified the person directly responsible for murdering and starving tens of millions of their countrymen — (which is what Citroen should really be apologizing for). No, the quotes ran more to … “Chairman Mao is the symbol of China, and what Citroen did lacks basic respect to China.” Apparently they are just as bad at teaching history in China as they are here in the US.

In case the situation wasn’t ripe with enough irony, the image used in the ad closely resembled the ginormous Mao poster that waves in Tiananmen Square.

Jack Yan has a copy of the original ad at his blog here.

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Google continues to be on cutting edge of hypocrisy theory

“At Google, we have a bias in favor of people’s right to free expression. Google is not and should not become the central arbiter of what does and does not appear on the Web. That’s for elected governments and courts to decide.” — Google Director for Israel Meir Brand on why the company they would not censor anti-Semitism from their search results for Israeli searchers.

At this point, it would take a mashup of Wittgenstein, Quantum mechanics and LSD to make sense of Google’s various explanations for what it will and won’t censor and why. The fact that the first sentence is entirely contradicted by the third sentence does not appear to have bothered the speaker one bit.

Google in China, for instance, has censored itself to satisfy authorities in Beijing, restricting searcher access to “sensitive topics” like Taiwan and 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre. In Germany and Austria, Google removes Nazi content in order to comply with national censorship laws.

Meanwhile, Yahoo — no slouch itself when it comes to splitting linguistic atoms — has decided they’d rather pay than fight. The company settled out of court yesterday with the families of two journalists jailed by after Yahoo gave the Chinese government information about the two men. In Yahoo’s defense — and this ain’t saying much — the company never claimed either that A) You can make money without doing evil or B) Democracy on the web works.

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Headline of the Day: How Google Can Take the High Road on Privacy

Mr. Orwell! Mr. Orwell! Call for Mr. Orwell!

orwellMeanwhile Google played their hand brilliantly. They unveiled OpenSocial taking the “open” high ground and a lot of wind out of Facebook’s sails (to mix some metaphors!). And with Facebook aligned with the old Evil Empire Microsoft, Google has a chance to recover their “Do not be evil” aura.

If they also take the high road on privacy, they will blow the competition out of the water. They can do this because they can afford to; and their competition cannot afford to. They don’t need to amass lots of information about me to serve relevant ads to me. As long as I keep on searching, Google knows my intentions. Sure they could offer something even more powerful if they track and synthesize all my searches in the last 3 months, but at what cost in terms of spooking and alienating me? For what marginal extra value to an advertiser?

So Google could back the “Do Not Track” legislation and comit to more rigorous restrictions on search history.

I’m guessing the high road doesn’t go into China where “Do Not Track” legislation means you’ve been disappeared.

Or, as my good friends at They Might Be Giants, put it:

We’re in a road movie to Berlin
Can’t drive out the way you drove in
So sneak out this glass of bourbon
And we’ll go

We were once so close to Heaven
Peter came out and gave us medals
Declaring us the nicest of the damned

This was all written before I came across the following column by Duncan Riley at TechCrunch: “Yahoo in China: An Unfair Attack”

For those who missed it, in short Yahoo was attacked by both sides of politics for complying with a request under Chinese law, in China, to provide information on a political dissident.

The rhetoric was raw; San Mateo Democrat Chairman Tom Lantos called Yahoo moral pygmies, and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., compared Yahoo’s cooperation with the Chinese government to companies that cooperated with Nazi Germany during World War II.

When it comes to China there are very few who will come to the defense of those who deal with the Chinese Government.

Yahoo’s actions might have been in part wrong morally, but legally they have done nothing wrong, and in a global economy this is even more true.

Mr. Riley misses the one point he might have scored here: That a US congressperson using the phrase “moral pygmy” is the height (and depth) of irony. Congress will take no actions to inhibit the flow of goods and money to China. That is what makes them collectively corrupt, even if individually some may be honest.

Unfortunately Mr. Riley’s statement that although Yahoo! was “in part morally wrong” the company was legally obligated to comply turns an interesting contrarian argument into logical nonsense.

How do we define degrees of moral wrongness?

This isn’t exactly a case of the poor man stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. This is a multinational company placing its profit margin ahead of a person’s life. You can argue that Yahoo has a fiduciary duty to its stockholders not to harm its relationship with the Chinese government. True. This is why companies are run by people. People are supposed to have a sense of proportion and discretion.

Let’s make no doubt that Yahoo’s actions were legally correct — well except for the law that the company appears to have broken here in the US.

That left-wing publication, the Wall Street Journal, reports on what must have been a fascinating meeting between Yahoo’s CEO and general counsel and the wives of two dissidents jailed because of the company’s disclosures.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Messrs. Yang and Callahan met privately with Ms. Gao and Ms. Yu in a room in the offices of the House Committee. According to Ms. Gao, the two apologized profusely for the company’s role in the jailing of Messrs. Shi and Wang, and pledged to put pressure on the Chinese government to release them.

They also discussed a court case in which the women are suing the company, accusing it of breaking several laws, including one which prohibits U.S. companies from assisting in the commission of torture and other human rights abuses in other countries.

So Yahoo was in an impossible situation. No matter what it did it would be breaking someone’s law. Mr. Riley, which law would you have chosen to follow?

I would like to suggest some reading for Mr. Riley. No, not Amnesty International’s report, that would be too easy. How about the State Department’s?

The State Department’s 2006 China human rights and religious freedom reports noted China’s well-documented and continuing abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities’ intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms. Reported abuses have included arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, worker rights, and coercive birth limitation.

Then perhaps Mr. Riley could read up on one of my favorite law-breakers: Chiune Sugihara, Japan’s consul to Lithuania during World War II. Mr. Sugihara became a criminal when he did not follow orders from his government and issued transit visas to escaping Jews. Mr. Sugihara was totally wrong legally. Yep.

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