December 31, 2003
Gay Marriage: Child Raising Outcomes?
I just came across an analysis of social science studies regarding homosexual parenting and it turns out they are of horrible quality. Poor hypothesis generation, bad sampling, no or inadequate control groups, statistical mal and mis feasance the list of problems stretches out for 149 pages of heavily footnoted scholarly fisking. None of the 49 studies examined survives as valid sociological research using standard best practices techniques. The report is titled No Basis and seems to cover studies through 2001.
Dishonest, Greedy, Pigs Will Kill You
Iran's Bam earthquake has exposed a building and land scam that overrode scientific opinion, engineering judgment, and greatly increased the death toll of the recent quake. Bam had been wracked by major tremors in 1911, 1950, and 1966. It was viewed as too dangerous to rebuild and the government halted the issuance of new building permits. With the fall of the shah and the change in regime, dishonest land speculators and corrupt mullahs colluded to override all good sense and Bam grew explosively with the mullahs claiming that the Hidden Imam would protect the city.
The advocates of government intervention like to go on about market failure. But here, the problem isn't a lack of regulation, it is that there is no recompense, no way to get at the people who have caused this tragedy because they have all the power, all the money, and all the guns. The imams control everything. The truth is that the builders and imams are dishonest, greedy pigs who feel no pity for the suffering and no guilt over the dead. And it doesn't matter what system, free market or state regulated is used they will still be there trying to make a quick buck and damn the consequences.
The only cures are civic virtue and independent risk assessment. Civic virtue to keep the public guardians honest and independent risk assessment (whether by public engineering board or private insurance company) to let all know what the true risks are in building.
I think that private risk assessment is better not because there is some inherently higher state of virtue in the private world. Instead, it's better because it is so much harder to monopolize and distort a private system, especially when there is government oversight for honesty. In Iran, who oversees the mullahs that made all that death and destruction possible?
Pentagon's New Map Sighting
I've regularly touted Thomas Barnett's New Rulesets.project as a model to properly understand US long term strategy in the post 9/11 world. Now, it appears that Wretchard is also on board with the assessment that this is what we're up to. Unfortunately, he lumps in all of Europe as standing against that vision. In this I hope he is wrong and fear he might not be. There is a new Europe and I think it might not be wedded to the old paradigms as much as France or Germany currently are.
December 30, 2003
Reestablishing Foreign Policy Consensus
A society that has a regular changeover of governments both within a party and between parties is handicapped in foreign affairs if there is no consensus between all major parties on certain basic features of foreign policy. This solution has traditionally been adopted in the US but currently seems horribly broken. George W. Bush has broken the prior consensus in his declaration of war on terrorism and the Democrat party has refused to go with him, with most of the candidates for the nomination stuck in one form or another of implacable hostility to President Bush's new direction after 9/11.
But we will have to remake our consensus if we are to succeed, no matter what form that consensus takes ultimately. Here is an interesting article that hints that there is a considerable portion of the Democrat party that is on board with the War on Terror and will withhold votes until the Democrat party gets on board too.
This has got to be an awfully hard time for foreign analysts of the US. There is no consensus, asking what the US will do radically depends on the electoral shifts of the 2004 campaign. The US cannot be depended on to maintain its commitments until the consensus is reforged so everybody, friends, enemies, neutrals, has to work extra hard to hedge and consider, what ifs. Of course, with so much at stake and in delicate flux, the temptation arises to try to influence the elections in the US to be more congenial to some outside interest or another. It's a temptation that would be foolish to give in to.
A Conservative Use of Vomit
Taken from Lilek's year end bleat:
I know this: if 9/11 had never happened, Afghanistan and Iraq wouldn’t be on the radar of those who wake up perpetually inflamed with global injustice. They’d be fixed on Israel and genetically modified food. Would there be rallies in the Western cities demanding the end to the Taliban and the Baathists? Of course not. And that’s what history might well remember. God forbid, but they might end up reduced to a footnote about a rally in Paris in the year before a hijacked jet took out the Louvre. I’d like to think no one in the west would write “well, we destroyed their museums, and now they destroy ours.” But you know someone would.
Finally, a conservative response to the antiwar's 'vomit-ins'.
In the back of my head, something's been bothering me about the UN's actions in Iraq. In fact there were several things bothering me but at least one was something I couldn't put my finger on. This story helped me figure it out. The assassination of Archbishop Michael Courtney, Papal Nuncio to Burundi led me to think about how they will replace such a highly experienced diplomat. It's quite likely that they will follow the same procedure that they use for picking a bishop. You make a list and start at the top. A phone call, a terse introduction, the offer is tendered and the respondent has to answer on the spot, yes or no.
Then it hit me. Unlike the UN, it wouldn't even occur to the Vatican to withdraw from Burundi due to an assassination, even a multiple assassination incident like a bombing, just as it didn't occur to the US to withdraw from Beijing after the embassy was stoned or even after a more serious assault, like the Boxer rebellion. Embassies and missions are withdrawn for political reasons, not generally because of threat of force by rebels.
The UN ran from Iraq but the embassies are all pretty much open. This is the UN's Beirut, their Mogadishu, their moment of shame for which they will have to pay in future with interest, just as the US is paying now in Iraq.
The UN will have to prove it won't cut and run or it will be permanently crippled. The only problem is that I can't see a reasonable future where it will be capable of doing so this decade or even the next.
Can the PA Make Payroll?
Debka again, this time with a report that the PA's treasury has been stolen by Arafat and there is no money to make payroll on January 1, 2004. If it's true (and I'm lugging my usual Debka rock of salt on this one) this essentially means that Arafat is guilty of treason. You can't just steal the national treasury and claim to be just a regular elected politician. Palestinian Authority corruption has a long and sad history but this is the icing on the cake.
In some ways I hope that it is true because it would expose the PA as fraudulent, a Potemkin village covering an Arafat dictatorship. If paychecks come from Arafat's personal funds (personal stolen funds, that is), there's nothing left. You might as well make him a crown and a throne, he's king in an absolute monarchy. "L'etat, c'est moi".
In any case, we'll know more in two or three days.
December 29, 2003
The attitude of germans toward the present and future prospects is remarkably pessimistic. The survey is quite remarkable. They feel that everything is going horribly wrong yet one of their biggest complaints is that the freebies are no longer so free. They also put a priority on more leisure and few think to work more and save more to build things up for the next generation.
What manner of system is so horribly self-absorbed that they don't see that they are going to hand off a much poorer country to their children?
Letter to the Paper I
In my daily slog through the news, I sometimes write the author or the editor in commentary or correction. I figured, why not publish here as well.
There was a glaring factual error in your article, Why Democrats must not abandon the old stronghold. The 2000 census has adjusted the electoral totals. Gore states lost several votes because of population shift so it would not be true that somebody who won Gore's states would be just four votes shy of the Presidency.
But beyond not understanding the current composition of the electoral college, the article is a throwback to a widespread '70s bigotry of assuming that the only reason for the south's move rightward is race. It is not. The Democrat party has completely lost its credibility on religious issues, abortion, and gun rights. This disproportionately affects the Democrat party's results in the south and west, the very areas that have been picking up population (and electoral votes) in recent decades. While you may disagree with southern attitudes about God or guns, it is irresponsible to write an article on southern political trends and ignore these facts on the ground. You've served your readership poorly. Agree or disagree with the Republican party but be a professional about it and get the story right. Misleading your readers won't help them understand the US.
Can Bigots Pass Non-Bigoted Law?
This article at Law.com reviews the US 11th Circuit Appeals Court decision to permit a felon re-enfranchisement suit to proceed to trial. The District Court had granted summary judgment to the state of Florida. Key to the finding was racist commentary in the 1868 Florida Constitutional Convention.
The Court opined: "We conclude that an original discriminatory purpose behind Florida's felon disenfranchisement provision establishes an equal protection violation that persists with the provision unless it is subsequently reenacted on the basis of an independent, nondiscriminatory purpose,"
According to an Orlando Sentinel article, Florida revisited the issue and passed a similar voting ban in 1968. The District Court had granted summary judgment on the grounds that no evidence had been presented that the 1968 law (the one actually being challenged) had racist intent.
Now the likelihood of ultimate success of this class action suit is low but what's unsettling about the 2-1 majority opinion is that the logic would permit any law adopted during the time of widespread racism (which was never just in the South) to be challenged on these grounds. Trials are long, expensive, uncertain affairs. The 11th Circuit has just handed defense lawyers all across the country a tool for making them longer and more expensive.
It's also a decision that will likely bubble to the surface in odd ways. For instance, most state bans on money going to religious schools were passed in a fit of anti-catholic bigotry when public schools were dominated by Protestants. These "Blaine amendments", as they are known, are odious stains on US law that should be gotten rid of. But the logic of the decision would paint the ACLU, AFT, NEA, and a raft of modern liberal supporters as sectarian bigots. And much as I would like Blaine to be buried, spreading the charge of anti-Catholic bigotry around this widely isn't the way to do it.
December 28, 2003
Debka.com is one of the trickier sources to use. They sometimes get things right far ahead of others and notice things that go unnoticed elsewhere. Other times they go into flights of fancy that are breathtaking. So take an appropriate amount of salt and check this article out.
The note that struck me as most reliable and most worrisome for anybody seriously interested in solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is this:
Moreover, Egypt has put a hard question to Arafat: Two separate security teams stand guard inside the mosque around the clock - one posted by the Wakf Muslim religious authority that administers the mosques on Temple Mount and one deployed by the Palestinian leader’s own Fatah group. “Where were they when our foreign minister needed them?” Egyptian officials asked Arafat. “Why was it left to Israeli security to rescue him?”
Since Israel is Debka's specialty and it would be fairly easy to find out who posts security guards at the 3rd most holy site of Islam, I'll leave aside the usual hefty pinch of salt in this instance and take up this issue of Palestinian competence in security matters. Either the guards are competent and were withdrawn, leaving the foreign minister to be abused as a political point, or the guards were simply incapable of crowd control at one of their most high profile locations during an important visit.
The former case, that this was done on purpose, shows a depth of political miscalculation that is profound. Nobody will trust palestinian security assurances in future and this will provide humiliation after humiliation in future. No matter what the politics of a country, a foreign leader cannot take the risk that they will be ambushed in a similar fashion. For those who can afford it, they will bring in their own security. For those who don't have the funds in their budget, Israeli security will be their only practical option. And if you can't trust Arafat to keep your person inviolate, how far can you trust him on other matters?
The second case, that this was just incompetence, has its own problems associated with it. What is the point of the Palestinian authority if it is incapable of providing security? Why should anybody treat with the current government if they cannot deliver peace which, in the current situation, is essentially the restraint of radicals?
It would be nice to hear that the security personnel responsible for this screwup had been sacked and that a complete reorganization of the relevant Palestinian Authority security section was underway. At least there would be hope for improvement in the future. However, the PA is so opaque in its internal operations that it's almost impossible to tell what's really going on there.
On purpose or accidental, ultimately both scenarios are expressions of incompetence in the PA. And because they have successfully resisted efforts to make the PA transparent, there isn't even a viable way out for them to show believable contrition and reform. It's an incompetent mess.
Abuse of Authority
Adam Smith Institute's Dr Madsen Pirie has an article up on the small tyrannies of development officials, in this case a "planning officer". This officer did not like the red pantilies roofing material in the plan and tried to make Dr. Pirie believe that it was mandatory to change to blue slate. After some investigation, it transpired that the planning officer didn't even have the power to mandate roofing material. It was a matter of taste.
What's going on here is an abuse of authority. Dr. Pirie seemed at a loss as to what to do about this "pocket Hitler". The problem spans the Atlantic. Sonny Bono's congressional career, according to his own rendering, started off when an abusive bureaucrat wouldn't let him put up a sign to advertise his business. In frustration, Bono ran for mayor, won, and fired the man.
Clearly, Sonny Bono's option is not for everyone, yet all too often we all run into self-important bureaucrats who want to go beyond the law and just make our lives miserable.
Perhaps this is a job for the department of anarchy?
December 26, 2003
Democracy is For the Long Haul
James Pinkerton believes that democracy shouldn't be for everyone. He picks out Jordan as a country that has a relatively moderate king with a relatively moderate government that is riding herd on a populace that would elect a government much less to our liking. Pinkerton's making a couple of mistakes here.
Unrepresentative governments infantilize the people. The people don't have to be responsible so they can spout off and advocate all sorts of foolish things that they won't have to deal with the consequences of. Democratization in a country like Jordan is likely to take a path somewhat like the UK with a constitutional monarchy riding herd and gradually ceding power, making sure that the people grow up and take responsibility for their actions. Errors will be made by any newly freed people but with a wise king, these errors will be small and not fatal to Jordan's future.
Democracy is a system that provides long-term benefits, not necessarily short-term ones. The US may be unhappy with the Schroeder govt. in Germany but it would certainly prefer the pain of such a Chancellor to an undemocratic Germany which would be nothing but trouble and with no end in sight.
Having a prickly, democratically elected government is not such a bad thing over the long haul if that prickly government peacefully yields the reigns of power to a new government after it has lost its mandate in free elections. Dictatorships just kick the can down the road so the problem will be solved by the next generation. Saying "liberty in Jordan would not spell progress for the United States" is admitting that all you're talking about is today and tomorrow. Next year is beyond your calculation and the next generation is beyond your conception.
The security problems we face are bad enough now but technological progress means that they are just going to get worse. We need to think beyond the next quarter or even the next year. Democracy across the globe is the right long-term solution. If we keep to that, we keep faith with our own founding fathers.
Thank You France?
It was too good to last. Now that the accusations are recriminations are breaking out over the Air France potential terror strike I can only hope that the right lessons will be drawn. The French are obviously using the law enforcement model and we are obviously using the military model. This is guaranteed to produce friction and, regrettably, the French are likely to cling to the law enforcement model for as long as they can. This, unfortunately, will render all major parties tainted during the inevitable backlash when the Louvre no longer exists or the Eiffel Tower comes down.
They're cutting their own throats. It's just a matter of time until they come to the awful, destructive realization of their foolishness. May they get off as lightly as a 9/11 when their moment of tragedy comes. They are not likely to. By then, the nihilist jihadi will have had plenty of practice on us.
December 24, 2003
Thank You France
It's important to neither be Pollyana nor Cassandra with regard to the US' old allies who have been part of so much disagreement and friction recently. France's gesture of cooperation regarding possible Al Queda penetrations of some of its Paris-Los Angeles flights over Christmas was done well, as a real friend should. For that and every other friendly gesture, noticed or unnoticed, we should be thankful.
At this joyous time of the year, the 2nd most important holiday of the Christian calendar, it's become somewhat traditional to issue puffy wishes of joy filled with sweetness and light to all.
I say hogwash.
Christmas is a time to celebrate and take down our masks of indifference to religion, to put away our fears of offending others and concentrate on being our christian selves and loudly proclaim the truth. Christ is born on Christmas day. Bow down as the shepherds and the Magi did and recognize Him come to save us from sin.
Christmas is the start of God's fulfillment of his longstanding promise of a Messiah to save us from the consequences of Adam's sin. That promise culminates in Easter but Christmas is the start of these fateful events. Love each other as he loved us all. Celebrate his coming with joy, laughter and gift giving. Remember that Santa Claus, at his root, has always been Saint Nicholas.
So wish all those 'happy holidays' fudgers a merry Christmas and marvel at the miracle of Christs birth, always keeping joy in your heart. Be yourselves and if you get greetings from somebody who is celebrating something else with all his heart take their sincere happy wishes with a smile and a silent prayer that by next Christmas they too, will have seen the little star of Bethlehem and will join you to proclaim the miracle of Christ's birth.
The Anti-Totalitarian Net: Fantasist Debunker
In the network of today and the future, the great battle is, and will be, who owns what. If I own my own computer (in the sense of having control over what it does), if I generally have the right to put packets onto the network and have them delivered uncensored, there is a great future for the net as a moderating force in human interaction.
While it is true that any fool can stand up on a virtual soapbox and yell his head off, if you make statements of fact, you can count on people looking them up, checking you, and calling you on your mistakes and falsehoods if what you say isn't, strictly speaking, reality.
Extremists often carry along other people using a heady mix of emotional exhortation and a confident portrayal of reality that is often at odds with the objective truth of what is going on in the world. You can't do much about the histrionics and rhetoric but modern technology allows debunkers a critical advantage. By creating FAQ lists demonstrating how common distortions are used to mislead, extremists are forced into the same unatractive choices that spammers now have with the advent of bayesian filters. The old stuff is quickly debunked and nobody they debate is falling for it anymore. New stuff is quickly debunked at a pace that exceeds their ability to churn out believable, functional distortions of reality that serve their purpose.
Eventually, everybody, more or less, is forced to deal with the world as it is and not a fantasy world that does not exist. This is something that tyrants and their wannabes are, and should be, profoundly uncomfortable with. The extremists are dangerous mostly when they can peddle their theories faster than they can be debunked. Few will follow demonstrated false prophets and extremism will become less and less of a threat as long as we continue to take that threat seriously.
December 23, 2003
The Anti-Totalitarian Net: Preface
Arnold Kling writes with disdain at the idea that the Dean movement is a smart mob. He further says that such things simply do not exist. With that, he stumbles badly.
You really have to go back to the apes to understand what's at stake. Ape groupings vary in size based on a formula related to brain size. Humanity is about 50% higher up on this formal than the most organized of the primates. But human group sizes only get up between 100 and 500 before they start to go wrong and the most common value for organizational success (even in the modern world) is 150 before you have to sub group. Ape group structures break down before that point with the best organized apes having groups numbering in the 70s (derived number).
Looking at the comparative evolutionary success of humanity compared to the primates and it becomes obvious that anything that can up the numbers by even a bit becomes a world shaking deal. Thus smart mobs become highly important. If you can add even another 75 people onto your functional group size by taking advantage of the asynchronous nature of much of modern communication, you've created a gap between current best practices and the new bench mark as big as the current gap between us and the apes.
But looking past the creation of smart mobs to the claim that the Deaniacs are one. It seems highly dubious that they actually are. It's much more likely that they have tapped into the hype of smart mobs and envisioned that they are one. This does explain something about the Dean phenomenon, the lack of traditional Democrat coalition building. A mob is not a coalition. A mob is consensus. As Arnold Kling is somewhat worried about, sometimes the consensus of the mob is radical and dangerous, the mobs numbers making it difficult to stop.
I heavily doubt that consensus can be extended to the point of getting a majority of voters. Paradoxically, if consensus sweeps too many factions into its monoculture, Madison's Federalist #10 starts playing out in very unpleasant ways as a large republic without a mosaic of bickering factions too small to create a persistent majority on all issues will soon descend into the tyranny of the majority.
I don't think this is going to happen but I believe this is the fundamental source of Arnold Kling's unhappiness.
Why I hate Internet Explorer I
I'm at a system right now that only has IE to browse the web. I had a nice article about how the whole US drug reimportation thing is developing, links, and some small amount of independent research to gain some perspective on how big this problem could get. Trivia fact for the day, there are 3094 functioning counties in the USA plus around 50 oddball entities usually called independent cities and also including Yellowstone Park which is the only cross state border entity listed in the nation. Anyway, the browser crashed, I hadn't saved a draft, and I have renewed my hate/hate relationship with IE.
December 22, 2003
It's hard to tell where to start with regard to Mark Kleinman's flawed analysis of christianity and politics.
He goes wrong in the very first sentence in that christianity is not an ethnicity. There are many ethnicities that take pride in their christianity but no ethnicity, that I am aware of, that kicks you out of the group if you are not one. From this unpromising start much foolish and ignorant opining follows.
To love your enemy does not require you to not imprison him, depose him, or even kill him. What it does do is require you to take action against your enemy in a spirit of love that, if/when he repents, you will not descend into mindless revenge but take your sincere new ally and get beyond the conflict that has tried your strength to that point. Mr. Kleiman may believe in vendetta unto the end of time but it is neither practical nor christian to do so. Perhaps he didn't recognize enlightened self-interest wrapped in 1st century mediterranean philosophy. I can only hope.
But not only is he completely missing the point of loving your enemy but also the point of I Corinthians 1:18. The christian is playing a different game than the atheist. It is the same game that the jew and the muslim are playing (though they believe that there are different rules). The game is uniting with God in eternal Paradise. The goals are different, success metrics are different, and successful tactics are different because it fundamentally is a different game. That's the point of the passage. If you're not playing the game, you will perish or, more accurately, your soul will lie in eternal Hell. Different games are being played on the same playing field and this confuses many, evidently including Mr. Kleinman. This is strange because the very next paragraph he lays the monotheist game of souls out fairly well. He just doesn't connect it to the text properly.
Mr. Kleinman finds it hard to reconcile the idea of a good God with a punishing God. Did his father never send him to his room, give him a stern lecture, or a warm bottom? Punishment is an inescapable part of good parenting. Children will make mistakes and test limits. It is their nature. Without punishment, there is a significantly lower chance of learning and correction of bad behavior. As many indulgent parents have learned, the kids don't thank you for it later either.
In the Eastern Catholicism that I practice, there is no distinctive purgatory. The doctrine of purgatory is merely a portion of hell that you can get out of. And while it is a distinctly minority position, some of the church fathers did hold that it was remarkably presumptuous to limit God's forgiveness even on the question of the Devil himself. Who God forgives is His business. No doubt he would want Hell to be empty (as Mr. Kleinman speculates) and even the fallen angels returned to his good graces but there's that whole free will thing that takes matters out of his hands. He granted free will freely and knew the price of that gift.
Mr. Kleinman really goes off the rails when he states "Christians are the professed adherents of a foreign dominion, serving a King whose authority is not recognized by the Constitution of the United States. It's not even obvious that people with such divided loyalties ought even to be allowed to vote, let alone have their voices heard in public discourse." This is profoundly unfaithful to american history, tradition, and common good sense. The Declaration of Independence formally started the revolution that ended with the Constitution, firmly placed God at the top of the authority chain, endowing humanity with inalienable rights which governments (including the US government) respect. When human governments do not respect those God given rights, government becomes illegitimate and rebellion licit.
The truth is that a free society, whether under a constitutional monarchy, a democratic republic, or some other system, calls on the christian to play a different role in civic life than a tyranny. Render unto Caeser, meant pay the tax in Jesus' time because that's all that Caeser rightfully required. But a free society requires more from all its citizens. It requires their judgment, their moral sense, and their active consent.
Christians are called to evangelize and be a light unto the nations. This is something that is both done through preaching and through daily action. Living your life well, helping others, contributing to society is a basic duty and there is no conflict between voting, participating in public counsels, even governing, and being a good christian.
Then we get to the case of Cardinal Martino. Part of what makes loving your enemy hard to implement is that you love his victims too. Cardinal Martino's error was not in feeling compassion for Saddam. It was in feeling insufficient compassion for his victims, the entire nation of Iraq. The millions who lived in fear, even then, of Saddam's eventual return were in a sort of anticipatory hell. In love for them, how should Saddam's capture be handled? How do you balance things?
Saddam could have, should have, been captured secretly and nobody should have been told if things were counted in military/intelligence terms only. Who knows who would have shown up with how many more incriminating documents if they thought Saddam was still free? Who knows how many people narrowly escaped capture because they were warned and fled ahead of the search and capture teams? How many people will die because of those uncaptured Baathists?
But Saddam's capture was handled in a fairly sophisticated manner. Secrecy until confirmation and then video footage that would highlight that the nightmare was over and that people no longer had to fear Saddam's return or that the Coalition had the wrong man was what we got. If we didn't minimize future net deaths, my estimate is that we got pretty close. And for the price of a bit of grooming and swabbing, millions slept that night in peace and joy. Most of them were in Iraq but I can say with assurance that the Iraqi diaspora had their hearts eased as well. Whether the balance of compassion was set up correctly is a grand topic that theologians might debate for the next hundred years but to show selective compassion only for your enemy is not Christian and undeniably unjust.
In his update things do not notably improve. His attempt to define ethnic christianity fails. The jewish parallel does not hold. If you are an atheist you can still be a jew. You cannot be an atheist christian.
The idea of Christianity as being the sum total of what is in the Gospels is the protestant doctrine of "only scripture" or "sola scriptura". It is not a majority opinion, by any means. To take it as normative without a bucket of caveats is misleading at best. It is even worse in the case of Prof. Bainbridge who appears (according to Mr. Kleinman) to be a Roman Catholic.
But if Christianity means a set of beliefs, then it's perfectly possible for an outsider to say whether someone's remarks indicate that he holds those beliefs. It should be no more offensive to say that "X is not a Christian" in that sense when he rejects the love of enemies than it is to say "X is not a Kantian" after X argues for a consequentialist ethic.
The particular doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is not only that the Bible is the Word of God but that the miracle of Pentacost that created the Church established a chain of bishops that had the power to decide which texts would go into the Bible and never lost the power to modify, tweak, and add to the equally valid Tradition that is complementary to Holy Scripture.
Thus, Prof. Bainbridge (if he is an RC, I didn't independently check) can only be judged as faithful by this larger body of work, of which the Bible is a relatively small part. You have to toss in the ecumenical councils as well at a minimum and probably the canons as well. Drawing a jewish parallel, it would be like judging the Torah without the rabbinical commentaries. For muslims, it would be like into account the Koran without taking into account the hadiths. But here I myself may be treading in unfamiliar waters. Suffice it to say that Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition for a Catholic are equal in validity and to pick and choose between them in evaluating a Catholic's fidelity is profoundly misguided.
Mr. Kleinman can stack himself against two millenia of monks, bishops, theologians, and canon lawyers and claim that he has discovered that, as an outsider, as someone who has not gone through all the relevant documents, christians should be out of politics and arguably should be stripped of the vote. Christians, faithful christians cannot wield coercive power according to Mr. Kleinman. Perhaps when he's actually read enough to know what he's talking about, he will have the decency to recognize how wrong he is.
There are a billion Catholics that he owes an apology to. There are hundreds of millions of Orthodox who have the right to an equal amount of outrage. There is a chance that there is a storefront church down the street from his favorite Starbucks that might vaguely resemble his indictment of the entire, varied, body of christianity but I wouldn't count on it.
HT: to Chuck Karczag for bringing the original post to my attention in email. If my cousin would only tell me where he's blogging these days, I'd give him a link.
A Hypothetical Fantasy
I just read Stephen Den Beste's take on France being shut out of negotiations. It was excellent, as usual and provoked a silly little speculation. What if every French Government spokesman was telling the truth?
Now that would be subtle wedge politics! Don't tell France's President, Prime Minister, or Foreign Minister but do tell their Defense Minister on strictest confidence which was kept. Could the way out for France be made any clearer?
I don't trust translated statements going through a few hands before it gets to me but the prospect gives me the giggles and is plausible, if not likely.
Occupation Tech II
An article in Newsday demonstrates the power of sitting down and trying to understand the people who make up a country you've invaded. But there's also another lesson there, so far unremarked in prior commentary. The technology that Lt. Col. King is using to keep track of tribes could be done so much better and his work could be so much more effective if he were properly supported by a more extensive technology effort.
LTC King is using a palm pilot to keep track of what he finds out about the various tribes. But does that database get regularly injected upstream to the center and filtered back down to all the rest of the officers who could both use that information and could contribute to it? From the story it seems not.
An extensive wireless occupation net would permit this sort of information interchange and more. But while generic Palm software could do a reasonable job, there's no reason why specialized software couldn't be created that would do the job much better. Palm software tends to have fairly fast development times too so we're not talking about something that would necessarily have to wait for the next go around either.
The Pentagon has a lot of whiz bang technology that can trickle down to the civilian sector (the Internet itself being a prime example). Iraq is a practical example of how the technology flow can go the other direction. We civilians have some ability to see that tech flow towards the military broadened and strengthened.
Sanity On the Left?
I will probably disagree with Rabbi James L. Mirel much more often than I agree with him. But he does good work in this article promoting civility in political discourse. There's been too much misuse of language. Nazi, communist, traitor, evil, these are all terms that have meaning and need to be used precisely. When they are just words you fling at those you disagree with, it both makes civic progress more difficult while legitimizing the absolutely real holders of these labels. In other words, it's a two-fer dose of stupidity.
I have a feeling that I have a somewhat higher tolerance for strong language than the good rabbi but the rhetoric is too often crashing through even the lowest of civilized floors. We need to clean up our act without compromising our principles.
USA 2004: Now With 40% Less Free Speech
Robert Robbopines about the recent USSC ruling on campaign finance reform and comes up with a statistic that floored me. The new law illegalizes 40% of the spending on politics that the two major parties spent on elections. Assuming this is correct, the implications are large, and severe.
Let's assume, for the moment, that McCain-Feingold simply took the law and matched it to bedrock common law morals. This means that in 2000, 40% of expenditures of both major parties were dirty. I highly doubt that 40% of Enron's expenditures fell into this category, nor did Anderson's misdeeds amount to 40% of the money it handled either yet our criminal justice system placed huge penalties on both corporations, practically destroying them as unacceptably corrupt.
If the Democrat and Republican parties really engaged in such corrupt practices, neither of them deserves to be on the ballot in any state. We should tear them both down and start over.
Furthermore, Republican prowess in getting hard dollars means that this 40% is unlikely to be distributed evenly across party lines. Democrats are probably higher than 40% with Republicans dragging the average down. There is partisan advantage to be gained here so why aren't Republicans weilding it?
This is nonsense only because McCain-Feingold is not legislation that goes after corrupt practices or even substantially after corrupt practices. I would argue the same need to start over with new parties if the figure was 33% or even 25%. McCain-Feingold isn't about getting dirty money out of politic. You can tell this by the dog that doesn't bark. The idea of splitting off from corrupt Republicans or Democrats is very much a fringe phenomenon. If McCain-Feingold was actually what it represented itself as the dog would bark and the parties would be destroyed. Americans are not a corrupt people and they wouldn't tolerate having parties this dirty running the country.
Once the corruption angle is taken away, all that is left is limits on free speech. Welcome to the new USA, now with 40% less free speech. I predict that somehow, to nobody's surprise, the new version will be far less filling.
Howard Dean is right when he brings up the question of what is mainstream in US foreign policy. The answer he gives, sadly for Democrat electoral chances, is wrong.
George Bush's foreign policy is a departure from 60 years of bipartisan foreign policy. It is a radical shift and to pretend otherwise is to not be a serious analyst of the situation. But is it out of the mainstream? Or is it more correct to say that the bipartisan foreign policy limits and rituals of the cold war era have been abandoned by the mainstream in an astonishing display of presidential leadership with Howard Dean being the standard bearer of a liberal reactionary impulse to stick with the past.
The fundamental question is whether 'everything changed' after 9/11. For those who think that it did, sticking with the old bipartisan consensus looks and sounds as foolish as delivering goods with a horse drawn wagon in the age of the internal combustion engine.
But is this undeniably radical current in the US the new mainstream? I'm sure that there is frequent polling done on this by both major parties and the answer is in doubt, thus the clear choice of foreign policy solutions in a Bush v. Dean major party contest.
Is our foreign policy framework a virtual Augean stables requiring a herculean effort to make ready for a new age? Or is our traditional foreign policy consensus from 1945-2001 still the right long-term framework for handling today's challenges?
My answer to that is clear. A Dean administration based on the same old, same old principles he currently advocates would be a disaster of the first order for the United States. Whether that view, or its polar opposite is the prevailing sentiment of voters in November is very much up for grabs.
Voting to Kill Canadians V
In one venerable political tradition, politicians only care for themselves and their constituents. Anybody who can't help or hurt their quest for power is just SOL as far as they are concerned. Rod Blagojevich obviously believes this otherwise he would not be forging ahead with a proposal to permit a 'pilot program' of drug reimportation. The creation of drug shortages in Canada as Illinois hoovers a big chunk of Canada's supply (Illinois, by itself is something over 1/3 of Canada's total population) is simply not on Rod Blagojevich's humanitarian radar screen.
Unlike other governors, Blagojevich is politically constrained not to act in defiance of federal law. Atty. General Ashcroft is currently prosecuting his Republican predecessor and the Democrats in Illinois have (for the first time in many years) an advantage in the corruption race. With Gov. Blagojevich under indictment, this advantage would quickly disappear and unlike Gov. Ryan's sins, this wouldn't be venal bribery that takes years to trace to the top but something that would be a slam dunk conviction in time for the election season. The Ryan prosecution innoculates the Bush administration from the charge of playing politics with the Justice Department.
Other politicians, not so constrained by their local culture of corruption catching up to them are going to go ahead in defiance of Washington. They may not have the population heft of Illinois but if enough of them act, this is going to go on the State Department's plate, like it or not.
click here for the full series.
December 20, 2003
The Embarrassing Cardinal II
It seems that Cardinal Martino is being chided by the Vatican for engendering confusion between the Cardinal's personal opinion and the Vatican's official position on the capture of Saddam Hussein.
The Vatican has issued a reasonable statement, tactfully rapping a 'prince of the Church' over the knuckles without excessive humiliation. It makes one wonder about all the intemperate commentary that simply assumed that the Cardinal must have been relaying an official position. Retractions anyone?
Libyan WMD: Negotiating Tactics
I don't know if they do things in the UK as they do in the US but reading over Steven Den Beste's analysis of the Libyan WMD renunciation process gave me the feeling that I've seen this before. Finally, about halfway through the article it hit me. They were acting like a traditional car dealership would in the US. The person who you actually can talk to is never 'authorized' to give any solid promises but acts as a runner and a filter to the 'real' negotiator who accepts or vetoes offers, most of the time giving negative responses until near the end when he makes an appearance to sprinkle the holy water and a smile at the consummation of the deal.
It is a specialized form of good cop/bad cop applied more to contract negotiations than legal interrogations and it is very efficient at creating an unlevel playing field where large concessions on the one side are matched with small concessions on the other. The game is eventually ruined by the creation of a crop of car buyers who are educated and understand all the tricks and simply refuse to play the 'car buying game'.
This is where the analogy breaks down. Libya is not a car buyer and the Coalition of the Willing is not a dealership, except perhaps in passports to the Functioning Core.
The nature of the game thus lives somewhat between good cop/bad cop (where the bad cop is often the brooding, threatening presence in the room, this role being played by the US armed forces) and the dealership (where the "manager" is the absent god who can putatively make decisions but won't negotiate directly, this role played by the 'scary' GW Bush) models.
Hopefully, this successful model will show a viable way out for the rest of the Axis of Evil, both for the remaining named portions (N. Korea & Iran) as well as those other countries that are exactly like them but were never publicly put on the list (as Libya was).
In the end, achieving Functioning Core status is the goal. Participate in the global economy, create a multitude of international connections between your citizens and the rest of the world, and empower them sufficiently that these internationally dependent economic players must be given a seat at the domestic political decision-making table. Once enough players are unwilling to destroy their own foreign holdings and power positions, you're no longer a threat no matter how disagreeable you may be on a particular issue cough Germany cough or even string of issues cough France cough.
Libyan WMD: Libya's effect on the US
Could it be that the Bush administration's attitude toward the UN's weapons inspection infrastrucutere was substantially altered by the Libyan secret negotiations on its own WMD? Imagine for a moment that you are George Bush. You know that Libya has WMD programs because the Libyans are telling you so. No doubt, you make sure that somebody makes an analysis of exactly how Libya has been fooling the UN inspection system and how worthless that system is to actually protecting your national security through the NPT and the chem/bio disarmament convention. You've come up with the conclusion that any of two dozen nations could be in violation of these treaties and the enforcement groups would never know it.
What do you do? Who do you trust?
I think that Libya has certainly influenced US policy on Iran. US and UK attitudes toward Iranian WMD policy have been markedly different than the rest of the world and evidence that Libya has got clean away with having a program (much as Romania did under Ceausescu) means that the enforcers have learned nothing sufficient to stop an unending series of replays of the scary case of Romania who was successful at making weapons grade nuclear material in small quantities. If there was anything that the old communist system was good at, it was super sizing industrial processes to gargantuan quantities.
Fortunately, Romania had a revolution and the new government was willing to trade bomb capability for a power-plant complex (Cernavoda 1-4). Thanks Canada! Likely Libya is negotiating a similar deal. Is it rational for a country to assume that fortune will always smile on the side of civilization?
Weekend Silly Season is Open: Schlock Mercenary
Along with my blog reading list, I have something of a lighter one. For my military and military minded readers, here's one of the best, Schlock Mercenary. It's military science fiction and generally work safe (just as long as laughing out loud won't badly impact your career). If you have some time, read it from the beginning.
Libyan WMD: UN Effectiveness Questions
Could anyone, exactly, explain to me the UN's role in finding Libya's illegal WMD programs? No snickering please, I'm serious. The UN gets a significant amount of money to help enforce the international WMD treaties. In the case of Libya, what did the world's money buy it? And if the answer is less than satisfactory, how can it be changed and improved? Finally, why haven't I heard a thing about this from the mainstream media?
December 19, 2003
The Baathist Rout
The Belmont Club has a great post on the military consequences of Saddam's capture with substantial documentation regarding revanchist forces he lead.
The most important concept was that right now the limits of the US haul of fighters and backers will be limited by the speed at which they can exploit the embarrassment of intelligence riches they have. These items have a very short shelf life and it is quite likely that US and Iraqi forces are very busy right now and will continue to be so for the near future.
Sharon's Disengagement Plan
Get ready for a long hot summer in Israel. Sharon's recent speech outlines a huge stick that will be wielded if Palestinians do not undertake their portion of the US Roadmap plan to the satisfaction of Israel. The security fence construction is being accelerated. Far flung jewish settlements in the occupied territories will be evacuated/relocated. And Israel will make a unilateral defense line separating palestinians from their best hope of a functioning economy, jobs in Israel.
This is a bit of heartburn that the Bush administration could well do without and the brickbats have been flying in all directions after the speech. Enough vagueness was left in the speech to keep Sharon's coalition from immediately imploding. No settlements were named as ones too far out to be defended.
The big question is what will happen when Arafat can no longer complain about being occupied and has to actually govern territory. His democratic mandate has long ago expired. Without Israeli troops wandering across territory nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority, what remains of his excuses for not submitting to elections? Sharon has rolled the dice and provided a highly unattractive plan B to the US Roadmap's plan A. How this bold move will settle out over the next few months is anybody's guess.
An Atta/Saddam Debunking?
The debunking, like the original memo, leaves enough holes so that the issue has to remain in doubt. If the FBI doesn't know whether Atta flew to Vegas, how do they know that he didn't take a short trip for a three day training session in Iraq? The debunkers don't say because it's inconvenient to their case. At the same time, they do have a point that there are an awful lot of fake documents flying around Iraq these days. This easily could be one of those.
The cure is patience and a demand that these things be verified or debunked definitively by professionals in the field of document analysis. Has handwriting analysis been done on the memo (it's in longhand)? Who did it and what were the results? No national security secrets would be compromised by answering these questions so why are neither the Telegraph nor Newsweek pressuring the US government or the IGC to release the relevant information?
When Do You Judge Intelligence?
The 1990s opening of the former Soviet Union's intelligence archives resolved a great deal of Cold War controversy. Yes, Hiss was a spy. Yes, the nuclear freeze movement was heavily penetrated and influenced by the KGB, etc. Between the time these controversies were first raised before the public to the time when they were definitively resolved, years and decades intervened. Countless barrels of ink were spilled on both sides of the argument writing all sorts of insightful truths and rank nonsense.
Today, we have a similar situation with the War on Terror. Where are the WMDs? Can you explain the intelligence failures? One tack to take is the one President Bush used in the recent Diane Sawyer interview "What's the difference?". This is a coping mechanism for the persistent fact that intelligence estimates are often mistaken that identifies hostile intentions as the key to deciding whether or not to act.
The Washington Post gives a thumbs down to this method. They have something of a point but they do not give anything near proper deference to the facts of the present case. As I noted earlier today the case of whether Saddam had WMD is not actually closed. The Kay report that has been issued to Congress is an interim report and no final conclusions have been drawn of whether or not intelligence estimates were, in fact, wrong in any particular.
An intelligence blunder of massive proportions can destroy careers, set an agency back years in the weight their intelligence product is given in the halls of power and can make them too timid in providing anything of value except the most certain of conclusions. In short, it can wreck an agency.
Some agencies should be wrecked. They might be so far gone that the painful process of a wholesale restructuring would lead to an immediate and long lasting net benefit for the country. But shouldn't the guilty verdict be in hand before we start work on the hangman's scaffold?
I've made it clear that I'm all in favor of firings once the evidence is in and checked. Official incompetence and malfeasance cannot be excused when lives are lost. But we should never lose sight of justice and the cost that unjustified accusations can extract both personally, and nationally.
Seeing Eye Dogs & Gay Marriage
I know people who have great dogs, nice, friendly, really great personalities. They aren't allowed in stores, busses, or many other places. Growing up, I often saw other dogs in White Plains, NY who were allowed to do all those things. They were seeing eye dogs. They too were nice, friendly, with great personalities. But these dogs got to be with their owners an awful lot more than other dogs did. They were privileged and their privilege was enshrined by law and by the police.
Now there was no reason that other dogs could not be allowed into stores, etc, if the owners wanted to make a private rule accomodating them. But nobody was allowed to keep the seeing eye dogs out.
Is this justice?
Are not regular dogs participating in the same quality of dogness as these special privilege dogs? Why must their activity be circumscribed by particular private arrangement? Why must they suffer this awful discrimination and be separated at critical moments from their pack leader (owner)? Where is the basic sense of decency and fairness of it all.
Taken out of the human realm, the answer for this type of question is clear and people can more dispassionately analyze things. People with seeing eye dogs get special legal privileges because these dogs are useful tools to impart a recognized public good, enabling blind people (and those with other handicaps) to reduce their dependence on others, including the state, and live out more normal lives. The difference in effect justifies a difference in behavior.
An equal protection lawsuit seeking to let people with personal pets have the same rights as people with seeing eye dogs would rightly get laughed out of court. Their only hope would be demonstrating some sort of equivalent public benefit but reality shows there is none.
Gay marriage advocates are trying the same sort of thing as our hypothetical pet owners but they further demand that they don't have to prove equivalent state benefit. Andrew Sullivan acts as usual when he opines:
What I simply don't understand is why a woman as obviously as sensitive and humane as Morse nevertheless believes that excluding loving gay couples from such an experience is not only a good thing but a vital thing for people already in such marriages. Are gay people not also human? Can they not also put a joint life before personal gratification? Why does Morse simply assume that homosexuality is about "self-centeredness"? Morse doesn't actually provide any such arguments. She just seems to take it for granted that this is a zero-sum game, that including gay people in the profound experience of self-giving is somehow destructive of her own relationship. I don't get it. I don't see it. And her utter indifference to the actual lives, loves and relationships of gay people - does she know any, I wonder? - undermines her otherwise compelling moral sense. That's a shame. Gay and straight people have a common ground of understanding when it comes to marriage: we are all human. We all need and benefit from the experience of love and self-giving. It ennobles, sanctifies, elevates. Why does someone like Morse insist that gay people cannot be a part of this?
It's all about the emotional needs and wants of the couple. But marriage, as a state institution, is not about anything but public benefit. And before anybody bothers asking, yes, I have known monogomous gay couples who were pretty obviously committed to each other. Should the state have supported their relationship in some way? That's an interesting question. Should the state have mixed them in and given them the state status as heterosexual married couples? Absolutely not.
Why I Love Macs II
Evan Kirchoff explains a great deal about why Microsoft has always been an "almost great" company. The money quote
It is, however, typical for Microsoft to choose to focus intensely on something, carry a solution to within striking distance of greatness, and then wander away distractedly like a bird spotting a shiny object. This is not a company that sweats the small stuff, or any stuff below the mid-sized.
Macintosh, on the other hand, is a brand whose greatest value proposition is sweating the small stuff. Now that it's plunked itself at the heart of the Unix world (Mac OS X is at heart an implementation of FreeBSD for PPC), it's going to be interesting to see how their sweat the user interaction details will work out with Unix' traditional attitude of sweat the technical details but not the UI.
Inspector v. Spymaster
Who do you trust to get it right? The inspector is Hans Blix, in charge of various Iraq inspections. The spymaster is Mihai Pacepa, who was in charge of writing some of the standard WMD hiding plans for Soviet bloc countries (of which Iraq, doctrinally, has remained).
The real surprise for me has been that nobody seems to have been asking the IGC whether or not there has been evidence uncovered of a hiding plan consistent with Pacepa's claim that such plans were standard operating procedure. Or, if those questions have been asked by the press, nobody's reporting the answers.
December 18, 2003
Supporting Citizen Oversight of Legislation
Hellblazer writes here an anguished cry over the horrible budget process. His politics aren't necessarily my cup of tea but this is a situation that transcends party politics. Both parties do the same sad omnibus bills filled with unwise and unnecessary goodies (Democrats, most recently in 1992-1994, Republicans right now). Stuff like this disappears when exposed to the light of public opinion but the legislation is so big and it's so hard to figure out who did what and when that shining the light on these bad practices is hard to do and expensive.
But this, at heart, is an information systems problem. I've long thought that something tailored to the political process that functioned something like CVS for version control would be a useful bit of citizen oversight. After that, you just need someone to be ballsy enough on final passage to require an actual reading of the bill.
You run a diff (a listing command that highlights the differences between two versions of the same document, short for differential) to spot all the last minute pork that's been inserted and you light up the US Capitol switchboard like a christmas tree before they're halfway through the reading. Put a thousand calls in on the same subject demanding a no vote on the pork and you have a very cowed legisltor.
435 legislators can't stop the shenanigans. They don't have the tools or the manpower even if they want to do it. 10k of volunteers could if they had access to the legislation and version control to spot the last minute funny business. The tool is probably 40% written already in various open source repositories.
Note: I'm not talking about party here. This isn't about party. It's about taking control of out of control spending.
Robotic UN Field Personnel?
One of the major problems with current UN operations in Iraq is that the UN is in Cyprus and they are unable to go out into the field, to speak to and talk to people who are not able to get to a telephone. There might be a solution for this dilemma in development. If you add a satellite communication videoconference setup, you might have something that is mobile enough to get out and about without risking your life and if the robot is attacked, it could always send out an position and condition SOS on military frequencies.
I'm quite sure that Sony would be willing to part with the technology for Qrio for such a prestigious role. It certainly would bring them lots of visibility as long as they could figure out how to power the thing in primitive conditions long enough to be useful.
Wanted: A Department of Anarchy IV
The main objection in discussion I've had on the idea of a DepartmentofAnarchy has been on the line that it is not original and has always been stymied by the natural forces that create "captured" departments, that sad process where the watchers become sympathetic to the watched to the point where they are in desperate need of treatment for their full blown Stockholm Syndrome.
The solution (now that it's stewed around the back of my head for a few months) seems simple, make the Department be headed by an elective officeholder. Of course this makes the actual creation of such institutions harder but it does give the people the ability to renew the institution as officeholders get 'captured' and no longer serve as effective promoters of efficiency, justice, and freedom.
What is Saddam Hussein
1. The political leader of the legitimate government of Iraq
I'm not a lawyer but in my research and reading I haven't been able to tell definitively what Saddam is, nor have I found any sort of treatise that outlines how people who are in one condition change to become another. It is actually possible that Saddam Hussein has occupied all five roles in 2003. It's possible that he's occupied more than two of the five simultaneously if you tote up the perspective of different permanent members of the UN security council.
Wouldn't it be a blast if somebody asked that? Wouldn't it be even better if it was settled in time for the next push to dethrone a tyrant?
We're Still a Republic
James Pinkerton's most recent article simply assumes an Imperial US. He really should read up more on history. The descent of Republican Rome into Imperial Rome did not hinge on Roman boots going past their original borders. Rome as republic was quite active militarily. What converted Rome from Republic to Empire was the erosion of the polity, a lessening of republican spirit, and a strong leader that was capable of moving the nation from one system to the other.
The scope and audacity of his assumptions is breathtaking. With some measured analysis, it's clearly unsustainable.
Benjamin Franklin famously said that our new system of government was "a republic, if you can keep it". This implies that Republics are something that must be fought for, vigilantly watched over, and defended. Republican Rome has long been admired in Washington. Just look at our public decorations and you can see fasces and other symbols of Rome's republican days that date back quite some time in US history. The fasces on the Lincoln memorial, after all, have nothing to do with the War on Terror.
In a time when we need to go beyond our borders to secure our nation more than ever we have an equal obligation to increase our vigilance to keep our republic. That task is made ever harder by articles that assume we've already lost it.
Could Have, Should Have
Now, things are going to get interesting. Governor Kean has uncorked the king of all stink bombs and said that there are major players in the current administration who should be fired for their role in failing to stop the events of 9/11. Over the next month, public commission sessions will flesh out the case for failure and personnel change in the administration.
In 2001 and 2002 I recall repeatedly counseling patience and calm to a lot of overheated people who wanted immediate, mass firings. Well, now we're going to have a report. Now we have a blueprint to map out the failure properly. Now we're going to be able to judge properly without descending into a government crippling witch hunt. Now is the time for personnel changes that will enhance our fight in the War on Terror by improving the team leading it.
The report needs to be finished up, released, and the public needs to know the cast of incompetents and as much evidence as can prudently be made public to verify that this is not a rogue commission. I hope that the Bush administration will keep its priorities in order and be loyal to the people, and not their employees and coworkers. That's the reasonable justified expectation of every patriotic american.
HT to the Drudge Report.
Voting to Kill Illinoisans
It seems that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has no problem in endangering the lives of the citizens of Illinois in a nasty game of chicken. He's actually forcing doctors to change prescriptions away from medications sold by drug companies who have decided to limit shipments to Canada. This unexpected wrinkle in the drug reimportation tombstone war is another sad step towards a climactic showdown and demonstrates that the politicians can't be counted on to ensure health and safety.
The problem here is twofold. Individual reactions are unpredictable and forcing people to go to a competing formulation can cause reduce effectiveness and even risk the patient's health. Also the time spent hashing all this out is both costly for the physician and increases the likelihood that the patient won't be taking any medication while the fight goes on. Governor Blagojevich had better hope that nobody ever actually totes up the medical damage to Illinois' poor and aged. The affected programs are Public Aid and SeniorCare.
Voting to Kill Canadians IV
Of course, this can be more than just a problem in Canada as you will see in the next item
December 17, 2003
The Sad Pessimism of John Rhys-Davies
One of the saddest things that you can see is a warrior who is utterly convinced that he is doomed if he plants his flag and fights for what he believes in, yet he still plants his flag, though he is convinced no one will rally to his side and he fights the best fight he knows how before he is defeated.
John Rhys-Davies (LotR, "Gimli") is that man.
"I'm burying my career so substantially in these interviews that it's painful. But I think that there are some questions that demand honest answers,"
Quoting his father "Twice a year it comes down from Aden [in Yemen]. It stops here and goes down [south]. On the way down it's got boxes of machinery and goods. On the way back up it's got two or three little black boys on it. Now, those boys are slaves. And the United Nations will not let me do anything about it."
"What is unconscionable is that too many of your fellow journalists do not understand how precarious Western civilization is and what a joy it is. From it, we get real democracy. From it, we get the sort of intellectual tolerance that allows me to propound something that may be completely alien to you around this table...."
"The abolition of slavery comes from Western democracy. True democracy comes from our Greco-Judeo-Christian-Western experience. If we lose these things, then this is a catastrophe for the world."
"I am for dead white male culture"
"You do realize that in this town [Hollywood], what I've been saying is rather like, sort of — oh well, I can't find a comparable blasphemy ... but we've got to get a bit serious."
I wish I knew how to say it to him directly but he's not alone, and those who can should tell him. Personally, I'll go to see the next film he's in on his presence alone. In my entire life, I've never said that about an actor before.
The Embarrassing Cardinal
A new article seems to put Cardinal Martino as something of a loose cannon that is going far beyond what the Pope, or most of the Vatican Curia wants to convey. The Vatican is in something of a bind as it is intensely scrutinized for any sign that could be used by Islamists as a rallying argument that the Pope is renewing the Crusades. In the history crazy world of middle eastern Islam, the Pope is the ultimate big boogey man and John Paul II has, wisely, refused to play into the waiting trap.
May the next Pope be as wise.
I understand that the habit of the Vatican has long been to take troublesome Bishops and promote them to clerical posts with little power and less visibility limited to doing the necessary work of signing paychecks for African missionaries on the Vatican grounds, for instance. Cardinal Martino, the scribe's desk is calling to you.
Good News About Sugar
With the passage of CAFTA we're going to start seeing sugar come down in price. For those of us who have had the privilege of drinking a Coke or Pepsi made with sugar instead of the ADM dreck called high fructose corn syrup, this is welcome good news.
It's likely that clothes prices will also go down, and human dignity will go up as central americans from the relevant nations empower themselves over the next decade to lift themselves out of poverty by the sweat of their own brows.
But for me and my sweet tooth, the most visible payoff will be the reduction of HCFS in my diet.
I'll probably post a bit more serious analysis later.
Micro v Macro Politics
Mark Steyn well notes the tendency for the current Democrat party to concentrate on micro issues while Republicans hold a large lead in macro issues. Unfortunately, this is not a very good dynamic for the US, or the world. It sets up a nasty cyclic situation where big issues, like ending the Cold War, dealing with the War on Terrorism, etc. will become a Republican preserve which, as soon as they solve them, will lead to them being thrown out on their ear to be replaced by micro-politics specialists like Bill Clinton and Howard Dean who, ignoring the big issues, set up the world for another set of crises requiring Republicans to put right.
The truth is that both micro and macro politics works better when there are two realistic, well thought out alternatives available for the voters to choose from. It did urban america no favors to have the Republican party largely cede urban politics in the '70s. It does our national security no good to have generally unserious responses to the War on Terror coming from the Democrat party today.
HT to Balloon Juice
Is the Debunking Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
What do you do when Glenn Reynolds in a story debunking politicized environmental reporting, repeats one of the hoariest myths around of scientific persecution by religion. He's spot on in his linking, no argument there but the truth is that Galileo had a religious trial for his religious and unscientific views. The problem of Galileo's trial is important because it directly bears on the problem of the hockey stick and other politically convenient science that Reynolds is complaining about.
Galileo, like today's global warming partisans, was a man in a hurry. He believed in a theory, like warming theorists today do, for which he thought the evidence was persuasive, but that there was no definitive proof at the time (and simple definitive proof would not be found until 1838 long after Galileo's death in 1642 when the parallax problem was finally solved).
Galileo turned out to be right in the end but he insisted that religious authorities change their interpretation of scripture in advance of the evidence. That was a religious matter and properly put the whole issue before the Inquisition. The sin of the Church was that Galileo, being an impatient, abrasive, abusive man, succeeded in exceeding their tolerance and his temperment played an important part in his conviction. That's no way to run a court system and the 1979 examination of the problem settled the question of judicial malfeasance (if you need it in another language other than french or italian, use the fish).
The fact that Galileo was running in advance of the evidence and created a 400 year rift between western science and western faith in the process should be a cautionary tale and put us on our guard against scientists who seek to do the same today and run ahead of the actual evidence for their position. Some will ultimately be proven right, others wrong. But all will corrode the proper ethic of science and that's a real shame.
Variables and Constants I
One of the most persistent errors in human affairs when it comes to progress is assuming a variable is a constant. These days this error shows up all the time in virtually every field of human endeavor. So, why do we do this? Because for the vast majority of humanity's history it worked so well and for a lot of circumstances, it still works well most of the time. Constants don't have to be calculated so you save a tremendous amount of work in assuming slow moving variables are constants. Everybody ends up doing it, sometimes to disasterous effect but usually not.
Osama Bin Laden did this when he ordered the attacks on the WTC and assumed that the US would react as it always had before. People act as though the population is and always will be going up. Until recently, inflation was assumed to be a constant of the modern condition. The Democrats and Republicans will always alternate in ruling the US and the Liberals have an electoral lock in Canada.
It used to be that tools were considered a constant. Before the industrial revolution and interchangeable parts, a hammer wasn't much different from year to year and specialization of tools and tool development were slow to happen and slow to spread. Essentially, a whole lot of people could get away with long term planning by setting the quality of your manufacturing tools as a constant. That's no longer the case. We know now that they're variables because tools change frequently and do the same jobs faster, more reliably, and cheaper in a constantly shifting tripod of improvements (as the classic phrase goes, pick any two).
But in the shift from viewing something as a constant to viewing it as a variable, ther is a sticky period where you have something I'll call a shifting constant. When plow innovations happen every couple of hundred years or so, adjusting crop yields upwards, it's more efficient to view yields as constants and simply change the constant as a one off exercise if you happen to be alive when an innovation happens. No problem, you have the efficiency savings of not calculating the variable effects most of the time and adjust once as your forecasts go off because of this rarity called innovation.
In more and more fields of endeavor, we're going through that sticky period at the same time.
DDT ban death toll
One of my pet peeves is the moral superiority that many on the left put on, even as their policies cause the deaths of so many. They have blood dripping from their hands and piously proclaim that they are the true moralists. Communists are probably the most famous for this but today, I thought I'd let loose a bit on environmentalists.
To save some birds from DDT it must be banned. But how are we to save people from malaria? There is no real answer to that as DDT is unique in its effectiveness, safety, and low cost. And while the environmentalists force DDT to the sidelines in the fight against malaria the death toll keeps climbing. Here's a malaria death clock in french and the google translation in english.
The next time you see an environmentalists pretending to be a moralist, look at your watch. Every 10.5 seconds of blather = one death, most of the time a child under 5 or a pregnant woman.
HT to Tech Central Station which is running a good article on the precautionary principle as applied to pesticides.
Why I Love Macs I
Macintosh gives you high standards. I'm a bit of a computer schizophrenic. I have a Mac at home, run my own consulting business on them, and am an MCSE and have clients who are largely Windows/Linux.
So here I am, in need of a CD burner in my client provided Dell Laptop. I pop the computer out of the docking cradle. I pop the DVD/ROM module out of the Dell. I pop in a combo (DVD/CD Burner) module and put it back in the cradle. I did this while I was logged on to Windows XP. I expected it to work. Of course it didn't. (Note to self: move coffee up earlier on your things to do morning routine).
As I was rebooting, I considered why I thought this would work and the reason was that I hadn't put my Mac sensibilities entirely away this morning and just naturally thought that Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and cohorts had paid the care and attention necessary to make it just work.
It wasn't a big deal. I had nothing running other than XP at the time (I'm not a complete fool). It was just one more, in a long line of examples of not paying attention to the details of making sure the computer user can do what he wants, when he wants, with a minimum of fuss. Other operating systems/hardware combinations have solved the problem (heck, with some, you can add/change CPU and RAM components while you're running) so we're not talking about anything that hasn't been solved decades ago. They just don't care. They never have.
December 16, 2003
The cardinal seems to be slowing down with age (he's 71). The remarks came at the end of a scripted press conference that's on the Vatican web site only in Italian (babelfish translation here). From what I can make out the actual prepared remarks are pretty good. There's a condemnation of terrorism and no mention of Saddam.
I have a feeling that the good cardinal wasn't thinking too carefully. If anything, that footage of Saddam as a broken, all too human, old man is probably his best chance so far of avoiding the death penalty in the inevitable tribunal. If, after they cleaned him up, they broadcast the meeting between him and the four members of the Governing Council, his goose would have been cooked and US military and Iraqi police lives would have been at risk trying to defend Saddam from a vast lynch mob. The great task would have been keeping him alive long enough to hang him.
Was it humanization or humiliation? It would be interesting to hear what the Cardinal has to say after he's had some time to think things over.
Hasn't anybody told Dean's bloggers that US political candiates should never, ever compare themselves to kings. Not only did a Dean supporter do it (technically he did a great job), but the official blog embraced Dean as king. That's showing basic ignorance of the founding principles of the US. George Washington went to excruciating lengths to dissociate the presidency from monarchy. Howard Dean should know better.
Giving the Dean His Due
Dr., Governor Howard Dean is the current front runner for the Democratic nomination to the presidency of the United States. No matter how much you think he's going to get buried in a landslide or that he suffers from various faults he deserves to be taken seriously and his words analyzed carefully. So I'm giving him his due and going through his recent security policy speech like he actually matters because win or lose, he does.
First the bad (which includes just those things that are wrong, and not the ungracious sections which are echoing Bush administration initiatives but don't give credit)
"An administration prepared to work with others in true partnership might have been able, if it found no alternative to Saddam's ouster, to then rebuild Iraq with far less cost and risk."
The problem is that there were always three alternatives and they remained until the first military units crossed the border in invasion, sealing our choice.
The alternatives were:
1. Continue as we were
The truth is that we could have continued Iraqi sanctions as long as we've kept on with the embargo of Cuba. This could have lasted decades more. Howard Dean owes an explanation of what would have been the trigger making the status quo unacceptable.
There were significant forces, old allies like France and Germany, new allies like Russia, who were pushing for a lifting of sanctions. Howard Dean needs to make clear what would his response have been to these initiatives and, if he wouldn't have agreed, how would he have resisted sanctions busting efforts.
Finally, he needs to say how much humiliation and nose thumbing would he be willing to take from a rogue state. We took it for 12 years +. Should it have been 13, 14, 20, 40, before we said enough was enough and just ended it? With Cuba we had the USSR as a real reason restraining us. There was no like reason over Iraq.
"I also will get America's defense spending priorities straight so our resources are focused more on fighting terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and honoring commitments to our troops and less, for example, on developing unnecessary and counterproductive new generations of nuclear weapons."
I always worry when politicians are in denial about the laws of physics. The problem that needs solving is deep bunkers which conventional munitions can't reach and which could not be destroyed quickly enough by repeated hits to stop people from moving the bunker's contents elsewhere. Deep bunkers that our munitions can't meaningfully reach are a threat that needs to be responded to.
"Every President in that line, including Republicans Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the first President Bush demonstrated that effective American leadership includes working with allies and partners, inspiring their support, advancing common interests.
Now, when America should be at the height of its influence, we find ourselves, too often, isolated and resented.
This is just ahistorical. The difference between now and then is that Joska Fischer is in the halls of power representing Germany's official voice, not in the streets beating up policemen in demonstrations against America. Poland would have been opposed in the time of Reagan, now it is a stout ally, on a level of Italy or Spain. The map has been redrawn, the governments are different but the US is no more or less isolated than it was in the past. I do worry about a potential president that clings to our past allies more than our permanent national interests. Alliances can change (though they have changed less than many wail) but interests never do.
"Unlike the kind of pick-up team this administration prefers, alliances train together so they can function effectively with common equipment, communications, logistics, and planning. Our country will be safer with established alliances, adapted to confront 21st century dangers, than with makeshift coalitions that have to start from scratch every time the alarm bell sounds."
This is something of a slap in the face to Spain, which fully integrated into NATO all of four years ago (1999) the even more recent NATO entrants and our non-NATO partners. In Gulf War I we absolutely did not limit ourself to NATO and asian partners. Is Howard Dean really arguing that we shouldn't have had Egypt or Saudi Arabia along in that war?
And speaking of Asia, Japan will be sending troops to Iraq. This marks the first time in half a century that Japan's military will be venturing past her shores and an even longer period since she has done it as part of a burden of responsible international action in support of justice.
Finally, there is France, which is simply not a 1st rank NATO player and has not been since 1966 when it withdrew from full integration. France has consistently refused to integrate into NATO for decades but Howard Dean seems to be preferring their prickly company to better integrated allies. I hope this is more than ignorance of the readily available facts of our military alliances but somebody needs to pin Dean down on it and clarify.
Fundamental to our strategy will be restoration of strong US leadership in the creation of a new global alliance to defeat terror, a commitment among law-abiding nations to work together in law enforcement, intelligence, and military operations.
Not only was such an alliance formed, it's still there, working. This is why, despite axis of weasels wording that many have used (including yours truly) there is a bedrock knowledge that our disagreement over Iraq is a bump in the road in our relationships with these dissenting countries and that the official voice of the United States has appropriately been much more moderate and conciliatory than the NY Post.
People often worry about the Arab street and have for decades. Today, French exporters worry about the American street because it's decimated their sales levels. French tourist businesses cry out to their government to appease us, not necessarily the government of the US, but the people of the US whom Chirac has grievously offended. We aren't falling in love with France again because France keeps ankle biting us and the people are awake, aroused, and are using pocketbook politics and will continue to do so.
This is an unusual situation which has been played rather well by this administration. A greater kowtow by official America will not necessarily placate our street. How Howard Dean plans to manage that, I can't imagine but his pretending the phenomenon does not exist is not encouraging. It seems to be ignoring the real-life political reality all around us. That's not good in a presidential candidate.
"Our administration will move swiftly to build a new anti-terrorist alliance, drawing on our traditional allies and involving other partners whose assistance can make a difference."
News Flash - all countries can provide finance routing, planning safe havens, and transit papers. There are no nations whose assistance cannot make a difference. This is just a gratuitous slap at smaller nations. I thought Democrats were the party of the little guy?
Our vigilance will extend to every conceivable means of attack. And our most important challenge will be to address the most dangerous threat of all: catastrophic terrorism using weapons of mass destruction. Here, where the stakes are highest, the current administration has, remarkably, done the least.
Tell it to the Lackawanna six. There is a very fine line that has to be walked here. I think the government still owns the land they used for WW II internment camps and arab internment in Guantanamo like conditions would certainly allow for the sorting and filtering of innocents from the guilty but do we really want to go there? What sort of more vigorous action to uncover sleeper cells is being proposed here? For the sake of our freedom this has to get expanded on and talked about in detail.
From where I stand there isn't much more that can be done without damage to our freedom but if Howard Dean has some special insight, it deserves to be implemented regardless of election results. There are two risks here. This could be meaningless hot air or a threat to our freedom. Both risks need to be addressed.
A great deal of the problem is that you can make some awfully good weapons with what's available in a fairly typical US household. I won't go into detail here but the fellow in New Zealand who built a cruise missile in his backyard for under $5k was getting at exactly this point. Controls necessary to stop threats such as that would be profoundly intrusive and permanent. This is just the kind of restriction on freedom that is most difficult to recover from and thus should be regarded with the greatest suspicion.
"The tragedy is that, by its actions, its unilateralism, and its ill-considered war in Iraq, this Administration has empowered radicals, weakened moderates, and made it easier for the terrorists to add to their ranks."
Before our invasion of Iraq, there were suicide bombers in Israel getting posthumous $25k checks to their families from Saddam. Hamas, who bombed the US Marines in Lebanon, was getting support from Saddam. We have links to Iraq for the 1st WTC bombing and now recently there seems to be emerging documentation for links to 9/11. The money and training would have continued to flow absent an invasion.
Today, the palestinians are in mourning over the capture of Saddam and moderates all over the islamic world share in the joy that capture has brought Iraq. This is a section that should have been rewritten over the weekend after the capture of Saddam. The US excised a cancer on the world. Surgery hurts (as the good doctor should know), but the temporary pain is worth the long-term gain which is why we do it.
"And he must show by words and deeds that America seeks security for itself through strengthening the rule of law, not to dominate others by becoming a law unto itself."
And when international institutions are unwilling (not incapable, unwilling) to enforce their own mandatory decrees, are we to repeat the tragedy of the League of Nations to Mussolini's aggression in Ethiopia? That's not something that is acceptable. We currently have a shot at redeeming the UN. If Saddam had survived his last warning with his secret Mukhabarat weapons labs intact the community of tyrants would have known and taken note. The UN would have been finished.
"As President, I will work to narrow the now-widening gap between rich and poor. Right now, the United States officially contributes a smaller percentage of its wealth to helping other nations develop than any other industrialized country."
The United States, as a nation, works a lot of things through private channels that are more effective than official government channels. Getting the job done right is more important than the official record books. Howard Dean should feel that too. It's a pity he doesn't.
"We also must bring skill and determination to a task at which the current administration has utterly failed: We can and we must work for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians."
Two weeks ago, the Democratic candidates were united in calling our failure to capture Saddam a miserable failure. This descends beyond mere ungraciousness to a cheap shot using a throwaway line. We deserve better and need to hold Dean's feet to the fire to expound on what, exactly he would do that hasn't been tried and failed since 1948.
But it wasn't all cheap shots and bad policy. There was some good in there, sometimes in surprising places. In justice, that has to get noted too. It could form the basis of a renewed american bipartisan consensus in security/foreign policy. We desperately need that as a nation. Like the ungracious parts, the purely gracious parts like thanking the troops will be omitted as will the lighter than air truisms that are universally supported (are there actually any anti-rule-of-law candidates out there?).
"When it comes to our national security, we cannot afford to fail. September 11 was neither the beginning of our showdown with violent extremists, nor its climax. It was a monumental wake-up call to the urgent challenges we face."
Here is confirmation, Dean is not a complete moonbat. This is responsible and I hope he takes along the rest of his party to this position. Much of it is already there. Too much is not. Of the people who went back to sleep after 9/11, too big a chunk seem to be Democrats.
"Empowered by the American people, I will work to restore:
I can only assume that this includes a repudiation of the Clinton administration position of handcuffing our intelligence services with impossible mandates to penetrate brutal terrorist organizations but have nothing to do with unsavory characters. This would be a welcome agreement with the Bush administration and should be made explicit.
"That means ensuring that our troops have the best leadership, the best training, and the best equipment."
I agree with Howard Dean here. Unfortunately, some Democrats do not. Dean needs to either get HR 3696 withdrawn or to denounce it.
It means ensuring that we have the right types of forces with the right capabilities to perform the missions that may lie ahead. I will expand our armed forces' capacity to meet the toughest challenges like defeating terrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction, and securing peace with robust special forces, improved military intelligence, and forces that are as ready and able to strengthen the peace as they are to succeed in combat.
With this statement, Dean signs on to an expansive vision of military transformation. As a Democrat, he has the liberty to do so without being tagged with the warmonger label that has traditionally handicapped Republicans. In the best of all possible worlds, this will be a consensus item and if George W Bush wins the presidency, Dean will work with other responsible Democrats to make sure this vision gets implemented no matter the party sponsorship of the legislation. The same goes for the Republicans.
"Rebuilding our alliances and partnerships is relevant not only in Europe and Asia. Closer to home, my Administration will rebuild cooperation with Mexico and others in Latin America."
It's going to be interesting to see the details of how the issues of illegal immigration and Brazil's attempt to form Mercosur as a competing trade block to NAFTA would get handled in a Dean administration.
"We will do more to protect our cities, ports, and aircraft; water and food supplies; bridges, chemical factories, and nuclear plants.
We will improve the coordination of intelligence information not only among federal agencies but also with state and local governments.
My understanding is that the biggest hitch on these has been practical budgetary issues and assigning the dollars we have to where they will do the most good. It's a relief to hear that these issues will go away in a Dean administration. I'll be fascinated to hear the details of how the money will appear.
"Our global alliance will place its strongest emphasis on this most lethal form of terror. We will advance a global effort to secure the weapons and technologies of mass destruction on a worldwide basis.
To do so, we will build on the efforts of former Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And our effort will build on the extraordinary work and leadership, as Senator and as Vice President, of one of America's great leaders, Al Gore.
Nunn-Lugar needs strengthening and expansion. Dean has a good idea here.
"We and our partners must commit ourselves to using every relevant capability, relationship, and organization to identify terrorist cells, seize terrorist funds, apprehend terrorist suspects, destroy terrorist camps, and prevent terrorist attacks. We must do even more to share intelligence, strengthen law enforcement cooperation, bolster efforts to squeeze terror financing, and enhance our capacity for joint military operations -- all so we can stop the terrorists before they strike at us."
No arguments from me on this one nor, I believe, would the Bush administration be against this. Civil liberties will be a continual issue here.
"The next President will also have to attack the roots of terror. He will have to lead and win the struggle of ideas."
The roots of terror are hiding behind the 1st amendment's free exercise of religion clause. This will be trickey surgery and I'm glad to see Dr. Dean making at least a basic commitment to this.
All in all, it's a step down from the current administration's security policy in my opinion but there's enough good there that Dean could play a constructive role in reigning in the loopy wing of the Democratic party.
December 15, 2003
The Kill More Sodiers Act of 2003
I recently wrote about evidence that the Democrats and Republicans have come together and acted like adults to increase troop strength, taking politics out of the equation. A bill has been introduced, HR3696 on the subject. This is neither a bipartisan bill, nor does it approach things in a responsible way, nor is it ever likely to see the light of day. All the backers of this bill are Democrats (yes, I checked the official list).
Increasing the mandated number of bodies without increasing the funds available to train, pay, and equip these new soldiers is a recipe for more military deaths in future. This is a horrible idea and the 26 sponsors/cosponsors should be ashamed of themselves.
The roll-call of shame (from the Library of Congress' bill summary):
If you have the misfortune to be living in anyone of these people's districts, make this an issue and ask them why they signed onto the kill more soldier's act of 2003 (HR3696). Good equipment and good training means the US has an incredibly low casualty rate. How dare these people try to jeapordize it? More troops and more money have to go hand in hand.
5 Little Indians
John Breaux just announced his retirement That takes the Democrat retirement parade to 5 southern Democrats in the Senate. The last time I recall this sort of an exodus was in the House of Representatives before the 1994 election that gave the Republicans their first majority in four decades.
Make no mistake, it's going to be a hard fought race next year and a lot of things can happen in the meantime but southern Democrats seem to be betting on a Dean nomination which takes the party to the left and 6 years of Senate minority status thereafter.
The Strange Case of the Non-Greedy Secretary
It's something of a truism that all bureaucratic organizations want more people, more money, and more influence. So why is DoD secretary Donald Rumsfeld fighting against a larger force structure?
I speculated in A Hypothetical Scenario that we're in something of a military bind, needing a larger force structure but with the administration unwilling to ask for one unless they are absolutely sure that it will be passed by large margins in Congress.
I have repeatedly since then looked for evidence debunking this scenario. So far, this is the first I've come across that there might still be a bipartisan patriotic majority. It still has a crazy Kabuki dance kind of feel to it with everybody playing stylized roles in order to move the story along without great conflict. You have a DoD Secretary playing B'rer Rabbit and saying that there is no analysis that shows we need more troops. You have the Chairman and Ranking Minority member of the House Armed Services Committee spearheading a move to twist the reluctant B'rer Rabbit into the briar patch of a bigger military.
What's the point, you might ask. Well, the temptation to play to the crowd, to create a fight and play populist resister to the evil militarist Republican meanies has got to be very tempting for the Democrat party right about now. The Bush administration has carefully avoided playing the set piece pinata in that script. They aren't likely to change now. Yet we need more conventional forces breathing room. It seems like the adults in both parties have worked out a reasonable compromise. The Democrats get to show they're militarily serious and avoid losing a huge swath of middle america. The Republicans get the troops they want without being abused for being militarist.
Good show all around.
Words v. Actions
Sebastian Holclaw's Musings contains a great article on the difference between words and actions. There isn't much more to say beyond RTWT except for one subsidiary point. When somebody goes off the deep end in their words, whether they do it as a mismatch between their words and their actions or in some other fashion, it is important to call them on it and get them to admit their error. Once that happens, it's even more important to quietly monitor them afterwards. The honest ones will change their behavior. The dishonest ones will imagine themselves free of observation and go right back to their old language.
This is the difference between a mistake, falling into bad habits, and disingenuous agitprop. Anybody can make a mistake. Even friends can fall into bad habits. Friends don't persist in them, though, and the wise person (or nation) keeps track of their true and false friends.
In an otherwise excellent article, Steven Den Beste misses a trick when he states "the religious zealots who have been coming into Iraq from outside are pretty much invulnerable to loss of morale".
They are not. Their motivation is to get into Heaven. They would lose heart if they heard they were going to hell for their actions and believed it. They are vulnerable on this front because they believe in a non-hierarchical religion and there is no authoritative opinion. Give them lists of imam after imam, respected by them as graduates of the best theological schools Islam has to offer, and have them teach them that what they are doing is banditry (hirabah) not jihad (holy war) and they stand condemned before God for doing what they do. This, and other actions on the same theme, would cause doubt and attack their fundamental reason for taking up arms against us.
The reason for this obvious error is that it is a US weakness to assume that you *must* keep the 1st amendment's prohibition on playing favorites with religion with everybody and everywhere. It's graduated from a very sensible bit of law to an unexamined fetish. It needs more thought than that. If God's telling you to arm yourself and fight the US, I don't think the freedom of religion clause applies and the government is free to attack on this front.
The problem is that developing a toolset of attacking a particular religion is probably one of the most dangerous capabilities the US government can have. There is good reason for a country that contains just about every faith on the planet to normally abstain from taking part in religious debates. We have allies (contrary to mainstream media opinion) which certainly are more and better equipped to develop such attacks and would not be in such danger if they did so. We need to make use of them. In some limited instances we already are.
December 14, 2003
The Federalist Curve
Federalist #10 lays out a fundamental key to the success of the United States. Prior to the United States, democracies and republics were very unpopular as systems of government. Monarchies were the rule of the day. The problem of democracy was largely expressed as a problem of faction. Factions would ignore the national interest in favor of their own interest, tearing the country to pieces. A strong monarch was needed to order and restrain the destructive tendency of faction.
What Madison notes in Federalist 10 is that things only get worse as you increase the number of factions until you get past a certain point. Weak factions run to the law and are loyal to the idea of equal treatment because in the brutal equation of power politics their weakness would generate worse outcomes for them than an evenhanded rule of law. Strong factions use their strength to take what they can and improve their position beyond what they could get in an evenhanded regime.
But what if all factions were weak? What if there were so many different factions that government was by a shifting mosaic of factions which led everybody to always be simultaneously in the minority and in the majority on different questions? This would not only be more stable than a few faction system. It would be more stable than a tyrant or monarch. On a graph of stability and number of factions, you would end up with a j curve.
History seems to have borne out Federalist 10. The US is running on largely the same constitution that was passed in 1789. There are very few countries today that can trace their political stability that far back and even fewer great powers.
This is one of those baseline truths that should affect all political calculation in writing a modern constitution. Somehow, though, it does not. The most recent public exemplar of missing the point is the weeping and wailing over the enlargement of the EU. The addition of 10 more national factions should be a happy occasion for EU lovers who want a more even handed, fair, and stable EU. Instead there is much gnashing of teeth as small states resent the demands of bigger states to sit down and shut up while the big states feel that they don't get the respect due their size and importance.
This is an old problem that was resolved in the US with a bicameral legislature based on a large state friendly and small state friendly system (House of Representatives and Senate respectively). There is no reason that the same solution would not work in Europe but so far, nobody seems interested in taking the right lessons away from 200 years of political stability with a free society.
9/11 Lead Hijacker Trained In Iraq
One of the many unresolved mysteries of Iraq was why Abu Nidal "committed suicide". The mystery may be getting clearer. The Daily Telegraph reports that a top secret memo has been discovered from Iraq's then intelligence chief to Saddam Hussein outlining the results of a three day training exercise conducted by Abu Nidal attended by one Mohammed Atta in the summer of 2001. Abu Nidal's death is thus easily explained as tying up loose ends.
If the memo is verified, this is the smoking gun of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 and knocks the legs out from under any residual resistance against the invasion as a distraction from the War on Terror. Dr Ayad Allawi of the Iraqi Governing Council has declared the document genuine but no public reports have come out yet of the results of technical analysis from agencies like the CIA or MI-6 to confirm that opinion.
Absent Saddam's capture, this should have been the big news story of the weekend. It's understandable that it didn't run in the Sunday news shows but what was the mainstream press doing Saturday? So far, the Telegraph seems to have a 3 day scoop of international importance. This should have been followed up and confirmed or debunked by now. Instead we have nothing.
That cannot stand.
Hat tip to Instapundit. As usual, Glenn Reynolds remains the indispensable blogger.
It's all over the news. Saddam is captured. I can only hope that if they sentence him to death, sentence is delayed until the moment he stops cooperating in providing intelligence on the issues that have and continue to puzzle us all.
December 13, 2003
Voting to Kill Canadians III
I really truly hope that pharmacists aren't stupid and Canada can impose enough internal controls to quash this practice but the warning shots are over and the first real shot in anger has been fired. I just want to say that when it comes time to assess blame and point the grieving families at the proper people to blame let's not forget that it is illegal for pharma board of directors to slit their own throats and eviscerate their profits as the reimportation crowd wants. The true villains of the piece are the legislators, heads of government, and bureaucrats who put us all into this nasty spot over the past several decades. It's been a long, slow avalanche but we're getting to the point where it'll be coffins, not pocketbooks at stake.
I pray we can still avert disaster.
Thanks Misha, I've been having trouble fitting in all the blogs I have on my blog reading list. With your recent posted death threats, I no longer have to read yours so I'll have more time to read worthwhile publications.
And no, there will be no links. Google it if you really want to but the anti-idiotarian rotweiller won't get easy traffic from me. It shouldn't get traffic from you either.
Some people in the conservative and libertarian camps despair needlessly over George W. Bush. Donald Sensing's recent post predicting that he's the last generation of free american is a case in point. What they miss is that the Republicans have been brewing up a batch of small government Koolaid for decades and Bush is really the first President to get america to drink it down.
Let's take a look at the Department of Education. Reagan went in and there were noises about abolishing it. Well, it's still here though a lot of people politely pretended to imbibe. Was that progress? I say only in the most limited sense of clearing the field so the real work could get started.
Let's look at Social Security. Newt Gingrich went in and talked about privatization and the withering away of the old system. Did he actually get anything passed on the subject? With less charm than Reagan, people didn't even bother to pretend to drink as they poured the stuff into the nearest potted plant. Again, the answer is no real progress legislatively but the gradualist meme was introduced.
Now we have Bush who is not talking about ending things at all but instead is focusing on creating metrics for publicly measuring success and failure in education (no child left behind), health care (medicare reform), and, if reelected, pensions (pension choice). He's already got two down and will likely get the third in a new term.
If you have faith in your convictions as a small government conservative, you have to believe that all these success metrics will loudly proclaim, in a faux sort of market, the failure of the command and control government solution. This sets up two favorable dynamics for a future small government president:
1. People will be fleeing the command and control solutions as they figure out that it's a bad deal for them personally. This will be a majority of the voting public
2. The residue that remain will not need the universality of the current systems with their high overheads. You can restructure it into something that would strongly resemble a conventional charity and eventually spin it off into a charity equivalent of Fannie Mae. Give it an appropriate endowment so that 'the politicians can't rob from the poor to pay for other programs'.
To get to this point small government advocates had to get the Democrats to drink the Koolaid. Reagan couldn't do it, neither did Newt. Bush did. The main problem with Bush is that he's crab walking and that's confusing people as to whether he's really going forward or back. But it's that crab walk that has convinced enough Democrats into thinking that maybe they have a shot at winning the next round. Don't bet on it if Bush has anything to say about it. The truth is the best chance the Democrats have is disheartened conservatives and libertarians ceding the field and letting leftists win the crucial next round.
Buck up, gear up, and get ready for 2k5.
Policing the Rights Police
Steven Den Beste's recent article on the human rights groups popped off a thought that Amnesty Internationa, Human Rights Watch and the rest should properly be thought of as private, specialized police. They police the world for violations of human rights treaties and conventions. Now if you translated their behavior into the behavior of a normal policeman walking the beat, what would that look like and how good a career would that cop have?
That hypothetical beat cop would:
1. Selectively enforce the law in terms of arrests to please those who sign his paycheck
So what would you do with a policeman like this in your city? Even if he was locking away people you despised preferentially, would you be happy with his performance?
December 12, 2003
Weekend Silly Season is Open
The scary thing is that I have a friend for whom this would be an appropriate Christmas gift. If he wasn't married I might actually give it to him.
An Idea For 1st Amendment Lovers
The core of the 1st amendment guarantee of free speech has always been political. Yet here we are today in a confusing situation where recent rulings have granted more protection to peripheral activities like nude dancing than to core issues of political speech. Both activities have opponents and both justify their actions on corruption, in the case of strip joints it's moral and societal corruption, in the case of political speech it's an appearance of political corruption that is the great charge.
I would suggest that every blue stocking Comstock prude in the country should be heading to the courthouse door and filing on repeats of their earlier defeats on the grounds that peripheral free speech activities cannot reasonably be protected with more vigilence and fidelity than core political speech at the heart of the 1st amendment. The SC's ruling is horrible but I don't think we've seen the worst of it yet.
Citizen Defense Probing
There is a trend emerging in this global war on terror for private citizens to attempt to point out weaknesses in our defenses and offenses in various ways. Some do it by letter to their legislator or executive. Others circulate public and semi-public screeds pointing out avenues of attack, enemy strategies and our own strategies that should be deployed. But also there are others who do 'white hat' tests of defense systems. In the US the Transportation Safety Administration was horribly embarrassed that not only were weapons passed through their security systems but they were secreted on planes themselves and flew, undetected, for weeks until they caught up with their back mail and read the citizen report of the perpetrator of this white hat attack.
Even more ambitious is this effort to build a cruise missile out of parts that are commonly available for >$5000 US. This has led to some unfortunate consequences that are probably going to end up being litigated. But someone who was better at filing their taxes could have continued with the project in public without government interference and no doubt with the publicity this has already received, a $5k cruise missile will be built and defense planners will no longer be able to ignore this threat when the missile takes a nationwide publicity tour on a flat bed truck and the general public understands the stakes.
Clearly, threats of 10 year prison terms or bankruptcy (respectively) give a pretty clear message that some forms of citizen involvement in defense give governments a bad case of the hives but having to resort to selective enforcement of the tax code in the latter case makes it clear that from anyone's perspective it's quite important that there be some sort of regular channel where people can do these things in a controlled manner that doesn't do more harm than good but cannot be stifled by bureaucrats more interested in their careers than in national security.
A lot of the problem has to do with the fact that we've been very good at killing each other off for a very long time. Some items like a WW II V-1 are 60+ year old technology but would make adequate delivery systems for radiological dispersion systems, biological agent dispersion, or even good old fashioned chemicals that date back even further. Sure, our opponents aren't exactly cutting edge but if you can use a little imagination you can be pretty far behind technologically and still pose a threat to civilian targets.
December 11, 2003
What to Do With Cheap Lift
I've discussed space elevators in the past but now Samizdata is opening up a somewhat different question, what do you do when you can go there cheaply. The comments section has all sorts of examples, many of which have previously been discussed here.
One thing that hasn't been covered is the high likelihood that whatever we think it's going to be used for is going to end up being only a small fraction of the actual uses for the technology. The Internet is the ultimate example of this phenomenon but basic building block inventions have this crop up all the time.
The Difference Between Pork and Spoils
Michael Williams believes that because someone is going to make an awul lot of money on reconstruction contracts in Iraq, that makes them spoils of war. It does not. The war was only incidental to the contracts from a political point of view (as opposed to national security). If the political faction behind KBR gets a contract, they don't care if it's in support of war related reconstruction or AIDS initiative infrastructure construction. It's money for KBR and their political backers. It's corporate pork to the extent that unnecessary expenditures went from US taxpayers to KBR. Btw: the example could be Bechtel, Halliburton, or any of the reams of politically connected firms that feed off of government contracts. I'm not implying anything about KBR other than they're good at extracting money from the US govt.
A spoil of war must, of necessity, be coming out of the hide of the defeated power. If the money is coming out of the pockets of taxpayers in the winning countries or interested neutrals, it might be pork, it might be a political payoff, but it is not a spoil. The term spoil implies that a party is despoiled (dictionary.com defines this as "To deprive for spoil; to plunder; to rob; to pillage; to strip; to divest"). This is a linguistic necessity. But who has been despoiled? Where did the money come from? To speak of spoils of war in Iraq implies that the US is robbing Iraq. That is not true and requires too much explanation to be of any practical benefit other than misleading propaganda.
Reconstruction Contracts Are Not Spoils
Michael Williams of Master of None mischaracterizes reconstruction contracts as spoils of war or, more specifically, "these types of rebuilding contracts are the closest thing to "spoils" that exists" in modern warfare. This is just bad economics. If I run a car body shop and get into a car accident I might offer to do the work in my shop and not go through insurance. Essentially I'm repairing (and perhaps improving damage from prior accidents) what I fixed from my own pocket. On net, am I any better off? No reasonable analysis would find it so. I incur expenses in parts, labor, wear and tear on my fixed assets, and in the end the repaired/improved car drives away and I get no benefit other than the insurance company doesn't hear about it.
No. The real spoils of the Iraq campaign is not from reconstruction contracts. The spoils of the campaign are in taking one country out of the non-integrating gap and pushing it into the functioning core where they will increase their contribution to global human wealth and create a politico-military situation that not only denies terrorists haven in Iraq but makes them uncomfortable in neighboring countries.
Iraq Anti-Terror March
Zayed calls it A great day for Iraq (HT to Donald Sensing). One of the pictures stood out for me. It's in arabic but the link to it labelled it "Terrorism is humanity's shame" which I'm guessing is the english translation of the arabic sign.
Imagine this sign in Chechnya, in Gaza, in the West Bank. If we can succeed in Iraq, we won't have to imagine, we'll see it.
After reading about the triumph of the campaign finance reform law in the Supreme Court, a profound feeling of depression settled over me. I have lots of opinions over what's been going on in the last 12-24 hours but fundamentally, with restricted freedom of speech, does it matter much any more?
You only get to be a virgin once. It's a sad day for the US.
December 10, 2003
Low Friction, Small Donation Philanthropy
Imagine if everywhere you saw something wrong with the world, with a half-second's effort you could drop a quarter in a virtual tin cup and better than 24 cents actually made it to help solve the problem that annoys you. That's a future promise of the Internet age that hasn't arrived yet, but still could. This is the intersection between ubiquitous computing, where everywhere you go, you are able to connect to the internet, wearable computers, which would allow you to point out the problem in a way a computer would understand and the technology of micropayments which would allow you to be part of the great tradition of Burke's "little platoons" which are the little voluntary organizations that make free market capitalism actually work and not be the social darwinian hell-hole that its critics always predict.
Armed Liberal's musings over an LA Concert Hall reminded me of this future tech. There's no reason that the Disney Hall needs to be made with government involvement at all. It's just too hard to do it right now so government involvement in such endeavors persist.
Could Wolfowitz Be Telling the Contracting Truth?
As Dave Adesnik points out the recent barring of Russian, French, and German companies from being the prime bidders on reconstruction contracts doesn't make sense as financial retribution because they can be subcontractors and make money anyway. But what if the motivation that was explicit was the motivation in truth? According to the underlying NY Times story, the order was justified as necessary to protect "the essential security interests of the United States."
How could that be? What do general contractors do that subcontractors do not do that would endanger the essential security interests of the US? General contractors have overall responsibility for the behavior of all their subcontractors and they have the ability to vet and veto the selection of sub-subcontractors. If there are any other differences, I'm unaware of them.
In other words, this order doesn't make sense as revenge but only if US intelligence agencies had discovered instances of a country or countries not participating in the coalition looking to use their domestic companies in intelligence operations to sabotage the rebuilding effort in Iraq either directly or by hiring Iraqi companies with operational ties to either the Baathists or Islamists. Creating such a widely drawn order makes it impossible to figure out who leaked and how did it happen.
No wonder the French hate Echelon.
The New York Times seems to have successfully spun the blogosphere coverage so far as the two different accounts I've read on the issue both carry the payback meme forward (the other one is here). I don't buy the argument that Wolfowitz is incompetent and that nobody around him could stop him from doing something this stupid and ineffective.
I await debunkings on either point.
Avoiding Nixonian Taint
Bruce Bartlett writes:
Veteran Associated Press reporter Tom Raum wrote that Bush is "retracing the steps of Richard Nixon three decades ago" on Nov. 29. On Dec. 2, Wall Street Journal columnist Alan Murray said, "Presidents Nixon and Bush may turn out to be bookends to the conservative era, with their big-government drift." The former took office at the end of a liberal era when voters were not yet ready for conservative policies, while the latter took office at the end of a conservative era when they have grown tired of efforts to limit government expansion, Murray wrote.
There is still time for the Bush administration to demonstrate that it's concessions to higher spending were the tactical one step back by proving that there are two steps forward. Competition and accountability measures have to be more than just words in the legislative debate to get right wing votes in the Congress. They have to have real teeth and be rigorously applied. President Bush needs to go back to the Congress again and again to strengthen these measures where the first implementation was not strong enough. In this, things are no different than with his tax policy. Multiple tax cuts were enacted because an intervening election made the impossible, possible. 2005 will be a critical legacy year. If President Bush gets reelected and has a friendlier Congress to partner with, conservatives have the right to expect that the first timid steps made today on creating both choice and accountability will be revisited and improved. Anything less would be nixonian at its worst.
This does imply an obligation on President Bush's critics who sling the nixonian label around. The current vote balance in the Congress provides an all too plausible excuse for current action. It's not time yet to sit things out in the fight for more Republicans in Washington.
The Imam's Duty
Either Lee Malvo is practicing Jihad (spiritual warfare) or Hirabah (banditry). The truth is that Islam is a religion without a Pope or Patriarch. There is no one guy who we can go to and tell who's legitimately Islamic and who is not. Thus it devolves on the world's community of Imams (teachers) to make it clear which is which. If Malvo, if Mohammed are bandits then Imams should be asked to render an Islamic judgment as to what is the fitting punishment for such people.
Will the Imams do their duty unasked? The outlook doesn't look hopeful. But if they won't, they should be asked, and often, to define the difference between the two and what should be done with muslim bandits who prey on us all.
The Need For More Troops
The Washington Post editorializes that President Bush kowtowed to the PRC when he declared that Taiwan was being provocative. Is this a policy error or a necessary tactical retreat caused by having too small a military?
If the latter, The Washington Post has effectively come out for a larger US armed forces. After all, if you wish the end (protection of Taiwan's democracy) you wish the means (a large enough military to do so without going nuclear). But while this implicit truth is undeniable, it would be awfully nice if the Washington Post said so explicitly. It would be a highly patriotic expression of a loyal opposition and a welcome rebuttal to my fears in A Hypothetical Scenario.
Tom Friedman Arrested?
In the world today of prosecutors investigating based on headlines and media reports, this article should have Tom Friedman wondering whether he's going to have a public perp walk or be able to turn himself in.
According to the report (scroll down to the bottom of the longer article), Tom Friedman committed common assault and battery unprovoked by anything other than some challenging words. So how does the doctrine of prosecutorial interest based on media reports hold up in this case? It's too early to tell just yet but the man shouldn't just be able to get away with physical violence just because he's a famous columnist for the New York Times.
HT to Glenn Reynolds
Fighting Internet Censorship
Glenn Reynold's latest TCS column addresses the threat of government censorship of the Internet. There is something that we can do here to make it perfectly clear how we feel about government censorship of the Internet. We can declare technical end-runs around government censorship political acts and any negative consequences for content neutral actions (putting in a surreptitious router that doesn't go through filtering mechanisms or turning off the filters themselves) to be prima facie cases of political repression and grant a presumptive visa to anybody who is caught doing this on the condition that they keep working on the problem once they are here.
The details, like how to overcome that presumption of visa, what safeguards have to be in place to oversee those overrides, etc. can all be worked out in the next two years when this issue will rise again at another UN conference. But the US and the rest of the free world have an obligation to recognize and encourage these anti-censorship engineers with whatever support that they can. The first and foremost thing that they can do is offer safe haven if they are caught.
December 09, 2003
Carbon Nanotube Breakthrough
Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes are one of those building block kind of disruptive inventions. They can be used in so many ways and they are so much of an improvement over current materials that commercial applications will change a great deal from medicine to the military, space travel to subways. The problem is manufacturing them cheaply, efficiently, and abundantly. Some researchers at Rice University seem to have made a breakthrough that, for the first time, would allow industrial scale applications to occur.
The consequences are profound. Everything from stronger armor for the military, a practical space elevator that would make a whole host of science fiction into science reality, superhard tools, the list goes on and on.
It could take decades for the ripples to die down on this one. Let's hope that the research pans out and we've finally come to the era of cheap, plentiful nanotubes.
Hat tip to Slashdot
Persistent v. Transitory Internet Identity
David Brooks in today's New York Times has stirred up something of a tempest over his characterization of the Internet as the home of transitory pseudonymity.
Everybody talks about how the Internet has been key to his fund-raising and organization. Nobody talks about how it has shaped his persona. On the Internet, the long term doesn't matter, as long as you are blunt and forceful at that moment. On the Internet, a new persona is just a click away. On the Internet, everyone is loosely tethered, careless and free. Dean is the Internet man, a string of exhilarating moments and daring accusations.
It is trivially easy to create a pseudonymous identity. True anonymity is almost as easy if you know what you are doing. Such net identities are put on and thrown off by some multiple times a day as a matter of convenience. Thus David Brooks is right.
However, creating a sense of credibility, of authority, of being taken on faith as someone of good will, that requires a persistent identity. With the net being a fairly persistent forum and highly searchable, being all over the map will cost you. Thus Jeff Jarvis and Andrew Sullivan are also right.
So what is Dean trying to pull here? I believe that he is counting on his transitions from left wing liberal in the primary to general election centrist will be handled as 'just normal politics' and that the mainstream liberal media will cover for him as they did for most nominees for whom 90%+ of the press corps is going to vote for.
This is very much an open question to my mind. I don't think that anybody really knows whether the Donald Luskin like truth squad brigade will be loud enough to matter. Where are americans going to get their impressions of Dean when they start paying attention around Labor Day 2004? It'll be a wild ride, that's my only prediction.
Three Cheers for Nonie Darwish
Thanks to Donald Sensing for pointing out a powerful and heartrending site published by Nonie Darwish entitled US Citizens of Mideast origin for America. For all those who despaired of finding powerful voices capable of being sensible and muslim at the same time, here's one.
Update: Of course, as soon as I post, I notice in one of her essays she calls herself a former muslim. The site is still worth a visit and her lessons need to be taken to heart.
Hothouse Libertarians II
I started this note as a comment over at The American Mind but decided it made a better post.
Professor Bainbridge dishonestly responds to my original charge but at least he's direct about being intellectually dishonest. He calls it "feeling sort of smart-alecky" and flatly says he's not addressing the substance of my post. Instead he notes:
Anybody who thinks fighting dirty is unworthy of an academic hasn't spent much time in faculty meetings! There is a famous line frequently attributed to Henry Kissinger: "academic politics are so spiteful because there is so little at stake." And I learned at the feet of some of the masters.
Nobody who knows me for very long will ever accuse me of being a fan of the kumbayah style of argumentation. But the problem isn't being strong in opinion, underhanded, or disagreeable per se. The problem is doing all those things without striving with intellectual rigor to understand your opponent and taking what's good from their arguments and reconciling them with your own while ruthlessly eliminating the bad points and creating a situation where your opponent is maximally likely to give in and come over to your side. It's the intellectual sloppiness, laziness, and puerility that is unworthy of an academic. There, was that 'dirty' enough for you Professor?
The problem is that we're not really fighting a War on Terror. It is a false phraseology. Comically, the good Professor recognizes this in a later item. We're fighting a war on aggressive nihilism that is a consequence of the existence of non-integrating gap countries. The problem is that the label, the War on Terror is fundamentally a strategic deception in order to serialize the war. Truth telling would tend to parallelize the war and that's our enemies' strategy. The Stratfor folks are right on that one. I hope everyone agrees there is no good reason to help along the enemy in his strategy for destroying our freedoms.
Aggressive nihilism is an ideology that you get to from multiple paths, the two most relevant are islamism and communism. It is not a tactic, like terrorism, and thus you can properly war on it and have an end to it eventually when you run out of non-integrating gap countries.
What is tripping up Karen De Coster (the original blogger that Prof. Bainbridge was commenting on) is that she is taken in by the strategic deception. Libertarianism recognizes that lying creates societal inefficiencies and are the start of a very dangerous form of rot. Generally, you go after the lies and promote truth telling so your economic limited means stretch further in satisfying your infinite wants. You also do it for moral reasons.
It's not nuts to be taken in by a strategic deception launched by the US government. Every time I write one of these posts I worry about the effect my letting the cat out of the bag has on the strategic situation. Then I look at the hit counter on my blog and don't worry so much anymore. I'm also plausibly deniable because I'm someone with no influence or connection with the US government other than my citizenship and right to vote.
But that moment of worry is a small shadow of the worry the administration has. It has to suffer the slings and arrows of natural allies because if they were to say to anybody it's all a put up job to lull our enemies then the game is up. Their audience runs into the billions.
So what can they do? They can purposefully make their strategic deception as penetrable by cultural americans as possible while maintaining enough utility that the deception still largely works against our enemies and hope that enough americans will figure it out to jog the elbows of the rest and whisper the truth to our fellows. Then they hope and pray that they've calibrated their distortion well enough not to warp the country into an unrecognizable shape. It's a dangerous and daring strategy but if core/gap theory is being applied seriously, we're obligated to do it.
Now discuss further on those terms and we may be singing kumbayah around the fire after all B-)
December 08, 2003
The missing 11%
A survey by a company called InsightExpress has an interesting conclusion. After surveying 500 pc seeking americans they find that 14% consider Apple computers their favorite. Since Apple currently has ~3% of the market share that means that various barriers are turning away a large amount of Apple fans to second and third brand choices. If Apple could capture the full 14%, they would remake the entire personal computing landscape, not only for Apple shareholders but for fans of any and all other alternative operating systems out there. Right now the economics of PC marketshare makes it cost effective for an awful lot of software developers to go mono-platform and the mono-platform of choice is Windows with a huge majority of the market. With a 14% share, a great deal more applications would have a strong economic case for going multi-platform. The nature of going multi-platform is that adding that second platform is a great deal harder than adding a third platform.
So what's keeping the missing 11% away from Apple? The survey's public release doesn't seem to say. For Apple fans the answers are critical. For those who simply like innovation, variety, and strong competitive markets, there's a great deal of interest too.
Removing the Defenses of the Welfare State I
Michael Barone has an interesting column on George W. Bush's redefinition of conservatism. He forgets that this redefinition already has a label, "compassionate conservatism", but has latched onto something very important. The essence of compassionate conservatism is not some triangulation or verbal fudge that works well in the electoral process (though it does work well at election time). The essence is injecting choice and accountability into each of our individual relationships with various government programs.
What he doesn't cover is the next step. Having multiple choices implies that better solutions have the right to compete and win support and accountability implies that wasteful programs that don't get the job done have to expect to be shut down when there are better solutions available. Over the long haul this is the death of the welfare state.
Conservative ideology is against state solutions not because conservatives are hard hearted but because their compassion includes an expectation that problems actually be solved, not deferred or hidden away. Government solutions are not often the best option to solving problems and so modern american conservatives tend to like their governments to be small, responsive where they're the best solution, and keeping their nose out of areas where they can't constructively contribute to a solution.
The problem has been that an entire class of programs has been constructed in such a way that choice has been identified as an immoral lapse in social solidarity. Accountability has been associated with heartless cruelty. These two measures have made it virtually impossible to reform these programs. Removing these two defenses enables the normal correctives of our free society to start to work. If choice and accountability are truly installed, a temporary tactical setback of larger public expenditures now are well worth the strategic victory of making entitlements be 'normal' programs that are judged by how well they solve problems compared to alternatives and when they fail, can be abolished in favor of better solutions.
The only question really is whether choice and accountability are real changes that are now built into these new systems. For me, the jury's still out on that one.
Getting Close to Right on Gay Marriage
National Review is running a guest column by Maggie Gallagher which is almost right on the issue of gay marriage when she says the following
For me, the first, last and most important question about gay marriage is: Will it help or hurt marriage as a social institution? Is it, in other words, a good idea?
The problem is that even this doesn't get to the heart of the matter. The quote assumes without demonstrating that marriage is good for society. Without the demonstration of why, exactly, marriage is good for society, you don't have the necessary building blocks to create a practical defense of the institution.
Gay marriage strikes at the foundation of a very old, very elaborate structure. We've assumed the foundation for so long we don't really know how to start from ground zero. We should be relearning how to do that no matter how the debate ends up because changing the foundation without knowing what you're doing is a recipe for hurting a great many innocent people with the greatest hurt being children. The people over at National Review ought to rerun their old issue focusing on polygamy. That would be a good start.
Just Spell My Name Right
They say that any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right. L-U-T-A-S
I have an aunt with the name Lucas because some guy in immigration in the early 1900's couldn't (or wouldn't) spell the name as it should have been. She never bothered to get it changed. Romanian has a cedilla for both t and s which turns them into ts and sh sounds respectively. Phonetically it's pronounced Lutsash in the old country. Other countries used a c with a cedilla for almost the same sound and immigration was trying to be 'helpful' back then.
Politically, I fall into the broad family of Libertarianism. As there is no particularly libertarian major party in existence right now in the US, this provides people like me with some practical electoral difficulties. They break down to the choices of sitting on the sidelines carping about "the violence inherent in the system" denying the system the legitimacy enhancement of my participation, voting straight ticket Libertarian party (who almost never win) or picking one of the two major parties and trying my best to improve it. Being a minarchist, and thus obsessed with the practical question of how much smaller can we get government, I often pick option 3 though in some circumstances actually voting libertarian makes sense. It all depends on whether voting libertarian in that particular election will conceivably swing the results and whether ballot access in future elections will be affected.
Why am I going through all this personal political opinion? It's important to the subsequent point of why I'm disagreeing with everybody else mentioned hereafter.
I don't have much of a beef with Glenn Reynolds because his contribution is almost entirely the link that set me off on this topic. He's wrong because he agrees with Professor Bainbridge but I can't say why he's wrong because he doesn't tell me why he so imprudently agrees with the good professor.
Speaking of Professor Bainbridge he's a bit nasty when he says The Mises Bloggers are Stark Raving Nuts. I agree with him that they are wrong but nuts? That's fighting dirty and unworthy of an academic. I'll come to the defense of Karen De Coster and agree that the War on Terror is false phraseology.
The fact that the worst of the non-integrating gap states that are the greatest threat to the current system also tend to be terror supporting states does not mean that our underlying cause is against terrorism per se. It rather is against the underlying problems that cause these states to grab onto the tactic of terrorism. The root causes lead to the poisonous branches of cults of nihilism that flower into the violence of terrorism. The problem isn't solved by merely clipping the flowers. They will merely come back. Clipping the noxious flowers is, however, necessary. This is where I part company with 'the Mises bloggers'. Karen De Coster's item ends with the following paragraph.
However, I'll never understand the leaners and their support of hegemony, war, and false phraseology such as the "war on terrorism." That's the stuff that separates the wheat from the chaff, and ultimately, freedom from chains.
In the first charge (hegemony) I think she's being unfair. I have no doubt that there would be no major tears shed amongst the leaners if France, Germany, Russia, Italy, China, and a dozen other countries were free of statism's grasp and giving the US economy a run for its money. Such a multipolar world of giants striving against giants in open, fair competition would be a good thing for the US even though it would destroy any thoughts about US hegemony.
The second charge (war) is as false a phraseology as the war on terror. War, like terrorism, is a tactic engaged by states to resolve various problems. Can war be justified? A war against tyranny can be, a war to defend yourself against aggression is also justified. The question really is which wars are justifiable and which are simply unjust.
The third charge (false pharseology of the War on Terror) is, as I stated above, true. The problem is that the falseness of the phraseology does not justify an anti-WoT position. The War on Terror is a propaganda statement and like all propaganda statements is crafted with a particular purpose in mind. If propaganda doesn't strictly conform to the truth the honest evaluater has to separate the kernels of truth from the obfuscation and misdirection.
There is an honest and proper case to be made in the practical world for the policies that are grouped under the War on Terror and which can be supported on libertarian grounds. You can't just say that there's a smidgen of falsehood in politics and stalk off to the side. That's hothouse libertarianism and while of theoretical benefit in maintaining ideological purity, it will serve us no good from the perspective of keeping the real chains that the islamists would put us all in.
In the real world, the Islamists are the bigger and more immediate threat. All those who would clap us in chains and take away our freedoms must be fought against but the ugliest and most direct threats should be addressed first. The fight against the excessive spread against security measures is a worthy one. But it is a fight that cannot destroy the tools necessary to defeat the Islamists, the Communists, and all the coming manifestations of the cult of nihilism.
Federalist Papers in Arabic IV
Good, and not so good, news! The US embassy in Jordan was very helpful, thank you Azmi Tubbeh. Not only will he research whether there is an electronic copy of the Federalist Papers in arabic available at the jordanian publishers, he informed me that there is an entire book list that was requested by Iraq that they are already delivering. This means that if people wish to assist in helping with the distribution of such books, there is already an established channel that we can help out with. The list of books that was actually requested is promised and I'll publish it when I get it.
Because of the vagaries of the publishing industry (which, it appears, are the same the world over) there is currently a shortage of Federalist Papers in Arabic and the Jordanian publisher will not be printing more copies. Mr. Tubbeh believes that the book was physically typeset and will be sending me a physical copy for scanning/OCR if an electronic copy cannot be found. The US embassy in Cairo is going to undertake the reprint with an Egyptian publisher. I have the name and email (yay, no more international phoning!) of the person at the embassy in Cairo handling this and will pursue my hunt for the electronic version there.
December 07, 2003
US Military Future Development
Donald Sensing's One Hand Clapping has a long linkagery item. In part it refers to a great Powerpoint presentation that outlines what's been cooking in the Army now. Unfortunately, I disagree with Donald Sensing's conclusion that Rumsfeld and his current Army Chief of Staff are not on the same page. Perhaps Sensing didn't read the entire presentation before he wrote some of his remarks. That's a rare slip for him but we all have our off days. He points to the following passage:
CSA’s strategic vision for the Army: – Changing primary focus away from Transformation to the Objective Force to near term support of the Current Force, which is at war.
What he seems to miss was the very next sub bullet
- Plans to reorganize Army combat forces now vs. over a 30 year period
Rumsfeld's been after the Army to change more rapidly. That second bullet point seems to put the Army and Rumsfeld in accord.
I wrote in A Hypothetical Scenario that we might be in a rough patch where the administration believes we need a larger army but isn't confident of congressional approval and the current job of DoD is to hold on for 2005 when a new, more military friendly Congress is sworn in. On looking at the DS article, I thought that perhaps there might be some early signs of prep work in the document. And on looking through the presentation, I see where hints might be showing up.
CSA plans to fix the situation by taking the existing pool of Soldiers and dividing them into 48 brigades instead of the current 33
There's an old retail commerce trick of changing prices by changing packaging. Don't lower prices, make the can larger and offer special "now with 20% more" labeling. On the other side of the coin, don't raise prices and anger your customers just shrink the can and the inattentive ones won't even notice.
If in 2005 you had 48 smaller brigades where there were previously 33, it might just be easier politically to increase brigade personnel so each brigade was "back up to strength" rather than make new divisions. You'd end up with slightly more than 13 old size divisions stuffed in a 10 division organizational structure. The first reorganized groups will be the 101st and the 3rd ID and their target dates are ambitious, January of 2004. The beauty of the scheme is that divisions will no longer be deployment units, brigades will. Divisions will likely not cycle in and out of theater but rather 1/3 of a division will be in theater and rotate out within its division (or at least that's how I'm interpreting the following "Improve the deployment ratio so that there can be two brigades at home for every one deployed overseas")
In some ways this is truly depressing. I really want A Hypothetical Scenario to be disproven. It would make me sleep better at night to know that patriotic americans had an unquestioned majority in today's Congress. But nobody's taken on the task of debunking it (Steven Den Beste tangentially disagreed but only in that my scenario didn't fit what's going on in Taiwan). Such a scenario should have caused angry emails, shock and dismay. The fact that it's not drawn a right quick competent fisking worries me that I might be right.
No Exit for Egyptian Christian
You would have thought that they would have learned their lesson from the time of the Pharoahs. Do not hold people in your country who want to leave. Unfortunately, the lesson has apparently been forgotten. Boulos Farid Rezek-Allah Awad committed the crime of being faithful to christianity and marrying the woman he loved, who had been born into a family of muslims.
He has a valid visa to enter Canada (which expires in April 2004) but is not allowed to leave Egypt as trumped up charge after charge are filed against him. Drug pusher, identity paper falsifier, murderer, insulter of Islam, it is a great embarrassment to a religion of peace when torture, drugs, and threats are deployed to keep a married couple apart and no imams are available to slap some sense into these official thugs.
Mr Rezek-Allah deserves to be able to come to Canada and finish his qualifications as a pharmacist. He deserves to be reunited with his wife. He deserves his freedom. As a first step, it would set Egypt on notice that this story isn't going to go away if Canada were to extend its visa offer to him for as long as it takes for Egypt to give up on its repressive course of action.
Pollyanna V. Cassandra: Neither are right
(a shorter version of this was published as a comment to this post over at Samizdata).
The battle that counts in the War on Terror right now is the US battle between Pollyanna and Cassandra over the heart of the US middle. Cassandra is trying to convince the US middle that all is disaster, that we must take precipitous action to pull out now and move straight to conferences and appeasement. Pollyana is all for staying the course because we're winning and that the military losses are insignificant. This is not the right terrain on which to seriously discuss the WoT.
The truth is that the losses are not insignificant. The truth is we should still stay the course. The problem with Pollyana (who dominates the right currently) is that the islamists and baathists who hear those words can take them literally and have as their lesson learned that they just need to up the casualty count until the losses are no longer insignificant to those cruel, heartless americans. Bathing America in a river of blood until they can't ignore it anymore is not a strategy we should be encouraging in our enemies.
What's needed is a third strain that says, yes the losses are significant. The pain is real. But we take the threat of these people seriously and in the end to accommodate them is to destroy our belief in equal rights under the law and freedom of religion. We hold these values so central to the meaning of our nation that we would be willing to fight to the last man to keep these principles alive.
This undercuts the enemy's strategy by changing the perceived stakes. There has been an unwillingness to lay this out to the people. Some are pessimistic that they would answer the call. If the pessimists are right, we are doomed. It's just a matter of how much blood will be spilled before the other side wins.
I can understand the reluctance to upgrade the perceived threat level. It makes it harder to restrain the overenthusiastic who want to nuke Mecca and make the rubble bounce. But not taking the goals of the islamists seriously enough is probably the worse threat.
December 06, 2003
Halfway to Doing Expired Registration Tickets Right
This article notes how a quick thinking motorist saved himself from being towed for having an unregistered car on the road. He called a friend on his cell phone and his friend registered him online. Since the registration took effect immediately, the tow truck was canceled.
But there's no real reason for the tow truck to be routinely called. Why not just upgrade the policeman's electronics to do the registration? The service charge could be rolled into the ticket and the whole thing run on the driver's credit card.
Let's see, that would save a day lost to getting your car back, keep more money for the city and reduce the amount of cars damaged due to towing. It would be more efficient and everybody could get on with their lives a little sooner.
December 05, 2003
So here I am reading an informative item in Reason's Hit and Run on the latest attempt by Darl McBride to convince the world that he actually has a case and shouldn't be punished to the full extent of the law for abuse of process, conspiracy, extortion, fraud, and more defamation counts than you can shake a stick at and it hits me. Darl McBride has imbibed so much anti-capitalist propaganda that he thinks that the anti-capitalist description of how capitalists should operate is accurate. He thinks that capitalism should produce capitalists that are soulless money counters that would make the old Scrooge (before he met the three ghost's of Christmas) proud.
The entire point of ownership of something is the right to dispose of it as you please. This includes the right to give it to someone else as a gift, to conditionally give it as long as somebody honors a covenant, or to sell it. Normally this is uncontroversial but with the special category of goods called software, a new wrinkle arises. Software can be copied in large quantities for extremely small sums. If I write a utility that is generally useful and give it away, nobody in the world need ever do without it again as copies proliferate worldwide. If it is good enough to do the job, it is possible that nobody else will trouble themselves with reinventing the wheel to make a competitive product.
The two major traditions of open and free software are the BSD tradition which follows the idea of the unrestricted gift and the GPL tradition which follows the idea of the restricted covenant gift. Those who sell software are generally called proprietary software developers.
What Darl McBride does in his letter is to give the impression that the only good software capitalist is a capitalist who works only in the third tradition of proprietary software. The only real capitalist is someone who sells his work, who never gives it away. Nothing may exist outside the commercial marketplace.
Of course this is nonsense. Charitable works predate capitalism and are essential to the function of capitalism. In fact, Free Software as embodied by the GPL is not even pure charity but a self-interested charity. The people who invented the most popular web server on the planet, the Apache Software Group, are a classic example of Burke's "little platoons". The underlying code of the then popular NCSA server was buggy and was being fixed too slowly. So a bunch of administrators of NCSA servers started freely sharing their fixes with one another. These patched servers started drifting further and furhter away from the canonical NCSA code and earned the name "patchy servers" which morphed into Apatchy servers and the final Apache server name. No individual administrator would have been able to devote the time necessary to fix all the problems in the NCSA code but together and by not charging for their own fixes, each participating group member got to go home to their family on time more often than otherwise would have been the case.
McBride's entire case is an anti-Burkean, and I would say anti-american tract. The idea that it's not always about money is not only constitutional but profoundly american. This is the america of the church, the booster club, the little tin can that the shopkeeper puts by the cash register for a favored charity. It is what makes life bearable and solves problems both great and small in a humanizing way that the anti-capitalists have never really accepted is a fundamental part of a properly understood real life capitalism.
If the only way to provide a good or service is to demand money for it, we might as well revoke all the nonprofit corporate charters in existence. But these corporate charters have been authorized by local, state, and federal governments for centuries. McBride is an anti-capitalist poster boy, the mustachio twirling corporate greed head. He needs to be stopped before he starts tying people to railroad tracks.
The Invasion of Taiwan II
Strategypage has an item on the corner that the PRC is painting itself into
December 4, 2003: China's government controlled media widely distributed the comments of an army general about war with an independent Taiwan. The comments stated flatly that an independence vote by Taiwan would mean war, and no amount of international condemnation would change that. Even an Olympic boycott would not matter. China is painting itself into a corner, giving itself the choice of a ruinous war, or being seen as a blowhard. If the US intervened, China would probably not win. A war could cripple China's economy and that, plus failure in the war, could bring popular discontent and revolution.
The PRC needs to be shown that it's better to be a live, patient, blowhard than to launch the events that could kill all too many things in East Asia, not least of which might be their own regime. I'd like to see the butchers of Beijing fall but not like this.
Federalist Papers in Arabic III
The fine people at webwrights.com (who apparently handle Baen.com's web affairs) have agreed to host the federalist papers in arabic if a copy can be procured.
Does anybody out there know somebody in the US embassy in Amman?
There, There Jonah, TV Will Come Back
The problem of TV heading into a persistent slump is the subject of Jonah Goldberg's latest NRO column. He's concerned that TV's business model is killing off good shows. As he puts it "But the networks can't let go, because every time they cancel an established show, the viewers, particularly the younger ones, vanish. No one thinks it's worth investing in a new show."
This is a function of the extremely high costs that TV networks have to carry. They only have a certain number of advertising slots that produce revenue and if a show doesn't produce enough eyeballs watching that ad, the value of all your ad slots drops and your high fixed costs for maintaining a building, a tower, a legal department and all the other necessary compliance measures you have to do to maintain this thing called a TV network means you can quickly go bust.
This business model is traditional for advertising supported TV but new technical developments mean that it doesn't have to remain so. What if you could could stream programming over the Internet? You could charge for each individual download and the fixed portion of your distribution costs could drop down to almost zero, with the variable cost of each viewer seeing the program being covered by advertising revenue or a very small pay per view fee (at the discretion of the viewer).
Some entertainment content will remain completely free as artist advertising. It worked quite well for South Park (whose spirit of christmas original is still floating around the net) and will likely work well for others.
The best part of it is that with a switch to TVoIP (TV over IP) there are few choke points for ideologically minded censors to keep you out of the distribution channel as long as the Internet remains unfiltered and free. This is the broadband world that we're approaching.
Check out the ifilm site for a preview of how close we're getting to this with present technology. The most interesting part for nonsubscribers is the shorts section.
December 04, 2003
Going to the Moon: Energy Dreams
George W. Bush, famously, is from Texas. Also famously, he gets along well with oil men. So what is he doing saying that he wants to go to the moon to explore for energy? Does he think there were dinosaurs on the moon and there's petrol mixed in with the green cheese? Hardly.
There has been testimony in committee on lunar solar power as well as some media attention. The only other lunar energy theory I've seen involves extracting He3 for the fusion reactors we've already been waiting decades for.
But why do we need all this extra energy? without a gargantuan increase in demand it would certainly make all those Texas oil men profoundly unhappy as the value of their oil sinks to its value as a raw material in plastics production and other chemical products. So why kick your biggest contributors in the backside?
The answer is simple, he's not. He's actually serious about bringing freedom to the third world and with free economies will come the energy appetites that free economies inevitably generate. Conservation won't cure it and, if you do the numbers, terrestrial energy sources simply don't cut it. Those oil men don't want to end up in the middle of global resource wars so we need large new sources of energy. The US has to stretch for a goal that is currently beyond our reach. Historically, that's always been a very good thing for the nation.
Hat tip to Instapundit who worries about how this will be executed. I worry too but am fairly confident that the energy companies won't let the bureaucrats screw this up. They've got the lobbyists, the checkbooks, and the Washington savvy to keep this from being an unprofitable sinkhole. The other reason it won't is that it's too big to fund if it doesn't start turning a profit.
Federalist Papers in Arabic II
According to Jim Smith of the Near Eastern Affairs section in the State Department, there are no rights to the federalist papers, arabic or otherwise. This program, which he very nicely referred to as "democratic eye for the ____ guy" generally works like this. The State Department contracted with publishers to translate these works, were given a certain number of copies, and the publisher retains the right to print additional copies at a reasonable price. The entire purpose is to get as many copies as possible of these documents into the hands of people around the world as possible.
He suggested that the next step is to contact the US embassy in Jordan's Public Affairs section and see if they have the electronic text themselves or they could give me a contact at the publisher, Dar Al Faris.
This means that, at worst, it'll have to get typed in again.
Ann Coulter: Wimp
Hat tip: Real Clear Politics
Ann Coulter's all fire and brimstone about gay marriage (surprise, surprise). The problem is her solution. It's limp, as wimpy as the spines of those Republican judicial appointees who uphold Roe. She suggests that "The Massachusetts legislature ought to ignore the court's frivolous ruling – and cut the justices' salaries if they try it again". That's no way to run a railroad and is unlikely to find a majority in any legislature in the nation. It's an example of the classic wimp tactic of sounding strong on an issue when you know that nobody will ever go for it.
Here's a solution that might actually work. Create a procedure that lets the legislature (or sufficient petition signatures) simply state that such a decision is legislating from the bench. Such a determination would immediately trigger a stay on the decision and a two part referendum at the next election. The first part would either ratify or annul the decision as inappropriate for the judicial branch to decide. The second section would be a recall ballot for every vote on the majority (for multi-judge panels) or the judge writing the decision.
This would be tough, fair, and be a legitimate piece of constitutional law that will defang the horrible tendency for judges to legislate from the bench and provide discipline for judges who refuse to recognize that they are not a black robed legislature. It would also have bipartisan support as left wingers will realize that the rising tide of the Republican party is likely to eventually put the judiciary in Republican hands and will serve to protect them from future activist judges on the right.
Thomas Friedman Gets It Right
The NY Times' most famous observer of the Middle East has just endorsed a moderate Islamist Republic on virtually the same grounds that I have done so previously. Going back to the lessons of Federalist #10, it would be even better if the Kurds and Sunni Arabs had their own Sistani, or that each religious/ethnic faction had several of them.
Only one quibble, depending on a person is not a wise thing in constitution writing. If we depended on always having a George Washington, I doubt the US would have ended up with the Constitution that has served us so well the past two centuries. Sistani will die, as we all do and the next generation should not have to depend on an unbroken line of virtuous men to safeguard their freedom.
The Muslim World Needs Fact Checkers
While he makes some understandable points over western hypocricy in failing to live up with its liberal reputation (in agreement with President Bush, in fact) the article is rife with factual errors that are not challenged by the interviewer.
Israeli settlers who cross the line into terrorism are arrested in Israel and any preferential treatment they might receive above what a similarly offending muslim might get is internationally costly for Israel.
But the threat of muslim terror is elevated because their effectiveness is elevated. I was in the WTC a few days before they were attacked. It's the most bloody terrorist attack in the history of the US. What is so surprising that muslim terrorists are the foremost threat in the public's mind?
As the Internet extends its reach into the Muslim world, will a muslim generation of Donald Luskins relentlessly embarass the Islamists to sticking to the truth? I certainly hope so. It would enhance our chances of avoiding the catastrophe of total war.
The Invasion of Taiwan
TMLutas writes about the fact that the US may be limited by its military power, and may be trying to defer some problems until the force is available, or can be raised, to deal with them. Probably that's true, but he chooses a poor example of that when he points to Taiwan.
What he passes lightly on is that the Taiwan article was an instantiation of an earlier article. That's the real big problem that I was hoping would be torn into little pieces and demonstrated that it is wrong, wrong, wrong. That's because the reason I speculated we weren't expanding the army is decimating to the idea we have a patriotic consensus among politicians in this country. Since that happy day when my speculation is disproved has not come, let's talk about Taiwan.
First of all, if the US bends too much and gives the PRC side false hope that they can start military operations because of Taiwanese provocations, the US has suffered an east asian disaster no matter the ultimate outcome (barring the delusion of a Taiwanese takeover of Beijing which is just not going to happen). Thus, the anti-invasion capabilities of the Taiwanese Army are somewhat irrelevant to a sober evaluation of US diplomacy. They might survive. They might even win. But the US will have lost and it is the US' scorecard that is at issue here.
A tremendous amount of the world's manufacturing goes through Taiwan. For instance, they make a great deal of the transistors, circuit boards, and computers that are the stuff that the Information Revolution is made of. A six month period where nothing comes in and out of Taiwan but military hardware is going to hurt worldwide. The economic disruption will be particularly painful and the political risk will raise the risk component of everybody's future decision formula to invest and do business with Taiwan. In a world where Taiwan becomes less competitive, some of those relocated business deals and factories will end up in the PRC.
This has both commercial and military implications for Taiwan. The reason they have such a good military is they have the money to pay for it. Strongly encouraging taiwanese businessmen to put more of their wealth into the PRC will enrich the PRC and narrow the tax base from which Taiwan can draw its next generation of military forces. It's a boa constrictor method of taking down a foe but the PRC is certainly patient enough to consider such scenarios.
But even in pure military terms, there are factors to consider that were simply absent in the case of the Battle of Britain (though there are important parallels as well). The first and foremost are missiles. The lack of significant anti-missile forces in the Taiwanese Order Of Battle (OOB) means that the PRC has a significant advantage that the Nazis did not. They do not have to put a plane over Taiwan to deliver explosives sufficient to take out a runway. They may simply overwhelm whatever Patriot batteries are available at that time.
From SDB's links I found this image which has a total of 23 air facilities marked out on it. If enough facilities are taken out by missile fire, the vastly inferior (but vastly more numerous) PLAAF will overwhelm the remaining defenders. This article makes clear that the Taiwanese Air Force has no VTOL craft that would remain operational without long military runways.
So a winning PRC strategy could be purely economic, bottle up shipping and flights in Taiwan to beggar it and reduce its ability to continue maintaining a military that is good enough to credibly repel invasion. It could be a combined missile/air attack that would take out enough launch facilities to give the PRC air superiority for a full on invasion (the submarines won't survive many trips to replenish torpedoes if the PLAAF controls the skies). It could also be something in-between. Taiwan controls a series of islands that are very close to the mainland. A military adventure could be launched to provide enough air cover just to take over some of those islands.
Just to recap, none of these strategies actually have to work. They just have to be good enough for the PRC to try them under the protection of a perceived diplomatic green light provided by Doug Paal and James Moriarty. The first shot fired in anger is the failure of US strategy for the diplomats. If this problem is heaped onto the US military's plate, something's already gone horribly wrong.
A small permissions error kept me out of the blogging game for the latter part of yesterday and I'm already backlogged!
Look for catchup blogging today, maybe tomorrow.
December 03, 2003
Fixing Medicare Prescription Coverage
I'm still reading, a bit each night, through the actual legislation but Bruce Bartlett's article on the foolishness of buying votes by adding medicare benefits is something that deserves a reply. He's quite correct that 2006 is when the fur will really start to fly. But that just makes it even more important that 2004 creates enough of a shift toward Republicans that a 2005 session can bring a corrective bill to President Bush's desk.
Conservatives and libertarians, instead of wasting time moaning about how bad the current bill is would better serve the national interest by preparing for 2005 and crafting improvements that will impose the maximum improvement possible in the situation. My own list of suggestions will, alas, have to wait for me to complete my reading the text of the law.
One of the characteristics of modern government is that it retains for itself certain forms of violence, coercion. You may be killed, imprisoned, detained, or beaten by the state but no other societal instrument can do this to you. This violence is retained for the state or its instruments as it authorizes them.
This article over at National Review Online outlines how muslim immigrants are challenging governments all over Europe by holding secret sharia courts, honor killings, and other expressions of non-state justice without any sanction from their host states. This cannot stand and continue to have the internationally recognized governments retain their legitimacy.
One example should suffice to illustrate the danger. A mexican diplomat is accredited with family to Germany. His 17 year old son starts dating a kurdish girl. The 'dishonor' of a mexican catholic dating a kurdish girl leads to a sharia judgment and the mexican boy is beaten and the girl killed. If the government of Germany is impotent in its efforts to stop such courts how real are its assurances of diplomatic immunity? And when acid is thrown on the face of the diplomat's daughter for her 'whorish' behavior of wearing a skirt that is too short, what then?
Federalist Papers in Arabic
I previously asked Have the Federalist Papers Been Translated to Arabic?. The answer ends up being yes.
The original publisher being Penguin (1961) and the arabic language version is published in Jordan by Dar Al Faris (1996). The question remains open as to who owns the copyright (if the US govt. commissioned the translation it might hold rights to the resulting text). This is important to the question of whether it is possible to get authorization for an on-line edition as the start of a political version of the Baen Free Library. Who knows, maybe Jim Baen would be willing to host it?
Bending Too Far
In A Hypothetical Scenario I speculated that the administration is caught in a bind where it thinks it needs a bigger army but isn't sure it could get one authorized through the current Congress while trying and failing would have bad consequences worldwide. I further speculated that State has been tasked with tamping down crises until a new Congress is elected that would be more friendly to the idea of a troop buildup.
This is a delicate dance. There are two sweet spots. The first is to take the diplomatic temperature and find that no action need be taken. The second (and less favorable one) is the temperature taking exercise results in an assessment that a temporary round of appeasement will stave off precipitous action until we can get out of our military bind.
There are several dangers in the exercise. The first is that we think no action is necessary but problems are bubbling under the surface and will explode because we misread the situation. The next is that we rightly read that action must be taken but we throw too small a bone, not properly saying 'nice doggie' well enough as we reach for the proverbial stick. The next major danger is that we give the store away, unnecessarily compromising our national interests. The final danger is that we give so much away that we not only compromise our interests but give the impression that we are abandoning them entirely, encouraging instead of discouraging action exactly when we cannot subtly respond with conventional forces. This last is what many thought was the diplomatic sin we committed right before Saddam invaded Kuwait.
One of the potential hot spots that needs securing is Taiwan. Patrick Belton notes an article over at the Project for the New American Century protesting proposals coming out of the State Department that seem to rise to the level of dangerous cravenness.
It is unacceptable not only for an actual invasion to take place but for the US to give such a green light. Communists are famously prickly about democracies minding their own business. They can manufacture a provocation out of thin air if they desire. To say that the US will not militarily respond to an invasion if the PRC is provoked by Taiwan is to say that the US will not militarily respond to any invasion. This is not only shameful, illegal, unconstitutional, but also profoundly dangerous.
The people of the United States would not stand for it. The President of the United States could not withstand the domestic firestorm and no matter what prior statements came out of State would react militarily. The PRC must be made to understand that and must also understand that if the conventional response available to us via our uncommitted troops would be insufficient, we would go nuclear. Anything else would just add to the general view propounded by its enemies that the US does not stand by its allies and its security guarantees are worthless.
Update: Of the two authors of this proposed US policy shift, only one (Doug Paal) comes from State. The other (James Moriarty) is from the NSC. The main point of bending too far remains undisturbed.
Lessons Learned Lessons II
December 02, 2003
Random Thoughts: Don't Do List for Iraqis
1. Don't be bitter
Ivory Coast Parallel
One thing that struck me about this item over at Instapundit was how familiar it sounded. Aside from the machetes and the threats to actually attack the peacekeepers, it sounds just like the Moldova/Transdniester separatist conflict of the early '90s. There the players were ethnic romanians on the government side who were at least looking to get out of the USSR and hard core communist slavs on the separatist side. Russia provided the peacekeepers.
Bush's Lucy Strategy: Speeches
Michael Novak spots Bush's Lucy strategy cropping up in his speeches. He's always the tongue tied poor public speaker who has abysmal expectations going into every major speech but somehow he always pulls out a miracle and inspires, persuades, and convinces when he really has to.
This is just an instantiation of the whole Lucy strategy. He does this with everything and everybody, unfortunately friend as well as foe. The day the world stops being surprised by it is the day that they'll be able to predict his moves. May it not come before 2009.
Lessons Learned Lessons I
Strategypage has a story on misidentifying lessons learned on the battlefield. A key point is how services do not want to accept any lessons that will reduce their chances at getting fat budgets in future funding fights.
What no one really wants is a totally dispassionate look at the lessons learned. No one wants the chips to fall where they may. Too much collateral damage that way. Yet, in the end, truth and logic will have their way. The true meaning of each lesson learned will be there on the next battlefield, whether you have come up with the best implementation of the lesson or not.
This simple fact of life is one of the key reasons why civilians need to be included in the process of 'lessons learned'. We don't have any dogs in the fight of whether the army gets more money or the airforce. We just want the maximum number of our countrymen to come back safe after the next war period with victory achieved in the most efficient manner possible.
Of course the problem with including civilians is that too many of us want to play gotcha games in an effort to hold down military spending period. There is no perfect solution but we could all do a lot better.
Polygamy/Gay Marriage Relationship
I've taken a bit of a beating in comments over the idea that the polygamists would use gay marriage as precedent. It certainly didn't take long to be demonstrated right on that one. This particular appeal is likely to go nowhere but it'll alert polygamists who aren't also pedophiles that the possibility exists and you can expect tougher cases to start showing up in your newspapers reasonably soon.
Hat tip to the Corner on the report.
Have the Federalist Papers Been Translated to Arabic?
Josh Chafetz of Oxblog endorses the idea of teaching deomcracy and suggest that we distribute the Federalist Papers in arabic. First they'd have to be translated and then distributed.
I then remembered seeing a romanian language copy of the US Constitution in the early 90s put out by the VOA (I believe). A little search later and the following email just went out.
I know that the VOA has done good work in translating basic american documents in a great many languages. Given the situation in Iraq, I think they could probably use the Federalist Papers in arabic. Have you created a translation? Is it on the net? I'd love to be able to advertise the existance of such a thing and contribute to its dissemination. I'm absolutely positive I'm not alone.
That went off to the public affairs office of VOA. Hopefully the hard work's already been done and is sitting on a government hard drive waiting for the blogosphere to take advantage of it and spread the word.
Reading Medicare Status I (My Head Hurts)
I'm nowhere close to finishing the monstrous task of at least skimming through the 600+ pages of the medicare prescription drug legislation but even from the early pages I get the feel that this is like one of those complex medical problems that is fixed by multiple rounds of surgery. In such situations, you have some actions that are done that simply prepare for future surgeries but don't actually fix what's wrong in themselves.
I went into this project thinking that what's being done here is laying the groundwork for a future medicare bill in 2005. I've not seen anything yet to disabuse me of this. If the 2004 elections result as I think they will, 12-20 more Republicans in the House, 4-9 more Republicans in the Senate, it would become possible to take a second whack at the law, creating something a little less frightful.
Entitlements have always been the third rails of US politics by design. The creators of the programs have built in features that make it politically impossible to dismantle such programs even when they are clearly unsustainable or counterproductive. Welfare was clearly a failure in the '70s. In fact, it was distinctly counterproductive to the interests of the poor it was meant to serve yet it took two decades more before the politicians could fix it and the landscape was littered with the political careers of people trying to fix the system so it didn't hurt the poor.
We've known for going on 20 years now that there was a pharmaceutical revolution going on and that whatever social provision was made for medical care, it should include pills. Personally, I think that social provision should be done with the least government interference as possible but medical care shouldn't ignore the technical revolution that's replaced the expensive surgery with the comparatively inexpensive pill no matter what level of state coercion you have in the payment of it.
So assuming that this legislation had to do two things, get passed, and establish principles that would make it easier for the next Congress to change the system for the better, what signs would be in the text that would prove or disprove this thesis?
More thoughts on this later but so little of the commentary that I've seen against the bill addresses things from this perspective of the start of a long road to reform. It's really disappointing.
December 01, 2003
Cut the BS on the Medicare Bill
Ok, you're for it. Or you're against it. It doesn't much matter. If you're commenting on the medicare bill post passage, your first post really should include a link to the text, like this one.
I'll probably have more commentary once I read the thing. It'd be nice if half the commentators I've seen so far had done as much.
Nit Picking the Angry Economist
In general, I like The Angry Economist. I do have to take issue with one detail of his characterization of the minimum wage. Minimum wage economics is not so simple or straightforward a science as he makes out. If it were, it wouldn't be so politically potent a vote getter.
Employers are given two choices when confronted by labor that does not meet a legal minimum wage. They can either forgo the labor and not pay anything or they can pay for the next best substitute.
What the employer does depends on the cost and benefit of the next best substitute. In the case where the next best substitute has a large fall in cost/benefit, increasing the pay of the worker actually would make sense and would happen. This is the heart of the positive case for minimum wage laws. When we ignore that this case can exist anti-minimum wage law campaigners leave a logical weakness in their arguments that really doesn't need to be there.
First of all, the existance of such a large gap between alternatives would not be the normal state of things but something of a rarity. In essence you'd have that "I've got my boss over a barrel" feeling at a very low wage rate. This is not normal.
Secondly, bosses don't like feeling like they're over a barrel. They would have an unmet need, a low gap alternative to substitute for the unjustified wages they are paying to low productivity workers. Since bosses in general have high amounts of available capital, entrepreneurs would spot any actual occurance of such an unusual low wage/high gap situation as an opportunity to provide a lower gap substitute and capture business.
Thus we have a situation where the low wage voters are captivated by the chimera of having their bosses over a barrel and extracting surplus wages but the actual occurance of this is such a rarity that it's all just a cruel hoax.
But a cruel hoax is not the same as a nonexistant or illogical phenomena. The angry economist would have better served his readership if he'd been a bit less angry this time.
Reigning in Our Nuts
I've gone on in the past about the obligation of muslims to reign in their extremists, their radicals, and their crazies. This obligation exists on moderates of all groups. The main reason why this obligation rests on the moderates inside the group is that they have unique insights not only into the extremists/radicals/nuts (from here on in exranuts) of their own group, they know how best to excise them without doing more damage than necessary to the larger groups goals and aspirations. Even when internal moderates (as is the case with muslims) are not in a particularly powerful position, it is preferrable to have them do the work. Outsiders are inevitably going to go at the problem like the bull in the proverbial china shop, clumsily.
In an example closer to home, the US has two disparate sets of exranuts to deal with on the War on Terror (we've got lots of other nuts too, this isn't an exhaustive list). There's the left wing surrender crowd who haul out pithy, disgusting phrases like "we support our troops when they shoot their officers". Then there's the "nuke Mecca and make the rubble bounce" crowd. Sanity lies between these two extremes. Steven Den Beste just got a letter from a muslim bull going through our china shop.
For americans, talking seriously about the use of nuclear weapons has a very powerful sobering effect. We've been living the longest with the reality of the capability to destroy the planet and while joking about it can keep the nightmares away, somebody breaking out sober battle plans ends all frivolity.
When we're the unchallanged top dog we tend to get lazy and sloppy as a society. We're just coming off a decade long bender (the '90s) where we were the undisputed champ and we're still dealing with the hangover from that period. Steven Den Beste's serious talk about how close we're dancing edge, to that decision point of having to launch a nuke or give up on being the USA is, in its way, a plea to everybody to get serious, cut the political partisanship, and get on with the business of dealing with a national crisis.
I just wrote about a hypothetical in which political considerations are getting in the way of enlarging the army to a size that is sustainable for our current threat picture. I firmly believe that the Democrat party has a faction that is so obsessed with President Bush and the 2004 elections that they'd think about the politics of it more than the national security angle. I worry that they have 41 votes in the Senate. Because of the disasterous consequences of even letting our need for extra divisions get out before the deal is done, I fear that nobody even dares to do a private whip count.
So we're stuck in a force resizing holding pattern. We simultaneously try to tamp down crises, digest Iraqi tyranny, downsize our military that's stuck in EU states and S. Korea, and manufacture as many free soldiers as possible waiting for the time when there are enough trusted Congressmen to get the bills through quickly and start raising our force levels fast enough to preclude anybody seriously trying to take advantage.
In the meantime, we have to negotiate between the Scylla and Charybdis of our own nuts as outsiders "oscillate between despondency and amusement" at our attempts at doing our own laundry (reigning in our own exranuts).
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