August 31, 2003

Stream of Consciousness Sunday I

Posted by TMLutas

Ah Sunday, a good day to turn off the normal filters that keep me semi-coherent during the week and let my id out for walkies.

- Can the difference in being willing to accept international treaties between the EU and the US be explained by the major EU powers' greater willingness to simply abrogate inconvenient treaties much more easily than the US would do the same?

- If Galileo's trial was really about him sticking his nose into scriptural interpretation and demanding the Church adopt his position before all the evidence was in, doesn't this give scientists an entirely new lesson about the Galileo affair?

- What kind of nutcake idiocy is this 'blogger alliance'? Is it just juvenile hijinks or a byzantine conspiracy to get the mainstream not to take bloggers seriously? I'd announce a "You've got to be kidding" alliance but even my id has more dignity.

- When will the idiotarians realize that not treating people seriously when they say they want to overthrow your government and make you a second class citizen is out and out bigotry? Will they ever be ashamed of not treating our opposition with respect?

- With the BBC going to publish its archives on the net free for private use, how soon will we be able to get Internet appliances that look and function like a TV but 'tune' into a web stream?

- In the same vein when will we get TVs that separate out the picture tube from the electronics? I'd pay to replace the board so I can get HDTV, TVoIP, etc but I don't need a new tube. Why isn't some manufacturer addressing this market?

August 30, 2003

The nature of electrical markets II

Posted by TMLutas

Earlier I wrote about some features of electrical markets and how it would be an improvement both economically and from a national security standpoint to have a smart electrical grid.

mhp over at Netcraft writes about a Rackshack notice in their support forums cancelling a setup fee sale. They were offering setup fees of $1 but had to cancel because their local power company did not believe that Rackshack's power requirement estimates were accurate.

What Rackshack woke up to was a notice one day to put no extra load on the grid because the local segment was at maximum capacity. No doubt this restriction will cost them some sales, momentum, and is embarrassing for them as it creates the impression that one of their critical vendors is simply not up to the task of properly forecasting demand, a real negative for a hosting provider which must guarantee 24/7/365 service.

In a smarter grid, capacity would be part of the information flow transmitted in the ebb and flow of the market. Instead of writing a note on some engineering diagrams, Rackshack could have bought a futures contract for power delivery and they most likely would have gotten the juice that they needed, when they needed it. And if they didn't have it, they could have bought on the spot market from a distributed producer. At the worst, a trailer carrying a generator would have been parked at the facility until more permanent arrangements could be met (and the defaulting provider would probably have to swallow the cost).

August 29, 2003

All publicity is good publicity?

Posted by TMLutas

I just discovered Technorati and it's inbound link tracking service. Of course, the first thing I did was look Flit up. I found something of a puzzler. Does anybody know what language this article is written in? It's something latin based but I can't quite make out what's being said just that they're talking about me (though they don't spell my name right). Some of the articles are in English so even the monolinuists of the anglosphere can easily read some of it. Buscaraons, a mystery.

Aristotle's Master Arts

Posted by TMLutas

Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics has an interesting concept that arts (in modern terms both arts and sciences) have master arts above them which control them. The art of creating oil based pigments is controlled by the art of painting for example. Above them all is the art of politics, the ultimate master art which can control all other arts.

The City Comforts blog brings up this point with an interesting dilemma. Is the new urbanism architecture or urban planning? There are good arguments to be made for both but it's clear to me that whatever new urbanism should be characterized as, it is an expression of a master art to both and thus controls both.

This, unfortunately, still leaves the dilemma of what actually is this master art but hopefully will get them past the idea of arguing that it's fish or fowl when in reality it is neither.

August 28, 2003

Daniel Pipes Hits a Home Run on UNRWA

Posted by TMLutas

More DP, this time entirely complimentary. His NYPost article on the UNRWA is exactly on target. He also republished the UNRWA response (same link as above) from Paul McCann.

The original article notes that the UNRWA has a different version of palestinian refugees than every other refugee situation and it is one that causes the number of refugees to grow, not shrink as the normal definition encourages. Furthermore, UNRWA funding permits the arab countries to get away with truly inhumane exclusion policies so that children born in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon among other nations are not considered citizens of the country of their birth but rather palestinians, refugees from a place they were not born in and increasingly a place where their parents weren't born either.

Paul McCann defends the UNRWA (after all, it's his job) and calls Daniel Pipes an extremist for thinking that perpetual refugee camps are monstrous and that aiding and abetting their unlimited existence is monstrous as well. Smearing Pipes as an extremist goes beyond the normal call of duty for a press officer. It's a shame that character assassination as a method of budget protection seems to be an acceptable tactic at the UNRWA.

The UNRWA contact info and email can be found here.

Headquarters, Gaza
Paul McCann
Chief, Public Information Office
Tel: (+ 972 8) 677 7526/7
Fax: (+ 972 8) 677 7697

So, What's Plan 'B'?

Posted by TMLutas

Daniel Pipes writes "militant Islam is the problem. moderate Islam is the solution" in this article that mainly deals with his horrible treatment at the hands of his Senate inquisitors. The idea of supporting moderate Islam in its battle against the militants is all well and good, and I really like Daniel Pipes' writing but a nagging question remains. What if moderate Islam loses? How long do we give moderate Islam to win over militant Islam before it's just too dangerous to let things go on like this and we have to resort to Plan 'B'? What is plan 'B' anyway?

It took us 12 years of sanctions, 13 UN resolutions, and an agonizing global debate before the US and the coalition of the willing decided that it was time to move to plan 'B'. Militant Islam in general is a much bigger question. Are we stuck with Carthago delenda est? Or is there some other solution that's a better plan 'B'?

Update: In email, Daniel Pipes writes "aren't you being a bit precipitous? it's not yet been Plan A, so how about giving it a shot first?"

In a normal world, he'd be absolutely correct. We haven't been in a normal foreign policy world since the breakdown of the anti-communism american consensus over Vietnam and foreign policy discussion seems to be turning more corrosive by the year. Before a strategy is implemented, creating a follow on or backup plan is defeatist. Not doing it early enough and you get it in the neck from those who claim a planning disaster.

Walking the tightrope successfully means having a decent idea for a plan 'B' and outlining how to evaluate plan 'A' so that if it fails, you know right away and have enough advanced warning to have your backup plan polished and ready to go when the time is right. At a minimum, a rough timeline for how long it is reasonable to stick to plan 'A' would at least strip opponents of the chance to jump in quickly with a steady drumbeat of criticism that erodes support for plan 'A'.

August 27, 2003

A Swing and a Miss...

Posted by TMLutas

Armed Liberal writes an article over at Winds of Change theorizing that Russia is a possible source of troops. I suggest he read this which may make him a bit more reluctant to have the Russians come back in.

If Iraq's WMD were hidden by Russian teams just prior to the war, it stands to reason that they're not going to play it straight with us in a shared reconstruction effort.

Why Europe MAY be doomed I

Posted by TMLutas

I just read a two part essay on "Why Europe is NOT Doomed". I can't say I agree with it but I'm not so sure I agree with the "Europe is doomed" crowd which Norwegian Blogger say emanates from "Little Green Footballs, The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler, and den Beste", among others.

The reason is this. The doomed crowd thinks that Europe is doomed based on a straight line projection of current trends and the conviction that there are no likely viable exits to the vicious circle. They're going down, they'll continue to go down and at some point a nasty descent into disaster and/or fascism will result.

The Norwegian Blogger, by contrast, admits that things are bad, but that there are clear exits out, that Europe's been led by too many idiots before and it's always pulled back from ruin in time and is sure to do so once again.

I find both arguments unsatisfying but both being factually correct as to the present state. I'm inclined toward the Norwegian Blogger's position that no, Europe, collectively, can't be that stupid but I'm reminded of an incident in the 1996 Romanian elections. I was sure then as well that nobody could be stupid enough to do the obvious lemming march off the cliff.

The center right Democratic Convention coalition signed a solemn document very reminiscent of the Contract with America, called the Contract with Romania. They promised a 20 point program and mass resignations after 200 days if they didn't implement it. They won just enough votes to create a coalition government but not enough votes to actually implement the program as some of their coalition partners weren't Contract signers.

200 days came and went and nobody resigned. They were almost all voted out in the next national elections in 2000. In other words, here was a european country, taking advice from some of the best political minds of the free world, and they absolutely were not smart enough to get out of their lemming march over the cliff. They committed electoral suicide rather than give up power and call new elections. Their example does not give me a lot of hope for the EU in general.

Iraq's coming around II

Posted by TMLutas

Salam Pax writes "Maybe we Iraqis did expect too much from the American invasion, we did hope there is going to be an easy way. Get rid of Saddam and have the Americans help us rebuild. I don't think like that anymore. I am starting to believe that the chaos we will go thru the next 5 or 10 years is part of the price we will *have* to pay to have our freedom. This Beirut-ification is the way to learn how we should live as a free country and respect each other; it is just too painful to admit. It is too painful to have to admit that the [burn it down to build it up] process is what we will have to go thru."

It could be true that I'm "not the sharpest crayon in the shed" but it does seem to me that there were unrealistic expectations that the US would come in and build up Iraq without the Iraqis having to bother to sacrifice, even bleed, for their own liberty tree. Those expectations are obviously evaporating if not already long gone.

One valid question is whether the US is going slow on purpose. I don't think it is. I think that what's coming into play is a very unusual set of cultural assumptions. Of course the Iraqis have to pitch in on their own liberation. Of course they'll spontaneously organize into something that is more fitting for the long haul than anything the US could have figured out for them. Of course such a situation will lead to a long-term favorable situation for the US both in Iraq and the world at large.

The idea of rushing in and doing it all for them simply isn't on the radar screen because, for americans, especially conservatives, doing that is self-evidently dumb. We tried that with the Great Society welfare reforms. It took us 30 years of incalculable social destruction before we were able to start the repair process. Don't expect the US to do that again anytime soon.

In the end, if we stay the course, Iraq's going to have a shot at actually being a non-resentful member of the 1st world. Wouldn't that be a welcome breath of fresh air.

August 26, 2003

Gasoline price finder

Posted by TMLutas

Thanks to The Angry Economist for a good article on gasoline prices. But most of all for pointing out an essential site, Gas Buddy, which will let you find out where are the least expensive gasoline prices in the US and Canada.

gay marriage update

Posted by TMLutas

The Boston Globe writes that Canada's gay marriage push is in trouble. It seems that there is a real backlash brewing and liberal MPs are starting to run scared. It seems that canadians are foregoing the usual 'blow off steam and then give in' tactic that usually dooms most reaction to judicial legislation and are quietly giving signs that they will be expressing their opinions in a quiet, civilized throw the bums out movement.

And people say it's hard to tell the difference between Canada and the US.

August 25, 2003

Correcting an oversight

Posted by TMLutas

I made a bit of a goof in my cell network article and did not link back to Steven Den Beste's USS Clueless. I went back and fixed it but thought it deserved seperate mention as well.

Proposed US Constitutional Amendment

Posted by TMLutas

I think that the gay marriage amendment people are wrong. But they're not wrong because they want to slap the US judiciary across the wrists. The problem is that they're too micro-focused on a cause of the day when they should be thinking bigger, grander.

The problem really is that the judiciary is writing new constitutional law when it should only be interpreting it. Writing new law is the job of a constitutional convention, the Congress, and the state legislatures using the amendment process. What is needed is a mechanism to declare that a judicial decision carries no value as precedent as it is writing new constitutional law and force that new law through the amendment approval process which is the way a constitution should be changed.

Of course, the problem is that this provides little check on the judiciary so far. The thing that will put teeth into it would be making writing new constitutional law in this manner an mandatory impeachment offense whether the amendment process wins or loses. Sure, you can fall on your sword as a judge and write new law as a judicial activist but you're likely to only be able to do it a handful of times before you get your butt bounced off the bench. If the Senate has to hold repeated trials of you for going astray, after awhile they'll just be tired of seeing your face no matter how well justified you think you are in making 'bold', 'progressive' rulings.

August 24, 2003

Cell phone musings

Posted by TMLutas

Being a glutton for punishment, Steven Den Beste's provoking some musings again. B-)

He's back from vacation and talking about cell phones among other things and giving very good information about why the system doesn't drop certain traffic and expand basic capacity in case of emergency. One thing that isn't clear is whether he meant bits (Kbps) or bytes (KBps) when he referred to kbps. I'll assume he meant bytes. Update: in email, SDB clarified he meant bits. That means you'd be able to pump 8x more calls in the same bandwidth I originally calculated.

His article reminded me about an old idea I had kicked around for some time, the thought that voice over IP (VoIP) could be mated to a limited cell antenna on the roof and provide the ability to route calls over your broadband connection. There are all sorts of dead zones for cellular coverage, from rural zones that might be able to get broadband but don't have a cell tower handy to the middle of the big city where building reflections create oddly shaped dead zones, there is plenty of opportunity for somebody who is willing to share some of his bandwidth to cell phone customer in need. The number of calls handled by each individual station would not be large. At 8KBps someone willing to share 256Kbps up/down (this would have to be symmetric) would be able to handle 4 simultaneous voice calls. Why would he share it? Two reasons come to mind, he gets some income from it so that his bandwidth expenses go down (perhaps he even makes a buck or two) and being in such a dead zone, he wants his own cell phone calls to go through easily (which is how I got the idea in the first place).

Obviously, you can't be stomping all over these calls with other traffic. You'd need to be on an IPv6 network and have Quality of Service (QoS) turned on so that these voice packets have priority and your Quake slugfest gets a bit of extra lag but that's not theoretically hard and IPv6 is now a sure thing now that the DoD has started the changeover process.

Living in a world where cell reception sites can overlap might prove more of a challenge and require some improvement to current standards so that automatic negotiation can occur with overlapping sites properly negotiating who handles which call but no doubt the cellular carriers will enforce fairness among their affiliate receivers.

The relevant side effect to SDB's post is that such a distributed receiver network would be more resilient. In case of emergency, people would likely be willing to switch more of their bandwidth over to phone conversations and the larger variety of receiver maintainers would ensure that some capacity would be preserved by techno-geeks with hefty backup generators even if the regular towers quickly drain their batteries.

I don't want to cause any confusion that such a system is practical today. IPv6 isn't supported by *any* mainstream ISP that I know of (in N. America at least) and the equipment to throw up such a affiliate tower in an apartment window or a house's rooftop is just not in existence as a do it yourself prebuilt kit. But a decade from now IPv6 will be a mainstream reality, bandwidth will likely be cheaper, and the need for a more robust cell phone network will still be with us.

Update: SDB's riposte was swift and characteristically pessimistic. One thing he didn't address fully was the time factor.

There are three basic ingredients in creating a cell receiver once you take away the problem of finding a location, the human time necessary to design the thing, the intelligence necessary to calculate and process the signals and the physical bits of plastic and metal needed to make the system. Is antenna design a science or an art? I suspect it's science, and very precise science at that. Given the proper software, could the process be automated and take out the human engineering that contributes to the cost? I suspect that if it's not true today, it'll become true during the decade timeframe I established as a minimum necessary for such an innovation to come to pass (remember, IPv6 and QoS needs to happen first). You'd just get shipped a box that you'd place where the antenna will go and turn it on. The box would gather the requisite data of where nearby cells are, etc. and make it ready for processing into a decent antenna design (remember, we don't have to be super-efficient, we're going for antenna volume).

The processing power at the central office needed to process a call is no different if the call is received through a big central tower or through an IPv6 Internet gateway so we can take that out of the equation. Processing power is supposed to follow Moore's law for about the next decade at least so by the time the Internet infrastructure can support this idea, we'll have doubled processing power at a given cost and electricity draw 6 times and be two thirds of the way on to our 7th doubling. That means that whatever the current silicon costs, it'll be somewhere between 1/64 and 1/128th as expensive as today's versions. How much this deflates the actual cost depends on how much of the current cost is electronics and how much is the antenna.

So we have an automated system for determining the best design for your new custom antenna, we have incredibly cheap and powerful chips to power the thing, but how does the actual antenna get made?

If people are currently custom hand tooling the antenna assembly it's likely that a decade from now, the same results could be printed out by the same program that calculates how the antenna should to look. It's not such a big stretch to see 3d printers available in either Home Depot (a do it yourself home products store), Kinkos (a printing and office service bureau), or both.

So, human input, processor power, and antenna fabrication all can have their costs drastically reduced over the next decade. I can certainly see a $200k receiver station being ground down to $1k-$3k in a decade if most of the cost is subject to Moore's law. In two decades it'll be in the hundreds and at a price point where the middle class can routinely afford to put it into place.

The right to be unhumane

Posted by TMLutas

The City Comforts Blog links back to my observations about conservative/libertarian urban planning. Unfortunately, there's a little gotcha in his response. He writes "I would be delighted to hear practical, conservative alternatives which do not deny the goal of humane urban form as a way of achieving it". The problem is that a pro-freedom solution to the problem will always deny an end result as the only possible solution to a problem. That's the very definition of freedom, the ability to choose to pick the optimal solution or not without outside forces coercing you. So a libertarian solution, even if it creates a great deal of net social benefit over all other solutions and greatly improves the present state of land use planning, is ultimately always going to be less efficient in creating new urbanist paradises then an imposed solution because a libertarian solution would always seek to minimize coercion and coercion, taken in isolation, is very efficient.

August 23, 2003

IBM, Pay Me !

Posted by TMLutas

I can trash talk SCO with the best of them. I've got a blog and I'm not afraid to use it. So where's my check? I could use the money.

According to SCO's CEO, "You've got all of these guys and it looks like the whole world is coming against SCO. It's really IBM that has wired in all of these relationships," he said. "That's why it looks like they're sitting back and not doing anything. It's us fighting a whole bunch of people that they put on the stage."

Color me unimpressed. At the recent SCO Forum, they finally unwrapped some code that they claim was infringing by flashing a few lines on a screen for about 15 seconds. Unfortunately for SCO, they were dumb enough to give out the presentation Powerpoint to a journalist without making said journalist sign an NDA. This led to a devastating analysis by Bruce Perens which shows that SCO is at best incompetent and possibly criminal. Eric Raymond pursues the criminal angle a little more forcefully. "You have a choice. Peel off that dark helmet and deal with us like a reasonable human being, or continue down a path that could be bad trouble for us but will be utter ruin — quite possibly including jail time on fraud, intellectual-property theft, barratry, and stock-manipulation charges — for you and the rest of SCO's top management."

ESR's blog is the delightfully named armed and dangerous. The most dangerous weapon in existence is the human mind. From the evidence uncovered so far, it looks like Darl McBride is bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Fading away

Posted by TMLutas

The Economist -- Half a billion Americans?

"But assume, for a minute, that Americans remain, as they are now, about one-third richer per head than Europeans. The high-series projection implies that America's economy in 2050 would still be more than twice the size of Europe's—and something like that preponderance would still be there even if you assume that by then much of Central and Eastern Europe will have joined the EU."

Stratfor -- U.S. Dollar Steams Ahead, but No Euro Crash Pending Aug 22, 2003 [subscription only so no link]

"On the economic front, the U.S. economy has outgrown the European economy for seven consecutive quarters, and by any measure -- productivity, unemployment, business investment, currency flows, stock markets, etc. -- the United States clearly is leaving Europe behind. This is not particularly new. In fact, with the exception of three quarters during the 2001 recession, this has been the state of affairs since the end of the Cold War."

Let's assume that the time period is 1990 q1 - 2003 q2 so we have a period of 54 quarters. For 51 of the 54 quarters the US grew faster. Is it reasonable that the Economist's assumption will hold true that the US will only be 1/3 richer than the EU in 2050? Read the article and you will find a tale of woe about the EU falling behind in population with rising costs as far as the eye can see while US dependency costs stabilize with a new boom of US children coming online into the working world about 2030. If Stratfor's correct though, the Economist might actually have been optimistic about Europe's comparative future.

Advancing the arts and sciences II

Posted by TMLutas

The bottom line, both pragmatically and constitutionally, for any discussion of US patents and copyrights is whether a particular innovation advances the progress of the arts and sciences. The Washington Post (reprinted in the Detroit New) has an article on the subject. Unfortunately, the US government has squelched an effort of WIPO to host a meeting on open source software and how its different model of intellectual property protection does just that, advance the arts and sciences.

This is a shame and an outrage, if true. If the hallmark of property ownership is the ability to do with it what you will, intellectual property's limited monopoly privilege should have the same neutrality of usage to it as long as it fulfills its basic function to advance the arts and sciences. To shut down a discussion on a different usage model merely because it discomforts incumbent IP producers' business plans is in the worst tradition of corporatism.

Hat tip to Slashdot for making me aware of the story.

August 22, 2003

Distributed Power and the Smart Grid

Posted by TMLutas

Thanks to Tyler Cowen of the Volokh Conspiracy for noting this Washington Post article about distributed power.

As the article mentions, 8% of US power is currently generated by distributed means, usually under the label of cogeneration. So we're not talking about rinky dink, pie in the sky alternative power schemes but something that is contributing significantly to today's grid and is likely to increase in future.

Unfortunately, the limits of our dumb grid show up quite quickly in the article too. The University of Maryland had local, distributed generation but when they disconnected from the grid recently due to power fluctuation, they found that they had no way to quickly shut down enough non-essential consumers of electricity (like UPS batteries) and ended up taking their local grid down after 3 minutes due to overload. A smarter grid would have been able to shut down a fraction of the air HVAC plants and rotated what was running and what was not so that temperatures remained tolerable but the grid would have stayed up.

Casus Belli

Posted by TMLutas

In Iraq we have Islamists pouring over the border to fight the US forces and the start of the new Iraqi armed forces. To me, it's surprising that nobody notes that for Iraq's border states, this is a tremendously risky business. These fighters are either going through Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia with the blessings of the regime, which is a direct act of war, or these states are incapable of controlling their own borders to stop such people. If the latter, a persistent inability to halt such troop flows is also a legitimate cause of war.

In all the discussions of honeypot and flypaper strategies, whether the US will withstand the assault or turn tail and pull out too early, nobody seems to seriously look at the problem from the fact that failing to stop armed fighters from crossing over into your neighbor's territory is a grave threat to international peace. Where's the UN? Where are the peace protesters? Where are the NGO's devoted to human rights?

The first step to restoring normality is to recognize that a situation is not normal. The current bizarre abnormality of the Middle East has Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, at best, being failed states who cannot control their borders. At worst, what we have is an undeclared asymmetric regional war. But why aren't we all talking about it? Why aren't we holding the political class of these countries to a normal standard? Why isn't any faction in the West devoted to any side in this conflict taking note of this?

August 21, 2003

Where's the WMD? The controversy's all according to plan

Posted by TMLutas

Mihai Pacepa is the highest ranking defector of the Cold War. He ran Romania's external intelligence service, the DIE. He has an article today in the Washington Times explaining that it was SOP for the Soviet bloc that any chemical weapons programs they sponsored abroad have destruction plans for the actual munitions and hide samples of technology and documents sufficient to quickly reconstitute the programs in watertight microfiche containers scattered across the country. That way there would be no western propaganda coup in case of invasion, only harmless documents that could be waved away as a research program but no actual violation of chemical weapons treaties.

No, no, no. You do it like this

Posted by TMLutas

Midwestern Conservative Journal writes:

And one day, African Anglicans may become wealthy enough to send missionaries to America and set up on Sunday mornings outside parishes like mine to preach the Gospel to the rich, generally white suburbanites walking inside. God willing, I will still be alive so that I can stand with them.

As somebody who has some personal experience with mission work from a lay perspective here and here in this diocese, I can pretty much say that's not how you do things at all if you want to ensure you "will still be alive" to see it. Bishops, if they're smart, will send missionaries on request long before they blindly send them out in a shotgun pattern to the benighted lands of the US. A missionary isn't all that expensive to keep if you have committed parishioners and other churches will rent you space at fairly reasonable rates.

As a byzantine catholic, I would like conservative episcopalians to move to catholicism but if they're not ready for that jump, getting missions set up is just not that hard if you can find 10-20 families who are committed and willing to raise 3000-4000 per month in cash and resources (somebody putting up the priest at the beginning is a big help as well as passing him around for meals, you don't have to be rich, just have a spare bed or extra food in your larder). For a 20 family group, that's $50 a week, easily within reach of most middle class committed churchgoers. The most important thing is to make sure whatever priest is sent has to have a missionary spirit (who will be so bold as to stand on the church steps calling to the faithful to return home to the anglican communion) and you have a few lay people who can partner with him on monetary issues.

My prayers go to those currently without a spiritual home. The US conservative episcopalians are living the parable of the young rich man who is told by jesus to give away his wealth and follow him. Will they be able to pass the eye of the needle? They certainly are physically able to.

Iraq's coming around I

Posted by TMLutas

I previously speculated that the US might be trying to plant a tree of liberty instead of establishing a pax americanus. Some evidence that this is what's going on from Salam Pax

I guess you've been hearing news about Mosul? Well it's worse. The security situation isn't too bad (they don't rely on Americans in these parts- if they did it wouldn't be any better than Baghdad). Electricity is more or less sorted out (although we do have problems)- and no, it wasn't the Amreeeekan who got things running, thank you very much.

These are not the words of somebody who is going to feel permanently humiliated at their dependence on america. That's all to the good and may there be many more such independent people.

August 20, 2003

New Urbanism

Posted by TMLutas

I discovered new urbanism some time ago but just noted it as a welcome movement away from the really awful communities I saw being built up under the single use zoning ethos. Since I've recently tripped across the old and established fact that space matters, that development styles matter, I did a little more exploration of the subject. I found an interesting blog called City Comforts that covers the subject.

I had a great flashback reading it as it's quite critical of the right wing and libertarianism as having nothing original of import to say on the subject of creating livable urban spaces, a criticism that used to be very common about conservative urban policy. Well, conservatives, no doubt tiring of the constant ribbing, eventually did get an urban policy and lo and behold, they started getting elected in major cities as their ideas looked pretty good compared to the liberal ones that had failed so obviously in cities across the US.

Today, it's urban land use that's a blank hole in the conservative (and libertarian) ideology. Sure, you have throwaway lines about how there's no Republican or Democrat way to sweep the streets but when things aren't going right on a large scale, there should be party differences you can present to the voters on any issue, including space planning.

The bad planning decisions of previous generations have created developments that simply require automobiles to do even the most basic of tasks and encourage isolation. That's no way to run a community but the default planning structures almost everybody has positively encourage it.

There needs to be some sort of reform of these structures. As a matter of ideology, I think that the optimal solution will end up with either no government involvement or only minimal interference but right now the work to prove that is true simply hasn't been done.

As always, feel free to prove me woefully uninformed in flitters

August 19, 2003

Conceptions of space

Posted by TMLutas

America is a funny place. People immigrate to New York, never go beyond its suburbs and think that they've seen America. In fact, you can't even understand New York unless you've seen Dallas, Chicago, and a few other US cities for comparison. It's simply not possible to understand the scale of the place until you've done at least one major interstate drive (my first one was NY to Washington, DC, my wife's was NY to Chicago) to get a sense of scale.

Once you start looking around, you see more and more how differences in how people live, how much space they put between buildings, between each other, can affect the local culture and outlook. There's a great deal of stress in having people jammed next to each other cheek to jowl. Spreading things out changes the background noise of a place in a surprisingly pleasant way. No doubt architects and city planners have said this for centuries but as we gain more control over our surroundings and gain the ability to spread out or cluster by choice instead of need, it's something that we need to include into a new aesthetic, not that people aren't already trying.

August 17, 2003

The nature of electrical markets

Posted by TMLutas

Markets set price, but the question is how often and how well? If someone has fluctuating demand that changes by the day but can only contract for power by the month, what happens to that fluctuating demand information? In reality, that information dies. In the discussion of a smart electrical network, one thing that is critically important is the ability to transmit pricing information more widely and quicker.

In a true smart market, you would be able to price electricity down to the individual circuit, perhaps even the individual electricity using device. The reason for this is you might be willing to pay 1x for a light in your bedroom but the electricity running your dialysis machine might be worth 10x and the respirator might be worth 10000x. Right now such pricing information is impossible to transmit in all its complexity. Without a smart grid it will remain impossible to transmit or route. With a smart grid, the capability will grow until eventually, all of it can be captured and prioritized real time. If price rises can happen in real time, all of a sudden unreliable power systems create incentives for distributed generation because taking advantage of the blackout price spikes gets you much better ROI.

But how will such a grid be built? In a country with a static or shrinking population, the only mechanism is through replacement. Every year, meters go bad, lines exceed their lifetime and are replaced, and transformers die from various reasons and are also replaced. Replacing as you go is one realistic method. That might get you 1%-3% in yearly smart grid rollout. But in a growing country like the US, this is not the only mechanism. Every time a new subdivision is built, the electrical grid is extended. There is no reason that you couldn't make a central skeleton of a market and subdivision by subdivision, create smart grid subdivisions. Realistically, add another 1%-3% depending on housing conditions (and the US mania for destroy and rebuild).

The good news is that computing cycles are cheap and growing cheaper and thus an imperfect market can be created that will improve things even at a small scale. At first, trading could occur within the subdivision. As information spreads about the benefits of the smart grid more and more people would want to join to gain the benefits. Early adopters would be environmentalists who would want to do it for mother earth, tinkerers who like the engineering aspects (the geek value of taking part in such a project is off the charts), and power entrepreneurs who think they can make a bit of extra cash flow a month.

As the network grows it will reach a tipping point where network effects will explode into the national consciousness and it will become the next hot bubble. Like the Internet, the ultimate crash will also have virtually no effect on the positive engineering effects of that future bubble.

A few things about the smart network. The smart network is already partially here. For large industrial users, it's been here for some time. For mid sized businesses, they've come on board a bit more recently. This isn't a matter of subsidy but of simple business sense. If you have a need to generate power, there's simple sense in selling that power when the spot price exceeds your generation price.

But remember, market conditions have changed. It's no longer just about economic value. There are those who want to create panic, despair, and terror among us to achieve their goals. It's no longer acceptable to have a system that fails in such a stupid way, giving relatively small attacks the ability to create large effects.

How much money we invest in infrastructure improvements to get around this right now is a separate question but simultaneous to all the power improvements that need to be put into place to scale our dumb network out of its present crisis we need to start putting into place a smart network that will have smart failure modes. With smart failure modes we end up getting small attacks creating small effects. A resilient system will actually create a disincentive to attack at all.

Defining the energy problem

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste has decided to take me to task over my power ideas. First of all, I think we're looking at different problems.

As a pure engineering problem, there is no reason that we could not have solved the grid issues long ago. Engineers aren't stupid and after 1965 and the first great NE blackout, they knew they had a major problem to solve. The interesting question is why they didn't solve it. The short answer is that they were put under artificial constraints that didn't let them solve it.

Thus, all of SDB's graphs and hard engineering data are somewhat beside the point (not that he was 100% correct on the engineering aspects either). The problem is a military techno-political problem. In other words, it's very cross disciplinary. Be patient, this is likely to be long. [edit: it's also likely to be multi-part]

First of all, having a day or two holiday from electricity every couple of decades or so is actually not that bad a record. If that were our actual problem, we wouldn't be in such bad shape. But the real problem is having terrorist teams taking down major, multi-state grid sections every few days and likely not getting caught for a long time.

But what are these hypothetical terrorists looking to do? To some extent, they want to hurt our economy. I think that even more than that, they want us sitting in the dark, afraid. Demoralizing us, terrorizing us, is the heart of their strategy. So a system change that made the lights stay on at home would significantly reduce the terrorist impact and make the regular blackout strategy less attractive.

But let's get back to those frustrated power engineers. Who and what is frustrating the engineers and keeping our electrical systems vulnerable?

The coalition to keep us in the dark is formed of several parts. There is the environmental component who believe if we only had enough wind farms, solar cells, tidal generators, or geothermal pipes we could get rid of those nasty fossil fuel and nuclear plants that provide massive generation capabilities. Then there are the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) activists who don't want a powerplant near them, don't want to see high tension wires ruin their scenic views, but don't care beyond their local area. That wouldn't be so bad if NIMBYs weren't so widespread that any significant power project is likely to draw them into active opposition. Finally there are the luddites who believe in going back to a more primitive existence. They want an end to industrialization, low power usage, if any, and certainly no major transmission wires.

All three of these groups have their own moderate versions who qualify their opposition to new power plants and transmission lines but still form important sections of the coalition to keep us in the dark.

Love them or hate them, they have been successful in keeping power generating reserves at low levels to the point where we got the great NE and Canada blackout of 2003.

So a successful strategy to build a bulletproof grid has to not only take into account the engineering challenges, the terrorism challenges, but also the political challenges. All three are necessary conditions to solve the problem.

Out of the three, the terrorism challenge is actually the easiest to solve. Blowing up towers or shorting out lines is something that functionally looks like very bad weather. Add some booby trap clearing personnel training to repair crews and you've got the situation fairly well in hand from the mechanical perspective of recovery.

The engineering solution is also easy, add more power plants, preferably large ones that are cheap to run, build lots of new lines so it's difficult to take enough down to create a cascading failure, and create better communication between parts of the power systems so that you can adjust to point failures faster and more accurately.

The political solution is our real problem because we have a durable coalition that frustrates both powerplant building and transmission line building enough to land us in our current sad state.

The conventional strategy is to periodically let our reserves fall, have a massive blackout, and use the crisis atmosphere that follows to ram through plant and line construction quickly. This reactive, crisis driven deployment schedule does not serve society well as each crisis is costly and the rush to approve while the anti-forces are in disarray will lead to bad decisions being made.

The better solution is to break off at least one of the three coalition partners and create a durable political solution which will allow plant and line construction to proceed on a normal schedule as needed. But who can be peeled off?

The Luddites are the core resistance. They will always be in favor of less power, less technology. Getting rid of that problem is missionary work, not coalition building. The luddite grouping, unfortunately, has the disadvantage that it generally falls a false flag and luddites claim to be NIMBYs or environmentalists.

The easiest way I've found to tell a luddite flying a false flag is to discuss fusion. A luddite will be opposed to clean, safe, plentiful energy because it will enable us to indefinitely continue in our 'sinfully wasteful' ways. When an environmentalists says not to build a fission plant but to wait for fusion which will be clean and safe, the luddites grimace and groan.

NIMBY and environmentalist concerns are much more straightforward. NIMBY factions arise because of health, safety, and aesthetic reasons. A power plant that is not seen and not felt is a powerplant that has no NIMBY opposition to it. Property value drops are their core motivation and if you can create a non-visible power infrastructure that raises property values, they'll swap sides.

Environmentalists are clean energy fetishists. There's no problem with energy solutions which don't pollute and their major objection to power transmission lines is that you have to cut down trees to safely maintain the lines. These unnatural meadow corridors make many environmentalists unhappy.

A smart energy network tears at the internal cohesion of the anti-energy coalition Local generation through neighborhood based microturbines reduce the need to shift power into residential neighborhoods while they would keep the lights on during grid-wide blackouts. This reduces the attractiveness of a blackout terrorist strategy by creating islands of light that can be replicated at will. Individual options are wider than the inefficient solar that SDB allows.

SDB is in error when he says that there is no way to store electricity. You store via conversion (as he admits in his own example of pumping water uphill) and there's a relatively new contender for storage he doesn't examine.

As any veteran of the hydrogen debates quickly finds out, a big rap against hydrogen is that it's not found free in nature so hydrogen power is, essentially, a highly efficient battery replacement. You have to spend energy to make hydrogen energy. But this negative is turned into a positive when the problem is electricity generation time shifting. Power that is surplus can be converted into hydrogen and the hydrogen shifted back to electricity at peak demand or piped elsewhere for fuel cell use (perhaps to fuel the cars that will be coming down the road using this power source). It's quite likely that power line loss will be greater than hydrogen loss for similar distance hauls.

The smart power market I advocate would provide supply and demand contracts in real time. The engineers would be able to monitor the market and adjust their own efforts much more quickly without having to guess at aggregate trend lines as SDB informs us is the current system for independent individual power producers. Markets operate very fast and there are very well developed swystems for dealing with the problem of drowining in data.

I'm on the road right now and will probably take up this subject further as I have time.

August 16, 2003

Off to Texas

Posted by TMLutas

I'm going on a business trip over the weekend. I'll be updating from there on SDB's comments regarding power networks (if I can get on the net)

August 15, 2003

Destructive Secrets

Posted by TMLutas

Since about October 2001, I've known that power lines could be a simple Al Queda target that would not cost them assets (as suicide operations would) but could bring down the US economy. But I kept my mouth shut about it because I didn't have a way of saying it without drawing a roadmap for the terrorists where they could read it. Today, Stratfor, wrote up an article on the Al Queda implications of the current blackout. They write "Al Qaeda no doubt is watching for any opportune U.S. flaws that they might someday exploit. Now it has become obvious that if one hits the U.S. -- or Canadian -- power grid in the right spot at the right time, the heart of the American economy -- including Wall Street -- can be hurled into the dark. " After that, I don't particularly feel restrained anymore about this particular threat (though I'll still keep my mouth shut over the other easy targets I know about).

It's pretty obvious that anybody with a map and a walking stick can walk the perimeter of a city and identify where all the high tension lines coming into the city come in. This is assuming that the electrical line maps aren't available and you can't just look it up in a library. Further walking can identify choke points. It's actually quite easy to take down a power line. A little explosive work at a tower or just throwing a properly thick metal cable over the lines when one end is securely grounded and you have downed that power route.

Part of the problem is that too much power is produced long distances away from where the power is needed. Some of that is unavoidable but certainly not to the extent that exists today. One difficulty arises from the fact that the usage ends (at the meter) are too dumb. Meters generally only pass power in one direction. They are dumb mechanical machines that exclusively serve the interest of the electric company as seller to the business and residential public who are only buyers.

But what if smart meters existed? What if people could participate in the electrical markets as a matter of course, buying the way that the major users buy based on the current market value of their juice at that time. What if you could just plug in a generator and automatically have your power flow into the grid and get compensated for it at the spot market price. What if every electrical device had a smart switch that could selectively cut the wall current to the backup battery units and the overhead lights in the offices but keep the electricity running for the elevators to get out of the building. What if all these devices could talk to each other and sort out what needed doing when there was a service reduction or outright cut.

All of a sudden the entire grid system looks different, much more local, more complex, and vastly more resilient. The incentives for local power generation increase as it becomes easier to do and you not only get stable power but also have profit potential. Pulling cheap juice in the evening and feeding it back at peak demand becomes an economic opportunity. And when a neighborhood loses its external juice, local power sources can be prioritized so that the more important uses get priority and bad effects are minimized. Whether these local sources are a bank of batteries, fuel cells, microturbine generators, or standard gas or diesel models, with a universal communications method and pre-made rules created by their owners, you end up with a very important adjunct that increases the ability of people to make fine power adjustments.

The overall effect is to make the electrical system look more like the robust Internet with these smart meters serving to intelligently route around failure while enabling a wider variety of configurations. This sort of solution isn't going to get rolled out overnight but either this, or something very like it, will be necessary for the inevitable era of electrical system attacks to come.

The benefits go far beyond national security. With GM explicitly looking to market their future fuel cell cars as energy sources, a smart meter system could allow these cars to earn money while you're at work by plugging them in as small peaker plants running on pre-defined rules, supplying electricity when profitable to their owners and dropping out while they still have enough fuel left in the tank to get home. This would increase generating capacity exactly where it would need to be, at commercial and industrial centers during peak usage hours.

The level of intelligence needed to participate in a smart electrical network is fairly constant. With Moore's law continuing to operate for the near to medium term, it's likely that the basics of it could be done today. Some of the finer refinements like light fixtures that turn themselves off during energy crunches according to predefined rules could wait for another few iterations of Moore's law to make them cheap enough to put in such high volume usages.

Creating self-organizing neighborhoods of small grids of electrical consumers and producers would is not beyond us but it's unrealistic to think that anything but a national security emergency would get the incumbent electrical producers to radically lower the barriers to entry into their business. We now have our national security emergency. Let's get to it.

August 14, 2003

Will nations move to the US?

Posted by TMLutas

Only Warsaw has more polish people than Chicago. With Europe having a lower fertility level than the US. It's conceivable that at some point decades from now, there might be more self-identified poles in the US than there are in Poland. This possibility is not unique to the poles (ask any irishman). As the US is also growing richer than Europe, the economic power centers of any particular european ethnicity might also migrate across the Atlantic Ocean to the US.

We thus have a very strange spectacle. For the first time in the history of the world, a dominant power may absorb a nation without absorbing any of its territory, without territorial expansion at all. That is astonishing, if trends hold up. But will the current trends hold up? Will Europe continue to hurtle itself towards the demographic cliff? Will it continue to hold back economic reform of its stiff business regulations and rigid labor rules?

Normally, I'm an optimist and would say that they're too smart over there to do something that stupid. Then I remind myself that's exactly what I said about Romania's center-right coalition when they adopted a "Contract with Romania" and promised to implement its points or resign. They didn't implement the points (no surprise, they were in a coalition government with non-Contract adherers) and they didn't resign. They walked off the political cliff and expected to survive the next elections. Of course, none of them did and the electoral devastation was terrible to behold. Is wider Europe smarter than that or is there a continent-wide blindness to taking the measures necessary to save themselves?

August 12, 2003

The need for better upload speeds

Posted by TMLutas

I've previously written about 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class Internet connectivity. Donald Sensing's One Hand Clapping has just an article about one manifestation of this, the birth of "thin" media, specialized coverage that traditional mass media cannot cover efficiently. But Sensing isn't going far enough. What he doesn't realize is that Moore's Law changes the efficiency equation constantly and it both makes censorship through omission progressively harder and it makes distribution chokepoints (a la the RIAA and MPAA) virtually impossible to sustain. This is sociallly revolutionary stuff but it depends on the prolific and inefficient distribution of massive upload capability.

I recall reading an old Forbes Magazine article about the american garage as a secret economic weapon. Because of lower population densities, almost every house had one, often a large one. But combine a house with a large garage with an entrepreneurial occupant and you have the rent free first office that lowers costs sufficient to make business formation appreciably easier and more common in the US. The only price you pay is the necessity of washing the car a bit more often.

Over-engineering upload capacity does the exact same thing in the internet arena. If you have some minimal technical ability you can host your own web site, essentially becoming your own business, journalism outlet, entertainment palace, or what have you. All incumbents who deal in non-tangible goods are directly threatened as are middle-men who depend on people not knowing how to go direct to producers to get tangible goods. This was the base solid reality upon which the dotcom hysterical fluff was piled on to insane proportions.

The fluff is largely gone now but the reality remains unchanged and actually more developed than it was in the go-go years. Defensive action on the part of the incumbents is varied. Journalists mock their online counterparts, music and video distribution empires attempt to mau-mau content producers into thinking of online distribution as illegitimate or 2nd class, and the telephone and cable TV companies who provide much of the physical infrastructure of mass Internet connectivity have invented the 2nd class Internet.

This is a delicate balancing act. Cripple uploading too much and people will just incorporate into non-profit community ISPs and distribute first class internet connectivity locally. But if they don't cripple it enough, people will run VOIP for their voice communications and eventually TV over IP for their visual communications. At first it'll be a web cam over the crib, then community access type shows, but at a certain point, the broadband community will be large enough to create a profitable, independent show based on IP distribution and that business model will kill the studios.

August 09, 2003

Honoring wives

Posted by TMLutas

The Orthodox Christian Church has very strict rules on the ritual of holy communion. Lengthy fasts and confession are required ahead of time (rules vary in detail by bishop as with any apostolic church). Once I read in a manual of two major exceptions occur to the regular rules, one for each sex. For men, they are permitted communion right before battle and women are permitted it any time in their pregnancy. These two exceptions are right next to each other in the tome where I read them and last night I found out why.

Back when I was just posting to the flitters commentary forum that's attached to this blog, I made the happy announcement that my wife was pregnant. This is our third child and it is due in January/February 2004. My wife is a physician (internist) and when she says something is wrong medically, I pay strict attention.

Last night, during a grocery shopping trip she suddenly announced that she was bleeding and that we needed to go home. By the parking lot, the destination had changed to the emergency room and we started tossing words like miscarriage between us. I'm just a computer guy but I know that miscarriages are sometimes fatal. She also let me know that at this stage of the pregnancy, there really isn't anything they can do, just extract the body of our child if it dies so that she doesn't die from infection herself.

After an initial exam, we're told that it's just spotting but that we need to have an ultrasound done to check the health of the baby. As we were waiting to hear the results of the ultrasound, my very practical wife examines herself and starts asking for tissues, further saying that "that's not just spotting" and "that's a lot of blood". I looked and saw a small and growing pool of blood beneath my wife as she started handing me bloody tissues to dispose in the little red biowaste pail in the corner.

The only thing that went through my mind at that point was that there was a small but nonzero chance that my wife would die, that this truly might be our last night together. I put my brave face on and followed orders because the last thing anybody needed to hear were my fears and doubts.

Fortunately, the bleeding stopped, the baby lives, and his heartbeat is ok which means that there is a good chance of an eventual normal delivery. But looking back at things 24 hours later one thing really gnaws at me. In the normal course of a heterosexual marriage, without disease, without anything abnormal going on, society expects women to risk their lives to create the next generation. Together, my wife and I had a tiny brush with this deadly reality. Others get to bury their wives because of it.

Marriage is an ancient heuristic. Part of that heuristic is the honor and status that we assign to the couple together or individually. Those orthodox priests who wrote those communion rules knew what they were doing when they gave honor to women in pregnancy equivalent to men going to battle.

I've previously written about gay marriage and gotten responses in flitters about the equivalency of love and how we should not condemn gays to 2nd class status. In all my writing and thoughts, I actually never considered women's role as risk takers in childbirth. Now that I've gotten a celestial 2x4 reminding me of the real and unique risks that wives encounter, I'm even more convinced that marriage is a special state that homosexuals have no business entering into.

Getting back to that other special status in those communion rules, men going into battle, it's normal in modern warfare that only a minority of soldiers ever get shot at. The supply clerk, the mechanic, the trainer, and a great many other roles are filled by people who are likely to never hear a shot in anger (unless things go really, really badly). But after they've served their term they all get labeled as veterans and all are rightly honored by society for their sacrifice.

Wives, by their marriage vow, whether they actually ever get pregnant, enroll in their own special sorority and deserve similar honor as men in uniform deserve. Part of what they deserve is codified by the rule limiting marriage to relationships between one man and one woman. We should not strip our wives of this to raise up people who, in the normal course of affairs, will never place their bodies on the line for society as wives are expected to do as a matter of course.

August 07, 2003

'Netting 2nd class

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste readers are having a tough time right now as SDB's net access is not working exactly right. The nature of the problem and the the service level that he's talking about in his report indicate that SDB's part of the great unwashed, the 2nd class Internet.

What does that mean? Well, first let's look at 1st class service to see what 2nd class is not.

1st class service has the service provider testing the line frequently 24/7. 1st class service has a connectivity log that shows uptime provided by the ISP. 1st class service has a service level agreement (SLA) which would provide for compensation for downtime which means that they start work on repairs fast and outages rarely last long enough to reduce company revenues. 1st class service is symmetrical (upload speed = download speed), persistent (no getting knocked off or having your session timed out), and uses a fixed IP scheme.

The USS Clueless has persistent service with a fixed IP but it's a cable modem which means that download speeds will greatly exceed upload speeds. There is no enforceable SLA offered by RoadRunner or other internet cable providers and from the story, you can tell that SDB has to chase after them to get service and he's not exactly at the top of their priority list.

3rd class service is dialup based. I ran a 3rd class service server many years ago. My top level page was out on a 1st class server at my ISP and my back end, which held the bulk of content was on my own machine. Every time I lost connection the machine dialed back in, figured out its new IP, and changed the front page links to point to the correct machine.

So why does one man's ISP troubles deserve such comment? Well, they don't per se but they're indicative of a larger trend in the Internet, the stratification of service. It used to be bandwidth and connectivity were the great differentiators. You had a good quality fat pipe or you didn't. But just as with airlines, stratification of service permits you to serve a great deal more customers.

The difference between telecom and air travel is in cost trend lines. The airline industry never figured out how to get a persistent downward cost trend. Every flight has a high fixed cost of flying the plane and a low variable cost of adding passengers. They end up playing the ticket distribution game like maestros because that's their persistent reality, they'll always have to do that.

Technology infrastructure has a different reality, one of constantly collapsing prices driven by Moore's law, the proposition that every year you can do cram twice the transistors into the same space. The corollary of the law that the old density is half as expensive every year makes for very nice negative cost curves over time for technology consumers and drives everybody's cost basis down to some degree with steeper curves coming to sectors that use more technology. Moore's law won't last forever but it's here for the short and medium term.

The three tier internet service is currently conceived as business lines (generally on the T or OC scale but also fixed point wireless), broadband (Wi-fi, cable modem or DSL), and dialup (56k, 28.8k) with business lines generally restricted to business dialup for mobile business and poor consumers and broadband for ultra-small businesses and well to do consumers.

So are we, as individuals, doomed to a perpetual 2nd class Internet existence? I don't think so. Eventually, incomes will rise and costs will fall to the point where 1st class service is available to pretty much everyone with the slow wireless access being generally available as a community amenity. The really interesting question is when will we get there?

Update: SDB informs me that he likes his cable service asymmetrical (though not with such a poor SLA, I'm sure) as he wants a faster download speed than upload speed and assumes that a symmetric service would be more expensive.

A modest proposal for the MATRIX

Posted by TMLutas

With greater power, comes the need for greater restraint. This article outlines how modern technology is being used to increase the efficiency of police work to the point where it's actually giving them qualitatively new capabilities. Databases are combined, information can be correlated from disparate sources and all with an ease that rivals the best of private enterprises business intelligence systems.

The old, practical barriers of inefficiency are falling rapidly. But there is a war on so perhaps new capabilities are needed. But at the same time abuse must be rooted out and never tolerated. The experience of UK CCTV is telling, people viewing those cameras capture a great many more women's breasts than they do terrorists or even petty criminals. The negatives of such systems has even led to at least one site that will map out routes on the web that will avoid cameras.

But the MATRIX system of combining databases is not so easy to conduct oversight on. Perhaps providing yearly notification of how many times your name came up as a hit on the search, why you were investigated. and who was investigating you would serve to minimize fishing expeditions.

August 06, 2003

Religious persecution, Romanian style

Posted by TMLutas

This is a rough translation of the vital parts of a press release from a national Romanian Byzantine Catholic organization.

They can be reached here

Asociatia Generala a Romanilor Uniti
Greco-Catolici AGRU Bucuresti
Str. Bogdan Voda Nr.6 S1. Bucuresti
Tel/fax.(021) 224 82 73

Certez, Romania - Byzantine Catholics, who prior to the communist regime's illegalization of the Church used to comprise the entire population of the town, have become victims of a campaign of local government harassment and terror by masked hoodlums as they try to recover from decades of persecution.

Rather than go through a long court battle to recover their own confiscated church, the local byzantine catholics decided to just build a new one in order not to cause controversy. This idealistic attempt to keep the peace has turned out to be quite naive. After an involved court battle the appeals court finally decided (1347/R/2002) in favor of the local byzantine catholics. This decision should have closed the matter as it is irrevocable and final but that was only the start of the story.

Decision in hand, the local byzantine catholics applied to have the county emit a land title. The county prefect (the highest executive official in the county) refuses to permit it in blatant disregard of the law and the courts.

The byzantine catholics, having already purchased construction materials, decided to push forward. The next response was more sinister. Masked men kidnapped Fr. Romulus Pop and two of his curators, Vasile Ciorba and Vasile Fedorca, drove them more than 60km away to a meeting with the county police commandant who berated and threatened them (including death threats) if they went forward with church construction.

---end translation---

Romania's the land of my birth. It's one that I love very much. It is trying to become a modern, free society but obviously not everybody's with the program. In a free society that has a rule of law, officials that refuse to carry out judicial decisions end up with troops at their door and in jail themselves if they don't give it up.

For foreigners looking to invest in Romania, byzantine catholics are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If they can't get fair treatment in a jurisdiction, it is unlikely that foreigners will either. It's a sad commentary on Ion Illiescu's 3rd term as head of the country that local officials are still able to violate the law with impunity.

August 05, 2003

Top down ME reform doesn't work

Posted by TMLutas

Little Green Footballs picked up an interesting story about Parliament rejecting honor killing reform in Jordan. Too bad they didn't get the lesson right.

The theology that supports the idea that it's OK to kill your daughter or sister for 'shaming' the family by dating a christian is very brittle. If you have a top down, liberal head of state parachuted into such a regime, any reforms he pushes will be rejected because if he pushes hard enough to win, he breaks the system that he's perched precariously on top of and is lost.

The brittle Islamists have to be broken, have to be discredited and shown to be bad muslims, because their errors are not only an affront to God, but they are the bedrock upon which most of the evil that bubbles out of the Middle East.

This time it was a defense of the principle that it's ok to kill family if you're embarrassed and the offender is female. Another time it's ok to kill innocents by flying a plane into their place of work. Some day they will justify setting off a WMD because, well, they're turning Islam into a death cult.

How much of the rest of Islam will survive that breaking is the great unknown. This would be so much neater if they'd get their act together and manage it themselves...

Thanks, I needed that

Posted by TMLutas

One Hand Clapping has a great ending to its series on God, pain, and suffering. I have to say, I found it personally timely and very useful. A very good read doesn't begin to cover it.

Culture wars

Posted by TMLutas

Michael William's post commenting on Steven Den Beste's thoughts on anti-US xenophobia that passes for concerns about cultural purity. Michael William's belief is that at some point, the world will become homogenous, and thus stagnant.

I don't think that's likely. What's more likely is that cultural separation will no longer be geographically derived but created by information overload. I live in the US but have never gotten further West than Minnesota. Passing over a few short Disney visits, I haven't gotten south of Virginia. The weekend after next will be my first experience of Texas. In short, I've lived decades without experiencing a great deal of my own country, the United States. Even in a world without boundaries with instant communication, a planet populated by 6 billion people produces more culture than can be absorbed by any one person. Thus we all will have to create our cultural allegiances and in doing so, will eliminate the homogenous, stagnant future that Mr. Williams predicts.

That isn't to say that culture is likely to remain nationally oriented. It's not. Just as 'our ancestors, the Gauls' came out of the lips of countless algerians who had no blood relationship to the gallic tribes conquered by Rome, varying circumstances and differing interests will create cultural allegiances that transcend history and geography.

In this new cultural landscape, blood and soil will become of marginal interest to many. Perhaps this is the true reason for all this anti-american xenophobia? People see their blood and soil cultures being subsumed into this new type of culture that does not depend on blood and only lightly depends on soil. They have different degrees of ability to handle regular cultural cross-pollination but what's coming is something different and they view it as a cancer that upsets the natural order.

August 04, 2003

Happy news about the muslims

Posted by TMLutas

I highly recommend this group, Minarets of Freedom, as representative of a muslim organization that is head and shoulders above its islamic competitors. By that, I mean that they repair many of the obvious defects of modern Islam as it is practiced by most muslim ruled nations and could lead to an Islam that would actually give christianity a run for its money.

Their small size, unfortunately, militates against their becoming carriers of a majority viewpoint anytime soon but liberal muslims like this are the most likely parties left standing in the event of the shattering of more rigid Islam. Original thought (ijtihad) will be at a premium over blind obedience (taqlid) that is much more prevalent in the more problematic sections of the muslim world.

SDB goes downhill on gay marriage

Posted by TMLutas

Gay marriage can be examined on the procedural plane or on the substantive issues. SDB did both in his original article on Saturday but in the commentary is backing away and claiming that all this talk about how public licensure of gay marriage is about gay love was all just really about the inappropriateness of using a Constitutional Amendment to manage this issue.


While he still hasn't mentioned the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA), SDB's sticking to procedure analysis and that leaves things somewhat sterile because the push for an amendment can only be properly seen as a backstop in case DoMA fails under judicial review.

It's legitimately difficult to separate the procedural stuff from the substantive. SDB talks about the right to scandalize the neighbors. That's fine as far as it goes but it's a substantive argument, not a procedural one. And the question of gay marriage isn't about scandalizing the neighbors. They're already thoroughly scandalized, or not as the case may be.

What gay marriage creates is a situation where the neighbors pay for the scandalizing behavior in higher taxes and social costs of extending certain legal privileges reserved to the married. State support of marriage costs money.

Certain forms of marriage provide certain secular societal benefits and society has determined that these benefits deserve monetary support and legal privilege. So far, so good as far as conventional constitutional law. Certain other forms of marriage have been determined to be unworthy of support, such as polygamy. Homosexual marriage never even passed the laugh test.

What the courts are considering is the idea that as a matter of equal protection, other forms of marriage can be forced onto the state supported list without actually having to prove that they provide the same or superior societal benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage.

This is an outrageous expansion of government power. It is also fundamentally dangerous to social stability in a society that uses the judicial precedent system. You can bet that the polygamists will be one step ahead of the child brides in pressing for their types of marriage to be recognized and without the test of support in exchange for societal benefits, how can they be turned away, their equal protection claims unheeded?

In such a situation, a constitutional amendment is the only alternative left to an unconstitutional power grab. Like the original Bill of Rights, it is a pointed reminder to the power elite, saying "and we mean it".

I'm sure that everybody arguing for this amendment would much rather everybody else see sense and not make the amendment necessary. That's not likely to happen initially. The more the amendment effort is treated seriously, the higher the probability that cooler heads will prevail and the amendment will become unnecessary.

This is not an abuse of the amendment process but how the amendment process works in most cases. The political system adjusts in the face of an amendment and does its best to gut it by putting the amendment's goals into legislation. At that point, support ebbs away and the amendment no longer is needed.

August 03, 2003

SDB's gay marriage errors

Posted by TMLutas

On most issues I agree with Steven Den Beste but I have to part company with him on gay marriage both on substantive issues and on his coverage of the procedural mechanics.

First the procedural quibbles. You can't really talk about the mechanics of amendment versus legislation versus judicial decision without laying the legal foundation of what's going on now. SDB completely misses out on the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) in 1996. He never fully lays out the constitutional issues which chiefly are contained in Article IV Section I of the US Constitution. He also never examines the possibility of congressional supremacy being invoked via Article III Section II Paragraph 2 except to quickly state that legislation should be subject to judicial review. In cases where the judiciary is suffering an overwhelming temptation to act as a legislature such as this, judicial review certainly should not be a sacred cow.

In detail, Article IV Section I lays out the general principle that various state acts shall be honored by other states and that Congress can regulate how this happens in general terms. If, as expected, either or both New Jersey and Massachusetts courts declare that marriage cannot be limited to a heterosexual union of two people then homosexuals will immediately rush to get married in a 'gay marriage state' and go back home and attempt to exercise marital privilege in their state of residence. This will land their case immediately in Federal Court as the marriage license issuing state will claim that the other state must recognize their license as per Article IV Section I and the non-recognizing state plus the Bush Administration will argue that DoMA is a legitimate regulation under the same article and that the marriage does not need to be recognized.

It's a pretty sad statement that a significant chunk of the religious right has lost so much faith in the courts that they believe that there's no use in waiting for the courts to rule and we should go straight to amendment. A significant chunk of the social conservatives are somewhat alienated and that bears watching at least as much as those alienated protesters going on about supporting the troops when they shoot their officers.

But moving on to the substantive issues of gay marriage, more problems arise. We're delving so deep into our collective cultural unconsciousness that a lot of this stuff is very unexamined. Like the 3rd amendment, there just hasn't been a lot of recent thought put into this stuff from the pro-heterosexual marriage, couples only side because it's been bedrock doctrine for a long, long time and nobody was dumb enough to attack it.

The first problem on substantive grounds with SDB's article is his sloppy use of language. Marriage is both a state and a private institution. If some church wants to create a private marriage, nobody is talking about stopping them and there is the proper sphere for solemnizing emotional bonds and all the other happy stuff that marriage is. The problem that is being addressed is state marriage which is something else entirely.

State marriage consists of a license, often some health tests, a specific set of legal rights and privileges that carry legal and tax consequences. All these things cost money and they have to be justified by proper secular purposes otherwise the expenditures are illegitimate.

Now one thing state marriage is not is a way to demonstrate love. That's just not the business of the government and expending tax dollars, even to issue the license, much less give marriage participants monetary benefits is simply not anywhere in the US Constitution.

SDB seems to think it is as he goes on at length about the need for marriage to support homosexual partners emotional bonds to each other without ever explaining why, other than making people happy, there is a reason to do it. This is sloppy thinking at best and really a cheap appeal to sentimentality.

To get married as a private understanding, in accord with the 9th and 10th amendments, is a private act. The federal government has no place in that. But such acts not only have no place being prohibited, they also have no place being supported by government provided monetary benefit or legal status benefit greater than any normal power of attorney documents might provide without upsetting bedrock arrangements that have been around for many, many years, predating the creation of this country.

Thus we have some base ground that hasn't been examined yet, what are the secular benefits of marriage that justify taxing the unmarried at higher than otherwise rates and adjusting various people's rights for the protection of this public institution called marriage?

SDB only touches on one, provision for the care of children. But is it necessary to make an exception to the general standards of trials, for instance, in order for children to be protected? Spouses are generally legally privileged with regard to testifying about crimes committed by their partner.

Clearly, to properly get anywhere on this topic, you have to list all the secular tasks and responsibilities that conventional heterosexual marriage has in current society, see if homosexual marriage would meet them, and then justify the public expenditure.

But homosexual marriage advocates aren't doing this and that includes SDB. Instead, he talks about "If Joe and John have such a relationship, this doesn't significantly impact the life of Harriet down the street except to the extent that the knowledge of it gnaws at her because she thinks it's icky (or a mortal sin)."

This is a fantasy world. Harriet's taxes would be higher in a gay marriage world, and if Joe knows about a crime that John committed Joe can no longer be forced to testify against John. This imposes a real social cost on Harriet and Harriet is right to be miffed when John and Joe haven't even bothered to make the case why they should be given these and other special privileges of marriage. There is a wonderful case for romantic love but that has nothing to do with the license office and the blood test.

Marriage is not just a social club that happens to carry formal legal sanction. It civilizes and calms male aggression (which is why polygamy is illegal) and provides a stabilizing force on society in general even apart from its very necessary role in the raising of children. Men and women are complementary and for the state to encourage pairings between them creates a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (one way to look at marriage is as a specialized form of corporation). This increase in societal efficiency is a legitimate public aim and is a part of the reason why marriages are supported by expenditures from the public purse.

How do homosexual unions fare regarding a reduction in aggression? Lesbian couples will certainly increase the number of young, single men. Gay male unions don't have any data out about their effects in this area as far as I know. Frankly, I'm not too hopeful on their domesticity effects but I'm enough of a non-expert that I'd be willing to be persuaded.

How are homosexual unions with regard to partner complementariness? Again, no data available. This is the sort of thing that is much more suitable for a legislature to worry over. But gay marriage, when it comes to the US, is likely to come by a judicial back door, much as it has in Canada. It shouldn't.

The judgment needed on marriage rightfully belongs to the legislature because at heart, public marriage is not a civil rights measure but an economic arrangement that provides social goods in exchange for public expenditures to support the institution. Expanding the marriage privilege to new classes is likely to make very bad law and a nationwide uproar if it is not approached with this clearly in mind.

Finally, there are all sorts of religious reasons why tinkering with marriage is a bad idea. Most of them are right too but it is perfectly possible to make a consistent case for heterosexual couple marriage exclusivity without having to resort to any of them.

August 02, 2003

Wanted: How to defect from the Axis of Evil

Posted by TMLutas

the image of those poor Iraqi soldiers creeping across the border and trying to surrender pre-invasion, only to be sent back with a "it's not time for that yet" message from our side has stayed in the back of my head. How embarrassing for those Iraqis, dangerous to boot if their superiors caught them. But this is a problem of poor information flow and who can you blame for that? Certainly not the Iraqi military.

It seems to me that it would be useful to plan ahead and generate general guidelines for release at this time as well as specific guidelines for our most pressing problem, North Korea.

There would be multiple benefits to this.

1. It would be an inexpensive way for those of us outside NK to engage in pro-freedom solidarity
2. It would drive the NK elite batty
3. The instructions would get around, in surprising ways, and in surprising places.
4. The preparation of the guidelines would create an opportunity to explore why we need them on favorable intellectual terrain to pro-freedom advocates.

The down side would likely be an increase in North Korean threats and propaganda. But they've already turned the dial up to 11 so it's a real question if there even is a 12 level to crank their rhetoric to.

August 01, 2003

Rooting out lies

Posted by TMLutas

Delusion is poison in the modern world. The modern world thrives on truth telling, honesty, and adjusting for past acts. Usually, the West is more willing than most to look honestly at. One major shoe in the punch bowl is the West's differential tolerance for communism over nazism when by all objective measures, communism was the bloodier, more morally corrosive, and more dangerous of the two.

But in the east, they are closer to the stink and seem to be making more of an effort to get at the truth. When will we?

What's really needed is a mirror image to denazification but this time with communism as a focus. Does anybody have the courage to take an honest look at our society and see how many of us have been complicit in a great evil?

A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.

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