February 29, 2004
Inductive Shrinking the Gap
You can go about things from general rules and move towards specifics. That's called deduction and is how Thomas Barnett's presenting the grand strategy I predict will become our new bipartisan consensus in foreign policy. But there is an alternative direction, inductive reasoning, going from specific examples to grand strategy. It's on display in Thomas Friedman's latest column:
Indeed, listening to these Indian young people, I had a déjà vu. Five months ago, I was in Ramallah, on the West Bank, talking to three young Palestinian men, also in their 20's, one of whom was studying engineering. Their hero was Yasir Arafat. They talked about having no hope, no jobs and no dignity, and they each nodded when one of them said they were all "suicide bombers in waiting."
This is the same fundamental insight that Barnett has distilled but Friedman is reaching through in discrete vignettes. A group of palestinian "suicide bombers in waiting" here, a group of Indian "1st worlders in waiting" there. Connectivity to the first world creates neighborliness and security for the US.
Stirring Up Religious Hate
I'm absolutely taken aback by the naked religious hate imbued in this article on Gibson's Passion. It has a clear tone of regret that Protestants are no longer iconoclasts, smashing Catholic Cathedrals and whitewashing their murals. Why only a century ago, upright protestant elites were sneering and looking down at those blood drenched papists with their florid counter-reformation art.
What's wrong with you people? Why don't you hate each other anymore? Don't you see that Gibson's artistic style is too lush and fancy for Protestants to do anything but hate and smash? You're wimps for not taking up the hate of your forefathers!
Mel Gibson, notoriously, belongs to a stripe of Catholicism that is extraordinarily conservative and traditionalist. Whether he thinks this Pope is legitimate or that Peter's seat is empty is not, to my understanding, definitively settled.
Such Catholics are generally most up in arms about Vatican II's initiatives in ecumenism. One of the most unremarked ironies of the entire event that is The Passion of The Christ is that he is, in his most conservative and traditionalist way, making more headway in Catholic/Protestant understanding than entire commissions of theologians and interfaith committees that have grappled with the subject since the heady days of Vatican II. Whether this progress would have happened absent those committees and commissions is a long and complex exercise speculating in alternative histories but the progress that Gibson is forging is remarkable and notable.
We might just be getting past our hates without giving up our faith. No doubt, Christ would smile.
Iraqi Refugee Crisis
I received the following extraordinary email:
The graphic you posted for Iraqi applications for asylum to Germany raises an important factor weighing on Mr. Blair's support for the Iraq war. I have never heard any mention of this. I don't know why.
It's certainly an interesting precedent. If you create too many refugees, you are going to end up with the Desert Rats lounging in your presidential palaces while you end up in a spider hole. It's certainly not WMD as a cause of war but why not? Anything to shrink the gap.
Who Gipped Kerry
Prof. Bainbridge is shedding crocodile tears over Michael Ovitz's supposed stiffing of John Kerry. While Janet Jackson gets a $2,137 meal with Ovitz, Kerry just gets a $137 meal.
This might be trouble, but not like you probably think. Kerry isn't getting stiffed, he's possibly slightly over the limit. The Senate bans gifts that exceed $50 with a $100 yearly limit. If anybody gipped Kerry it's the people who think that a Senator can be bought with a meal at Spago.
Kerry has a Gerald Ford Moment
Gerald Ford, famously, was hurt badly when he declared Poland to be a free state. Will John Kerry be similarly hurt now that he has declared Haiti a democracy? He should be but probably won't for two reasons, one with a hidden sting. First, it's much further away from election day so it's likely that this will all be forgotten by the time labor day rolls around and the general public starts paying attention. The second reason is the more dangerous one. Because Kerry probably isn't going to get called on this in any serious way (outside the blogosphere), he's much more likely to make this mistake again, and with countries that have more influential emigre populations. Sometimes it doesn't pay to have the media on your side. You can afford to be sloppy too much of the time so your professional standards as a politician tend to slip.
The Harm In Gay Marriages
I challenge anybody who advocates gay marriages to produce someone on either side of the issue who foresaw this:
In another development related to the weddings, the Social Security Administration has told its offices nationwide not to accept marriage certificates from San Francisco as proof of identification for newlyweds looking to make name changes on Social Security cards.
A woman in San Francisco who gets married has lost the ability to have her name changed on the basis of a county emitted marriage license. It doesn't matter if she's married a man or a woman, she's lost that right. But the judges continue to declare "what's the harm?" and refuse to file injunctions.
Rod Dreher is the first I've seen to dare breath the big problem. Liberal elites who refuse to enforce the law are engaged in a creeping coup according to him. I wouldn't quite go that far yet because of the severe consequences such an act would bring, but that's the risk. Doing this through the judiciary instead of the legislature is going to lead to a loss of faith that the people actually govern here. In an armed society this is insanity, worse, it will destroy our current order without even working.
Dust off the 3rd amendment II
Toyota's apparently working on the idea of a resident chip snitch in our cars and has shown off such a device in one of its concept cars. Fortunately, a great many ideas do not make it out of this stage but a great many ideas do. As I've said in the past such devices are a very obvious 3rd amendment violation. They are not a search, they house a parasitic chip in your vehicle (or other bit of your property) that serves the interests of the state instead of the interests of the owner.
There is also a great deal of risk of this sort of thing in the home with the introduction of trusted computing as advocates for that sort of system also create a bit of a home snitch that mandates a government presence monitoring your actions.
February 28, 2004
The Free Market Problem of Network Abstraction
It is extremely common to use abstraction as a tool to simplify complex computer networks. For networks of any appreciable size, it is highly common to simply draw a cloud shape for the majority of parts not under examination, slap a label on it and move on talking about the local bits that you actually care about. The biggest of example of 'cloud technology' is the Internet.
Abstraction is useful in that it permits us to talk about things too complex to hold in our heads if described in its actual detail but the risk of abstraction is that the stuff that is left out might just be important. For the politico-economic analyst talking about the Internet, 'cloud technology' is a nasty enemy. It leads people to a great amount of fundamental error. It is perfectly proper to say that no one person owns the Internet. It is absolutely false to say that nobody owns the Internet, as false as saying nobody owns IBM or Microsoft. Yet people do it all the time.
The Internet is a set of agreements between the various private property holders to, broadly, carry signals between each other both as endpoints of traffic and as pass-throughs, intermediaries. It is all contractual, all perfectly capitalist/free market friendly, yet because nobody can hold the sum total of these agreements and they are negotiated and consummated automatically, some act as if they do not exist and speak of the Internet without taking into account its private, consensual nature.
ICANN some say, runs the Internet. They do not. What has happened is that a critical mass of the property holders who actually own pieces of the Internet have agreed for ICANN to create rule templates to speed the progress of negotiating new contracts between the various owners of the networks.
This has broad implications for net governance and for appropriate reaction to misgovernance. I believe that it is inevitable that there will be a point where somebody who is writing these contracts and embedding them in router firmware will fundamentally err and attempt to push the owners to do something that a viable portion of the Internet infrastructure simply does not accept. When that day comes, the Internet will fragment. In software development terms, this sort of fragmentation is called a fork (think fork in the road). When the Internet forks, it can fork in a way that preserves interoperability, simply changing contracts in the rebel portions and ensuring that bits can pass between the two new networks or it can fork ugly and traffic interconnection will either become slow and congested or fail outright.
The truly funny thing is that from a political standpoint, if there is a comprehensive engineering solution to fork with minimal cost, the incentive is to never push things so far that a fork will ever come about. The 'internet leadership' will mostly consist of determining where the collective owners of the Internet, the shareholders if you will, want to go and to rush ahead of the parade and pretend that they are choosing the direction.
Iraqis Vote With Their Feet
Davids Medienkritik has an interesting update on the old observation that to cut through the political spin and BS on whether a society was getting freer or not, just look to see how the people vote with their feet. He assembled Iraqi refugee applications to the FRG over time. Surprise, surprise, very few wish to leave Iraq today even though they plausibly could make the case for religious repression all over the country. And given the German government's position on the US' actions in Iraq, would a pure political asylum request be turned away? It's doubtful but Iraqis aren't even trying it.
The chart in the article is below:
Update: I made a mess of things and linked to the wrong article (though the other one, an article on media bias is fine too). The link is fixed now.
Jewish Anti-Communist Resistence
In my previous posts touching on jewish responsibility for communism, I implied that there was such a thing, that the high proportion of jews in communist revolutionary movements implies something of a responsibility to clean up this mess similar to the generally accepted german responsibility to keep a weather eye on neonaziism . Well, who cares what motivates it but there are jews who rise up to that responsibility.
The post-communist cleanup, sadly, is least developed in the West, where many people have yet to come to grips with the reality that they spent a significant part of their lives excusing and even advocating a horror that rivaled the nazis. Every time I see a book, an article, or some social initiative to further that cleanup we take one further step away from the abyss.
February 27, 2004
The Physicality of Christ's Suffering in The Passion of The Christ
Andrew Sullivan claims that Mel Gibson's theology is creepy and he has a "psycho-sexual obsession with extreme violence". I've yet to see the film but AS seems to have his own obsessions in rejecting Christ's passion as a physical event. The truth is that there are many roads to understanding Christ. Some of these roads are more intellectual, more analytical, others are richer in ritual and habit, while others focus on physicality.
Which road you take, as long as it is sound, does not matter as much as the final destination. In a world filled with horror, cruelty, and public executions, a brief description is surely enough. If you've seen a crucifixion, you understand it and don't need to go into the details of a particular instance to understand very well what kind of suffering is going on.
But that's not 21st century America, a nation so removed from the reality of roman style law and imperial brutality that such a depiction is entirely new to our experience. It shocks us and brings us to a profound knowledge of the reality of the physical suffering that Jesus Christ underwent.
If such graphic violence were to be made into a habit, it would be disturbing and wrong because we would risk becoming inured to it, no longer shocked because we have seen it all before, and once again we lose the reality of the event.
The calibration of the human spirit should neither find evil and violence entirely foreign and outside of its personal observation, nor should it become too intimate with it and used to such depredations. For Catholics and other apostolic christians, we have our experts, the church hierarchy, to deal with such fine points and if Gibson had truly gone too far, you would be hearing condemnations from the pulpits and not recommendations to see it from high church officials.
I can understand Andrew Sullivan has a bone to pick with the Church because of its position on homosexuality. But I think that his difficulty with his Catholicism is a bit more than he lets on. Perhaps he should ask why so few hierarchs are opposed to this film if it reeks so much of a deranged creator going beyond the bounds of proper artistic interpretation?
Shrinking the Gap: Libya
It looks like Libya is gaining even more prominence as a model for integrating the Gap with carrots while Iraq remains the model for doing it via stick. Now that the travel ban is lifted and diplomatic relations are well on their way to being restored, investment, reform, and all manner of connectedness will open up Libya, creating pressure for it to be more than a 'former pariah' but a real member of the core, accepting the general rulesets that will allow it to create a positive environment for investment and other international connections which lead to real stability and widespread wealth.
It's commonly supposed that GWB's going to run on Iraq and Democrats have planned accordingly. Is any one of them even thinking about how they will react when their critiques are all trumped by Bush's Libyan success?
Sistani Shows Maturity
Well, it looks like a way out has been found without humiliating anyone or yielding to balloting in an easy to cheat environment. Elections will not have to be done before handover and it looks like a caretaker government will be set up in Iraq to oversee the first elections without setting off a civil war.
There should be major celebrations over this. It's a huge step forward in Iraqi political maturity and a brightening of prospects for a free and stable Iraq. Any bets on how much the media will celebrate this?
February 26, 2004
Out Of Band Advertising
Advertising that is directly beamed at the consumer has several advantages all around. The customer list changes from the consumer, the FCC, the broadcaster standards and practices board, and the advertiser's sales team to the consumer, the ad delivery service's standards and practices board, and the advertiser's sales team. This is a nice pro-libertarian moment as it removes the government from the list and the two standards and practices boards will have different clients of their own (the broadcaster's one is also worried about the FCC and losing its license).
Since the ad consumer becomes a more prominent percentage of the customer, more effort will be devoted to satisfying him. Since entertainment and the income to pay for that entertainment are now decoupled, I predict a staggering increase in pay per view content that tracks the spread of this pay per ad model. Your income goes up, you end up spending some of that on entertainment, and you get the bonus that it's no longer so formulaic that they time scene endings for TV commercial insertions.
Hydrogen's getting cheaper
Hydrogen just got at least 59% cheaper. A new process has been discovered that has dropped the 'best price' for hydrogen creation down from $3.60/kg to $1.50/kg. What's more, the process does not require pure ethanol but works just fine with much easier to produce and transport diluted ethanol. In fact it works better in the presence of water.
One place where the linked article gets horribly wrong is in the stress this will create on our food supplies.
Overall, he says the University of Minnesota research sounds promising, even if some hurdles remain.
This is a feature, not a bug. One of the worst challenges we face in maintaining and expanding globalization is agricultural subsidies. If 40% of US farmland were taken out of food production and put into energy production, it would be a huge boon for international relations, as would a similar devotion of crop acreage in the EU states. 3rd world nations would be able to earn a decent living in agriculture and be able to hold their head high and pay their own way instead of being shut out of what would normally be their markets and have to take handouts in the form of foreign aid.
Pentagon Report on Global Warming
Some time ago there were media reports on a Pentagon study regarding the security implications of global warming. Much emotion ensued but the actual report wasn't on the Internet. It is now and the actual report link is here. Contrary to a lot of the speculation at the time, the study is largely aimed at a few options that are anathema to the conventional global-warming priesthood, geo-engineering, adaptation, and pro-active increases in the ability to adjust to changes.
Now it makes perfect sense why the text wasn't released at the same time as the scare stories.
Reasonable Data Center Searches I
I've been bothered by the item I wrote about yesterday on a data center search that removed data wholesale and impacted an unknown (but probably large) number of individuals and businesses not covered by the search warrant. This is exactly the sort of thing that outraged the colonists and created the fourth amendment in the first place.
So how should a data center search be conducted?
If somebody gets shot on the sidewalk in front of your business, you're not going to be doing much business until they clear the police tape away. That's not an unreasonable accommodation to the needs of law enforcement. An unreasonable accommodation would be to have them haul off the front wall of your store for blood spatter analysis instead of taking samples and photographs.
I think, for the US at least, a reasonable accommodation might be for large data centers to have a requirement to keep law enforcement apprised of what hardware they are using with what storage capacities. The information could be held by a judge and only opened up to the police as part of mandatory prep for a search. Thus the information provided can't be used for competitive business purposes, just in aiding a search to minimize disruption to innocent parties.
The police (local, state, federal) then have an obligation to come on site with high speed data copying gear of requisite capacity, a server set to respond to all relevant IPs and ports with relevant applications that explain the situation and the rights of innocent data holders and how they can monitor the situation for privacy violations. If there is a need to sieze physical drives, leave the data center (if they are not the actual target of the investigation) with some adequate loaners that they need to replace inside a reasonable period.
If you set things up well enough, the service outage shouldn't be anything more than a particularly ill-timed back hoe taking out a fiber optic cluster, something annoying but not particularly business threatening. Knowing what web site to visit, judge to call, and address to letter write or visit, means that people are apprised of their rights and they can address their worries in a timely fashion.
Any data taken should be held by a judge and turned over on the basis of meeting the criteria of the original search warrant and further data of other accounts should only be investigated if a separate search warrant is justified in the traditional way and the person to be searched is notified.
With the original case resolved, all irrelevant data not used in the case should be destroyed or given back to their original owners as if it were the fruit of an illegal search but without the civil suit rights that would attend an actual illegal search.
February 25, 2004
Is the PRC a Core Member?
From the analysis below and the fact that the PRC fits the profile of a Country B (accumulating debt instruments in order to gain the ability to use economic friction as a weapon) there might be some tension developing between my concerns about a country B and between my enthusiasm for Pentagon's New Map which puts the PRC in the functioning core and not the non-integrating gap.
I believe that there's a difference between core states that are what Barnett calls 'old core' and have been in the core for some time and 'new core' states which are newly arrived. Core behavior is both government policy and deeply ingrained social habit. Old core states have both while new core states have only the former. There is, justifiably, a natural fear of backsliding and it remains a strong possibility that some mainstream political currents in new core states will remain pro-gap for quite some time after the country objectively is inducted to the core.
Until those social habits have had a generation or two to become deep tradition and until all major political factions embrace core values making backsliding highly unlikely, it is prudent to continue to game scenarios where a new core state backslides, especially in cases of economic shock assaults that do not involve actual warfare. New core states have turned over a new leaf in their civic lives and international roles and they are to be applauded for it when it happens and new relationships should be forged. But that does not backsliding an impossibility and we should not forget it.
The Conceit of Frictionless Adjustment II
My Angry Economist correspondent has continued in his errors. He declares " All that country A can do is say "thanks for the products" and move on" which is simply not true. There are lots of things that a country can do that are non-economic responses. They may be smart or dumb but it is simply incorrect to declare them inexistent. Country A (the US in this case) could:
1. Hold daily press conferences announcing how much the country B government is costing each country B citizen by selling below cost.
This last can be anything from a Godfather like severed horse head in the Chairman's bed to an imitation of Russia's style of communication with Eduard Shevardnadze (they blew up his limo and immediately sent a diplomat who remarked publicly on the fragility of some armored cars). Now I happen to believe that the last option would, most of the time, be criminally stupid. But this doesn't mean that it doesn't exist as a possibility any more than non-Westphalian war has not been a possibility since 1648. It was always there but until GW Bush invoked it, nobody much did it. If we were doing analysis of noneconomic responses and Country A was Russia, I would definitely put option 4 on the table because the Russian government probably will whether we game it or not.
Of the options I outline above, 1 and 2 are both entirely noneconomic and I would say worthy of serious study, 3 is a mixed political/economic response, and 4 is entirely noneconomic but almost certainly stupid.
Now on the issue of self-inflicted damage by way of dumping Treasury Notes, again, the problem is framed incorrectly as an economic one. A nation that dumps isn't somebody trying to make a profit. A nation that dumps in the way that I described is trying to wage asymmetric warfare.
How many shells, planes, and soldiers would be required to do net $1T in damage to the US (gross damage to US minus gross damage to the attacker)? Now how much would it cost you to do net $1T in damage to the US by dumping Treasuries (gross cost of Treasuries minus gross revenue in selling them)? If the second figure is smaller than the first, it makes sense to buy US debt instead of investing in your military. After that, you just need to figure out how many Treasuries it will take before you can send a diplomatic note to Washington to do X or we dump Y bonds on the market and pop your interest rates up 2 points every three months until you give in. They would calculate to a very fine point how much adjustment we can take in how short a time and be careful to be able to impose change on us past the point where the US can maintain social cohesion. The US could eventually get out of the trap but we would have to yield our interests as much as if we had lost a small war.
There is a further incentive to adopting this financial way of war. A bomb, once purchased, is a depreciating asset. It must be maintained, guarded, and will eventually go bad if not used. A Treasury Note is an appreciating asset. As it expires you make a small profit and just buy another one. So if you never get around to pulling the trigger, holding debt is superior to holding arms. It is an appreciating asset and doesn't make anybody else nervous. And if your target is blinded by narrow focus economists, it doesn't even make your target nervous.
Diversification is valuable. It's valuable for investors. It's valuable for borrowers too if you're big enough that you might be worth putting a credit squeeze on.
Why we really need to get off oil II
To keep pace with an ever growing world economy, oil producing countries have to always increase production just to keep pace. The New York Times has a story about the impending failure of Saudi Arabia to do just that. Saudi Arabia is more than just another oil producing country. It's been the center of a decades long strategy of keeping the Middle East producing the energy the world needs.
If Saudi Arabia becomes just another middle tier producer in tomorrow's energy picture, not only will the energy picture change but the world's geopolitical strategy for the Middle East will change. Right now it's early enough in the process that we should be having a bipartisan political discussion of what to do, where will we find new sources of energy, how will this affect the compromises that we've been forced to make in the past regarding Saudi Arabia, and other ancillary issues.
Do you hear it? That's the sound of that conversation not taking place.
Here's a few topics that should be covered during the 2004 campaign and beyond:
1. When do we get to stop ignoring the fact that radical Wahhabism is being pushed by Saudi Arabia's oil money into US mosques?
These are just a few of the points we should be discussing instead of TANG attendance slips and Swift boats. It's a shame that our mainstream media isn't up to making this sort of thing the centerpiece of our national political conversation.
February 24, 2004
Cyber Search Abuses
Samizdata has a useful article highlighting an amazingly broad search that resulted in the seizure of an entire data center. The problem is that there are likely many innocent users who were not included in the search but who are likely going to have their personal and corporate secrets put under government scrutiny based on the coincidence of being in the same 'data neighborhood' as an accused criminal.
Here's my comment on the Samizdata board:
Evergreens: Personal Heritage
I was born in Romania. I love the place, a love that was born in the tales and lives of the communist era exile community in New York. I weep for Romania, a place cursed with everything necessary for success but a decent political class capable of running an honest government. The corruption there is degrading, morally corrosive, and sucks up much of the capital necessary for rebuilding what should be the gem of eastern europe and what it doesn't absorb, it mostly scares off.
I don't write about it much in my blog because it's depressing and, frankly, my audience is generalist and based in the US for the most part. It is not so interested in the small details of a small country perched between a glorious future and the abyss.
So why are you reading this? Steven Den Beste's to blame as his talk about France's pathologies have drawn me to a basic insight. As far as corruption goes, Romania is France without the money that came of being on the western side of the iron curtain.
Romania does have an advantage, though. It's centuries long history of being at the meeting point of three empires Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian, the necessity of prostrating in three directions at once drove it down to a much more base level than it is today. Corrupted, exploited, divided, it somehow rose and resurrected itself to encompass and surpass the old borders of the Roman province of Dacia to include the ancient lands of the free dacians. By conventional thinking, such a purposefully debased people should never have been able to manage such a feat. It should have been russified in the NE, reduced to impotent dhimmi minorities in the SE, and magyarized out of existance in the West. It didn't happen and the reason why is vitally important to the Pentagon project of eliminating the non-integrating gap and thus making america safe in the long term.
The reason, I believe, can be reduced to an exercise in national mythmaking that lasted centuries, and to some extent continues to this day.
Matthew Yglesias Hates Puppies
This isn't what you think. It's not a hit piece on Matthew Yglesias, nor even a commentary about dogs. It's about debate and me violating a cardinal rule which goes something like "if you see your opponent shoot himself in the foot, don't stop him from reloading and continuing".
Matthew Yglesias has himself confessed to his canine dislikes so that isn't in dispute. What he doesn't seem to realize is that hating dogs is right up their with disliking babies, motherhood, hot dogs, and apple pie. It is used as a marker for the general humanity and good soul of an individual. In other words, the smart ideological debating opponent would be sure to troll for as much anti-canine sentiment as possible because for a liberal, hating dogs makes all his arguments for humanity and compassion seem just that extra bit inauthentic.
However, I'm just a softie some days so, Matt, if you can't bring yourself to love the beasts, at least stop embarrassing yourself and leave your subsequent readers blissfully unaware of your antipathies. It doesn't serve your cause well.
I Agree With Barney Frank
Well, even stopped clocks are right twice a day. VodkaPundit points to some very good anti-Newsom positions taken by some interesting personalities, including Con. Barney Frank, a person with whom I can't ever recall agreeing with on other issues. But there he is, supporting the rule of law.
Congratulations on taking a proper and (in 2004) courageous stand against your personal interests. I hope to see more gays reigning in the incipient lunacy that seems to be breaking out among way too much of the gay rights movement. The rule of law has got to trump our policy preferences as long as we have free and fair elections.
Every once in awhile I stick something into Moveable Type's Draft category. Most of the time it's something that will hold, is not time specific, or it's incomplete. I like to call such items evergreens and they are a source of inspiration for further writing.
I just went through some recent evergreens and found a few just sitting there complete that I've forgotten. In future, I'll stick evergreen in the title to distinguish them from my usual stream of consciousness punditry.
Gay v Conservative: Andrew Sullivan's Internal Struggle
A new article by Andrew Sullivan talks about the need to reduce government redistribution to improve tolerance of diversity. The goal, in the end, is to make "marriage becomes less explicitly religious as a social institution and more explicitly civil" as he puts things.
The problem is that there is remarkably little examination out there of what are the civil requirements of marriage and why are we doing civil marriage at all. If there is any reason to provide licenses and contractual advantages, it is not to legitimate love, a sense of acceptance or belonging. None of these are valid state purposes to spend money on or rearrange our legal, economic, or social affairs with the force of law behind them.
If gay marriage has any merit behind it, it is in a shared sense of love to our partners (no matter the morals of choosing that particular partner). The question really becomes why should love be supported in the civil structure, especially in such an extensive manner (hundreds of laws, remember?) as we do for marriage.
Gay marriage really hasn't passed that test and its advocates have not even begun to make the case. Conservatism and gay marriage are not reconciled by a mere propensity of gay marriage to reduce the redistributive impulse in society. There must be a positive case made civilly why such marriages strengthen society. All the love and shared hopes of people in the world don't justify it.
The Conceit of Frictionless Adjustment
There are two reasons to create a trade imbalance which impoverishes your people and enriches your partner. One is because you need to put an enormous number of people to work in order to avoid bad political outcomes and the second is to create such a preponderance on debt held by you that you can crash your partner's economy at will and extract a never ending stream of concessions to avoid that fate.
In either case the move requires economic adjustments, adjustments that are not cost free. I would suggest that the costs do not even ramp up cumulatively but rather are exponential in nature. The price of going from 3% unemployment to 8% unemployment is not pleasant but the price of going from 50% unemployment to 55% unemployment might just be revolution.
I want to be clear. I don't think that the right response is to engage in protectionism or otherwise engage in economic warfare. The PRC has numerous faults and pressure points that are not fundamentally economic. They are a society that trades extensively in 'face' or status and are thus vulnerable to non-economic responses. They have an execrable human rights record. They have territorial ambitions in Taiwan and elsewhere. They are vulnerable to a free flow of information.
The problem that the Angry Economist suffers from is a textbook economist conceit. Friction is difficult to measure and pops up in unpredictable ways. Economists tend to assume frictionless environments and that is usually an acceptable shortcut because friction is a byproduct of interactions and a small enough effect that it is usually swamped by the interactions that are studied.
This goes wrong when friction is, in fact, the main effect. I am suggesting that it is possible to create an attack based largely on friction, depending on the friction being cancelled out in conventional analysis until it is too late and you've achieved a position where you can create friction on a scale that causes a collapse.
When such a novel approach is adopted, it's like crossing over from newtonian to einsteinian physics. Small effects that are negligible in the old system become large enough that they can no longer be treated as close enough to zero to be ignored. In the economic system, I suggest that friction has become just such a factor.
Now how do you adjust to such economic friction bombs? What are appropriate responses? I suggest grin and bear it is only a small improvement on a repeat of Smoot Hawley and that we should look for better solutions.
February 23, 2004
Is the palestinian struggle with Israel, a war? This is a definitional problem that is incredibly important. The entire idea of an armistice line from the 1967 war having any meaning depends on the idea that the palestinians are not fighting a war with Israel and that Israel has no justification for adjusting borders based on palestinian aggression.
But if Palestinians are fighting a war, it is a war that they are clearly losing and Israel has every right in the world to adjust borders based on the results of the conflict. To challenge that right is to challenge virtually every border the world over.
The problem that Israel faced was that the last time the international system seriously took account of non-state warfare was in the 30 Years War. It's been a long time since the Peace of Westphalia.
But is Israel bound by those Westphalian definitions anymore? If you take George W. Bush at his word, "The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States - and war is what they got" means that they don't because we (the US, a state) gave them (Al Queda, a non-state terrorist group with territorial ambitions) war. The precedent is there if Sharon wants to take it up and Europe would be caught in a bind if they protest Israel's following american precedent too strongly.
I've said before that this State of the Union speech was highly consequential. I doubt if Israel will not take the opportunity to take advantage of the new rules. The only question is how and when will they do it?
Response to Terrorism: War v Law Enforcement
Tacitus sports a message by Bird Dog on why it is important that our 9/11 response be a war response.
He gets savaged in the comments. Here's my response in support of him:
One of the most basic differences has yet to be covered here, the difference in penalties.
This is one aspect of things that most people don't really understand but hopefully the Gitmo tribunals will jumpstart the educational process. When war is declared, you change judicial codes from the normal US code to a much more sparse, and spartan code generically called the "rules of war". Terrorists largely center their campaigns around strategies and tactics designed to violate the rules of war. They do so because they have been confident until now that they will be judged by the civilian codes, not the war codes. They are now mistaken and they need to understand how much that mistake will cost them.
There are other reasons why it's good to use a war response but I think that this one is the least appreciated.
The Bankrupt Borrow Money
It's an often unappreciated fact that a company entering bankruptcy proceedings almost always takes on additional debt during reorganization. If you've got no money and you aren't just going to suddenly cease operations, you've got to have an orderly process to resolve the situation so people still have to get paid for showing up to work and the people actually running the bankruptcy process have to get paid. So most bankruptcy judges will authorize debt as part of a plan to emerge from bankruptcy.
The United States of America is bankrupt.
We've got huge, insurmountable future obligations that simply cannot be paid with any reasonable future demographic scenario. The taxes necessary to theoretically make good on our "entitlements" promises would crush the economy and still wouldn't collect sufficient funds in the real world.
So, we need to reorganize. We need to adjust our future obligations while our credit rating is still good, and we need to transition entitlement programs to the non-entitlement category.
There's an election season coming up. I know that the Bush administration has a plan for entitlement reform. It's a tried and true formula that has been successfully used in other countries like Chile to go from defined benefit pay-as-you-go to defined contribution plans with private investments. John Kerry, during the traditional summer period of issuing position papers needs to present a plan at least as well structured. To duck and avoid the issue is more than just bad policy, it's a disaster for our country.
The results of timidity in reform can be seen on display in Donald Rumsfeld's 'Old Europe'. Government paralysis spreads with more and more areas being put off limits to reform, militaries atrophy and shrink in both size and effectiveness, foreign policies become little more than craven appeasement to enemies who are too stubborn to be overcome by what little leverage is left.
The US cannot fall into that mindset and survive the next century. Bankrupt though it is, it is going to have to borrow money. The only thing is that the only bankruptcy judge available (the one that approves such expenditures) is the US voter, a figure that has huge conflicts of interest. There is no good solution anymore. We've thrown all those away with delay. Now, it's just buckle down and do what's right or we will all drown.
Andrew Sullivan's Tax Challenge
Andrew Sullivan wants a war tax but isn't very happy about it and is asking for alternative ideas. Well, here's mine. But first, some facts:
1. The reason we aren't economically tanking right now is that Asia, especially the PRC, is irrationally buying up our sovereign debt for their own reasons. They are likely to continue doing so.
So we have two potential revenue sources, cheap borrowed money so PRC workers don't rebel against their communist masters and a 'temporary' war tax that is likely to last into the next (22nd) century. Since the PRC, Japan, and all the rest are going to distort our debt markets by bidding up the dollar no matter what we do on the war tax, I say let those countries who desperately need to keep their currencies low vis a vis the dollar fund things to get us out of our financial jam.
The PRC is likely to continue its policy of unreasonably swallowing US sovereign debt for the foreseeable future as it has hundreds of millions of workers to keep happy and it won't be able to keep up without an astounding amount of exports. It's running along the high wire without a net and can't afford to stop buying Treasuries.
Yes, the deficit will explode. But right now we're facing national bankruptcy and a little thing like war spending isn't going to do anything more than push the default date a little, this way or that. The big monetary killer is Social Security and other mandated programs. They need to be made as similar as possible to their private counterparts and partially or wholly privatized as quickly as possible.
As these programs become partially, then wholly privatized, the new dispensation will create huge new pools of capital to fund businesses and grow the economy, increasing national income and reducing our debt burden as a percent of GDP. Then, in a few decades when the great PRC transition is over and the PRC wants to unwind its dollar position, the US will have the wherewithal to redeem those notes as they will have been converted into stock market investments and will have created sufficient taxable wealth that redemption will be possible without collapse.
But what if we raise taxes with inflation at about 1% and Asia, especially the PRC committed to pumping up the dollar? Classic free market ideology that dates back to Adam Smith advises that we don't retaliate with a trade war. But at the same time, this is a purposefully distortive policy on the PRC's (and others') part. So how will we handle the deflationary distortion as we raise taxes?
February 22, 2004
Letter to the Paper V
The entire Kerry/Winter Soldier Investigation thing has been bothering me ever since I wrote my earlier piece. I decided to jot this off to the Simon Wiesenthal Center:
Dear Rabbi Hier,
Who knows what they'll say but I'll relate any responses I get.
Legitimate Reasons to Hate Outsourcing
The Angry Economist thinks that reactions to George Mankiw's endorsement of outsourcing are a litmus test of economic literacy. I think he's mostly right but is missing a significant point. Not everything is economics and a large portion of the discomfort with outsourcing derives from noneconomic sources.
A society is not all dollars and cents but is also based on social relationships that have value outside an economic system. The adjustments that must be borne in a dynamic economy create social costs and there is nothing wrong with being unhappy about the situation. The solution is in easing transitioning costs to new jobs and creating social support networks so that flexibility is enhanced. You can have a heart and assist transitions into new fields without being economically illiterate.
Another point that is appropriate is that outsourcing related job losses are not entirely related to comparative advantage but to an artificial economic intervention on the part of other countries to absorb surplus labor by importing jobs and exporting wealth to the US.
Now Adam Smith was right to say that if your neighbor is chopping off his nose to spite his face, it ultimately makes no sense to do the same. But the political interventions of others to lower their currencies and artificially maintain trade surpluses with the US result in more adjustments than would otherwise be the case in a normal free market international system.
These are unfriendly acts and while not a legitimate cause of war, should not pass by without notice and without reaction by our foreign policy establishment. The key is to keep the reaction outside the economic sphere so we do not chop off our own noses out of spite.
Shrinking the Gap: Foreign Aid
The US is further demonstrating that Core/Gap principles don't just apply to military initiatives but are applicable throughout US foreign and security policy. The US is conditioning aid in order to set up incentives controlling the worst of Gap abuses. These incentives make traditional aid bureaucrats uncomfortable. "Critics are warning that the account may produce inequities, leaving some of the most economically needy countries to compete for much smaller amounts of traditional aid."
President Bush campaigned, in part, in 2000 by railing against the soft bigotry of low expectations. This is largely an international version of this.
Run Ralph Run
Ralph Nader is running for President as an independent. While this is awesome news for Republicans everywhere it should also be good news for those opposed to campaign restrictions on free speech. There is a great 'good for the gander' set of moments to be minded here. Ralph Nader's power base has always been his nonprofit organizations that are not traditionally considered partisan political but are widespread and influential. Will the FEC regulate the Nader's 'PIRG empire as part of his campaign organization? It's way too early to tell but the schadenfreude just keeps going and going on this one.
Rule of Law Warning Light II
It looks like California is belatedly realizing that a horrible precedent is being set in San Francisco and will be asking that the city obey the law. One of the things that really sends a shiver down my spine is the idea of introducing "fait accompli" as a principle of law in the US.
The conservative group that lost its bid for a restraining order on Friday had argued that the weddings harmed the 61 percent of California voters who in 2000 supported Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that said the state would recognize only marriage between a man and a woman.
Try and take that reasoning and apply it to water rights in the Klamath basin and elsewhere across the West for example and you will see how destructive things can get and rather quickly.
February 21, 2004
What an interesting idea John Kerry has about war crimes. The actual perpetrators are innocent!
WOODRUFF: Two other very quick things, Senator. One is, it's been reported that, well you're aware of this, Vietnam veterans upset with the fact that when you came back from the war, you went to Capitol Hill, and you testified in so many words against the kinds of things that U.S. soldiers were doing over there...
This is nonsense and historical revisionism of the worst sort. Fortunately, Kerry's actual testimony is available:
I would like to talk on behalf of all those veterans and say that several months ago in Detroit we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit - the emotions in the room and the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.
The FBI has a special section to catch teenage concentration camp guards who did things like this and far less. They are pursued decades later with a justified ferocity. If these american war criminals exist and they are judged not to have committed crimes because they were not even following orders, but violating official policy while being condoned by their command structure, the only decent thing to do would be to shut down the Office of Special Investigations.
But Kerry won't follow up and do this. He won't do it because it would eviscerate his jewish support and cost him workers, money, and votes in some key areas. But his idea of war crime justice requires him to either have war crimes trials for nazis and americans who committed acts that were just as bad or to close the book on such things and make a mockery of the bipartisan 'never again' commitment the US has had for decades.
February 20, 2004
God Protect Warrior Democrats
If you've read my blog, you know that I believe that there is a crying need for an optimistic, positive grand strategy to replace the outmoded cold warrior think of post WW II. I also think that the leading candidate for this is the new rulesets.project work of Thomas Barnett. He does important work that seems to be highly influential in the Bush administration's approach to the world today. In fact, he's got a book version of his theories which you should preorder right now.
I was lucky enough to get a review copy and have read it. It was better than I hoped, a true call for a decent foreign policy that has the twin virtues of working (so we can escape the specter of perpetual war) and being moral, true to our most cherished ideals. I also found out how consequential some of his analysis has been in the recent history of our country.
I was absolutely surprised to find out he was a Democrat. I suspect that he's going to be in desperate need of a copy of How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy : (and Found Inner Peace) as he's likely going to go through a meat grinder of insults and brickbats from the left after this book.
It's not that he advocates anything that an honest Democrat would be constitutionally opposed to. It's that he's had the honesty and courage to say that the Bush administration (outside of some fairly serious communication faults) has pretty much made the right moves on national security and his strategy is largely the correct one. And he's done so in an election year when national security is likely to be the most important issue on the voters' minds.
He ends up being a Scoop Jackson Democrat updated with all the nerve and an updated vision fit for a new century. If there were a thousand like him leading Democrat think tanks, I wouldn't be so worried about this country. Unfortunately he's committed the sin of truth and he's likely to be hounded out of the party for it.
I hope that I'm wrong, that there is still room for sane Democrats with a broad vision for America's security future. I doubt it though. Then again, God's in the miracle business so here's to the warrior Democrats, may they thrive, multiply, and take back their party to a sane road.
Drawing the Line in War
There's been a great deal of bloviating over phantom rights violations in this War on Terror. Then again, cops do still cross the line. There is no requirement in the United States to have identification papers. If you're not engaged in an activity requiring a license, you don't have to have a license with you.
Dudly Hiibel is pushing this principle all the way to the Supreme Court. He was arrested in 2000 simply for not having an ID and ended up being fined $250.
A police officer had the right to stop him. There was a report that he had hit his daughter. A police officer had the right to temporarily confiscate his knife while he was being questioned for safety reasons. He even has the right to temporarily take events down to the station to sort things out in a controlled environment. But he didn't have the right to demand identification papers in order to do a background check absent any evidence of actual criminality.
Given that the police didn't even try to talk to his daughter until she got hysterical at seeing her father cuffed and hauled away, this is no sort of domestic abuse investigation. The fishing style question of "how did you get home yesterday" sounds suspiciously like there's a back story to this episode.
There's a video of the stop along with some audio so it's not just a case of conflicting verbal testimony. Clearly the arrest is over the line and it would still be over the line today. Martial law has not been declared. Rights have not been suspended. If we're even close to the level of threat requiring such emergency measures, no proper legal actions have been taken to invoke such powers (and thus also invoke the accountability for their use at the next election). I'd be as disturbed about the case if it happened post 9/11 as I am about it happening today.
Hopefully, we're going to see a 9-0 decision in favor of Mr. Hiibel.
February 19, 2004
Voting to Kill Canadians VI
I really would prefer not to have to continue this series but the train wreck unfolds before your eyes. With Pfizer biting the bullet and cutting supplies, they'll play cat and mouse for awhile until either Canada steps in and stops it or Pfizer just withdraws from the country. No doubt, they won't be the only ones.
Canada, no doubt, would love to just break patent protection but if they do, they are more vulnerable to US retaliation than just about any other country on the planet. Something's got to give but I don't think it's going to be NAFTA. In the meantime, misjudgments of drug supplies are going to be inevitable and people will be severely inconvenienced or do without. Hopefully the body count won't rise too high before a solution is reached but remember, this is a train wreck that is decades in the making. Successive governments have been voting to kill canadians for a very long time. Eventually the bill comes due and actual deaths occur.
I only hope the victims aim their anger properly.
Gay Marriage Practicalities II
Stanley Kurtz has a sad commentary on the legal somersaults that gay marriage advocates are going through to get their policy preferences installed by hook or by crook. The judge refused to issue an injunction because of an incredibly small issue, the use of a semicolon. If the word or had been substituted, he would have permitted it, supposedly, but the judge did not permit the request to be rewritten and refiled even though it is patently obvious that the mayor's actions are illegal.
Kurtz' point is that judges are starting to not even bother to pretend that they are anything but political actors in their pet social reform causes. For people on the other side, this makes the act of going by the rules and peacefully submitting to the rule of law a bitter joke. Unfortunately, it's going to do tremendous damage to the system because you can't continually frustrate a majority. Eventually there will be an amendment that will neuter the judges and it will likely be ugly because the judges are smart and will work around anything less than a mandatory legislative procedure to impeach at the slightest provocation.
If privileges and immunities can be neutered, let's not kid ourselves here, a marriage amendment can be too. The key is judges acting as legislators.
Regulatory Business Opportunities
I was all set to become outraged at Matthew Yglesias' endorsement of mandatory automotive breathalyzers but a nameless commentator made me smile with this, "You'll also need a law prohibiting sober people from hanging around bars at closing time and blowing into other people's breathalyzers for ten bucks a shot."
Yes you would.
It also made me think about the larger question of how many businesses out there today exist solely to provide the functional workaround to the nanny state? What is their GDP? What would be the estimated increase in wealth if the capital used up to provide such parasitical 'compliance/avoidance' businesses were put to more productive uses? Even among the free market true believers, is anybody toting up the full cost?
$10 for starting up a drinker's car at closing time, heh. And I just know how they'd do it to avoid liability, hand blown balloon sales.
Behind, Behind, Behind
2:16 PM CST. I just finished with my reading from yesterday. Boy am I falling behind.
Technological Control is Not Enough
Anne Applebaum's column on bioterrorism demonstrates the futility of just erecting a wall between the 1st world and some 'arc of instability' that we consign to permanent disconnectedness from capital, ideas, and economic progress. $5,000,000 and 5 biogeneticists today gets you from a warehouse to a fully functioning biowar lab anywhere in the world and the equipment necessary can be ordered by mail. What's more, the equipment can be cobbled together by picking through the first world's trash bins. It's not cutting edge materials that can be, in any way, realistically controlled. When first rate computational clusters (beowulf clusters) can be assembled from hardware that we ship to the PRC as garbage to be recycled, we're well beyond the realistic possiblity of technical controls.
The only thing available is attitude controls. Such bioweapons are hugely risky. They are not something you just unleash for a petty problem that could be hashed out with lawyers. If the weapons themselves are uncontrollable, it is not inevitable that there will be people so enraged, so disconnected from the rest of the world that they will actually deploy such horrors. And that gets us right back to Core and Gap.
The capability to ravage the world is becoming democratized to the point far below the wealth level of your run of the mill 3rd world business mogul. Keeping them outside is no longer an option. Will we realize it in time?
Parallel Legal Systems
Paul Marshall is somewhat in error when he declares that there are no ready analogues between muslim clerics and any familiar western institution. There is at least one, and that is the church tribunal, especially the Catholic system of canon law. To view imams as canon lawyers and officials in a parallel religious code is to both fix Iraq's situation in the familiar and point the way out.
Canon lawyers and religious courts for Catholics exist quite easily in parallel with secular law, so easily that non-Catholics often don't even realize that such things exist. Now I'm not an expert in religious law but I know that we have plenty of them around. If the problem is the tension between religious law, Islamic law, and the rules of the road that the functioning core of the world generally follows, the parallel solution seems to me to be a reasonable way out of the controversy. If there shall be no compulsion in religion, as islamic moderates are fond of pointing out, then an islamic judgment cannot properly be compelled. It is not something that is properly enforced by the state.
Gay Marriage Update VI
Jonah Goldberg identifies why we'll be forced to keep at the gay marriage debate to resolution. In summary, it's the bad faith of the pro-gay marriage side. For every Andrew Sullivan who claims that gay marriage will just be for those jurisdictions who want it, there is an army of activists ready and waiting to start up suits in every jurisdiction in the land to force the issue and create a new Roe v Wade to enshrine their 'rights' whether they are correct or not.
Romania is not in the Euro zone but lots of people use euros and you can open up an account in euros, which somebody did, and my wife wants $100 worth of euros transferred there.
It's interesting that people have been talking about euros becoming an alternate reserve currency since before the actual introduction of the thing yet, here we are years later and Citibank's online setup is unprepared for just the sort of transaction such a reserve status would require, the wiring from a dollar account to a non-euro country in euros. You can do it, but it requires a branch visit.
It's always interesting to see how business rules assumptions crop up unexpectedly in code. It would have been very easy to make the screen a bit different so alternate reserve currencies could be handled on-line but somebody didn't put it in the spec so the programmers never accounted for this particular use case.
I just finished reading the book version of The Pentagon's New Map.
February 18, 2004
The Llama Butchers have an item up comparing controversies over Gibson's and Scorsese's visions of Christ's Passion. Personally, of the four camps, I'm in favor of number two, but for what I think are legitimate reasons.
What offended me about the Scorsese film wasn't anything necessarily in the film. Instead, I found the marketing campaign to be highly offensive. Temptation was a Universal Studios release and I recall it having minimal advertising, minimal exposure beyond press releases and hyping the banned nature of the film. They twigged the noses of the faithful to do their advertising for them so they could save a few bucks. I found, and still find, that to be morally offensive. I've never seen the film and refuse to on those grounds to this day.
Passion, by contrast, is an independent release and I've seen ads for it several times already so it's being properly promoted without relying so heavily on the surrounding controversy. For me, it's also a plus that there are no mass letters being read from pulpits condemning the movie and ordering everybody not to go but whatever its merits or flaws are, at least they're honestly earned.
Oh, I guess I should make things clear. I don't believe in censorship of either film, but I obviously believe in boycotts.
Glen Reynold's current TCS column covers picking a subject as part of the process of becoming an influential blogger (in his words, a blogging bigshot). In short, find an empty niche, fill it, provide original content is his advice.
It's pretty good advice. One of his thoughts was municipal blogging, but municipalities are not the only political jurisdictions that are under-covered. You can also cover a metropolitan area, a county, or a state which will give you more material to work with.
Also, if you're going to branch out into a nontraditional format, the idea of using audio and video aren't the only options on the table. Maintaining a database of information on your chosen specialty or publishing a wiki are two further alternatives.
Blogads rates II
His 1 week rate would be reasonable for my own advertising experiment if I had a budget and was prepared to properly measure the results.
Hey Argus! why not plunk down an extra $10 and grab some more traffic?
It's a Mess: Important and Utterly Ignored
Evan Kirchhoff's latest response on the San Francisco gay marriage circus includes this gem:
I don't find the "it's a mess" objection to be compelling, since it amounts to a generic objection to the federalist system as a whole.
Actually, there are all sorts of interstate initiatives that provide for the reconciliation of state laws where things spill over across borders. There are regional, ideological, and national governor's associations, for example. There is a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) for example that enhances the ability to do multi-state business.
When the goal is to create a consensus, people go through these multi-state bodies and try to work out how to present a skeleton, a set of basic items that each state can adopt and add on its own flourishes as it chooses, leaving the basics consistent between states. Clearly, the method adopted by gay activists is not a consensus based pro-consistency approach.
The problem is that by doing an end run around the entire machinery of democratic governance, the policy outcomes are going to be haphazard and a mess for decades. Screwing up marriage screws up a lot of lives and the people deserve better than some half-baked patchwork.
So, in the end, we do have a federal system and states can experiment. But there are costs to that experimentation and such experiments need to be evaluated with the failures mercy killed and the successes exported. We've got an entire national infrastructure for working this type of problem out over time through legislative and executive action. The judiciary sort of follows on at the end of the process.
So, can we just dump this entire machinery overboard? Sure, there's nothing except practicality and good policy results that we're sacrificing. Oh, and likely we're sacrificing a bunch of other things but we can't be bothered to even count up the cost. We're all in a rush and we needn't confuse ourselves with facts.
Government % of GDP: Misleading International Comparisons
Matthew Yglesias is backing a misleading measure of how large the US government is in comparison to other countries. The US has an exceedingly unusual system in that it is federalized and that the constituting states in that federation are sovereign and have significant taxing and spending roles that impact everyday life.
So when he says that the current spending level in the US is only 18%, he's misstating the reality of government spending in the US by quite a lot as this is only the federal spending level and does not include states, counties, or municipalities who both take and spend a great deal of the national income.
A little tip, if a major party in a 1st world nation unifies around a statistic that sounds completely mind bogglingly stupid, check carefully. Chances are that you've misunderstood what's going on.
Little Platoons: Election Watchers
Burke's 'little platoons' are a central force in american life and largely what makes the entire american project workable. Here's an organization that might revolutionize elections by taking poll watching out of the hands of partisan volunteers and create a network of watchers who really just want an honest election from both sides.
Bookmark the site, especially if you live in an area (Florida, North Dakota, Chicago) where you think there might be trouble this election.
Clayton Cramer has a good primer on why libertarian ideas are not that popular. Unfortunately, the title stinks a bit. I think that libertarian ideas are tremendously popular and fit in with a wide variety of people. The trouble is actually with Libertarians, not libertarians.
Libertarians with a capital are the organized forces that try to advance the ideology of libertarianism. They are often noted as 'big L' as opposed to 'little l' libertarians who have an intellectual affinity to the ideas but are not devoted to them as the core organizing principle of their life. The big L types are infamous for having all the flaws of that are pointed out in Cramer's article. They are limited demographically, they are hostile to religion, they are a bit culty and nutty in that they take things to extremes and blackball people out of the movement for not being enthusiastic about legalizing crack whoredom.
But a normal libertarianism exists, and finds its home in both major political parties as part of both major electoral coalitions and all major religious and social organizations. There are libertarians who are Catholics, Jews, Orthodox, every major stripe of Protestant, and all the rest. This is a libertarianism that is largely quiescent. It is uncomfortable with state solutions but it will not bolt from the room in horror just because somebody proposes a government fix for a problem.
A practical Libertarianism, if we are ever to detoxify and make the party a viable vehicle for libertarianism's ambitions has to recognize that a suboptimal practical solution will always beat out an impractical optimal solution.
Libertarianism has largely been lazy. There is little work that I can see on the problem of the Libertarian legislator honorably working in a minority capacity. Current 'big L' types insist that he be a Dr. No, and not engage in the normal give and take of legislative compromise to vote for bills that are improvements on the status quo but not completely libertarian solutions.
This demand for ideological fidelity takes away a great deal of a legislator's bargaining power. If you understand Libertarianism, you can accurately chart his voting behavior in advance. Thus Libertarian legislators, where they exist, are part of the voting terrain. They are never actors that must be accommodated.
In issue by issue, a libertarian argument can usually be made the the libertarian solution will just work better. Libertarian solutions thus have a ready and waiting set of allies, the non-ideological pragmatists and technocrats. But Libertarians turn off these groups by insisting on selling the ideology instead of selling the solution using pragmatist terms. It is pure laziness because the point of the exercise is to close the sale and win the vote and that's not viewed as the important part of the problem by the dominant strain of Libertarians.
Ideology is a heuristic, a sort of shortcut, that simply isn't strictly necessary. If libertarianism is truly functional (as I believe it is), you should be able to inductively go through the entire set of social problems that are currently being solved by government and demonstrate libertarian solutions that will work pragmatically. In fact, this sort of approach is superior because you will tend to pay a lot more attention to transition problems and not swamping the polity's capacity to change but rather growing that capacity to change.
This isn't to denigrate the theorists. They are important because they provide the shortcuts and jargon necessary to create strategy quickly and to identify functional end conditions. The sales job of going out there and traveling the road between where we are and where theory would take us is where Libertarianism is currently weakest.
February 17, 2004
Global Warming Models All Wrong?
New arctic research is pointing to the conclusion that the arctic has an active role in carbon sequestration. In simple layman's terms, all those complex models that scientists used for global warming assumed that the arctic was a big, fat zero as far as release or absorption of CO2, the greenhouse gas that the global warming theorists are highly concerned about. If this research is confirmed, all those models were absolutely wrong.
Bzzzt. Start from zero and create new models boys because you missed a huge chunk of the system and we have no clue what it does and how it will adjust. Now, if Russia had buckled and ratified Kyoto, putting the treaty into force, wouldn't everybody be feeling really dumb right now?
Serious Blogging and Recharging Batteries
Since he requested that nobody write letters, I shan't (though I'll send him a pointer to this post) but Steven Den Beste's feeling a bit burned out and is taking a break and his output will cease until his batteries recharge.
This is a problem that I've thought about in the past and have a few answers to. But first, let's define the question.
For the vast majority of bloggers, figuring out what to do when it stops being fun is very simple. You just walk away. Your blog isn't there to make money. Your blog is there to have a conversation with your friends and family and maybe work out a bit of frustration along the way.
But for the distinct minority who wants to do this seriously to become a personality, to make a name for themselves, to make money at it, stopping is a problem. No updates means your circulation drops, and it drops pretty fast.
For linkers, there isn't much you can do about this, but for thinkers, those who create original content there is an option, evergreens. This term comes from a newspaper practice of assigning reporters to, when there is nothing else to do, write up stories that have no timeliness. These stories can run in the next day's paper or ten years later and they would still inform just as much. A story on the history of the local town's founding is an example of an evergreen.
You could write up your thoughts on Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, for example, and set your software to publish it at a particular date and time so that even though you aren't commenting on the events of the day, your blog has new content up while you are recharging your batteries. This does nothing for your writers' block except, perhaps, it would relieve the guilt and stress of not putting up content and knowing you're losing readership every day you don't post.
A very disciplined webcomic artist by the name of Howard Taylor is my inspiration on the subject of keeping the content flowing no matter what. His comic, Schlock Mercenary, comes out daily. He doesn't miss a day, and the reason for it is that he has a buffer that he fills as the mood strikes him and which drops out a new comic daily. Since his day job is at Novell, the buffer metaphor works perfectly for him.
Now the webcomic business is a bit different because it generally isn't topical so the buffer system wouldn't work exactly the same way for a blog. But not all thinkers are topical either. Certainly Steven Den Beste isn't always commenting on time sensitive matters. He could create a buffer of 5 anime DVD reviews, 6 talks on various engineering topics, and take two weeks off without anybody noticing unless they wrote and didn't get their usual polite reply.
For myself, I'm still working on creating such a buffer of evergreen articles. It's something of a different type of writing process. I suspect I'll need to take a break at some point, though not anytime soon.
Unlike SDB, I wouldn't mind suggestions for topics.
Gay Marriage Sophistry II
Evan Kirchhoff's toed the line and the bell's rung. None of this Queensbury rules sissy stuff, this is going 'old style' so hold on to your hats folks, this may take awhile.
[For the humor impaired, I'm not mad, and I suspect neither is Kirchoff]
First, let's lay out the terrain. There are two types of sovereign governing structures in the US governmental system, the federal government and the state governments. Notice what's not there. There are no counties, municipalities, special districts of any sort, parishes, or boroughs. None of these other entities are privileged as sovereign. They are created, and may be destroyed by the sovereign government that created them. Most of these are created by the states but the District of Columbia is created by the Federal Government.
Now such wholesale rearrangement is not very comfortable so it doesn't happen very often but that does not affect the Federal Government's ability to give Maryland back it's land and move the capital to North Dakota if it can persuade ND to give up some of its territory for the purpose (no more that 10 sq miles, by law (Art I Sec 8)). Similarly, if Gov. Schwarzenegger could persuade enough of the State Legislature, he could take over San Francisco and run it directly until it was reorganized to his liking.
County and city governments are subordinate creatures of the governments of the state they exist in. So, strictly speaking, the State of California lets the people play with a local budget and a local government as a convenience. They do so in the knowledge that most of the time things are run better locally. That most of the time is generally considered 6 '9s' reliable (99.9999%) but there are lots of cases where a city goes broke or the local government goes completely bonkers and the state steps in, sometimes with troops, other times with accountants.
Why is this relevant? It goes to the heart of the suit challenging the actions:
If the plaintiffs in the pending cases are allowed to sue, city attorneys predict that the centerpiece of the argument will focus on an obscure section of the state constitution that bars administrative agencies from declaring a statute unconstitutional.
Essentially, the government of San Francisco is making the argument that it could not simply be dissolved by act of the legislature like any other administrative creation. It, in essence, is arguing that it has some form of sovereignty. Now isn't that a nice power grab!
Now that we've laid out the ring, the first question is whether this is serious or a joke. Kerchoff seems to be of two minds on the question.
Is it a symbol of no real significance, a joke of a license that only has symbolic effect?
Or is this something serious that could have legal effect, being enforced in San Francisco and elsewhere?
So, I guess in the metaphor of the first quote, the legislation would mandate changing all the locks so that the key to the city actually would open up all the doors. But looking further at the legislation, it becomes even clearer that we're in rarified insanity land.
The legislation (according to the linked article) is introduced by a state legislator to the state legislature but gives people federal rights. Do I need to say how stupid this is? It also gives people rights to have their marriages recognized in other states which should make the legislatures of the 49 other states sit up and notice as they, I'm sure, didn't realize that you could do that sort of thing.
It would be kind to limit legislative commentary to three words, moon bat city.
So, what do we have here, a city official deciding the constitutionality of settled state law, raising executive supremacy in a particularly stupid way. Proposition 22 is no mere judicial order and Newsom is no Andrew Jackson. Standing against a referendum like this is entirely undemocratic governance.
Now, the major power of legislatures is the power of the purse. If you're not allowed to do something like spend money on gay marriage licenses, it doesn't matter whether you shift funds around and pull it out of contingency funds, you're not allowed to spend money on it. The spending of that first dollar is a defiance of the law. Recently, the DoD was barred from spending any money on the Total Information Awareness initiative. If Evan Kirchoff's loose accounting rules would apply, DoD could simply cut down on magazine subscriptions and fund it anyway.
Fortunately, if people did that sort of thing, they would end up in jail. In fact, the large bulk of the Iran/Contra scandal was a question of whether or not that is exactly what the Reagan administration did. Now Reagan actually had serious lawyers on his staff and he skirted the prohibitions sufficiently so that, at least on appeal, nobody ended up in the big house but this particular case isn't even close. It's government personnel using government resources in a government office to provide a service that they are barred from doing by California law.
There seems to be a gay marriage fever epidemic breaking out across the land. The infected lose all sense of proportion and are prepared to rip apart all precedent, all protections, all legality just to get what they want enshrined in law. But what will be left of the law after they're done?
Facts Must Matter II
Thomas Sowell has a good column out on the importance of facts. Unfortunately, he also illustrates how facts can be twisted to produce horrible outcomes when they are abused by wrongheaded principles.
It is not just a few readers but government agencies and the highest courts in the land that dogmatize against any recognition of differences in behavior or performances among groups. Statistical differences in outcomes automatically fall under suspicion of discrimination, as if the groups themselves could not possibly be any different in behavior or performance.
The problem isn't just one of ignoring the facts of the situation. Facts may be stubborn things but unprotected, unfortified by meaningful rules to make sense of them, they can be just as stubbornly overlooked until the pain they cause creates a half-understood heuristic that is always vulnerable to the next great wave of mistaken theory. For a current example, you can see the gay marriage debate which clearly demonstrates at least one thing. Most people don't understand why we have the marriage system we have evolved.
A Poll Question I'd Love to See
I'm getting more and more tired of the whole obsessive focus with Vietnam. Here's a poll that I'd love to see asked.
The two major party candidates for the Presidency were adults in this decade, the '90s, the '80s, the '70s and the '60s. Considering their actions, their personal and public record how would you order each record in terms of their importance?
Is there any doubt that people would large view the most recent record as most important and the actions of either man's youth as least important? But is that the way things are being covered?
Would You Buy News You Don't Trust?
William Safire frets over media consolidation. He worries that with fewer and fewer outlets, a particular conglomerate would "rule the world" (his words).
This is a far fetched perspective, I think. Put simply, would you trust only one viewpoint, only one media outlet? I wouldn't do so and I think that most people wouldn't, especially when alternative media starts providing things that are materially different than the "mainstream" media. The Drudge Report broke into the world's consciousness despite a pretty airtight media blackout over its coverage. Eventually, it grew to be too embarrassing to maintain that blackout as mainstream media lost credibility, and thus viewership and revenue due to it.
The bleeding is still going on. While corporate ownership of certain media methods is concentrating, people are abandoning precisely those media outlets because of their poor performance. Wherever there is a buck to be made, an audience to be gathered, an idea to be expressed, either the mainstream will do it honestly or they will find themselves with new competitors who will muscle them out of the way.
Ultimately, lies cost people money, cost people elections, impact lives in many varied ways. To "rule the world" via a media empire, you'd have to lie to manipulate people. The truth squad ethic on the Internet simply won't permit those lies to go unchallenged.
Gay Marriage Update V
Andrew Sullivan is being a bit disingenuous when he claims that it's settled law that marriage is not federal. The entire phenomenon of gay marriage has been settled law for just as long and a few judges are in the process of changing that. The day after the first Massachusetts ruling I turned on NPR on a trip to a client and they were interviewing a gay rights activist clearly making the case that as soon as Massachusetts is settled, gays will be marrying and fanning out across the land to start court cases to get gay marriage recognized in other states.
As (ed: As Andrew Sullivan is) a politically active gay man who champions this issue, I find it extremely hard to believe that Andrew Sullivan is unaware that this is settled strategy in significant portions of gay activists. And if he were aware of it, he has an obligation to call out his fellow gays and tell them to cut it out if he truly believed that this is only going to be for Massachusetts, that marriage should not be federalized.
The gay campaign is revealing itself as low and dishonest.
Gay Marriage Practicalities
Michael Friedman of Fried Man asks an eminently sensible question, what are the practical legal consequences of gay marriage? Some of the ideas he presents there I already had thought of but one surprised me, the idea of retroactive common law marriage. Oh what a mess that would be.
Of course, if the facts don't matter. If you are just going to tear things up and enter a brave new world without properly examining things first then, oh well, who cares if the courts are clogged, justice is denied, all sorts of effort go into sorting out the mess and the whole system is swamped, leaving the most vulnerable (children of divorce) even more out in the cold than before. Who cares about them anyway? They don't make good campaign workers and don't contribute to politicians.
Gay Marriage Sophistry
Evan Kirchhoff's completely gone off the rails as he wonders what's wrong with City Hall issuing invalid marriage licenses. The power of the purse is the fundamental ability of the legislature to control the executive. The executive violates the law anytime they spend even a penny that is not authorized by the legislature. This is at the very heart of our political system and you monkey with this at your peril.
If the executive can make illegitimate expenditures in principle where are we to draw the line? How much money can the executive spend in contravention of the legislature? Do I really need to spell out how stupid and self-destructive this thing is to our free society?
Facts Must Matter
It's entirely disheartening to read about The Tyranny of the Facts in Transport Blog. In certain policy discussions, facts not only matter, they are paramount. Not understanding the facts can and does get people killed. Ask the families of the Challenger astronauts whether facts matter.
The idea that facts do not matter is something of a misframing of the true situation, that facts are relatively defenseless when unbuttressed by principles making sense of those facts. Everybody who looked at a dewy lawn throughout history knew, at some level or another, the fact that dew drops bend light and enlarges the view of the blade of grass the dew drop is on. When the fact was treated seriously and organized in a collection to create a theory, a principle if you will, its power became manifest. But the fact was always there just as the facts are always there, sabotaging and undermining our lives as we proceed with them using deluded theories that do not conform to them.
You can sail the middle of the ocean with bad charts saying where the coastline reefs are and it doesn't much matter. But if you approach the coast and do not have someone up front to take soundings, if you incautiously plunge ahead based on your false charts (your false principles) you will take the bottom out of your boat and sink quickly like a stone.
So let us all adopt a sensible principle to take soundings, look at the facts, and resolve to order our principles in accord with them, as we know them.
Letter to the Paper IV
City Comforts has the current lead in the race for the most unthinking and simplistic endorsement of polygamy yet:
Oh my. Do you actually think at all about the reasons against polygamy or does your 'whatever floats your boat' principles override any examination of the reality of polygamy?
He has comments off on this post (and no wonder) so I'm posting here.
February 16, 2004
Young and Irresponsible Bush
One of the things that commentators like Phil Carter don't take into account in nit picking George W. Bush's record is that between those days and today, President Bush has explicitly said he had an epiphany that turned his entire life around. This "come to Jesus" moment was well discussed in the 2000 campaign and President Bush has himself said that he was "young and irresponsible" in those years.
When you take into account that the American people have already been told about this reformation, that he far larger lapses in character have been factored into the people's judgment of him before he was elected the first time and the entire episode becomes the picayune irrelevancy that it always deserved to be. Really, which is worse, skipping a couple of make work guard drills and then subsequently drilling more often to back and fill in his absences or driving drunk and stopped by a policeman? I think that the latter is clearly the worse offense but the people were told and elected him anyway.
There is an awful lot of overuse of the "youthful indiscretion" excuse in the US' political class but if anybody deserves a pass, its a politician who has had a well known reform moment, turned over a new leaf, and stuck to his new principles thereafter. GWB's record in his first term deserves close scrutiny. Voters can differ on his record. But a man's who has publicly and sincerely reformed does not deserve to have his pre-reform past thrown in his face to the exclusion of his post-reform behavior.
Iran Abrogates the NPT?
StrategyTalk has an item on Iran that includes the following gem:
The Islamic conservatives who control the nuclear power program announced that they would sell nuclear fuel freely on the world market, in defiance of world opinion or international nuclear regulatory organizations.
If true, and unrepudiated, this is an abrogation of the NPT and would mean the end of the IAEA enforced regime of controlling nuclear power/weapons via treaty. This is a challenge that will either consign the UN to a "League of Nations II" status or mark an opportunity to rehabilitate their reputation. Hopefully, this will end up fizzling and everybody will claim mistranslation.
Spend, Michael, Spend! II
A Hit & Run item on Eminem's quest to buy Michael Jackson's Neverland renews my hope that the deposed 'King of Pop' will soon become just one more uninteresting (because now he's poor) has been and we can all go on with our lives without hearing about his latest insane plan.
Foreigner's Election Temptations
William Murcheson's recent Washington Time's piece on the signals Kerry is sending foreigners got me a bit concerned. Putting myself in the shoes of said foreign interests, the question arises whether I would abide by the restrictions on foreign donations for US electoral politics in such a crucial US election?
Certainly, the history of our last major excursion into funds coming in via the PRC during the Clinton years did little lasting damage to the PRC's DC standing. So what's to stop them from doing it again? What's to stop others from following the PRC's lead? The election will be long over by the time such crimes are uncovered and, if the right candidate wins, there will be gratitude, if the wrong one ekes things out, there is an old american tradition of magnanimity in victory to draw on.
So, especially with campaign finance systems in flux and untried new laws creating all sorts of interesting opportunities, wouldn't today's Johnny Chung just open up his own 527 committee and skip the country when the investigators finally catch up with him? What's the practical reason not to do this?
Diane Ravitch's Wall Street Journal commentary on text book bowdlerizing gave me the creeps. It is distinctly orwellian, 1984 writ small. I think I'll put her book, The Language Police on my reading list. The problem is one of texts. In a classic dead tree publishing situation you simply can't afford to have multiple versions so there is a choke point which creates this horrible tendency to create a lowest common denominator text. These texts detract from the richness and variation of our society and homogenize the next generation to a bland sameness consisting of cardboard caricatures of their own history and culture.
There are technical innovations coming down the pike that will help with this and they can't come soon enough. Electronic paper will sever the link between the physical production of books and the content of those books. You'll be able to create individualized texts for surprisingly small subsets of the country and load them on physical carriers that are the same nationwide. 8th graders will all have a 250 page history text but it won't all be the same history. Benedict Arnold's brilliant NY campaign against the British might be more prominent in the upstate New York communities where it took place whereas the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion would get more coverage in South Carolina with Arnold's treachery being covered more than his heroism.
The content that is chosen will more closely reflect local values. The damage from bowdlerization will be limited to those who choose to inflict it on their children, and things will likely just get better.
Unfortunately, technological innovation is unpredictable and even when electronic paper arrives, the dead tree versions will be with us for years afterward as schools retool their texts over long cycles. So The Language Police is likely to have relevance for quite some time.
Gay Marriage Update IV
In my plowing through my RealClear Politics backlog, I see that Bill Maher has decided to open up his dim bulb on the subject of love and marriage and state intervention in same. I don't especially have a problem with his observations but it's clear that he hasn't thought this through by the way he breezily advocates the idea that the state get out of the marriage business. He's talking about shifting over a thousand federal and state laws around (and who knows how many county and municipality ones, nobody's bothered to even count those), controlling the ripple effects so any bad side effects don't swamp the good ones of reducing government, and does it with the easy breezy manner of someone who thinks such major surgery on the legal system would be painless.
I know he's a comedian but he also likes to style himself as something of a social critic. I know high school children who make better in-depth analysis than he does. Would it have killed him to devote even two lines to the difficulty of extracting marriage from the clutches of the state?
Unfortunately, Maher is not alone, nor does he even represent the worst of this trend. Whatever people decide in the end, changing and shifting marriage is major, societally risky change. It shouldn't be entered into lightly.
Unemployment's Dirty Little Secret
EJ Dionne's sounding a warning over free trade but unfortunately, he keeps the lid on much of unemployment's dirty little secret. Most companies are peopled by employees who look around and see the dysfunction, the waste, the abuse of resources that mark bad management. If they've paid attention any time over the last three decades they know that this means that this company is going to either:
a) go broke
In other words, the average american worker today has all the tools and inside knowledge necessary to figure out that he's living on a flood plain and the weather report section of the farmer's almanac doesn't look particularly good.
Some organize a new business while they're working for somebody else and move on. Others improve themselves and change careers to a well-paid service job that's in shortage, like nursing. Others arrange for their labor to no longer be sold as an employee but as a consultant. But the large majority just sit there and let the tidal wave hit them because they choose not to see the warning signs and, eventually, they have to come home and say that the factory's closing, not their fault really, as John Edwards points out in that stump speech, "they did nothing wrong."
In reality, the problem is that these workers did nothing, and that's what's wrong. If you're employed, evaluate your company as an investor would. If you wouldn't invest your money in your firm, you shouldn't invest your labor either. If you move to another money earning opportunity on your own schedule, you're going to get the best opportunity you can, quite possibly increase your family's economic position, and be much less likely to be caught in a family threatening economic jam.
People's labor investment decisions ought to be re-evaluated as often as their stock investment decisions. Such things can be made into an semi-automated process and need not consume people. After all, how did the day traders do, in the end?
The truth is that it is comfortable not to think about such things, that the company will give you a job to do for the next few decades. I wouldn't invest my money like that and I won't invest my labor like that either. And if this style of labor evaluation becomes prevalent, it will revolutionize the world (in a very good way). Companies dance to the tune of the financial analysts because they influence the company's access to life giving capital. But a company's labor force is life giving too, it's just being negotiated for the most part by a bunch of analytical incompetents. It doesn't have to be.
Business Intelligence Logging
One of the great future innovations that is coming down the pike for administrator types like me is the day when full logging systems become cost effective to run. Right now this isn't normally done except when something happens outside of normal events. The reason is simple, it's cost prohibitive in the three areas of processor time necessary, space used for the logs, and analysis tools/time necessary to wade through the resulting data.
All of this is changing:
Processor time shows few signs of slacking off from its blistering progress pace. It's gotten so bad that processor makers like Intel are starting to seriously branch out into creating new applications that will justify buying their new processors.
Space prices are collapsing as well with both magnetic and optical media dropping pretty quickly.
Finally, the business intelligence tool makers are getting better at creating tools that are simple to use and solve the problem of drilling down quickly and getting useful results out of massive data sets.
At some point, somebody with the appropriate programming skills but without the requisite budget will want business intelligence tools enough to either write it himself or hire some inexpensive programmers to write the tools for him. He won't care for the tools as a money maker in and of themselves. Viewing them as a cost center, he'll open source it to reduce his maintenance costs and we're off to the races.
Hats Off Dad
I've met a few amazing people in my lifetime with something of a strange ability to make decisions and predictions, seemingly based on nothing, that had a very high degree of accuracy. Universally, they have been unable to explain it properly so I would understand what they are doing and how I could replicate it.
I always said that I would never allow myself to get into such a position, that I would concentrate on figuring out the mechanics of my analysis sufficient to explain, at least to my own, what's going on. As I get older, I find my own analytical abilities develop and mature and see now that I was a bit of a fool to think that the problem wouldn't crop up.
Sometimes, not always but sometimes, there is a very real observer effect, especially in personal social predictions and family acts of leadership. You say "this shall happen", but if you explain why it will happen to one of the participants they will change their behavior, invalidating your prediction, ruining your plans. Things are balanced that finely that you must leave them just so and no more or less will do.
So hats off to my Dad and all the other wise old men who I pestered with questions on such subjects in my youth. I'm starting to get it now.
February 15, 2004
Net Abuse, Net Cops
This is a comment I left on Argus
Given an IP number, you can find out who it is assigned to, in this case Research Machines, PLC in Great Britain. There is an email in the RIPE record in the link for reporting abuse emanating from that IP address. Given good logs at Research Machines and a time stamp of the abusive posting, they would be able to identify, and deal with, a case of actual abuse.
Most people don't understand exactly how much net freedom depends on administrator feigned and actual incompetence. It is a mostly untold pro-liberty story. An administrator can log everything, lock down all computers, require positive authorization for all traffic in and out of his net. All this is there because there are actual businesses where this is a requirement and it's cheaper just to roll out one version and have it turned off by default. Letting our bosses know this exists is generally at the discretion of the administrator. Turning it on is generally at the discretion of the administrator. Initiating felony prosecutions is generally at the discretion of the administrator.
And usually we don't turn it on, we avert our eyes to the petty crimes we witness and we clean up your electron trail in a way that won't get us in trouble. Every administrator has his own personal code of morality on these things and I don't think it wise to share mine but I will say that there have been times when I broke into employee mailboxes and times that I refused (same company, actually my interpretation of the relevant legal codes was what carried the day over a VP's demand).
The difference between anonymous and pseudonymous internet access is the insertion of an administrator somewhere along the traffic chain who refuses to log, refuses to track, and refuses to give up his secrets. Long may this net regime reign.
Kerry's Heroics, Kerry's Shame
I would offer the following up to those who might be a little confused about what is the proper way to treat a military figure such as John F. Kerry. The US has had heroes who flew higher than Kerry, and subsequently fell further than he did too. The figure I have in mind is General Benedict Arnold.
Kerry is not a traitor (unless Kerry has some heretofore undisclosed scandal rattling around in his closet) but his prior heroism should give him as much a pass on his subsequent perfidy as Gen. Benedict Arnold's. Now, it's a little known fact that in upstate NY there are plaques and memorials to Gen. Arnold. He's remembered much more fondly there than in any other part of the country because his heroics were largely there and largely affected that part of the country (then again, so did his treason) so here is my offer.
Those who were affected by Kerry's heroics should feel perfectly fine in supporting him, even crossing party lines to do so. Those affected by his perfidious flacking for the N. Vietnamese side (with false charges of massive war crimes) after his military service should feel perfectly justified in opposing him on those grounds as well. Either side should feel free to get as hot under the collar about it as they please but no blows, please.
The electoral balance of such a fair judgment, I suspect, will not sit well with the Kerry campaign. Tough.
Malaria: US Unindicted Coconspirator? II
Ah, back from church. On our way there, I asked my wife about the story (she being the medical half of the family). When I asked her about the efficacy of chloroquine, she said that it was still ok for a few spots where there wasn't extensive resistence like some parts of latin america. She then said that she'd never prescribe it for an american because there would be too much legal liability to risk it. When asked whether it was appropriate for Africa where there was resistence, she simply said no.
What are we paying for, malaria medicine or do gooder self-esteem? If it's the latter, it's both a stupid waste of money and a public health crime.
Malaria: US Unindicted Coconspirator?
If the accusations are true, and I believe that they are, US citizens, through USAID's badly conceived political pressure to override scientific recommendations are morally guilty of malaria's drug resistant resurgence in Africa.
Vertical v. Horizontal Thinking
One of the great intellectual divisions is between vertical thinkers, specialists who go into depth in a single field, and horizontal thinkers, those who gain the essence of many fields without delving into the depths of any. Each have their advantages, each has their flaws. The advantage of vertical thinkers is that when you need the answer to a question in the field, you are much more likely to actually get a correct answer. The great advantage of horizontal thinkers is that you are much more likely to ask the right questions, and to be able to ask questions that bridge fields and stitch the disparate answers together.
What's the point of this little lesson? Horizontal thinkers are like yeast. You don't need a great deal of it but you can't make beer without it (and what bread you make will generally be awful). The way our government is organized, it's largely divided up into functional specialties. But what if a problem comes along that falls into multiple specialties? What you end up with is a tug of war where each department tries to pull in as much of the problem into its purview so it can gain power (measured by budget) over its rivals.
What a way to run a railroad.
February 14, 2004
I wonder how do people set up their blogads rates. Is there some sort of rate guide? Is there data available? Would it be worthwhile to compile something independently by parsing the rate sheets and the blog traffic in TTLB?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Is it Right to Cheer Your Co-Ethnics? II
I've talked about jewish responsibility for communism before. The problem is complex. Dissecting Leftism has a post that's somewhat on point. It shows how taking collective responsibility can go overboard and lead to horrible consequences. Whatever the truth about jews dominating the marxist movements of Hitler's young adult years, the jewish community's responsibility should never have gone beyond stern words of verbal disapproval and dissociation from people who personally refused to take up their responsibilities.
Hitler saw a horribly violent evil spreading throughout Germany via marxism. He made the fundamental mistake of fighting evil with evil but the error was in his evil means, not the idea of fighting an evil itself.
The Muslims Race to the Bottom
Muslims apparently are racing to the bottom. That's racing to the bottom of the US' next to invade list. The best line in the article comes from a Sudanese human rights lawyer "I have more freedom because of the war in Iraq.”
Repressive governments are quietly trying to take themselves out of the category of needs an invasion and into the category where diplomacy, aid, and change over time is the preferred US strategy. In this, it is not only Iraq that is important (to demonstrate what happens if you foul up the US bilateral relationship) but just as important is Libya (which demonstrates that even the wackiest of rogues have a way out if they convincingly step on the road to reform).
In this, Libya is likely the more important of the two because it provides the carrot side of the carrot and stick metaphor, the direction that we'd like the Non-Integrating Gap countries to go to. But Libya would never have happened without Iraq.
Baby Blogging IV
The hospital where Alma was born offers a baby website. It's now up. And no, she doesn't look like this anymore.
Spend, Michael, Spend!
Will spendthrift Michael Jackson put control of the Beatles catalog in the hands of a bank (and then straight onto the Internet)?
The phenomenon of the rich throwing away their wealth is very, very old but its virtually ignored by the "rich are getting richer" crowd. People do throw their money away. Inflation and heirs eat away much of the rest.
Then again, what I really would like to see is the Beatles Catalog hit the iTunes Music Store.
Eugene Volokh's Stupid Math
Eugene Volokh goes into all sorts of mathematical gyrations to try to prove that there is some sort of basis for Prof. Brandon's prejudiced remarks. Now I don't understand why he's doing this as he's no fan of the idea but he does it anyway.
Since we're in the realm of pulling numbers out our ears, perhaps a little reality might be in order. There is an interesting fact regarding Democrat and Republican voters. Republicans form a normal curve and Democrats don't. Democrats predominate both on the very high end of educational level and the very bottom as well.
If such a distribution can exist in reality between Democrats and Republicans, there is no reason it could not exist between conservatives and liberals? Furthermore, if such a curve can exist ideologically based on education, is there any mathematical reason such a curve cannot exist based on intelligence in an ideological bent? Of course the answer is no, no reason at all.
The assumption tripping up Prof. Volokh is that ideological allegiance is a simple phenomenon. In reality, I've noticed that smart people tend to be conservative or liberal for different reasons than stupid people. The motivations tend to work independently of each other as well so there is no reason why conservativism couldn't have a compelling case that makes sense to the less intelligent while also having a (different) compelling case that makes sense to the super-intelligent.
February 13, 2004
Very Late Movie Review
Believe it or not, I just got around to seeing Return of the King (thus the bloggus interruptus of the past few hours). First, on the odd chance you haven't seen this move, go see it unless you're under about 14 or so. If you are, read the book instead and catch the movie later on DVD where it won't overwhelm you.
Since there have been wagonloads of copy written about the film, both the high points, and the obscure points, there isn't much to say other than hats off to all the makers, the players, the computer wizards, they said it couldn't be done.
You proved them wrong.
Blogs Buying Blog Ads: Why?
Instapundit is one of the blogs you just have to study if you are going to have any hope of turning serious money as a blogger. He's got the links. He's got the circulation. Analyzing the Instaman's methods is all to the good for the aspiring blogger/capitalist. But one thing on that site puzzles me. There's an ad there for another blog, the Chicago Report. Now this is a pretty good blog in itself but its got nowhere near the traffic levels necessary to bring in the kind of income that would justify spending hundreds on advertising on Instapundit. It would be like advertising your local pizza joint on CNN.com. Sure, you'd get some traffic, but would that make back the money you laid out on the ad?
Instapundit's blogads price sheet is one link away from the front page and is as follows:
The Chicago Report ad has been up at least a week so they're putting out hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to get...
twice as much traffic as I get for free.
As of this writing, I've got 3500 visits this month and they've got 7000. You can't get much money for that sort of traffic and Chicago Report's Blog Ads price sheet shows it:
1 week - $20
Amazingly, Chicago Report does currently have two ads running, both decent blogs that are either getting comp'd or are advertising as a vanity project.
I don't understand the idea of spending hundreds of dollars to get back tens. Chicago Report has good production values, good writing (though I do disagree with some of it, just look at their comments) but I can't make sense of their business plan.
So what am I missing?
The Bit Bucket has an article on the soft xenophobia of the more reasonable immigration restrictionists. I'm in a bit of a quandary. I agree that the soft xenophobia is there but I'm also unhappy about the other part of the article:
The fact that Californians don't do things like Washingtonians--or that Oregonians are annoyed by the presence of Californians--doesn't necessarily make Californians' presence in those states a social cost. And (aside from the purely pragmatic consideration of avoiding an electoral backlash) I don't see why advocates of liberal immigration laws should take those "costs" into account when evaluating immigration policies.
In the computer field, this sort of sentiment is often rendered "it's a feature, not a bug". But for some people, such 'features' are bugs. Who gets to decide? Unfortunately, the article smells of "we know better than you and we wil decide", an attitude that I am deeply suspicious of.
Ultimately, public policy is determined by the public and the xenophobic have as much right to participate and should have their voices heard as much as xenophilic integrationists like me (ie I'm in favor of a rich melting pot experience with lots of assimilated immigrants). Ultimately, the xenophobics cut off their nose to spite their face but in a free country they have the right to do that and we should give them enough societal room to accomplish the task as long as the blood spatter doesn't reach the more sensible among us.
Ultimately, in a free society, costs are determined individually, not collectively. You can ultimately overrule unreasonable cost perceptions but these perceptions must be recognized as existing and be given some status in a free and just society. Interests must be accommodated peacefully or they will eventually mutate and become unhealthy.
The Multiple Levels of War
Steven Den Beste is probably right that Al Queda will probably not simultaneously nuke 30 US cities. Where he's wrong is that he thinks this matters.
If you look carefully, you will note that the name "Muslim Brotherhood" crops up now and again in discussions about Al Queda. If you look at the history of what normal civilized people have been worried about from terrorism, much of what was feared would come out of the Muslim Brotherhood of decades ago actually came to pass not from that organization, but from Al Queda. The fear was right, the organization that did it was wrong. So any analysis of a particular threat by a particular organization is, at some level, pointless.
Some people dropped out of the Muslim Brotherhood, others use its umbrella for peaceful reform purposes, and others moved over to Al Queda without changing their violent, reactionary beliefs one iota. The organizational letterhead used to in the planning and execution of death cultist strikes against civilization is fundamentally unimportant at the strategic level (though it can have local, tactical importance in breaking up particular plots).
The fundamental problem is the nihilistic death cult that is popping up in several variants around the world and which attitudinally bind a number of seemingly disparate movements together. North Korea has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with a lack of respect for the dignity of human life. At a certain point, Wretchard's feared scenario of multi-city nuclear bombing will likely take place by a branch of the death cult unless the entire cult is discredited and destroyed across the entire globe.
The danger of SDB's analysis is that it plays into a repeat of the international security community's dismissal of the December 1994 GIA hijacking and attempted destruction of the Eiffel Tower. Al Queda's being dismantled so the nuclear proliferation problem is still bottled up and relatively safe, right? Wrong.
Even if Al Queda entirely disappeared today as a functioning organization, thousands who had undergone training and hundreds of thousands who are influenced by the cult would still exist. The non-muslim variants would be affected even less. And a new organization would rise up to become the new focal point, taking the best of Al Queda's strategy and tactics and personnel and increasing the death cult's threat.
No doubt, one of those things that they would take would be the major nuclear strike scenario that Wretchard speculates on and SDB dismisses. Eventually, they'll get it right. They might get it right slower than we would, less effectively than we would, but they eventually will get it right and millions will die. We can't be comforted with the fact that our actions will delay it so that it will not be us that die but our children or grandchildren. That's just not good enough.
The Challenge of Culture: Failing Via Isolation
Donald Sensing's current article on culture generated some really frustrating comments that advocated turning off the TV and dropping out of the current culture. That's, at best, a half baked solution. I should know, I tried it. For over a year I literally had no TV. I got all my news off the Internet and radio, mostly the Internet. I read, I paid attention to my new wife. It was a decent existence, I thought, but what it wasn't was engaged. I was, to a great extent, absent from the spiritual battle over american culture. And when I returned, I noticed the difference.
When I left TV land, things weren't quite as crass, when I came back, it seemed like every other show had an occult or vampiric link to it. Now my father was born in the heart of Transylvania and I was born on its edge so I understand the schtick but the current iteration was a little too admiring of the evil side of things for me to be comfortable with it. And the general level of intelligence dropped. It's still dropping but if you haven't at least dropped out for a year, you can miss the gradualness of the process.
There are technical innovations, filtering content, that permit the erection of a wall between you and the sewer. But that's not enough for an ultimate solution. What needs to happen is for us to demand something better and be willing to spend our money on that, be willing to lead the cultural elite not just with the negative stick of a boycott but the positive carrot of increased profitability if they do good things.
Part of that, I fear, will require us to remake the distribution networks of culture in a way that destroys the monopolies that the current gatekeepers enjoy. Hollywood, the RIAA big five, the broadcast networks need to be forced to create new business models that destroy their ability to impede highly rated shows like 'Touched by an Angel' because the people who watch them are not the 'right people'.
Literally, the demographics of people who are most likely to care about christian morality are valued less than those who do not have the experience, and tend not to have the judgment, to include serious moral standards in their cultural consumption habits.
This is going to create some very odd bird alliances. The countercultural hackers who wish to create technological systems to end-run our current cultural gatekeepers are the most likely allies we have in this battle. They often don't understand christianity, sometimes are even explicitly hostile to it, but their free code ethic and hostility to the corporatist control machinery will create an atmosphere where the consumers of culture will actually be the customers and that is a situation in which serious christians will have a favorable playing field to engage in spiritual warfare.
Moral degradation and deviance will always exist as long as free will does. Some will choose the wrong path, however much we may try to persuade them otherwise. But there is no reason that such fare has to be tolerated in our own homes. There is no reason that we have to accept this bystander view of our culture where the broadcaster is the vendor and the customer is the advertiser, not the consumer.
Creating a world where the cultural consumer is the customer is the best current option for freedom minded faithful. This gets the free market working in our favor, not at cross purposes to what we want. The market will respond to our needs, but only if we are the customer. Withdrawing from consuming culture does not get us to this position. At best it is a temporary spiritual retreat that arms you with a more objective perspective about how bad things are.
Russian Stability II
1) If, God forbid, you were suddenly struck down, are you comfortable with the level of leadership you would leave behind in all major parties that no matter who won, Russia would be led by a responsible figure that the nation could survive? If no, what is your plan to take us out of this dangerous situation?
Putin's response on the subject:
Putin reiterated his stated opposition to prolonging his time in office, limited to two terms. But he indicated he would choose a preferred successor, saying that the task of any top leader ``is to propose to society a person he considers worthy to work further in this position.''
That attitude is not nearly good enough for Russia. I keep hoping that someone will push Putin for reforms in this area. The truth is that while a party leader cannot pick his opposition directly, he can move the statistical center of the electorate in such a way that anybody who has a serious shot at national office must take sustainable positions on the major issues confronting the country. Putin has a responsibility to lead Russia's electorate to such conclusions so that no matter who his opposition picks, no matter who his own party picks, Russia will survive, even thrive, no matter who wins the election.
Choose Your Game Wisely
In any international relationship, the participants get to pick the rules of the game. This is a crucial phase in relationships and needs to be decided wisely.
It appears that Russia is considering reviving the Great Game of win/lose power competition in Central Asia and its european periphery. For ordinary people, this game most resembles a high stakes game of poker. If true, this is a tremendous mistake. The reason is simple, the US can outbid Russia at any time, winning any single contest by simply outspending it.
The US, in contrast, seems want to play a different sort of game, a kind of competitive team sport where there is the competition between the team and its opponents as well as internal competition. American baseball and football with their intra-team partnerships and competitions for playing time and positions is a close analogue.
The US approach sets up two sets of winners. All participants on the winning team win, and there is a separate hierarchy of winners inside the team culminating in the most valuable player. Rivalries inside the team can be intense but you get ahead in this game via both personal advancement and group advancement.
Which game ultimately gets picked can shift from time to time and the rules inside the game can also morph. But the difference of which rules get picked is profound. It is the penultimate level of international organization, right below intentions and interests and needs to be monitored carefully. The Russians have been making some worrisome moves lately.
February 12, 2004
Peggy Noonan's asking for Bush's election paragraph. Here's my offering:
We're at war. We have a serious, positive strategy to prosecute and win the War on Terror. Our opponent does not. Without such a strategy we will eventually be worn down and lose this war, and in the process losing our precious freedoms. A closely divided Congress can be held up on any issue by tiny groups of legislators of either party obstructing vital legislation until they are paid in pork. Winning the War on Terror requires swallowing those outrages which will persist as long as the Congress is closely divided. We need larger majorities.
John Kerry, among others, has signed a letter arguing against the passage of a constitutional amendment to the Massachusetts state constitution defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Spinsanity is arguing that the AP unfairly labeled this as a pro-gay marriage letter. If John Kerry had signed such a letter a year ago, this interpretation would have been accurate but there are only three ways this can go after the state supreme court ruled that gays were being harmed by current practice and their recent advisory opinion that a civil union bill would be insufficient and a marriage bill was required of the legislature:
1. The legislature passes an amendment defining marriage as purely heterosexual. Gay marriage is defeated
The letter's text clearly shows Kerry is against option 1. The AP title implies that Kerry's preferred outcome is option 3. If that reading is unfair, the only alternative is option 2, something that is both a stretch given Kerry's past record and something that would be clearly disastrous for his presidential bid.
So for the AP to have been wrong they had to have been too nice to Kerry and were really trying to positively spin a glaring sign of a man unfit to be president. I rather think that the AP was right, though it seems to have retracted its correct characterization (wimps).
No Chairs, No Sales
Virginia Postrel is lamenting the loss of chairs at a Borders she used to haunt. It's not that difficult to issue a complaint that will carry weight. Just let a manager know that...
No chairs, no sales!
They do care about this sort of feedback, especially if you let them know you're blogging about it so it's not only a customer incident but a press incident.
Disingenuous Bush Bashing
Phil Carter over at Intel Dump sniffs at President Bush's guard service "Not exactly exemplary service for the guy that we now look to for leadership as Commander-in-Chief, but maybe he's a late bloomer."
Yes, maybe he is but how would we know without a more recent record to demonstrate it, like, oh 3 years of good wartime presidential leadership? Supposedly he's writing a larger piece on the subject of how this is still relevant nowadays and I'll be fascinated to see if he manages to square the circle. I have strong doubts he'll pull it off.
I generally like David Brooks but I have to agree with Bruce Rolston that it is vitally important that the Commander in Chief, while head of the US military, is the user of society's sword, and never conceives of himself as part of the sword.
There is a grand tradition of civilian oversight and rule over the US military. The military (as I am learning from my current reading) does horribly badly when not led well, or at all, by its civilian leadership.
There is a 2nd book hiding in The Pentagon's New Map a highly disturbing picture that I was not aware would be in the book but provides a critical eye into the reasons why a free society's sword should not, can not wield itself.
Light Morning Blogging
We're off to set up a business banking relationship. Tenacity is the key, I think, to a great deal of success. In the end, we did not abandon Citibank but found a reasonable person within it and they're just a bit further away.
If you're in need of a business banker and you're around Oakbrook, IL, you won't do much better than Brandy Sladek.
February 11, 2004
Where are the Pharma Corporate Raiders?
The New Yorker has an intriguing article on Big Pharma's pipeline problem. The idea is that R&D doesn't scale (though how he would explain 3M is a mystery) and that pharmaceutical firms should adopt the current Hollywood studio system, becoming distribution houses and money suppliers.
What really puzzles me is that if it is true, we have a classic case of the parts being greater than the whole and dismemberment would lead to huge profits for any corporate raider willing to take on the challenge. So why aren't there any doing just that?
That one's a real head scratcher.
To Boycott or Not to Boycott II
Evan Kirchoff continued the MTV conversation with me in his latest post. I think that his objections don't stand up too well. First, boycott's are not always economic negatives. The Last Temptation of Christ spent very little on advertising because they knew there would be protests, boycotts, and massive interest generated by those acts so they skimped on advertising and did great ticket sales anyway. Banned in Boston was a sure-fire sales promotion tool for decades.
The mere existence of a boycott does not mean that the boycottee will be ashamed, shamed, or even suffer a net financial loss. This is historical reality. Badly designed boycotts backfire to the financial and reputational benefit of those subject to them.
The problem of coercion is being brought up through the back door and needs more detailed treatment:
Secondly, I don't agree that what they're doing is necessarily "healthy" or "freedom-friendly". Among other things, they're apparently attempting to get cable companies (local monopolies in some areas) to remove MTV from the channels they offer. I don't think this is especially likely to occur (although I can imagine more modest goals that could succeed), but I fundamentally disagree with them about the morality of the attempt. It's not "censorship", since the government's not involved and all proposed actions are within the context of the marketplace. However, it does amount to a form of cultural bullying. This may be a fuzzy line, but at some point there's a difference between declining to watch something and trying to apply economic leverage to prevent a much larger group from being able to watch something. BoycottMTV.com is begging this question by tossing around words like "sewage" and "trash" -- who could have a legitimate reason to want to watch "trash"?
A boycott recommending the non-purchase of a product is in some ways the negative version of a testimonial. What is being hinted here is two things, that negative opinions are somehow less legitimate than positive ones and that because the negative testimonial comes from more than one person, it somehow has less legitimacy than if the opinion is an isolated, individual one.
But a cultural judgment is also being passed that providing that good, that TV channel is worth withdrawing patronage from the provider. This is where Kirchoff engages in a little sleight of hand. The tail generally does not wag the dog. Boycotts are powerful only when they are large, and many times not even then (see Southern Baptists v. Disney for a current example). Often a boycott group that is too small is not just ineffective, it is ignored as an insignificant asterisk.
Where boycotts are effective are when enough patronage is controlled by those participating to hurt the bottom line or, in the case of a monopoly, are large enough to carry a vote stripping that monopoly right. But if the stripping of that monopoly is done to permit a second, competitive cable carrier to compete, I can't see where the harm is in that.
Finally, I have to say that the idea that there is no reason to consume trash is an insult to trashy romance novels, Jerry Springer, and other entire genres of entertainment that are sold explicitly as having little to no redeeming social value. Trash has sold, and sold well in the past, the present, and will likely sell well in the future.
The question today is whether you can live your life and raise your children fully engaged in society without being forced to bring this into your house? Ultimately, technology is coming down the pike which will make this debate moot. Until then, we're likely to continue to debate how much in the shadows the disreputable forms of entertainment will have stay.
Nicholas Kristoff goes in the right direction with his education reform column today. Yes, we need to improve our educational system. But you can't improve what you can't measure. Without objective success metrics, improvement will always be elusive. And if people are trapped in a school and bureaucrats are politically protected, the poorest, least influential in society (and yes, some of the middle class too) will not be able to gain decent schooling.
What's worse, we have a crying need to back and fill, to offer opportunity to those who have already gone through this broken system, gotten their ersatz diplomas, and are handicapped in life with poor math, logic, and science skills.
In my day job, I'm familiar with adult education. All IT people are (or should be). If you aren't constantly reskilling yourself, you can kiss your marketability goodbye as new versions of software come into vogue and your outdated knowledge of only a few years ago is no longer enough to land a contract or a decent job. In fact, in between hunting down that next contract, blogging, and taking care of my family, I'm continuing my education, a process that I do not foresee ending until I assume room temperature.
Some of this education costs me money in course fees, some in books, but a growing amount of it is in free articles on the Internet written by people, for their own reasons, who share their knowledge with others. In part, the blog entries that I put here are part of the same phenomenon. Kristoff could have greatly increased the effectiveness of his column if, at the end, he had thrown in a link to a page teaching the solution to the math problem he presents at the beginning. It would have cost little, a few extra characters per page load, perhaps 15 minutes in reportorial research in finding such a page, and would have added little to the rhetorical value of the piece. But it would have caught a few more people up in the hunger and thirst for learning about math and would have educated a great many more about the specific problem presented.
Sustainable Free Market Rail?
And they said it couldn't be done. Apparently Thames traines are running in private hands and subsidy free. This occurred in six years. On May 1, 1971 Amtrak started service with the same goal in mind, private rail providing unsubsidized service. It's been 32 years and they still haven't made it.
When the inevitable happens and Amtrak, once again, asks for an additional bailout, Congress would be more than wise to give the Thames people a consulting contract to work out the kinks in the Amtrak business plan, and perhaps steal away a few good managers as well.
The Pentagon's New Map
If you thought I've been obsessive about Thomas Barnett and Core/Gap analysis up to now, you 'aint seen nothing yet. The book's coming out and I'll be hyping it through the publication date and likely beyond.
Oh, and his analysis is straight on too. But if you've been reading me for any length of time, you already knew that.
I just got my first bit of blogging related swag. Yeehah.
Oh, I'm perfectly willing to do book reviews and anything else that would get me advance copies...
Who'd Run IAEA Better?
Frank Gaffney is unhappy with Mohamed ElBaradei. From his official IAEA biography, it's pretty clear that Dr. ElBaradei's post carries a four year term and will expire at the end of 2005. It would seem that any criticism of the IAEA chief should, at the very least, touch on a few candidates who might be better able to serve the international community's interests in safeguarding against nuclear proliferation for as long as possible.
It's all well and good to criticize the current head of an obviously fallible organization but you can't beat somebody with nobody. Now is the time for replacement candidates to start to emerge and to build up enough steam that a third ElBaradei term isn't a foregone conclusion.
Camps and Counter-Camps
What's missing is the idea of struggling for these men's hearts and souls. There is a great opportunity of a hotline of muslim imams who would be able to bring these men in from the cold, preach to them, and arrange for them to have a reconciliation with the US government. There is nothing holding back such an organization from forming and putting up notices in every mosque in the US. It would be a tremendous blow if we could lower the cost of rooting these people out to our pennies in re-education to their dollar in training them in the first place.
The Department of Homeland Security could make an initiative to imams offering to respect confidentiality and providing a legitimate way for these people to get clean papers and stay in the US (surely monitored, but legal). From a muslim perspective, these misguided souls must be saved and brought back to the true, more tolerant islam that they have abandoned for a false vision that will condemn their souls.
So why doesn't this organization exist? Why isn't it generally known? Why aren't they active nationwide wherever there are muslims to guard against these inserted agents? All we can hope is that moderate muslims will organize and that the DHS will enable it by offering a way out for these sleepers.
Bush's Military Service
I find the entire discussion of George W. Bush's military service to be somewhat bizarre. After all, GWB has been Commander in Chief for three years and change now. You would think that he would be judged mostly on his most recent term of service, but no. Instead 30+ year old service records (which end up largely bearing out the President's story) are more important to decide whether he is fit to continue the job he's been doing for coming on four years now.
Would you retain somebody in a company with years of experience doing a job based on their college transcript or would you evaluate their actual job performance? The man was in the Guard, he did his hours and got an honorable discharge at the end. It's becoming more and more clear that for some in the partisan press, this is a witch hunt. But who dares stop it?
HT: Phil Carter's Intel Dump that provoked this rant
Can We Pass It All?
Andrew Sullivan opines>:
My agenda: means-test social security, scale back Medicare, abolish agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare and move toward a flat tax that the super-rich cannot evade. That's one good answer to the Dems' itching to raise taxes again. We can do it all - if only we stop wasting so much on people and special interests (of left and right) who do not need the help.
In a theoretical world, AS is right. Where he goes off the rails is that he is completely ignoring the problem of the current makeup of the Senate and House of Representatives. With such narrow margins, every vote can be held hostage by a very small number of legislators who must be paid off in pork to gain their vote. I do not see any way around that fact. A closely divided Congress will have this dynamic no matter who will be in the White House and no matter what their agenda is. The only cure is to either change the partisan makeup of the members of Congress so that party discipline can push through more votes without promising pork or change the voting rules so the current balance is not so closely divided. The former is much easier than the latter and the people will have an opportunity to solve the problem in November.
To Boycott or Not to Boycott
Which market niches should remain unfilled? That's the question being pondered by Evan Kirchoff over at 101-280 in response to the creation of BoycottMTV.com. It's an interesting debate here because both sides agree that government restrictions are not the answer.
I have to side with boycott MTV on this one. If libertarianism has any distinction from libertinism it is in the ability of people who wish to maintain and promulgate moral standards to freely espouse and associate with similarly minded people for the purpose of advocating their ideas of morality. Evan Kirchoff thinks that this is a bad idea because the moralists might win, and win too easily.
I find this unpersuasive. I have no doubt that there are hardy capitalists who have robust business plans that will survive boycotts to present the kind of degenerate smut that is in penthouse, much less MTV. My sympathy for them is somewhat limited. Aw, they have to adjust their business plans to create new revenue models, poor babies.
I think that they should not be prevented by the state from their consensual business but I think that moral disapproval, where felt, needs to have healthy freedom-friendly outlets where it can express itself otherwise it'll come out in unhealthier forms like a rock through a window or worse.
Ultimately, the solution is to sever the link between advertisers sponsoring programs and make the advertising relationship between the advertisers and the consumers with consumers being paid to watch ads and buying up the programs of their choice with the ad credits they have earned.
German Brain Drain
Besides keeping military conscription so they can afford to staff their hospitals Germans have other labor problems. The economic system is apparently so tilted against achievement and quality that the best and brightest are packing up and leaving.
This phenomena is not new but the pain it causes is cumulative. When on brilliant mind is no longer there to inspire the next generation at University, it's something of a blow, but when people start thinking that the best are all leaving, a perverse social pressure starts and if you're committed to staying, you start to be viewed as an odd bird, a patriotic odd bird but definitely an odd bird. And if you stay, you are no longer surrounded by other first rate minds but by their left behind 2nd's and 3rd's.
The funny thing is that to maintain this situation takes active efforts on the part of the German State. Even a young immigrant like me sometimes feels the pull to go back home (in my case, Romania) a pull that must be counteracted by severe beatings rendered in the form of regulation, xenophobia, high taxes, and a rigid society. You can't do much about the xenophobia and societal rigidness but high taxes and intrusive regulation are entirely within the government's powers to ease. Yet they don't, or at least only at a glacial speed.
Containment in Ruins, But There is a Replacement
I've been spreading the knowledge and arguing that people pay attention to Core/Gap analysis for some time now. This idea came out of this important observation
This image has broad implications including the fact that the nuclear genie is going to get out of the bottle and it's going to do so at the individual level. This observation was made in 2000 during the late Clinton administration and has been aggressively pursued during George W Bush's administration. The fact is that we were, slowly, starting to identify the new threat picture before 9/11 and 9/11 radically accelerated an existing process for finding responses to this problem of not only stable nation states getting nuclear weapons but sub-national units and even individuals playing significant roles in the US' threat picture, that would include the WMD threat picture that Wretchard claims we are only now starting to flail around to address.
The problem with the replacement is that only now have we developed it enough to start bringing on board a broad coalition. Iraq was necessary for the creation of this coalition to be possible because we had to ensure that the world, especially our current and future allies, knew that we would do the work with or without them and that more of their interests would be disrupted by not participating than would be by participating.
Prior to Iraq, it would be inconceivable for so many countries to sign on to the idea of completely reworking the international system. The forces for the status quo would be enormous. Post-Iraq, there is no status quo and you're either on the reform bus or you're getting run over by it if you try to stand in its way. The hard task of creating a new order in which we will not destroy ourselves is underway but the enormity of the changes and the massive resistance that will materialize when this plan comes fully out into the open currently precludes any official kickoff.
In the retail trade, they call this a "soft opening" and the circumstances require such action. That doesn't mean that we should ignore the fact that we are not flailing around without a response. We are not reacting, but acting and the work goes relatively well.
One of the ways to disarm Al Queda is to demonstrate that it is not a muslim organization. It's ability to recruit fanatical muslims would be destroyed by the idea that muslims following them are going to Hell. Over at joyfulchristian, we have a note not only remarking that we are making progress but that our news media is so bad at its job that they haven't noticed.
Fitna is a complex term that includes the idea of provoking muslim to fight muslim, improper combat, and temptations that draw people away from God. By provoking Al Queda into displaying their contempt for traditional muslim values, we're creating a situation which dries up their ability to recruit. But this effect is greatly affected by mainstream media's ability to notice that this is what Al Queda is doing and to transmit this information world-wide.
There is no betrayal of media values toward truth and justice to accurately report Al Queda's hypocrisy in provoking sectarian strife. Their failure to do so is mostly incompetence and inexperience in covering this sort of thing. Where it is not (paging Al Jazeera, paging Al Jazeera), their failure to expose this anti-muslim action is a major news story in itself.
There seems to be a desperate campaign on to demonstrate that liberals are not the establishment. It really is funny in a way. After their long march through the institutions, after decades of dominance not only in the official halls of power (that at least have elections for potential changeover ever two, four, or six years) but the unofficial ones of the media, lobbyists, academia, and intellectual salons, liberals, having suffered some partial reverses are campaigning as if they are already wilderness toughened and ready to 'take back' america.
In fact, they're only starting to go through the process of melting away the dross that adheres to any movement in power, the intellectual self-searching that accompanies defeat and regrouping for a shot at the brass ring. A quick run through the great issues of the day and the liberal answer almost entirely consists of either conventional banalities or frightening moonbattery.
There is no equivalent to William F Buckley on the left, an erudite liberal who spends much of his energy in stripping the movement's crazies of any influence as WFB did to the John Birch Society, and later, the Objectivists. Sadly, all political movements need such a figure because the nuts are ever with us and they are remarkably diverse in their ideological madness.
February 10, 2004
The Long Death of Westphalian Politics
President Bush's Greater Middle East Initiative will ignore sovereignty issues and reach into middle east societies to support liberal reformers inside their own country. He's currently unveiling it to Europe and there seems to be some cautious willingness to come on board in a partnership where "there's work enough for everyone." What's being ignored is the institutional tearing of Westphalian assumptions of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs.
This initiative has some chance at success but win or lose, the implications for the permissibility of interfering in the affairs of other countries is profound and hardly noticed (or at least noticed publicly) at all by the present leadership of the international system. That's something of a shame as these assumptions weave through an awful lot of the current international system including the UN Charter and a great many bilateral and multilateral treaties. When will the adults in the foreign policy establishment start to address the precedent aspects of this?
Stalling Your Way to Economic Wisdom
The great Wal-Mart profit demolition machine is running out of steam. It's aggressive price cutting tactics have lately been hurting its own bottom line so much that its stock is lagging and it is embarking on a new policy of raising prices to increase margins and profitability. This will also allow more of its competitors to survive in the face of competition with the retail behemoth without resorting to legal maneuvering to "save our local stores" via zoning and other restrictive practices that have been popular with stunned competitors who did not see a way to fairly beat the giant in the marketplace.
This is just one example of wider phenomenon, the use of panic to provoke government intervention in the marketplace. In combination with the tendency of government to be a one way ratchet, it's what's fueled the explosion of government intervention all across the West.
A popular tactic is just to stall, delay, study, and hope you can keep it up long enough for the panic to subside and solutions to be worked out in the private sector. Once that happens, government solutions are no longer necessary and you can deal with the next panic.
Can a Lack of Charity be Genocide?
Another loose Vatican cannon? I wonder. I'm highly skeptical of the idea that reducing AIDS drug costs are anything but charity. Furthermore, I find it rather puzzling that a lack of charity can be genocide.
Certainly, you hope that people will be charitable, that they will give of themselves as much as they can to help the poor and unfortunate. I can even see sharp words and disapproval over someone's lack of charity. Genocide accusations are so over the top that I really wonder whether the Curia is becoming lax in disciplining loose cannons.
Serbia Anarchy Watch
A charming note remarks the surprising coincidence that Serbia had no government in December and also the highest economic growth in five years.
But how was January?
Unfortunately, the Serbia anarchy watch will not go on much longer as they now have a functioning parliament.
February 09, 2004
Carbon Nanotube Breakthrough II
Carbon nanotubes are incredibly useful and revolutionary stuff. Rapid enough progress on them could do magical things, even make President Bush's space initiative actually come within budget. So, it's always worthwhile to keep an eye on carbon nanofiber progress. But keeping an eye on the actual process of making these structures has been impossible up to now. They are so small that the actual process of their construction was something of a mystery, until now.
Hat's off to the Danes for figuring out how to observe the creation of carbon nanofibers in real time and in detail, allowing researchers in the field to no longer work blind but see what's going on in their experimental process.
This is the kind of enabling research that is likely to kick up the rate of future progress in this field, and in nanotechnology in general.
HT: Slashdot (warning, some material in comments may be adult)
Patriot Act Catharsis
Yes, I support the war on terror. Yes, I think that tightening up the money laundering regulations is a good idea in wartime when the enemy is multinational terrorism. But does Citibank have to be so bloody disorganized about what they will or will not take as proof of business address? Citibank has my banking records dating back since I was a teenager, that's a decade and a half of customer relationship data.
My wife's only banking relationship with any bank has been with Citibank and that's about five years. All we want is a simple business checking account as my wife is going to do some charity medical work and will have an office in our church to do basic prescription writing and low level primary care. We're not paying for space, we're not paying any utilities, and the local branch banker won't deviate one iota from her check list even though she has the power to do so. She doesn't even bother to check our banking records to see the longstanding (and lucrative for them) relationship we have with them.
The Patriot Act must go. The day after the freaking war is over, it's got to go.
Letter to the Paper III
I just wrote NRO's Bruce Bartlett on the subject of Medicare costs. He has an article on the budget up:
Right now the taxpayer is on the hook to treat elderly heart disease via medicare much as it has been for decades. Up until this administration the only thing we paid for was surgery, by far the more expensive of the treatments. Now that we have a drug benefit, we can encourage medical management which is both better from a patient perspective and is less expensive. But classic medicare and the medicare drug benefit are two different budget items. How is it we can be spending massive new monies on medical treatment without having a lowering of expenses for surgical treatment?
What Happened to Kerry's Decorations?
Kerry famously threw some of his military decorations over the White House fence. Were they just swept up and thrown away? Or were they preserved? I'm curious on this point as I examine Kerry's past record. I think that President Bush should try to bury the past of Vietnam and offer John Kerry his ribbons back and any of the other ribbons and medals tossed over that fence by military anti-war protesters who have changed their minds. They could make a nice ceremony out of it in the fall....
Here's a page that gathers a bunch of accounts both pro and contra Kerry (though the majority are contra).
Turning the Cover Story Around
The folks over at Dhimmiwatch are always on the lookout for the appearance of dhimmitude, the subservient attitude that militant islam demands of its non-muslim subjects. Dhimmitude is not just a legal status in a caliphate population, it is a psychological attitude that presages defeat at the hands of muslim aggressors throughout history. It is the attitude that Al Queda wants to instill in us.
Now the Chicago Tribune note referenced in the above item is supposed to be an example of dhimmitude because it buys into a cover story that true Islam is not aggressive. Now I'm a bit more agnostic than the Dhimmiwatch folks but only a little bit. The cure for such arguments is to assume the cover story is actually the truth and strictly demand performance by the true believers to act in accord with the cover story. If there really is a fight for the soul of Islam, all well and good, we want to know all about it and demand that all muslims in our nation fight on the right side against the death cult islamists who want to enslave us.
But if it really is a cover story, close examination will force these people to either repudiate the cover story or enact it into reality despite their true beliefs. And if their behavior is the same as if they were sincere, I'll take it as a win and keep an eye on them so there is no backsliding. In a generation or two, they'll even forget that it's an act.
Al Queda Nukes
Don't worry, be happy. The suitcase nukes story has been around for awhile (at least since 1997). It gets trotted out every once in awhile to make people nervous but the Russians, along the way, have already spilled the beans on the reality of these weapons. They are highly complicated pieces of machinery that needed highly specialized and difficult maintenance done to them each year or they became inert and each of them has a remarkably small amount of fissionable material in them. The only people who could maintain them were the old USSR military and the US, (and only maybe the US).
What Al Queda did was pay far beyond the going price for fissionable material for a worthless system. They would have spent their money better by buying up a medical waste firm and diverting nuclear material from there for radiological bombs because that's all they have if there is any truth to the piece at all.
It's important not to get stuck in an echo chamber conducive to your personal ideological predilections. Though this is pretty easy for me as the amount of Romanian Catholic libertarian technology minarchist literature is pretty thin on the ground, I do go out of my way to include others as long as they seem relatively civil. Now that I'm working in the medium of blogging, there is a sliver of a chance that I might even have something of an effect with my responses so why not?
Matthew Yglesias just hit my reading list on the strength of his earnestly clueless assertions that the US has no discernible foreign policy and that we're not really going after all terrorist groups. It's so breathlessly absurd that I eagerly await his next observations just to see what will come out of his mouth and he seems personally decent enough that I won't pop a blood vessel at whatever it might be.
Oh, and by the way, the foreign policy of the Bush administration is to create a world scene where the non-integrating gap (economically isolated nations) is eliminated and terrorism is a thing of the past.
February 08, 2004
Good News, Good Politics
Incumbents profit politically from good news on their watch. It's just a fact of life in a society that elects its politicians. But Juan Non-Volokh is raising a bit of fuss over the new medicare ad campaigns that the administration is launching.
He admits that it is good policy but seems uncomfortable that it is good politics. There are fairly well developed rules over mixed cases like trips that are both political and government related. A formula determines how much the politician's campaign has to write a reimbursement check to the government. But constituent communications which simply inform people of new changes in law are only indirectly beneficial to a campaign. They are the good record that the incumbent runs on. They are not, in and of themselves, campaign messages that should be paid for privately. If such things had to be paid for privately, or even a portion privately, the entire system would grind to a halt as people were less and less well informed about what the law was and how they could take advantage of this or that new provision. By that reasoning, the individual members' campaigns should pick up a portion of the publication costs of the Congressional Record.
There are two roads to stability. The first is to just rule forever. This is the authoritarian model and creates all sorts of problems because of two little inconvenient facts. People die and political ambition is not limited to the current ruler. The second road to stability is the western democratic model of competing schools of thought around a national consensus with deep political bench strength. This has the disadvantage of being messy and very hard to quickly and broadly shift in a new direction.
An article over at SiberianLight over a Russian constitutional initiative to allow Putin to serve as President until 2018 got me thinking once again about these two models. The authoritarian model is tremendously weak in the transitions of power. There is no guarantee of continuity between authoritarians and no really good succession strategy. For every Kim Jong Il, there are dozens of Nicu Ceausescus and Uday Husseins.
The problem is when the national consensus is centered around horrible, self-destructive ideas. The bickering and back-and-forth semi-stasis of the bench model is a good way to lead the country down the drain if change cannot be effected fast enough.
So, getting back to Russia, which model is best seems to be a hybrid, starting at the authoritarian model and morphing to the school/bench model as the authoritarian moves the political class' consensus to the general area that marks long term viability for the nation. This does not answer the question of whether the term lengthening idea is a good initiative or not, but it does give some good pointers on how to question Putin and try to hold him accountable to keeping to that road of traveling from de-facto authoritarianism to school/bench.
1) If, God forbid, you were suddenly struck down, are you comfortable with the level of leadership you would leave behind in all major parties that no matter who won, Russia would be led by a responsible figure that the nation could survive? If no, what is your plan to take us out of this dangerous situation?
2) In your opinion, is the center of gravity of the Russian political class' opinion in a place that would promote the long-term growth of Russia or do you believe that significant intellectual leadership is still required to institutionalize ideas that will make Russia prosper for the long haul?
3) Are you satisfied with the level of civic-mindedness in the average Russian citizen? Do you think they have gotten enough beyond the communist attitude of waiting for solutions from above or do you think they need to become more involved in local civic life as part of what Edmund Burke called "little platoons" that organize to make life better? And what are you going to do to further encourage such civic organizations?
SiberianLight thinks that Russia today reminds him of Chile. Hopefully, it will have an even better ending.
HT: The Argus
Intelligence Commission Membership Picking
This NY Times opinion piece entirely misses the point. If this commission were entirely populated by former heads of intelligence services and Bush I cabinet officers, the cry wouldn't be a lack of stature but that it was obviously a coverup.
You can nit pick the formation of any commission in the US because the US has such a deep bench of political and government talent that there are always credible alternatives. This particular commission may or may not be the "best" personnel possible but it doesn't need to be. It's certainly in the top 10% of the possible members and that means it'll be good, fair, and serve the country well.
And that's all that's really needed.
HT: Balloon Juice
Letter to the Paper II
Samizdata had an article on the futility of determined words v. determined guns. I believe they underestimate the power of words, though the direct point is dead on. A determined despot will not be disloged merely by speeches.
The importance of opinion and speeches is a bit understated in this item. The truth is that the allegiance of armed forces is up for grabs in a civil war and the speeches and nonviolent actions are important to the calculus of violence because it is swaying an unknown number of armed and militarily trained men away from the mullahs.
So will Iran continue to be ruled by foreign mercenaries and a minority of Iranians under arms? It's difficult to tell from North America but that's what is going on inside the country.
February 07, 2004
New Year's Resolution II
I just got teased in e-mail over a minor punctuation error. My correspondent speculated that I was getting tired due to my New Years resolution to post an average of 3 a day.
When I responded to him my post count was 247 over 38 days for a total of 6.5 posts per day. With this post my average goes to 6.526316 (according to my handy dandy OS X calculator).
Boy am I slacking.
Gun Grabbers, I Dare You
In the interpretation of some gun control organizations, if you are not a member of the militia, you don't have the right to bear arms. But who is a member of the militia?
The state codes generally have a military section. Many moons ago, a research assignment had me go through the NY State military code. Art I Sec 2.2 states:
The unorganized militia shall consist of all able-bodied male residents of the state between the ages of seventeen and forty-five who are not serving in any force of the organized militia or who are not on the state reserve list or the state retired list and who are or who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, subject, however, to such exemptions from military duty as are created by the laws of the United States.
Now compare and contrast with the text of the 2nd amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
By the NY State military code, women who are not in the organized militia (they're covered separately), are not in the militia at all and you can make the argument under that interpretation that they have no right to bear arms.
I would love to see somebody try to enforce that interpretation. I really would. Then again, I'd also love to see somebody try to revoke all gun NY gun permits where the holder is older than 45.
Other states have better language. Indiana Code IC 10-16-6-1 states:
Sec. 1. Under Article 12, Section 1 of the Constitution of the State of Indiana, the militia consists of all persons who are at least eighteen (18) years of age except those persons who are exempted by the laws of the United States or of Indiana.
Who would have thought that in a comparison of NY State and Indiana that NY's military code would be the more sexist and ageist of the two?
Keep Your Powder Dry II
Professor Bainbridge is crowing that he gets results and suggests that I'm wrong about Bush keeping his powder dry. He uses as evidence the naming of the intelligence committee and Bush's 1 hour interview tomorrow on Meet the Press.
But the start of the conversation was about Bush's millions. I would suggest that neither action will dent Bush's campaign balances in any significant way. The commission and appearance will both be on the taxpayer's dime as they should be. President Bush may be starting to get ready to go on offense, but I suggest that the spending will still be kept almost nonexistent until the nominee of the Democrat party is known.
Celibate Priests and Pedophile Witch Hunts
I recently discovered Clayton Cramer's blog and generally liked what I read. He goes off the rails with his innuendo laden post on the recent papal call for fairness in suspected cases of child abuse. Cramer mischaracterizes the message which was that justice for the child should predominate but that we should not forget fairness to the accused. He makes it sound as if it were solely about the rights of the accused instead of a minor caution that a hunt for justice should not descend into witch hunt.
Cramer also unjustifiably criticizes Roman Catholic priestly celibacy. As a member in a part of the Catholic Church where celibacy is not mandatory, I have a bit more experience than most catholics in the pros and cons of married v. celibate priests. Both have their place and have both positives and negatives. In my church, the last time the balance tilted in favor of unmarried priests was in 1989, which was the year the last Romanian dictator fell.
Married priests can be threatened with damage to their spouses and children in an assault that is, by definition, unavailable against celibate priests. The rule of celibacy is a general rule adopted by rite and is a worldwide affair. If you want married priests, accept the headaches that go along with them, and swap over to a Catholic rite that has them. The idea that the celibate clergy is a useless anachronism is a horrible denial of the suffering going on among faithful celibate priests in the PRC and other countries where the Catholic Church is under active persecution. Married priests are often excused some trials as they have families to care for while celibate priests soldier on.
As for there being something peculiar to the Catholic faith and priestly organization that promotes or attracts or causes pedophilia, such statements would only be reasonable if priests were being convicted at higher rates than rabbis, ministers, or imams. As far as I know there are no such studies demonstrating this and there was certainly nothing cited in the article justifying it. It's all character assassination and innuendo. Who was the childhood priest when John Geoghan was a young boy? Was he a pedophile? Is there any evidence to back up this charge?
It looks like the papal admonition to avoid witch hunts is necessary after all.
Israel's Wall: Unexamined Consequences
Steven Den Beste is back to his in-depth long format posting, this time on Israel's project to build a wall between itself and the palestinians. What a relief, after his uncharacteristically brief posts on the M2nd and the 3rd, I was worried something had happened to him.
SDB nailed the topic dead on. Palestinians will be forced to new directions and new tactics by the wall but he missed one set of players in Israel today, and they too are winners, foreign workers. With the restrictions made possible by the wall, Israel will lose access to its most convenient cheap labor force. Israel will become an even more attractive destination for Romanians, Bulgarians, filipino, and other poor nation's migrant workers from unskilled labor to highly skilled trade work, palestinians will be replaced, largely with poor country labor.
But what will that shift in incomes effect on the politics of the nations where Israel is getting their labor? As more and more remittences start coming in from Israel, how does that play out in bilateral relations with these countries?
Israel has something of an opportunity here, if it chooses to take it. If it will create legislation that accommodates the needs of these workers and conditions such legislation on upgraded bilateral relations, Israel might find that it has growing influence on the world stage.
In contrast, with palestinian organizations spending more of their munitions on each other, their support in the oil rich arab world, what there is of it, will likely decline. Muslims killing muslims is fitna, a real no no for muslims. The mosques will not ring with sermons in favor of the palestinian cause when they are more known for fitna than jihad.
Should America Refuse a Free Lunch?
The Economist advocates Let the dollar drop. Sure, no problem, but what to do about asian economies who, not having learned the proper lessons from the Asian currency crisis, are repeating their mistakes by propping up the dollar and lowering their currencies' relative value?
To my mind, this evokes the idiocy the Japanese perpetrated on themselves by purchasing inflated US assets in the 1980s. Buying up Rockefeller Center looked like a great move back then but six years later they sold it to locals at half the price. So, this time they prop up our currency, give us lots of free stuff in exchange for over-priced debt at record-low yields. And when the bubble breaks and they are holding paper that's lost a great deal of value and the US quickly gets its fiscal house in order, what then? The problem with the bubble wasn't the bubble, per se. We had our own problems with the savings and loan bad debt crisis in the '80s. The problem was essentially a cultural one, an unwillingness to face the shame of failure and just get rid of the consequences of past foolishness. In Japan and the rest of east Asia there are still leftovers of their bubbles. The US has long since moved beyond the S&L failure as debts were settled at a loss and assets liquidated and moved to hands that could turn a profit on them.
But other than making sure that the US economy is supple and can recover from the inevitable snapping of artificial trends what, exactly, is the US supposed to be doing? Its currency is manipulated up, its free trade ideology and international obligations block it from restricting imports. Without increased stimulus, the US economy would today be in a deflationary cycle. And what alternate stimulus is currently available besides deficit spending? We're pretty maxed out on tax cuts. Interest rates are at record lows and inflation is barely 1%. What policy option is left except spending like a drunken sailor and preparing for the downstream consequences as best we can?
Airline Security Militia
Glenn Reynold's item on a felon who snuck onto a plane and was noticed and caught by passengers brings up two words that grace the law books of every state and the federal government "unorganized militia". The whole of the people are the ultimate security force and it is a largely unexamined topic of how much they are awake, alert, and form a functional part of the national security structure that protects the United States.
At the very least, this is a subject that needs a lot more thought.
A New Arabic Word
Jihad, hirabah, this War on Terror is slowly giving me a slight working knowledge of arabic. Now I have a new word to add fitna. This is the highly discouraged practice of muslims warring on other muslims. These words are all under linguistic assault with Al Queda issuing newspeak dictionaries to justify their shifting wartime tactics.
The terrorists have grave need for these newspeak dictionaries because even under the traditionally martial norms of Islam, what Al Queda is doing is far outside the bounds of normal muslim behavior. It is the linguistic and theoretical innovations of Al Queda that are most threatening, not their current ability to bomb, shoot, or knife their enemies (including us). They are not particularly efficient at that, after all, but over time an infinite number of terrorists will accumulate serious, even fatal harm. It is the generating capabilities that Al Queda is building up via, in part, by muslim newspeak that is the currently most unaddressed threat.
February 06, 2004
Something cute and happy, a photo album of my children.
Ralph Peters enlarges on my previous remarks on our Human Intelligence (HUMINT). He takes a much more negative view but we're both on the same track, who exactly was it that caused the intelligence agencies to require a 13 year rebuilding plan in HUMINT, of which we are 55% done (we're in the 7'th year, according to George Tenet).
I disagree some with Ralph Peters in that I don't think a 55% progress report is passing, or even close to acceptable for the USA. We're improving, and that's the message I took away from Tenet's admission but it's a self-admitted failing grade. You can't expect, nor would I forgive, a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) who too boldly waved red flags and announced to our enemies that come on in the waters fine, our spies are mostly greenhorns and incompetents. That's just asking for trouble. But the 13 year rebuilding plan is sufficient notice for those with eyes and ears to note what is going on.
Most of all it is a call to not go into the field with machete drawn and silver platter ready to sport heads. If we're in the middle of a planned rebuilding cycle, this is something that needs strong oversight but not cries for blood on the editorial pages.
Japanese Trade War?
The DPRK's third largest trading partner is Japan with whom it maintains a trade surplus. According to this article the Koizumi administration is about to pass legislation enabling it to start economic warfare in the form of trade sanctions and a remittences freeze. The DPRK is the only likely target at the present moment and of the large korean ethnic population in Japan, approximately a third support Pyongyang with remittences, a hefty foreign currency earner for the DPRK.
With Japan so used to being on the other side of trade war threats, it should be a useful learning experience for americans to observe how Koizumi uses this new Japanese policy tool. It is not only helpful in the upcoming second round of six party talks on the DPRK's nuclear program, it also will provide a window into japanese thinking and that's an opportunity that should not be passed up.
Curing the WMD
That's Washington Monument Defense, not Weapons of Mass Destruction, though both are used in much the same way. The latter keeps invasion at bay, the former, budget cuts. Both are deployed at politicians eager to maintain their independence.
The WMD which Master of None's Michael Williams terms Washington Monument Syndrome is deployed every time popular will exhibits a preference for budget cuts. The most painful and visible cuts possible are adopted first in order to cure the people of such extravagant ideas as having a smaller government. Budget cuts hurt is the message and the real message is that the politicians will make them hurt if the plebes show up at the gates. Of course, publicly the message is that closing down the Washington Monument was the only spare money available in the budget.
The cure is simple, if unimplemented. Budget information needs to be accessible by the people, both revenues and expenses in as detailed a form as the legislature gets it (aside from secret expenditures, of course). Collaborative software needs to be created that will allow people to present alternatives to the current budget to achieve particular savings levels or to sign on to other citizen sponsored plans. Once savings are found and people show popular support for particular cuts that would not be as painful, politicians will have lost their excuse to use the WMD to defend their pork expenditures.
The beauty is that lots of people know exactly where the pork is hidden in their little corner of the world, whether that's geographical area or functional expertise. Given an opportunity to expose it, there would be a great deal of energy expended on exposing these unnecessary expenditures to the light of day.
All that's needed is for citizen software writers to create such a system and for government IT people to adopt an open standard for sharing budget figures. This is not rocket science. It's much easier than that.
Dean's Contributors Haven't Deserted
It looks like the faithful haven't given up on Howard Dean. His Wisconsin fundraising drive (700k by Sunday) was fulfilled in one day. He's now raised the bar to double the ad buys.
Is this throwing good money after bad? I'm sure the Deaniacs will say no but we'll know after Wisconsin. If Dean and Edwards just don't give up it may be that they can keep Kerry below 50% of delegates. Now won't that be a fun convention to watch.
Minus One Weasel?
We may be on the verge of a true opportunity to reassess (for the better, this time) US/German Relations. Chancellor Schroeder, as is traditional in the FRG system, is also leader of the largest governing party. Gerhard Schroeder has just announced that he is stepping down from his political post and it is quite likely that he will soon step down from the Chancellorship.
Anti-american posturing has only carried Schroeder so far and it looks like the CDU's prediction that Schroeder would not serve out his term, that his histrionic demonization of the US will come back to haunt him, is bearing fruit. May the German people find a leader more interested in leading the FRG into a true German way than in opposing for opposition's sake.
Ignoring the UN
One of the raps about the Bush administration is that it ignores the UN and only goes to it when it is convenient to want a resolution giving it political cover. It amazes me that anti-Bush partisans are not getting pilloried about this very same issue now.
From their perspective, mandatory resolutions of the UNSC were violated. Multiple mandatory resolutions were violated. By the terms of the UN Charter, that sets you up for Great Power intervention. You deserve to lose your regime if you cross the UN on a mandatory UNSC resolution.
For honest UN advocates, the line should be that the result was right, Bush and Blair should be praised for defending the UN system, but they get points off for sloppy paperwork and should work on that. This is a line that, as far as I can tell, is being adopted by almost nobody.
The double standard, the hypocrisy and deceit is appalling on the part of the anti-war left who supposedly believe in the UN. The proof is already in that Saddam deserved to be invaded based on evidence acquired thus far. If not, you might as well just tear out the section of the UN charter describing mandatory resolutions and use it for toilet paper. Which, as the good recyclers they are, most of the anti-war left is doing right now.
Damn the Nation and Jump to Conclusions
When George Tenet asked for patience and forbearance on the part of the american people to wait for the actual facts to come in he was warning against exactly the kind of irresponsible bloviating in today's NY Times editorial.
Sadly, the NY Times entirely misses the point. It ignores reports that indicate that it is reprising its cold war "useful idiot" role and plunges ahead, unwilling to heed the warning signs that maybe it's being played for a sucker and it should moderate its stance to take into account that possibility. Perhaps it will be luckier than in previous times when it has given more credence to those opinions it found comfortable than those opinions that were ultimately found to be correct about the nature of this nation's enemies.
The Russians just got hit by Chechen separatists in Moscow. It was a subway bomb that killed almost a hundred people (so far).
There seems to be something of a disconnect in solidarity among some. There are plenty of people who sympathize and stand in solidarity with Israel against palestinian terrorism. We need to be just as strong in solidarity with Russia against Chechen terrorism. Whatever the past, or even present difficulties in our relationship with Russia, these people deserve to know it is not just the government of the US but also the people of the US who stand with them against this barbaric, unholy evil.
The Benefits of Pollution Markets
European scientists have invented smog eating paint. Now in the classic green model, such paint would be mandated by government rule, costs would rise, inspectors would be appointed, and it would be an awful mess in fighting to get the stuff up on actual surfaces.
With the idea of pollution markets (as the US has advocated since GHWB's presidency) the scenario changes. You prove you have x gallons up on an exterior wall, you have a pollution credit worth X dollars. This makes an incentive to subsidize production up to X-1 dollars, which will lower the paint cost and increase sales. If the some coal plant in West Virginia wants to subsidize a house painting bill, even the most anti-green homeowner will take the deal.
The bottom line is that the paint will be far more widely deployed with less hassle and we'll have a cleaner environment using a market mechanism that most of the green movement had the vapors over when it was established.
February 05, 2004
Status of Human Intelligence Branch
When I came to the CIA in the mid-'90s, our graduating class of case officers was unbelievably low. Now, after years of rebuilding, our training programs and putting our best efforts to recruit the most talented men and women, we are graduating more clandestine officers than at any time in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.
This is the best indication that I've seen that this intelligence inquiry issue is seen as deadly serious by the CIA. To say that we're five years away from rebuilding our HUMINT (Human Intelligence) to a decent level is the nearest I've ever seen to a bend over and drop your pants moment.
One thing that I think we should all demand from any intelligence review commission is what the heck happened that decimated HUMINT to the point that you need a 13 year program to build it back up? Have all of those destructive inputs ceased?
Missing Aluminum Tubes
More on Tenet's speech:
Regarding prohibited aluminum tubes, a debate laid out extensively in the estimate and one that experts still argue over, were they for uranium enrichment or conventional weapons? We have additional data to collect and more sources to question.
If the tubes were for conventional munitions that were legal, why have they not been found? On the one hand, they could be in the parts of Iraq's conventional military arsenal and not inventoried yet. But if that were true, there could be a great many other sanctions prohibited things hidden there and waiting to be found. On the other hand, these tubes could have been spirited away as part of Iraq's emergency exit plan in case of imminent invasion in accordance with Soviet doctrine (let's not forget that Iraq was a Soviet client state and generally followed Soviet military doctrine).
So which is it? Who knows yet. Eventually we'll figure it out.
Biological Delivery System But No Biological Weapons?
George Tenet has made a significant speech on the intelligence. Here are two paragraphs that should be headline material all around the world:
The question of intent, especially regarding the smaller unmanned aerial vehicle, is still out there. But we should remember that the Iraqis flight tested an aerial biological weapons spray system intended for a large unmanned aerial vehicle.
Does it make any sense at all to have a biological weapons delivery system but no biological weapons? Think about it for a minute. I've said previously that we should be waiting for final reports. This sort of item is a great reason why.
Primary Documents: John Kerry & Vietnam
John Kerry served in Vietnam. He was honored with some of the highest honors this country gives for his actions there. When he came back from his military service, he joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He participated in something called the Winter Soldier Investigation. He went to Congress to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding that investigations and he made grave accusations against this country in that testimony.
The Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) was subsequently followed up with an official investiagation by the Naval Investigation Service (NIS) on the request of Senator Mark Hatfield. No charges were brought out of that investigation but apparently several phonies were uncovered. The full story can be found here.
If Kerry is going to stand largely on his character, on his biography, his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is fair game in judging him fit for the Presidency. Does he still stand by that testimony? Should he?
I recall years ago when I was just seriously starting out in the consulting business, I noticed somebody putting together a PC in a cube on a Monday. By Tuesday, there were two of them scratching their heads and trying to get the darn thing to work. Wednesday there were three people working on it and Thursday it was finished. There were probably 15-20 consultant hours put on this 'custom' system which had both a CD burner and video capture card.
(All together now) Oooh.
Looking at the umpteenth Dell catalog to hit my mailbox today I'm looking at the systems and realize that the game has changed tremendously since then. For what a decent consultant like me charges, you can get an entire new desktop for the labor price of a day's worth of troubleshooting. In fact, for bottom end systems, a day's labor = two desktops.
For companies who wish to get organized and minimize costs, the lesson is clear, you need to control your desktop configurations and buy in lots, create OS and applications images using Norton's Ghost or one of its competitors and segregate your data so that you can change out desktops as easily as you change light bulbs.
Up to now, it's mostly been the big companies that have used imaging software to control costs and the software environment. But the differential between desktop (and even small server) prices and labor costs to achieve a custom solution, is growing to the point where imaged solutions are going to spread all the way down to even small companies in the 10-20 seat range.
Can a State Ban Marriage?
In the US view of rights, a right is something that is recognized, not granted. The people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Government may recognize them, support them, but if it oppresses them, the people have a right to rebel. So, looking at things that way, is there a right to civil marriage?
I'm not asking whether this would be good, smart, stupid, or evil. I'm asking whether the government's positive steps to recognize civil marriage are a constitutional requirement in any state or under the US federal constitution?
This question has two relevant implications. If you answer no, it is not a constitutional requirement and states can ban all marriages, then the position that gay marriage is a civil right is injured. But if you answer yes, states have to marry, you directly kill one of the fairly popular alternatives in the gay marriage debates, take the state out of the question entirely. The heart of things really is why does the state inject itself into marriage?
Dog Pack Attack
After reading this article over at Clayton Cramer's blog detailing the growing menace of dog packs and in the spirit of America's Army here's a suggestion for the NRA and the rest of the pro-gun rights NGOs, make a video game out of it.
Create a few animal/human interactions that require the use of a gun, make some of them big enough that some of the clip restrictions make a difference to success and create a database of actual incidents so that people can look things up and see how close their vacation spot is to that dog mauling 9 months ago or the moose stomping two years ago.
The concept could use some refining but the general need to educate people about gun ownership is very similar to the army's need to educate people about its subculture. It would be a shooting video game with a redeeming social purpose and would create a lot of awareness for the cause for relatively little money.
OK, now the US and UK are both on record that they are going to investigate their pre-war intelligence assessments of Iraq. That's fine and a good step. But where is the UN investigation, the French investigation, the FRG investigation? All these entities were at least as off on the violations of the UNSC resolutions as the US and UK now appear to have been. So why does there seem to be silence?
As far as France and the FRG are concerned, they are NATO powers and the competence of their intelligence arms are at least tangentially of concern to their allies. Do they know something about their intelligence estimates that the rest of us do not? Or have they lost the capacity for self-evaluation and self-improvement? I wonder.
Putting an End to the Freak Show
Peggy Noonan's most recent Wall Street Journal column laments the return of the pre 9/11 freak show. Seriousness is gone, we're obsessed by trivialities again, she worries, and it's all downhill again.
I'm certainly not encouraged by the entire affair but I think Noonan is missing a few things. The major cultural transmission entities that make up mass media are all gasping for air. They're losing customers, there are technological alternatives building to break their distributional monopolies, and these two factors combined say something very healthy about the american people, if not the american elite.
The RIAA and the entire music distribution mafia is breaking down. iTunes with its music store is just one example of the revolution to come. As music is freed from its physical media and internet distribution becomes the norm, the arbiters of taste and culture that have currently dominated will no longer be able to distort the market with lowest common denominator music. Movies will follow the same path of narrowcasting and segmentation. There will be low brow culture, but it will not dominate.
The proof that it will not dominate is the draining away of consumers. I do not purchase as much music or see as many movies as I used to. I spent a year without TV at the beginning of my marriage in order to get closer to my wife (who I had not known all that long before we got married). When we finally got a TV we were both shocked at how much more degraded the entire spectrum of programming was from what we remembered a year prior. It was just stupid, idiotic, and tinged with just enough evil to make much of it creepy.
But it's not just me. The statistics kept by the networks and the RIAA both show that their market is shrinking. This leaves an opening for new entrants to provide what people want. In the past, high barriers to entry would prevent the market from shifting rapidly but today technology is rapidly lowering market barriers. The US Army is going to be driving the adoption of IPv6 starting a bit later this decade and IPv6 with its Quality of Service (QoS) packets enables unregulated, low cost net broadcasting.
We're on the verge of a new era in cultural expression. If we work hard to prepare for it, it may just end up being a positive experience.
Rule of Law Warning Light
Byron York has a column in the Hill that should have honest patriots worried regardless of their partisan affiliation. The topic is the "we wuz robbed" North Dakota Senate election of 2002. For those who have forgotten, the Republican challenger lost that election by 524 votes and there were sworn affidavits of hundreds of false voter registrations among many other Democrat illegal actions.
In the end, Sen. Tim Johnson kept his seat, nobody has been tried, much less convicted for the scandalous behavior, and it looks like nothing has changed in North Dakota law or practice to prevent a repeat as Thune tries again against Sen. Daschle in 2004.
What is really worrying is York's implicit call that the rule of law isn't working and that if the other side is cheating we might as well join them:
For their part, Republicans should have learned a valuable lesson from that race. And the lesson is: Cheating works.
This is a call to lawbreaking. It's despicable and, in an atmosphere of poor electoral law enforcement, inevitable.
And here I thought that only the Balkans spawned stupid "Greater" (insert favored nation here) maps that did nothing but piss off neighbors are raise the likelihood of war and scare off international investment.
Nope. It turns out Koreans can be idiots too.
So Where's the Program?
It's an old phrase "you can't tell the players without a program". IraqNow has a post up that shows this applies to Iraqi insurgencies, in spades. The news media are making a fatal error by lumping all the insurgent forces into one movement.
They are not one movement. Thus you have military men, who do make the distinction, who refer to one particular insurgency as being crushed and the media cries gotcha because the aggregate activity of all insurgencies has not gone down.
Somebody needs to write a program naming the players so the media can keep proper score. Wait, isn't that the media's job in the first place?
When James Lileks has a craw full of bile, step back to get out of blast range but pay attention. It's a beautiful work of art. Just go read it.
Patrick Stewart is immolated with class, grace, and style. John Kerry and the Democrats are ground to a bloody, twitchy detritus. I like it.
Gradations of Evil
Song Dae Ri has been judged an accomplice to the evil North Korean regime and is being denied asylum. Mr. Ri, a low level trade official, will be executed if deported.
This brings up a fairly difficult moral question. The truth is that the refugee board is correct when it says that Mr. Ri is complicit in crimes. Anybody who participates in the North Korean government is complicit. But this does not mean that Mr. Ri should, as consequence, be forced back to certain death in North Korea. This is disproportionate punishment, unfair and cruel in the extreme.
So, what to do? I would suggest that Mr. Ri might be given a sort of probationary asylum. He could be required to submit to judicial oversight and to present an effective plan consisting of a certain number of hours a week of constructive work educating people about the realities of North Korean life and the political system in which he was complicit. After the probationary period, he could go through the normal process of a refugee. This would provide atonement for his complicity, an actual contribution to Canada, and would not burden Canada with an unnecessary orphan, his son, who has already lost his mother to the executioner and has won Canadian asylum.
Bush Guard Attendence Checking
There seem to be a great many people on the left side of the ideological spectrum who are all hot and bothered by the issue of GWB's National Guard attendance or non attendance. As many former guardsmen have attested, record keeping is and has never been the Guard's strong suit. But how bad is that record keeping? Nobody's bothered to find out. If there exists some actual disinterested researchers out there instead of partisan spinners in white lab coats, here's one method.
Do a randomized study of the quality level of record keeping. Find 300-500 randomly picked guardsmen of that era and geographic region who did some of their duty in other units and figure out how much of their paperwork is still available after all these decades. If you can't verify a good sized chunk of them, it's a good bet that GWB's guard records are just one in a long line of casualties of military clerk foul ups. If everybody else checks out, the stories of lost records would look a lot less credible.
Anybody want to lay odds nobody ever bothers to do the study?
February 04, 2004
Samizdata has a great article on the Fixed Quantity Fallacy, the idea that there is only a fixed quantity of (insert good or service) and once those are supplied, the market is filled and that's it. Every other supplier is out of luck.
The point about the Fixed Quantity of [fill in the blank] Fallacy is that people facing a price plummet spot one consequence immediately which is a very definite win-lose situation, but they fail utterly to spot the other massively more huge benefit, which is an equally definite and far bigger win-win situation.
That's it, in a nutshell. A failure of imagination, a conspiracy of little minds is the cause of the fear of change, the fear that trade will take away job, the birth of protectionism that protects the few at the cost of the many. This pattern repeats again and again, in industry after industry, company after company, country after country. What is its source? What is the cure? Now that's a bit of innovation that would cure a great many ills; a pity nobody's imagined it yet.
Taxes Are Addiction Breaking: Right
Jacob Sullum has a great observation on the hypocrisy of the "tobacco is addictive" brigade. He notes that the same people who were in the forefront of the fight to declare tobacco is addictive advocate a $2 per pack tax that they now predict will cause 5 million addicts to drop smoking.
In non-libertarian longhand, this is nonsense because addictive substances are highly price insensitive. If you're a true addict, you don't much care how much it costs. You'll do what it takes including turning to a life of crime to get your fix. But smokers, apparently, are a new kind of addict, an addict that responds to incentives just like it was a normal habit. What a sad con. We don't need the attitude that anything is justified as long as it helps get rid of that demon weed. We've had that enough with industrial hemp politics.
Keep Your Powder Dry
Professor Bainbridge is worried and wondering what George W. Bush waiting for? He's got almost a hundred million in the bank and has no presence on the air, is not fighting back against Democrat attacks at all.
The answer seems to be at least partially outlined in my previous article. GWB's waiting for all his opponent's chips to be on the table, for the also-rans to be chased off the table and then he'll place his bets. It's quite possible to wait too long. Dole in 1996 is a case in point. But we're nowhere near that point yet. This is the highest stakes poker game on the planet. My bet is that Lucy will still pull the football away successfully.
GWB: What Harvard Does to Conservatives
A good article on the Harvard Business School and how it has left its mark on President Bush. It's an interesting reminder that anybody who declares that GWB is an idiot is also declaring that Harvard graduated an idiot, that a Harvard MBA can be bought, that influence can be peddled, that maybe others who have come out of the program are similarly unqualified. This is the kind of nasty innuendo that I suspect has played its part in forming GWB's attitudes towards affirmative action and the 'soft bigotry' that comes with those programs.
It's informative and you should read the whole thing as it not only gives insight into the President but also the entire class of Harvard MBAs who run so many of the world's premier companies.
Terrorists Looking to Thermobarics?
Apparently thermobaric munitions are becoming popular with terrorists in Russia and there is speculation that they will start cropping up in terrorist attacks in the US according to an expert at Battelle.
I read that sort of thing in your inbox and all I can think is that it's not about the weapons used. Weapons don't do anything but improve success rates and efficiency. Modernity will always supply more effective and efficient ways of accomplishing our goals, no matter what our goals are. The battle is and has always been about goal setting and convincing others to abandon goals that require the use of such weapons.
Out Microsofting Microsoft
The People's Republic of China is going to mandate proprietary wireless network standards. The technical reasons for this are patent nonsense. There is a security problem with the international encryption standard. It's really only good enough to keep honest people honest. But the globally adopted solution has been to run secure traffic over end-to-end encrypted links that are secure and can be changed if there is a fault found in the encryption scheme.
The PRC effort very much reminds me of Microsoft's continual efforts to undermine international standards on protocols by leveraging its control over the worldwide PC desktop market into protocol dominance. In the original article, a false choice is presented between hardware link encryption and no encryption at all.
The truth is that international standards are adopted, and take so much time to adopt because everybody has to be consulted to go forward. If the PRC succeeds in dictating worldwide adoption of its unilateral standard, it will gain the ability to manipulate IT companies' dictating hardware changes on its own schedule and for its own reasons. The PRC will be able to give its own favored firms advanced access to standards and give these companies months of crucial time to get a jump start on satisfying new technical standards.
This is the same reason why Microsoft has made protocol and file format differentiation such an important part of their business strategy. If they call the tune, they can always halt a competitor's momentum by changing an underlying technology and forcing them to devote engineering resources to solve that problem instead of adding to their competitive advantage and Microsoft can keep on repeating that strategy until it succeeds at little cost to itself.
It's ban enough that Microsoft continually tries to kneecap other firms with its market power. Having a nation state do it is an entire order of magnitude worse. As a sovereign power, they aren't subject to the same anti-trust pressures that Microsoft is and they can print their own money to get out of most financial difficulties from bad business decisions. It's not a widespread phenomenon yet, but if the PRC decides to go wholesale down this path, it marks a troubling turn for the world economic system.
Worry About Muslim Fatalism
Andrew Sullivan is taking a bit of flack about his recent columns on the trampling deaths at the Hajj. Sullivan's right to be bothered by the 'so what' attitude but I think he needs to think a bit deeper about what fatalism's relationship is to the Islamist death-cult.
It's not indifference to human life that is a problem with fatalism. Fatalism is an indifference to the idea that you, as a person inside the system, have any responsibility, or even ability to affect things for the better.
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats' words are very much on point, those written above, and yes, the rest of them too.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
What rough beast indeed?
African Prussians and Other Horrific Tales
Tacitus has a powerfully moving tale explaining Rwanda's genocide. It's work safe and not very graphic but the last 4-5 paragraphs moved me so much I had to leave the computer for a few minutes and immerse myself in a computer text I'm slogging through. It's profoundly disturbing to understand that we lived through this. We could do something about it. We didn't do it because it was inconvenient.
Rwanda is apparently the Prussia of Africa, orderly, rule conscious, intensely interested in doing any job right. With such features, it possibly has one of the brightest futures in Africa. But it was so rule bound that even the victims of massacre wanted to do their job right. The only ones who didn't play their part are the white knights of the West. We did not come over the hill to save the day. It will always be our personal shame that we did not.
Fixing Media Cultural Degradation
Petrified Truth has a short item on the whole Superbowl half time show controversy. He finds it odd that a radio rant against violating nudity standards in the middle of the day on the most watched TV show of the year is interrupted by a commercial for a male sexual aid.
Both problems can be solved with one innovation. The viewer needs to become the customer. Right now, believe it or not, you are not a customer when you watch a program. You pay no money, so you get no input. The federal government, who can pull a broadcasting license, is paid attention. Advertisers who actually send a media outlet money, are paid attention because they are customers.
In essence, anybody who cares about cultural standards should be against free TV. It creates a situation where morals are most closely influenced by those twin paragons of morality, politicians and large corporate interests. In the days when the current TV system was created, it was too expensive to extract micropayments from viewers. Even cable TV has very broad granularity compared to what it could have if modern information system techniques were applied to mass media revenue models today.
Advertisers still want to advertise though so I suggest that instead of paying for broadcasters to beam ads to our TV sets that we may or may not see, they pay us to actually watch them. It would be a win-win situation with advertisers being able to target much better while we would actually get to see ads for products that we actually care about and can enjoy entertainment that isn't distorted by a need to run ads in-line, within the program.
Broadcasters, for their part, would have a new set of customers. They would no longer have to please advertisers, they would just have to please viewers. This, no doubt, wouldn't change many programs cultural aspirations. One thing it would do, would allow people to create zones where raunch and cultural garbage are simply not tolerated because people will want their money back.
Instead of participating in boycotts to force advertisers to complain, people will gain the right to complain themselves and be treated as customers, not inconveniently sentient parts of the machinery to please the true customers.
For my own part, I wouldn't mind being able to run commercial free during most of my TV watching and every once in awhile flipping to 'the commercial channel' to fill up my account. I wouldn't even mind paying to fill up that account if I had no better use for my money. I suspect that people will turn against free TV as soon as they realize that free of payment is intimately linked to free of meaningful influence on broadcast content and free of respect due your moral standards.
Measuring the Deficit
The Columbia Journalism Review blog is rapping knuckles at the NY Times over how they're reporting the federal budget deficit. The NYT was using a straight dollar figure unadjusted for inflation, the CJRB said that as a percent of GDP was a better measure and showed that we are nowhere near the peak year of 6.0% of GDP.
I very much agree that %GDP is the relevant figure. A credit card bill that would ruin me might be the normal run of the mill figure for Paris Hilton or Donald Trump. What you make influences how much debt you can take. But the CJRB misses a story. The figures that CJRB uses exclude wartime years. But you only do that during peacetime. If you're in a war, you have to throw in the debt figures for WW II and other war years. We didn't get to over 100% debt to GDP in WW II with under 10% deficit to GDP figures.
We thus get back to the big foreign policy question of the day, are we at war. The CJRB does good work by chiding the Times for its dollar deficit reporting. But it has its own bias showing when it implicitly throws out wartime deficit figures.
February 03, 2004
Joe's Out Where Do His Delegates Go?
Joe Lieberman has has left the building. His quest for the presidency is over. The only currency he has now are the 25 delegates he had declare for him. With Edwards, Dean, and Clark all staying in, it's quite possible that at the convention where these delegates go might matter if Kerry can't close the deal and get his delegate count above the magic 2161 level.
Current Delegate Count
And we have a new Democrat leader. Yes, it's only today that Kerry moved into first place in the race that counts, the delegate race.
You need 2161 delegates to win. 426 delegates have either been assigned via votes or are superdelegates who have declared a preference for a particular candidate.
The rankings are:
John Kerry is clearly in the lead but he's got to do better to end this fight before the convention.
What's Your 'E' Point?
Thomas Nugent has a nice Laffer Curve analysis up on NRO. In between taking whacks at Kerry for being unforgivably retrograde in economics, he made the interesting point that the optimum point, marked 'E' on the curve, differs from individual to individual.
So why isn't there some sort of quiz to find out your individual 'E' rating? What factors go into figuring this out?
With all the silly and inane quizzes floating around on the Internet, you'd think someone would have put one together on this one. As far as I can tell, you'd be wrong.
Facts of Life Database
A logistics article in StrategyPage just reminded me of a phenomena that I've noticed quite a bit. Things that are taken for granted often change without us ever knowing it. In the article, it was the troop carrying capacity of railroads. In academia, it might be the long discredited marxist theory that a particular piece of literary criticism is based upon. In energy analysis it might be your attitudes about alternative energy and what to do about energy supplier political instability.
Just about every decision relies on underlying facts that people often take into account and then forget that their entire plan or argument depends on those facts staying within certain parameters. In simple situations, you can keep it all in your head but when things get complex, nobody really understands the full implications of basic facts changing until an extensive (and expensive) review process goes on figuring out exactly what other things are no longer true since this new factor arrived on the scene.
This doesn't just help in after the fact adjustment. It also helps in future policy planning. I've lately taken up the hobby of talking about gay marriage. I know from reading that there are hundreds and hundreds of state and federal laws that this policy decision touches. I don't know what they are. I don't know what the motivation was for making marriage a factor in those laws. In other words, I (and everybody else honestly looking at the subject as well) am cast adrift without more than a visceral understanding that this is a very big deal that shouldn't be cavalierly changed, willy nilly, without working out all the consequences. I also get a sick feeling in my stomach as I see the shallow level of analysis on both sides that obviously isn't going through and figuring out all the consequences of such a potentially society shifting adjustment.
So what if you could make a plan, create a system where all your major underlying assumptions would be explicit? What if you could set alarms for a range of values and have some sort of group monitor those values for a small fee? If they values go out of range, an alarm would go out and you wouldn't have the embarrassing (and possibly disastrous) situation of a perfectly good plan being silently rendered useless by changing facts on the ground.
State Department Warnings
With all this fuss over the recent Hajj tramplings I thought I'd see what the State Department had to say about it. The answer was, nothing. There is no warning that the Hajj has been marred many years by trampling deaths. This is a death level that would have led to a change in management at any simple club or sporting facility, much less a yearly world-wide religious event if it were held up to US standards. But, of course, the State Department has a long history of giving Saudi Arabia a pass on being held to the same standards we hold our civilized allies to.
I wish they'd drop the double standard. Yes, Saudi Arabia is an important country. We don't want to tick them off. Providing a two line description of the crowd control situation for the Hajj is the bare minimum protection the US government owes to its muslim nationals. And they're not getting it.
Clarification: When I say 'civilized allies' I'm talking about the sick double standard that divides our allies into civilized and uncivilized categories and applies double standards to our evaluation of them with less expected from people like the Saud family.
I leave the debate over the value of arab and islamic civilization itself to another time and place.
Government Business Limitations
Dr Eamonn Butler writes the following over at the Adam Smith Institute Blog:
The problem in aviation is that European airports are mostly owned by the state. And we're right to be concerned about how state money is used: we've had enough of governments messing up markets by subsidizing things in order to buy votes. So we need strict rules against subsidies.
This is dead on. In economics, if a manager provides a payoff to a customer to the detriment of the shareholders, this is a breach of fiduciary duty and a crime. A government businessman's duty is to provide a service to the benefit of the public. But if he lowers prices, is it a subsidy via the treasury? Is he doing it to run a sale to make a greater profit on higher volume? You can't tell the difference and the government businessman has all the incentive in the world to please key electoral blocs with subsidies and give difficult to prove discounts to connected special interests. This is a systemic failure of the government run economic model and I wish the people on the other side of the Atlantic all the luck in the world in their efforts to privatize their airports.
ESR has an article on his concern for legislation banning private nuclear weapons.
Even taking the most expansive view of the 2nd amendment, there are certain restrictions on weapons ownership that should be in place. I wouldn't mind a short sighted man with a shotgun for home defense. I would mind somebody short sighted driving a tank around the neighborhood without corrective lenses. He would not be "well regulated".
The more powerful the weapon, the more dangerous you can be with it if you aren't careful, the more restrictive ownership of that weapon can be in a legitimate pro-liberty reading of the 2nd amendment (discussions like this are the reason why I'm not an anarcho-capitalist). There is no more powerful weapon than a WMD and a nuke is in the first rank of risky weapons.
The policy of the United States is that there are only a few states that are stable and trustworthy enough that their possession of nukes doesn't scare the pants off us. Our policy with the NPT treaty is that even a stable, free nation like Canada shouldn't have nukes. With this reality, private nukes are off the table. When you have an individual who is more trustworthy and competent than a national political system filled with checks and balances and who actually wants a private nuke actually exists, wake me up. Until then, talking about private nukes is just libertarian bait to make libertarians look extremist and foolish.
ESR fell for the bait, hook, line, and sinker.
Why Do Liberals Howl Over Small Budget Cuts
David Bernstein notes that the NY Times and Washington Post are making a very big deal over the elimination of 65 programs and the trimming of 63 others to produce a 0.2% cut in the federal budget over the baseline (which already has a natural positive slope built into it).
I think what he fails to see is that liberals view little government programs as acorns from which mighty oaks can grow. Instituting a program is always the hard part. After that, human nature in the bureaucracy leads to continual efforts to enlarge each of these acorns in order to further the careers of the bureaucrats running the programs. Individually, it's all small beer but sow enough acorns and you end up with a socialist (or social democratic if you swing that way) forest filled with significantly sized programs that are difficult to uproot. Taking out small programs is like taking out the seedlings. It is only insignificant if you are shortsighted and imagine the effects only in the next few years.
For the suburban minded, skip the oak metaphor, and imagine the programs as young crabgrass plants. The growth patterns might be a bit more appropriate.
Clean Up Timing
There's a lot being written now about the US intelligence situation and the need for resignations and reform. Here's a typical offering by Peter Brookes, a former intelligence agent. In fact, its better than most because Mr. Brookes actually leaves open the possibility that our current state of knowledge is not complete, that before the ISG finishes its work, we shouldn't come to final conclusions. But what could be made better in the article, and is utterly lacking in most such articles is any sense of a time line of when it would be appropriate for changes to be launched. That would be after a full investigation of the causes of the failure and a comprehensive plan to make our human intelligence systems as good as our overt military is.
By this point, people at the CIA, NSC, and the rest of the intelligence apparatus are hunkering down like a battered wife and waiting for the kicks and punches to come flying their way. The problem is that there seems to be no sense of the history of how our intelligence services got into their current jam. Without some sort of reasoned planning process that creates a consensus within which our agents can operate fearlessly we are going to continue to be surprised by phantom threats we see too easily and all too real threats that we ignore to our national peril. It would be nice to see such wisdom come from both parties. Some days, it would be nice to see it coming from one party.
I present here, the best article I've seen in quite a while that explains why Microsoft is so distrusted by its competitors and why there is such fear and loathing in tech land directed at the Redmond giant.
Microsoft has, as a matter of policy, done exactly as William Safire describes the NSC attacking the USSR. Beyond the usual FUD jousting and trash talking of competitors' products that normal competition entails. Microsoft has been rumored to, and the rumors have been proven in court, tailor its code to break its competitors' products in a way that throws the blame on the product, not on the Microsoft sabotage.
Unlike the USSR, competitors are not engaged in any sort of theft or underhanded dealing. They took in good faith that Microsoft was not committing a fraud and that its documentation was accurate, its legally binding contractual promises of working with its partner/competitors on interoperability were legitimate, and that they could treat it like any other technology company.
Microsoft has broken faith so many times that nobody believes them anymore and so even judicially ordered compulsory licensing schemes for Microsoft technology generate few takers.
One other thing that Safire's Cold War story brought to mind. The story itself never came out to the public until long after the USSR was dead. DR-DOS may have eventually won its owners a nice $40M settlement but as a product, it died a long, long time ago. Microsoft banks $40M in a matter of hours. For it, paying a fine years down the road is nothing.
Ignoring Ceiling Prices
You can see some of the most uneducated analysis arising from the simplest mistakes. The geopolitical effects of resource prediction cannot be done properly without analyzing economic ceiling prices. A sad case in point is this analysis over the coming US/China war over oil.
The truth is that the entire article depends on the idea that there are no major new supplies of oil available and that the nations of the world, especially superpower US and the rising economic giant PRC, are on a collision course due to that competition. It is a patently false analysis because it completely ignores huge energy deposits that become available at higher prices, potential competition that constrains ME nations in their capability to raise prices.
The competition between the US and the PRC over influence will exist. It is unlikely to produce war as long as the PRC is content to purchase its energy and not invade nations to steal it away. The idea that it is necessary for the US to use its geopolitical muscle in order for the PRC to behave rationally and invest in a diversified energy stream is both patronizing to the PRC and would be a foolish waste of US resources.
The US, if it needs to make an effort at all, needs to work towards making the price of abundant alternative energy systems fall below the market price of oil and have the oil age end at a relatively low energy price. Which alternatives these will be is unclear but striving mightily so that only we have to kowtow to dysfunctional arab oil principalities is not a positive outcome for the United States.
Forging Bipartisan Foreign Policy Consensus
George Bush cannot be beaten unless the Democrat nominee attacks Bush's foreign policy from the right, according to Walter Russell Meade. Another way to describe the situation is to say this is the forging of a new bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. Neutralizing Bush's, Republican's strength on foreign policy requires Democrats to outflank Republicans on this issue in order to get elected to the Presidency and the Democrat party will make this sacrifice by adopting Bush's strategy.
Electorally, this throws 2004 into partisan doubt but it also makes the election irrelevant for foreign observers. If George W. Bush becomes the moderate choice, all those left wing european politicians praying day and night that the american people remove this wild cowboy will be unpleasantly surprised if they get their wish as nothing, from their perspective, changes with a Democrat in office.
I don't think that the Democrats will be able to execute this outflanking maneuver well enough to pull it off in 2004. But their eventual win by this method will have the benefit of recreating the traditional US political situation of small changes, left or right depending on who wins the election, inside a wider context of foreign policy consensus. This makes the US much more predictable and stable, comforting our allies and dismaying our enemies.
February 02, 2004
Putting aside the main point for a second, an example Stanley Kurtz uses in his most recent gay marriage in Scandinavia article puzzles me. He refers to this article about pro-gay flags flying above two Norwegian parishes. From Kurtz's article, it appears that the Lutheran churches have a bishop who does not want those flags flown but the council has acted in defiance of his lawful authority.
What puzzles me is why those who represent orthodox christian views on the subject allow themselves to be bullied by a local majority of rebels. At least two council members were against it. The solution is simple to my eyes. If I were in such a position as a church council member. I would simply enter the church, take down the flag, pack it up and mail it to the bishop with the following note.
Dear Bishop XYZ,
In NYC I knew a tough as nails priest who went through Romania's communist repression (he's since passed away). He would have understood my actions. In Chicago I knew an even tougher priest that went through the same hard prison camps. He would have thought I was being too civil. That's the school from which I took my faith. That's the kind of faith that is needed to take back a church.
I can't understand how the orthodox believers are tolerating it. I simply can't understand it.
The Benefits of Patience
Michael Ledeen's got a great record on advocating freedom in the mideast. In NRO he writes that he personally knows of some stories about WMD movement to Iran that were never properly investigated (evidence that was refused to be seen and locations that our people refused to inspect). This is the stuff of nightmares for information ministers and press secretaries, all the foundations necessary for conspiracy theories that will last for decades.
This is just one more example of why it is necessary to have an actual report, an actual detailed accounting of what was examined, what was rejected, and why was it rejected. There may be perfectly good reasons why the evidence that Ledeen is aware of was not true. But we don't have the report. We don't have the official side to the story. All we have is an ungodly urge to rush to conclusions and start firing people.
Could we possibly take things seriously and have the patience to do things right? Are we really so short of entertainment that we need to botch investigations to give room for conspiracy theories to thrive? The chips need to fall where they may for the nation to be served well but they should at least fall first.
Gay Marriage Q&A I
Prof Larry Ribstein has an interesting post laying out some of the basic questions on marriage. He phrases it in the context of the presidential race but these same questions could be asked of any of the partisans. It would be interesting to get all of the major players in the debate to answer the same questions and put up all the answers next to each other, voting guide style.
The questions aren't easy to answer and I'm not just going to throw up a glib, short response. I'll think it over and respond a bit later but read the questions yourself. You might find some issues you hadn't even considered up until now.
No Blood, For Oil
Iraq Now has a nice rundown of the major Russian and French individuals and institutions who were bribed by Saddam to support him during the sanctions period. He's absolutely right that the silence from the left is deafening. Sure, it's still early. For the purposes of national policy and international justice we should be waiting a great deal more before anything punitive should be done in response to this flagrant lawlessness and policy whoring.
But when has the left recently been eager to wait until all the evidence is in? Shouldn't they at least acknowledge that these are tremendously serious allegations that implicate large swathes of the anti-war coalition and that they should be investigated to separate out the corrupt opportunists in their own ranks? Don't they even care at how much they were made into chumps by a bunch of dishonest political prostitutes?
Why should anybody listen to them at all when they cry out about right-wing wrongdoing when they show themselves to be utterly indifferent to any messes that aren't easily identified with their political opponents? I don't have an answer to that. But all decent left wingers should. Too bad they apparently don't.
Deflation: Now or Later?
A very informative piece in the Economist outlines the US Federal Reserve's dilemma. Low inflation has led to extremely low interest rates and asset prices, especially housing, are moving up. A housing asset price boom could set the US economy on a dangerous path when it bursts, sending us into deflation. But with inflation so low, the cure for an asset boom (raising interest rates) could send us spinning into a deflationary spiral right now.
The Economist ends up suggesting a small interest rate hike. I would have to disagree. If the problem is people overextending their debt then that is the problem that should be addressed. The story of the seven fat years and the seven lean years is instructive. People who refinance now and take their savings in payments in order to increase their equity and get out of debt are the smart players in today's economy.
If you're out of debt, you're mostly out of trouble in a deflationary economy. That message has to go out, it has to go out strong, and it can be done without changing interest rates. Both the Presidency and the Fed Chairmen have very loud bully pulpits. It would be highly preferable for them to use those instruments, to encourage savings and investment and debt reduction instead of cranking up the interest rates when inflation is so low and seems poised to drop further.
Immigration Cost Voodoo
Dana Rohrbacher is bringing up the health care cost of illegal immigrants. He's right to worry about the issue. It's a problem with illegal immigrants as it is with every other black market worker. But the cure for much of this is to bring these workers out of the black market. If you're being paid in cash, your total tax contributions to the system are zero. But if you are pulled into the system, you do pay some taxes. You contribute, and in that contribution lower the problem of uncompensated healthcare.
The problem of uncompensated healthcare given to illegal aliens is real. The cure needs to be more than just merely cutting a check from the Federal Government to the locals who are currently footing the bill. This idea can use a lot of improvement.
Remarkable Progress in Saudi Arabia?
It appears that the highest ranking cleric in Saudi Arabia has taken the occasion of the haj (a very important occasion for all muslims) to deliver a sermon against terrorism. How important this is will become more clear as his words circulate and are translated into more languages but so far it's looking a great deal like progress.
I've always maintained that it is the theologians who will win the war on terror. If hell is the destination of the suicide bomber according to muslim consensus, we will shortly find the practice falling into disuse. If jihad is examined and re-examined to take into account the modern pluralistic world into proper account, even more progress might be made. This, at heart, is a war fought on religious terms. We win a great victory without firing a shot every time a muslim cleric exposes the false theology of our enemies.
Update: The Chicago Tribune also has an article (which is a bit longer than the LAT article referenced above).
Serialization Quietly Moves Forward
I've written before about how the US strategy has been to serialize the conflict, concentrating and bringing its resources to bear in a limited number of fields in order to prevent being spread too thin. This has the side effect of leaving problems that are lower down on the priority chain fester as well as appearing to ignore highly important problems that will wake up too many sleeping dogs.
Winds of Change is noting that we're expelling close to a hundred Saudi diplomats who have been judged as abusers of their diplomatic privileges by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department. The State Department is not saying a great deal about the matter, keeping things low key (and letting the dogs sleep a bit further). It does seem to me that we're shifting along, moving our focus smoothly from our ideological beachhead in Iraq (where we've been busy helping to plant liberty trees) to the big prize, the financial sugar daddy of most of the world's sunni radicals, Saudi Arabia.
So three (very quiet) cheers for serialization and progress.
Donald Sensing bemoans SuperBowl trash and notes "they will examine the ratings, hear the buzz, count their millions and laugh at us idiots who keep tuning in to such crap, time after time after time." I didn't watch the SuperBowl. I lost interest specifically because it's gone down the cultural toilet.
I like to watch football but I don't like it enough to subject myself to the preplanned idiocy. And yes I know that I missed something really special in a world championship game that was decided in the last few seconds. But is it worth the cost? Increasingly I find that it isn't and that the networks are succeeding in driving me away from TV. I'll probably up my TV watching if were to get TiVo or TV went to anout of band commercial financing system.
Right now, there is no raunch dial. I have to let the channels make those sorts of decisions. It doesn't have to be that way. Until there is such a thing, I'll be watching less and less TV. You should too.
German Dead End
Davids Medienkritik has a very good thread on the subject of German anti-americanism. One of the things that popped out of that for me was the concept that the Germans are trying to find their place in the world and avoiding the mistakes of history. The first is a positive goal but carries a lot of baggage, specifically that there is such a thing as having a place in the world that sits vacant, waiting for you to return to it. The second is entirely negative and can only get in the way of Germany's societal progress.
This isn't to say that you should embrace and repeat the mistakes of the past. What it means is that Germany needs to have positive goals that they choose themselves and approach those goals in a way that will yield good results, taking advantage of their history, both positive and negative, in a way that optimizes their achievement of their goals. History is important but it is secondary. When it rises to the status of a primary goal, it becomes unhealthy, a neurotic obsession that will stand in your way instead of aiding you on your quest.
The most frustrating thing is to watch this from outside the culture. You can't give someone self-confidence and you can't pick their societal goals for them either. Americans can see the solutions pretty easily but cannot supply them without creating an unhealthy dependence. So what is a good friend to do?
Getting Back Into the Spy Business
I'm a technology kind of guy. But part of doing my job right is to properly judge when a job is better done in a low tech instead of high tech way. In some way's it's the start of any design job I do, "should I be doing this at all". Unfortunately, this is a question that doesn't seem to have been properly handled in the spying business. The always insightful StrategyPage has an article on the subject entitled "Why American Spies No Longer Exist".
Alas, in the 1970s and 80s, the U.S. Congress decided that it was beneath the United States to deal with criminals and unsavory people when engaged in espionage. Spy satellites are so much cleaner. Plus they are made in the USA, by American workers. None of this exporting millions in cash to bribe some guy with a long rap sheet, who happens to party with some Baath Party munchkins who hear a lot of interesting conversations. You simply can't trust people like that. These amazing satellite photos, on the other hand… That's how everyone got snookered. Establishing enough spies in Iraq to have exposed the WMD scam would have taken more money, talent and dirty dealing than most governments are willing to tolerate. And then there's the media risk. One of your spies gets ticked off and bumps into someone from the Washington Post. Who needs the headaches? It's easier to deal with being ignorant. If no one else knows what's going on, where's the harm?
I had been thinking of writing something along the same lines but I would have based it on the most extreme and recent of the spy eviscerating bonehead moves, a Clinton administration executive order I recall passing that made recruiting spies with unsavory connections illegal. I couldn't find the text of the thing so I put it on the back burner.
But the Clinton administration was only the culmination of a very big problem that has spanned decades and has afflicted spying policies conducted by both parties. The temptation to rely on technical resources over building human networks has led us to our current, dangerously impotent state of human intelligence.
The real cure is to forge a consensus that spying, though unpleasant and certainly not clean, is a capability that we cannot do without. That consensus has to span beyond the elected officials of both parties to the media and the public at large. How to get there from here is a mystery, but it is a mystery we should all be seriously thinking about.
February 01, 2004
Economic Ignorance in the Medical Field
I'm on a random blog journey and I stumble across a clueless med student:
After every question, I just wanted to shake them and scream “Single-payer!” (Yes, I have a slight flair for the dramatic.) And I’m not trying to be idealistic. I realize it’s not a golden bullet. I realize health care reform is politically difficult. I acknowledge it. Fully. But how can doctors continue to work on some sort of patchwork system—like suing the insurance companies, like the CMA did with the RICO lawsuit—but not fight for a long-term change? People seem like they’re willing to fight their own fights—but not fight for medicine as a whole, as well as their patients. It almost seemed as if the doctors were more willing to deal with the hassles of HMOs (which they cited as “the reason you never get to see your kids”), but aren’t willing to try another solution, even when it was staring them in the face.
There are two kinds of economic stupidity going on here. First, there is the infatuation with the idea of single payer health systems. I left the following in comments:
"how could any other nation be insuring everyone, have higher general health outcomes, and spend less?"
Single payer health systems all break down in different ways but the ultimate truth is that they all break down. In the FRG, it's involuntary servitude and a groaning budget. In France, it's dead seniors. In Canada, it's discreet trips across the border to relieve pressure on long lines for care. The symptoms vary, the disease is the same, government intervention in medical care.
The second piece of economic inanity is a complete lack of understanding of opportunity costs. If you stop your education after four years of undergraduate school, you get to start earning money. But no, doctors go to medical school instead and lose the opportunity to have tens of thousands in income while gaining career experience in some other trade. Not only that, but they usually pay for the privilege without benefit of having the money so end up leaving medical school not only without the money they could have earned but with a huge mountain of debt besides.
Then they go and get a job as a resident, a job that could not be done outside an educational program because it would be illegal. The hours worked, the pure grind would lead to much higher salaries if the job were done by people negotiating in a free market. Thus there are more tens of thousands of foregone income. Depending on your specialty, you could be losing 6 years or 10 years off your earning potential because of your career choice.
Now, a certain number of people will enter the field because they have a vocation and want to help people. But not all such people become doctors. Some are orderlies, nurses, pharmaceutical or medical researchers.
For the sheer lost opportunity, risk and responsibility, you can't beat the doctor. To get enough of them, you have to pay them well. The consequence of squeezing doctor incomes is that people leave the field. The payoff is no longer worth it and they won't pay for medical school for their kids, they don't advise others to get into the profession, and many find other things to do than medicine. If the doctor wanted a Honda and small house lifestyle, he could have had it with better hours, more respect, and and easier lifestyle as a nurse.
HT: Suburban Guerrilla (not what you think)
A Spinner at Large
I just got to Joshua Marshall's recent New Yorker piece entitled Power Rangers. It's hard to know where to begin, the conflict between a leftist sneering at rightists that Clinton was the better imperialist? Or should I first address the orwellian omission of the anti-imperialist right?
In either case, this article is a prime example of the old style of left wing spin. Highlight the right that is most easily defeated and derided and you can safely ignore the inconvenient fact that it is a minority view even inside the right. Be secure in Democrat's anti-imperialist credentials as you slyly have your cake and eat it too quoting Chalmers Johnson's observation that "Bill Clinton was actually a much more effective imperialist than George W. Bush" as if being a more effective imperialist is a sign of merit.
Perhaps, unwelcome reality intruding for a moment, George W. Bush is not a very effective imperialist because he doesn't want to be an imperialist? But that would break the cardinal rule of the partisan spin game, your target can never honestly be advancing the nation's interests in a good way.
The truth is that for the first time in the history of the world, we're entering a situation where 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th rate military powers will be capable of taking out entire cities before any retributive military campaign can be launched. Those relatively weak militaries are often attached to equally weak political systems and they are not reliable, not even conventionally deterrable because the people who rule the country have the bulk of their wealth elsewhere and would be just as comfortable pulling the strings in another land.
You can't successfully run an empire in such an atmosphere because too many players can relatively easily get weapons that make them unincorporable into such an entity. Furthermore empires, by their very nature, create the type of resentment that fuels the desire for weapons of mass destruction among those not part of the favored core of an empire.
Once you mistake (purposefully or accidentally) the new security realities our republic has to deal with a desire for empire building, you can only descend into a comedy of errors. Josh Marshall descends pretty far.
US Cell Phone Madness
It turns out that T-Mobile will give you a new phone if you extend your contract. US cell phone systems are economically different from just about every other country. You pay to receive calls as well as make them and they charge an arm and a leg for service to pay for the phones they are so heavily discounting when you sign up. Now I know. Get a new phone every year as long as I'm satisfied and either replace my beaten up one or list it on e-bay.
Andrew Sullivan's Politics
Jude Wanniski's The Way the World Works is a useful tome in a lot of ways. Among other things it covers the distressingly common situation where what you want electorally is an eagle but all that is on offer from the political mainstream is a chicken and a parrot.
This also comes in handy when looking at political electoral quizzes. Andrew Sullivan went and took CNN's political quiz that determines your presidential compatibility on the issues. Surprise, surprise, he's a relatively sane Democrat. I took the test too with radically different results. The test says more than you might think.
The Democrat party has been going on and on for years about how they're "right on the issues" but have trouble connecting to people. AS' scores show this phenomena in spades. It turns out that for a certain demographic, this is exactly the truth.
It was a pure issues test and he ends up being a moderate, DLC style Democrat in his political beliefs (so much for the idea that he's america's most famous gay conservative). His scores were "Lieberman 100 percent, Kerry 95, Clark 90, Edwards 88, Sharpton 86, Dean 83, Kucinich 76, Bush 61". Maybe I'm a little off base but I worry about somebody who is nodding his head up and down three quarters of the time Dennis Kucinich is speaking. My own DK score was 10% which puts DK in the category of being about as right as a stopped clock.
My full scores were:
For me, this indicates that mainstream politics is not really offering what I'm looking for. Mainstream politics is a pretty contiguous arc and the high drop off between Bush and my first Democrat (who I agree with AS is Lieberman) means I'm off the arc somewhere and Bush is my closest point of contact. He's the parrot, the Democrats are variously scrawny and disease ridden chickens and I'm still looking for a winning eagle but willing to settle.
With a new baby and with my wife insisting on being the only one to take care of our daughter, I end up "making appearances" when she needs help. She can't walk very well and getting up and sitting down are torture. She almost killed herself climbing stairs (not recommended two days after a c-section) so she's camped out on the couch with our daughter next to her.
I doze asleep at the computer, wake up at a sound and try to stuff enough into my subconscious to create plentiful bloggy goodness for this brand new month. I guess such entries that arise out of such a state would best be categorized as doze blogging, not quite the same as writing while drinking but sharing many characteristics. It'll be interesting to see the results when fully awake, which should next happen about the time my daughter starts sleeping through the entire night.
Update: Well, that was interesting. I didn't get much done but had some very vivid dreams in betweeen playing Gungha Din to my wife's sahib all night.
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.