November 30, 2003

Progress in the Real War on Terror

Posted by TMLutas

I've previously said that the US government is constitutionally blocked from engaging the terrorists on the most fruitful of battlefield terrains. It looks like the US has gotten help from Saudi Arabia to do what the US government cannot, engage in spiritual warfare. The fruits are beginning to show up with clerics denouncing their own pro-violence fatwas and a bonanza of information coming from Al Queda prisoners who have turned to a more conventional form of Islam.

Having the keepers of Mecca and Medina on your side against Islamists was always a valuable card. It's nice to see that it's starting to pay off. Arabia may yet keep the "Saudi" moniker yet.

A Hypothetical Scenario

Posted by TMLutas

Let's say that the Army came to Donald Rumsfeld and stated that we are able to maintain our present commitments but if something breaks loose, the cupboard will be bare. We'd be forced into a win-hold-win situation that would be risky and bloody. We need to grow two new divisions and shake loose a third from present duties.

Now let's say that Secretary Rumsfeld, true to his word that if the generals came to him and said they needed more troops he'd give it to them. He runs over to the White House and presents the request and is believed. The immediate question is whether this can get past Congress. The second question is if the request is made and gets bogged down, or worse, turned down, what does it do to the national security situation?

I think the vote counters would say that Congressional passage authorizing two extra divisions would be iffy and everybody would say that getting turned down would seriously increase the threat to US national security as every thug and bandit world-wide would get the idea that the US couldn't counter whatever they did due to military over-extension.

The political operation would ask, can we hold 'till 2005 and we have a more Republican Congress? The answer to that would be yes, but we'll bleed for it if somebody starts getting adventurous.

So out goes Colin Powell to sign some delaying agreements, out goes Donald Rumsfeld to smile, tell the literal truth, but never let the media know which shell has the pea or even that there is a shell without a pea. Out goes the President to play the highest stakes poker hand of this short century, and we all hold our breath and pray that they make it.

Steven Den Beste recently was asked "Could we fight a six front or ten front war?" His answer was "we can fight a ten front war, but we'd have to fight at least eight of them with nuclear weapons." Would George Bush push the button rather than let the tyrants win? That's where even my crystal ball refuses to go. I suspect that the scenarios where we would go nuclear have recently multiplied. That should give our opponents nightmares. I know that the possibility gives me some.

Somebody please shoot holes in my hypothetical, if you can. Unfortunately, it seems to line up with the generally known facts of the situation on the ground.

Andrew Sullivan Buries the Lead

Posted by TMLutas

In his latest gay marriage broadside Andrew Sullivan invokes David Hume's essay against polygamy. He buries the lead though by omitting Hume's first paragraph.

AS marriage is an engagement entered into by mutual consent, and has for its end the propagation of the species, it is evident, that it must be susceptible of all the variety of conditions, which consent establishes, provided they be not contrary to this end.

If you don't agree with the lead, the rest of the essay makes no sense. The entire essay follows from the opening premise. It's a great essay but does no service to Sullivan's cause.

Fidelity in friendship exists without sex and without marriage. Some of the great friends of history are claimed as homosexuals (by those obsessed over the matter) because these dear friends speak of their friendship in such close terms. Marriage is, as Hume wrote, fundamentally about the propagation of the species. You can't take out the core of it and rely on the hollow shell to support your arguments.

Ipod's Future Step

Posted by TMLutas

The New York Times writes about Apple's iPod in a fairly decent article explaining why it's the number one portable digital music player on the market today.

One bit really misses by a mile. The speculation in the article is that Apple can't stay on top because it's not supporting the file formats that other stores are putting their music out on.

This sounded like a sea change. But while you can run iTunes on Windows and hook it up to an iPod, that iPod does not play songs in the formats used by any other seller of digital music, like Napster or Rhapsody. Nor will music bought through Apple's store play on any rival device. (The iPod does, of course, work easily with the MP3 format that's common on free file-swapping services, like KaZaA, that the music industry wants to shut down but that are still much more popular than anything requiring money.) This means Apple is, again, competing against a huge number of players across multiple business segments, who by and large will support one another's products and services. In light of this, says one of those competitors, Rob Glaser, founder and C.E.O. of RealNetworks, ''It's absolutely clear now why five years from now, Apple will have 3 to 5 percent of the player market.''

What's missing is that Apple's already demonstrated that it can, at will, add formats. What nobody seems to remember is that AAC and the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) weren't original iPod features. They were subsequently added and the additions were fairly simple, download an updater and run for the iPod and download a new version of iTunes. Voila, you've got AAC (Apple's DRM system) & iTMS.

There is nothing holding back Apple from doing this with any other format out there. The real question is why should it?

If it's the market leader, if it's doing more business than anybody else, why should they open up their API and open up their application for use by a competitor? What is missing is the idea that the iTunes window of music sources is like retail shelf space. If you want in, you've likely got to pay. Customer demand will also get you in but if the integrated company store is selling the same goods, why would customer demand be generated?

Apple already provides a public SDK for iTunes on both Windows and Macintosh. Currently it exposes enough of the API to do far more than create custom visualizer plugins as Apple intended. No doubt that if the SDK doesn't already cover enough code to create new stores in iTunes, it would be simple to provide a few header files to alternative services to create the appropriate plug ins.

So with AAC being the leader in reasonable DRM (you can break it if you really want but the restrictions are so lax that most don't want) and MP3 already on board, Apple looks to maintain its lead unless something comes out that's better. If another format starts to become popular, Apple can add it at will, both validating it and nullifying it as a competitive threat. They don't have to worry about cannibalizing iTMS sales because those sales were never very profitable anyway. It's all about the hardware.

No, the complaints about not playing with others are very much sour grapes by industry players who are stuck dividing up the rest of the market. Hardware manufacturers are stuck outside the AAC world but Apple can maintain this differentiator while adopting any format that starts to become popular by simply releasing a codec firmware update and an iTunes plug in.

That ends up creating a two tier market with commodity players in one tier and Apple sitting pretty in the other. Will the Apple tier shrink to "3 to 5 percent"? I doubt it. The price difference isn't all that much. The number of people who can afford $300 for a portable digital music player but not $400 is not that large.

November 29, 2003

Quick Comment on Iraq Trip

Posted by TMLutas

One thing that I'm surprised hasn't hit most of the punditry is that Iraqis have been advertised as being most fearful that the US will leave with the job undone and with them in the lurch. This fear explains why intelligence hasn't been coming in as fast as it might. It explains why people are still willing to deal with the Baathists. They're playing both sides of the fence so that if the US leaves and the Baathists move back in, they might just survive the transition.

By making this trip, President Bush has staked his presidential credibility on Iraq in a very forceful way. He's planted his flag and made it clear that Iraq gets fixed or his political career and political legacy are toast. That's a commitment that Iraqis should take great comfort in. It is also something that will likely save a lot of lives in future.

Sure the visit was for the troops, and it was also beneficial politically, but the most under-appreciated factor might just be how it changes Iraqi psychology and convinces them that we're serious.

I'm just surprised that I can't find others making the same point.

November 28, 2003

Rating EULAs

Posted by TMLutas

Edward Felten talks about creating a EULA rating service. In comments I already spilled the beans on my four odd years of mentally tinkering with just such a service (EF's got the basics down but his variant won't work for legal reasons, among others). The problems facing such a service are threefold.

1. Jurisdiction: EULA's routinely have clauses that are legal some places, illegal in others, and unenforceable in still others. To provide a proper rating, you need to know the relevant jurisdiction so you know what laws apply. If you're going to go ballistic over disclaimers of warranties, as long as your jurisdiction doesn't allow them any EULA language to the contrary is just meaningless.
2. Practicing law without a license: You can bet that any such service will either have lawyers on staff or get hauled into court for practicing law without a license. Jurisdiction rules here too. If you're going to be stepping on toes with poor ratings for big company licenses lawsuits over your recommendations are inevitable. Essentially you're giving legal advice. Depending on the relevant jurisdiction, this may or may not be illegal.
3. Financing: How are you going to pay for all this? Legal advice is expensive to give. Licenses change frequently and you have to check EULA's even for bug fixes and service packs (Microsoft, for one, does change legal contracts at the service pack/bug fix level).

If you provide the service on a subscription basis and generate a subscriber profile based on questionnaires that gets the subscriber's opinions on EULA clauses, you can combine that with a database of relevant law and automatically evaluate the majority of contract clauses.

The steps would be like this

Break down EULA into clauses and categorize them
For each clause check to see if state or local law voids or modifies the clause
Check against subscriber profile to see whether the clause is permissible.

At the end, you should have five figures in your summary.

Total clauses: The number of EULA contract clauses
Green clauses: The number of clauses which are either voided by law or are set in profile as permissible.
Yellow clauses: The number of clauses which are either modified by law or are set in profile as to be examined individually
Red clauses: The number of clauses which are set in profile as inadmissible.
White clauses: The number of clauses which are not addressed by existing profile and need individual examination.

This traffic light setting is intuitive and gives enough information to quickly and properly evaluate a contract's boilerplate, standard clauses. The more custom contracts would still have the need for individual legal attention though the results could be fed back into your profile so you don't have to pay twice or even pay once for custom contract boilerplate.

Since the service could also serve as a contract repository, horror stories like this would no longer need to happen. The market for this service is companies and individuals serious about legal compliance and who don't want to lose control of their systems due to contracts they never read or understood.

So why am I not running this business (it could be modeled as either profit or nonprofit)? I never found the right support team (need a talented lawyer to organize the legal analysis part) and I never had the cash.


Posted by TMLutas

Being a free market entrepreneurial type person I often see business opportunities that are being unmet. Many of these are ones that I could not, personally fill as I'm unsuited to meet the need or I would find the market boring or I just don't have the money or the time or the other team members really suited to do this. I still like to play with these ideas because, for me, that's fun (I'm told this is not normal, sue me). I call these ideas proto-businesses. I've decided that the best (cheapest, least effort) way for me to extend the game is to include them in my blog. There's a small chance that where the problem is missing money or talent, it'll come to me this way and the cost is not prohibitive. I might also get good advice on increasing the viability of some of these proto-businesses. Finally, such an entry would serve as prior art if somebody else decided to patent some business idea that I'd thought up years prior. I got the first one of these 'in the can' already but thought that I might start with a general explanation of why I'm doing this.

Iraq Mortars Proposed Solution

Posted by TMLutas

Strategy Page (which would be perfect if it had permalinks) talks about how Iraqi mortars use shoot and scoot tactics to neutralize much of the US' technical superiority. Every time they fire from a built up civilian area it's a war crime but the US has decided not to take advantage of the fact and immediately return fire (by the laws of war, the resulting civilian casualties are the rebel's fault).

The U.S. has a Firefinder radar which, when it spots an incoming shell, calculates where it came from and transmits the location to a nearby artillery unit, which then fires on where the mortar is (or was). This process takes 3-4 minutes (or less, for experienced troops.) But there are rules of engagement to deal with. You cannot fire your artillery into a populated area. And this is where the Iraqis usually fire their mortar from; some civilians back yard.

The problem is that world and arab media would likely not report the laws of war correctly. If your source of news isn't letting you know that most of these mortar attacks are war crimes, they are likely to mislead on a US response.

One solution to this manipulation of the laws of war presents itself from the financial arena. Bank robbers often get apparently cooperative tellers shoveling money into their bags but they also get a surprise, a special die marker slipped in with the money that explodes and marks the bank robber with an ink that will take over a day to scrub off. It's generally harmless but greatly assists the police in picking out bank robbers, just look for the guy with the green dye and you have your bad guy.

I suspect that appropriate artillery loads to replicate this feature do not exist in the modern military arsenal but until they do, (or we get a better worldwide media that doesn't routinely let irregulars get away with war crimes as regular actions) this will become a widespread tactic of forces fighting against the US. Compensating the civilians for making their house and yard glow in the dark pink is probably a small price to pay in comparison.

November 27, 2003

Trumping Sistani

Posted by TMLutas

Bruce Rolston rightly points out how imam Sistani has been a major force in post-Saddam politics.

Juan Cole relates that he has proposed a serious challenge to plans to democratize Iraq by demanding that Iraq's new basic law provide for direct elections and a clause subordinating the legislature to the restrictions of sharia, and the interpreters of sharia, the imams.

Coupled with Sistani's other objection, that the writers of the new constitution must be directly elected, a solution is right before our eyes. In a tug of war an effective tactic (if you can pull it off) is to give some unexpected slack, throwing the other side off balance and then pulling them to defeat before they can regain their footing. If Sistani wants the imams over the legislature, that's not unacceptable if the people are over the imams. "No law may be passed in contravention to Islamic law" is a recipe for Iran II, a theocracy that will not serve Iraq well. "No law may be passed in contravention to Islamic law without the assent of the people in referendum" is a workable formula, giving mosque the power to influence but not having the final word. Can Sistani argue for the supremacy of the people in direct elections while simultaneously arguing that the people should have no voice whatsoever if the imams issue a fatwa? You might as well have Sistani nominate the constitution writers. I doubt that the Iraqi people would want to place themselves under another tyrannic yoke. How could Sistani argue against this?

Sistani's demand requires a great deal of thought and adjustment. It's not unworkable though, if Bremer and the CPA can see sense and work for practical solutions. It won't be the United States in the end but it need not be a failed society. Could anyone doubt that a referendum mechanism would override the worst of Iran's theocratic excesses? Properly structured, a recognition of the faith of Iraq's overwhelming majority need not turn into theocracy. Iraq can see what happens when the mosques have the final say, poverty, stagnation, and decline. It's unlikely that this is what they want for their own state.

Drug Price Reductions a Republican Would Love

Posted by TMLutas

Cointelpro published what I think is a low blow about the Republican party. Entitled Why I Could Never be a Republican, he asserts that Republicans (in this case Andrew Sullivan) believe that "any action taken to lower the insane costs of drugs will kill innovation". This is just factually not true. Off the top of my head I can think of two conservative positions of long standing that would have the effect of reducing drug expenses and would have not only some but majority Republican support.

1. Actions to reduce 1st world drug R&D free riding.
2. Actions to increase the time that a medicine is available for use under patent protection without lengthening patent protection.

Since drug R&D is the majority of the cost to introduce a new pharmaceutical the developer has radically different (and higher) costs than any competing producer once the temporary patent monopoly expires. To survive that, the R&D costs for that drug (and that drug's share of preceding dead end research) have to be recovered before the patent expires and new generic competitors start producing the same drug, otherwise you're going to lose money as your sales dry up as you won't be able to cut prices sufficiently to maintain some share in the market.

Some countries simply are too poor to be able to pay much more than the generic price. In such countries, it makes sense to enter the market, price the drug at what the market will bear, and make a small profit rather than charge one price worldwide and get almost no sales in that particular country. This logic holds as long as people can't just take delivery in that country and transship them to a rich country, pocketing the price difference. Arbitrage has to be too expensive to be worth it.

The problem is that rich countries that could afford to pay a higher price have passed laws controlling drug prices to some government derived formula that is below market price. They depend on the drug companies making the same calculations for them as for a poor nation and so far things have worked out pretty well, for them. In passing these laws, they have reduced the pool of 1st world patients who pay for the R&D, thus forcing the remaining consumers to pay not only their share but the share of their free rider cousins in other 1st world countries. The problem has gotten so bad that no other major 1st world nation is paying their full R&D share but the US. Republicans would have no problem in legislation that addressed this and encouraged other countries to re-establish a free market in pharmaceutical prices.

The second point is a familiar conservative complaint. The FDA is too bureaucratic, too slow, too cautious and it drug approval delays cost lives. Legislation to improve FDA approval efficiency would reduce drug prices and would have overwhelming Republican support.

So maybe Cointelpro might end up a Republican after all?

Bush in Baghdad!

Posted by TMLutas

I'm astounded, shocked, and awed. The news has just got out that President Bush made a secret trip to Baghdad to have Thanksgiving dinner with the troops. That the Secret Service could pull off such a trip is a testament to their professionalism. That the White House could insist on such a trip in the face of highly predictable Secret Service apoplexy is a welcome demonstration that the President remains in charge of his security arrangements and not the other way around.

My wife and I agree that Mrs Bush must have been mad when they told her that Thanksgiving dinner was going to have to go on without her husband. No doubt, she'll never show it. Mrs. Bush, there's a real class act, much like her mother-in-law.

I'm told that arabs admire audacity, personal courage, and love a good conspiracy, especially when nobody has to die of it. No doubt President Bush's stock just got a real lift in Iraq and all throughout the Middle East and the fundamental impotence of the irredentist rebels has been underlined in this Eid season.

As the details of this story come out, it'll be fascinating to learn how the decisions were made. This is an extraordinary moment.

November 26, 2003

Why Microsoft Won't Be the Next GE

Posted by TMLutas

I Cringely speculates about where Microsoft goes next and concludes that it looks a lot like GE, a conglomerate in a huge number of different businesses that never dies because there's always a some part of the empire pumping profits back to the stockholders and funding the reinvention that all businesses have to undertake to stay profitable in the long run.

To create this makeover, Microsoft needs cash, lots of cash, billions in cash and more billions in stock value to acquire the businesses needed to ensure its permanent status on the world business landscape. It doesn't have enough yet so where is it going to get it?

Cringely proposes that MS is cannibalizing its independent consulting partners and pushing everybody into an MS support contract, creating DRM to finally end piracy of all types (but especially its own software), and generally ensuring that everybody has to be part of the great MS revenue stream or they simply can't get anything done.

The problem with Cringely's thesis is the idea that we'll all go along with it. Cringely notes "We live in the age of branding and the Microsoft, Windows, and Office brands are among the best-known in any industry, yet how many people actually buy software from Microsoft BECAUSE it's from Microsoft?" He misstates the situation. For something on the order of 40% (and growing) Microsoft products get purchased despite being from Microsoft.

Microsoft has become an anti-brand for these people for two reasons. First there are the well known technical problems that arise with Microsoft products. But increasingly more important, Microsoft business practices, especially Microsoft legal and licensing are viewed with suspicion by an increasing number of people. For the happy few, Apple's Macintosh or Linux provide a welcome escape but for many, they just don't see how to escape the clutches of MS in their business software.

People don't like feeling trapped in an abusive situation and you can be sure that the Microsoft label will be the kiss of death as it expands out to areas where they do not already have significant market penetration. Microsoft used to be the insurgent against hated IBM but have proven themselves to be even worse than the IBM of old. Microsoft will never again be able to play the scrappy underdog.

The real question is how and when will people move from being trapped in an MS world to liberating themselves from the clutches of MS legal and the fear that their OS vendor is perfectly capable and willing to sabotage their software if they get in Microsoft's way (a la DR-DOS and Lotus 1-2-3).

Space Race: X-Prize National Culture Roundup

Posted by TMLutas

For those who aren't aware, the X-Prize is a $10M contest with a neat trophy to launch a privately developed and built (no government funds) vehicle that can achieve suborbital flight to a height of 62 miles (100km), land, prep, and do it again inside of 14 days.

The X-Prize current team list consists of a surprising mix of nations as well as some interesting absences. There are 24 teams participating currently. 15 are from the US, 1 from Romania, 3 from the UK, 2 from Canada, 1 from Argentina, 1 from Israel, and 1 from Russia. It makes sense for the US to have a great number of teams as it has a great deal of money sloshing around in its society, is a traditional space power, and has a tradition of exploration and entrepreneurial adventure. The UK, Canada, and Russia entries make sense. These are rich countries or traditional space powers though Russia's entry depends on a partner that seems to be a state aircraft manufacturer branching out into space designs.

Israel, Argentina, and Romania are clearly playing the role of the little engine that could. Israel's space program only got into the launch business in 1988. Argentina has even less of a space history. Romania has more of a space program but the lowest per capita GDP numbers of all the entries. Clearly, these three are punching above their weights, Romania most of all.

But look who is missing. Where is France? They have plenty of money and an established concentration of space engineers to staff such a project. Where is Japan, with its own rich economy, and fairly well established, though embattled, space program. the PRC has Romania level GDP per capita numbers but is 50 times larger and enough wealthy people to fund such a project if they were interested and their government permitted it (I wonder whether it is a failure of popular imagination or stifling government that is the dominant problem). Their space program just had their first manned launch but the Middle Kingdom seems uninterested in creating a competitive atmosphere. And how about Germany? The nation that jump started both Soviet and US space programs does have its own space program but no apparent interest in working outside the public sector with a private X-Prize team.

All in all, the nations of the entering (and the major space nations not entering) teams say something good (or not so good) about their respective national culture, or in the case of the US sub-national culture. Five of the US' fifteen entries are from California, three are from Texas with the rest of the entries scattered across the country.

Three Conjectures: A (Slightly) More Optimistic View

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste's three conjecture essay examining Wretchard's three conjectures on the WoT is well thought out and you should read both if you haven't already.

I agree with Steven Den Beste that Wretched's second conjecture is the weakest but I take things from a somewhat different angle. I believe that for a faction of a religious movement, inducement and threat are not the only means of changing their intent.

I don't know Wretchard's background but from what I gather from Steven Den Beste, he's operating under two disabilities. He's american and he's not religious. It is difficult to understand the religious mindset when you stand outside it. But for americans, the first amendment and its attendant religious tolerance so limits and colors their politico-religious outlook that certain alternatives simply are not examined. They are culturally taboo because the day to day reality of all the world's religions living cheek to jowl next to each other requires it to maintain religious peace in the US.

The tools that are being overlooked are tools of spiritual warfare. Declarations of apostasy, work towards conversion, theological debate, these are all tools that are being discarded a priori when all that is being examined is threats and bribes (which Wretchard calls inducements) to change the islamist's behavior.

Strong religious belief in the monotheistic tradition is well prepared in resisting temptation and enduring persecution. Islamism is no different and thus Wretchard is right, there is no practical set of inducements or threats to reliably move these people to different behavior patterns.

But would a suicide terrorist carry out his operation if he were convinced he would spend eternity in hell instead of heaven? Would an imam cry out the call of violent jihad if he were convinced this was against the will of Allah and would result in mere banditry that is contemptible in the eyes of God? You may or may not know how to bring about these changes in opinions but they are a separate class of persuasion to change intentions from either threats or inducements and deserve separate treatment.

Let's be clear up front. This does not necessarily mean the end of Islam. This elimination of Islamism could be carried out entirely within the borders of Islam. Certainly there are theological experts in Islam who have declared what Osama bin Laden is doing to not be true jihad but hirabah, banditry. In fact, while other religions may play a role in this spiritual warfare, the heaviest weight falls on western muslims.

The problem is how can the US, as a society, do what the US, as a government, is forbidden to do? Congress can make no law on the subject so the executive cannot implement anything and there is nothing for the judiciary to interpret. For the statists in the US, that leaves the cupboard pretty bare on societal action. Fortunately the statists are a minority but we've got the neutrality acts to worry about. Al Queda (thankfully) is largely a foreign operation. Organizing and acting across the border to take it out is something that can plausibly be read as creating and acting on a private foreign policy and thus, under US law, illegal.

The same forces that have acted in the past to push God out of the public square will not automatically reign in their horns when the subject is Al Queda. Make no mistake, this will be a massive injection of God into the public square and that will make some people uncomfortable. When americans get profoundly uncomfortable, they tend to head for the courthouse.

So we have several problems on the down side of this strategy.

1. The government can't do it without shredding the Constitution.
2. The society isn't used to having such initiatives without government dominating the process.
3. There is well established and generally useful law that potentially stands in the way of doing it.
4. There are organized factions of secularists in the US that predictably will get the hives over the whole initiative and resist.

The upside is that the chances of the US surviving as a nation without turning the middle east into a nuclear wasteland goes way up.

America, you decide.

November 25, 2003

Not Too Fast Please

Posted by TMLutas

There's a time when gadflies overdo it. Michael Ledeen has just come to that point. I'm all for quick, sure action to finish this war before we sink further into a warfare state that would have long term negative consequences for our liberty. The nature of this war is, unfortunately, ultimately unachievable without convincing people, patiently, over time, to turn against this nihilistic death cult that achieves its fullest expression through terrorism.

The truth is that we've bitten off Iraq and now it's time to chew until tyranny is no longer the dominant feature of their political culture. It's not quick work. It's not easy. It certainly hasn't been the central thrust of US warfighting R&D, though maybe it should be. The problem is that Michael Ledeen seems to have gotten into a rut. He's so used to pushing hard against inactive, uncaring politicos that he seems to have lost the ability to properly judge when it's a good time for a strategic pause. That's a pity as it reduces his credibility for the inevitable future when a proper stinging gadfly would do good service for the nation.

Matricula Consular Cards

Posted by TMLutas

In my quest to stay awake while driving, I often turn to NPR for a shot of good old adrenaline pumping outrage. NPR is usually good about that sort of thing and my children should probably send them a check someday for keeping daddy from driving into a ditch all those years (they'll get my check the day they stop getting my tax dollars).

This morning they had a segment on Mexico's matricula consulara cards and how the rest of South America is getting into the act. One of their interview snippets on the line at the Guatamalan consular office was of a woman who said that if she died in a car accident, they wouldn't even know who she was. I thought that's why they issue passports. In fact, a lot of the security arguments over the matricula cards would be eliminated if they simply had a method of putting current address in the passport. It's an internationally recognized document. There isn't any confusion over what you're allowed to do with it or not, and that last bit seems to be the point of the entire matricula exercise. It's a disingenuous exercise in end running the US immigration system.

I'm in favor of increasing immigration to the US coupled with increasing education efforts to integrate immigrants into the US, especially the ideas and traditions of the US. I don't think there's anything wrong with the melting pot concept and wish we had more efforts to make residents into americans, an exercise that Steven Den Beste rightfully identifies as an entirely mental process, the acceptance of the idea of America.

What I worry about is migration without integration. The creation of cultural islands where immigrants can bring and replicate the bad habits that made the land of their births something they wished to escape from. So next time you find somebody talking positively about the matricula phenomenon, play a little mental exercise with them. Ask them what's wrong with passports? Why not change the rights you have with passports (which are subject to a lot of international security regulations and are well established) so that those documents get you the rights matricula advocates want for those cards? The problems and prospects are identical except that passports are more secure, after all. So why a new ID? All involved might be surprised at the direction such a conversation would turn to.

Internet survivability and the Smart Grid

Posted by TMLutas

Previous smart grid posts are here, here, here, here, and here but aren't, strictly speaking, necessary to get this piece.

Rensys has put out a significant report on the great US blackout of 2003. Contrary to prior reports that crowed about how the Internet hardly hiccuped, in actuality it suffered significant route outages. The main thoroughfares of the information superhighway were alright but the side streets and byways had significant levels of outage due to insufficient backup power sources.

One of the things that our current dumb grid cannot do is that it cannot provide cheap information about itself. A smart grid which provided information about what was attached and provided a more sophisticated real time power market down to the very local scale would provide such cheap information on the reliability of the Internet to power failure.

An example from the financial world would suffice to explain how this would work. An outsider doesn't have to look at WorldCom's books to ferret out that it's in serious trouble, a >50% stock drop in one day provides that information quite adequately, in a timely manner, and cheaply. You can factor in that financial instability into your telecom purchasing decision making even though this process has nothing to do whatsoever with your investment portfolio. This is an extreme example but financial information, quarterly reports, and other artifacts of a smart financial market enable far more information sharing than is used or needed to make actual investment decisions.

Similarly, a power market could be set up with respect to Internet infrastructure so that information about reserve power levels could be easily embedded into the system and you could use that to enhance reliability. You could know to a much higher level of detail when and how your internet connectivity would cut out in the face of a widespread power emergency. ISPs, knowing that this information is out there would take measures to ensure that adequate backup power would be available.

November 24, 2003

Get With the Program, Saddam's Not in Charge

Posted by TMLutas

Laurie Mylorie has an interesting guest comment on National Review Online. One thing that mars it is that she persists in calling the former regime intelligence forces "Iraqi Intelligence". This is on a par with calling Russia's modern intelligence service the KGB or Soviet secret police the Okhrana. Saddam's not in charge in Baghdad anymore and what remains of his lackey Mukhabarat is not, in any sense of the word, Iraqi Intelligence.

Political commercials 'R' us

Posted by TMLutas

This firm, as pointed out by Slashdot offers quick, pre-made TV commercials that can quickly be adjusted for use by businesses who don't have the budget, or the time, for the traditional production experience.

Right now this is exclusively aimed at commercial purposes but the concept is eminently suitable for use in the political sphere, even more so. While you absolutely want to differentiate your commercial offering, political candidates often benefit by sticking to a theme, demonstrating that they are a known quantity.

This would also provide an opportunity for non-partisan political groups to make commercials that can be plugged into like minded campaigns. Did you score a 100% on the ADA/NRA/ACU/NOW questionnaire? Congratulations, you now have access to their media library which, if you use it, can cut the cost of producing advertising by more than half.

Just a random musing as the US election cycle gears up for its quadrennial extravaganza.

Nasty Race Merchants

Posted by TMLutas

The annals of politically biased research were enriched today as Dartmouth researchers demonstrated that dealing politely with people who annoy you tends to temporarily throw you off your mental stride but went for the race merchant kudos (and funding sources) by making the study all about race.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that annoying people can disturb your powers of concentration. It also isn't a great leap to find out that white racists find dealing with blacks annoying. Proving it via a scientific study is interesting but the study structure, press release, and press coverage clearly make it clear that the larger point is being lost in the old racial gotcha game.

I would love for this research to enable people to measure how much an unpleasant office boss detracts from the mental performance of his subordinates. It would revolutionize office hiring practices because the SOB bosses that everybody hates but have to kiss up to are robbing the company of valuable worker performance. Ideally, this is a metric that will eventually be convertible to dollars and cents, creating a bean counter incentive to hire good leaders and not annoying whip crackers.

Oooh Pretty Shiny Blog

Posted by TMLutas

Due to Bruce Rolston's day job commitments, he seems to think that there is a small but nonzero probability that he will be forced to put Flit on hold at some unspecified time in the future. Prince of a guy that he is, he is providing me with a segregable blog that I have much more control over and could survive such an (I think unlikely) eventuality.

Thanks Bruce!

Things will likely get a bit more lively here and I may branch out in new directions. We'll see. I'm still being hosted by Bruce Rolston and as long as he'll have me I will continue to do so. I'll always feel a debt of gratitude for his past and continuing service to get my writing career off the ground.

November 23, 2003

Walter Duranty's Pulitzer

Posted by TMLutas

Thanks to MCJ for an article confirming what I knew months ago, that the Pulitzer Prize committee will not revoke Duranty's prize due his lies over the 1932 govt. caused famine in Ukraine. In their statement, the committee makes it clear that it feels that it is unfair to judge someone's 1931 work by their actions in 1932.

This reasoning is disingenuous and historically obtuse. The gulag was chewing up lives long before 1932. 1932 was just a particular grievance concentrated in a particular region. Duranty, as a newspaperman, should have known this by keeping up on current events from 1917-1921. He started working the Soviet beat in 1922. This means that he had 8 years to figure out what was going on Stalin's extensive gulag system before he wrote the first of his Pulitzer winning articles.

So we are left with two alternatives. Either Duranty knew and lied in 1931, giving an indication that Stalin could go full throttle on killings without concern that the NY Times would expose the horror or the premier NY Times reporter in Moscow was completely hoodwinked for 9 years and his Soviet press release fantasies are just the work of somebody too incompetent to get the story right.

Both of these alternatives call for a revocation of Duranty's Pulitzer. Both scenarios provide an assurance that further, more exaggerated repression would continue to be whitewashed in the influential NY Times (as it was). But because the specific charge against Duranty could be reasonably rebuffed the Pulitzer board did nothing. After all, OJ didn't lose his Heisman trophy after the civil jury found him culpable in the death of his former wife.

November 21, 2003

Barren Marriage

Posted by TMLutas

Jacob Levy addresses the issue of why should childless heterosexual couples retain marriage privileges as a right and not just a policy preference (among other wrinkles in the marriage debate). In his post he states

Grandparents provide role models for parents. And so on. But young childless heterosexual marriages (like my own) don't really add anything measurable to the available stock of human knowledge about how men and women should relate in parental marriages.

Well, it's a truism that there is nothing new under the sun but I would reply that from personal experience he's just wrong. As someone who married just before I hit 30, I can say that the experience of all your friends getting married around you is a powerful signal to stop just fooling around and start seriously looking for a wife. Matrimony in one's social set encourages further matrimony. Some of these marriages will be barren, others will be fertile, but if only those with a prior positive fertility test were trying, the alternative model of 'confirmed bachelor' would be strengthened. That might just be dismissed as a policy preference but it's more like an ancient heuristic that long predated the US Constitution. Back in the old country boys marry by x age, girls marry by y age and if you started hitting an age where everybody was married but you, powerful social pressures were brought to bear to help and encourage you.

Furthermore, I've actually had someone tell me that they used me as a marital model about two years into my own marriage. Don't kid yourself that because your marriage isn't extensive you aren't being observed and imitated. I've been on both sides of this particular transaction. In fact, I find myself looking for advice from some of my peers more often than people in older generation marriages.

An interesting survey might consist of actually asking people who do they imitate for their marital models. Certainly there might be a lot of talk about looking to prior generations but that isn't going to help out in crises that are particular to the current generation. The bottom line is that admirable people get imitated, no matter what their age, race, nationality, or class. We are all role models and, deep down, everybody's always known that.

November 20, 2003

Voting to Kill Canadians II

Posted by TMLutas

Well, it looks like Canada has opted to create an open border where their cheap drugs can be exported without limit. Supply and demand rules means that US low price seekers are about to drain Canada's drug supplies down to zero. Will US drug makers provide unlimited resupply and cut their own throats? I don't think so. End result, a reasonably quick shortage if the US fails to keep the import walls up. It's the law of supply and demand 101. Price arbitrage will create shortages reducing supply until the price rises to the market clearing level. Where that level is above the maximum price set by the provinces, there will be insufficient drugs left to meet demand.

Hat tip to Chip Taylor.

Bush's Lucy Strategy: George Soros Plays Charlie Brown

Posted by TMLutas

George Soros' article in the December issue of The Atlantic is a classic case of a potential ally being suckered in with Bush's enemies into making a fundamental mistake regarding George Bush's intentions.

If there is one thing crystal clear about the strategic situation of Al Queda and the US, it is that US is working to serialize the conflict while Al Queda is seeking to parallelize it.

The US wants to avoid making a major wartime shift in its economy and pushing defense spending from the 3%-4% it is currently at to quickly jump to the 6%-7% range. Such wartime spending is sustainable for a time but it would do a great deal of harm to the worldwide economy as money was sucked into the US war machine. Thus you see a desire to immediately take problems on only if they cannot be delayed without unacceptable cost to US interests. This perfectly explains why the larger threat of North Korea's nuclear program is being handled with comparative kid gloves to our treatment of Saddam.

The Iraqi sanctions regime was under tremendous pressure by Iraq's French, German, and Russian commercial partners and patrons. It is a truth that few want to admit today. Without the invasion, Saddam had a good shot at being sanctions free in 2004. Soon after, we would likely have found out just how good Saddam was at reconstituting his weapons programs with the huge revenue stream of unfettered oil sales at his disposal. It would likely have been an unpleasant lesson and one that would have cost a great deal of blood and treasure to correct.

North Korea, by comparison, is an easy solution. A six month sealed northern border and there won't be enough resources left to maintain the army. The removal of the regime with one less bent on proliferation would occur relatively quickly.

The PRC doesn't mind tweaking Uncle Sam's nose (in fact, they delight in it) but Pyongyang's nuclear armament will have Beijing in range long before it will have Washington. Would Kim Jong Il and company blackmail its major patron to get better aid terms? It would happen in a heartbeat. For that reason and others Beijing and Washington agree that the Korean Peninsula must remain nuke free.

Compared to the awesome scope of the task of the War on Terror, the US military is woefully undersized to take the problem on all at once, thus the need for serialization. Flat out announcing such a strategy of serialization to compensate for the US' military weakness would be profoundly counterproductive. So we get hints and the wink and nod treatment. Striking "at a time and place of our choosing" is a classic formulation to convey the tactical constraint without explicitly admitting to it.

But what is the plan? It appears to be two pronged and audacious in its scope. Simultaneously eliminate the dysfunctional governing arrangements that create and harbor terrorist movements while attacking the underlying legitimacy of our immediate foe Al Queda by creating a sense in the majority of muslims that Al Queda is apostate.

The strategy for pursuing the WoT is hidden out in plain sight because of two defects. The first is a constitutional one in that any strategy of dealing with the root causes of Al Queda's theology has a profound 1st amendment problem in interfering with the free exercise of religion. You can sense the difficulty of the problem by playing out the theoretical problem, if the US of today were in charge of colonial India, could it legally eliminate thuggee?

The second problem is parallelization in spades. Every two bit dictator and thug ruling a corner of the world is a target and if they knew it, and knew that the US was coming soon, they could coordinate, plan trouble, and launch it simultaneously. The whole world would be in flames and not enough firefighters would be available.

This inability to directly and officially acknowledge the animating strategy behind US administration actions has led George Soros desperately far astray. The New Rule Sets (NRS) that the administration are pursuing are fully compatible with Soros' long standing commitment to the model of the Open Society. In fact, the sketchiness of some of the civil affairs work implied by NRS is likely due to the ready availability of Open Society work that Soros has lavishly financed over the past decade plus in the old Soviet bloc. Why reinvent the wheel when Soros has already done a great deal of the groundwork. Unfortunately, Soros is quite fond of the Democrats and has long funded many leftist pet causes so it is unlikely that there is enough trust between the Bush administration and him to let him in on the plan and thus he is taken in by the deception and comes to fanciful conclusions.

Even so, September 11 could not have changed the course of history to the extent that it has if President Bush had not responded to it the way he did. He declared war on terrorism, and under that guise implemented a radical foreign-policy agenda whose underlying principles predated the tragedy. Those principles can be summed up as follows: International relations are relations of power, not law; power prevails and law legitimizes what prevails. The United States is unquestionably the dominant power in the post-Cold War world; it is therefore in a position to impose its views, interests, and values. The world would benefit from adopting those values, because the American model has demonstrated its superiority. The Clinton and first Bush Administrations failed to use the full potential of American power. This must be corrected; the United States must find a way to assert its supremacy in the world.

The error of this construction is, once again, illustrated by North Korea. A regime adhering to these power principles has no interest in a multilateral solution to the problem of a nuclear North Korea. So why is the US so doggedly supporting the multilateral model? Soros' guess at US principles fails to fit known evidence. Charlie Brown is once again on his back and Lucy didn't even have to pull the football away.

Another sign of divergence from reality is Soros' observation that neoconservatives "publicly called for the invasion of Iraq as early as 1998". The date is significant because that is when the official position of the US government was first aligned with regime change in Iraq (the text of the relevant law is here). The Congress authorized arming and supporting military resistance to Saddam Hussein. If advocating regime change in Iraq in 1998 is neoconservative ideology, Bill Clinton is functionally a moderate neoconservative, but that's absurd as Soros' article early on establishes a bright line "discontinuity" between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush's respective foreign policies.

Much is made of George Bush's West Point speech with regard to preemption but reading the speech you have to discard an awful lot of it to just pick out the points friendly to Soros' thesis.

Sure, there's "And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives". But that comes after

This war will take many turns we cannot predict. Yet I am certain of this: Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for our power, but for freedom. (Applause.) Our nation's cause has always been larger than our nation's defense. We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace -- a peace that favors human liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.

There's much more to chew over in the speech. It's worth rereading the whole thing to see how disingenuous it is to declare that Bush is against open societies.

Soros is on more solid grounds when he describes the genesis and effect of bubbles but his entire point rests on his having a more accurate understanding of the true world picture than the Bush administration. For an outsider, that's normally a tall order but Soros has made billions on having superior insight. And if his explanations would fit all the public facts of Bush administration foreign policy, his long track record would weigh heavily on attempts to debunk him. Many people have gone broke trying to prove George Soros wrong.

Unfortunately for his theory this time, it doesn't adequately explain why Bush chose Iraq for military intervention and not North Korea. Why is preemptive unilateralism in play in one and not the other. A theory that doesn't explain all the facts will always fail to a theory that does (or at least explains more of them). The argument for Korea first is pretty compelling. It solves a half century of conflict. It dismantles a much more advanced nuclear threat. It would instantly dispel the enemy's line about this being a war on Islam. Korea has a lot going for it so why the softer multilateral approach?

The answer is simple, the Bush strategy is not what Soros thinks it is. The finance maestro has been suckered by an MBA who is probably the world's most famous "imperfect graduate".

Bush's Lucy Strategy

Posted by TMLutas

There was a recurring theme in Charles Schultz's long running comic Peanuts. Lucy would offer to hold a football (american) and Charlie Brown would kick it. At the last moment, Lucy would pull it away and laugh as Charlie Brown launched himself into the air and fell, in pain, flat on his back. Lucy, great psychological manipulater that she was, could always convince Charlie Brown that this time, the football would not be moved and that he could kick it but would always get her way in the end, leaving poor Charlie Brown frustrated and vowing never again.

President George W. Bush is Lucy minus the dress.

Objectively looking back at his career, you can see how time after time he carefully holds the football and perfectly times how to pull it away. Time after time, his opponents lie there, flat on their backs, struggling to overcome their political pain, and wonder how they got beat.

This sets up an awful dilemma for the observant Bush supporter. On the one hand, you want to crow about it. On the other, you worry that giving the game away will let the opposition adjust and win more often. Today, I'm going with the first hand.

The problem with Bush as Lucy is that he does it so well. He's purposefully creating a distorted perception of what's going on in the world, in the US, and in his administration to the point where not only enemies are miscalculating but potential allies are too.

November 19, 2003

Thinking About Marriage

Posted by TMLutas

I was going to let this essay 'cook' a bit more before I took it out of draft and published it but since Glenn Reynolds can't see why gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, I'll let fly early. In short, gay marriage doesn't deliver the social benefit that heterosexual marriage (both fertile and infertile) does, creates complexity and confusion about an important part of keeping society stable, and opens the door to further marital erosion that would really mess things up.

Why should government promote marriage? Honoring marriage is a cost on society so what is the logical reason to support it? In the bowels of Flitters (my contributions are at /m2240, /m2246, /m2248, /m2251, /m2255, /m2267, /m2274, /m2278, /m2284, /m2287, /m2308, /m2312) the discussion covered the problem in great depth. With the gay marriage situation in Massachussetts being what it is, it's worth examining again at some length in essay format.

The first principle is that public support of societal arrangements is inherently coercive and any establishment or extension of such arrangements has the burden of proof to justify why we all should submit to that coercion. For society, to any degree, to support such an arrangement it has to provide some public benefit or be so utterly uncontroversial (such as national secretary week) as to be held universally unobjectionable and unobjected to.

Marriage is not, nor has it ever been, without cost or universally unobjectionable (there have always been curmudgeons not too friendly to the institution). So what does marriage bring to the table societally that has enshrined its status all over the world for millenia?

Marriage has been associated with several good effects regarding societal stability. The first one is that it promotes societal stability. For societies that don't have it well regulated, large pools of unmarried, single men are significantly destabilizing. This is relevant for today both in polygamous societies and in societies such as the PRC (under its one child policy) and India for which sex selection abortions are common and skewed heavily toward killing females.

Polygamy, in short, is to be avoided as is public policy that creates a significant sex imbalance over the space of decades. Horny frustrated men tend to get aggressive and a significant portion will turn that aggression on society. The threat of polygamy is embedded in the gay marriage debate. Lesbians have demonstrated a statistically significant desire to have children and tripartite custody agreements being leveraged into polygamous marriage of all types is an obvious 'next step' in the marriage revisionist agenda.

Societies, to avoid collapse, have to create a next generation. You can't really talk about marriage without getting into the subject of procreation. Unfortunately, a lot of landmines have been buried on this subject by all sides. Motherhood and marriage are improperly intertwined by some traditionalists and improperly separated by the gay marriage revisionists.

The improper intertwining is that motherhood, as a separate category from marriage also deserves some support so it doesn't really fly as secular social policy to create a false unity of procreation and marriage. As various countries have proven, you can have a separation of procreation and marriage. Single motherhood is still motherhood and should be honored for the health risk and sacrifice that these people undertake.

As those same countries have simultaneously proven, the marriage revisionists are wrong to create too much of a separation, declaring marriage unimportant to child rearing because children raised without mother and father have statistically significant higher rates of a whole host of societal pathologies from poverty to crime. Divorcing procreation from marriage also takes out a logical argument against legalizing polygamy beyond tripartite marriages.

It's more justified to say that in the broad averages that social policy must deal in, children are raised, socialized, and civilized best when they have a mother and a father to observe and imitate on a daily basis. This has broader implications besides homosexual marriage (like in divorce law reform) but that's for another time and another essay. In the case of broken homes, having other, functional marriages around provide a reasonable partial substitute but you need as many of those as possible. They are an imperfect solution at best because they aren't around all the time and some of the most critical behavior that needs to be transmitted usually occurs behind closed doors.

Childless married couples, besides providing additional models for proper behavior, are also available to take care of orphans or children that are victims of truly abusive parents or parents who are incapable of supporting their offspring. This is also a legitimate societal role and one seen in juvenile courts all across the world in adoption proceedings and cases where children are placed with relatives instead of being put in the more impersonal state run system.

But beyond the civilizing effects of parenting there is the mundane issue of material support for children (when juvenile courts decide custody, acting in the best interests of the child is a mix of physical support and behavioral/teaching support). Children, by definition, are incapable of supporting themselves and exercising proper judgment over their affairs. So who is most likely to be interested in acting as guardian over them until they become capable of doing so? Self-interest is a powerful motivator so parents are assumed the best guardians. Genetic propagation is generally hard wired so maximizing child welfare is a sefish thing to do. The biologically different optimal points of male and female child welfare strategies is, again, another essay. Suffice it to say that conventional marriage is very female friendly.

So we so far have a three dimensional socially useful behavior matrix of promoting children to create a next generation and providing material support and psychological models for behavior. A traditional marriage structure scores high on all three axes. Where does homosexual marriage come out? Not so good, if you're in favor of it.

Gay marriage doesn't provide much educational value for male/female interactions of children either for their own children (tripartite lesbian parenting) or for adopted children. It certainly isn't going to provide enough children to head off societal collapse from a lack of offspring. It could provide material support for adopted children but that really isn't a problem that needs solving. Most societies that have a gay marriage debate also have waiting lists of adoptive parents. Unless there were evidence that gay couples would be willing, in significant numbers, to adopt interracially this is just a nonissue.

The confusion of additional marriage models for structuring a family is a significant cost that would be distributed throughout society and the benefits that traditional marriage provides just don't exist in a gay marriage framework. Throw in the risk (in common law societies where judicial precedent is so important) of legitimating polygamy and you've got a sure net societal loss.

Where's the case for spending a single penny on changing social policy for a net decrease in societal utility? There simply isn't one. No matter how many sob stories homosexuals spin out about their feeling excluded, that isn't grounds for public policy spending. If it were, a vast array of public expenditures would have to be undertaken, none of which would be justified.

November 18, 2003

The Invisible Dead

Posted by TMLutas

Jack Dunphy's latest NRO article chronicles another instantiation of the problem of the invisible dead. This time it's about how the LAPD consent decree is costing lives by burying officers in paperwork.

His last sentence says it all "The price of all this bureaucracy will one day be measured in lives." The problem is that it won't be. Bureaucracy thrives on the principle that the acts of regulation have easily traceable positive consequences and whatever negative consequences exist should be as hard to track down as possible. This is pure CYA raised to an art form. If gathering data on negative consequences would be elevated to an equal priority as the positive consequences, a great deal of government action would be exposed for the horribly self-defeating idiocy that it is.

Instead we end up with long term disasters like the "Great Society" programs that took a decades long trend of steady improvement and goosed progress for a few years, only to subsequently flatline progress thereafter. The net result is that if we had continued the old regime, we'd have fewer poor today than we do after we engaged in huge exercises in "compassionate" government.

Back to the LAPD, the consent decree is there to protect hispanic and other minorities from discrimination. I wonder if anybody has calculated the cost in decreased police effectiveness to those same communities. Sadly, I also wonder if those pushing for such agreements would even care about the results.

Gay Marriage: Massachusetts Right and Wrong

Posted by TMLutas

It's a good day for the pro-gay marriage argument (link currently to the slip argument and when the final goes on the internet the link will change and this notice will be stripped). For those of us who believe that the construction of civil marriage is more in line with traditional understanding, it's been a pretty bad day though there are a few silver linings.

On the bright side, the Massachussetts Supreme Court has only one raving lunatic who wanted to completely substitute his judgement for the state legislature's. That would be Justice Greaney who, in his concurring opinion wrote that to withhold "relief from the plaintiffs, who wish to marry, and are otherwise eligible to marry, on the ground that the couples are of the same gender, constitutes a categorical restriction of a fundamental right."

The carrying plurality, meanwhile, believes that the legislature needs to have the final say on public policy though they are seriously in error that it hasn't already spoken against gay marriage. The dissents were forceful and varied and hopefully will carry the day on the next go around (no doubt there will be a next go around).

The down side, of course, is that now the legislature is going to have to go into painful detail over what, exactly, civil marriage is intended to accomplish. They are being forced to do so by a judiciary who believes that it has a legitimate role in setting the legislative calendar (the order requires legislative action during the next 180 days). Such a schedule is not conducive to considered deliberation of the desires of the people of Massachussetts but is better suited to a rubber stamp mentality of shut up and pass what we said.

Andrew Sullivan is, of course, delighted, though I'm not sure he's figured out yet that his side has not won the final battle.

November 17, 2003

Christians or Atheists: Who's a Better Al Queda Interpreter

Posted by TMLutas

Donald Sensing (a avowed christian) and Steven Den Beste (an avowed atheist) are having a discussion over whether Osama Bin Laden actually has a strategy.

The interesting metatext is that interpretation of Islam seems quite different based on their personal philosophical outlooks. I, myself, am a christian and find Donald Sensing's outlook very much more attractive and explanatory. I do wonder whether I would have felt the same if I were an atheist.

November 15, 2003

Is it Right to Cheer Your Co-Ethnics?

Posted by TMLutas

Armed and Dangerous is especially both Friday as it deals with the explosive topic of Jewish responsibility for Communism. The problem is that we don't have an objective framework for either racial/ethnic opprobrium or racial/ethnic pride. ESR despairs of ever finding such a thing seriously discussed and solved in his lifetime. Unfortunately, he's right that such lack of discussion cripples anti-racists in their discussions with intelligent bigots, a perverse result that should not stand.

The only avenue of escape is to assemble an objectively agreed to code of racial and ethnic pride and then adopting the mirror image for racial and ethnic shame. Everybody's happy when one of "their's" does well in the world. But what's legitimate ethnic pride? I was born in the city of Timisoara, birthplace of Johnny Weismuller (olympic swimmer on the US team and famously the black and white TV Tarzan that largely became the template for future renditions of the character).

So, should I be proud of a local boy made good? Well, maybe. Johnny Weismuller was hardly proud of his birthplace (he often tried to claim US birth, there was no money to be made by competing on the Romanian olympic team) and he doesn't share the same ethnicity as I have (the Banat region which Timisoara sits in is split internationally and is a local ethnic salad bowl of romanians, hungarians, serbians, and germans with a sprinkling of Ashkenazi jews among other small minorities). Another example, is Henri Coanda's discovery of the principle of jet flight and building/flying the first jet airplane (in 1910!) in Paris a romanian triumph or a french one?

So who gets to decide whether a personality is from the old country, him or me or a bunch of 3rd party historians? Or is it a collective decision?

The list could go on and on of people claimed by more than one group. Sorting it out would be contentious but would shed some productive light on the question of group identification/responsibility. I believe that once you can say who can claim whom, you will probably be able to assign responsibility for the villians to their respective ethnicity (or other relevant groups).

I don't propose that I have the answer to this puzzle but I think that this is a viable way of getting to the truth of the matter because it is simply untenable for the politically correct to argue generically against expressions of group pride. It's a pretty short step to arguing for an abolition of black history month and they just don't want to go there. The only third position is to explicitly argue that there is a permanent ladder of ethnic/race rating and that whites are at the bottom so shut up and take it. That's just not going to fly.

The bottom line is a principle I hold dear. Groups are responsible for their own extremists. They can fail to control them, but then the responsibility has to rest on the group to repudiate them and take whatever measures they can to resist and try to clean up the mess afterwards.

To do otherwise is untenable. As just one example, why should Brazil take back criminal deportees if there is no national/ethnic solidarity that requires them to do so? Wouldn't it pay for a country to meet such people at the border and simply not accept them?

Revisionist whitewash is an attractive option for people especially shamed by one of their own. He didn't exist, he wasn't as bad as all that, he wasn't really one of us. We don't have to adjust and make amends and be on the lookout to prevent future monsters from arising among us,etc.

November 14, 2003

More Clueless US Liberals

Posted by TMLutas

Michael Kinsley enters the clueless race when it comes to the intellectual backing for Bush's strategy. Hellooo Michael. The Naval War College's newrulesets.project started as a little intellectual experiment prior to 9/11 and radically ramped up in importance thereafter.

There's a natural human tendency to want your ideological or partisan side to win but it's dangerous to the stability of the nation if the opposition is too incompetent. I can see Michael Kinsley disdaining the new rule sets approach. I can see him dismissing it. But pretending it doesn't even exist is just too departed from reality to take any joy from. In fact it's downright worrisome.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for the story.

The Nature of War

Posted by TMLutas

A tour de force from Steven Den Beste on the nature of the present conflict. Read the whole thing. One minor addition to add, if civilian factory workers were combatants (though at a radically different level than uniformed, front line soldiers) in industrial age total war, information era war seems to imply that the war blogger is something on the line of the WW II fire warden or war bond seller, the butt end of the tail of combatants. Which brings me to Ted Tomorrow's comic Chicken Hawk Down.

Ted Tomorrow's effort is of a piece with those who mocked the air raid/blackout wardens, the war bond sellers and other 'tail' figures (the rearest of the REMFs). The military bloggers seem to have caught Mr. Tomorrow by surprise. He obviously didn't understand that this war can have the point of the spear participating in tail operations to this extent but it doesn't really help turn aside his main attack.

What Mr. Tomorrow is striking at is the idea of our side fighting on the field of ideas. He wanted to demoralize those of us who believe that ideological combat, working out in public ideas for convincing Islamists to give up and go home, is not a fit subject for people out of uniform. On the contrary, it is the sole subject where a uniform (at least in the US) is a handicap to warfare. Ideology and psychological operations is what we the rest of us do in a society where the government maintains a proper monopoly on the organized use of force to solve social problems.

November 13, 2003

Build Your Own Machinegun

Posted by TMLutas

No, I'm not joking. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled (pdf link) that a homemade machinegun is not within the power of the federal government to regulate as the laws regarding this were always constructed under the commerce clause and in this particular case (United States v Stewart) there was no actual commerce but a true homemade creation.

Thanks to Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy for pointing this out.

The implications are both liberating and frightening. Liberating because it sets the groundwork for technological progress in home manufacturing to remain legal even after the politicians figure out that this turns us all into potential armorers. It's frightening for the exact same reason.

One more reason to read Flitters

Posted by TMLutas

E.J. Dionne's column on the resurgance of the Radical Republicans is pretty cutting edge and new stuff for the public at large. But not for diligent Flitters readers. Regular readers of the message forum have seen this before, two weeks before, to be precise.

I've gone on several times about the New Rule Sets theory coming out of the Naval War College. I really haven't seen an alternate theoretical framework to hang all the moves that the Bush administration is doing other than this.

Why is a conservative Republican creating a massive influx of AIDS funding for Africa? Why is the Republican party reverting back to its Radical Republican roots, an ideology that hasn't been seen in a US administration in over a century? If you can come up with an alternative theory besides the New Rule Sets framework, I'd like to hear about it. And no, Bush is an idiot/puppet and all this is just a coincidence/occult forces doesn't count.

The essence of the New Rule Sets framework is cleaning up that "combustible human landscape" that you are concerned about. It's shrinking the non integrating gap by creating working societies that are ready to enter into the functioning core, taking them off the table as terrorist safe havens and moderating their national politics so they are interested in stability because it fosters growth.

Perhaps in a bit more, mainstream columnists will twig that the underlying explanatory theory for the current administration's foreign policy is here and that you can draw pretty good predictions on how the US will react by integrating the newrulesets.project results into their existing knowledgebase. Until it does, though, a large portion of the punditocracy is going to continue to flail around, incapable of predicting Bush, and the US' reactions to events in the world.

Manitoba Pharmacists Sound Alarm

Posted by TMLutas

Illinois pharmacists have invited their colleagues from Manitoba to speak to the Illinois legislature about Gov. Blagojevich's plan to reimport drugs from Canada. The view from pharmacists up north is clear. Drug reimportation will create shortages in Canada.

The real question is now that they've been told directly will the Illinois legislature care or will they pass explicitly 'screw you' legislation that deprives Canada of sufficient medicine to treat its own ill and if they do, what will Canada's politicians do about it?

November 12, 2003

Unislamic Islamists

Posted by TMLutas

One of the most horrific and bizarre parts of the soviet occupation of Afghanistan was hearing reports of Soviet efforts to booby trap korans and leave them laying on the ground. Apparently, there is an islamic requirement that a koran can not be left on the ground. These fake korans made of explosives would kill or maim any who picked them up. According to this article Islamists were preparing this and other types of hidden explosives for actions directly aimed at muslims, most likely on their obligatory pilgrammege to Mecca.

When the fatwas start coming out declaring these people as outside the bounds of Islam, it will be this sort of behavior that prompts it.

November 10, 2003

Who Says the US is Invincible?

Posted by TMLutas

The US gets beaten at its own game. Maybe in baseball they don't just whine about hyperpuissance but just buckle down and do something about it.

Congratulations to Mexico. We'll get ya next year...

Al Queda's Death Clock Just Started Ticking

Posted by TMLutas

Logistically, everybody is convinced that the Saudis have been a major source of funds for Al Queda. The common wisdom has been that the Saudis have been paying Danegeld to Osama Bin Laden with the bargain being, we pay you, you stick to actions outside the borders of Saudi Arabia. This danegeld, it's been generally assumed is a major portion of Al Queda's income.

It's growing increasingly obvious that this agreement no longer holds true. It isn't a far leap to assume that Al Queda has recently taken a major hit in its logistical shorts. No doubt they have plenty of resources in their current pipeline but that's going to get exhausted eventually and Al Queda's operational tempo will become even more resource restrained than it might have been up to now.

The specifics of Al Queda's finances are, of course, something that is generally not talked about. Al Queda doesn't want to talk about it because it knows the West has lots of forensic accountants looking to shut their finances down. Of course, Al Queda's hungry for information on what's compromised so current activities aren't as publicized as those original seizures of 2001.

James Lileks notes

And it makes me wonder: They stick the shiv in the ribs of their richest and most enthusiastic backers.

What makes them this confident?

It seems obvious that they think that they can get their hands directly on Saudi money before the pain of the funding cutoff cripples them. Who knows, they might be right if we don't watch it.

November 06, 2003

We've come a long way

Posted by TMLutas

I just turned off tonight's episode of ER. I still can't believe what I heard. Dr. Kovaci (a white immigrant from Croatia, I believe) goes off on a rant about how medicine should be more efficient to two residents, one south asian (indian?) female and a US black male. If you're not familiar with the show (and I only have some passing familiarity with it, really, I'm not an ER junkie) Dr. Kovaci goes off to Africa periodically to practice charity medicine there. The black resident is offended at Kovaci's high handed treatment and say's he should go back to Africa. Kovaci responds "maybe you should go back to Africa".

From the context it's clear that Kovaci is the hero of the exchange. I can't imagine this dialog being uttered on a TV show in any context whatsoever as little as five years ago with the white man being the good guy.

There's something changing in US race relations. Soon, there might even be open outbreaks of honesty and a death of defensiveness.

November 05, 2003

Treasonous Democrats

Posted by TMLutas

In the spirit of "only Nixon could go to China" Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) has just made charges of treason against Democrats something that can be discussed in polite company. Put very simply, this is a shocking development and on the par with Howard Baker (R-TN) asking "What did the President know and when did he know it". For a Democrat to call other Democrats traitors you know something is seriously wrong in the heart of Democrat politics.

For the preservation of their party, the Democrats better make heads roll over this or they're heading down the road to delegitimization.

A Transformative Poison Pill

Posted by TMLutas

Hat tip to Real Clear Politics for a pointer to The Art of War over at The New Criterion. Go read the article first.

It's an interesting and useful critique of US current military posture but does suffer one weakness that this civilian could spot. It doesn't really account for how much military culture would have to adjust for our true enemies to adopt our military innovations, especially net centric warfare.

France, no matter how much she may annoy the United States, will not turn into the same sort of threat as a Pakistan could even though, in objective terms, she is, and likely will remain, the stronger military power (yes, yes, this does assume here that demographic trends don't functionally turn France into Pakistan). The reason for this is that France and the US share some baseline culture that both makes them a greater military threat while at the same time undermines the arguments for full, all out conflict.

In general, the kind of countries the US is truly worried about are the kind of countries that have governments that need to worry about coups. Net centric warfare is high communication warfare. To adopt it when you have any doubts whatsoever about your own military's loyalty is tantamount to slitting your own throat. Steganography and all sorts of other hidden cipher methods would be easy to piggy back onto military traffic once the high amounts of computing power necessary for net centric warfare are distributed throughout the national force structure. Coup plotting along with regular military planning would be made much, much easier. The measures necessary to guard against one, cripple the utility of the systems for their stated purpose. The end result is a persistent US advantage against the states we truly care about militarily countering.

Net centric warfare not only increases your vulnerability to military coup but also your vulnerability to psychological operations by opposing forces. Again, it is an unexamined assumption that you have a military that is profoundly loyal to the current government. This is something that is bedrock in the US and in most of the free world but again, not in the non-integrating gap nations that are our major national security threats.

Yes, the military tactics and strategy race has often had competitors adopt innovations as soon as they could but not always. And adopting innovations from your opponents is not always successful as the Ottoman Empire could tell Mr. Kagan if it were still around. Ultimately, inter-civilizational conflicts bear an extra risk for military mimics in that the weapons built inside a particular culture may need certain cultural assumptions to function effectively. Those culture transfers that come along with the communications gear, the weapons, and the tactics can be an internal assault on the military mimic culture. This is the case with net centric warfare. It would be no defeat for the US if, by adopting its innovations, the cultures of its opponents shifted enough that conflict moved from the battlefield to the negotiating table.

Update: The tendency for the Ottoman Empire to imitate western military innovation is ably described in Bernard Lewis' excellent What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East

November 04, 2003

Thanks, Microsoft, for making my Mac cheaper

Posted by TMLutas

Thanks to Good Morning Silicon Valley for pointing out that it looks like the XBox 2 is not going to have Intel Inside. This statement makes it clear that the snake and mongoose dance that Microsoft and IBM have had for years is getting a bit more interesting. The CPU chip is likely to be the PPC 970, the same machine that powers the Apple Macintosh top end (marketed under the G5 label).

Chip prices are largely driven by volume. XBox's switchover to PPC will likely drive the cost of the Intel's chips up and IBM's chips down. This will put money not only into IBM's pocket but also into the pockets of Apple and Motorola who helped design the 970 via the AIM alliance that manages the PPC line.

This will also change the software world a bit as it will become easier to port XBox games to Apple's Macintosh that shares the same chip as XBox 2 than to Microsoft's own Windows platform which abandoned PPC around the NT4 SP3 patch level.

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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