January 31, 2004

Correspondence: Jonah Goldberg

Posted by TMLutas

In regards to your recent column I think you're not giving Bush credit for what he's doing. Beyond the political grandstanding problem that you rightly point out will likely afflict an investigation into the intelligence failures of the CIA et al there is another problem, one that you yourself have fallen prey to and it seems to be a common failing in the US. The destructive temptation is to go off half cocked, to call for heads on pikes all around and to destroy careers and lives without first going to the trouble to not only understand that something is deeply wrong, but the specific problem that needs fixing and who materially contributed to that problem.

Do we have the answers to these questions? Are you confident that we are not going to besmirch and destroy the reputations of honest patriots in the intelligence bureaucracy whose major fault is being less adept at the CYA internal blame game? I'm not confident of that and the idea of rushing to the head of the mob and storming the intelligence castles without knowing precisely what we're doing fills me with a certain dread.

There is a 9/11 commission which will report soon. After it reports, resignations will likely be in order and those resignations will not cause the damage to our government they would have caused if they would have been demanded before the results of the commission are published.

It appears that there will likely be a subsequent investigation into systemic failures in intelligence gathering. It is vital that an investigation is as sober and as free of grandstanding as possible with investigation first, trial afterward, and only then a verdict. The verdict has already been reached by many. Is it really just pique that President Bush resists giving in to a witch hunt mentality?

Campaign Finance

Posted by TMLutas

On the bright side, the news media is honest. They actually believed the idea that if you are miles ahead in fundraising, you are a shoe-in for election. This explains their reaction to Dean and their virtual coronation of him before Iowans started to pay serious attention to the race.

On the even brighter side, the news media was completely wrong. The best funded candidate didn't win. He didn't even come in second. Dean's implosion has got to give Mitch McConnell, campaign finance reform's enemy number one, a real sense of satisfaction. When there is a serious discrepancy between fundraising prowess and attractiveness as a candidate, the money didn't save Dean much as it doesn't save most people in Dean's position.

On the dark side is the virtual certainty that most news media didn't notice the puncturing of the underlying assumptions behind McCain Feingold and will be just as sure next time that funds are everything, and are very likely to be wrong once again.

Renaming Suicide Bombers

Posted by TMLutas

Samizdata has an article out on renaming suicide bombers to something more useful. Unfortunately, most of the suggestions tend to minimize the bombers' humanity. My own reply below:

The renaming impulse is all wrong and actually helps the islamists. Instead of minimizing their humanity we should be emphasizing it and noting that the theologians who support this are supporting a faith of nihilism and death that, in Islam's own tradition, marks them for intense pressure culminating in fatwas that call for their own deaths. If they're not human, it lets the imams who try to recruit people into that mindset off the hook and in business.

I don't have an actual new name but something that I'd be happy with would make and emphasize the svengali/koresh/stockholm/Jim Jones aspect to the whole thing. By Islam's rules, they should be slitting these imams' throats for persistently encouraging this sort of thing. I'd be more than happy for them to stop short of that and reform but if it takes some slit throats to stop it, I'm ok with that.

Go over and suggest your own reforms. I think it's urgent that the islamic world come to its senses and realize that these imams encouraging nihilism under cover of Islam are, literally, satanic. And that term is used in a context that is technical, not pejorative and covers theology that was established in the time of monotheistic unity, ie prophets upon whom Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all agree on.

Believe it or not, this is the only strategy we actually have for eliminating the threat of suicide bombings. No spiritual warfare, and there will never be an end to the tactic. Unlike thuggee, we can't just jail all the muslims, nor should we want to.

Thank You France: International Plague

Posted by TMLutas

The PRC is probably the most problematic country when it comes to infectious diseases. It's got both a large territory and a huge population. And it's been cursed with a secretive government that is embarrassed by its public health failures which has the perverse effect of making them much worse. As diseases emerge, they often emerge in the PRC and the delay in instituting traditional public health clamp downs means that the cost and body count go much higher than is necessary, but apparently not for much longer.

The Pasteur Institute is recognized around the world as a leader in health and it will be extending that expertise into the PRC when it opens up a branch there with a mixed french and chinese staff and promises of autonomy and an institutional policy that "will respect Pasteur values" which has always put health first embarrassment second.

This is a major step towards guarding against the worrisome prospect of international plague outbreaks. It's always nice to see the french showing what they're capable of doing on the positive side. They're not all bonehead ankle biters. May they get a leadership that reflects that reality, and soon.

January 30, 2004

Taking Advantage of Amnesia

Posted by TMLutas

This David Frum diary entry got me to thinking. A correspondent suggests that the nature of intelligence might be of such ambiguous character that getting things as wrong as they seem to have been gotten in Iraq is a pretty common circumstance, that intelligence is more like reading tea leaves than any hard science.

What occurs to me is that with a couple of hundred years of history, it should be relatively easy to take important episodes of US intelligence where the decision makers had as ambiguous evidence as existed in Iraq and present such scenarios for people to issue their own judgments and see how well they did. This wouldn't work in a very historically literate populace but the historical amnesia of modern US popular culture works to advantage here. Think of it as something similar to America's Army but for intelligence analysis.

Encryption Provocation

Posted by TMLutas

The Internet was conceived as a messaging system for the reliable transmission of war orders in the middle of a nuclear conflict. The killer applications that actually promoted it to worldwide must-have were e-mail, ftp, and the web which made it an electronic replacement for the post office, parcel post, and mass media, respectively.

The point of the history is that you never know when you make a basic tool, what higher level application will develop to take advantage of your basic technology and turn your scientific curiosity into a new global essential. One of the things that private key infrastructure (PKI) makers have long pondered is what would make their products universal. After all, who likes to have their mail read? But year in, year out, the vast majority of e-mail users are content to send the electronic equivalent of postcards to each other. The minor hassle of encrypting mail has not been worth it outside authoritarian states that have enough freedom so there is e-mail but are bad enough that there is a broad need for secrecy as a weapon against the government. With the fall of the soviet bloc and the subsequent spread of freedom, that justification died down.

Well, now we have a new villian that will likely drive people to the widespread use of encryption and it's an unlikely villain, big music pushing its IP rights beyond what people instinctively feel advances the arts and sciences have led to a sagebrush rebellion of file swappers opting out of paying for music. And the more that the RIAA and other national artistic associations push, the more that encryption becomes a necessity in the free world. The demand will likely grow to the point where encryption becomes a system level service that is interoperable across computing platforms.

At that point, with the ability to encrypt everything by default, the computing world changes drastically. How that change will play out is anyone's guess. That it will be important and play out differently in different fields is an easy prediction.

HT: Good Morning Silicon Valley

Freedom != Anarchy

Posted by TMLutas

Glenn Reynold's links to an important article by Amir Taheri. In it Taheri notes that a great number of people identify Iraq as sliding into anarchy and becoming chaotic. On the contrary, Taheri points out that what arabs view as chaos are really the normal workings of a free society. In fact, Iraqi politics is a great deal more polite than some mature free societies are.

I've noted before that the enemies of freedom always try to label it anarchy and chaos. In fact, I have a series proposing a Department of Anarchy to enhance and institutionalize the pro-freedom impulse. It's both encouraging that Iraq is showing visible signs of a boisterous and healthy political culture. It's sad that so many other arabs seem afraid of the consequences, as if they do not trust themselves to take their place among nations as free people.

Elections 2004 Personal Preference List

Posted by TMLutas

I just took this quiz on which presidential candidate I'm most compatible with (Democrats and Republicans listed only). The top of the list was expected, Bush but the % agreed was surprising as were some of the choices lower on the list. I never would have guessed I'm more of a Clark voter than a Dean man. The biggest surprise for me? Sharpton didn't come last, but that's only because I always seem to forget that Kucinich is still running.

My results:
Score Candidate
100% Bush
47% Lieberman
35% Edwards
31% Clark
30% Dean
28% Kerry
27% Sharpton
10% Kucinich

HT: Daniel Drezner

Mormon Insanity

Posted by TMLutas

Coldest day in the year, it hurts to breathe outside, and I've got two mormon girls going door to door and endangering their health. It's way below zero today and they're going to get hurt. Whoever sent them out on a day like this is irresponsible or crazy.

The Cure For Left Wing Architects

Posted by TMLutas

Over at Samizdata, this article provides a good overview at the effects of the current architectural process in tilting towards statist politics.

Architects are planners. Forgive me yet another obvious assertion but the point is that there is little that the architect imagines cannot be planned. If you can design a house, you can design furniture for that house or the city in which that house is located, so goes the thinking. If a chair, a house, a city, why not an economy?

I think that, to a great extent, the problem of zoning and the problem of leftist politics is a problem of the primitive state of the architectural specification document. A vague, simple request "build me an office building for 500 people" becomes a veritable blank slate for the architect to imagine that he can behave as a little Stalin, redrawing border at whim, a miniature Pol Pot moving entire populations to his decree, the power is positively giddy and the blank sheet of paper is a good analogue for the vision of mankind as mere modeling clay to be shaped to the architect's desire.

In order to keep down the negative externalities of maniacal architects and aesthetically twisted and nasty, vengeful owners, zoning was instituted. But wouldn't the process of societal accommodation be furthered by opening up the spec document instead? Wouldn't the aesthetic impulse be better spent on the front end in presenting an architect with a rich document that will sail through the neighborhood approval process rather than a spare document that creates the illusion that the community interests are only a barrier that must be crossed in the political process of plan approval?

There may indeed be an architectural vocation, but imagining the task of creating community as being like a Michelangelo working on his statuary does violence to the communitarian essence of architecture. Instead of the artist in the salon, architects would do well to look at Wikimedia's construction style. I am amazed at Wikipedia and will occasionally contribute minor improvements where I can. For the most part they are accepted but I've been ruthlessly excised where I've transgressed.

There is no reason for a community not to build and rework their physical infrastructure in a similar manner. Certainly moving cement and wood around is a great deal slower and more expensive than slinging electrons around but the same voluntary community spirit would produce good results. And it would certainly be more participative, more efficient, and less expensive than the complicated zoning board process that plagues so many decisions currently.

January 29, 2004

Indispensable Leaders Give Me the Creeps

Posted by TMLutas

Jay Nordlinger's Davos Journals finish up today and he spends a good bit of time talking about Musharref, naming him an indispensable leader. The idea of indispensability always worries me. In a nuclear armed nation, it positively creeps me out. It wouldn't take more than a few seconds for an average politically engaged US citizen to think of 5 americans who could run the country without being a disaster. This sort of bench strength makes assassination a somewhat stupid tactic and largely the province of the insane. There is no rational reason to kill a president if you haven't created any measurable instability if you succeed.

This basic fungibility of leadership is highly protective both of world stability and of the personal safety of political leadership. Bush gets assassinated and replaced by Cheney. And what, pray tell, will change for Al Queda? There wouldn't be very many good results at all so why bother?

In a nation that has an indispensable ruler, much less a worldwide block with such a leader, the lack of bench depth increases the utility of assassination. Musharraf goes and it's a mystery who would follow him. It's not like India who have leaders springing from recognized political blocs who will likely carry on similar policies after a leadership change. Pakistan, and Russia too for that matter, lacks a well known bench and a stable institutional base that would continue present policy. It is only when the major parties accept a basic consensus of what national interest and national policy should be that the world can breathe a bit easier.

I would love to hear of a survey of Pakistan's elite to see what is the leadership bench in Pakistan. One of Musharraf's tasks in preparing for a return to democracy would be encouraging the development of a very good, very deep bench that is willing to coalesce around a predictable core foreign policy of consensus national interest. It would be a tremendous step forward for Pakistan that would both enhance the country's international standing and its internal stability.

What Rush Doesn't Get

Posted by TMLutas

On my way to the hospital today, I was tuned in to Rush's program and I caught him complaining about how he couldn't understand how adding a benefit could slow down the growth of government. The analysis is simple if you measure the right things but there's a great deal of double counting in the current medicare debate and I think that's the source of Rush's confusion.

Coronary bypass surgery costs somewhere between $22k and $24k. If a senior has heart disease, the US government is currently on the hook for it and pays for that very expensive operation. On the other hand, a lot of those operations can be eliminated by the use of drugs, which seem to cost an average of $220 a month or $2640 per year. That's a considerably cheaper solution, especially when you consider that in the 8-9 years you're putting off an operation and saving money, some seniors will die of other causes (reducing expenses) while among the surgery crowd others will need a second operation because their arteries clog again. For seniors, there's a fairly high economic value to not front loading your expenses.

What the government does by putting taxpayers on the hook only for the more expensive operations is they encourage the wasteful use of the surgeon's knife rather than the more efficient pharmacist's prescription. This is a cost distorting incentive that has been around since the pharmaceutical revolution started to kick into high gear and pills started to heavily displace operations in normal medicine.

Where fiscal conservatives get tripped up is that while they correctly estimate growth in the government expenditure of pills, they do not believe that any cost savings will be coming down the pike on medicare funded surgical procedures. Cost savings have proven illusory before but the entirely natural reluctance of patients to go under the knife will lead to a pretty big uptick in medical (pill based) management.

Primary care physicians will also have an incentive to limit their surgical referrals. Surgical money does not go into their pockets, but into the pockets of the referred surgical team. There is no incentive for over referral, in fact, there is a negative financial incentive to do so.

Rush isn't alone in mistaking the costs. What I believe is going on is that the Bush people decided that Medicare could better serve its customer at less net cost while simultaneously becoming more compatible with future privatization by adding the drug benefit. Having that plus plan choice plus HSAs makes the bill that was signed into law a long term win for those who want a smaller government.

Baby Blogging III

Posted by TMLutas

I don't pretend I'll ever truly understand women. As I went in the OR, I get one little death threat and that's it on the unhappiness parade as she get's sliced and fileted (otherwise known as a cesarean section. She wanted me there with her though I can't figure out why.

Well, she made it through the operation and hopefully will forget to "kill me later". She usually does, God bless her.

Baby Blogging II

Posted by TMLutas

Cut her up, sew her up, take a baby out in between, I never feel I'm as useless as when I'm in the operating room with my wife. I really have only one role (besides taking a bit of abuse). If things were to go very badly, I have the job of saying who lives, and who dies. That's it, my minor errand in the affair, judge of who shall live and who shall die.

Thank God I was useless.

Baby Blogging I

Posted by TMLutas

Alma Lutas, born 9 lbs 2 ounces (4.153Kg) joined the family today at 02.58 CST. Healthy, beautiful, and remarkably good tempered. She's my littlest girl and I love her.

Enough gushing. More serious baby blogging to come.

January 28, 2004

Gone To Hospital

Posted by TMLutas

Baby's breech, previous c-section, for those who believe pray for our health.

Bush Confusion

Posted by TMLutas

This Spinsanity item debunks a Dean charge that President George W Bush kicked 84k students off the Pell Grant program. What happened was that in 1992, under President George HW Bush, the current president's father, a law was passed to annually update certain state tax data that's used to determine eligibility for Pell Grants.

The Clinton administration never implemented the law, though they did not have any legal right to do so. With the new administration coming in, they decided to end this illegal defiance and did an update from the 1988 (!) data that had been used to that point. Accumulated changes meant that the old inaccurate formulas gave roughly 84k students who shouldn't have had Pell grants participate in the program. Dean called the entire affair the consequences of Bush tax policy. In a way, he's right. He's just got the wrong Bush.

Public Health Disaster in the Making?

Posted by TMLutas

This rather alarming warning about a 1918 level flu virus mutation. In this season of worrying about terrorist attacks, it's essential that we don't forget that a natural little virus can out kill a conventional world war.

So, are we any better prepared than in 1918? Do we really want to solve our pensions crisis by letting so many of the pensioners die? Apparently, the life expectancy of the US dropped 10 years with that one major flu outbreak.

The 'on the other hand' problem is panic. We've gone decades without a major outbreak. Starting a panic could lead to economic problems and a lot of scared, angry people who have little to really worry about.

HT: RealClear Politics

January 27, 2004

Current Democrat Delegate Counts

Posted by TMLutas

In voting for president, its often useful to remind yourself, it's the delegates that count.

CNN has a 2004 delegate count page. The rankings might surprise you. Kerry's gaining, but despite two first place wins, Dean's actually winning the delegate race right now based on his strong showing in reeling in superdelegates. This won't hold up forever but if Kerry doesn't get enough of a financial bump to properly contest the next round of primaries, he very well could fade.

Keep an eye on the delegates.

Personal Stress Reaction

Posted by TMLutas

There will be random strangeness occurring over the next three days here. Stop in anyway, you may find it entertaining but sometime during that time period, I'll be welcoming a new addition to my family. If the ultrasound's right, it'll be Alma Lutas (no middle name) coming to joing her big brother and sister George and Maria (also no middle name)

Sometimes stress causes me to write, sometimes it shuts my muse right down, it's extremely variable. And then the subject matter gets even more variable as my mind flits from subject to subject. Oh my, I've actually made a posting link to the name of this blog. I never thought that would happen.

See what I mean by the variability thing?

Approving Constitutions

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste is shocked and appalled over this article describing referenda as a gamble that does not guarantee a positive result.

I'm inclined not to be so panicky. I think, instead, that both methods of passing judgment are flawed, though SDB's favored solution of referenda is closer to right than the EU elite class's reliance on parliamentary passage.

The flaw with referenda is that it is the voice of the mob and the mob can be misled by slick confidence men into making unwise decisions. This is less true than it was in 1789 at the passage of the US Constitution but it still does have some truth to it. But politicians are often elected not for their judgment but for their ability to milk the state teat for all its worth on behalf of their constituents and damn the national interest. Can such a politician be seriously relied upon to do what is right and good in the case of a momentous decision like the adoption of a constitution? I don't think so. They are at least as flawed an arbiter of such questions as the mass of people and even more dangerous.

You can see the bribes offered to the people. Their mass distribution means that they will probably be discovered, before or shortly after the referendum. But politicians who are money oriented can be swayed in much quieter ways.

The solution is a third system which is to convoke a constitutional convention, electing people with the sole task of passing judgment on the constitution. No doubt that this will include a good portion of the political elite but a "Senator Pothole" who concentrates on road repair and other such practicalities will likely be left off the list selected by the people. Other figures who are important intellectually but usually are not tempted to enter the political realm might also become delegates. Laurence Tribe and Robert Bork will never make it to the legislature but I can see them making it to a constitutional convention.

Constitutions are special documents and deserve special consideration. Just ramming an approval through a national legislature is not satisfying but neither is the blunt yes or no of a referendum. There is a third way out but nobody in Europe seems to be interested.

The Limits of Economics

Posted by TMLutas

This voluntary cannibalism thing just bugs me. Besides posting on the idea of human ownership, I'm bothered with the idea that ultimate ends are a proper study of economics. Economics is essentially the science of resource allocation. But ultimate ends are not resources, only means are.

I started off by leaving this in comments to the economics of cannibalism story:

Another argument is that economics does not apply to the subject. Economics is the rationing of resources. That a person's time is a resource is fairly well established and subject to the rules of economics. That a person is a resource to be disposed of according to economic rules is not established in the least. Are people means to an end or ends in and of themselves. If they are ends, cannibalism cannot be properly the subject of economics.

People's acquisition and expense of resources are all in service to an ultimate end and that end, when traced back as far as it will go, is usually some pleasure or usefulness to a person or persons. Thus, much of what is economically analyzed as ends are merely subsidiary ends, means to a greater end. There is no greater end than people, no means that they can be properly spent using purely economic analysis. This is why we don't have widespread human medical testing, for example, even though it would save countless lives and accelerate medical progress. Societies (Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan) who organize such programs are viewed with horror because they have transgressed into treating ends as means.

The entire premise of the thread is just wrong. Cannibalism has no economics.

There is a thirst for seamless explanations. It partially explains the enduring appeal of the communist as opposed to the capitalist enterprise. Capitalism is an economic system that tends to be paired with certain political and social systems. Communism is a seamless garment that explains politics, economics, and social relations. But the difficulty of creating such a seamless construct, a theory of everything, has meant that so far nobody has succeeded in coming up with such a thing. If somebody ever did, it truly would be the end of history. There would be nothing left to fight over.

Economics is an important science. But unless you turn it into a religion, it does not answer all of life's questions. It certainly doesn't answer the problem of voluntary cannibalism.

Who Owns You?

Posted by TMLutas

Who owns you? Do you own yourself or are you the property of someone else. There are three mainstream western answers.

1. Libertarian: You own yourself
2. Authoritarian/Secularist: The state owns you
3. Monotheist/Religious: God owns you

The third is actually most flexible because God, through the provision of free will, is the most absentee of landlords so being owned by God isn't, in the normal course of affairs, very much different than being self-owned. Being owned by the state justifies all sorts of statutes, some wise, some not so wise. And being self-owned is generally fine for everyday use though you do get into some difficulty around the margins where people are calmly, rationally discussing the circumstances in which it is ok to eat someone else.

I'm a follower of the third alternative, God owns me, in a way that's heavily influenced by the idea that He's given me free reign to develop myself in a direction of my choosing short of very broad limits. These limits mostly consist of self-harm.

I would suggest that the further down the road to self-ownership you travel, the more circumstances you will find that present viscerally horrifying things that this model has no way of dealing with. Now such a reaction could be that one is just too squeamish but it can also be that your native common sense is telling you something that your intellectual framework just isn't built to handle and that it's your intellectual framework that needs to give.

HT: Brownian Notions

January 26, 2004

Acts of War

Posted by TMLutas

If Canada sent thousands of agents into the US to influence our elections, it would be illegal. If they persisted, no doubt war would be declared. It would be a clear regional threat to national security and a fit topic for the UN Security Council to address and authorize action.

So why do things change when it is "thousands of Iranian-sponsored operatives all over your country" and the country these agents roam over is Iraq? Certainly the importance to the world's economy of Iraq's and Iran's combined oil might raise this to a level of general worldwide concern.

If it were just money, things would be bad enough but it's likely that Syria's advocacy of a "Lebanon strategy" has landed in some willing ears. Whether Syria itself is pursuing the strategy is unclear, that somebody is doing it is perfectly obvious.

In June, Iraq will regain its sovereignty. The UNSC, no matter how badly it feels about the United States, will likely have this issue of foreign attempts at political and military takeover land in its lap shortly thereafter. Is there even a shred of hope that the UN would answer the call?

Fixing Corruption

Posted by TMLutas

From John Ashcroft's Davos speech as commented by Jay Nordlinger:

And third, information. Simple information, he says — mere information — is a powerful enemy of corruption. He cites a striking example from Uganda: Only 28 percent of the money was getting to the schools for which it was designated. Then the government had the bright idea of publishing, in the local papers, the amount of money allocated to each school. Miraculously, the amounts actually reaching the schools climbed to 90 percent. So the mere publication of information caused the money for schools to triple.

There's much more worthwhile stuff there but I thought I'd mention just this one because the implications are profound. In a country racked by cynicism and corruption just publishing the actual figures of how much money should be getting to the school shamed and frightened the thieves into cutting their thefts.

German Indentured Servitude

Posted by TMLutas

In an overall excellent article on the new FRG military reforms comes this shocker:

But this is a classic example of that old rule that when a committee starts out to draw a horse, it produces a camel. The hands of committees of politicians are all over this. Struck had initially spoken of scrapping the German draft, but this plan retains it, pleading that the next election of 2006 should precede such a decision. The reality is that the Health minister, whose hospitals depend on the 90,000 young Germans who choose voluntary welfare service rather than a military uniform for the conscription term, blanched at the thought of the costs of replacing them.

Martin Walker, the Washington Bureau Chief of the UPI has a great story there. Essentially the draft is a specialized form of indentured servitude. It is required to gather people for the highly dangerous job of risking life and limb for your country. General western opinion is that even this dangerous task is better done via a committed staff of volunteers. To maintain a system of conscription in order to fill personnel slots in the health care system reveals a deep economic and moral bankruptcy. It says, we can't fund our own health care without enslaving people to serve as involuntary workers and we don't care what the moral implications of this involuntary servitude is.

Battlefield 'Net

Posted by TMLutas

The battlefield data network has often been highlighted in military science fiction such as David Drake's Hammer's Slammers series. But now this seems to be transitioning into current military science fact. The essential (but stubbornly not permalinked) StrategyPage provides a good description of the Small Tactical Arms Recognition Equipment (STARE) system that is moving into the US arsenal. A good STARE data sheet is available in PDF as well (this time from SMDC).

Eventually, Chief Wiggles is going to get his turn in the "how do we do this electronically" development cycle and I suspect that instead of meeting informants at a gate in future, the US will seed occupied zones with wireless internet access devices and airborne network points. Such devices will be distributed with FAQs of curfews and other occupation orders, occupation etiquette such as what to do if you're stopped for a search and how to make the process the quickest and least unpleasant it can be, and various programs for receiving food and other necessities. But the same devices also give the ability to report illness and injury, request compensation for US military damage, and do occupation currency transfers to help restart the local economy. From a military intelligence perspective, it will allow established informants to report in without leaving their homes and will cause no shortage of worries for insurgents because these things will be cheap and will be everywhere.

I've written about this stuff before under the heading occupation tech and it's likely the most neglected part of military transformation. The US is barely starting to wake up to the need to reconfigure and focus on occupation operations in destroyed or failed states. The IT implications of this are large and they have both strictly civilian and dual use implications.

Virtual Currencies

Posted by TMLutas

101-280 points to a fascinating new service in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) add ons, a foreign exchange market. Right now it's a little acorn but it's likely that low commissions and specialized facilities will permit this initiative, or a future competitor, from unseating ebay and the other general goods online markets from their dominance in the virtual goods trade.

Essentially, the trade in virtual goods and currencies is a highly specialized form of trade in entertainment goods. The essence of buying a korean soap opera or a 100k purchase of Star Wars Galaxies credits is the same. It's just that the liguidity of SWG credits, being produced as well as consumed, is much higher and the follow on trade will be much higher because, unlike the soap opera, SWG is an artistic endeavor that is a collaborative process. People not only consume the art, as art, but also play small or even large roles in creating it.

There does not seem to be any enforceable legal restraint that MMORPGs can do to prevent such virtual goods trading. The only thing that I can see that would handle the game balance problems that such trading would create would be to make a more realistic economic system with a high charity component that fades out as you gain resources, especially if you gain them quickly. Poor and new players get lots of things out of pity 'on the house' so to speak. But accumulate treasure and everybody is nickle and diming you on everything, the tax man is taking a hefty chunk, and things get expensive. It would be a way of asserting balance without going into motive, why did xyz player give up their incredibly valuable weapon to Mr. nondescript new player? It becomes irrelevant as an army of merchants, beggers, toll takers, and other NPCs descends on the newly wealthy like a piranha school on a bleeding cow in the Amazon.

Gay Marriage Update III

Posted by TMLutas

Stanley Kurtz has an excellent article on the history of gay marriage in the Scandinavian countries and the impending dissolution of the institution of marriage in Scandinavia.

One thing that struck me is the utter failure of christianity to go on the offensive in propagating the institution of marriage. Christianity is a faith whose charge is to spread the word throughout the world. You would think the dissolution of marriage into a sea of cohabiting couples would create alarm, organization, and a counterattack not only to gain back the territory lost but spread and deepen the christian message. Instead, the scandinavian churches have largely failed to even hold the line, much less create any sort of gain for their message. They reveal themselves as impotent and hollow institutions badly in need of regeneration and renewal.

What Made the British an Empire?

Posted by TMLutas

Bruce Rolston brings up more than crucial point in the US Republic/Empire debate in his recent post fisking David Frum. A great many people who declare the US an empire actually do believe that the US is merely on the road and use the formula as a sort of shorthand.

I think that Bruce may be underexposed to moonbats because, unarguably and from personal experience, I can say that there are people who think that the US is an actual empire today. It would be useful to have some sort of way to verbally segregate these people from the "on the road" contingent (who I freely admit is likely to make up a large majority of empire worriers) so they are not easily confused. The moonbats profit from any confusion and they don't need encouragement.

Further down in the article, he talks about the British Empire's distinct lack of crucifixion fetish and the lack of roads lined with executions in progress as object lessons to the colonials. This is all very true but it really begs the question of what were the essential characteristics of membership in the empire and does the relationship between the US and a country like Turkey share any or all of these essential characteristics.

In my own list, I would have to put in first place the lack of a foreign policy. If a territory leaves foreign relations to others as a matter of law, it is no longer an independent state but a member of a larger entity. Another thing that would be high on my list would be a lack of control over your borders. If you can't stop the roman legions from going in and out of your territory as they please, you're part of Rome.

This last point brings us to our first difficulty. Can Luxembourg meaningfully stop the US from crossing? It cannot do it physically, to be sure. Any resistance would largely be symbolic. But that's true for most nations in the world. Is Canada part of the US empire because it could not win a war against the US? Clearly it is not. It would be the legitimateness of the resistance, as recognized by everybody including the US, not its ultimate success or failure that determine whether it is today a member of a US empire.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of the empire/republic debate. I strongly suspect that Bruce Rolston and I are on the same (republican) side. The moonbats that are out there have the advantage that they are obsessive on the topic and can churn out an awful lot of words. It is no inconsiderable advantage and, I suspect, is what prompted David Frum's original point.

I don't reflexively defend Frum. I think that he's dead wrong on the national ID card and on Palestine. The existence of a thriving death cult is a grave national security threat because there is no guarantee that the object of that death cult will stay limited to other targets (Israel in this case) nor that intellectual arguments in its favor would not spread to the wider world and replicate itself. But on the empire question, I think that his argument is largely with the moonbats, not the more responsible "on the road" crowd. In that anti-moonbat posturing, I would support him.

A Minarchist Approach to Homelessness

Posted by TMLutas

Let's say that this program actually solves the problem of homelessness for the mentally ill and drug abusers who dominate the hard core of those permanently without shelter at a reasonable cost. Currently the program is funded by a mishmash of public and private funding sources.

The problem with public funding is threefold. Political pressures to cut spending may yield across the board cuts that hamstring a program. Isolating a working charitable institution from such pressures is a positive step. But even with stable funding enshrined into law, it is neither right, nor just to force people who may be on the brink of homelessness themselves to pay for such an effort. But worst of all, public funding brings along with it a restriction on the obligations you can require of participants in the program. I can easily see how the ACLU might bring a lawsuit that a rent paying publicly funded housing unit cannot lock out its residents as the Ohio program does.

A superior solution would be to establish a fund that would invest and out of the profits of those investments pay for these housing units and the staff required to keep them properly running. Those who would seed this fund would know their own finances and could afford their contributions. Societal generosity would create the conditions for a decent program to continue without having to worry about political support and the legal limitations that public funding sometimes brings would be eliminated.

I should have posted my source material, Dean's World

Bush's Bodyguard of Lies

Posted by TMLutas

Churchill is famous for having said during WW II that "the truth is so precious it must be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies." The deceptions surrounding war are often crucial to its successful prosecution.

George W Bush has obviously taken Churchill's observation to heart. The serious press and independent analysts have often turned to the task of figuring out what the overarching strategy is. Those on the left have concentrated on the idea that there is no strategy, that Bush is an idiot. I beg to differ and have, in various articles, laid out my idea that Thomas Barnett's Naval War College work is the public face of our government's decision to adopt a grand strategy that must be serialized. That, even with our awesome power as the strongest military supported by the strongest economy in the world, the task is too big for such a strategy to be outlined publicly.

There are still coalitions of other countries possible that could make our task much more difficult, even impossible. They must not become alarmed, to think we really mean to do what we would have said which essentially to upset all the apple carts of the national and international exploiters.

But Steven Den Beste's current effort points out a sad side effect of this necessary dissembling. It shatters the possibility of national consensus. It creates a situation where the left, which would naturally support such a grand project, has come largely to despise and oppose it because they do not understand that it even exists. It leaves me with my only nit to pick on SDB's essay. He says:

But I disagree with Annelise on the actual cause. She thinks it is poverty which is the problem, and correctly judges that our current policy doesn't address it. I think the problem is failure, and that our current policy is exactly right.

SDB is right when he says that failure is the problem and I took a slightly different tack at the same problem with my liberty tree series. But he is not right when he says that poverty is not addressed by the current plan.

Free men do not stay poor except by choice and by personal disaster. And the number of people impoverished by choice is usually limited to the religious communities of monks and those beset by natural disaster are only temporarily thrust into poverty and are given a helping hand via charity. Poverty is addressed by providing for the tools to liberate people from the tyrants who have done so much to keep them poor.

Our nation cannot forge a consensus over this project because it is not publicly proclaimed. The project cannot be publicly proclaimed because it would fail if it were declared. The only out is for the government to hint at what we wish to do and for outsiders to carry the torch, to help forge the consensus. This is the small task that the keyboard jockeys of the blogging world can materially contribute to progress in the War on Terror.

January 25, 2004

Romanian Moms on the March

Posted by TMLutas

Sometimes Burke's little platoons can rise up from the most unexpected places. About Kids is a romanian language forum that deals with standard problems that any parent all over the world can understand and sympathize with. But there are some specific problems that pop up that are unique to Romania.

How much is the proper bribe to get the cleaning staff to actually change your hospital bed sheets is just one example of a whole host of 'gratuity' questions in this poor country with a largely socialized medical system. You would laugh at it, if it didn't break your heart to read about people who don't have money for heat type away at their work accounts and describe the bribe schedule they needed to meet for proper delivery care in the "universal health care" system.

A romanian after her first trip abroad, looks at home with newly opened eyes, remarking that she never realized how stressed everybody was, how grey her surroundings were, how sad everybody looked, until she saw a society (she went to the UK) in the west. Imagine going to the gray skies, wet London and seeing a quantum increase in smiling cheerfulness and a colorful surrounding.

And as the complaints pile up of diverted funds, a lack of political accountability for government misdeeds, and the generally horrible conditions that young parents have to face, they're starting to talk about organizing because they know that when there is money for four programs but five compete for that money, it's their program that's going to go underfunded or completely unfunded.

Why there is no money is, of course, that three of those programs shouldn't exist in their current form and the tax money that could theoretically pay for all of it is siphoned off, to a great extent, in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for overlooking accounting irregularities.

but there is little accountability because politicians are elected on party lists. It is impossible to vote for some members of a party but not others. It's all or none and all of the political turkeys are high up on the lists.

Everybody knows the solution, a constitutional amendment to mandate individual member districts. Everybody also knows that such legislation is not a priority for the currently elected political class. They like the current system just fine.

Hizb ut Tahrir

Posted by TMLutas

The Argus has a pointer to an article on HT that does nothing to reassure me.

At best, Hizb ut Tahrir seems to be an organization without a fixed ideological position on freedom or modernity, just a desire to create some sort of constructive opposition to local tyrants. The big bad US is on the enemy list, of course, even though the State Department probably is ticking off every regime in Central Asia by refusing to put HT on its terrorist list.

The problem really is that HT's desire for a Caliphate includes the idea of non-Caliphate states paying protection money, literally. That's not going to fly and by what I've read will lead to military conflict between the Caliphate and those refusing to pay tribute.

The opportunity is that since HT doesn't seem to have thought things through very well, there is a window of opportunity for western muslims to demonstrate their commitment to a different vision of Islam. HT seems to be a group that would grasp at anything that would create better living conditions than what they have at present. If US muslims move in, if they care to move in, they have an opportunity to create an allied muslim bloc that would shield them from the idea that only minority muslims who have been surrounded by the kaffirs could adopt such ideas.

Brain Stuck

Posted by TMLutas

I've been writing and writing this weekend and it all turns to crud. I expanded my daily blog list in an asian direction and it's affecting how I think. Asians are so different and unfamiliar to me that I never quite know how they are going to jump (even though I have a very good friend who is korean) and there are so many of them on the express train to modernity that only a fool ignores them and their habits. The problem is that when I think, it interferes with current writing output.

I'm still managing to keep my output above my target 3/day average but its tough. It astounds me that the PRC hasn't flown to pieces yet. It shocks me how cruel and indifferent the people of the ROK are to their relatives and co-ethnics in the DPRK. And Japan's trip into demographic suicide territory is being handled in a very puzzling manner to me.

January 24, 2004

HSA Note

Posted by TMLutas

Husband works for company X which has a health plan and the company's benefits plan kicks in $x for health benefits.

Wife works for company Y which has a health plan and the company's benefits plan kicks in $y for health benefits.

Today, the couple compares plans and one of them signs up for the benefit for the entire family and the other declines the benefit.

Whoever declines the benefit essentially is taking a pay cut in their compensation package because their spouse has a better benefits package. This makes no sense at all for me.

Imagine, instead, that the family has an HSA account. Wouldn't it make more sense for both employers to kick in their company portion into the account and that's that? I have no idea if this is current law, but if it isn't, it should be.

Artist Activism

Posted by TMLutas

SoonerThought unleashed a whine about how artists are not becoming active politically. It didn't have any comments so I thought I'd add the following:

Actually, I see some artists really starting to make a difference. Look at actor and new governor Arnold Schwarzennegger bucking California's establishment. How about comedian Dennis Miller whose wry commentary and outspoken attacks on tyranny are worked into his art. And then there's John Rhys-Davies who used his role as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings trilogy to launch an impassioned plea in defense of western culture.

Or is the problem not that there are artists active in social commentary but what they're saying discomfits the left?

Art is not a tool of the left or the right. It is the stuff of dreams, which have no politics though they may have political implications. After decades of dominance, the somnolence of the artistic left is additional evidence that the well has run dry for them.

Jews Killing Christ

Posted by TMLutas

Relapsed Catholic notes that the ADL seems to be 2004's largest spreader of the meme that jews killed Jesus.

Now I've actually met Catholics who believe in the blood libel, that jews born today are guilty. They were, to a person, ignorant of both recent Catholic thought on the subject and a good deal of ancient thought among the first Church fathers. Such people are usually bigots first and Catholics second but argument from authority actually works in case the order is reversed. For those who want more detail, you can find a great deal at the Vatican website.

One thing you would find there is the following passage:

At the dawn of Christianity, after the crucifixion of Jesus, there arose disputes between the early Church and the Jewish leaders and people who, in their devotion to the Law, on occasion violently opposed the preachers of the Gospel and the first Christians. In the pagan Roman Empire, Jews were legally protected by the privileges granted by the Emperor and the authorities at first made no distinction between Jewish and Christian communities. Soon however, Christians incurred the persecution of the State. Later, when the Emperors themselves converted to Christianity, they at first continued to guarantee Jewish privileges. But Christian mobs who attacked pagan temples sometimes did the same to synagogues, not without being influenced by certain interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people as a whole. "In the Christian world—I do not say on the part of the Church as such—erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people". Such interpretations of the New Testament have been totally and definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council.

Unfortunately, most of the time that you try such persuasion, it doesn't work because for that person their religion is just a convenient cover. Whatever they truly believe in, it generally isn't christian.

Computer Lifespan

Posted by TMLutas

I spent a great deal of today shopping for a new computer for my parents. They have been using my old Power Macintosh 6100 for years and it's finally gotten too painful, even for them. Put it this way, it barely can run AOL 4.

My father has always been a photography buff and my mother has always loved photo albums so I can already tell that iPhoto is going to be a real hit. I was surprised, though, at some of my father's questions. He wanted to be able to pull stills from a movie, to burn his own DVD, was interested in listening to an Apple Store lecture on GarageBand. I've known him all my life and my mom's known him longer but I think we were both surprised at the extent and variety of his interests.

I think that a lot of older people are like that, with all sorts of ideas percolating in their heads but no accessible way to get them out. They have no patience for the technical minutiae of getting a computer to work, they just want to do what they want to do with a minimum of fuss and dependence on outside help. I've always known that the demographic existed. I just never figured out how much my father was a member...

January 23, 2004

Fixed Now

Posted by TMLutas

Thanks to this thread and the fine advice of kadyellebee I figured out what the problem was. The mystery is how float:left; ever got taken out of the style sheet in the first place.


Posted by TMLutas

I go out, everything's fine. I come back... UGH!

I've been concentrating on the substance end of things and generally leaving the form alone. It looks like I'll have to reverse that for awhile to get the sidebar lined up again.

Please be patient (and come back please).

Congrats Bruce

Posted by TMLutas

Congratulations to Bruce Rolston who has taken slings and arrows aplenty for "temporarily bringing another, more hyperactive author onto his page" (that would be me). Despite this horrible error in judgment, he earns Colby Cosh's Canadian blogger of the year award for 2003.

Is Bill Clinton Growing Up? II

Posted by TMLutas

More evidence of Bill Clinton growing into the traditional role of former president:

Often he talked in vacuities — vacuities well suited to an international conference (and, indeed, almost its native language) — but often he made direct sense. As he did last year, he praised the Peruvian wiz Hernando de Soto as the world's most important living economist — that he thinks so highly of de Soto, whose cause in life is property rights, and what they can do for every human being, speaks well of him. (Clinton also quipped that "some think 'living economist' is an oxymoron.")

And you may be interested to know that any time he referred to the Bush administration, or alluded to it, it was in a complimentary way. He told this crowd — again, a crowd that could use hearing it, especially from this source — that much of what we're doing, successfully, in the War on Terror never makes the newspapers. For example, "cells are rolled up," which you never hear about. The administration has achieved "cooperation with other governments" that is not "inherently sensational" but "has saved a lot of people's lives." You never hear about this bomb found in this container on this cargo ship destined for this port — and "I could give you 50 other examples."


But Clinton was very, very impressive — that's a plain fact, Impromptus-ites — and well worth listening to. As Dick Cheney, I believe, said, at the 2000 convention in Philadelphia: So much talent, so much wasted.

* One final word about Clinton, old slippery Bill: Just as you could never be sure whether he supported the '91 Gulf War, you can't be sure now whether he supported last year's Iraq war. You just can't — which is a little weird, don't you think, given that we all have opinions, and this is an ex-president of the United States.

Only the Right can give this stamp of approval and in a highly polarized, at ideological dagger points, political meat grinder world, it wouldn't. The fact that Clinton gets credit where credit's due, even from among his harshest critics is a sign of hope that, no matter our differences, in the end we continue to recognize our shared values and that those are considerable and important.

The truth is that you're not supposed to be able to tell the political opinions of former President's of the United States on important matters of controversy. That Bill Clinton is keeping to that traditional script these days is a positive sign.

The Downside to Being Organized Like the Internet

Posted by TMLutas

Everybody marvels at the survivability of the Internet. Al Queda's organizational resemblance to same is providing a lot of business for the ulcer medication people. Here's a relevant part of a recent post on StrategyPage:

Al Qaeda was organized, unintentionally, like the Internet. Al Qaeda has no central headquarters or base. It’s members are scattered in cells all over the planet. You can destroy many parts of al Qaeda, and the organization will reconfigure itself. Al Qaeda members are still trying to pull off spectacular attacks against the "enemies of Islam" (which basically includes everyone who isn't a Moslem.) It will probably take a generation for al Qaeda to fade into utter impotence. In the meantime, the War on Terror will be a low level war that always has the potential to show up in any Americans home town.

I think this overestimates Al Queda qua Al Queda's strength and fixes our attention too strongly on an organization that suffers from an unexamined weakness. Al Queda is not just a network. Al Queda is a community and the rules for community survivability derived from the Internet are far less friendly to Al Queda than the rules on network survivability derived from the Internet.

Below a certain magic point, usually called 'critical mass' any Internet forum will start shrinking and inevitably die out. Often, only a dysfunctional shell remains containing some bitter enders who wonder where everybody else went. The same is likely to happen to Al Queda.

The network of nodes will reconfigure but it will not necessarily reconfigure into the same network or even into the same kind of network. After all, are there any ARPANet nodes around? No, there are not even though I would guess that all or most of the institutions that made up ARPANet are still with us and even some of the physical infrastructure that housed ARPANet (racks, cable conduits, copper in the wall) might still be around but ARPANet's dead and has been for a long time (though it survived as a mostly irrelevant zombie for far longer than most people noticed).

So, you're a cut off Al Queda node. Your link to the mother ship is sitting at Gitmo along with 35% of your membership. Do you want to stick your hand into the meat grinder and reconnect to Al Queda? Or would you rather connect to Hizb ut Tahir which doesn't seem to be attracting so much unwelcome attention?

Obviously local response will differ but you can guess that some people will go back to Al Queda, as the conventional view fears, others will join other groups or maintain isolated independence. This choice is a wave of opportunity. More moderate, actually islamic groups can work to bring these isolated nodes out in from the cold. Radical, ineffective front groups can be created to siphon away support and sucker these isolated nodes into total compromise. The opportunities for counter-intelligence/counter-terrorism work are there but only if you have the right intellectual model.

Al Queda's point of critical mass needs to be discovered and the organization needs to be driven below that point and kept there so it will wither. At the same time there needs to be a cleanup crew to deal with the isolated leftovers and not let them contribute to a new organization's growth and race towards its own appointment with terrorist network critical mass.

Being Fair to the French

Posted by TMLutas

We chuckle over the idea of France's heavy investment in religious fashion policing. I wonder, however, if they're not going about things in a more effective way than we've been giving them credit.

For a cosmopolitan muslim who is not a literalist, who is flexible, who isn't likely to be taken in by a pro-terrorist imam, the restriction on head scarves is a nothing, on par with a restriction on ostentatious crosses. But for someone who is at risk, they are likely to get offended at the head scarf ban long before they get to the 'clothing by Semtex' stage. It's a self-selection that allows, at minimum cost, the separation of the sheep from the goats.

It's a very different way from the way we would go about attacking the problem in the US. It is an open question as to whether it will work or not. Requiring imams in France to acquire and maintain the theological flexibility to support head scarf optional women's clothing is a compromise of more significance than you might think. The ancient dhimma style agreements are unanimous. The muslim authorities have the right and the obligation to restrict non-muslim clothing styles, not the other way around. If you're an imam who can tolerate a role reversal on that, is it really very likely that you'll be outraged at the insolence of equal rights and the omission of the head tax?

It's an economy of force move and should be understood and monitored as to its result before being dismissed as ineffective.

Why Competitors Aren't Licensing Microsoft's Tech

Posted by TMLutas

Microsoft's anti-trust judgement only has one fly in the ointment, insufficient competitors are licensing Microsoft protocols and other technology. The plaintiffs seem mystified why this is happening. Nobody with any sense of technology industry history should be puzzled.

The problem is simple. These sorts of licensing deals depend on the licensor dealing fairly with the licensee and not attempting to introduce incompatibilities and instabilities in the licensed implementations. Microsoft has a long and well deserved reputation for illegal and underhanded dealing to introduce exactly those sorts of incompatibilities, testing competitors products and delaying shipment until they competitor's product looks bad and it looks as if it is the competitor's, not Microsoft's fault. Uncovering the subterfuge takes years of legal footwork and is a chancy thing to get recompense. The two common responses are to let it go and to create a company consisting of the destroyed competitive product (DR-DOS was an example) whose sole major asset is the lawsuit for damages.

Would you license under such circumstances? I certainly wouldn't. There is one, and only one way to restore confidence in Microsoft's honesty and that is to not use the anti-trust laws the next time around (and there will be a next time around, you can count on it) but use the criminal fraud, conspiracy, and RICO statutes complete with perp walks on camera.

As long as the people who have engineered the great computing frauds of the 80s and 90s continue to have leadership positions in Microsoft to this day, Microsoft technology licensing will always be for the insignificant, the foolhardy, and the suicidally courageous.

Is Core/Gap Analysis Too Simplistic?

Posted by TMLutas

Any long time reader of my writing will detect that I am a believer both in Thomas Barnett's work on US national security threats, identifying non-functioning gap countries as this generation's great security threat and that the work can largely explain current large scale US strategy.

An article recently put up at The Marmot's Hole points to the first article that I've seen in awhile that challenges the underlying theory, or, more accurately, would require a more sophisticated version of it to explain the facts.

The idea is that nationalism is emerging in northeast Asia and that this nationalism is happening despite globalisation. The PRC, Japan, and Korea are all developing along more nationalist lines and this is causing increasing friction in the area despite the fact that all these nations are members of the functioning core category.

I think that part of the problem is the simplistic nature of the core and gap categories. You're in or you're out. The reality, I suspect, is that this is just a presentation simplification. What would be useful is a set of statistics that go into a weighted formula with a dividing line. Thus, we might find that a country is disengaging from the core long before it enters the gap. I suspect, also, that integration into the global economy is not even. The PRC's integration with the US is quite significant but its economic integration with Japan or South Korea may be much less so. Does globalisation via indirect economic connections have the same impact as direct cross-investment and direct sales and labor relationships?

If the PRC loses its race against time and falls into a recession before it has reformed its dysfunctional state economic center and found enough new jobs to stave off revolution, will its remembered hatred of imperial Japan provide a convenient focus to tip itself into aggression despite still being a marginal member of the functioning core camp? The simplicity of the map model may lead people astray. At the very least, the map may need to be colored in varying shades and the factors into those decisions probably need mroe examination.

One example that I've recently seen that mostly does it right is a 2004 electoral site. the formula is public and you get to see not only the gross totals but which states might slip across from one category to another. I believe that core/gap analysis would benefit from a similar examination of border conditions.

Communist Memes

Posted by TMLutas

One of the big problems of communists is that they just won't stop. When you have a normal idea, you try it, you experiment with it in a few variations, and if it repeatedly fails, you stop trying it. You accept that the idea, no matter how noble sounding no matter how good it sounds, simply does not work.

The communists do not accept this basic proposition. One of the fundamental features of communism, one of its component memes is the idea that logic has its own class consciousness. This marxist idea of proletarian and bourgeoisie logic is a class of polylogism and while totally useless as a means of helping explain the world makes it ultimately very difficult to win an argument with marxists and creates a plethora of marxist variants, many of which do not formally recognize that they are marxist. In fact, class polylogism is probably one of the few essential memes of marxism.

When a marxist experiment fails, it is always the fault of the implementation. A priori, marxism is held to be blameless. It just needs to be tweaked better, adjusted and morphed into new forms, take on new labels, and be tried in a more conducive atmosphere. If it is in a theoretical discussion, the marxist's argumentation is at fault, he is not sufficiently class conscious, or alternatively the logical argument is simply dismissed as coming from an unhealthy social origin.

What's the point of all this hoary history? The fact is that, even today, old, thoroughly discredit marxist ideas are being recycled by virtue of an application of polylogism. Post-marxist movements of political economy still have to be examined, at least lightly, for signs that they are infected with this logic bomb.

Sasha Volokh's recent note on the inapplicability of marxist failure to an analysis of liberal economics rang alarm bells for exactly this reason. Liberalism, the modern variant anyway, shares some features with fabian socialism. Except in its third way variants of Clintonism and Blairism, liberalism borrows extensively from the socialists and can be taken as part of the same family.

But Clintonism itself seems severely wounded if not quite dead in the Democrat party of today. Old style appeals to greater government control, reregulation, and raising taxes were not greeted with horror when Gov. Dean proposed them. Deans troubles, rather are ones of personal character and a worry that he is too angry a messenger to sell the old time conventional message.

The closest adherent of Clintonism in the current group of presidential candidates is Joe Lieberman and he's on the right wing of the current crop of candidates. His DLC approach renders him likely unelectable in the Democrat primary.

Now fabian socialism is an odd bird. Many people on the right have misunderstood its timeline. Winston Churchill badly lost his reelection effort because of his insistence that you cannot have socialism without a gestapo. It wasn't until 30 years later that the signs of incipient tyranny seriously showed up with Arthur Scargill's proposal to institute limits on emigration in order to combat the UK's brain drain. And such proposals were rightly tossed overboard with the rise of Thatcherism.

But even though fabianism is extremely slow and gradual in its approach to implementing socialism, it merely delays the onset of economic collapse. It is just as unsustainable as more severe forms of this politico/economic idea.

I can't agree with the idea that liberalism has little to learn from the collapse of communism. To the extent that it continues to resist accountability and discarding failed ideas, it follows the marxian model to a T.

Nihilism Shows Up In Parliament

Posted by TMLutas

The UK Liberal Democrat party's spokeswoman on children just yesterday declared that she was a potential suicide bomber:

Many many people criticise, many many people say it is just another form of terrorism, but I can understand and I am a fairly emotional person and I am a mother and a grand mother, I think if I had to live in that situation, and I say this advisedly, I might just consider becoming one myself. And that is a terrible thing to say

Yes, it's a terrible thing to say. So why, Ms front bencher Lib-Dem MP did you go and say it? I can understand sympathizing with the palestinians, especially if you haven't looked closely enough to spot their warts, and thought enough about the situation to realize that a great deal of their troubles are self-inflicted.

Whatever god she claims to follow it certainly isn't one with much of a suicide prohibition. How can someone in a position of political responsibility, in a country with an official religion (and one with a strong prohibition on suicide to boot) make such a horribly evil statement?

The only minor bright side in the affair seems to be that she will resign her leadership post and be relegated to the back benches.

HT: Manchester United Ruined My Life

Open Your Eyes, Open Your Mind

Posted by TMLutas

In Jay Nordlinger's most recent Impromptus comes the following item:

When I was in college — studying anthropology — Ruth Benedict was a big joke. Yes, she was. She had written her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword — a study of Japan — at the request of the government (for we had been attacked by the Japanese and were fighting them). She had done so without benefit of visiting Japan, using only the resources of libraries in New York. In my circles, the book was thought to be a hoot: slipshod, ill informed, tainted because it was requested by the government, imperialist, etc. (You remember what it was like to be in college.)

I took the opportunity to ask a distinguished Japanese intellectual here about the book. He replied that it was a great one, still holding up, still widely read and studied in Japan, a masterpiece of national and cultural analysis.

Great insight can be achieved by perceptive people even without first hand evidence. Even without any new information, nothing that any normal person could see. They look, they see what everybody else sees, but what they perceive is extraordinary.

This phenomenon afflicts every field of endeavor. The first place I noticed it was in the hard sciences, specifically optics. Uncounted millions had seen dew gathered on plants, had seen how the curved water drop made the structure underneath appear larger. In essence, they all saw all they needed to see to discover the lens, the microscope, the invisible world that would have revolutionized their understanding of the world. And they perceived nothing.

There is no reason not to suspect that the same thing is going on countless times every day into our own era. And there has never been an era more prepared to receive a new and revolutionary insight.

Open your eyes
Open your mind
Don't just see, perceive

The Citizen's Burden of Choice

Posted by TMLutas

The New York Times has a particularly dumb op-ed by Barry Schwartz complaining about choice. The effect he describes is real. I've seen cases where US choice over toilet paper provoked physical illness in people direct from Ceausescu's Romania. They got over it but there is something to the idea of too much choice.

Of course, you could always go to a store that stocked fewer choices. Gate keeping is a value added service and you could live your life blithely ignorant of the 80% of excluded brands and merely choose among the top three or five for any particular need as decided by the gatekeeper you... choose.

But this fairly obvious (to me) observation that there can be too much choice is being bent to unnatural ends in a condemnation of government program reform as championed by the Bush administration. The threat to the left (and a right-wing professor at Swarthmore published in the NYT is about as plausible as a pink elephant) is that choice implies judging performance and judging performance on these programs is deadly to their continued political survivability.

The political class has failed. They should have chosen wisely and pruned back programs that did not work. Now citizens have to take up that burden of choice that our representative have demonstrated for decades that they are incapable of properly exercising. Those who choose wisely, quickly, will reap the greatest gains. But even those who make initial mistakes will take the feedback of other people's choices and move out of the old, failed, counterproductive choices.

Killing Without Dehumanizing II

Posted by TMLutas

Michael Williams agrees in part and disagrees in part with my previous thoughts on taking someone's life.

Michael Williams swings a bit at a straw man. Yes, I believe in a soul that lives after death, as does any conventional christian. But the priceless artwork I was referring to was the body, not the soul. This is the source of all the christian prohibitions against suicide, self-mutilation, gluttony, and other acts that damage the body. If the soul were all important and the body without much value, why not get right with God and off yourself to get a straight ticket to Heaven?

For that matter, if villains are "ones who have surrendered their natural rights by infringing on the natural rights of others" when do they regain their natural rights? When do they regain their humanity? When do they cease to be "goblins"? Without an answer to that you can go straight to execution of sentence, no need for Miranda or trial. I don't actually think that he's serious about that statement, but that it was uttered without due thought as to the implications of surrendering those natural rights meant. Would man traps be legal in his regime? Would an immobilized burglar merit a coup de grace to the back of the head before the 911 call? If he's surrendered his rights, why not?

And such horrible scenarios are where ill-thought out dehumanization eventually leads. It contributes to an atmosphere of moral coarsening, a coarsening that has no natural stopping point beyond visceral horror and rejection at a random point of slide down the ugly slippery slope. And if there is no random point of collective revulsion that turns the tide? That's when you get Rwanda's Tutsi genocide and all the other bloody body piles of the ugly side of human history.

January 22, 2004

FLAC support in iTunes?

Posted by TMLutas

iTunes plays its music via Quicktime. Quicktime is highly extensible and is very extensible via its plugin architecture. Now a group of programmers are looking to take the free software audio codec project FLAC and make a free quicktime plugin supporting the lossless codec.

On the one hand, this sort of project is great. FLAC is being supported by some fairly popular bands like Phish who use it for their live concert downloads.

On the other hand, without the ability to add FLAC to the iPod, people are going to be able to buy FLAC songs, play them on their Macintosh and Windows machines, but not their portable music players.

Apple's caught in a bit of a conundrum. They can either open up their iPOD OS to allow independent programmers to add support for codecs like FLAC, they can try to close down Quicktime, or they can follow initiatives like this and code the closed bits so that they are ready when their free programmer collaborators release their code. But sticking with the current situation is the least attractive as it's going to lead to a growth in unhappy customers.

Bad Illegals

Posted by TMLutas

Immigrants harbor good, hardworking, honest people, and shiftless, lazy criminals bent on theft and destruction. In this, they are no different from the rest of the world, a mix of good and bad. Illegal immigrants, for their willingness to violate laws, their ability to evade lawful authority, and to blend into a sea of people, all with their own code of silence, make it somewhat easier for the bad people among them, and like all incentives, what you incent increases in frequency.

So it is unsurprising that NRO's resident police expert, Jack Dunphy, has a dim view of illegal aliens. As a Los Angeles police officer, he sees the worst that the immigrant community has.

What he doesn't seem to get is that immigration officials are engaged in triage when they refuse to prosecute federal charges of illegal reentry. They have only so many slots to shoehorn in criminal deportations and the sea of immigrants that are caught is too vast to actually enforce the law.

In an overloaded system, triage is a pretty name for an ugly process. In medicine it normally means picking who can wait for treatment and who will be seen immediately. If the system is overwhelmed, it means letting the complicated mortally wounded die so other mortally wounded can live.

In an immigration context, the courts are so jam packed with illegals fighting deportation that only the immediately dangerous will actually get added to that system in order to avoid constitutional violations on the grounds of not providing a speedy trial. At the same time, people are being shoveled into the deportation process for lost paperwork, visa overstays, and a hundred other reasons that aren't the threat of criminal aliens but can't just be ignored.

But if you reduce the number of people who are trying to cross illegally by letting the honest ones in the front door, there will be fewer criminal aliens and no sea of hard working, sympathetic, personally honorable illegals to hide among. If you're an illegal, you're up to no good. You don't have a job. You can't get a normal visa. Who is going to tolerate that? The deportation system won't be so overburdened because deportation of temporary workers is a quick process. Either the person is working or they aren't. Proof of employment presented and next case. No proof presented and it's a straight ride to the nearest relevant border point.

You end up with more available slots, fewer people willing to hide illegal aliens, and a system that is no longer overwhelmed and doesn't have to let the minor criminal aliens go.

And what's wrong with that?

Spoils System Problems

Posted by TMLutas

While I'm not a fan of the civil service system because it introduces a mandarin class the spoils system has its own idiocies. This sort of bad service was what original led to the creation of the civil service system.

A lot of these positions that are not obviously political but are held politically are held as non-obvious political payoffs in exchange for support. This was the entire genesis of the Travelgate scandal, the need to find additional slots to reward supporters. Presidential travel is a political function and serves at the pleasure of the President so Clinton had the right to fire them at whim, just as the Senate Democrats had the right to fire the preceding computer tech support personnel. Who gets that contract is a straight party line vote, always. It's not even generally voted on, the chairman just gets his way.

The reason for Travelgate being a scandal was the misuse of authority, consisting in character assassination of the previous personnel. The scandalous incompetence of the Democrat Senate leadership who viewed political jobs as more important than their own computer security has, to this point, remained a quiet scandal.

Why Do You Care?

Posted by TMLutas

I'm not voting for Howard Dean. I won't be voting for any Democrat absent an assassination and the trepanning of the entire RNC leading to Carrot Top gaining the nomination for the GOP (and even then I'd put the Democrats below other alternatives).

My father still hasn't forgiven the Democrat party for Yalta. If he ever gets past that he'll have to start right over with Truman. Yet he wants to watch the Democratic primary candidates debate. I can't for the life of me understand why? There's plenty of time to get to know the nominee before the convention (the idea of a brokered convention being unbelievably remote) and it doesn't take too long to get the measure of most politicians if you actually pay attention to what they say.

But with all that, he wants to waste a half hour or hour of his life on them, the eventual nominee and the also rans. He can't explain it. He just wants to see them.

His reaction, by my estimate, is much more common than mine. I'll respect them as people who are trying to do the right thing (until proven otherwise) but once I've figured out that somebody's not right for the country, my interest in following the minutiae of him proving it on national TV is low.

Neither of us can understand the other's attitude.

Welcome to the Year of the Monkey

Posted by TMLutas

Taranto's having fun with the bushorchimp people in the following item:

Monkeyfishing With the Angry Left
Today the Chinese ring in the new year--a little late, or maybe a little early, since the year on the Chinese calendar is 4702, the Year of the Monkey. It's sort of fitting that President Bush should face re-election in the Year of the Monkey, since Bush-haters often liken him to a monkey or related primate. (From bushorchimp.com: "This is a little project I decided to start once I realized how much George W. Bush looks like a chimpanzee. . . . Several of you out there have been emailing and signing in the guestbook about how it is cruel to the chimps to compare them to George W. Bush.")

Yet according to Primatestore.com, "Monkeys are fun and loving persons who are always cheerful and energetic. They are very clever. Give a monkey a boring book to read and he'll turn it into a Musical. Better yet, he'll invite everyone to see it free! That's how talented, creative and generous monkeys usually are."

Then again, monkeys are also French-looking, at least when they eat cheese and surrender.

Nixon's The Committee to Reelect the President was forever immortalized by the alternative acronym CREEP. I wonder when those leftist low brows start regretting their choice of insults during the year of the monkey.

Stay Away From the Flypaper

Posted by TMLutas

The US' much maligned flypaper strategy seems to have finally wised up the flies. "Don't Go to Iraq" advises Al Queda's biweekly "Sawt al-Jihad" magazine. Apparently, even mass murdering butchers can eventually figure out that killing a lot of muslims is a bad public relations move. Unfortunately, these wiser flies are likely to pick up their efforts elsewhere. Oh well, no good strategy ever works forever.

HT: James Taranto's Best of the Web via email.

The Need for Digital Signatures: Vatican

Posted by TMLutas

Peggy Noonan's current WSJ article highlight the absolute necessity for the Vatican to introduce digital signatures into its official correspondence. Free software such as GnuPG or it's slicker, commercial equivalent PGP are one popular system. Another would be X.509 certificates.

The truth is that the Vatican has an unfortunate history of insider political intrigue. It would be a valuable contribution to honesty and transparency if fully available technical means to verify the authenticity of communications from the Vatican were to be made available.

Serialization Strategy Consequences

Posted by TMLutas

I've mentioned earlier that "If there is one thing crystal clear about the strategic situation of Al Queda and the US, it is that US is working to serialize the conflict while Al Queda is seeking to parallelize it." A new post over at The Argus points out one of the up and coming problems that are a victim to that necessary serialization, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT).

These guys are the standard piece of work Islamist Caliphate restorationists. They wish the pagan's dead, the christians and jews as second class citizens and every non-muslim paying protection money to a restored islamic Caliphate on pain of war.

The US State Department has not declared HT a terrorist organization but is discreetly cheering from the sidelines at anti-HT activities. The arguments I laid out in Wanted: Adult Supervision still largely ring true but today there seems to be a bit more hope. Poland is starting to pull significant weight. Other secondary powers are also starting to emerge. The big positive surprise is the emergence of Japan as a possible national security world player. France and germany still, unfortunately seem hopeless and unresponsive to the idea of retaking their historic roles instead of ankle biting and complaining of a lack of respect.

Chutzpah Squared III

Posted by TMLutas

Well, the Vatican has spoken. In Chutzpah Squared I chided Frank Rich for raising the ludicrous idea that the Vatican was incapable of correcting the record itself if the Pope did not say those words. In Chutzpah Squared II I was incredibly ticked off about a CNS item that claimed the words were not uttered. I declared "Unless this story has more twists left to play out, all enthusiasm I had about this movie has drained clean away."

One final twist does seem to be in the cards. The news story linked above has both the full Vatican statement in translated english and the original italian. This can be confirmed at the official website so this is likely to be the final posting in the series.

The end result is that the Vatican's official policy is that film makers should not be submitting their art for papal blessings. Don't do it. The Pope is not an art critic even if the physical man that holds the office used to be in the theater. However, it does seem to be a gospel based historical film.

I, once again, will be enthusiastic and looking forward to seeing the film in the theater.

Villains in the piece: Frank Rich, CNS
Heroes: Gibson, official Vatican Channels, the nameless heroes who champion the Vatican website

HT: National Review Online

Technology does matter and can cure a lot of the vile manipulations that have plagued the Vatican historically. This is a nice case study on a minor point.

Killing Without Dehumanizing I

Posted by TMLutas

Michael Williams has a somewhat disturbing post on the subject of dehumanizing in order to kill. I think that he's adopting an easy way out that has wide negative implications for social policy.

I think that it should not be easy to kill. I belong to a faith that takes the commandment against murder very seriously. But at the same time it is not a pacifist faith (though our current bishop, God bless him, gets very close). One thing that it would be very much against is the idea of dehumanization. Yes, Saddam Hussein is a child of God, yes Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot all were children of God and special to Him.

That doesn't mean that they didn't need a bullet to their brain as soon as possible to limit the horrific damage they were bent on, and ultimately succeeded at, doing. What it does mean is that killing is ultimately a horrible moral choice and that you should look very hard at alternatives to doing the equivalent of taking a baseball bat to one of God's priceless artworks because if you could have got around the problem without killing, without destroying that priceless handiwork, and you chose destruction over an alternative, he's going to be mad.

Each of us, however, has a personal duty to preserve ourselves. We have a duty to preserve our families because we too, are just as priceless, just as precious in the eyes of God. And if someone comes into my house with death on his mind, I'll take up that duty of defense without forgetting the enormous value of what I destroy by baseball bat, knife or shotgun. I'm not killing a "goblin" as Michael Williams thinks of it. I'm destroying something priceless to preserve something priceless that I'm specifically responsible for, myself. And spiritually, civilized men should be prepared to do such things. Dehumanization just makes it too easy for others to fashion rationalizations for aggressive killing. To a certain extent, it disarms us and makes us more receptive to the calls of demagogues and haters.

Defanging the Welfare State

Posted by TMLutas

I've written before that I think Bush a transitionary figure to a government based on effective types of spending only on legitimate government aims. The liberal welfare state has always rested on two main pillars:

1. The beneficiaries were potent vote getters and highly visible while the expenses were spread around and hidden as much as possible
2. Nobody ever really measured effectiveness and insisted on systemic accountability. By the time one program was painstakingly demonstrated to be a bad idea and shut down more than one program had been created to supplement and replace it.

With both of these pillars strong, government growth became a one way ratchet up. Holding the line on spending created a network of highly offended people that could be stitched together for a durable electoral majority while disgust at government inefficiency, waste, and counterproductive spending was never able to coalesce into a durable counter-majority. Instead it was spasmodic and faded over time.

George Bush's domestic agenda is to dismantle pillar number two. Most probably he calculates that if he can do that, the american people, in combination with his successor, can demolish pillar number one without him.

All of the initiatives that he is pushing have been dollar cost indifferent but insistent on choice and accountability by measuring results. For these purposes, choice and measuring results are the same. You can't have meaningful choice if you can't figure out which choice is better. And what's the point of measuring results if you can't choose to change things. The goal of all this is not to cut spending (as a look at his fiscal record makes obvious). The goal is to reverse the direction of the national policy one way ratchet.

Even with razor thin legislative majorities, he's been able to push through a great deal of this sort of reform. The problem is that the thinness of these majorities means that any individual senator or representative has an enhanced bargaining position to extract a bit of money for his constituency. In effect, President Bush has to rent his majority. Any fool in america knows, it's generally more expensive to rent than to own.

Earmarked funding expenditures have exploded. Deficits are ballooning. All the fiscal conservative instincts of the country are screaming in agony. But if the ratchet is reversed, it'll all be worth it, just as Reagan's deficits were a worthwhile price for breaking the back of stagflation and the death of the soviet bloc. All these three provide multi-decade dividends to the United States.

So what's a fiscal conservative to do besides grin and bear it? The only variable that is in play is the thinness of Republican majorities and the bipartisan minority of fiscal conservatives. The President is getting his agenda passed, as all presidents do, on a twin pillar structure of ideological compatibility and party loyalty.

If there were more representatives and senators who were ideologically fiscally conservative, Republicans, or both, the President's position at the bargaining table would be improved. He would be able to hold a dutch auction to lower the price for getting a majority for the major reforms that still need to be passed. In the best case, he wouldn't have to rent anybody at all, being able to pass accountability/choice legislation on the strength of ideologically fiscal conservative Republicans alone. That, unfortunately, is an unlikely pipe dream in this decade. The stars are unlikely to align so well in the conservative's favor anytime soon.

Welcome New Readers: How'd You Get Here?

Posted by TMLutas

I've had popularity surges before, but usually I can figure out where the hits are coming from either by looking up Technorati, TTLB, or looking at Sitemeter stats. Alas, the hits spike, you get a few that stay but most of the benefit goes away after a few days.

The last few days have been different.

I did my usual weekend traffic crash and jumped up on Monday and I've been going steeply up since then. I can't figure out why because my linking stats don't seem to be going up on TTLB and It's not a sudden spike of traffic, just a steady increase in incoming flow.

I'm missing something, but what is it? Am I getting linked by blogs that aren't in TTLB or Technorati's database? I'd love to know.

January 21, 2004

No Respect

Posted by TMLutas

I'm not even Canadian and I want to toss a few bucks their way. Canadian forces video

HT: One Hand Clapping

Non-State War: Still Waiting For the Other Shoe

Posted by TMLutas

President Bush's SotU bombshell that the US has a policy of applying the rules of war to non-state actors doesn't seem to have hit yet. Perhaps it would be Europe's cowboy colored glasses perception of George Bush as somebody who is, shall we say, not entirely serious. It would seem like an interesting question for Le Monde or Die Welt to delve into. Is it formal US policy that war is no longer the exclusive province of sovereign states or did the President misspeak?

This is an innovation that cries out for a policy discussion to work out the implications. Can states initiate wars against non-state actors or is this something that is only justified if the non-state actor declares war first? Will the War on Drugs and the War on Organized Crime cease to be rhetorical devices and become true wars run by war rules? How do you differentiate between rhetorical wars with non-state actors and actual wars?

A Case of Nerves

Posted by TMLutas

It's a fine day in the Lutas household. My parents are here for a visit and my father is, for the first time seriously plowing through my blog output. I feel like I just submitted a final project for a class and am waiting for a grade.

Update: He likes it!

Even when you're an adult, it's always fun to get parental approval.

A Check in a Cereal Box

Posted by TMLutas

I've never seen anything like it. A valid check, a valid account, made out in the amount of $6 attached to the inside of a box of Trix cereal I bought for less than $2.

It's for children's admission to a movie promotion (Looney Tunes: Back in Action specifically) but it's a real check. Private currency schemes, in the form of coupons, points programs, etc are getting more and more sophisticated and likely to get more convertible as time goes on. This is a new one for me though. An honest amount of negotiable cash stuck in a cereal box at a value level that exceeds the purchase price of the good.

A check.

State of the Union: Scared Democrats

Posted by TMLutas

In the responses to the State of the Union, Bill Richardson's stands out. He doesn't give an inch on economic growth, unemployment, campaign finance, educational policy, or health care. He simply ignores the recent economic growth, the mystery of the household employment survey showing rising employment while the employers survey shows few job gains, the passage of McCain Feingold with presidential support, the no child left behind act, and Health Savings Accounts.

If this speech had been rendered in english, the outrage would have been enormous at this obvious disconnect between reality and rhetoric. But even Bill Richardson can't simply ignore President Bush's temporary worker plan. Hispanics are paying too much attention. He minimizes it, he hems and haws, he says we Democrats would do better but it is obvious that this is damage control.

The contrast in styles is striking. The Democrat party is scared that it's going to lose the hispanic population on this one. They know that a great many hispanics would be more than happy to be rich mexicans on their savings from their hard US jobs than poor americans living in the high cost US. Diverting hard working hispanics to return to their home countries to live the good life is electoral demographic poison for the US Democrat party. They can't survive it because it cuts into their interests in multiple ways.

They lose domestically by slowing down the tide of poor hispanic voters. They lose internationally because a rich mexican who worked his way up the ladder doing hard work in the US will be more likely to politically support a center-right PAN than a center-left PRI or an even more left PRD. Similar incentives will occur no matter where these immigrants return to. They also lose on the 'savior of the little guy' image front. By giving more choice and another way of 'making it', the Republicans offer themselves as a different kind of kind, compassionate, ordinary people. This will lead to less lopsided vote totals driven by Democrat demagoguery of Republicans as cruel and heartless. They can't afford to compete on an even playing field against another ordinary party.

Media Diversity

Posted by TMLutas

Iraq Now has an interesting observation on media diversity. It's long been a conservative critique that media diversity has been limited to skin color and that a truly ideologically diverse media would work much better. The fact that nationally there has been a dearth of business and finance coverage of military personnel wartime tax policy during major deployments over the past two years is clear evidence that the news media's lack of diversity isn't just a partisan complaint that just impacts Democrats, Republicans, and elections.

Soldiers need to know that they're not alone. Civilians need to know if we're doing enough for deploying soldiers and what's the cost of what we already are doing. There's no party or ideology to this, just the nuts and bolts of running a free society. And the media dropped the ball.

Presidential Family Teasing

Posted by TMLutas

On a lighter note:

John Derbyshire has this up on NRO's Corner

SAVE THIS CHILD [John Derbyshire] Don't say I didn't warn you.

A great deal of commentary about presidential families current and past is cruel, mean spirited, and just wrong. This is just cute and a nice example of how to do it right.

Cross party comity. Spread the meme.

State of the Union: Why Bush Isn't Clinton

Posted by TMLutas

Professor Bainbridge opines that on the domestic front Bush is a Republican Clinton. He's wrong, and you can tell by Ted Kennedy's face during the address. Kennedy's ticked off because he's a smart politician who has been around a long time. He knows what Bush is doing to him and all other big government liberals.

Bush is spending money to buy the votes right now because he's got almost no legislative majority. He will often have to rent one from both parties. So spending goes way up. But buried in all that pork are little changes in assumption. You can see it in the veto threat he issued on the new medicare plan. Democrats might come and take your medicare away. Nobody laughed, nobody chuckled at the thought. It was taken as part of legitimate political discourse that the Republican party might be more giving and generous than the Democrat party.

This is domestic revolution. Since the new deal, there has been a one way ratchet for more government spending. The Democrats were the givers of money and the Republicans were the rarely necessary but sometimes useful scolds who tempered generosity. Bush is making a new consensus of Republicans being the givers of choices, social empowerment, and the Democrats as rarely necessary but sometimes useful scolds who temper generosity. George Bush has taken the sign marked Sysiphus that has hung around the Republican elephant's neck and neatly hung it on the Democrat donkey. The trend will be for Democrats to be rolling stones uphill from here on in.

As their legislative majority grows, Republican administrations won't be held hostage as easily before. They'll be willing to lose a few Senators or Congressmen because they have the votes to spare. The Republican Sysiphus finally got the stone up the hill and it will soon land on Ted Kennedy's head. He knows its coming and isn't enjoying the prospect.

State of the Union: Medical Bureaucracy

Posted by TMLutas

There are certain very unhappy, very complex realities in our medical system. As government involvement increases there is a decrease in efficiency. Somewhere in the middle between a free market in health care and a completely socialized system there is a low point. The US is at that low point in efficiency.

The shape of the curve is under dispute. Statists assert that the shape is something of a J, with small efficiency gains by going to a free market system and large costs while going whole hog to a government system will provide great advantages at a small price. Free market advocates believe the exact opposite. Moderates just want to get off the bottom part of the curve in any direction because they know that what we have is the absolute worst of all worlds.

The President has made it clear that he wants to push the system in a free market direction and made his only veto threat in that regard.

I signed this measure proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors, or to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare, will meet my veto.

On the critical issue of health care, our goal is to ensure that Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage that best fits their individual needs. To make insurance more affordable, Congress must act to address rapidly rising health care costs. Small businesses should be able to band together and negotiate for lower insurance rates, so they can cover more workers with health insurance - I urge you to pass Association Health Plans. I ask you to give lower-income Americans a refundable tax credit that would allow millions to buy their own basic health insurance. By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care. To protect the doctor-patient relationship, and keep good doctors doing good work, we must eliminate wasteful and frivolous medical lawsuits. And tonight I propose that individuals who buy catastrophic health care coverage, as part of our new health savings accounts, be allowed to deduct 100 percent of the premiums from their taxes.

A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription. By keeping costs under control, expanding access, and helping more Americans afford coverage, we will preserve the system of private medicine that makes America's health care the best in the world.

The key part of the veto threat is not in limiting benefits (no alternative will do anything but increase them) but in taking away choices for seniors. Choice is the hallmark of the free market and now that seniors have more than one choice, the statists are fighting the clock until these choices are rolled out into actual plans that seniors like. Once that happens the game is over and we're off the low part of the efficiency curve. After 2007 the game is lost for statists in health care and President Bush has drawn a line in the sand on this issue.

Association Health Plans are an incremental way to back out of the long distortive consequences of WW II era wage freezes. Prior to WW II, health care via employer was rare. It was inconvenient and tended to tie you to a job. With wage freezes imposed by government to limit exploding labor costs due to too few available workers (most everybody being in the armed forces) benefits like health care exploded on the scene as uncontrolled proxy compensation. These benefits stuck around long after the wage controls disappeared and they have long outlived their usefulness. Association Health Plans would take healthcare out of the hands of business and put them in much more stable associations. You could get healthcare via Rotarians, the Lions, the Catholic Church, the B'nai B'rith, the Hari Krishna, an organization that you're not likely to leave which will empower you to leave your job based on wage considerations. For a pro-big business president, he sure has empowered workers over abusive employeres.

The confusing paperwork antiquated IT systems of medical care are another example that sucks up enormous amounts of money and time. Streamlining it into a standardized, extensible system that private and public insurers can easily plug into would both improve healthcare quality and very much reduce cost.

I wasn't aware that premiums to catastrophic plans under HSA's weren't already deductible but they should be, just as they would be if they were done under and employer plan. It's another instance of empowering workers over employers.

Finally, frivolous medical malpractice claims. I lost a week of my life serving on a jury that dealt with a frivolous medical malpractice suit. Don't tell me these things don't exist. All things being equal, an ENT should not be hauled before a jury because of a lung tumor that's what his internist is for. And when the sole negligent act is supposedly not making a phone call to notify the patient but somehow the patient shows up for lung cancer treatment that very week, things are truly idiotic.

For those who suffer real malpractice, their right to sue should be preserved. The right to work out your grief by lashing out at doctors and costing society a great deal of money in the process has got to go.

Death Penalty Musings

Posted by TMLutas

I've read that anti-death penalty Catholics rely on the idea that modern penology offers an alternative to the death penalty by ensuring that the murderer is no longer a risk to others. This maximizes the possibility of subsequent spiritual growth and repentence.

I sometimes wonder whether anybody keeps track of deaths perpetrated by people who could have had the death penalty but were given life in prison instead. It's struck me as one of those wishful statements that anti-death penalty believers have faith is true but don't actually measure to see whether it is true.

January 20, 2004

State of the Union: Foreign Policy Revolution

Posted by TMLutas
The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States - and war is what they got.

The President of the United States just annulled a number of the principles that have guided international system since 1648. Since that time, when the Peace of Westphalia was signed, the idea was that states were sovereign. Inside their borders, they could do largely what they pleased and they were responsible for what happened inside. Only states could declare war. Only states could make peace. Who was recognized as sovereign was the key to who you would talk to.

Israel, the US, Russia, a number of other nations have been doing little pirouettes around the inconvenient fact that subnational organizations are declaring and acting as parties that can declare war and have been waging war. George Bush just stopped the dance.

We are now in a very uncomfortable position. Heads of State all over the world now know that if an organization on their territory declares war on the United States, the United States will believe them and act accordingly, with likely devastating consequences to the country.

This is going to do a slow roll throughout the diplomatic world. I don't think it's going to be retracted.

Immigration Test Case

Posted by TMLutas

Stratfor's public site has the following:

EU Labor Restrictions Give Split an Economic Twist Jan 20, 2004 At least five European Union members -- Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, and Finland -- will have a moratorium on free labor movement for the incoming Central European states, which will make working in these countries much more difficult for the countries' citizens. Conversely, five other countries -- the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands -- will open their labor markets without restriction. These decisions will further entrench divisions between incoming states and current members and add a purely economic dimensions to what until now generally has been a political fight.

This seems to me to be a very good test case to see the effects of immigration on societies. Who do you think is going to have the better economies after a decade, the restrictionists or those who welcome these new workers?

State of the Union: Drugs

Posted by TMLutas

I'm a libertarian. I'm also a Catholic. That makes me both anti-drug and unhappy with the idea of using state power to enforce that preference. For the first time since Nancy Reagan, a politician announced a drug initiative that I can support. I'm talking about the elimination of performance enhancing drugs. It's exactly the right tone, exactly the right mechanism. He was quarter right with his drug initiative on drug testing in schools. I don't support the idea of government funded testing but the message that we don't want them to do drugs, that we monitor them because we love them is right and worthy of praise.

That thought, that we fight drug use because we love our children is worth a lot of thought and meditation. With enough thought, enough understanding of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, to love your children, the War on Drugs will end as a consequence of that love.

Good Faith and Comity

Posted by TMLutas

Andrew Sullivan notes the difference today between David Brook's column and Paul Krugman's effort. In this case, 'm entirely with AS (perhaps a step or two beyond him). Brooks showed a level of understanding and recognition of the basic humanity of the other side. Paul Krugman's column appeals to the tinfoil hat left with his sinister warning that Bush wants to "grab enough power that the consequences don't matter".

Without a coup and the overturn of the constitutional order, in 2006 the entire House of Representatives will stand for election as will one third of the Senate. In 2008 a new President will be elected along with an entirely new House and another third of the Senate. The voters can impose consequences then if Bush goes too far as they have imposed them on a great many Presidents since George Washington.

It's a gout of toxic leftist code talk, just as wink and nod slimy as if David Duke had given Krugman lessons. It's stoking up fears of a coup, raising the paranoia level on the far left as high as he can crank it. Unrealistic? It's at least as realistic as Krugman's accusations on race:

The most sinister example was the recess appointment of Charles Pickering Sr., with his segregationist past and questionable record on voting rights, to the federal appeals court — the day after Martin Luther King's actual birthday. Was this careless timing? Don't be silly: it was a deliberate, if subtle, gesture of sympathy with a part of the Republican coalition that never gets mentioned in public.

The truth is that we're all nervous. We're engaged in the first non-westphalian war the West has seen in centuries, since before there was a United States. Some things have to change to accommodate that but permanent restrictions of our liberty are not on the list of concessions a majority will tolerate. At the same time, we must win this war. David Brooks has understood that the requirements of bipartisan comity in wartime. There are decent voices on the left who can and do reciprocate that forming the responsible, loyal opposition. Paul Krugman no doubt thinks his ideological arson show is loyalty through dissent and no doubt he's right by his own lights but it's in no way responsible.

Misunderstanding the Internet

Posted by TMLutas

I have rarely come across a more tragic knot of misunderstanding regarding the Internet than the article by Adam Thierer at Cato, analyzing Howard Dean's Principles for an Internet Policy, David Weinberger's analysis of the Cato article, Lawrence Lessig's wrongheaded commentary on same, and Smart Mob's meta analysis of it all.

Every single one of them is wrong.

Let's start with what the Internet is. It is not a commons. It is not in the public domain, it is not a set of protocols, it is contracts. The physical computers are owned, but they are not the Internet. You can run the protocols but not be on the Internet. You can create your own network, but it is not the Internet. What is the Internet is the agreement you have to carry the traffic across your network from any computer on the network to any other computer on any other network that shares the same agreements.

The Internet is a remarkably efficient piece of legal contract work, informally enforced without very much state action at all. You break the rules and people generally just disconnect.

To say no one owns the Internet as Howard Dean does in his article is as true, and as fatuous, as saying no one owns the market. Furthermore, Howard Dean seems to have just come out against IPv6 in his point #4. The QoS bit would seem to be an endangered feature in Howard Dean's administration.

Markets are owned. They are creatures of private ownership, contracts, and settled rules. Government can help by enforcing evenhanded rules and insisting on truthfulness but that's about all. The Internet can use the same evenhanded rules and insistence on truthfulness. Legally recognizing digital signatures, for example, is a legitimate government function that enormously aids the progress of the Internet. At this stage in the game, it's a little difficult to tell where a candidate will jump. Fleshing out policy papers is usually a summer phenomenon but I'm not particularly cheerful at the way Dean's principles are written up. Number four is somewhat troubling, number one shows that Howard Dean doesn't understand the beast that has propelled him to prominence.

Thierry is, sad to say, not much better. He has the classic disdain for commons that every true libertarian has but sadly seems to lack the technical knowledge to correct Dean. He flails wildly and misunderstands what open access regulations are about. They are attempts at fixing the distortions caused by government granted monopolies and, as such, should be looked at as halfway houses to true infrastructure competition, not a dose of socialism in a robust capitalist market. Then he compounds his error by randomly shooting his mouth off about movements he obviously understands little about. The problem is that cyber economics has odd characteristics. There is a tremendous amount of unused capacity in our machines and in our networks. This drives people to make rational capitalist, free market decisions that would look utterly insane in the physical world. In on-line social forums, people actively encourage free riders for sane reasons. The word of mouth advertising value far exceeds the cost of their free riding but both are too small to bother measuring most of the time so it comes out looking and sounding like socialism when in reality it's a special case of capitalism that uses very specialized shorthand.

Weinberg is not much better. He does a semi-creditable job of tearing into Thierry but he is both in error in dismissing private property (which is what most of the Internet Infrastructure is) models and in characterizing the Internet as a set of protocols. I can run these protocols on my own network without being related to the Internet in any way. Once I have subscribed to the principles of carrying traffic and internetworking the specific collective called the Internet, I have joined the Internet even though I may not run TCP/IP on my own network but will encapsulate it/translate it into whatever I'm actually running as a network protocol.

It's this sort of fuzziness that makes non-technical free market theorists worry. They've never had peering agreements explained to them properly. They don't understand how "free" traffic flow is just a monitored settlement mechanism that just charges when there are persistent traffic imbalances between networks that exceed the cost of collections. It's as socialist as check clearinghouses.

Larry Lessig's contribution to this snafu is even more disappointing as not only does he have a law degree but he has made something of a national name for himself in the field. The protocols do not define the Internet. You do not have a degenerate case of an Internet when you have only one network running TCP/IP protocols. You have no internet because you are not inter (between) networking at all. You have to have at least two networks for the smallest case of an internetwork and considerably more before you can seriously label your collection of nets an internet and not get chuckles. The term Internet, by common usage, is only capitalized for the biggest worldwide internet. If almost everybody on the Internet voluntarily dropped off one day, changed their protocol stacks on all their equipment and joined a new set of networks with completely different protocols, but the same principle of carrying traffic, the few remaining networks on the old system would no longer be the Internet. The new network would justifiably claim that title. The appendix network would be an internet still, but not the Internet.

If there was venom in Thierry's assault on Lessig, Lessig returns the favor in classic snippy net style. Dollar signs instead of s's to imply a commercial sell out to the man! is just old. In place of education and clearing the air, he makes it much more likely that he'll have a persistent fight on his hands.

Finally, Howard, at Smart Mobs, ties the whole stinking mess together on the blog and adds his own small contribution to the mess, capitalist baiting. The Internet is not a commons. If it were, there would be no peering arrangements. You wouldn't be able to drop people from the net for abusing net policy. You would have a very unhealthy, unstabled, unuseful structure groaning under the weight of even more abuse than the present structure.

I Should Have Known Better

Posted by TMLutas

I do like to keep my reading varied so some time past, I put The Llama Butchers on my daily read list. After reading an oddball item on the Vatican Secret Archives, labelling their web page the most bizarre web page on the net, of all time.

I thought that it was just because of the incomplete nature of the page and emailed them to lighten up. It turns out, in their item today on my email, that they were just gobsmacked at the idea that secret archives would have a web site.

Silly people.

They're secret because the Catholic Church has a tremendous collection of documents stretching back over a millenia, some of them diplomatic, some of them prurient, some of them heretical with lots of oddball items like the world's first copyrights, and they want to limit access to them to scholars. No, Jack Chick doesn't get in, nor do giggly teenagers, though I'm pretty sure that eventually they'll sell a CD copy of the highlights.

Normally, I wouldn't bother responding but I haven't been this amused at being called satanic since... well never. The link they use doesn't seem to work directly but clicking on Carvey satan 1 on the link page is what they wanted.

Space Junkman

Posted by TMLutas

The junk man makes his money by paying pennies for what some people consider junk and selling it (still cheaply compared to new) for far more than he paid. It's an honest way to make a living, if a bit prosaic. Now the industry's going orbital. An early high profile mission might just be Hubble Space Telescope Salvage.

The idea is to boost the HST to a higher orbit and let it continue to live long beyond its current 2010 lifetime. One intriguing option might be to shift it to the ISS and shift the ISS from being just a white elephant science project to including commercially valuable repair and servicing missions. With a permanent space station, the clock on getting a door unstuck or some other difficult repair done isn't ticking. You need a tool or a replacement part you don't have? Wait a few weeks or months and a resupply shuttle will bring it up. The cost of changing an entire mission profile to make a special trip to service the satellite goes away. Repairs are much more practical and less expensive. This may fill some of the holes in the ISS budget that are likely to be formed as the US winds down government participation.

HT: Slashdot

Price Ceiling Analysis

Posted by TMLutas

I'm fascinated by the concept of market price ceilings. These are things that absolutely ruin a crisis monger's day. For instance, oil has a price ceiling. There are abundant sources of oil in Western countries, most notably Canada. The price to extract this oil is high which is why most of it stays in the ground. The price ceiling for oil is the extraction cost of this Canadian (tar sand) oil plus the initial cost to set up the extraction machinery. But Canadian deposits are not the only ceiling because they are not the only alternative source. A large variety of substitute sources could make up for politically dubious OPEC oil. The lowest abundant alternative energy source price ceiling is the maximum price that an OPEC oil embargo could damage us if the Middle East spun completely out of control.

There are people who don't often get many headlines who work on lowering these price ceilings. Some are in solar, others do wind turbines, others work on coal gasification, still others in the Canadian oil sands field. Every time some guy in a lab coat goes eureka and drops the price down a bit on extraction, transport, or a unified distribution system (commonly known as the hydrogen economy) the clock ticks down on OPEC's viability and the necessity of excusing all those nasty political and social practices in the middle east.

The horrible part about price ceilings is that they are the orphans of the news business. They don't sell, they're complex, and are hard to pick out when they show their influence. There's not a lot out there.

One of the big low grade threats to the world is a threatened lack of sufficient, cheap, potable water. A January 12th item from Austin Bay gives an intriguing account of an unusual water deal and an accidental illustration of how to spot the hints of a price ceiling at work.

January 12, 2004: Water is a big strategic issue in the Middle East. It is far more valuable than oil. Israel and Turkey recently reached a very telling armaments agreement. Turkey will ship Israel millions of liters of fresh water in exchange for Israeli arms and munitions. The water will be shipped in ocean tankers from Turkish to Israeli seaports. Here are some of the specifics as reported in the international press: The water for arms deal will last 20 years. Each year Turkey will send Israel 50 million cubic meters of water. Israel will build several large water tanker ships to carry the water. The water will come from Turkey’s Manavgat River. In return, Turkey will receive Israeli armored vehicles and air force technology. Both nations see this as a “win-win” deal. Here’s a thought, which may seem farfetched at the moment, but check it out in five years: One of the main reasons the Israelis are reluctant to reach a deal with Syria about the Golan Heights is because the Golan is a key regional water resource. If Syria moderates politically, the reliable supplies of water from Turkey may give the Israelis more “flexibility” on the Golan issue. (Austin Bay)

Do you see the price ceiling at work? Israel's water needs will grow over time. Everybody's water needs are growing. So why is this deal time limited for 20 years? A sudden cessation of water delivery would impact the entire country. Cities have been abandoned for lack of water. Furthermore, flexibility on the Golan due to alternate Turkish water supplies would make the bind even worse as the net effect would be to put Israel in a spot with more people and even less water than today. The only way this makes sense is if the guys in the lab coats are making enough progress that 20 years from now water will be cheap enough not to worry about river supplies or container ships from Turkey. The water will be worth less than the weapons by then, calculates Israel, so the deal terminates.

If water desalination plants grow inexpensive enough for general use, a great number of malthusian disaster scenarios go up in smoke. Water wars generate conflict not only all over the middle east but even in the US today. If piped, desalinated water sufficiently drops in price, agricultural usage will no longer cause nearly as much environmental conflict with green activists (and people have almost come to blows as recently as the Clinton administration on this issue).

The Mandarinate Strikes Back II

Posted by TMLutas

It's not just State that suffers a mandarin problem. The Weekly Standard's article, Showstoppers is showing how some parts of the National Security Complex (DoD, NSC, Justice, CIA) has become unmoored from proper civilian control irrespective of party. Glenn Reynolds, Donald Sensing, Moe Lane, and Wretchard have their own commentary.

The fundamental problem is that on the one hand, if we have the right to change all these people based on elections, that right will likely get abused in a manner familiar to US political historians, the spoils system (to the victor belong the spoils). This lowers effectiveness and increases partisan rancor. Believe me, you haven't seen vicious until you've seen the great swaths of government workers fight an election because their jobs are actually at stake. The battle to keep line B in NY State during Pierre Rinfret's disastrous run is as close as I've seen and it's just a pale shadow of what would be a regular occurrence in a spoils system.

The other hand is what we've got now. Bureaucrats, freed from the fear of political change become careerists and eventually get their own ideas of how things should be run. It's a much subtler poison to the body politic but it's also harder to rule out. CEOs with experience changing corporate culture are about as close as you can get to the required job description for a Cabinet Secretary needed to fix an out of control mandarin type culture but it's not the same thing. The inability to fire due to civil service protections makes the job much harder at the Cabinet level than it is in the corporate world.

Manufacturing Science Fiction Turned to Science Fact

Posted by TMLutas

Everybody knows that science fiction is influencing a number of fields. What children read in stories is remembered and turned into research projects a decade later. All sorts of neat and interesting things are coming out of the hard work of scientists that were inspired by the buck rogers of decades ago authors.

I just tripped across the manufacturing version.

My journey started at a Small Business Trends article on holonics, a neat technology in itself which holds the promise of greatly reducing international outsourcing in manufacturing, recreating a local geographic advantage.

I had never heard of holonics so I googled and found it is just one instance of a vast project called Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS). This seems to be the international hub of research and development for manufacturing. Some of it is pretty prosaic, like Music XML. Others are high in the gee whiz factor like Holonic Manufacturing Systems (HMS) or HIPARMS.

The membership of this consortium is huge, in the hundreds and stretches all over the 1st world with an open entry policy for new entrants from anywhere. It's very neat stuff in all and neatly contradicts the conventional image of the great age of manufacturing innovation being in the past.

Bush's Space Initiative: Making It Work

Posted by TMLutas

There is only one route that I can see making Bush's space initiative work, commercial opportunities on the moon that would reduce much of the cost of getting and maintaining a permanent presence. Otherwise the entire initiative is unlikely to fly for the amount budgeted.

These profit opportunities would come in three different flavors. First, and least useful would be support operations for government initiatives. If you have a government moon base building the mars probe, you could contract out food production to a commercial concern. Profitable? Sure, but it will only reduce expenses in a minor sort of way. Government food production, as the Soviets and everybody else has painfully learned, is probably the worst way to do it. There are probably a lot of support opportunities like that that could be bid out to private suppliers.

The second commercial opportunity is energy production. There is some work being done on beamed power and certainly there is no atmosphere to disperse the energy and plenty of cheap, empty space to lay out the panels. If they can work out the problems, you can have a profitable operation that would pay for itself. This would lower the cost of everything else, including transport.

The third commercial opportunity is manufacturing. All across the world, everywhere there is cheap power there is an aluminum plant nearby even though aluminum is in persistent overproduction. Put cheap power on the moon and you'll draw high energy, high value manufacturing there. This would be for government manufacturing needs (see opportunity one above) but would also work for commercial satellite production, production of those solar cells, and anything else that you would rather not have to haul out of earth's gravity well.

So what would happen if the President had made commerce the focus of his space initiative? What would have happened politically going into the election year? What would have happened in Congress? What would have happened with our relations with OPEC? What would have happened to those who simply do not wish to see free enterprise in space? It would have generated huge controversy, resistance, and greatly increased the chance of political failure to implement the initiative.

There is only one piece missing to make commercial activity a realistic possibility for carrying much of the expense of a permanent presence on the moon. A presidential or congressional directive ordering NASA to contract out whatever a qualified private supplier can offer, eliminating the greatest fear of private space investors, a fat, fully funded government entity willing to drive their profit margins down below zero. If that gets tacked onto the enabling legislation for this initiative and it passes, you can take the rest of the speculative game plan I've outlined above to the bank.

Chance of this being a complete fantasy? 75%
Chance of the budget being blown out if it is a fantasy? 100%

January 19, 2004

Iowa Labor Brawl Results

Posted by TMLutas

Does anybody remember that this was supposed to be the battle of labor? The two halves of the modern US labor movement had picked different candidates. Government labor unions organized for Dean. Industrial unions stood by Gephardt. Iowa is supposed to be where organization is king and labor is supposed to be the big suppliers of manpower for the Democrat party.

Well, government unions 'won' the battle with their industrial counterparts but together, they pulled only only 28.5% of the vote (1951 of 1993 districts reporting). Kerry, with his own formidable, non-union ground operation, pulled 37.6% of the vote to take first place but the big embarrassment for organized labor was Edwards who had the weakest organization of all four candidates but did better than both labor backed pols put together, winning 31.8% of the vote on a series of positive speeches and a winning smile.

The labor movement fought it out in the fields of Iowa and the trial lawyer won. Edwards is the big winner of the night, making the most of his weak hand. Kerry has to be given his due, keeping his powder dry and surging at just the right time. Organization made a difference, giving Kerry 1st place.

Will labor prove as weak in the rest of the contests? With Gephardt gaining zero delegates and not going on to New Hampshire (he's returning to his native Missouri instead), it seems clear he will withdraw, freeing up the industrial unions to support another candidate. Will it be Dean? Will it even matter?

Chutzpah Squared II

Posted by TMLutas

The Drudge Report is carrying an item from Catholic News Service stating that the Pope did not comment on Mel Gibson's film. Earlier today, I grew hot under the collar at Frank Rich's IHT column on the affair. I still don't think that Rich got things right. As Archbishop Dziwisz has made clear, the Pope is fully capable of correcting the record if it needs it. And, by CNS' account, it needed it.

I had been looking forward to going to see this film, largely on the strength of the extraordinary comment from the Pope. Unless this story has more twists left to play out, all enthusiasm I had about this movie has drained clean away.

Some day, I might see the film, but not in theaters, not even as a rental. Making up a papal endorsement is just not acceptable and the financial penalty for that sort of idiocy should discourage any repeats.

Was Khadaffi Better at Sanctions Busting Than Saddam?

Posted by TMLutas

After reading this article which describes the availability on the black market of complete centrifuge setups suitable for nuclear weapons production, and Libya's purchase of same, I just ponder one thing. Why did Libya apparently get these but not Iraq? Was Saddam's money no good in the eyes of the black marketers? That seems highly unlikely. There were no articles of any such things being intercepted so was Libya just better as sanctions busting than Iraq? It is a puzzling discrepancy.

I don't know of anybody who is a subject matter expert who has ventured to guess who was better at busting sanctions but it would be a very interesting thing to find out. If their capabilities were comparable, Saddam should have had access to the same sources the same materials. So how do you explain it? I can't, which is why I don't draw final conclusions on the subject of WMD in Iraq. But others have, and in great force, almost all arguing that there have been lies and conspiracies at the root of the Bush administration's so called "rush to war".

That's very brave of them but, perhaps, not so wise.

Is Bill Clinton Growing Up?

Posted by TMLutas

Ralph Peters is a new Clinton convert. He bubbles over about Bill Clinton's speech in Qatar on the future of US/Arab relations.

While President Clinton has a reality distortion machine better than anyone, I was encouraged by the fact that he seems to be turning down opportunities to criticize the present administration from foreign soil. That's part of the basic level of bipartisan comity that needs to happen but sometimes didn't in Clinton's early post-presidency speeches.

Is Bill Clinton growing up into a senior statesman? I hope so. Keep your powder dry anyway.

Discussing Hitler

Posted by TMLutas

Bruce Bartlett's current NRO article on Keynes tackles the problem of seriously discussing Hitler as an actual leader with policies that had nothing to do with the Holocaust and the human rights. He does it fairly well though I disagree with his conclusions on Keynes. Frankly, if you say your theories are more easily adapted to a totalitarian state and that doesn't creep you out, leading you to reconsider your economics, this is pretty good evidence that you have an insufficient aversion to tyranny.

I don't know whether it's correct to say Keynes was a crypto-fascist, or even wise to debate the subject except as historical biography. What I do feel is important is putting Hitler into context as more than the monster who killed so many, jews and non-jews.

Obsessive focus on this aspect of Nazi Germany hides the fact that there were other things wrong with Hitler's rule and empowers Hitler revisionists who take Nazi hype on economics and social policy (outside ethnic policy) as largely true because critiques of Hitler keep getting get hijacked by the human rights victims and their families. Other aspects of the regime have been insufficiently critiqued which is a shame because there were lots of other things wrong with that regime and we shouldn't limit our lessons learned from the debacle just to "don't commit genocide".

Palestine Now! III

Posted by TMLutas

Israel has just been given an opening to solve its occupied territories problem. By imposing sharia christians have been put on notice that their efforts to ally with palestinian muslims are for naught. They can only survive by taking their future into their own hands.

If Israel were to recognize the christian palestinian leadership and give them their own state, allowing them a growing shared authority over the rest of the occupied territories and eventual inclusion of the vast majority of these lands into their country, the dynamics of the situation would completely change.

EU nations would have a new entity, one that is not proven corrupt, one that does not have a history of suicide terrorism, one that is superior in just about every way to the current PA. It is difficult to see how they could snub this new entity.

The US would welcome the new entity and work with it. President Bush's requirement of new leadership not complicit with terror would be fulfilled.

Arabs in the remaining occupied zones would be told, you can negotiate with other arabs to get into your own state, not with jews. Decades of anti-jewish propaganda would be useless in this new situation and some actual thought would be required. Honest, moderate muslims would have a viable option that would be honorable. How big that segment would be remains to be seen but terrorists would be put into a major bind that is likely to dry up their funding and expose the Islamist character of a number of their supporters. This would further dry up support from Europe as the Israeli/Palestine conflict would now become a Palestine/Palestine conflict with a clear, peaceful way out for those not consumed by hate.

HT to Winds of Change.

The Costs of Socialism: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Posted by TMLutas

Communism was always something of a shell game. They would rob from 10 areas and dump their resources into a showcase, highlighting the glorious achievements of the system while everything else fell apart. The area to be preferentially supported shifted fairly rapidly and, in the real world, there were always several emphasis areas and many more neglected areas. This shell game worked for quite some time until people noticed that despite all the great progress, everything seemed to be on a downward slope in comparison with capitalist countries.

The real question of today isn't whether Soviet style communism works. It clearly doesn't. It's whether the 3rd way, euro-socialism middle ground is infected with the same style of robbing Peter, John, and Mark to pay Paul shell game economics. Follow the link to this article over at Samizdata to see a sad portrait of how its happening there too. EU science is suffering vis a vis US labs and there is simply not enough money to actually equalize it but we can all make bleating noises about a crisis and temporarily we can raid funds from other budgets to catch up in a crash program... until the crisis is gone... until an army of budgetary termites robs from the science budget to pay for their crises.

Out on a Limb: Hanson's Wrong on Immigration

Posted by TMLutas

It always worries me a bit when I disagree with intellectual giants. It's quite possible that I'm the one who'll have egg on my face at the end. Victor Davis Hanson's WSJ opinion piece on immigration is a classic case where I feel compelled to go out on a limb to play David to his Goliath.

First he starts with the assumed constant of illegal immigrants existing outside the program. Why would these people not pay their fine and enter the country legally? Space constraints in an op-ed might explain it but I have a different answer. It's just a bad assumption.

You don't start an illegal immigration discussion with the illegal immigrant. You start it a few months before when he's just one more guy in a sea of people who don't earn enough and don't have very good prospects of earning much more for the rest of his life. The moment he decides to leave his local labor market before any borders have been crossed, that's the point where this proposed program starts to come into play.

Now this platonic ideal, this everyman of economic migrant labor, has a choice. Currently, he can go off to apply for a green card, or he can pay the tens of thousands needed to get a coyote or a snake head to get him across the border illegally. If he doesn't qualify for one of the easy to get green card categories (permanent R-1s, for instance, are pretty painless and there are often a number of them that go unused every year), there is a significant opportunity cost of going the legal route.

Tote up the decades of poor wages, the uncertainty of ever getting to the head of the line and the $40k price tag of illegal admission, fake papers, and the opportunity cost of keeping your head down in the US doesn't look so bad. So our everyman hits the shipping containers or desert crossings or whatever and arrives in the US where he first pops up on VDH's radar screen.

With the new program, the calculation changes. Our labor migrant everyman doesn't care about the US per se. He just wants a nice house and to live in relative comfort at home in his village. He wants his kids to have decent nutrition, a shot at a good education and a better life. He wants the local version of the American dream but in his own culture, with its own characteristics. Working for a few years in the US to build up a stake and he can use that capital to live a decent life at home as a member of the local elite.

Why would such a person ever choose illegal immigration when it limits employment opportunities, limits legal protections, will result in lower wages, and costs more? Why would an employer ever choose an illegal immigrant when he can get plenty of legal temporary workers and the fines are likely to go up beyond the realistic differential he can extract in wages from the illegals?

There are cases of children and aged coming north, probably quite a few. But if you have the ability to go back and forth to your home country, why would you increase your costs by bringing your dependents to a more expensive locale?

Mexico is not a place where it is hard to find food, health care, or pretty much anything else. Mexico is a place where it can be hard to find these things when you earn little to no money. With low wage rates in Mexico, the excess that a temporary worker can send home creates the conditions for a much better life back home than the family would get by moving to the US where everything is so expensive. The family comes because travel is so risky, so expensive that the extra costs are less than it would take to travel by coyote twice a year.

The Bush plan takes care of this by reducing the cost to cross borders down to bus or train fare. Poof! Dignity as one of the richest families in your home town or a strange and confusing life in the US where you always feel the 2nd class outsider and you're in the bottom half of the economic order. How do you think those incentives will play out?

The last three paragraphs bring up a disappointing sketch of a proposed alternative. Everybody on the right against this proposal has the same answer, enforce existing law and all will be well. There is never any price tag attached to this because nobody has the guts to actually tote up the cost to do it. Nor is there ever any discussion of what it would do to Mexico if such a massive deportation program were to take place. Mexican instability is something to be avoided if possible.

The two competing images of enforcing current law that I have are the dutch reclaiming land from the sea with their dikes and King Canute exercising his 'divine right' of kings to order the tide to halt. There is an obligation of those who advocate enforcing current law to build an outline of what we would have to change to do that and how much would it cost.

You can't just wave a magic wand and say use the army. They're busy fighting a war and are likely to stay busy for years. Border defense against economic migrants is not what they're designed to do anyway so they would need significant retraining and retooling. And any decent military strategist will tell you that a single line defense is not preferable. It's much better to have defense in depth.

In the immigration context that means "a return of the old green immigration vans, the 'Migra' patrols of my youth that used to scour central California to pick up illegal residents for immediate transit back to Mexico". People will get across. They will concentrate and come at the border in such numbers that a certain percentage will get through. That's just the reality of the current situation. Unless we're going to shoot them, we can't catch them all because they (the jobless economic migrants) have nothing better to do and we do (like running an economy to pay for all those border guards).

The reality is that seriously enforcing immigration law as it currently stands would create a lot more 'migra' van raids then giving temporary worker cards out. Those vans disappeared because we gave up, not because of any particular change in law. Any change in law which increases conformity of the law reduces the number of green vans needed to enforce the law.

VDH's strongest points are the moral ones. But these are the most easily addressed in the process of getting actual legislation passed. If we are truly embarked upon a project of eliminating the non-integrating gap, a program of US temporary workers could play a vital part in that.

Every US embassy has a commercial section. It would be proper to the "shrink the gap" strategy to encourage economic development in these countries by creating international connections with the US. Create entrepreneurial centers for temporary workers to create their own businesses in their own countries with US help and advice.

Let them have the same access that US citizens currently have and you create not only a temporary worker with some cash in his pocket but someone who will have both the financial capability and intellectual tools to start up a small business and a measure of political protection from rapacious local elites who are the major cause of the country's non-integrating gap status.

Using these returning workers as a method of stitching these countries into the global economic system is a way of both solving our primary national security problem of the era and reducing the pressure to send wave after wave of economic migrants to the US.

UN Exclusivity

Posted by TMLutas

The BBC is reporting that the US, UK and IAEA have a simmering dispute over how Libya's offer to dismantle its WMD programs shall be verified.

The US/UK position seems to be that the UN has a role but that the US and UK also have a role separate from their status of IAEA members. The IAEA asserts that it is the only organization that can legitimately inspect and certify Libya's nuke free status.

Who has the right to inspect is as important as the shape of the negotiating table to end the Korean War. It was in this most irrelevant of minutiae that hinged the key struggle then and now, a test of wills. Whoever gives in admits that he needs results more than the other side and that further concessions can be had with just a little further pressure.

HT National Security Blog

Practical Libertarian Drug Policy: Industrial Hemp

Posted by TMLutas

It makes absolutely no sense in the world to regulate a plant with a long history as a legal agricultural crop that is not psychoactive as a schedule I drug. But with industrial hemp that's exactly the current situation.

Industrial hemp comes from the same plant family as marijuana but there, the resemblance ceases. Hemp is useful as a fiber product which could materially contribute to the nation's economy without impacting our effort against truly psychoactive plants. It also produces a useful oil and can be used as a food product.

In fact, since industrial hemp grows wild and the DEA has an active eradication program against it, legalizing hemp would actually redirect more funds towards actual drug cultivation as money would no longer be wasted on the completely unproductive eradication of a plant that is useless as a drug.

Restoring hemp to its traditional place as an agricultural crop outside of DEA jurisdiction would improve our economy, increase the effectiveness of DEA spending, and restore the principle that agricultural crops are handled by the Agriculture Department, not a DEA that lies and misleads the public about the actual drug properties of industrial hemp.

January 18, 2004

Chutzpah Squared

Posted by TMLutas

Frank Rich's recent IHT column entitled Chutzpah and spiritual McCarthyism takes the cake.

In Rich's eyes, the Pope is a bit of a boob. His mind is slipping as he has "unwittingly" been roped into endorsing Mel Gibson's new movie. No pontiff with a quarter century of experience running the Vatican is so naive as to not understand exactly what is being requested when his opinion is being asked about a controversial movie he just saw. Papal endorsements have carried enormous weight for centuries. And what an endorsement! Five words that say it all. Five words that any first grade child would understand. "It is as it was" is a great feat of economical wordsmithing. Or it would be, if the Pope still had his wits about him. Rich's story makes no sense unless the Pope has lost them.

So, in the end, after slinging ugly accusations that Mel Gibson's producers take advantage of a mentally reduced pontiff, that Robert Novak is a McCarthyite, and that Archbishop Stansilaw Dziwisz is a liar, we are left with the impression that this most semitophillic of popes would leave such an interfaith time bomb ticking away without correcting the record in good time.

John Paul II runs a state. It's a small state, sure. But if any pontiff felt he had been roped "into a publicity campaign to sell a movie" under false pretenses he could certainly call his press secretary and correct any falsehood. And it would be covered, to the deep detriment of anybody foolish enough to lie about getting a papal blessing. The backlash would be tremendous.

And if some of the liars were Church officials? With a whisper the most powerful Cardinal can have his world stripped to the inside of a monk's cell if the Pope wishes it. It is an awesome power that this particular pontiff has been loathe to employ but that does not mean that there is anyone in the full-on scrum that is Vatican politics who is unaware that he retains it. And what would such a lie buy when everybody assumes that the papal throne will soon be vacant? The smallest misstep in the last 50 yards of a close race is fatal. And the race for the next papacy started in 1979.

Update: Here I go talking about the Pope being perfectly capable of defending himself and Archbishop Diwisz demonstrates it.

I said there would be backlash if they made up the quote. You bet there will be.

Guest Worker Assumptions

Posted by TMLutas

Those who are opposed to the Bush proposal claim that employers will preferentially hire illegals by offering below market low wages and, when there are no domestic takers, will hire foreign workers at the low price, swelling the ranks of the unemployed mostly among the unskilled.

There are problems with this scenario. It assumes that:

1. People prefer unemployment to minimum wage jobs
2. Nobody will take these foreign workers and hire them away at slightly higher wages arbitraging the wage rate and causing the initial employer to actually lose money.
3. No organized labor group will gather and fill and leave in quick rotation any jobs offered by employers who are taking advantage of the system, again, costing employers money.
4. There will be no safeguards against discrimination in favor of foreign temporary workers.

So, if people can't make a buck exploiting these temporary workers, the new national job board better matches the unskilled with local native talent, and watchdog groups keep an eye out to make sure that this remains the situation, what objections are left?

Practical Libertarian Drug Policy: Overview

Posted by TMLutas

In crafting a societal drug policy, it's useful to start from the ground up because so many false steps and missteps are out there confusing the basic issues. Society, in the collective, has an interest in respect for the law, sober people, safe streets, and medical doctors being able to use the full toolkit of modern pharmaceuticals to heal the sick. Nobody, from the left to the right, from the authoritarians to the libertarians will have a beef with that. How we get there from where we are is an important question, something that I would hope the 2004 presidential candidates take some time to seriously address

None of these three goods are being well accomplished by our current drug policy system. The cat and mouse game of drug users and policemen are a constant acid drip on the rule of law. Lock 'em up policies are popular but often lead to individual injustice and the willingness of police to overlook simple possession and use charges in exchange for enrolling people as informants is a form of legalized blackmail that is very widespread.

Sobriety at the point of a gun is also quite elusive. A campaign against heroin will drive usage down, but you will very often see drug usage go up for other drugs. And when the campaign is over, usage eventually goes back up as drug use fashions vary with the times.

Illegal drugs also make for very unsafe streets. In poorer neighborhoods, drug dealers are often a part of the economic elite. But this is an elite without access to the courts so they take their commercial disputes to the streets with baseball bats, stabbings, and shootings. All too often the bullets go too far or not far enough and innocents suffer.

Finally, and most poignantly, illegalizing pleasure giving drugs has led to deep suspicion over research projects that make use of these same chemicals. Cocaine, which is a great topical anesthetic, marijuana which is a fantastic appetite generator, are both examples of legitimate medical uses which are held back by the current legal climate. Proper pain treatment in general is often viewed as a risky business. If you provide too much, you could end up on the wrong end of a subpoena and have your career ruined.

Libertarians, in theory, would like the end of the War on Drugs just as, in theory the Republican party wants an end to legal abortion and in theory, the Democrat party would like to create a steeply graduated income tax at a high rate. But how does a practical Libertarian actually solve the general societal goals better than current policy in a way that immediately improves the situation in a step by step way?

That's a question for another post.

St. Louis On The Cutting Edge

Posted by TMLutas

St. Louis' new Catholic Archbishop is taking a strong stand at the forefront of the pro-life movement.

The disconnect between Catholic politicians who want the benefits of the Catholic label without the pain of having to defend their faith have long been a painful issue among Catholics. Arcbishop Burke has decided that a bit of public discourse will improve more of the faithful than might be damaged by exposing what have been previously private exhortations to the public. This the same sort of difficulty that Cardinal Martino tripped over in his badly worded comments on Saddam's capture. You feel for the guy, sure, but the benefit in relieving suffering by publicizing the situation sometimes exceeds the suffering caused by taking public action. Forgetting that balance is not compassion but moral callousness. Nobody likes his personal struggle with his faith to hit the newspapers. But past a certain point, the public exposure creates more general benefit than the pain may cost to one person's pride.

HT to The Corner

Wikipedia: Health Savings Accounts

Posted by TMLutas

Wikipedia is a fantastic resource, if for nothing else, it allows you to put in your own subject matter expertise, or at least point out areas that need expanding on. I just engaged in a bit of the latter by creating a new page on Health Savings Accounts. Now I'm still reading the bill but in other analyses I've been reading, I've found a lot of fans and not too many detractors (at least of the honest variety). The only people who are complaining about HSAs were the same people who have been trying to knife MSAs (HSAs more limited predecessor) from the start.

They look like a winner and deserve an entry explaining them so I just add a link. Hopefully someone will come along afterwards and put in some text. Others will come along and improve it, and thus Wikipedia gets improved.

In the Long Run the Kids Are Alive

Posted by TMLutas

"In the long run, everyone's dead" is probably the most famous, fatuous, evil phrase that John Maynard Keynes ever uttered. He used the phrase to great effect to dismiss free market concerns that his nostrums, in the long run, would lead to disaster.

The problem is that while Keynes is dead, the next generation has to live with the consequences of excess death, substandard capital stocks, and a burning desire of Keynes' disciples to do it all over again. That's what he unleashed into the world and it's not a pretty picture.

This is not to say that short term action that would have negative long term consequences if continued is always a bad idea. There are plenty of projects that build things up that are worth saddling the next generation with some debt. Examples might include land purchases like the Louisiana purchase or a war. You don't want to do it too often but there is a sustainable pace.

The difference is that with Keynesian short term focused economic management, there really aren't too many long term positive effects. You get economic sclerosis in the form of eventual stagflation and a difficult mess to clean up. Worse, you get an intellectual atmosphere of kicking the can down the road, front loading benefits and back loading the price to pay. It's a set of bad habits that have jumped party boundaries because the political career benefits are just very seductive.

Islamic Impotence

Posted by TMLutas

Hizb ut-Tahrir is starting to worry The Argus. I'd heard of them before but decided to follow the link to their site to see if they really were turning themselves into the "Sinn Fein" of the Islamist movement. On their site I found a link to a text entitled How the Khilafah was Destroyed. This is their great grievance so I thought that it would be worthwhile to get their perspective.

Then the industrial revolution in Europe emerged in a remarkable manner that had a profound impact on the states’ powers. Muslims stood idle and confused by this revolution, hence the balance of power in the world changed and the Islamic state began her slide from the leading spot gradually, until eventually she became the coveted object of the greedy.

This quote appears in the first chapter of the book, right after the preface. "Muslims stood idle and confused by this revolution" and they could say, but did not, that they have stood idle and confused by every major revolution since then, the green, information, and biotech revolutions have also left muslims standing idle and confused.

The rest of the book is history, detail, and obfuscation. This sentence is the only thing you really need to understand muslim failure, their current impotence, and their hopeless look at the future. They have failed to integrate the industrial and post-industrial revolutions into their world and, no matter how much they were ahead of us at one time, we struggled and overcame them. Their lead was not permanent and neither is ours. This is something else that they do not understand and their failure to understand the impermanence of societal victory as long as competitive societies still exist leads them to strike out in frustration because of their impotence, their current weakness.

They waste their strength, their opportunities to catch up, in senseless violence and fall further behind. Their educated become martyrs instead of society builders. They decimate their own ranks.

January 17, 2004

Enhancing the Roe Effect

Posted by TMLutas

Catholic and Enjoying it! notes a pretty awful bit of racism over at whitehouse.org. I put the following in comments:

I went and took a look at the main page that shows all the various posters they have on offer. Just as offensive where the three anti-motherhood posters. "Preggers for Victory: Patriotic strumpets are breeeding tomorrow's arab-killers today!" "Mommy Didn't Abort Me! And now I can die in a war just like she did!" "Americans Suffer when girls go wild: Settle down and get pregnant"

Taranto's Best of the Web feature introduced me to the idea of the Roe effect, the phenomenon where pro-choice women are outbred and after generations outnumbered by their pro-life sisters but I'm truly surprised at how viciously the pro-choice people are working to dig their own grave.

Bigotry On My Mind

Posted by TMLutas

I've been pondering a recent Cage Match article from the New York Press. The opening line in this remarkably bigoted work entitled "Onward (un)christian soldiers" goes "I am making this appeal to New York City, because this is the only place in America where such an appeal can still be made." bothered me as much as the rest of the piece. My family is in the middle of a pretty drawn out process of considering what we will do once my wife's present work contract ends, stay where we are or move. One of the places we might possibly move is the New York metropolitan area.

New York, for all its many positives, has long been made less attractive by its love affair with statism, generally aggressive and meanspirited attitude, and it's institutional hostility to christianity. Having spent the last half decade away from the place, I had almost forgotten about it. But, alas for my NY dwelling parents who want us back in the area, Matt Taibbi has given me a reminder of exactly why it bothered me in the first place. It's not a determinative blow. We're still exploring our options. It is merely a recent reminder that little of essence has changed about the place as far as elite attitudes toward religion and the atheists know it.

UN Troops in Iraq: Why?

Posted by TMLutas

I'm still chewing over SDB's recent broadside and have another article in drafts but I thought this referred article deserved its own commentary.

If Iraq has reclaimed their sovereignty, why would there be a need for UN troops? Even under the most uncharitable construction of the proposed regional caucuses for the interim government, how is their legitimacy in any way inferior to Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe, or Saparmurat Niyazov?

Furthermore, Iraqis have already made it clear with high explosives that they do not feel the UN is a neutral organization. Since neutrality and legitimization is what the UN is supposed to be putting on offer, what's the point? At best, we'll get into a Somalia situation where those who are most mistrustful of the UN will turn from just one of a number of competing factions into the enemy which cannot be permitted to gain legitimacy.

The UN has its own legitimacy problem in Iraq since it turned tail and ran instead of asking for a mixed french/german brigade to ensure the safety of its operations there. As the US has, the UN will have to pay for that mistake in future blood. There is no point in doing it in Iraq though. The stakes are too high and the risks are too great.

Philosophical Trickery

Posted by TMLutas

While reading this article on capitalist morality I was reminded of a very frequently used trick by anti-capitalist moralists. They take the ideal of their moral system filled with highly developed practitioners of the moral arts and compared this platonic ideal with the real world of capitalism where people do not always act ideally. In fact, they're sometimes downright loathsome.

This double standard is, of course, unfair. But it is also deeply rooted in most discussion regarding moral capitalism. I think the difficulty is that capitalism, with its constant emphasis on finding truths through competition, applies that same logic to morality. Any moral system will do but practitioners will bear the consequences of their actions and they may not initiate force to achieve outcomes to their liking. This leads to a situation where the cream rises to the top. In this, the theoretical capitalist is as indifferent to the competitive result between moral systems embedded in buddhism and hinduism as he is to the competition between Reebok and Nike. As long as none of the four competitors arms themselves and gains customers by force or fraud the theoretical capitalist is content as a capitalist though he might have a preference for one brand of footwear over another or one moral system over another as an actual participant in these competitions. Thus we end up with the fiction of the amoral capitalist when, in reality, what we have is a moral participant who is optimistic and confident that the open, even rules of the free market will result in his side winning the race and becoming a natural monopoly.

Comments Transcripts

Posted by TMLutas

I seem to be spending a great deal of time in comments today so I thought I'd transcribe some of it for my own audience.

City Comforts Blog has a rather discouraging article on The Nature Conservancy's recent run in with the tax laws. It seems the Washington Post ran a series about shady and slipshod practices at TNC which led to reforms. The IRS is piling on to see whether these past practices led to any tax liability. They're only going through 2002 returns so it isn't as bad as it could be but TNC is so big that the IRS decided that they would ship over an audit team to work onsite.

David Sucher's analysis was that while any lawbreaking should be punished, the Republican mad dogs have been loosed and that TNC was some sort of crypto-Republican effort that was being purged because it was too decent an organization. Thomas was first up with commentary which can be summarized by his last sentence "You've become deranged, I'm afraid. "

I shot two rounds of comments, which follow:

Sorry, I'm inclined to agree with Thomas. You started the intemperateness with the title. Was it really necessary to label these people "mad dogs"? Dehumanization of your political opponents over tax law is just not justified.

Furthermore, there is something of a history here dating back to the Clintons that people on the right need to watch out for. The Clinton administration was accused (and statistical analysis of nonprofit audits provides prima facie support to the accusation) of using the tax code to 'get' conservative nonprofits. The black joke at the time was made up of polite inquiries of whether a major anti-Clinton broadside had produced an audit inquiry yet. Too often, the response was either yes, or that an audit had just been completed.

The responsible right needs to keep a watch out that this doesn't descend into tit for tat misuse during the Bush administration. By using such incendiary terms, you are encouraging a 'closing of the ranks'. That's, at the very least, unfortunate and not helpful to maintaining a civil society. By giving political cover to those who would like to launch tit for tat strikes, it would be proper, in my opinion, to characterize it as deranged, if only mildly so.

The second article giving details seems to lay out a case where the Washington Post (that right wing bastion of conservativism? Hah!) investigated and uncovered wrongdoing by The Nature Conservatory. TNC fessed up and changed its practices, and now the IRS is seeing whether there's any tax liability to go along with that. This seems an easy slam dunk as the public admissions by TNC make the chances of hitting a dry hole much lower than a random audit.

The relevant question is whether this is tit for tat or legitimate business as usual for the IRS auditing team. Injecting dubious accusations that TNC is a Republican organization (as if there weren't Democrat oriented corporate boards, yeah right) and that Republicans are on a quest to eliminate any decency that might have crept into their party is insulting and offensive.

The fact is that both major political parties have their decent members and their scoundrels. Your act of dipping into the gutter to sling mud does not help the decent in their fight against the scoundrels in either party.

David Sucher persisted in the error of his ways and Thomas descended a bit as well, stating that "It's not the Republican party that is losing its last vestige of decency, but you losing your last vestige of sanity."

I chimed in:

This is the kind of mean spiritedness that makes crossing partisan boundaries hard, Thomas. Don't dive right after him into the gutter. Talking about his "last vestiges of sanity" just wasn't called for.

On the other hand, the idea is usually that at least some sort of evidence of wrongdoing before it is appropriate to accuse someone, even criminals. That TNC apparently has stepped in some financial dog poop does not automatically make their audit a Republican plot or any relevant statement on Republican leadership decency.

There is a delicate balance of instilling a higher level of decency, honor, and civic discourse in a free society's polity. It is largely one of omission, where each side avoids taking cheap shots at the other side while trying to policy your own side of the foamers who would drag everybody down into the gutter.

As far as I know, there are no calls for widespread audits of left-wing oriented NGOs because of the lack of decency, honor, or honesty in that part of the ideological spectrum and if there were, I would expect such intemperate talk to be put down hard from within the elite arbiters of opinion within the right itself.

There is something of a moral obligation to lever yourself out of the gutter if the other side is making visible efforts to do so. Those who ignore that moral obligation usually get hammered for it electorally so there's practical teeth to the custom.

You also may consider the reputation of new urbanism as something of a lefty cause. Do you really want to reinforce that perception? Do you really want to associate it with the sort of down-market leftism that is so unsupportedly conspiratorial?

Frankly, I think that new urbanism is a worthy ideal that is completely compatible with a conservative or libertarian world view. It's one of those worthy things that redeem the left and need to be appropriated as soon as possible to avoid my own side falling behind in the race to appropriate those who care about the built environment.

January 16, 2004

New Property Right: Eminent Domain Immunity

Posted by TMLutas

In much of the world, mineral rights are held by the state. In other parts, mineral rights are joined with the ownership of the land and some places the two are held by separate entities. I had a light bulb go on while commenting on this article on the comparative free market implications of trains and cars. The discussion had turned to eminent domain and I just thought, what if eminent domain was just a segregable property right like mineral rights would be? If you had the right, you could force the owner to sell and give him just market compensation. Why not? It makes at least as much sense as air rights, pollution rights, water rights, or mineral rights. Why not place these rights on the market and auction them off to prospective infrastructure builders? The state could exercise these rights if they wanted to. People could buy their own property's eminent domain rights and if a private store wanted to move in (as is often the case) they would be forced to buy up the right to force out the current property holders and not only pay the market rate, but also the eminent domain right rate.

I haven't thought through this idea through all its implications but I would guess that the original sale rate would approximately equal the nuisance value of having to build around a particular property for the train, road, or other traditional infrastructure improvement. You'd have to set these things well ahead of time so that there would be an available formula to apply before any particular project was considered.

Losing His Mind Watch I

Posted by TMLutas

According to Paul Krugman Wesley Clark said "I think we're dealing with the most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory. They even put Richard Nixon to shame." Krugman agreed with this sentiment.

Let's recap, Nixon resigned from the presidency one step ahead of a successful bill of impeachment because his nastiness included high crimes, felonies such as criminal conspiracy, abuse of office, and a laundry list of other crimes. He had an enemies list and abused the executive power of the US to go after his enemies. And George W. Bush, who has not been credibly accused of any of this, is supposed to be worse?

Somebody ought to go back and double check Clark to see whether he wants to soften his position. It's not too late to claim it was a 'heat of the moment' gaffe. But Paul Krugman isn't speaking to a crowd in the heat of the moment. He doesn't have the excuse. The evidence in support of this is laughable. A former Cabinet officer conducts an interview and on national television, the assertion is made that National Security Council transcripts (which are generally secret) were handed over to a journalist. A nice graphic accompanying the piece seems to indicate that secret documents were distributed. And it's supposed to be a sign of Nixonian evil that this is being investigated? Wake me up when O'Neill gets audited as so many conservative think tanks were during the Clinton years.

President Bush had lots of opportunities to reach out and smack the Democrats. He didn't keep records of White House damages so the GSA couldn't recommend prosecutions as many conservatives wanted. The IRS is being fairly evenhanded in nonprofit group audits these days, not continuing the audit war that started in the '90s. Last minute executive orders were often upheld, two Clinton judges were resubmitted, and a great deal of patience has been expended on the question of Democratic filibusters of Bush nominees.

That doesn't mean that President Bush is a big softie, or nonpartisan, he's not. But it's scandalous to the point of just plain nuts to assert without foundation that this is a criminal administration that should be impeached. After all, anybody nastier than Nixon is guilty of crimes deserving impeachment, as Nixon was.

The final cherry on top of this tower of frothing partisan madness? Krugman's assertion that "all of the candidates [for the Democrat party nomination to the Presidency] are actually quite moderate". Dennis Kucinich, moderate, Al Sharpton, moderate, Howard Dean, moderate. Is Lyndon LaRouche moderate as well? There are no liberals in sight in the Democratic party and evidence is a mere formality for Bush's criminal guilt. This is the sign of a man losing his political marbles. Why he is in such an influential Op-Ed page is beyond me.

USA: No Smothering

Posted by TMLutas

Michael Ledeen, God bless him, has been a tireless advocate for liberty in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he's come down with a bad case of smothering daddy syndrome. Everybody who is a parent is familiar with it, the impulse to leave the training wheels on, to keep your little darling from making mistakes that you can see will cause a skinned knee or a few points off a homework assignment. We want to shelter, and we end up doing more harm than good.

Iraq, and Afghanistan, and anybody else who is in desperate need of a Liberty Tree of their own will have a relationship with the US. For our own security, we want them to be free. And with our two centuries experience, we know we can do it much better than they can. We should resist the temptation, not because we would fail, but because we would succeed.

One of the biggest problems of people used to tyranny is their infantilization. They are used to big brother doing it all for them. There is no civil society, few of Burke's little platoons are operational. In the most pathologic cases, there is only the state, period. These people need to grow up, and any wise elder knows that it is an art form to know when to step out of the way. Afghanistan, Iraq, and all the rest should not become a more volatile version of the resentful children of the EU who kick the ankles of their defense guarantor. It's not healthy in Europe. It would likely be worse in a very touchy islamic culture that is bred for superiority but finds itself in centuries of objective inferiority. They have elaborate rules for humiliating their inferiors in their code of dhimma. They are utterly incapable of living with the fact that they are not in the first rank of science, of commerce, of arts, of literature anymore.

The best we can do is to help unleash their creative spirit and say, "this is the best road we know to catching up to us." "Perhaps you will surpass us, perhaps not, but we will enjoy the race as brothers."

Michael Ledeen wants more. He wants us to impose our values, our social system on Iraq. The problem is that this is likely to cause great discomfort. Good luck trying to get rid of veiling and first cousin marriages, much less polygamy. Much better to listen to fellow NR writers Stanley Kurtz and Mark Krikorian who presciently addressed this issue long before Michael Ledeen took up the subject of the Bush administration's failure to impose our ideology. Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the rest will come to wisdom eventually. It may even end up looking remarkably like our own. The only way to ensure disaster is to try to force it before customs evolve to handle the coming changes.

No thanks.
Slower Please.

Wanted: A Department of Anarchy V

Posted by TMLutas

Samizdata notes an interesting conversation about excessive law. It seems that more and more people are realizing that the rule of law is being eroded by codes too complex for anybody to actually follow. This makes lawbreakers of us all and thus the government becomes immune to citizen pressure as any critic can be brought before a judge and legitimately convicted for violating some rule, regulation, or law, a chilling effect, indeed.

The solution seems evident. Regulatory burden needs to be measured and red lines need to be established. When they are exceeded, regulation in an area needs to be stopped, and the regulation writers need to be turned into regulation pruners until costs come down sufficiently.

Congress could pass legislation requiring the executive to measure the burden and empower the regulated to challenge any funny numbers put out by the executive. They could require regulations to be ranked, along with individual compliance costs. Are the compliance costs too high by 10%? Strike off the least important 10% (by cost) of regulations until new compliance improvements enable the regulations to be enabled once again.

The point is not to leave us in dangerous situations without guidance, it is to regain a sense of proportion, to reconnect costs with benefits, and to make the regulatory process a little bit more connected with reality. It would also have the effect of putting up a barrier against the bureaucratic games that departments play during budget crises. Immediately, the most important, the most publicly noticeable functions are shut down because it maximizes the public pressure to increase expenditures. With a ranking system of what is most important to least important, bureaucrats can be forced to shut the least important things down first.

Irrelevancy is Not Necessarily Permanent

Posted by TMLutas

David Ignatius' column misses the point about Paul Bremer's meeting with Kofi Annan. It is a matter of record that President Bush told the UN that it needed to confront the problem of Iraq's challenges to UN authority or it would sink into irrelevancy. There were multiple attempts at engagement both before and after the invasion. Some were successes, like the unanimous passage of UNSC 1441 and others were failures like the UN insistence that they maintain a separate, and ultimately inadequate, security posture. The human tragedy and ignominious pullout is the UN's version of the 1983 Beirut fiasco.

But partying frat boy turned sober President Bush is a full time believer in redemption. That's what Ignatius misses. He doesn't want to scrap the UN. He knows that it's easier not to go around them. So he sends Bremer, Powell, anybody relevant to give the UN another shot at redemption, hoping that they, too, will have that crucial 'moment of clarity' and get themselves out of a mess largely of their own making.

I expect that this President will continue in that theme for the rest of his Presidency, even as he makes initiatives like the Proliferation Security Initiative that improve world security in the face of UN inadequacy. Irrelevancy doesn't have to be permanent. I suspect that the UN has at least until 2009 to take advantage of that.

Learning From Mistakes

Posted by TMLutas

A recent StrategyPage item inadvertently reminded me of a major failing in current US academia, especially in the humanities. The article was about logistics problems in Iraq and among the problems identified were that the combat generals had adopted new ways of war and the logistics generals missed it. What logistics thought was a constant turned out to be a variable and this cost us in our effort to keep the troops supplied in the recent conflict. But caught once, the logisticians don't want a repeat:

The army supply experts are now revising their systems to deal with what happened in Iraq. Some of the logistical experts are also paying closer attention to what new tactics the combat generals are cooking up. Just in case.

This brought up one of the most telling problems that Steven Den Beste brought up in his recent opus on p-idealism. He quotes Chip Morningstar:

Looking at the field of contemporary literary criticism as a whole also yields some valuable insights. It is a cautionary lesson about the consequences of allowing a branch of academia that has been entrusted with the study of important problems to become isolated and inbred. The Pseudo Politically Correct term that I would use to describe the mind set of postmodernism is "epistemologically challenged": a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. The language and idea space of the field have become so convoluted that they have confused even themselves. But the tangle offers a safe refuge for the academics. It erects a wall between them and the rest of the world. It immunizes them against having to confront their own failings, since any genuine criticism can simply be absorbed into the morass and made indistinguishable from all the other verbiage. Intellectual tools that might help prune the thicket are systematically ignored or discredited. This is why, for example, science, psychology and economics are represented in the literary world by theories that were abandoned by practicing scientists, psychologists and economists fifty or a hundred years ago. The field is absorbed in triviality.

It's a telling difference. If you rely on another field to do your job, you have to stay current, at least enough so that when the theories in the other field that you depend on for your own work are discredited, you don't just ignore the event. You take part in the reevaluation process and fix your own stuff so that it can survive without relying on faulty premises or, if you can't do that, you scrap and start over. The fact that so much of the humanities refuses to do that this necessary intellectual hygiene that caused me to throw my arms up in disgust and ask why do we keep funding this?

Now the intellectual problem of following up on other fields' progress is much more complicated for the academics than the military logisticians. But the logisticians at least recognize that it is a problem and are addressing it. Creating information systems that would support academics by toting up all the cross-disciplinary theories that their work depends on and send out warnings when said theories were discredited would not be a difficult task and could be handled on an academy wide basis. Periodic sweeps of the database by students and research assistants would be sufficient to keep the database current enough to avoid the intellectual inbreeding problem.

So why don't the do it, and why are we paying for their academic sloppiness? You'd think that full professors could manage the level of diligence of a supply clerk.

Talking Honestly About the WoT

Posted by TMLutas

Wretcherd is spot on in his analysis that the West runs a risk of losing those characteristics that make it special in the face of perpetual war. This is one of the great sources of discomfort I have with our present War on Terrorism. There aren't good enough victory metrics. This doesn't mean that the war should stop, as some on the left would advocate, but we do need a sober examination of what would constitute victory and how to get from here to there as quickly as possible without becoming monsters.

The problem is that we might not be in a strong enough position to engage in that necessary, honest discussion. Frank talk about the tyranny in Saudi Arabia, the aggressive nihilism of palestinian arabs and the widespread financial support it receives in so many OPEC states, these are all subjects that could upset the current state of OPEC and actually cause the authoritarian and dictatorial OPEC states to band together and exercise their ability to tank the modern worldwide industrial economic system.

Is there a solution for this? Wretchard's articles are a good start, and everybody else should follow up on them with their own observations. The problem is that our official representatives in government may be, no likely will be restrained from openly addressing these topics as long as the age of oil continues.

Tracking Pols

Posted by TMLutas

Glenn Reynolds notes a debate going around the blogosphere about assigning bloggers to cover politicians or journalists. This is already being done over at MIT by an intriguing social commentary on the now dead Total Information Awareness project and is called Government Information Awareness.

If the blogosphere would get behind the GIA project it would accomplish several goals. It would be a one stop shop for such monitoring information. Information reports would be handled in a way that would create a uniform format and ease the technical problems of compiling the information as an easily searchable aggregate. And bloggers could get some traffic boosts by blogging about the process in parallel to submitting information to the project.

There's no reason why politicians should continue to enjoy the fractured and inefficient state of current watchdog organizations. GIA would enable popular oversight to enter the information age. Hopefully, it would also change the character of the people elected to fulfill these responsibilities.

January 15, 2004

SCO Lawsuit Death Clock II

Posted by TMLutas

Groklaw is carrying SCO's most recent response to IBM's motion to compel discovery. The clock ran out and the short version of the story is that they have not turned over any specific code to IBM that infringes on SCO's rights according to SCO's construction of the case. At this point, the groklaw community is debating whether IBM will file for a motion to dismiss now or wait a bit more so that SCO's lawsuit will be dismissed with prejudice (ie can't be refiled as a practical matter).

Essentially, the major excuse for not producing documents on time is that the outside directors were unreachable due to the Christmas holidays. I'm all for Christmas and keeping the spirit of the holidays but if I was on a corporate board and the major chance the company had of surviving depended on my being available to answer questions, I'd make myself available and would consider any director who did not liable to damages for not living up to their duties as directors.

The bottom line is that the response is a joke, and an expensive joke for the computer industry. It's FUD on a massive scale that is holding back Microsoft's most significant server side challenge in the x86 OS market, what a waste.

Families and Manhood

Posted by TMLutas

Yesterday, Brownian Motions led me to this article at Mises.org which examines the third way socialism of Sweden and how it has utterly destroyed family life there to the social and demographic detriment of that country.

Today, John Derbyshire has a note on NRO's The Corner pointing to a Claremont Institute piece on manhood entitled Wimps and Barbarians. The two pieces really should be read together. There is something desperately wrong with how we are handling the transmission of our society's civlized values, especially to the male half our population.

P-Idealism = epistomological pessimism?

Posted by TMLutas

Mark Goldblatt's recent column in takes a charge at the sorry state of academe, something that Steven Den Beste did recently and which I commented on, asking the simple question, if it's so bad, why do we continue to fund it.

Goldblatt does better, I think. Instead of taking on the entire principle that philosophical idealism is bunk, he suggests that it is only in its pessimistic variants, or, as he puts it, in epistomological pessimism that things go horribly wrong. Philosophical constructs that permit you to test the truth and falsehood of their premises and allow for measured progress over time to discover reality is worth funding even though it may puzzle the more immediately practical empiricists.

Not Stopping Space Travel

Posted by TMLutas

Lileks has a great bleat today. As is often the case, it's on a bunch of subjects from being baited to loneliness but a great deal of it (most of it, in fact) is on the space program and what it all meant, means, and could mean.

Lilek's great complaint is that we stopped. We went to the moon and then didn't bother to go back. Our national space program was a checklist and the moon had been checked off. Been there, done that, next! But there was no next. Without external prompting from the Soviets we lost interest, as we often do with purely national pride achievements.

If we are to achieve the permanent presence on the moon that President Bush envisions we're going to have to have a reason to be there and stay there. We're going to have to make money at it.

Like any other economic activity, you have to provide goods or services to make money. There will be a certain amount of support opportunity for facilities to grow food crack oxygen, and provide the other necessities of life for the government boys who are planning further exploration but that's a chancy business because that's just supporting a new checklist. If the checklist stops, the market dries up.

Then there's moon tourism which is likely to be a decent market for the super rich but even with a $100/kg space elevator, you're going to be in a precarious position. All it takes is for the fashionable elite to declare that moon visits are so 20 minutes ago and you're in deep financial trouble.

Manufacturing seems like a good bet to finance a permanent lunar presence. Satellite construction should be a good market. With 1/7th the gravity, launch costs for satellites will be much lower even though you'll have a longer distance to travel to their ultimate placement.

Communication relays actually on the moon are possible. Earth-moon-earth signalling does happen now though it is highly limited due to the vast distances and the limited signal reflectivity of the moon itself. If there were active circuitry on the moon end, costs might go down and usage up. Whether this would gain ground against satellite bouncing is unclear.

Finally there's lunar solar, getting solar energy on the moon and powering not only whatever moon enterprises there are but beaming the power back to earth and including it as an ordinary source of energy.

Either President Bush is very foolish and didn't include all of these ideas in his space initiative because he didn't think how we're going to sustain the effort, or he's very wise and limiting government involvement to government interests, opening up territory, explore, provide an infrastructure skeleton upon which the vastly larger private initiatives will build on.

January 14, 2004

Why the US is Not Saudi Arabia

Posted by TMLutas

Mark Krikorian opines that President Bush's initiative will turn us into Saudi Arabia. His article is a bit confused and I'm surprised it got past the editors.

Saudi immigration policies are the product of a hugely rich natural resources extraction economy layered on top of a culture that does not prize work. Their repressive religious and legal codes are unsustainable in the face of any significant immigration of anyone not wholly committed to their world view.

In contrast US political and economic arrangements are highly flexible and have already demonstrated the ability to absorb a great many immigrants from different lands, a process that goes on to this day. Freedom of the press, religion, the right to a jury trial, and free market economics are not under the same sorts of assault that Saudi sunni muslim religious monopoly and sharia code would be if all those filipina maids and cooks were granted citizenship and voting rights.

We've historically tried to americanize our immigrants, make sure they learned english, know the political principles that made this country the attractive place it is, etc. Americanization efforts would need to increase with any increase in immigration to avoid the fate off new residents, new voters, taking over the place. Saudi Arabia has no equivalent program. In fact it would be completely alien to them.

The main difference is that the US has consciously adopted a widely appealing framework that leaves space for traditions and culture from other nations to come in and productively interface in public and civic life and Saudi Arabia hasn't. The idea of not letting them vote is not a retreat into Know-Nothingism but rather a call for a functional, not a time based approach to citizenship.

If immigrants want to recreate North Korea in the US, not letting the vote until they've been shaken of that bad habit is a reasonable idea. How, exactly, such an adjusted program of citizenship would work is likely to require much further thought but nobody wants us to become Saudi Arabia. No actual proposal from libertarian fringer to President Bush's temporary worker initiative, will realistically work to produce such a result.

Space Solar

Posted by TMLutas

Prof. Bainbridge is not happy with the idea of a new push into space. He'd rather see us use the money to create alternative energy sources. One of the things he's missing is that alternative energy can come from space.

Lunar and orbital solar have the dual benefit that you don't have and energy dissipating atmosphere in the way between the sun and your solar cells and you don't have the space constraints of surface area (for orbital solar) or neighbors bidding up the price of your land (lunar solar). We'll see tonight whether alternative energy from space will make the President's speech but if we're going up there, and private enterprise is not shut out, alternative energy will be coming from this initiative whether it's on Bush's talking points list or not.

Evenhanded Premarriage Counseling?

Posted by TMLutas

Tyler Cowen notes a new Bush initiative as reported in the New York Times. I know that my church (Romanian Byzantine Catholic) has a program in place for free marriage counseling prior to marriage. In fact, if you don't go, you normally can't get a church wedding in my diocese. The counseling has been offered free to this point. It would be child's play from an accounting standpoint for there to be a charge that would be picked up by the parish absent government support but would enable the Church to become eligible for the payment.

The only political question is how quickly and how loudly the separation of church and state types are going to jump at the prospect of churches picking up a hefty portion of the check for this kind of marriage stabilizing counseling? Will their objections sink the entire enterprise of strengthening marriage or will their objections be politely ignored?

It's something to keep an eye on.

War On Terrorism Numbers I Wish I Had

Posted by TMLutas

In the War on Terror, the key metric that is not being measured is the regeneration rate of our enemy. This regeneration is accomplished via a 'funnel' process that would be familiar to anybody in sales. A certain number of people hear the pitch via ideologically compatible imams. A certain number of those who hear the pitch achieve a certain level of belief. A subset of that start taking part in smaller, more intense indoctrination groups, a smaller number become gung ho believers, a smaller number are recruited into organizations, a smaller number actually go through with terrorist action.

There are certain parts of the funnel (the bottom end) that are not very visible to the general public (though hopefully intelligence agencies know a great deal about it) but the top end can be viewed and should be highlighted because this is both the area that is the trickiest for governments to go after and the one where ordinary people can do the most good.

Imams (teachers) are the key. Those who preach an Islam that is consistent with equal rights pluralism are not only not a problem, but are key allies in the War on Terror. The general public needs to support them in the face of the death threats and actual violence such figures draw from Islamist imams. Who are these pro-violence, pro-terrorism imams? How many of them are there? How many imams are there in total?

All these questions are straight statistical news stories. There should be no reason that western nations' press corps haven't gone to the mosques and built up profiles on these imams at least as detailed as they have on the beliefs of the local town councilman. From diligent local reporting, you could assemble a statistical portrait of what is the local ideological balance of the muslim community and thus estimate how big is the terrorism funnel at its widest (and still legal) point. By supporting the imams who support pluralism, even those who are not muslim can have a real effect on narrowing that funnel which, in the end, will reduce the regeneration rate of Al Queda and company.

January 13, 2004

Is There a War on Terror?

Posted by TMLutas

Matt Miller has a column claiming that Howard Dean's main original contribution to the campaign is his omission of the phrase War on Terror in his recent foreign policy speech.

The problem is that Mr. Miller sets up a big fat straw man. The Bush administration, he accuses, is supposedly creating a false situation where terrorism is likened to warfare but is not warfare. It is a situation where war will stretch on forever and Democrats will be at a permanent electoral disadvantage because Republicans are simply better at war.

I believe we're at war. It is a pre-Westphalian war, which makes sense because the aggressors of this war reject Westphalian precepts of national sovereignty and are acting in ways that simply don't fit into the Westphalian intellectual framework. This is not the fault of George W. Bush, Karl Rove or the Republican National Committee. And no amount of foot stomping or complaints from Democrats is going to change it.

In Afghanistan, we had to quickly shift into a combat style that included horses and pack animals, a style of combat that had long been superseded by modern military doctrine. But the terrain and infrastructure and the nature of the enemy and our allies meant that horses made a quick comeback. The larger War on Terror is exactly the same way. Al Queda wants and will insist on a war that ignores Westphalian norms. We cannot ignore this reality or, strange as it may sound, we will lose.

HT RealClear Politics

Immigration Boogeymen

Posted by TMLutas

Every time I hear about somebody raising the alarm about the irresistible tide of minimum wage workers that will drive all wages to near zero I remember a few lessons I've picked up over my years in the labor market

1. Low wage earners have no loyalty and will jump ship for the smallest reasons
2. You don't start to make money on a worker until he's been at work for some time, usually six months.
3. Employers actively steal employees from each other.

The idea that people will simply come in at minimum wage and bankrupt other businesses won't hold. There will be some downward pressure on wages but anybody who tries to hold the wage level too low will simply find out that he's become a money losing training facility for all his competitors. As soon as he trains a new worker up to a decent standard of competence, he'll lose him to a competitor for a few measly cents an hour. If that competitor doesn't watch it, he'll lose his newly acquired worker just as fast.

So wage rates will bounce around a great deal in the low skills sector and unskilled labor will continue to be under pressure but that's just the point. It isn't going to be some faceless horde of aliens taking away all jobs but rather a competitive pressure that native born workers can compete against and will hold their own. The benefit, which none of these immigration gloom and doomers note, will be a reduction in the ability of criminals and terrorists to take advantage of the great sea of illegal immigrants to hide among. We have to dry up the illegal papers market, the illegal immigration specialists whether coyote or snakehead. We have to do this or we may very well find ourselves being infiltrated and attacked through these routes.

There was a time when people complained that the general population was not called on to sacrifice anything for the War on Terror. Cleaning out illegal immigration is going to be a general sacrifice. My wages are likely to be lowered as much as anybody else's. But this isn't an intolerable sacrifice and we will gain a great deal in security and in tax revenue that used to slip through the underground economy. We shouldn't kid ourselves that increased immigration won't be uncomfortable. It is, however, necessary and survivable.

Myrmidons and Other Slurs

Posted by TMLutas

The infamous nazi photoshop version of Time's man of the year cover just will not go away. The idea that our soldiers are myrmidons is profoundly unserious, the entire enterprise is juvenile, hateful, and hurtful. The problem isn't so much that some austrian thought a few death's head logos and a swastika would be a good idea to slap on some american soldiers, it's that the original comments were so positive among Indymedia's regular readers.

If our solders were myrmidons, merciless, heartless thugs who never question orders, why haven't we had a coup yet? Why haven't the dark forces that created these unthinking military monsters used this tool to destroy the constitution and establish an empire? Here, the leftist is logically stuck. He can't say that the military would refuse. They wouldn't be myrmidons if they would refuse an order, by definition. Nor could they concede the basic humanity, decency, and honor of the center right politicians who have controlled the Presidency for so much of the last quarter century. They're the myrmidon makers after all, the remakers of our citizen soldiers into such horrible tools.

If Al Sharpton was consigned to the presidential candidate freak tent currently inhabited by Lyndon LaRouche, I wouldn't worry so much. If the leading candidate for the Democrat party nomination for president didn't seem so often to subscribe to the Indymedia ethic, I would be a lot less worried. But conspiratorialism, race baiting, purveying hate and libel seem to be a mood sweeping the party. They myrmidon photo is just one glaring example.

Can they reverse themselves before they disintegrate as a major party? It's not looking good.

January 12, 2004

Global NAFTA?

Posted by TMLutas

One of the interesting speculations of the day is Thomas Friedman's offhand note that if Turkey does not get an invitation to the EU that it should get an invite to NAFTA. The very idea of NAFTA encompassing even a sliver of European territory has got to have given the political elite of the EU the collective vapors. There have been past whispers about the US expanding NAFTA but usually to dissenting EU states like the UK. A Turkey in NAFTA offer would create a tug of war between the EU and the outside balkan states. Bulgaria, Romania, and the rest of the peninsula would be able to play off the two sides, one against the other to gain concessions in accession negotiations with both blocks.

All this in the pages of the europhile NY Times, by one of the media high priests of center-left foreign policy. The multipolar agitators of the EU might just now be figuring out how badly they've miscalculated.

Complicating Marriage

Posted by TMLutas

I was coming back from a client today and listened to the radio. WLS had a 'best of' Roe and Gary, my favorite pair of drive time idiot savants. They were going on about gay marriage and a caller was talking about her 'domestic partnership' arrangement. Apparently, she maintained, you can get a California domestic partnership recognized as a marriage in Illinois for divorce purposes. Women would be fools to be married without first checking which of the various state laws on domestic partnerships might give them a better contract.

Venue shopping for marriages has always been around but it was the realm of the highly eccentric or stinking rich with their batteries of lawyers. This was some relatively normal upper middle class... what? Not wife, she wasn't married, but not quite just sleeping around either.

I don't think that people have really grasped how complicated this brave new world of marriage will be if adopted. Is it really such a bright idea?

Paid Blogging

Posted by TMLutas

In my wilder dreams, I'll achieve enough of an audience that I can blog full time and make enough money at it to support my family. I have an active imagination, I'm told.

Dowingba is taking a run at an interesting business model, the blogathon, an extravaganza of one post per hour for 24, 48, or even 72 hours straight for the low, low price of $250, $500, or $1000 respectively. It'll be interesting to see whether he will get sufficient contributions to obligate him to the blogathon. Then again, he does seem to be undercutting his fundraising by saying that he might do the 72 hour stretch just to be able to say that he did it once.

January 11, 2004

Sometimes a Joke is Just a Joke

Posted by TMLutas

In his continuing war against John Derbyshire, Andrew Sullivan demonstrates that he has become entirely humorless on the subject of marriage.

Every now and again, the facade drops. Here's how John Derbyshire joked yesterday about marriage: ZSA ZSA'S GRASP OF MARRIAGE ESSENTIALS [John Derbyshire]:
A reader reminds me of Zsa Zsa Gabor's most inspired comment about her nine (?) marriages: "I'm a good housekeeper, darlink. I ALWAYS keep the house."
It's funny, of course. But notice the sub-text. Nine marriages? What a hoot. But while Derb yuks it up about straight people's abuse of the institution, he still finds inclusion of gay couples an abomination.

Any quotation of Willie Sutton creates a subtext in favor of bank robbery, though "of course" the actual text is just a joke. It was a joke and that's all.

Perhaps Andrew Sullivan would like John Derbyshire to spend his time exclusively on campaigning to ban Green Acres from Nickolodeon's lineup in future. No doubt he'd be happy to have one less opponent on the other side (or perhaps he'd like all of us on the Nickolodeon project) but you don't get to arrange other people's lives that way.

Who Conned Who Inside Iraq?

Posted by TMLutas

The current popular idea is that the WMD scientists and generals conned Saddam, pocketing the money he budgeted for WMD because it was either too hard, they were too scared that their failure to hit the schedule would result in a date with Saddam's torturers that they lied, on a massive scale.

This would be a lot more credible if there were evidence that Saddam was deceived in other ways. How much evidence was there of fake rape rooms, fake torture, people released when they were supposed to be killed, etc. There doesn't seem to be a lot of that showing up in news stories. That could be that the news media simply hasn't been asking these questions but it also could be that this sort of deception didn't much go on in Iraq. So why deceive Saddam just on WMD? What made WMD so uniquely dangerous that so many refused to obey the tyrant?

It's a mystery that should be solved.

What Does the New Immigration Initiative Do?

Posted by TMLutas

There is a very silly idea going around that the immigration initiative is going to increase immigration and therefore is bad. This completely misunderstands basic economics and the President's goals.

Donald Sensing links to a prime example of this foolish sort of analysis by Bill O'Reilly. What the "poor of the world" face is a situation with three choices. They can stay home (with very low wages, possibly subsistence agriculture), they can go legally to the US, and they can go illegally to the US. Staying home is a recipe for continued poverty for the next generation so that's out for a lot of the world's poor. The present situation makes going illegally more attractive than going legally because the $30-$40k that they pay to get across the border with snakeheads or coyotes is more than made up in the 10-12 years it would take many of them to get a green card or a legitimate labor visa. But under the new Bush plan what happens, the home situation stays the same so the impulse to immigrate is exactly the same, the cost of the snakeheads and coyotes does not drop (in fact it probably will rise), so the market for their services is not enlarged, what changes is the substitute good of legal immigration. Cousin Manuel or Grigori can land you a job? You're in with minimal fuss and full US protections. In fact, the market for these illegal transport services drops greatly because anybody who can get a job for a lower search cost than the illegal transport fees (plus false papers, plus the cost of dodging the police) will take the legal route. That will leave a much more manageable people smuggling problem, terrorists, white slavers, and border crossing by other criminals who wouldn't be admitted.

For the employers, you have the same sort of recalculation going on. The availability of legals shoots up so the incentive to hire an illegal drops. The end result is more immigration, sure, but it's more immigration that goes through border checks. And that's where the part about misunderstanding the President's goals comes in. He's not trying to limit immigration as an economic measure to raise US wages. He's trying to eliminate the snakeheads and coyotes who are eventually going to be bribed into bringing in Al Queda or other terrorists along with a radiological, chemical, biological, or nuclear bomb.

The argument that lowering the price of legal immigration will promote illegal immigration is as foolish as predicting the repeal of alcohol prohibition will increase illegal distillation. It's just economically wrongheaded. Donald Sensing says that he doesn't often agree with Bill O'Reilly but this time he's making an exception. He should have stuck to his normal rule.

January 10, 2004

Emergency Cell Phone Services

Posted by TMLutas

It looks like neither I, nor Steven Den Beste were good predictors of the future when we discussed cell phones a few months back. NTT DoCoMo has inaugurated emergency i-Mode services for people caught up in disaster areas to be able to post messages regarding their personal situation and safety. The boards will be put up immediately in case of disaster and taken down after the disaster has passed and should work despite the inevitable network congestion that clogs cell networks in a disaster. Finally, a killer app for phone texting in the US.

Debka Bias

Posted by TMLutas

A classic from Debka today and why it's so hard to take what they say uncritically. I'll buy that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan laid out the case that Turkey is giving up support for Northern Cyprus and, oh, btw: we should sign a treaty that would only make sense if Syria gives up historical claims it has to a province in Turkey. That's the kind of inside information that makes Debka a valuable source. If such a move did happen it would not only impact the EU by easing tensions with Turkey over Cyprus but it would also put Turkey back on the table as a possible EU entrant itself, which changes the entire dynamic of the Balkans as well as the EU.

But Debka isn't satisfied with a nice little scoop that is peripheral to their major hobby horse, Israel, they have to stretch and reach to make the square peg fit into the round hole of Syria/Israel Golan Heights negotiations. Sad.

Debka proves once again that it's too connected to ignore and too partisan to believe. It's a constant annoyance.

Will Open Borders Lead to Smaller Government?

Posted by TMLutas

An exchange over at The Corner has got me thinking. Up to now relevant posts are here, here, here, and here. The theme is this, Texas, with its low welfare levels, draws immigrants that are largely there to work and are assimilation minded, while high welfare, multicultural ideology oriented California gets a disproportionate share of welfare seekers and irredentists Aztlan types. People from California are thus freaking out at the prospect of more immigration while Texans are wondering what the fuss is all about.

It seems to me that the Bush proposal will encourage Texas style immigration which, if you're going to have temporary worker immigration, is the type to have. It also seems to put pressure on state and local social programs to adopt more of a conservative approach to benefits. If you're offering generous benefits to all comers, a wave of temporary workers is much more likely to swamp services than if you actually check for green cards or legal residency before you open up the public purse for more than emergency care.

The Bush plan will thus tend to have a bigger impact on social spending in liberal states than conservative ones. I wonder if that's just an accident? B-)

Ignoring Socialism's Failure

Posted by TMLutas

Flitters is currently having a debate over the necessity of reforming Canada's healthcare system to inject more private enterprise into the system. Ikram Saeed posted an interesting link which I respond to below. The article is an apologia excusing Canada's medical system from its faults and trying to explain away some of the complaints about it.

What the good doctor doesn't seem to understand is that these complaints are endemic to socialist systems and that he's reinventing the wheel, bringing out arguments that have been long debunked in other circumstances many times in the past. But, of course, the socialist conceit is always that this time it will be different. In the humanities, as Steven Den Beste recently pointed out this is a lot easier than in the sciences.

A couple of things to remember. Socialist systems lose their innovators, their go getters, and their ambitious and retain and gain time servers, comfortable folks who tend to work only as much as necessary. Any concept of a vocation (in this case healing vocation) gets watered down and largely disappears over a few generations.

Socialist systems also tend to underinvest in seed corn. If full operational funding is $8B and fully reinvesting to replace depreciation and keep up with new innovation raises the figure to $10B, socialist systems will usually invest somewhere between the two, say $9B. In a financial squeeze (as apparantly Canada has suffered), you might get temporary drops down below $8B. Of course doctors and other personnel complain so "full funding" of $9B is restored. Complaints only partially die down because, unnoticed by the general public and the politicians, a slow downward spiral has set in and equipment is older, breaks more often, isn't as good as the current state of the art, etc. The scene is set for an ever growing, nastier fight between ham handed, uncaring regulators and greedy doctors.

There is a long period of time before these trends show up and the unsustainability of the system is demonstrated where it is possible to show accounting savings with no loss of care and kick the can down the road so the next generation has to pay for it. That's how I read this doctor's analysis. He's making excuses and kicking the can down the road. Minimize and hand wave (18% is really 10% you know) really does work, especially with people who are unaware that this sort of system has been tried many times before to universal long-term failure, the only exceptions being when it was also a universal short-term failure.

January 09, 2004

Libertarian Clueless

Posted by TMLutas

Over at Reason's Hit and Run an article or more accurately, the comments makes me despair of the current state of the movement. By the time I read it, there were 71 comments. Most of the time was spent assessing a Mars colony when a moon colony is on the likely Bush agenda. In other words, instead of dealing with the reality of what's being proposed, they preferred to retreat into an irrelevant fantasy that has little utility. What a waste of time. Below is my crochety contribution:

What a crock! Mars isn't up for colonization, the moon is. The reason is simple, you can make money on the moon.

Without an atmosphere to shield the cells, you can ship up a starter solar cell plant plus enough machinery to expand on the original plant. It's close enough that most things could be done remotely from earth without a great deal of local human presence (though you'll need some, especially at the beginning). Beam the produced power to relay satellites and beam down to the surface to a remote location. Crack water and pipeline the hydrogen to where you need energy.

Why do you do all this? Because the DoD has come up with the bright idea that poor people that don't have a stake in the global system are dangerous to the security interests of the United States. To get them integrated into the global system is going to require energy supplies that will dwarf what is even theoretically available on earth. The War on Terror requires the Bush democracy and freedom crusade and for that to work, the hydrogen age and moon colony have to pan out.

70+ messages, no clue. Sheesh

I Guess Jobs Meant It After All

Posted by TMLutas

Shortly after arriving back at Apple, Steve Jobs, cancelled the disastrously expensive licensing scheme for Macintoshes. Overnight, customers of UMax, Power Computing, etc. were left high and dry. Commentators were absolutely sure that Jobs was pulling Apple back permanently into niche producer status where systems would only ever be produced by Apple and the marketshare enhancing idea of licensing your technology was dead.

Not so, replied Jobs. He claimed at the time, and has maintained his position that if somebody came up with a reasonable deal, he would license Apple technology. Nobody believed him. They probably should have.

Carly Fiorina just came up with a reasonable deal.

HP is getting into the iPod business and will be putting iTunes, along with its music store on all its Windows desktop and laptop PCs. What's not mentioned much is that the Quicktime multimedia framework is also coming along for the ride. This creates a huge win for Apple and its technology suites. At the same time it is a very big win for HP. They instantly become a seller of the market leading portable digital music player in the world. Their distribution chain will ensure that they will be able to push huge numbers of units, likely more than Apple itself could manage to either produce or distribute. And in a year where every computer maker is trying to catch up to Apple, now they're chasing both Apple and HP, a much more difficult task as the gibes about Apple's 'think different' culture don't work against HP and any criticism of HP's image will likely not work against Apple.

The biggest missed story in all this is that Macintosh clone dreamers now have living proof that Steve Jobs will do a licensing deal after years of imagining that such things would have to wait for his corporate departure. Fire up the business plans and financial spreadsheets people, the dream's back from the dead.

To The Moon!

Posted by TMLutas

Professor Bainbridge has noted that President Bush will shortly announce a major new space initiative including a permanent settlement on the moon and taking the space shuttle and ISS out behind the barn and shooting them.

Prof. Bainbridge seems to be taking space developments in isolation. They aren't. I've written before that President Bush's larger national security strategy has huge economic implications. The idea that the non-integrating gap nations are the premier national security threat facing the United States and that the gap should be shrunk and eventually eliminated implies a huge increase in the demand for capital and resources, especially energy.

Energy, unfortunately, is in relatively short supply. To create a globalized world we need vastly more energy available to supply these new economies, so much energy, in fact, that if you took off all the environmental constraints, all the limits on growth, and pour out as much effort as you could to provide energy using all available terrestrial sources, you still wouldn't have enough to meet the needs of the Pentagon's new map. We're talking about ~20 terrawatts, a vast energy stream that is just not possible even if we strip mine the planet of every available coal seam, run breeder reactors all over the world, and pump oil like there's no tomorrow.

In such a limited resource world, it makes sense and fits the national security focus of this administration to create a permanent presence on the moon for energy production and manufacturing (mostly for the energy production complex and any other space needs). Space is a vital component for practically getting us to a place of general safety where the entire world is interconnected and everybody has a stake in the health and success of other nations.

This is the great challenge of our generation and the space program, perhaps for the first time, will not just be about national pride and technical prowess but will materially contribute to the general welfare of the people by design instead of accidental spinoff.

An Unamerican Secret Service?

Posted by TMLutas

Donald Sensing and Bill Hobbs are debating Secret Service established "free speech zones". Unfortunately, both seem to be somewhat taken in by a bit of SS sleight of hand so the debate is a bit unreal. Donald Sensing is taking the protesters' side here and here. Bill Hobbs' side of the argument is here. Now for the sleight of hand that both of them are missing.

The First amendment grants recognition to several rights. Congress may make no law respecting these rights, and without a law, the Secret Service, as part of the executive, has no right to do anything regarding these activities either. Two of these rights are apparently at stake in the debate over free speech zones, free speech and the right to petition the government.

The Secret Service, by making a time, manner, and place restriction, is not violating the free speech rights of anybody. You can't exercise your free speech by protesting in a blockade, for instance. The police (executive branch of government) have the right to let people go about their business. And the SS would really like you to concentrate on that aspect of the 1st amendment.

But if the government agent that you want to address cannot be addressed because you are kept away from him, you are being kept from petitioning him. Your petition may be ignored, but it cannot go unheard, even if it's "crawl under a rock and die" or "resign!" When you have a grievance, you have a special right to petition the government for redress that goes beyond normal first amendment free speech rights. As long as you are peaceful, you cannot be restricted. Maintaining the peace is the only thing that the executive may do.

By talking exclusively about free speech rights, the Secret Service is adopting a false 'frame'. This is an effective psychological tactic of putting the debating terms on friendly ground to your side. But once the frame is exposed, the trick no longer works. What's the point of including the petitioning clause if your petition, no matter how rude or improbable the chance it will be granted will never be heard because government agents discriminatorily keep you away from the President, to whom you wish to address your petition? The petition right must give you additional freedom beyond free speech.

The grievance ridden protesting Left has many faults but they deserve their right to petition for redress as well as free speech. The Secret Service violates the Constitution when they prevent those petitions from being heard.

January 08, 2004

SCO Lawsuit Death Clock

Posted by TMLutas

We're getting close to the deadline set by a judge for SCO to either put up actual code that is being infringed or shut up and withdraw their case. A little background: SCO bought UNIX System V (how much and exactly what parts are under dispute) from Novell. Subsequent to this, they have launched a lawsuit against IBM and threatened innumerable Linux users with lawsuits and tried to scare the entire computer world into turning away from Linux based on accusations that there are huge portions of the code that was stolen from SCO's acquired IP.

It's an awful mess and a great many people have suspected that there was no actual infringement as SCO resolutely refused to say exactly what code was copied. Finally, in early December the judge had enough and gave SCO 30 days to spell out exactly what was infringing. According to the article (linked above) reporting this story, the ruling was issued on Friday, December 5th. Assuming that weekends don't count and neither do Federal holidays, that would put the 21st as the day of reckoning.

The lawsuit, if proven, would kill AIX, IBM's popular business implementation of UNIX and would be a dramatic step backwards for both Linux, the project, and open source/free software. The entire process of contributing code would become much more cumbersome as trust evaporated from the system.

Since both IBM and all the Linux big wheels are acting supremely confident, the variant that SCO's accusations are groundless kills off SCO UNIX and SCO as a business entity. There would be a good chance of stock manipulation and fraud charges as well.

It's a high stakes game people, don't forget the popcorn.

Why Pay for the Useless?

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste's long (even for him) post on philosophical idealism (p-idealism) stirs up a few simple, practical questions. Why would you pay for this intellectually inbred, vicious, destructive academic dead end of deconstructionism, anti-capitalist claptrap, and inbred academic obscurantism? Why would you send your child to an institution where such things are taught? Why would you devote any significant portion of time to outreach? As one of the source documents for SDB's post put it

Engineering and the sciences have, to a greater degree, been spared this isolation and genetic drift because of crass commercial necessity. The constraints of the physical world and the actual needs and wants of the actual population have provided a grounding that is difficult to dodge. However, in academia the pressures for isolation are enormous. It is clear to me that the humanities are not going to emerge from the jungle on their own. I think that the task of outreach is left to those of us who retain some connection, however tenuous, to what we laughingly call reality. We have to go into the jungle after them and rescue what we can. Just remember to hang on to your sense of humor and don't let them intimidate you.

But why wouldn't you just declare it equivalent to phrenology and put it away as not being worthy of academic inquiry? After all the dogged nonsense, the wrongheadedness, the vitriol and support for poisonous ideas, when do the board of trustees finally bring themselves to pull the plug and save the larger institution by redirecting funding to something worthwhile?

I don't have an answer to the question and I'm fairly certain that they will vary widely but isn't it time to seriously start debating pulling the plug and how it would be done?

[minor edits in the first paragraph just after posting to make a bit more explicit what I was referring to]

Culture Creates Business Advantage

Posted by TMLutas

I'll never forget a Forbes article (can't find a link right now) a few years back extolling the comparative advantage that the US has because most houses have a garage. The idea went that a garage is a perfect place to start a small business, to have a first office that is rent free and thus lowering the barrier to fulfilling entrepreneurial dreams. They had a nice photo spread of the garages that were a whole slew of famous companies' first office locations. In this case, physical space created lasting comparative advantage. All else being equal, the US will always have an advantage over a more crowded nation without a car culture (and attendant garages) because of this cheap office space.

I was reminded of this as I read an article on Japanese use of mobile internet applications for business.

It is ironic that there are probably many more mobile Internet business users in Japan than in the United States or Europe in spite of the fact that U.S. and European service providers initially placed much more emphasis on business users than Japanese service providers (e.g., see J.P. Morgan, 2000).

The reason for this unexpected turn of events is that screen savers and ring tones -- and the micro-payment services that support these contents -- created a critical mass of users in Japan, which in turn has driven innovation in the market.

Screen saver and ring tone popularity, which are a very frivolous manifestation of the general japanese love for gadgets, created a serious business advantage that will help keep Japan Inc. one step ahead. Or maybe I shouldn't use the Industrial Policy (IP) laden term, Japan, Inc. After all, mobile internet usage for business was something that emerged despite a lot of encouragement from the big boys, not as any manifestation of the classic Japanese IP approach.

There's lots of other good information in the article on exactly how and what mobile internet usage is emerging in Japan, RTWT for a rundown. The juxtaposition of the Forbes article and this one leads me in a different direction. Comparative advantage is often unplanned, spontaneously emerging, and will likely always retain the capability to upset the existing economic order. I mean ringtones! Who would have thought it? It's as ridiculous as... garages.

Power to the Shareholders II

Posted by TMLutas

Though I doubt he was writing to answer me, Professor Bainbridge has sounded a negative note to shareholder involvement in corporate governance. It is expensive and inefficient and will break up the delicate balance that makes a board successful.

The easiest points to debunk are expense and inefficiency. The very reason that shareholder votes are difficult and expensive is that there is no management interest in making them efficient and inexpensive. When your good on offer is management and the substitute good that can compete with you is shareholder management, an entry barrier of complexity and cost to that substitute good is in your interest as a manager. Why would you ever voluntarily lower the barrier?

The delicate balance argument is a bit tougher to dispose of. I am very leery of the idea that corporate board members are tough negotiators for the company who are sharp, savvy, and able to compete with the company's rivals but are such hothouse flowers that they are unable to find common ground with people elected to the board who are not necessarily in the same social club as they are. It doesn't ring true to my ear but I don't have data to back that up.

The idea that the management will keep the board in the dark if they don't like everybody on the board has a two word retort, "you're fired". Management's job description does not include becoming a rogue operation that does not provide the Board of Directors adequate information to optimally do the job a Board is supposed to do. If management wants to play such games, they shouldn't be in positions of such responsibility at the firm. In fact, it means they shouldn't be at the firm unless they grow up and do the job they were actually hired to do which includes properly informing the Board of Directors.

The main merit in Prof. Bainbridge's article is that it is a complaint about the SEC imposing a shareholder right's rule as a bureaucratic fiat. Here, I am with the good professor. Ideas, even good ideas that I fully approve of, suffer mightily from the homogenization and deadening hand of government enforcement with detailed regulations and nit-picking enforcement provisions.

Such innovations are best done by shareholder initiative and adjustment, customization, and experimentation inside individual firms, mutual funds, and exchanges. Best practices will be developed and what sounds like a good, or terrible untried idea will gather actual evidence of efficiency and effectiveness, track records which will permit a process of continuing innovation and improvement.

January 07, 2004

Third Rail Politics

Posted by TMLutas

Robert Samuelson has a fairly clear article on the problems facing us regarding entitlement spending. It's high, looking to go higher, and will likely break the financial backs of the next generation.

It's also a textbook case of bias by omission, though. What he misses mentioning is that Democrats have a long and ignominious record of burying those who would haver solved this problem early. These are the people who created the programs and created the dishonest politics that defended them, turning them into the "third rail of American politics". That third rail swallowed up many a courageous and honest political career. So here we are just a few short years away from the crisis and the people responsible for halting reform are still getting away with it. Another round should be on display in the next two years as President Bush puts Social Security reform on the front burner.

HT: RealClear Politics

Getting Out of Bankruptcy on the Backs of Temporary Workers

Posted by TMLutas

The US has just found a solution to its looming entitlement crisis. The problem is simple, the promises made to the aged are scheduled to bankrupt this nation. The solutions are generally unpleasant. Raise the retirement age, cut benefits, and raise taxes are the dreary conventional solutions.

The free market right has proposed a fourth alternative of privatizing (partially or wholly) Social Security and Medicare through the use of private accounts. This shifts the programs to an actuarially sustainable model and takes the politics out of much of the problem. The major problem with this (other than Democrat intransigence over the idea with monkeying with their baby) is the transition costs. Transferring from the unsustainable current models to something sustainable is likely to cost a trillion and, until now, nobody has come up with a practical funding source that wouldn't wreck the legislation.

President Bush just came up with one. More precisely, he came up with at least 8 million.

The speech should be coming up today but here is a background briefing explaining some of the details. The key to the retirement situation will be in the various bilateral totalization agreements that have been and will be negotiated. It's quite likely that a good amount of financial slack will be generated due to tax payments that would not otherwise have been made and that many temporary workers will be entering into the system and paying taxes than would have otherwise made it across the border via coyote or snakehead.

Over at the anti-immigration National Review, Mark Krikorian has a useful, but not the way he intended it article on the subject. Krikorian misses when he claims that there is no economic need for temporary workers but he is dead on that it will shift labor trends away from automation and innovation and toward just throwing bodies at a problem. Only now that they are tax paying bodies, many of which will never get a green card, citizenship, or cast a US ballot, they provide the perfect population of politically powerless revenue sources to fund those huge transition costs involved in privatizing our pension mess.

In essence, the US is selling a service, the opportunity to work and earn money in a stable political environment under a just rule of law system. We are the world's low cost producer of this service by a significant margin as measured by worldwide labor migration flows. In a sense, we're a natural monopoly in this service. And like any natural monopoly we have the ability to raise prices to just under the cheapest potential substitute good provider of this service. This monopoly profit can, and should be used to get us out of our looming financial crisis over entitlement spending.

Dysfunctional Arab Demographics II

Posted by TMLutas

The debate over strange demographics in parts of the arab world has been partially resolved. It looks likely that the oil rich state habit of importing a lot of foreign workers for their labor needs explains away a lot of the 'heart beat' pattern I alluded to in my earlier article. But nobody yet seems to have come up with a decent explanation for the 'ascending' pattern.

This is a much smaller trend but I wish someone would explain it. Why is it that some arab states are bucking the near universal trend of men dying before women even while women have a perfectly ordinary lifespan difference (women usually live longer and this trend holds). Something unusual is going on in these numbers and it would be useful to understand what.

Wanted: Camo Alert

Posted by TMLutas

I've been thinking about the nature of battlefields. A battlefield isn't declared by a judge, passed by a legislature, and there is no executive order signed by a president declaring one. Yet the 2nd Circuit appeals court seems to be declaring that if you are on one, you can lose your civil rights and be held outside the judicial system of the US. Conversely, if you are not on a battlefield, it does not matter that you otherwise fit the category of a US citizen enemy combatant, you must be charged with a crime and tried in a civilian court.

This is not judicial overreach but rather something in the tradition of Ex Parte Milligan the US Civil War case that freed an Indiana man from hanging based on his antiwar activities. But this doesn't mean that the case was decided rightly (it's being appealed) but rather that the executive has paid insufficient attention to clarifying what is or is not a battlefield and the court has shown that this is a vital issue that must be resolved in order to safeguard our liberties in a war that is mostly 'behind the lines' work.

What I suggest is that there be some process for declaring a battlefield, something that is related to but legally independent of any spies, saboteurs, or infiltrators that are the cause of the declaration. When such battlefields are declared, people should be notified of the designation and should view this as a failure on the part of the government to keep the US safe. Calling a "camo alert", which would change the rules on civil rights is not something that should be done lightly or without cost on the territory of the United States.

Furthermore, a failed declaration of a battlefield would be a serious sign of true incipient tyranny and should be treated with the utmost seriousness. We can't have an executive declaring willy nilly, that war zone rules are imposed on an area just because it would be convenient. Convenience would dictate ever more frequent "battles" and our rights would become a hollow mockery.

Now I'm not a lawyer, and the details would have to be worked out by people more expert in the field but the basics seem simple enough for the average layman to judge and use that judgment in the next election. Flying by the seat of the pants is excusable at the beginning of a war. For a conflict that is projected to last as long as the War on Terror we can't maintain that indefinitely. The DoD and Justice need to get together and work out procedures on this and the Congress needs to consult with the judiciary and get a workable framework passed as legislation.

Newt! Healthcare

Posted by TMLutas

I haven't been following Newt Gingrich for some time now and it looks like I've been missing out. He's gone and founded an interesting organization called the Center for Health Transformation, an organization devoted to simultaneously reduce medical expense while increasing medical quality. They have several projects on various aspects of healthcare.

There's also a Newt authored book entitled Saving Lives & Saving Money that makes the bold claim that not only can healthcare be improved (saving lives) it can simultaneously cost less (saving money). Whatever his faults, Newt Gingrich had and retains a justified reputation as a bold thinker.

Romanian Politics

Posted by TMLutas

Donald Sensing's getting a bum steer on Romanian politics in a larger post on democracy in the UN. He wrongly categorized Romania as a sort of halfway democracy that's really run by the former apparatchiks. I posted the following in comments:

I can't believe I'm saying this but in defense of Romania's apparatchiks they got their tails thrown out of power in 1996 and left peacefully. The major segments of the coalition government that was formed was elected on the basis of something called "The Contract with Romania". They had a program and promised to pass it in 200 days or resign.

They didn't get it passed and didn't resign. In any democracy on earth what do you think would happen? They got slaughtered in the next election (2000). It was "read my lips" times 10.

The only choices left were the hungarian nationalists, the romanian nationalists and the apparatchiks. The public voted for the crooks, not the kooks (shades of the Duke v Edwards gubernatorial election) and the crooks mandate will expire in 2004. Nobody serious thinks that the apparatchiks would undemocratically resist being voted out this time either though it's hard to see who's going to pull it off.

Romania is probably twice as corrupt as NYC or Chicago municipal politics and little bribes and political influence go a long way but undemocratic? That's pushing things a bit far. They deserve full notes.

Frankly, my sympathies are entirely against the neocommunists. I think they're the wrong road for Romania. But they've improved and they're no longer a violence prone faction that could possibly take the country back to dictatorship.

Now they're more like the classic Tammany Hall corrupt political machine. That's not exactly good, but it's certainly an improvement and it is democratic. As time goes on, somebody over there is going to fully absorb the idea that you can get lasting government control by being honest and devolving power and things will become even better. May it come soon.

January 06, 2004

Today's Mac Note

Posted by TMLutas

This is a big day for those who follow the Apple section of the personal computer world. Rendevous (ZeroConf) enabled supercomputer clustering for the masses, new servers, new iPods, new software, the 20th anniversary of the Macintosh is a nice event all around for gadget lovers of all stripes. They even rereleased their famous first commercial, or that's what a bunch of Mac sites are noting.

Funny, I don't remember the original babe wearing an iPod...


Posted by TMLutas

Just a reminder. My blogfather and current blog siamese twin Bruce Rolston shares the comments system. Comments for Flit (his blog) and Flit(tm) (my blog) are done via the same unithreaded system.

If you're not used to unithreading, it requires you to actually refer to message numbers, people's names, and articles in your post so people understand what you're talking about. On the bright side, unithreading means that a lot more people will actually read what you wrote and respond back.

A Continent of Unemployed

Posted by TMLutas

There are 200 million unemployed/underemployed in the PRC. They have little capital and live largely off subsistence agriculture on the farm. But the PRC's internal movement controls cannot keep them poor and hopeless on the farm and in a growing flow they are heading for the cities and looking for jobs.

Where will the PRC ever get the money to employ all these people? David Ignatius forwards an interesting answer. He says they're getting the money from the US in a repeat of the post-war Bretton Woods system. By holding the chinese yuan pegged artificially low, the PRC is amassing a huge dollar hoard and attracting capital for the construction of all those factories and service centers needed to essentially employ an entire continent of unemployed.

As long as the sea of unemployed is sweeping off of the PRC and other East Asian farms into the cities looking for jobs, social stability will take first place over profitability calculations and the US will continue to have a support under its currency in the form of east asian purchasers of its financial instruments.

The difference between the official Bretton Woods agreement and this virtual Bretton Woods II might lie in oriental customs of pride and face. Would PRC pride stomach the public knowledge that their regime depends entirely on the forbearance of the US? Perhaps it would be best not to talk too much about the idea but why else would such a huge commitment across several presidencies be maintained for so long?

Bretton Woods took two decades to bring western Europe back to its feet. The PRC is a larger entity and they have a longer road to travel. It's likely that they will take at least as long to do it.

Reclaiming Sanity

Posted by TMLutas

David Brooks writes about how we're all losing our collective minds in the US. We no longer share the same reality. We live in one party towns and partake of one party media. We lose the capacity to recognize each other's humanity and dehumanize each other as the enemy.

It's a great written example of how the US actually avoids this fate. "Fascism is always descending in America" starts the old joke "but somehow it always lands in Europe". The US is distinctly aware of how much a need there is for common ground, respect for each other, and vigorous, but civilized political debate. When things start tilting too far into extremism, there is a visceral reaction by honest people in all major (and many minor) political poles to tone it down and remember that we're all human beings and derive dignity from that fact. That dignity deserves respect and civility.

I don't think that we'll end up in that hyper segmented, different realities world that David Brooks is talking about, but without such articles, one day we might.

Power to the Shareholders

Posted by TMLutas

For all of corporate history, the idea that shareholders would be able to manage large enterprises has been laughable. The entire point of corporations is to take the day to day management of the enterprise away from people who frankly don't care about the details but merely want a return with people (directors) who are paid to pay very close attention to those details and appoint further management to deal with even smaller levels of detail.

But what happens when the interests of corporate directors and shareholders start to no longer be in sync? The classic response has always been general shareholders meetings where shareholders simply toss the offending official out of the board or pass a shareholder resolution binding the directors to a particular course of action. Thus shareholders are the ultimate power in any corporation but because they don't usually care about much beyond return on investment and they have little time to manage the affairs of the company it generally takes an earthquake in bad management before they get involved.

But with the information revolution, it doesn't have to be that way. With the explosion of stock discussion groups and other forums, it's become clear that a significant number of shareholders are more than willing to express their interests more than in the past and they also have to pay a tiny fraction of the prior cost to bring their proposals to the attention of other shareholders so that they would have a chance of being voted in despite a management recommendation that the measure fail.

But is this a solution in search of a problem? The answer can be found in books such as The Suicidal Corporation which documents the many ways that managers and directors fend off protestors and boycotters by paying them off, funding people who wish to destroy their industry or capitalism itself. Timber companies funding anti-logging activists, businesses of all stripes pay off professional boycotters, it's all very convenient for the managers but the shareholders' long term interests are sacrificed because the bigger picture is outside of managers' performance metrics.

This is an opportunity for a future business that is a blend of technology and advocacy. There are three separate markets. First there are individual companies who have sufficient activist shareholders and/or management teams with enough foresight to see how this will be, in the long term, useful. A second market is mutual funds who would offer their investors access to the underlying stocks the fund holds and vote its shares as the shareholders who want to exercise oversight see fit. The third market for this type of service is on the very commentary boards that inspired the idea.

All three markets would be served well if the voting software were interoperable with the shareholders in the other two markets. This would prevent unclear expressions of shareholder intent.

January 05, 2004

Canadian Identity?

Posted by TMLutas

Tech Central Station has a good review of the Canadian movie Barbarian Invasions. In the movie, an enterprising son determines that his sick father would get better health care in the US but dad won't budge, "I voted for socialized health care, and I'm prepared to suffer the consequences!"

I can't say whether or not this sort of thing is remotely accurate but it's a canadian movie and a canadian reviewer so who am I to argue. What makes up national identity in Canada has had long and involved discussions on Flitters with little conclusion, other than there doesn't seem to be an extensive list that most Canadians would agree on. The whole subject puzzles me. You should know who you are, first of all. And Canada doesn't, or at least it can't seem to explain it to others. Inchoate nationalism is just asking for trouble with your neighbors. Perhaps this movie might help.

Iran Goes Orbital

Posted by TMLutas

Contrary to prior announcements that the Shahab-4 missile program was cancelled, Iran announced today that it would be launching a communications satellite within 18 months using a Shahab-4 booster.

For those not normally in the habit of thinking about space, if you can put a payload into orbit, putting something sub-orbital is easier. The most common use for sub-orbital launchers is as intercontinental ballistic missiles.

HT to Debka.

Hail the Happy Pessimists?

Posted by TMLutas

What do you get when you combine Prof. Bainbridge's accusation that National Review writers are too pessimistic with Rev. Sensings note of a Gallup Survey that Republicans are happier than Democrats?

There are only two possible conclusions, that pessimists are happier or that Democrats are the conservative party. As Ramesh Ponnuru noted in his commentary at The Corner

A certain connection between conservatism and pessimism has, of course, long been rumored; I won't try to dispute his point.


Left Wing Soft Money Budgeting

Posted by TMLutas

In an informative interview via mail on Real Clear Politics, George W. Bush's 2004 campaign manager let loose this bombshell:

RCP: You are on record as saying this is going to be a close election and that the Bush campaign is taking nothing for granted. What's the one state, not including Florida, that President Bush must carry in 2004 to win reelection?

MEHLMAN: We're preparing for an election that could be just as close and hard-fought as 2000, especially when you consider that Democrat soft money groups, funded by the likes of George Soros, will raise and spend anywhere from $450-$500 million expressly to defeat the President.

That's a level of funding and resources that no campaign has ever faced, so we'll need to be organized in every state, every county, and every precinct.

This level of funding, that is outside the campaign finance rules and is likely to be hidden until well after the election, is likely to end up somewhere between $8 and $10 per eventual Democrat voter, an extremely high expenditure rate for a political campaign (many campaigns don't exceed $1 per vote received). And this number doesn't even include the Democrats' official spending via the DNC and the campaign fund of the eventual candidate. This is just the less regulated, soft money side.

I haven't seen any other estimates for Democrat soft money expenditures in the '04 presidential race but if this is anywhere near reality, any 'campaign finance reformers' who stick around with the 'D' label after such a performance are never going to be able to live it down.

The Shores of Tripoli

Posted by TMLutas

Dennis Byrne has a good article in today's Chicago Tribune going over the lessons we should be learning from the Barbary Wars. I've long thought that the Barbary pirates and our successful campaigns against them (immortalized in the marine corps hymn by the phrase "to the shores of Tripoli") were one of the best sources of historical lessons for our war on terrorism. The Barbary pirates were the terrorists of the day and they were eventually defeated. History will not exactly replay itself, but with hard work and effort, it will rhyme quite nicely.

Episcopal Incompetence

Posted by TMLutas

In a larger story on the influence the Internet is having on the schism in the making Episcopal Church, an absolutely astounding quote appears.

"I have drawers full of hate mail. The Internet has enabled the technological equivalent of drive-by shootings," Bishop Ingham told a Canadian magazine, MacLean's. "I've had to learn to deal with a level of malevolence and sheer hatred that I frankly didn't know existed in the church."

For those who aren't members or don't understand the purpose of bishops in apostolic churches, think of them as managers. They have their own division (diocese, eparchy) and manage a team of religious workers (priests, deacons, monsignors, protopops) that can vary in size from a dozen to thousands. They service they provide is facilitating a connection with God. They are the successors of the apostles and are supposed to be know what's going on in their entire territory.

For a bishop to not understand, spiritually, where his flock is, is to confess a great betrayal of his duty as overseer. Put aside the wisdom of the course the bishop has set. He's supposed to know what's going on among his people and not be taken unaware by their reaction. Bishops can set hard courses for their flocks and sometimes the flock will push back and nip a bishop in the behind but that's something that a bishop should be prepared for.

If he truly is surprised, he hasn't prepared his flock because he doesn't really understand their spiritual state. That translates into just being a seat warmer playing at things that are peripheral to his responsibility and ignoring the central goal of maximizing the flock's chance at Heaven.

The original Macleans interview is available here.

Hats Off for Al Franken

Posted by TMLutas

I don't like his politics. From what I can tell, I wouldn't like his personality. But for the first time in many a year, I can say that I respect Al Franken.

USO. Possibly the best showcase for patriotic Hollywood liberals there is.

Hat Tip to The Corner's Kathryn Jean Lopez. Go K-Lo.

Internet Geo Location

Posted by TMLutas

On a somewhat brighter note than "Who Swallows Who?, here is an intriguing article on putting geographic location and direction data encoded into your web source code. The idea is for a stranger to be able to locate the closest pizzerias, fee free ATMs, or any other service need that comes up by checking his mobile Internet access device (which could be a PDA, a laptop computer, or a cell phone).

There don't seem to currently be any relevant RFCs on this but it would certainly be a useful feature for interacting with the real world, not just the digital world.

Andrew Sullivan's Right About Britney

Posted by TMLutas

Andrew Sullivan get's it right when he condemns Britney Spears joke marriage. It's a travesty, a mockery of what should be a very serious commitment. Fortunately, even she figured it out and will be annulling her error right about now when the courts open for business today. Unfortunately Sullivan then goes on to ruin his astute observation by trying to tie it into his wrongheaded quest for gay marriage.

A major reason why secular marriage for homosexuals is such a danger (despite the small number of actual homosexuals) is that social change currently is a one way rachet. If you loosen standards and restrictions and its a mistake, US society doesn't seem to have a practical way to tighten things back up again. The disasters of welfare, easy divorce, and abortion demonstrate the effect. Welfare took decades of mind numbing horrors to finally reform and the reforms are under threat of bureaucratic undermining to this day. Abortion had to get within inches, literally, of infanticide before enough people woke up to the horror to finally stop one particularly grisly procedure. And easy divorce? Nobody is even seriously addressing it in the legislatures anymore.

The one way ratchet on social policy has to be addressed. It protects too many destructive reforms.

January 04, 2004

Marriage Language Foolishness

Posted by TMLutas

Glenn Reynolds wonders if procreation is the only reason for marriage. This is one more sad bit of evidence of how wretched the level of debate is over marriage. You can refer to religious marriage, secular marriage, or marriage in general as the superset of both. But people are absolutely sloppy in their language and use the term marriage for all three.

If you refer to the religious and spiritual roles of marriage, you end up getting first amendment establishment clause lectures shoved down your throat. If you refer to the state role of sustaining society through procreation, you get slammed for being anti-woman, anti-romantic, or anti-spiritual.

The truth is that marriage in western society is generally split in its role. You have the state interest which is pretty sterile but very practical. Then you have your choice of religious meanings you can pad onto it. This is why in many countries you get married twice, once by the state, the other by your church. The major difference in the US religious figures often have the power to grant secular marriage licenses as well so you get two ceremonies going on simultaneously (though you still can do them separately, my wife and I did).

Procreation is also a slippery term. There is biological procreation, for which marriage is hardly necessary, and then there is the complex biological and socialization process that some lump into the same word, procreation. Is biological procreation a state interest? Yes, but so is the much more complex task of taking the fertilized egg all the way up to its majority and entrance into society as a functioning, productive adult a state interest. Is that the only state interest? No, but it certainly is a huge one, and sufficient for a great many of the rules on marriage, including the one limiting it to heterosexuals.

Dysfunctional Arab Demographics

Posted by TMLutas

Originally posted as a comment in response to a badly reasoned article in the usually excellent Master of None. The article's theme was female infant killing in the arab world causing grumpy male arabs who couldn't get wives:

I hate to be the party pooper here but wouldn't infant killing show up in the numbers prior to the 15-64 age group? Death at birth would show up in the infant sex ratios. Death shortly due to monetary calculations would show up in the under 15 numbers.

Look up those numbers and it becomes clear that what's going on, however unusual or wrong, is not primarily infant killing.

I find the data fits the idea that the requirements for adult women in these societies are killing them in unusual numbers. I don't have the data to support this but it might be honor killings, heat prostration from those clothes, or something else entirely like highly underfunded female medical care.

There seem to be three types of sex distributions going on in the muslim world

Example: Iraq
Distribution description: Men start off in greater numbers but decline with each successive age group. This is consistent with most other countries including the vast majority of non-muslim ones.

Heart Beat:
Example: Bahrain
Distribution description: At birth normal, 1.03. Childhood, normal, 1.02. Adult group, abnormal at 1.42. And old age, relatively normal at 1.04

Example: Kuwait
Distribution: Male proportion of the population never drops but keeps rising over time.

It's not likely that these three distributions would arise from the same behavior. The heartbeat distribution might be evidence that reform governments have stamped out female unfriendly cultural practices but the reforms were recent enough that they haven't worked their way through the population.

The rising distribution is the most alarming evidence of female unfriendly social/political policies but infant killing doesn't seem to predominate even there as, again, the big jump is from the under 15 to the 15-64 group everywhere while predominant infant killing would show up in a high at birth number and a high jump in the under 15 number. I didn't see that pattern anywhere.

There's a lot not to like about a sex ratio number of 1.37 men to women but promoting an inflammatory idea like female infant killing when it's not supported by the data doesn't do anybody any service. It just makes the arabs close ranks as they are unjustly accused of something monstrous and give them an excuse to silence their own reformers who want to fix the problem, whatever it actually is.

Electronic Prescriptions

Posted by TMLutas

I have been a bit busy to continue my reading of the new medicare act at the pace I would have liked. One thing that popped up at me was the section on electronic prescriptions.

This is a tremendous cost saving measure for physicians on several fronts. First, physicians gain the ability to simply enter the prescription once and the data will be able to automatically go to:

  1. The patient file

  2. The insurance company if there is a need for pre-clearance

  3. The pharmacy

  4. The practice accounting software

The last is probably the most significant from a cost containment point of view. If you can, with zero additional human input, calculate and create a report on how much it costs to do an action by health insurance carrier, you can measure and find out where you are enduring the greatest costs, both by patients and by insurance carriers. Instead of vague claims that can be disputed by effective lobbying associations that "the insurance industry" is slow paying and purposefully throwing bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of effective treatment care as cost containment for them, individual doctors will be able to measure exactly who are their "problem children" in terms of insurance carriers and take quick and effective action to solve the problem.

Patients can be "problem children" too. The current practice is simply to drop them when they get too bad but if the cost of keeping track of who they are is reduced to almost zero, it would make sense to have something of an education alternative for them to be taught exactly what they're doing wrong and seeing if they'll shape up.

This has nothing to do with the severity of the illness a patient has. It is much more about routinely calling at two in the morning and asking for an antibiotic prescription over the phone (as a freebie) for an illness that could have been properly treated during business hours (which would have cost out of pocket the copay for an office visit). Doctors know who's taking them for a ride and when that cost exceeds the cost of dropping a patient, the patient's got to find a new doctor, a pretty expensive proposition all around. The more information is entered electronically, the easier it will be to create alternatives that improve patient behavior short of dropping them.

Variables and Constants II

Posted by TMLutas

The recent fisking Steven Den Beste gives Fawaz A. Gerges is probably deserved. Gerges' proposals for internationalization of the occupation and an international tribunal for Iraq are probably cut from the same cloth as most of the other proposals out there to do the same thing, a form of ankle biting that drags the occupation and the tribunal to standard international level. SDB is correct in saying that's simply not good enough.

The problem is that when there are two possible parties that could change it is counterproductive to a priori assume that only one of them is to change. The unexamined variables are the international rehabilitation of the death penalty for Saddam's trial, reform of the ICC so that it is a supporting, not supplanting institution, and the creation of a multipolar world where the other great powers grow up and try to match the US by increasing their own capabilities, not mau mauing and ankle biting to take the US down to their level.

By treating the idea that the ICC, the 1st world elite attitude to the death penalty, and the international political strategy of France are constants and not variables, SDB concedes half the field of play to his intellectual opposition without a shot.

Take the death penalty, for instance. The Catholic argument against the death penalty is that a murderer held in a modern prison is no threat to society so society has an obligation to not take away the possibility of repentance and renewal for even the most sadistic murderer. He might change and somehow contribute to society, even from a life behind bars (don't laugh, prison lawyers, artists, and authors have done so in the past so it's not an argument without merit). But Saddam's very existence will always be a psychic wound to his victims and a rallying cause for his hard core followers. It is likely that Saddam would die of old age long before the last of his violent minions. When a man's existence on the planet creates the reality and conditions of violence, it no longer is just a question of an expensive campaign to save one soul. The shepherd may go after the lost sheep, but not exactly at the very moment when a wolf is ravaging the main flock, wolf first, lost sheep after.

The ICC, as a clerking, research, investigational, and education support group is not nearly as objectionable as a judicial body that steps in and supplants local justice. In fact, it might not be a bad idea both from the perspective of rebuilding national institutions and for a healthy dose of humility for the international elite. In fact, that's probably the kind of role that the US will be playing in Saddam's trial. I don't see any problems with passing the hat and internationally funding a french clerk going through Iraqi law alongside an american and iraqi clerk.

Finally, on internationalization of reconstruction, there is no reason to be unhappy with the idea if the combat capabilities of the new security forces, fairness to the various internal Iraqi factions, and leadership courage that would stay the course in the face of constant, low level casualties were there at an equivalent level to the United States. Our burden would be lowered as it is shared. If we faltered by electing a foolish president who reinstated cut and run as national policy, there would be enough others to take up our burden until we regained our political footing.

All three of these solutions are theoretically what Gerges advocated (though they are probably not) and it reframes the argument quite well when these alternatives are not preemptively taken off the table. It places a direct spotlight on ICC arrogance, EU elite cruelty masquerading as humanitarianism, and Axis of Weasels international infantilism.

Steven Den Beste let Gerges off easy by agreeing to only play on his half of the field. Take variables as variables, not constants and all of a sudden the other side gets a lot weaker.

January 03, 2004

More Indirect Iraq Positives?

Posted by TMLutas

Mark Steyn, among other year end reviews, notes:

With hindsight, the sudden retirement of Libyan-trained Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and the Colonel’s decision to turn off the spigot to Robert Mugabe despite the latter’s formal State Grovel to Tripoli also seem curiously timely. It may be that the Iraq war has done more to free Zimbabwe of its thug ruler than all the Commonwealth resolutions put together. Imagine that!

This is the first time that I've seen these events spun as a consequence of the invasion of Iraq. Is it true or not? We'll find out for sure when the relevant documents get declassified in half a century but it's certainly a plausible explanation.

Tariff Markets

Posted by TMLutas

The WTO agricultural peace clause has ended. We're in that Wile 'E' Coyote classic moment when he's run off the cliff and is feeling around with his foot, realizing that there's no ground under him. He hasn't fallen yet, and he hasn't looked down so isn't yet sure that there is a painful fall ahead but he suspects.

The non-subsidizing food exporters that make up the Cairns group in the WTO have no doubt been waiting for this date. In a way, the 1/1/2004 expiration of the special rules on agriculture guaranteed failure at the recent Cancun meeting. After all, why negotiate from a position of weakness when your hand will be immeasurably strengthened in a few short weeks.

Now that normal rules on subsidies and quotas apply, there is little doubt that countries will give negotiations one last chance and then file their WTO complaints for adjudication. At that point the clock starts running. Exactly as on the steel tariffs, the WTO will rule in the complainants' favor and uphold the judgment on appeal. The one difference is that the Cairns group trading levels might not be enough of an incentive to swallow the domestic pain of cutting agricultural subsidies.

The free market solution to this uncomfortable fact might be to create a trading market in tariff rights. It would certainly be a novel market idea. It would also empower smaller countries and poorer countries that, in a barrier free world, would export much more than they import. The idea is somewhat counterintuitive as tariffs are considered counterproductive, "cutting off your nose to spite your face". Then again, pollution is counterproductive too, yet we have a market in trading pollution credits. Perhaps trading tariff credits, creating a liquid market for them, would transform the thin reed that a Honduras or Ghana has to whip the big boys into shape into a collective 2x4 that will truly get their attention.

Welcome Aboard George

Posted by TMLutas

I won't claim that George Will reads my stuff but he seems to be onboard my 12/10/2003 note:

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.

Will writes as if the great reforms needed to rescue GWB's presidency from Nixonian economic status are inevitable (in this he's a bit more optimistic than me) but he correctly outlines 2005 as the crucial year, not just for reforming medicare, but the huge problem of Social Security. We've been demographically in trouble since the 1960s but until recently, only the demographers really cared. Now we're starting to get into territory where mere laymen can start seeing the tsunami of unsustainable expenditures that is coming.

Four years from now it will start to hit. What happens in 2005 will likely ensure the difference between threatening our way of life and entirely swamping it.

January 02, 2004

A Change in Perspective

Posted by TMLutas

It's equally true to say that a spreadsheet program is a specialized form of a database management system (DBMS) and a DBMS is a monstrously upsized spreadsheet program. But a lot of people think that there is a great deal of conceptual difference between the two. Current implementations don't try to bridge the gap very much but it doesn't have to be that way.

One of my older clients came to me with a problem that brought this to light today (He's a consultant too but he uses me as a technical backstop on occasion). He was getting multiple data sets from various sources. Singly, they would fit in Microsoft Excel but all rolled in together it would be an uncomfortably large dataset and ungainly spreadsheet that would need to be manipulated by too many people simultaneously.

His problem was that he was much more comfortable in a spreadsheet mindset than in a database mindset, even though he knew that a database was a better solution for his client. After a phone call, it was all straightened out and he's off to implement a workable solution (he'd already had it 7/8ths of the way even without me).

What occurred to me was that one of two things would have eliminated the need for the phone call. If Excel had a better data store, it could scale up and have handled this problem. Likewise, if Oracle, MySQL, or even MS SQL had a front end that acted like Excel, that would work too.

The number of application programmers who would benefit from either tool is quite large. There are a lot of people who live in their little corner of the programming world. The problem is that Microsoft, the dominant spreadsheet vendor that could most easily solve this problem is also the least likely company to engineer such a solution because it would cannibalize sales for Excel, Access, or MS-SQL, perhaps even a little bit of all three. There's no commercial imperative to do it.

Nobody else seems to have thought of entering that niche.


Competing Visions: Al Queda

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste, Wretchard, Dan Darling, Brian Ulrich and Michael Scott Doran have created something of a grand debate without ever intending to.

All these writers have touched (in varying amounts and not necessarily as their main point) on the question of Al Queda and how they are doing. From different viewpoints the come at the problem of whether Al Queda has had successes and whether those successes will be sufficient to keep their regeneration rate above their attrition rate.

Steven Den Beste's essay, though I read it nearly last, speaks to the question most directly. His article, mainly on counter-intelligence, makes the assertion that Al Queda is has not been doing so well on the victory front:

They're trying to recruit people and trying to rebuild their organization and trying to maintain the flow of money, and all of those things will be increasingly difficult as they become viewed more and more as has-been losers who managed to get one lucky punch in above their weight.

But is it true that Al Queda only got "one lucky punch" or is this a form of begging the question? When I read the line it struck me that money and recruits flow from people who probably have a very different world view than most westerners. What is important to them? What would motivate them to sign on to Al Queda or send a check?

It's in that frame of mind that I recalled the Foreign Affairs article by Michael Scott Doran and the commentary on that article. They all seemed to agree that the radicals in Saudi Arabia had been strengthened by the bombings, and that Al Queda had links to these radical forces inside Saudi Arabia, even that the entire phenomenon of Al Queda was born of Saudi Arabia exporting their civil war.

The idea that the Saudi Arabia bombings were important is bolstered by Dan Darling's observation that the bombings were centrally organized and managed from high up in Al Queda's organization:

Both Riyadh bombings were personally ordered by Saif al-Adel, al-Qaeda's top military commander, who is reputed to be based out of Iran with his local cadre of flunkies. Now, al-Qaeda is, as our experts keep telling us, a fairly decentralized network and even more so following the loss of Afghanistan for reasons of operational security. With the exception of major operations like Bali or the Poshipnikov Zavod Dubrovka theater seige, most of the time the in-country network leadership is charged with the plotting of a single attack. At the time, I had assumed that al-Qaeda might have been planning to launch a coup in Saudi Arabia and replace the Clown Prince in favor of a more pliable royal like Nayef or Turki. But if this story is accurate, it means that al-Qaeda already has a pliable government (or half the government, anyway) in place in the Magic Kingdom and that both Riyadh bombings were conducted with the idea of protecting their investment in mind.

Wretchard's thought that the "status of Saudi Arabia is the fundamental issue in the War on Terror" is right on the money. If Al Queda loses in Afghanistan, that's peripheral to the muslim world. Even Iraq is not the main arena. Saudi Arabia is, and Saudi Arabia seems to be where Al Queda is doing its best and we are able to influence things the least.

In the end I can't go along with Steven Den Beste's optimistic construction of "one lucky punch" but I think that he's likely right that Al Queda's defeats are outweighing its victories, just not by as steep a margin as he makes out.

Al Queda is not a conventional foe and their victories are not necessarily going to be obvious. It could be that Prince Nayef is one of their own and Al Queda's big game is to install Nayef over Abdullah when King Fahd dies, all else being misdirection. Under the triple protection of Mecca, Medina, and Saudi Arabia's oil wells, Al Queda would be very hard to root out and they would have a formidable 'base' for further operations to restore the Caliphate and launch a call for Jihad that could no longer be ignored.

Who Swallows Who?

Posted by TMLutas

Gerrit Visser posts an intriguing article speculating that the Net is set to swallow the telephone system and pointing to a BBC article that is even more revolutionary, if a little less clueful.

Grid computing and enum, and NAPTR, are three revolutions that are likely to spill over into the collective consciousness, each of which are likely to be at least as disruptive as e-mail and e-commerce have been.

Grid computing is timesharing on a vast scale. Currently, we're usually using our computers at only a fraction of their potential. With grid computing, you have the ability to take computing power you didn't even know you had and meld it into a virtual machine that handles tasks quickly, cheaply, and virtually eliminates the wasteful NOP.

Enum is the suite of protocols to marry the classic telephone system to the Internet. It slightly overlaps NAPTR which is an even more ambitious project to marry all addressing systems to the internet so that even the most dedicated luddite might be reached through the net via a NAPTR record containing the appropriate instructions. Meals on Wheels, for example, could add message services along with their meal delivery with a creative use of NAPTR records.

This is a socio-legal nightmare waiting to burst upon us. Radio, TV, books, telephones, they all have different legal frameworks that attend them. By creating this one service, NAPTR creates the temptation for regulators of all these forms in every country (and the rules do tend to vary from country to country) to try to extend their familiar legal framework to this "new version" of their particular field. Book censors in Myanmar will want to have the net conform to their rules, and thus affect radio programming in Canada. by making the net touch everything, the net gains the potential to be a transmission belt of regulative restrictions.

On the other hand, the net has the equal potential to become the regulatory solvent for all these other fields. It really does depend on who is more skillful and aware of the potential for change and is best prepared for the huge cat fight that will burst upon us in the next 10 years.

January 01, 2004

Outsourcing Trends

Posted by TMLutas

A very interesting article on the subject of outsourcing programming jobs (thanks, Slashdot) leads to the happy conclusion that the talent pool in the hot outsourcing spots is fairly shallow and all that demand going over there is driving up labor costs quickly.

Six months ago, I could find high-level programmers in India willing work for $15 an hour, vs. the $100-plus an hour I was paying Americans for the same work. In only six months, that rate has climbed to $25 an hour in India, while my domestic rates have dropped to around $35-$50. On the last project I bid out, two proposals from India came in higher than domestic contractors. Admittedly, I'm in a very small sector of the larger market, and it's too soon to tell even here whether the trend will last, but I've heard similar reports from other businesses (see BW Online, 12/2/03, "U.S. Programmers at Overseas Salaries").

Adjusting to the global marketplace isn't necessarily pleasant and I know that the lower rates and increased competition will lead to a lot of griping about the good old days but with US programmers beating Indian ones based in India on straight price concerns, it's pretty safe to say that we've gotten past the worst of it and it's at a salary level that's livable.

Palestine Now! II

Posted by TMLutas

Recently Glenn Reynolds blew his stack over Palestine. Armed Liberal chides Glenn and says that while there isn't any hope of a state there today, it's worth maintaining our neutral arbiter role to eventually lead to a better palestinian society capable of maintaining a state.

They're both wrong. Palestine can and should exist now, just in a completely different configuration. The Pope and the Patriarchs need to be brought in to identify christian leaders who are untainted with the nihilistic death cult that infects palestinian muslims, and they need to be set up in the zones (redrawing municipal lines if necessary) of christian majority as a full state.

The EU needs to stop funding the terrorists and funnel aid through this new state which Israel would give the right to take new territory into from the occupied territories absent the 3-5% of land which it would annex for military purposes. Perhaps this would be best done as a sale from the new Palestine govt. to Israel, along the lines of the Gadsden purchase. At that point, money the Israelis would be off the hook for administering the territories and for future sovereignty decisions. The christian dominated government could incorporate muslim dominant territories on its own pace but would have the international legitimacy and the bulk of the aid money so they could defang the violent nihilists who use Islam as cover.

The demographics of the new state and territories would guarantee that the founding fathers would put strict protections for minority rights. After all, they know that eventually, they're going to be a minority themselves. This would create a unique and positive dynamic to be created.

The only missing piece is where the force would come from to enforce Palestinian law until their own armed forces would be sufficient for the job.

New Year's Resolution

Posted by TMLutas

Dear Readers:

Since one of my new years resolutions was about this blog, I thought I'd share it with you.

I resolve to contribute every day, on average three entries, silly or serious, wise or foolish to this blog. So stop by, chances are, there will be something new.

Now let's see how long I can keep this one.

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

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