October 31, 2003
Voting to Kill Canadians
Drug companies, in the normal course of events would recover R&D costs from their entire customer base. Socialized medicine has created giant purchasers in many countries who demand that only others should pay for the full cost of R&D and that they should get drugs at a price between the market price and the simple manufacturing cost of the pills (a much lower number). This kind of pressure works if you're the only one doing it and it makes those who don't take this road suckers who not only pay their fair share of R&D costs but the free rider countries' share as well.
One of the problems of nation based pricing is that if you could buy pills in bulk at the lower price and transfer them to a higher priced country, you could make a pretty penny by this act of arbitrage. Essentially, if the market price for a drug is X, the government pressured/mandated price is Y and the transactio cost of the arbitrage is Z, cross border shipments of drugs to the market priced country will happen as long as Y + Z < X. This formala is true for a wide variety of drugs.
To escape this profit eviscerating feature of capitalism, drug companies have started to only ship enough drugs to meet local demand and hope that trade barriers and distance (components of Z) will keep the cross-border leakage to a minimum.
In the case of US/Canada, this strategy is about to get ugly. NAFTA would keep Z close to $0 (in fact, that's the entire point of NAFTA) but historically reimportation has been bureaucratically blocked by the FDA. With drug reimportation on the verge of legalization in the US and pharmaceutical firms unwilling to ship Canada more medicine than it, itself will consume, US Congressmen voting in favor of US drug importation are voting in favor of Canadian drug shortages and ultimately, suffering and dead Canadians. But then again, their Canadian counterparts signed up for the same agenda years ago when they instituted the current pricing system.
For Canada, the upcoming drug reimportation regime could (and likely will) be viewed as an unfriendly act and depending on when the shortages start showing up, could soon take its place as another political sore spot in the US/Canada relationship. The only question is how will this be resolved? In a reimportation regime, Y + Z has to equal X otherwise the shortage producing arbitrage will take place. Either NAFTA will budge or Canadian health care pricing regimes will. There really is no other solution.
It's a real pity that so many will have to suffer and die to find out which will happen. I hate slow motion train wrecks, especially when they have a real human cost.
October 30, 2003
Steven Den Beste has a remarkable mind but sometimes he goofs. His recent article on space elevators is one such instance.
First of all, kevlar just doesn't cut it as a space elevator material and hasn't been seriously considered in years, ever since carbon nanotubes were discovered in the early 90s and their superior theoretical strength properties were documented. This establishes little except that SDB hasn't recently done a literature search. No biggie in itself but this means he's likely been unaware that Los Alamos recently sponsored a conference on space elevators along with the Institute for Scientific Research (in fact, it's the 2nd annual one).
He also probably could profit by looking up the liftport group who are raising funds and conducting research to create a space elevator over the next two decades. The Liftport FAQ discusses the problem of sideways movement in the cable during its week long lift time. The answer, in general terms, is to fire a horizontal rocket when appropriate. From the FAQ marked frequent misconceptions
When an elevator ascends the ribbon, it must be accelerated eastward because the Earth's rotation represents a larger eastward velocity the higher you go. The required eastward force on the ascending elevator would have to be provided by a corresponding westward force on the ribbon, possibly requiring rockets at intervals along the cable. If you go through the math quantitatively, the angular momentum for the climbers requires a few newtons of force over the one-week travel time, and we do that easily with our many tons of material in the anchor and the counterweight. The additional angular momentum will eventually be recovered from that of the entire Earth. The quantities really are tiny, but just to be complete, a climber going up pushes the entire elevator slightly to the east, causing it to lean. However, the ribbon recovers for the same reason that it stays up in the first place. Centripetal acceleration is acting on the counterweight pulling it outward, and the lost angular momentum is replaced very quickly (essentially as fast as it is lost). The ribbon will never loose enough angular momentum to even deflect a single degree, let alone fall. The extra angular momentum is stolen from the Earth's rotation; we will have to worry about this effect slowing down the Earth and making the day longer if we ever decide to ship Australia into space.
I look forward to hearing further posts from SDB on the space elevator. Hopefully, they'll be better documented.
Does Thomas Friedman Realize He Might Be Supporting Boykin?
Thomas Friedman's most recent column contains this eye opening sentence:
Because the message from these terrorists is: "There are no limits. We have created our own moral universe, where anything we do against Americans or Iraqis who cooperate with them is O.K."
Of course, muslims don't create their own moral universe. Neither do christians or jews. All three faiths are revealed wisdom from on high. God sets their moral compass and though they fight, kick, and scratch each others eyes out, they worship the same God.
So, where's the support for Boykin? After all Friedman later complains that President Bush hasn't fired the man in the very same column. It stems from this. One of the most controversial of Boykins' statements was about a confrontation with a warlord who claimed that Allah would protect him. "My God was bigger than his god" was Boykin's reply and he hunted that warlord down.
If that warlord were a muslim, this is a twofold insult, first that Allah does not protect his warriors and second there is a God higher than Allah. But if the warlord is, like the bomber of the ICRC in Baghdad, someone who has created their "own moral universe" then there is no insult to Islam because the man being discussed was, at best, a lying hypocrite, an apostate muslim who merits death according to sharia law. Claiming that the God of Abraham is a higher god than an apostate's deity is no insult to Islam.
Muslims for Boykin?
The headline for the story is Iraqis condemn suicide attacks, blame foreigners. It could just as easily read "Iraqis condemn suicide attacks, blame apostates".
“The people who did this are not Iraqis they are from other countries,” said Najah Shamon, a luggage vendor. “The people making these attacks are not Muslims. If they were, they wouldn’t attack during Ramadan. I accuse Al-Qaeda,” he added.
Maybe the idea that islamists are just idol worshippers aping a monotheism that has its roots in Abraham's faith has more appeal than in orthodox evangelical christian circles.
Let the Judges Defend Themselves
Like most consensual political systems, the US has a lot of internal rules that operate by unwritten agreement. There is no formal obligation to do a great many things. These rules often arise from the fact that peaceful though we all are, we all hold potential daggers to each others throats. We all have the power to make things thoroughly unpleasant for a great many other people.
The Senate runs very much by these unwritten codes and one of the less obvious exchanges is the idea that judicial nominees will keep their mouths shut in exchange for Senators acting as something of a nonpartisan employee search committee ratifying the administration's choice unless there is some objective defect in the judge which would make him bad for the country. In formal language, this is called advise and consent. Oh well, so much for that.
In the ever increasing bad faith of the judicial nominating process, one of the daggers that has not been drawn is the increasingly ridiculous restriction on the free speech of the nominees. In the two years that Miguel Estrada was pummeled by liberal Senators and liberal interest groups, he was not permitted to defend himself other than by answering direct questions put to him by Senators. In a system that at least maintains a pretense of fairness, this is a reasonable restriction. Judges normally should be seen as dispassionate arbiters. But there is a line past which it is not only personally cruel but downright injurious to the health of the Republic for the best defender of a nominee's record, the nominee himself, to be barred from responding to scurrilous charges that he's not black enough, not hispanic enough, or is otherwise unacceptable to the US mainstream even when he wrote or voted with the majority on a particular case.
There is all sorts of talk about a 'nuclear option' to change the rules of the Senate and kill the judicial filibuster. Before going nuclear on the Senate's rules, might it not serve the process better to try free speech?
Dying For The Cameras
There is something of a roll call of shame for the US that Osama Bin Laden likes to roll out in his messages. Lebanon, where we had troops, were bombed, and withdrew, Somalia, where one nasty incident caused us to turn tail and run, and on and on. If we are to win the war on terrorism, this is a legacy that has to be overcome. It won't be easy. One of the reasons that staying the course in Iraq is so important is that the US needs to provide real proof that it can exercise its considerable power and stay the course until the job is done.
There is another legacy that's out there, the legacy of Tet. Militarily, everyone understands that Tet was a disaster for the N. Vietnamese side. It decimated the Viet Cong's strength and they never quite recovered from it militarily. But the chaos raised during Tet was sufficient that it spooked the media into turning against the war and that psychological consequence turned a military defeat into a strategic victory. Every weak power that confronts the US since then tries to replicate the feat.
On the ground, this translates to killing lots of people in as spectacular and showy a way possible to try to impress the press. The bombing of the ICRC in Baghdad is a case in point. The US military isn't going to be impressed by it. The Iraqi people certainly will resent it. But the press is talking quagmire again so this is a net win for the Baathists.
Essentially, the press is being played for a fool, and not for the first time. The Palestinians have been doing this for years. It's gotten to the point where rock throwers won't start until the press arrives and won't continue after the press leaves. So does the media share culpability if a rock that wouldn't have been thrown without their presence injures someone?
In Iraq, nobody seems to have come up with a scenario for Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden to win militarily. All their victory plans depend on the western press covering them and convincing the american people to pull out. In essence, they're writing press releases in the blood of their victims.
But it would not be hard to counter this trend. If the press, for their own reasons and in their own way, devised a strategy that denied militarily doomed movements the forward momentum they desperately need. If the strategy were explicitly analyzed. If it was made clear that these were the tactics of desperation and that without us helping the bad guys, they just can't win, at that point the cost of mounting such operations would start to exceed their utility.
The media isn't filled with idiots. They've got to know that these movements do this stuff on purpose in an attempt to recreate past US humiliations. So why does it seem that all the mainstream outlets think more seriously how they can maintain editorial independence from their advertisers than independence from terrorist manipulation?
October 28, 2003
Humiliation Solved: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
Steven Vincent has a guest comment on National Review Online in which he covers the subject of Iraqi humiliation. It seems that resentment is seriously breaking out in Iraq. From the article:
To offer one example: At a small social gathering in Baghdad recently, a woman expressed great excitement over the freedom in her life occasioned by the fall of Saddam. In the same breath, however, she added, "but I hate the occupation of my country so much I fantasize about shooting a U.S. soldier." When I suggested a link between U.S. soldiers and Saddam's demise, she replied, "I know that — and you can't imagine how it humiliates me."
But the solution is easy, if unexamined. People say that a fish doesn't generally notice the water he swims in, it's just there, unexamined. The hard work of creating the US is eclipsed by the harder work of maintaining and increasing its perfection. Dr. Franklin said it best when asked what sort of government the founding fathers had given the US "A republic, if you can keep it" was his reply. Founding the US was one generation's pride. Keeping it is every generation's.
One thing should be noted. Franklin's famous comment came after the 2nd government's founding. The US had a little talked about first run that was, all in all, not working. The Articles of Confederation simply didn't work and six years after the 1783 Treaty of Paris formalized US independence, were scrapped and replaced by the US Constitution. Iraqis can do one better than the US merely by getting their first post-Saddam Constitution right enough that it can be adjusted by amendment, not by scrapping it and starting fresh less than a decade later.
Will Iraqi legislators pummel each other in their new parliament? It happens in Taiwan today. In the first generation post independence, it was so common in the US that there were specific pugilistic rules drawn up to regulate the practice.
Iraq's founding document will likely not have some of the major flaws that the US Constitution had at start. There will be no 3/5ths of people, no slavery, no indentured servitude.
There is plenty of opportunity for Iraq to surpass the US' achievements in freedom and self government but one thing that they might not understand that is vital. Every generation has the opportunity to sell its freedom for a mess of pottage. It is every generation's pride that they refuse to do so.
Nothing the United States of America can do will keep Iraqis free if they choose not to be. A people can always, can always sell their liberty. It is inevitable that outsiders are impotent in this sort of transaction. If they choose to live in freedom, they have the chance to become a beacon of light for all arabs, showing what free arabs can do. That would be a worthy addition to the story of the heirs of Mesopotamia.
And it is something absolutely, utterly impossible for the US to accomplish.
Debka and the next 55
DebkaFile is a controversial site that is a heady mix of very accurate and very inaccurate stories. They're worth reading but always with a generous side of salt.
This article points to one of Saddam's moves, the creation of a parallel governing structure complete with regional governors. none of these people seem to be on the original list of most wanted Iraqis so, if the story is accurate, Saddam's reaching pretty deep into his remaining bench strength. But who's on the bench and wouldn't it be useful to create a new list with the new Baathist elite?
October 25, 2003
Libertarian Idiots: The Case of Innocent Trespass
I'm a libertarian. A minarchist, more specifically. If we can further social goals by privatizing, I'm for it. If it's even a close call, we should do it anyway on principle because the long run evidence favors private action over government in most things and the evidence just keeps piling up. But some libertarians are idiots. Here's one that should have stayed in bed rather than intellectually expose himself in this way.
The argument is that partial birth abortion is simply a wedge issue to embarass the pro-choice faction. This is remarkably ignorant of the issues and a real shame for Reason magazine to publish such a weakly thought through article.
The real mother lode of idiotarianism follows
It's not surprising that 64 senators, including many who consider themselves "pro-choice" on abortion, decided this procedure was indefensible. But is a D&X really more objectionable than the much more common "dilation and evacuation" (D&E) method, in which the fetus is dismembered inside the uterus and removed piece by piece?
No, the difference is that the baby is viable. There is a true option here to deliver the baby live. In fact sometimes this happens by accident. The doctor slips and oops, you have a constitutionally protected person. Sorry charlie, you can't kill the kid now. Infanticide's still illegal.
But if abortion is acceptable because the child creates an unreasonable burden for the mother that can't be removed from her body, this justification is completely absent in the case of partial birth abortion. The idea may be that a woman owns her own body but the child is, at most, an innocent trespasser. Choosing death when not strictly necessary to remove the baby would be as if an innocent trespasser would be shot dead with one foot off the property as he was leaving. A partial birth abortion is only done in late pregnancy when the baby is viable and could be removed live. The conscious choice is death instead of removal and adoption (and yes, there are people who would take the kid, go call the Catholics if you're in doubt).
The death penalty is a harsh judgment that should legitimately be reserved for serious crimes. Defense of property, even in the most pure of libertarian states, does not excuse taking a life in the case of trespass as the trespasser is leaving. It goes double when you know that the trespasser simply innocently crossed the lines. Choice is a difficult issue for even the pro-lifers, especially those who believe in liberty. But the choice to take a life shouldn't be easy, and it shouldn't be the preferrential choice when you can remove without death. You don't have to be either religious or a statist to restrict that.
October 23, 2003
Everybody has their holdouts
Steven Den Beste slightly dings Canada for being the lone holdout from the anglosphere. Currently in Iraq or in at time of combat are 4 of 5 members. Let me say a few words for Europe's Latins. 5 of 6 are also in Iraq (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Romania, and Moldova), the lone holdout being France. Well every linguistic grouping has their black sheep.
Now put that down Bruce!
Porphyrogenitus comments that this reflects on the Democrat presidential candidates. Could this sort of line be held in reserve come next summer and fall? We'll see.
In any case, the French are in a similar position to the Democrats. The visible media are trumpeting their position so loudly that they're making some errors in assessing support. They're guilty of believing their own press briefings. I wonder which of the two will wake up first.
October 21, 2003
Going to Israel? Plan Your Funeral
David Bernstein has sobering account of the state of jewish funerals in Israel. Since jewish tradition requires quick burial, there's naturally a greater reliance on standard forms organized ahead of time because the family simply doesn't have the time that other traditions would have. Unfortunately, the standard form in Israel leaves a lot to be desired.
There is an easy cure for this, working out alternative forms that are more acceptable to other traditions and, hopefully, more faithful to judaism's spirit and promulgating them so that the funeral is no longer such a government mandated mess.
Andrew Sullivan Conveniently Forgets Some Gay Catholics
Andrew Sullivan has an emotional piece on the state of his soul and his inability to continue forward with his participation in the Catholic faith. Having gone through some spiritual crises of my own over the years, I can sympathize and my heart goes out to him on that count.
What I can't pass over is his glib falsehood that the Pope would not meet with homosexuals, that he would rather talk to terrorists or international thugs and butchers. This is simply not true. In fact there is a Vatican recognized group called Courage for Andrew Sullivan if he would be willing to join them. He obviously is not at the present time.
The people in this group have the same feelings, the same urges as Andrew Sullivan but have decided to be faithful to Catholic teaching to the best of their ability. When the Church makes a place for you but you wish to remain in stubborn opposition to It then it should be no surprise that you don't get a lot of papal invites.
October 17, 2003
A Letter to Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell's recent column The War Against Success is largely spot on but he makes the mistake of including Microsoft in his list of persecuted entities who are undeservedly pursued. He's wrong to do so. Microsoft is an odd case because it is both villain and victim simultaneously. The anti-trust case is a travesty of justice but Microsoft is a bad actor who violated criminal laws to get to where they are, most conspicuously criminal conspiracy and fraud statutes.
Below is the letter I sent to Thomas Sowell:
Microsoft, aside from being a successful corporation that provides a great deal of useful software and some hardware to the world is also a company with a history of illegal dealings that nobody should support.
Unfortunately, all too many people find it very difficult to separate Microsoft's dual role as the unjustly persecuted black hat. It's a sad testament to the West's flagging commitment to justice for all that the too simplistic assignment of Microsoft to the category of all guilty or all innocent is so common.
October 14, 2003
For somebody who is supposed to be a serious thinker, I have to say my first exposure to Prof. Judt is a great disappointment. First of all, the idea that we have all 'moved on' from nationalism and nation states is so elitist, racist, and ignorant of the world's complexity that it is breathtaking. Among others, the arabs certainly have not moved on from the idea of unequal rights and discriminatory treatment but they and everybody else not in the right cocktail party circuit don't count in Prof. Judt's estimation.
And if we, as a world community, have 'moved on', then the founding ideas of all these states born to satisfy the national aspirations of the peoples of Europe has been delegitimized. Why is there a Romania, a Bulgaria or all the rest of the post WW I states? What continuing justification do they have for existing, or are they too an anachronism, to be folded into some multi-ethnic state at whim?
Certainly, the prospect of Catholic Croatia, Orthodox Serbia, and all the rest of the national progeny of Yugoslavia are even more illegitimate than Israel as they are even more subject to the label 'too late' having been birthed not after WW I or even after WW II but after the Cold War (sometimes called WW III). But how are these other 'out of fashion' nations to be cobbled back together into some higher form of government? There is nothing to learn on the subject in this essay. Such standards, if they are to be applied to Israelis should certainly be applied even handedly to other peoples in like situations. For a professor of European Studies at NYU to not even think of the implications of his theories on his main area of study is, astounding.
Not only is the essay completely detached from arab reality (but not only from arab reality) it is also unimaginative. "The situation of Israel is not desperate, but it may be close to hopeless. Suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state, and the Palestinians have no other weapons." You might as well tell Ghandi he had no other weapon than violence, Martin Luther King that only a death cult would serve his people's aspirations.
Clearly, history has proven that other methods are available to the arabs. Thus, they not only do not exist among the people who count but, poor little brown muslims, they are too savage to be capable of rising to the level of a Ghandi or King. I think it's not too hard to think up some alternatives that could work, even at this stage.
Later we see this gem. "Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess genuine and lethal weapons of mass destruction. By turning a blind eye, the US has effectively scuttled its own increasingly frantic efforts to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of other small and potentially belligerent states. "
Let's see, the secret nuclear program everybody believes Israel has but Israel will not admit to has set up a basic position where Israel is conventionally unassailable. If Israel loses a conventional war, it is widely assumed that Israel will nuke every hostile capital in the arab world and then some. This has kept conventional war plans off the arab agenda for three decades now. But let us say the US follows Prof. Judt's advice and prods Israel to change its nuclear posture. Israel, not being a signer of the NPT is not violating any treaty by its actions. Israel would either disarm and sign the NPT, making conventional invasion a practical option for its neighbors or it would declare itself a nuclear power and sign under those terms, making it politically impossible for any arab government to remain in the NPT as a non-nuclear state. So which disaster would be Prof. Judt's preference. Probably the former, but it is the latter that is far more likely. Forcing Israel to publicly shame the arabs by pointing out that the jews have the bomb and they don't is possibly one of the dumber ideas that periodically rises up with regard to solving the dangerous instability of the Middle East.
We get into the territory of disingenuousness with the following comment "It is now tacitly conceded by those in a position to know that America's reasons for going to war in Iraq were not necessarily those advertised at the time." The footnote to this statement reads as follows "See the interview with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the July 2003 issue of Vanity Fair."
The problem is that this article has long been debunked. The characterization of the interview doesn't match what the transcript shows. This was a transcript that was taken by DoD at the time of the interview and shown to the author before publication of the Vanity Fair article.
A short while later, more mischaracterization "We are now making belligerent noises toward Syria because Israeli intelligence has assured us that Iraqi weapons have been moved there—a claim for which there is no corroborating evidence from any other source. " Perhaps we are making belligerent noises because of some of Syria's own belligerent noises. Combatants are crossing the border from Syria to Iraq and trying to kill US troops and Syrian banks seem to be holding up to $3B of Saddam's illegally siphoned funds and refusing to turn them over to help fund the rebuilding of Iraq. A country that facilitates putting US troops in coffins and continuing to serve as Saddam's piggy bank is committing hostile acts. Should the US do nothing, it would merely confuse our adversaries and hearten them. We have no need to encourage people to think we are weak and that Iraq was just an aberration.
"Rather than think straight about the Middle East, American politicians and pundits slander our European allies when they dissent, speak glibly and irresponsibly of resurgent anti-Semitism when Israel is criticized, and censoriously rebuke any public figure at home who tries to break from the consensus." And this rebuttal no doubt will be called libel and slander rather than have its arguments seriously addressed.
The truth is that dissent is different than ankle biting; constructive criticism is different than attempting to bring down the hyper power. Thinking straight about the Middle East requires a realistic understanding of arab as well as jewish intransigence and pigheadedness.
The only way that arabs will get back all those lands that jewish settlers have taken is to create a polity where they truly do move on and stop killing people who sell jews land, create a minorities policy that will give jews and christians equal rights to muslims in the new Palestine, and outflank the extremists with kindness, welcoming them to their new homeland. Those settlers who do not scoot right back over the border once they realize their gambit has lost can pay just compensation for land taken without payment and then a multi-religious, multi-ethnic Palestine can take its place among the nations. Why this multi-ethnic/multi-religious Palestine has to include Tel Aviv is beyond me. By the same argument, Palestine should include Amman as well. Both cities were part of Britain's mandate of Palestine.
A European political elite who fund a Palestinian Authority that has an active jew free policy for its territory cries out for criticism. It's a very short step from funding a jew free Palestine to a jew free Paris or Berlin. Intellectually, there's no barrier whatsoever. Why is spending money on one illegitimate and on the other, somehow legitimate?
"To find fault with the Jewish state is to think ill of Jews; even to imagine an alternative configuration in the Middle East is to indulge the moral equivalent of genocide." While there are such apologists who indulge in such cheap arguments, the reality is that Israel is the best there is in a bad neighborhood.
I do not like Israel's socialism and it's discriminatory policies against its religious and ethnic minorities. But to alter the configuration in the Middle East is to assume the responsibility that your alterations will take an area with a great number of faults and, on balance, reduce them. Replacing a left-leaning, flawed democratic republic like Israel with the kleptocratic thugs of the Palestinian Authority who can't run an economy beyond clandestine bomb and missile factories and who run a corrupt government without even rudimentary effective fiscal controls is not a step forward.
On the other hand, the situation in Iraq holds some promise. In a few years, if the US succeeds in planting a liberty tree and creating a free and functional Iraq, a successful model of Middle East governance will provide a real alternative to Israel as the best government the Middle East can produce. Sympathy and support for Israel as the lone democracy in the Middle East will drain away and Israel will have to fix its warts or lose US aid and US vetoes in the UN Security Council.
For the medium to long term, Israel is deeply threatened by an Iraqi success and you will find most of the Israel boosters also rooting for Iraqi success as well. This can only be explained by a pragmatic attachment to liberty, not by irrational jew love, contrary to US national interest. We love the jews in Israel for the freedom and democracy they practice as we would love arab democracies if we could find them. Now, perhaps, we will start to find them.
"The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel." It is astonishing how low a level of equal justice and accountability standards exist in the EU. Let's compare and contrast EU government efforts to restrain anti-jewish incidents to US government efforts to restrain anti-muslim incidents. The US has wide experience with the problem of emigrants continuing their ethnic battles in the US. It simply isn't tolerated and never has been. We struggle mightily to keep the peace. The EU deserves to be held to the same standard. By that standard, it is failing miserably. Jews have a great deal more to worry about in Paris than muslims do in New York City.
October 13, 2003
Iraq Al Queda Link?
Dan Darling of Winds of Change writes about Unit 999 of Iraqi Military Intelligence. apparently, it was part of MI's special branch and set up as a "deep penetration" unit organized into 6 battalions based on target. The 1st, 3rd, and 4th battalions are known to have been linked up with Iraqi sponsored terrorist groups. The 5th was aimed at marine operations and the 6th was aimed at penetrating the Iraqi opposition.
So what about the mystery 2nd battalion, called "Saudi Arabia"? It's the only country oriented battalion not to be officially linked to any terrorist groups. The obvious conclusion is that this is the unit that maintained the elusive Iraq/Al Queda relationship. But let's say that's wrong. If it wasn't Al Queda that was being trained by the Saudi Arabia Battalion of Unit 999 then who were they training? Why is the documentation of the other units so clear and this one so murky?
This is a bit of a mystery, but it absolutely should not remain one. If we have an honest press corps, we'll have a lot of very eager teams chasing this one down.
Every once in awhile, I get caught out at how small and ultimately how poor a job I'm doing at promoting liberty and how much despotic evil is out there in the world, mostly uncommented on. Here is a site that is doing a far better job.
Go read it and, if you can, go do something about it.
October 11, 2003
Osama Bin Laden, Heretic?
This article analyzing a 30 minute audiotape of OBL brings up an intriguing notion. If the tape is valid, Osama Bin Laden has declared himself a new Prophet and has radically rearranged Islam to the point where it can't really be seen as the same religion.
Judging the validity of OBL material is difficult at this stage but if it is true, this sets up OBL not as a muslim but as a schismatic heretic, much as the monophysite christians (who heavily influenced Mohammed) were viewed in Mohammed's time.
Given this revelation, it is essential to confirm its truth or falsehood. The problem is that the US is uniquely handicapped by the 1st amendment in wading into an intra-muslim religious war. A state attack on one religion is viewed as the precedent necessary for later attacks on any other religion and such actions are viewed with a great deal of suspicion. If you thought the religious wars of Bosnia were bad, don't even contemplate what would happen if the religious peace protected by the 1st amendment were to ever unwind.
Wanted: Adult Supervision
The US is falling.
No, not the way you think. The US system is predicated on two major parties. The way election law is set up pretty much demands it. But those parties don't stay the same. Sometimes a party gets taken over from the inside like the Goldwater/Reagan/Gingrich takeover of the Republicans or the McGovern takeover of the Democrats.
The problem is that currently both parties are showing signs of old age and internationally, that's dangerous. With the US being the giant of the current international system, a period of US withdrawal, introspection, unpredictability, and relative isolationism is not going to be good.
What is needed right now is for the world to produce some other powers that by themselves, or in coalition, can step up to the plate and take over until the US gets its domestic house in order. Unfortunately, everybody seems to be partially or wholly relying on the US as free riders, whether it is merely in logistics and force specialization assuming that they'll always be complementary or just keeping their general defense outlays at a criminally low level because the US will always be there.
News flash: they're not.
This should not provoke immediate panic because this will not likely be an immediate problem. US revolutions are a funny thing, radical and conservative simultaneously and they take a long time to build. The thing is that one is building and for other countries to be able to take over the burden of leadership of the free world is somewhat like playing the role of a US vice president. But who is that vice-president today?
Britain might be nominated, Australia too, but even together they don't provide the necessary heft to take the burden for a decade, though in a pinch they might slow down Islamist death cult progress enough to fill the gap. It's risky though and pushes the final victory against this pernicious ideology down the road.
What would be best is for the rest of the West, Eastern Europe and Russia to come on board as well at which point you're talking about speeding up current rates of progress until the US domestic political system blows up and maintaining some progress while the US reforms into two new parties that can seriously handle its leadership duties as the foremost world economy.
So far the prospect for that happening is decidedly mixed. Sure, France, Germany, and Russia make noise about creating a multipolar world but it's generally multipolarity achieved by dragging down the US, not by strengthening their own economies and military. In this exercise in ankle biting, France takes first prize with Russia being cast in the unlikely role of a balancer, providing a relative voice of reason to the proceedings.
Will France and Germany get their house in order sufficiently fast in order to be able to build a positive multipolarity of catching up to the US before the US functionally takes itself off the board for its internal political reorganization? I hope so but that's a hope without evidence.
October 10, 2003
Palestinians don't have a state because they kill Israelis especially with suicide bombings. So asserts Israel, and they've got a decent case. But not all palestinians support, or even condone suicide bombings. Most importantly, and easily identifiably, palestinian christians do not tolerate suicide bombing.
So why don't they get a state?
It's a very simple question, but it's got no good answer, as far as I can tell. Why don't the 2% of worldwide Palestinians who are christians and living in the territories get their own state? Why don't the 18% of worldwide palestinians who are christian and have been driven out by the horrible conditions of occupation go back home as Iraqi exiles are doing so today? If suicide bombing and Israeli security is the problem, why wouldn't a christian dominated republic that isn't sending suicide bombers into Israel be a solution? The borders could be flexible, giving palestinian arabs the choice of living under occupation and continuing to blow themselves up or cleaning up their act, driving out the violent, and petitioning for admittance to free Palestine?
I'm just asking.
Is Media Cluelessness on Afghanistan Partially Based on Bad Cartography?
The "national" government in Kabul has never controlled the southern tribes in any sense that Western nations understand it. There have often been understandings between the central government and the tribes, quite similar to treaties between separate nations. The central government understands this, the American military leadership understands this, the US government understands this, but the media, in general, is pretty clueless on this subject. This is a largely self-inflicted wound, as the reality of the situation in Afghanistan does not make for good (that is, exciting and easily sold) stories. But portraying the situation as one of national disintegration and constant rebellion does sell. And that's what gets shipped out of the country by most journalists.
I've never actually seen one but I think that maps that draw territory boundaries of these autonomous/limited central influence zones would be highly educational and not just for Afghanistan. While you can fault the journalists to a great degree, it wouldn't be right to ignore the role of the cartographers. If they aren't drawing politically, economically, and legally relevant lines on their map everybody who's not a local or a specialist will be misled. We all deserve better.
The UNSC is not a principal office of the UN
Sad but true, following this link leads you to an odd sort of official UN map entitled "Principal United Nations Offices Around the World". What's odd about it is that the UN Security Council is not listed on it.
Now, it could be argued that only websites with their own domain name are included (the link to get to the map is titled "world map of UN websites") but that wouldn't be true. Just in the listing for agencies based in NY is an entry for the "Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States" which, exactly like the UNSC is hosted under the un.org domain name. There are other examples on the map but the NY one is egregious.
Somebody "forgot" the Security Council but remembered the much less important High Comissioner. This is just plain bizarre.
Taking up a challenge
First a technical note. It's 2003. Can somebody please tell the UN that gopher is dead.
UNSC resolution 687 (yes, if your browser doesn't support gopher, you're kind of stuck) marks out the basic requirements for Iraqi disarmament.
8. Decides that Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of:
Since there were secret labs under the Iraqi secret police undergoing research and development, it seems like Dr. Rice isn't too far out of bounds to say that Iraq never complied with the disarmament requirements of UNSC 687 (and every other subsequent resolution incorporates the requirements of 687 by reference). Iraq was also in violation of articles 9, 10, and 12 on the face of them and likely other sections as well (it's late and art. 8 is sufficient to prove the point). Now given 1441 announced that this was Saddam's last chance and Iraq's full and final declaration did not include many R&D facilities banned by 687 I think it's pretty fair to say that Saddam didn't comply with 1441.
If the secret labs, the centrifuge parts and plans and all the rest were made available at the time, it would have been hard to maintain the anti-war line successfully. This might have led to another resolution or a wider coalition of the willing. That's alternative history and I'll let it end there.
Personally, I think that the Iraqis have been coached at hiding weapons since at least the mid to late 70s and it was part of Soviet doctrine to do so. The evidence on that point is clear.
I think that Pacepa is, as usual, grandstanding a bit in his public declarations but has grasped the heart of the matter and is sharing with us an important truth. Soviet doctrine, which Iraq was steeped in, called for WMD destruction. They had plenty of time to do it and very good and old friends from the USSR days to oversee the execution of the WMD destruction plan right before the war.
Did Iraq fulfill its obligations under UNSC resolutions? From the text and the interim Kay findings, it's clear that they did not. There has been a great deal of historical revisionism going on with regard to Iraq. It's easy to forget what exactly Iraq was supposed to do in order to be considered disarmed. The actual text of the resolutions is important. Every once in awhile it would do us all a little good to go back and read them.
UPDATE: BruceR responds: Nowhere near good enough, TM, I'm afraid. Leaving aside the fact that a US government that thwarted the will of the UN in going to war, along with its defenders, can hardly cite chapter and verse on UN resolutions now without a couple heaping spoonfuls of hypocrisy, your argument is not on-point here.
I asked the assemblage for any evidence that Iraq had actually pretended to have arms that it did not. There is no doubt Iraq was not in full compliance with the resolutions you state, in any quarter: that was a dead issue before the war, and did not require Kay's investigation to prove. The Iraq argument was that compliance was an onerous burden on a country that, they said officially, had already destroyed all its extant weapons. So why do people now say that Iraq was "bluffing" about their possession of actual weapons? When, exactly was this bluff?
October 09, 2003
Fighting the Culture of Death
A lot of people scratch their heads when the Pope talks about the Culture of Death. Mark Steyn captures it in full flower in an article in the Jerusalem Post.
Hat tip to our own Bruce Rolston and LGF
The problem with such articles, as Charles Johnson demonstrates in his short commentary, is that not everybody is as morally well grounded as the Pope and the visceral horror a normal person feels at the idea of explosively detached heads, pure death glorification, parents celebrating their children's suicide, a complete culture devoted to genocide (if not very competent at it), is shock, horror, and a revulsion that can go too far.
There is something missing here in Charles Johnson's analysis. Palestine is a binary culture, both muslim and christian. The christians aren't suicide bombers. They, like Lot and his family are living in Sodom but they are not partaking of the local sin, the culture of death. It really needs to be remembered and if we are not to be corrupted into our own sin, we have to keep our heads and continue going forward and make the proper distinctions.
The idea that the CA recall will be the birth of a neverending cycle of recalls every six months is a testament to straight line thinking. The recall effort against Davis that ultimately succeeded was not the first. The prior recall failed largely because turnout was high enough to drive the signature requirement out of reach. Part of the assumptions that led to this pernicious meme was that the recall was widely suspected of being even lower turnout than the last regular election which would have left the winner in an even more vulnerable position. This assumption just turned out to be wrong. This hasn't stopped the people from continuing to be frightened by it.
The facts are clear. 7,738,821 votes were cast which means that 928,659 petition signatures were required (12% of the vote total). As of today, the recall election vote totals are 8,363,376 which translates into a new signature requirement of 1,003,606. So voters are going to likely be less angry with the new governor, opponents will have a higher requirement of signatures, and for every 8 1/3 absentee votes that are added to the total vote count, it increases the signature requirements by one vote.
Let every vote count is a principle that I don't see being shouted out very much at this point by Democrat operatives. It's not in their interest.
This brings up an important principle of this new recall world, positive campaigning and driving up total vote totals saves you from future recall. The reality is that negative campaigning in California just got more expensive, much more expensive. It would serve us all well to recognize it.
Getting by Giving
Glen Reynolds writes about the web phenomenon of giving up control to gain power. Immediately, that reminded me of a similar statement made by Newt Gingrich around 1994. Several times in remarks broadcast on C-SPAN he said that the true secret of the Republican revolution that took over the House of Representatives was that they would give up power in order to gain control. The general concept of politically gaining by yielding seems to have a longer US pedigree than we generally remember.
So is it safe to say...
Philip Agee is off the liberal party A list...?
October 07, 2003
The New Jackson
Andrew Sullivan observes that Arnold Schwarzenegger is deeply threatening to a lot of people on both the left and the right because he is culturally different, a new phenomenon. This isn't something new in American politics. Every once in awhile a new cultural wave rolls onto the political scene and the forces of the establishment have always been scandalized. The first figure to represent this kind of turnover was Andrew Jackson. After his inauguration (which his predecessor refused to attend), he invited the 20,000 odd spectators to the White House. The resultant party was so wild, President Jackson had to crawl out of the White House to escape. The disaster did have one lasting effect, the creation of an 'inaugural parade'.
So will Arnold shake up Sacramento the way Jackson shook up the Capitol? We'll all see but nobody should have any illusions that this kind of shift is anything new.
October 06, 2003
The What If I'd Like to Know About
So, there was one vial of botulinum Okra B found in Iraq. Ok, let's ask some questions to get at the truth instead of hyperventilating one one side or another.
1. Is this stuff readily available? Is this the stuff you can commonly find in soil all over the US or something a bit rarer and more deadly? In both cases it should have been declared to the UN inspectors but what are we really dealing with here?
And finally, and most importantly,
5. Why haven't the paid, professional media, especially the science and medicine beat reporters, answered all these questions already.
Maybe I've missed it, but there seems to be a distinct lack of basic reporting going on as to how dangerous that one vial actually is. Alongside all that speculation and the "aha! gotcha!" game, you'd think that they'd devote a reasonable amount of time to outlining what a bunch of guys working as waiters at a food service company could do with the toxin produced by these bacteria if they were in charge of food at a major sports stadium or a large state school system.
Thomas Friedman, Imperialist?
Balloon Juice comments on Thomas Friedman's Sunday column on taxing gasoline. I think John Cole's got the commentary all wrong. Sure, if it were a conventional tax, it would do all the stupid things that are in the article (and especially the comments section, he's a little short in the article). But the problem is, even under liberal orthodox economics, Friedman's column doesn't do what it says it will do. If there would be a tax put equally on all fuel, it would not discourage imports. It would reduce fuel demand by some unknown measure and would reduce the amount of oil pumped at the most expensive wells that are only marginally profitable right now. Depending on where those wells are, the proportion of our oil that is imported could well increase.
So how would a tax on oil discourage imports and reduce OPEC incomes, making "OPEC pay" for reconstruction? If it were applied to OPEC oil before it were exported, the picture changes considerably. OPEC oil becomes less competitive so oil from domestic sources becomes the superior choice, decreasing imports. This would still have negative economic effects but we would be sharing the pain, worldwide and thus for the US would only be shooting ourselves in one foot instead of both of them. Our competitive position would not be damaged nearly as much and vis a vis countries that import even a higher percentage of their oil our competitive position would be improved.
But that leaves out the big question, how would such a scheme happen? You can't expect the oil ministers in OPEC to become US tax collectors. Well, you could if you decided to invade all significant OPEC producers and create the most punitive peace treaty since Versailles. Yes, to actually do what he said it would, the tax would have to turn the US into the biggest expansionary power since the USSR and this is all proposed innocently enough on the pages of our leading liberal paper. Amazing.
Tom Friedman's oil tax, dumber than you think.
Dealing with Biased Faculty
Steven Den Beste writes about an unpleasant experience a long time reader of his observed in a US military classroom. Porphyrogenitus observes that this is a complex problem that's been around for awhile but he doesn't have any solutions. Well, here's something, get help. Accuracy in Academia is an established group that has a good track record in both publicizing and taking further action to correct forced propaganda in the classroom.
I personally was frustrated enough to use their services once. There was no big scandal. Nothing made it into the papers. I just took the AiA newspaper and put a copy on the professor's lectern before class. He walked in, saw the paper, grimaced, and for the rest of the semester he taught that course without the propaganda. This was a band aid approach but it worked for me as I didn't have to hear about how great communism was from him (this was in the late 80s).
I was fully prepared for a big fight. If he had asked who left that paper for him, I would have stepped up and let him know. But he knew he was propagandizing and he knew he was being told to cut it out and just teach the course. If you don't make it a challenge to the authority of the teacher, very often, that's enough.
A Palestinian Thought Experiment
Imagine if the Palestinian Authority had a minority rights policy of granting equal rights to christians and jews. Imagine if they enforced this even handedly starting today. Now what happens to the hard line jewish settlers who are trying to create 'facts on the ground' by building illegal settlements. In a world with a Palestinian Authority committed to equal protection under the law and equal rights, those jews create facts on the ground alright. They become a significant jewish minority in the new Palestine. Furthermore, any land that they've seized has to get paid for at market rates or they're going to get evicted.
Fundamentally, the 'obstacle to peace' that illegal settlements present is only really a problem if jews can't live in peace as a religious minority in the new Palestine. If they could, Israel could leave them on the other side of the border without paying a domestic political price and the US could pressure Israel to do just that.
The objective truth is that the PA would gain a great deal if it were to abandon its ambition of living judenrein in a 'cleansed' Palestine and to create an even handed set of laws and enforced those laws.
"So why don't they do it?" asks the naive outsider. Why would the PA give largely irrational jewish extremists such power over the shape of the new borders of Palestine? A free Palestine would be arab majority and very likely muslim majority (at the very least, it would be muslim plurality). Democracy and elections would be a much better check against jewish unreasonableness than stones and explosives belts.
I'd love to hear your answer.
October 05, 2003
My thoughts don't always run in blog form. Actually, they rarely do. More often, I have an idea, and chew it over from several different angles for a time, refining and revising it until it's one of those gems that I know well, can defend from almost any angle and can use as a support in other discussions without having to worry much about it being successfully debunked.
Unfortunately, Flit doesn't currently offer me the ability to create such essays in the manner I like. So what to do, what to do...
I ended up creating a small space on my .mac account as sort of free reference library. I've got several works in progress there and will be adding more as the mood strikes me. Currently, the most complete one is on our upcoming "Red Queen" economy.
This should not affect my output on Flit except to improve it by creating more support documents and links to buttress my pieces here. As it's my space, I'll also probably put any truly controversial stuff there, rather than here, though I'll probably announce it here as well.
October 03, 2003
Hat tip to Slashdot for pointing out this article on a new type of solar power cells. It's a bit of a mixed bag. Radically lower prices mean that solar electricity will become competitive for the first time but the lower efficiency of the new cells means that the space problem of solar power becomes even worse. This should make solar power marginally more useful in rural applications where you need to put in a lot of infrastructure to extend the grid there.
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.