March 31, 2004

War Crimes II

Posted by TMLutas

The attack in Falluja today practically begs for a legal analysis of the status of such acts. Was it a mob, a legitimate armed attack, a scene of mass murder, or a war crime? Phil Carter believes this to be a military operation, designed to test american resolve. In that case, it's a war crime, and I await the stirring condemnations from the entire military justice community.

Wait, that's not going to happen. And I'm foolish to even think that it would. This would require the laws of land warfare to actually mean something anymore, other than something to wave around as a cudgel to intimidate and beat on western militaries. Nobody of consequence seems to give the least bit of attention to the problem of what to do when a movementt purposefully, and continually commits war crimes. We've been overwhelmed and desensitized to the point where we've given up in defending these rules of warfare. As a practical matter, it does not pay to violate the rules of war in a small way. You get criticized and penalized for that. But audacious, breathtaking, and common violations, what punishment awaits the side that does this?

One sided violations of the rules will not remain unanswered forever. But unless we're going to return to the barbarity of total war, we have to come up with a better enforcement mechanism.

Will Be Blogging More Later

Posted by TMLutas

Microsoft Access is the devil's RDBMS, I tell you.

Clients and deadlines.

March 30, 2004

Democrat Anti-Catholicism Examined

Posted by TMLutas

Professor Bainbridge points out a perfectly disgusting Matthew Yglesias article that tendentiously declares that the left is trying to kill the Vatican and it goes downhill from there. After some of the commentors get through with the subject, we have accusations that the Catholic Church is authoritarian and fascistic.

This all started because John Forbes Kerry is a baptized, practicing Catholic. His positions on some issues have set him at odds with well-understood Catholic teaching and we're off. But it was the idea that Catholicism is fascistic that really got my creative juices flowing. Let's see how this would work in other areas. If Kerry was a current member of an organization that was racist, even if he, himself, was not racist, could you vote for him? For those who care about women in country clubs, you can make the same argument. It wouldn't matter your own personal opinion. If you believe that the organization is beyond the pale (and fascistic certainly should be beyond the pale) then a candidate who is a member of that organization should never get your vote.

I'm a Catholic. Clearly, I think that the idea that the Church is fascistic or otherwise 'not an admirable organization' as Matt Yglesias put it is simply false and insulting. But for those who do believe such things, how can they pull the lever for Kerry? Either they really don't believe what they say or they simply don't think that membership in a fascistic organization is all that bad. I'm not quite sure which is worse.

There are rich mines of hypocrisy waiting to be exploited on this theme.

I'm Revolutionary

Posted by TMLutas

What revolution are You?
Made by altern_active

Grassland v Grain Land

Posted by TMLutas

One of the greatest foolish stories of the vegetarians is that if we would just convert the range we devote to raising meat to grains, we would easily feed the world. The truth is that there is a great deal of land that is not fit for growing grains but only grasses, and if it weren't for the use of them for animal fodder, they wouldn't be of any use at all. And when animals are fattened for slaughter, they eat grains that are designated unfit for human consumption, not poisonous, just not good enough for us.

This sort of division of resources where some believe that with a wave of the hand you can repurpose resources that simply aren't naturally useful in their new role is something that dilettantes and superficial analysts advocate in many different fields, not just in food politics. In fact, if you look closely, you can see this in the War on Terror.

The accusation of Iraq as a distraction from the War on Terror is an example of this sort of thinking. We have two major types of resources, law enforcement/intelligence resources and military/intelligence resources. The things that each of these resources can do are important and useful to the cause but they don't do the same thing. One is grassland and one is grain land. You don't send in the FBI to get rid of Saddam and his checks for suicide bombers, you send the army. But the army would have largely been useless in nabbing Khalid Sheikh Muhammed in the back alleys of Pakistan. You can chew gum and walk at the same time if you realize that you have to divide your task list between things that need doing and for which LEO are the answer and things that need doing and for which the USAF are the answer. You then work off of both lists simultaneously.

The nature of military operations (beyond very small and temporary covert operations) is to grab attention and headlines. You never can ignore a division crossing a border. But it is quite easy to ignore, or never even notice database sweeps looking for cell phone SIM cards, telephone tracing, forensic financial backtracking, and a dozen other things that are catching us islamists every day. And even when successes occur, it is wise not to advertise them too much so as to use the identity of the captured to obtain the maximum amount of intelligence from people who try to get in touch with him.

So it is understandable that some fail to see the quiet operations and think that all that is going on is the noisy military work. But faulty observation leads to mistaken analysis and embarrassing predictions. There is also a partisan motivation for ignoring the quiet, patient, law enforcement component of the War on Terror. If both approaches are being pursued and reaping successes, challengers are stuck in a quandary. They don't want to be a me-too candidate but anything else than me-tooism is simply irresponsible when the war's being handled right.

Death of the Mainstream Press

Posted by TMLutas

It's articles like this that chronicle the death of mainstream media. Every time the media, left, right, or center, embarrass their readers by demonstrably leading them astray on the facts of a current events controversy, the credibility of their media outlet suffers and they lose consumers. I don't say they lose customers because the mainstream media's customers are advertisers, not their readers or viewers. A loss of consumers is a significant loss of revenue only in that the customers (advertisers) won't pay as much to reach fewer people.

Thus the media buy each other up to shore up their consumer numbers and more and more people go off to alternate media to get their facts and opinions. It's not even a matter of ideology, per se. If I'm on the right wing or the left wing, what I care most about is having enough of the important facts of the day to live my life and not be exposed as woefully ignorant. And unless I live my life in an echo chamber, a steady diet of biased news is going to leave me both misinformed and under-informed. That's unacceptable and it's why I have a wide variety of reading and why a growing number of people are following that line.

Eventually, the mainstream press will grow moribund as shrinking revenues make them less and less able to maintain their content standards and thus their readership, eviscerating their attractiveness to advertisers. They will enter a fallow period until some entrepreneur will do for TV what Rush Limbaugh did for AM Radio. But this regeneration will only happen after they hit rock bottom and stay there a good while.

The Revolutionary Net

Posted by TMLutas

No doubt there will be an awful lot of outrage over this article at The New Republic and with good reason. There are two problems with the article, the first is in its misunderstanding the net. The second is its misunderstanding dictatorships. First the Internet. We're currently in a space crunch on the Internet, which is what is making it possible, temporarily, to keep track of sites that offer political subversion.

With the adoption of IPv6 by decade's end, the problem of political filtering can be solved by making redirection costs tax deductible for political site redirection. What this means is that if you run an appliance on your network (in your huge public address space that you're never going to fill anyway), the costs of that appliance in bandwidth and electricity and capital costs would be tax deductible.

At that point, any domain, with very innocuous dns entries, can serve as a conduit for political dissent. Sure, the same technology could be used for nefarious purposes to make the Internet safe for pedophiles, but nobody's going to make that tax deductible so the good is very likely to outweigh the bad. Huge address spaces make filtering efforts impractical for speech that is licit in many countries. It's only a temporary architectural artifact that the network can be tracked at all.

Beyond cheap and plentiful redirection, encryption is going to be standard for the network with IPv6. This makes things very uncomfortable for information controllers. They either mandate insecure communication and live with the e-commerce black hole they have created, losing out on millions in transactions, or they accept commercial encryption and thus, the political encryption that will inevitably piggyback onto it.

But the biggest problem in the article is that it downplays the importance of civic society. Falun Gong was completely ignored by the PRC's security forces as a low level threat until they tweaked the noses of Beijing's communist elite by assembling, essentially, the PRC's first flashmob. A certain percentage of civic organizations in a dictatorship will 'go rogue' from the dictatorship's point of view. It is inevitable and completely unpredictable what will set them off. Thus civic organizations have always been highly controlled and heavily penetrated. But in the Internet age, my wife partakes in a worldwide conspiracy of mothers. Most days they talk about breast milk v. formula but some days things get quite a bit more subversive. Romania's a democratic republic, not a dictatorship but the exact same thing can happen in the PRC, Singapore, or any other wired authoritarian state.

They are all growing their civic organizations and this very connectivity will both make their societies better and enable the connectivity that is necessary to create revolution. And it will always come from where we all least expect.

Civilian Support For the Military II

Posted by TMLutas

Phil Carter has a good post up on how civilians can support the military. The reaction style, I suspect, will be pretty universal, with civilians both inside and outside the legislature being perfectly willing to do what it takes to better support the troops, if their spouses and family just let us know what the problem is.

It's somewhat problematic for actual serving troops to agitate politically. There's a lot to be said for soldiers shutting up and soldiering. There is a bright line between the military and political activism for a reason. But spouses serve under no such disability and there are an awful lot of civilians out there who would make sure that problems are taken care of if you'd just mobilize us on issues that are not partisan but deal with the important issues that make the volunteer armed forces possible.

Voting to Kill Canadians VII

Posted by TMLutas

National Review has a good article drug reimportation that goes into a lot of the political ins and outs of the issue. John Graham is absolutely correct when he describes the issue as a stalking horse for those who would want drug price fixing in US law.

One thing I hadn't noticed that I found intriguing is that lawmakers could quickly, and successfully establish the same effect on drug pricing that would occur by reimportation by making provisions that prevent domestic price arbitrage. Hospitals and other large pharmaceutical buyers have lower prices than retail pharmacists can get. Contractually, it is illegal for wholesalers to leverage that price difference and arbitrage away the price difference.

So why don't the politicians do it? Well, because if they did, the hospitals would find drug shortages and rising prices on their menu as volume based price tiering disappeared. It would quickly become very expensive to be hospitalized as hospital costs soared. The wrath of the voters would be upon any politician who would be stupid enough to try reimportation style legislation when everybody involved could vote in his reelection. If this were not true, it would be much easier to do this without an international border and treaties to get in the way and it would already have happened.

Invalidating certain contract clauses is not a violation of interstate commerce. Some states, for example, allow companies to disclaim implied warrenties. Others make such contractual language inoperative in those states. It would be no different for, let's say Rod Blagojevich to propose a bill to do just that for Illinois hospital contracts. The little guy who doesn't have the big negotiating power of Cook County, could simply go through a wholesaler instead of a retail pharmacy and bam! problem solved.

There would be a Republican Governor and Legislature after the next election.

Problem solved indeed.

March 29, 2004

Romania's Officially in NATO

Posted by TMLutas

It's been a done deal for some time but today, NATO officially enlarges and includes my country of birth, Romania. It's been a long row to hoe but we've just about gotten through round one of pulling Romania back into the first world.

Now we've just got to work on that corrupt government. I'm not so worried about the army. They'll get their act together given the right government support.

Ah, Back Up!

Posted by TMLutas

No, I couldn't get to the site either. It was a problem over at the hosting site and took out all of It seems to be much better now. Thanks to all who worked hard to get things back up.

I have a long and a short article on backlog so those should be coming up shortly.

Visit early and often fellows.

Civilian Support For the Military

Posted by TMLutas

There's a very good article by Phil Carter over at Intel Dump on how the army is handling family support. The one bit about things that concerns me is the civilian/military gap that seems to be growing.

And even though they feel at least somewhat supported by their nonmilitary countrymen, the spouses do not feel particularly well understood by them -- not even by their own extended families. With the community of wives living on and around Army bases offering an attractive alternative, this generation has broken the long-established pattern of going back home for the duration of a husband's deployment. ... military wives see a gap between themselves and the civilian world. About 90 percent of spouses said they were satisfied with the respect the American public shows soldiers. But Davis, wife of the 101st Airborne Division lieutenant, spoke for many when she said: "The farther away you get from post, the less understanding there is."

Often, the spouses see good intentions thwarted by a lack of comprehension. Desaree Venema, whose husband has been gone for a year as a senior sergeant in the 4th Infantry Division, said that in her nonmilitary neighborhood, residents have been supportive, shoveling snow and babysitting her daughters "when I have a bad day." But when they complain about a spouse having to go on a week-long business trip, she said, "I just about have to draw blood from my tongue" to stop from shouting at them.

"It's wonderful to put the red, white and blue Dixie Cups in the chain-link fence to show patriotism, but you need specific tools," said McConnell, the Fort Carson youth services coordinator. Civilians sometimes will say things such as, "It's good your dad can e-mail you because it shows he's alive," unaware of how scary it will sound to a child -- especially when the e-mail breaks down, said Mary M. Keller, executive director of Military Child Education Coalition, a nonprofit group.

I can just imagine the benefits of a "how to support the military" FAQ list. Civilians need to know how to properly commiserate with a military spouse about that one week separation. It's unnatural not to mention it, but remembering the other side of the conversation is in the middle of an even longer separation, I would think, would be vital.

I think that the military families understand that we mean well but somebody from that side of the fence should be clueing us in on how not to be so ham handed and foolish in our expressions of support. Taking the small amount of time to learn such things is one important way that we civilians could contribute. It wouldn't be some central, heroic thing but if it saves a few marriages along the way (and helps ease soldiers back to US life), it's certainly worth the expenditure of time and effort.

Military people, we're willing to be educated on this stuff but we don't have a clue. You don't expect a raw recruit to know how to blow his nose, why are you expecting us to know how to stand with you without telling us?

March 28, 2004

Palestine Now! IV

Posted by TMLutas

It looks like a priest in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem is organizing peaceful, nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In previous parts of this series I talked about how such nonviolent resistance could form the basis of a separate settlement with the nonviolent parts of Palestine installed with the maximum territory it can govern and allow other parts of the territories to join the new Palestine as they disarm and accept that their irredentist goals of pushing the jews into the sea are never going to happen. This plan is somewhat different but it is clear evidence that the christian element in Palestine offers a viable alternative to going with the same old failed leadership that has kept the cycle of violence going from attack to truce to attack again.

Syria Wants Normalization

Posted by TMLutas

The Australian is noting secret negotiations on the Libya model with Syria looking to get out of the on deck circle for a round with the Coalition of the Willing (and yes, I'm proud of that mixed metaphor). So how many countries have to abandon their rogue policies before people admit universally that this policy is a success? I suspect that the answer is zero and all that need change is the party affiliation of the administration.

HT:> Instapundit

Antitrust v Fraud

Posted by TMLutas

Minarchists don't particularly like antitrust law. There's no reason for it other than to punish bigness and all the bad things that companies get away with doing are either grossly destructive of shareholder value (selling below profit to destroy a competitor) and thus a violation of fiduciary duty or are achieved through fraud or other crimes which prosecutors simply do not take on because they are either afraid or bought.

Unfortunately, the regular prosecutorial system has failed us in the case of Microsoft and so I'm, reluctantly, not so mad about the recent EU antitrust decision as some business groups are. It's a case of a bad actor deserving what little punishment they get.

I don't disagree that Microsoft has been a godsend for an awful lot of people. But when their developer community was promised that they would have an even playing field with internal developers, it tilted the entire industry toward Microsoft. Later, when Microsoft admitted that this was a lie, people should have gone to jail. The amount of money that shifted into Microsoft's pockets from this one illegality, this fraud, far eclipses the sins of Enron and Arthur Anderson, both companies that could likewise point to doing an awful lot of good but were destroyed for their sins.

When Microsoft issues an operating system, there is a promise made to their developer community that Microsoft is a partner. You pay them money for the tools to develop your software and there is an understanding that both sides will work together to interoperate as well as possible. Microsoft has violated this trust in the past, purposefully changing their operating system so that major competitors in the applications space are embarrassed and incur extra cost to work around the roadblocks that Microsoft puts up. This is both a violation of contract and a fraud. When you know that if you challenge Microsoft in their application space, you run a strong risk of having the OS shift under you specifically to break your application, most people will be deterred from even trying. This is the major reason why when MS gets a dominant share in an application sector, competition in that sector dies.

The failure of government prosecutors to challenge Microsoft and force them to obey the normal rules is what has made a very good software company into a business monstrosity, a monopoly that everybody is scared of. But how do you fix things? Antitrust is an ill-fitting bandage, with its solution being break up the too powerful entity into smaller chunks that prosecutors can tackle. But nobody even seems to have the stomach to do that, just creating consent decrees and issuing fines.

The cure, in my opinion, is jail time the next time Microsoft engages its dirty tricks division. The lie of equal access to the Win32 API is already exposed and its developer community is drifting away to Unix variants because they now know that the deck is stacked against them on Windows. But until prosecutors gain the technical ability to quickly, and effectively prosecute criminal fraud cases when the fraud is conducted in computer code, we've got a major problem in the free market system.

March 27, 2004

Gratitude is Overrated

Posted by TMLutas

All Fred Barnes wants is a bit of gratitude. He outlines all the difficulties of Iraq, the traps, the pitfalls, and the inevitability of eroding US influence. He does not think we will win in Iraq but knows at least one professional who he respects who holds that success is possible.

The problem that galls him is Iraqi ingratitude. I'll take it, and with pleasure, if the payment for that ingratitude is stable Functioning Core membership. Barnes is taking his eyes off the prize. It isn't gratitude or good feeling that the US and the rest of the coalition is playing for, but the conversion of Iraq into a Core state and the conversion of all its neighbors into, at the very least, border states where their people will constantly look over the border and see that, for people just like them, success is possible, tyranny is not inevitable, and the autarky of the Non-Integrating Gap is the recipe for ruin.

Everybody likes to be liked. I'll take ingratitude and a society of proud, honest men who can stand on their own two feet and help their brothers find freedom without a never ending parade of US interventions.

Occupation Tech II

Posted by TMLutas

I've written previously on this subject and talked up the simputer. Well, now it seems to be available, and not just in India. This is not precisely the configuration I would recommend for an occupation network but it's pretty close, closer than I've seen anywhere else, and the price ($240) is not bad for the number of units you're going to have to distribute. The CDMA/modem circuitry is going to have to get replaced with something that can work with airborne wireless access points but it should be a wash in terms of manufacturing cost and you're going to have to get some sort of distributed power recharger to go along with it.

We're still a long ways away from getting this up and running in an occupation/peacekeeping situation but we're getting much closer than we were even a year ago.

HT: Slashdot

Where's Kerry's Quick Reaction Team?

Posted by TMLutas

One of the worst things to have is supporters who step over the line. You can't really control people from declaring their support for you but what you can do is repudiate their actions. Kerry has an obligation to step up to the plate and clearly declare that people who use their fists to express their support are unamerican thugs who have no place alongside him.

I truly hope Kerry doesn't win for many reasons but he has a basic obligation to keep alive the tradition of peaceful politics in the US. That means denouncing violence when it breaks out.


Posted by TMLutas

Thomas Barnett (of Core and Gap fame) is at his father's death bed. As he blogged it with comments open, maybe it might be a good idea to put any condolences you care to offer there.

Taking The Palestinians Seriously

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste's current salvo regarding palestinian complaints about Israel's policy of targetted killings is right on the larger point of the sheer chutzpah of their outrage but, like the original miners in the Old West, leaves some wealth behind just sitting in the tailings.

The gold sitting there out in the open regards the subject of war. The palestinians, essentially, are complaining that the Israelis are not adopting the proper form of hypocrisy (you know, the one which would permit them to get exactly what they want) but rather are adopting a form of inconsistency that allows the Israelis to maximize their own gain on the international stage.

But hypocrisy is hypocrisy and it would do well for the Israelis to abandon it, though it would be tough sledding for awhile. The cause of the hypocrisy is the nature of Hamas and the rest of the intifada groups and what is their legal status both in the wider international system and in Israel itself.

The natural tendency would be for Israel to be in a state of war with palestinian groups that are committed to violence against it. This would put the members of these groups and their leadership in a state where they had the rights given to combatants under the laws of land warfare. It would be a tremendously clarifying stand and would both change international behavior and Israeli behavior. The idea of collective punishment would go right out the window, for example, but it is unlikely that in a true war situation the leadership of these groups would last very long. And without effective pro-violent leadership, it's quite likely that things would be very different in the palestinian territories today.

So why are we not seeing a declaration of war against the violent palestinian factions? Our old nemesis, the Peace of Westphalia, with its principle that war is a thing only between states, stands in the way. In fact, there was, a few years back, an injudicious statement (which I simply can't find on the net) where some high Israeli official said that they were at war with this or that group. This line of reasoning was immediately shut down because the Israeli consensus was, and probably still is, pro-Westphalian.

But Israel, I believe, is slowly learning that Westphalianism is impractical for it to continue to survive. The only question is when they're going to jump in support of the US and UK positions that Westphalia is dead and war, at least in the Gap, is possible between a nation state and a sub-national group.

I think that when this realization happens (and I hope it is soon) it's going to really fall in the pot. The other shoe will drop and everybody is going to realize just how big a change has been going on in the international system. They can either acquiesce to that change and live in the new world or the international system is going to fracture.

We're going to be living in interesting times for the foreseeable future.

Who's the Biggest Brigand of Them All

Posted by TMLutas

Samizdata is noting that the CPA is preserving evidence of corruption in Iraq's oil for food scandal. The big question is who stole the most out of the mouths of starving Iraqi children, Iraqi Baathists or their partners in crime on the UN side of the ledger. My money is that the Baathists end up being the biggest beneficiaries because they are more concentrated and were able to control events more but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise because I don't think they'll win by much.

But what do you do about the corrupt in the 'international community' who siphoned off so much on their own initiative? What kind of appropriate penalty will restore confidence in the system? This is far worse than the Arthur Anderson scandals yet the penalties available to the UN are far less. So where does that leave us? With an awful lot of potential prosecutors facing some very unpleasant choices. If they don't turn over the rocks and expose corruption, they're helping to wreck the UN system. If they do it, they create an obligation to punish these people or they'll weaken the system even more but there are currently few ways they can effectively reach the miscreants.

So what will they do? Stay tuned...

It's Spring!

Posted by TMLutas

Ah, spring has arrived in Chicago. I aired out a room and forgot to close it overnight without ill effect. This morning I woke to birds chirping, and yesterday I said, for the first time in 2004, it's too warm for my winter coat.

Forget the calendar, that's the sort of thing that makes spring.

March 26, 2004

Clinton's Al Queda Plan

Posted by TMLutas

Let's assume, for a moment, that the Clinton administration did have a secret plan. This plan has long ago been overtaken by events so why not declassify and put it out to the 9/11 commission? Why isn't anybody in the Clinton administration demanding publication of the plan if the plan would prove that they were serious about terrorism? Is there any reason to keep such a thing secret?

Government Sponsored Obesity

Posted by TMLutas

Apparently, high fructose corn syrup is making america fat. Russell Robert's solution of banning the sweetener though is simply unacceptable. I'm quite confident that if we just lifted those nasty sugar quota limits, we'd have the problem licked in no time.

Controlling Your Information

Posted by TMLutas

A CEO is going to meet with a long-time corporate rival. Within hours, the rumors are flying that there are secret negotiations but secrecy was absolute. How did reporters find out so quickly? It turns out that a reporter bribed somebody at major cell carriers to track the cell phones of industry CEOs and using a bit of GPS magic discovered that the two CEO's cell phones were within 10 feet of each other and they were in a conference room in a hotel without any industry events going on.

This is the kind of location detection conundrum and opportunity that is starting to appear with new gadgets. If you can talk to it, and it's smart enough, any bit of electronics can tell you where it is. And if you don't know that's part of the feature list, you can be broadcasting your location even though you don't want to.

Now often being able to broadcast your location is important but the key is having such broadcasts being under control. I don't particularly see any interoperability standards that will allow individuals to control all the technology that might snitch on them. There's a crying need for such a thing.

Letter to the Paper XII

Posted by TMLutas

Here's something I let off at The Chicago Report debunking the idea that Clarke is unassailable and the Bush administration should just give up on fighting back:

One of the things that makes it so annoying about complaints regarding the changeover between the Bush and Clinton administrations is that everybody is overlooking the toxic effects of the changeover sabotage. I'm not just talking about porn in the printers and broken W keys on keyboards. There were a bunch of last minute policy orders and regulations that were simply done to please core Democratic constituencies but would be impossible for any administration to sustain as in the national interest. This included foreign policy where Clinton did a last minute signing on the ICC even though it had been repudiated 95-0 in the Senate even before it went out for signature and ratification.

In other words, it was dead but the Clinton administration thought it was OK politically to embarrass the US worldwide by signing on to such a treaty knowing that it would have to be repudiated by Bush, and soon. In such an atmosphere, what confidence could the Bush administration have in anti-terrorism? Was it real or was it just another policy booby-trap? This would have explained a great deal of delay in getting serious work done on terrorism under the Bush watch.

The Bush administration took one in the shorts for the country in their early effort to 'change the tone' in Washington. They purposefully didn't keep very good records of the damage and have avoided charging the Clinton administration with policy sabotage. It is unlikely that they will be officially going after them at this point on those grounds. They've got too much invested in the let the dead bury the dead policy they came in with.

But we shouldn't forget that the sabotage happened. It was real, and it had both silly and substantive elements to it. In an administration where the highest priority was terrorism and where they viscerally knew that lives were on the line, they would never have done such counterproductive things. This, more than any administration statement demonstrates the fraud that Clinton and his administration truly cared about national security.

Battlefield 'Net IV

Posted by TMLutas

Winds of Change has a good article on the networked military. The section on adoption highlighted a related point, the difference between intellectual knowledge of the value of such systems (which probably every military in the world has by this point) and acceptance of the system:

"What I should have spent the entire time focusing on was the small screen attached to my door," Charlton said after the war. "It had been accurately tracking my location as well as the location of my key leaders and adjacent units the whole time."

But four days into battle, amid the Iraqi sandstorms, the Bradley crew finally turned on Blue Force Tracking. The computer's imagery and Global Positioning System capabilities let them use Blue Force Tracking similar to how pilots use instruments to fly in bad weather.

"The experience of being forced to use and rely on Blue Force Tracking during a combat mission under impossible weather conditions completed my conversion to digital battle command," said Charlton, commander of 1-15 Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, in Army documents."

The US has the money to waste massively deploying unused IT systems. That's the fundamental difference between it and most of the rest of the world's militaries. The others, even if an elite truly understands and wants to deploy such systems, have such stringent material limitations imposed on them by circumstances, economic and political, that they simply do not engage in the front-end expense necessary to saturate the military with technology attempts at the next generation battlefield network. Many militaries, even first world ones, don't even keep up with the US on a 'bullets fired, miles driven' basis and that's an even more central measure of maintaining troop readiness.

Eliminating the Habits of Defeat

Posted by TMLutas

Blacks, Indians, Romanians, (among many others) all seem to have the habits of defeat imprinted on their souls. For blacks, it is the legacy of slavery and the distortive culture war they had between Du Bois and Washington, Indians (which the article linked above about them started this whole note but I didn't want to pick on them or have others think I was) are both distorted through conquest, in India's case the twin conquests of Britain and the Muslims while the Romanians have the multiple conqueror problem of the Ottomans, the Russians, the Hungarians, the Austrians, and even the Serbs.

All of these issues leave highly dysfunctional habits behind them, embedded in the culture and persistent across generations. Surviving multiple generations of conquest as a viable culture is incredibly distorting. Head bowed and on your knees are a necessity of survival but so is stubbornness in maintaining your separate culture and not just being absorbed into the conqueror's society.

In this sort of intellectual construction, jews are the ultimate victim, though a very odd one as they chose which conqueror to live under and culturally resist over the course of thousands of years. The creation of Israel is the ultimate post-colonial society, in a way as the people now on top (jews) have the longest history of repression and subjugation of any member of the United Nations. It certainly seems to have inherited the chip on the shoulder against its former masters, but the world used to be the master of jews until they got their own land, annoying but true.

Anyway, back to the Indians:

One of them said “You don’t know what problems your country is causing the rest of the world.” After listing many countries that are by our side and have no problems with our actions, I suggested to them that this is just a simple matter of bringing murderers to justice, so what is the problem with that? Another answered “We don’t have the ability to protect ourselves. We can’t just go into another country and root our terrorists.” This is the first time I have heard this line of reasoning. It sounded to me like they feel forced to be nice to murderers so the won’t be targeted by them. They are afraid we stirred up a hornets nest and are cowering in wait of the sting. Am I wrong?

Taken aback, I had trouble responding to them. In the final analysis, I’m thinking we pay a certain price for justice sometimes, and these folks I played laser tag and bowled with all afternoon have no heart to pay that toll.

I think that it is impossible for India to rise to true great power status until they get their heart straightened out and create a culture capable of "paying the toll" of justice. They may have everything else (and if they don't have it already, they're rapidly getting it) but they'll always be vulnerable to old wounds and manipulable by their history until they work this out and reconcile themselves to it.

How Much Nonsense Does it Take to Discredit?

Posted by TMLutas

Over at Samizdata, they're noting Paul Ehrlich's 1968 prediction that India would never be self-sufficient in food. Six years later they were. It got me to thinking, why do certain figures seem to maintain credibility even though they have made ludicrous statements and predictions in the past while others who are guilty of far less foolishness lose their credibility and aren't ever treated seriously again?

It doesn't seem to follow any pattern of rhyme or reason though there are a few trends. The media seems to play a great role in enabling the rehabilitation of tattered reputations. It isn't absolutely necessary but it is quite useful if you happen to share a mindset with the media. I think that in this fashion, credible institutions can loan out a bit of their credibility and permit the discredited to make a recovery.

But having the mainstream media against you, while a handicap, is certainly not determinative as Richard Nixon proved in his several comebacks. So while access and good relations to the media is important, it is not determinative of the ability to make such comebacks. But what are the alternative factors?

The entertainment factor has to be one. I can't imagine shaman style punditry groups like the McGlaughlin Report would survive without being great fun. The prediction accuracy level there is horrible. I call them shaman style because they often seem to do as much good as a shaman (who mainly works through the psychological trick of the placebo effect). It's a wonder that nobody tracks these people's prediction accuracy record to give them a nonsense score exposing their level of craft v. blowhard. But nobody does it.

That's not exactly true. Donald Luskin and other "truth squad" efforts do go after certain figures, in Luskin's case, Paul Krugman. These efforts are narrowly tailored but deeply examine and attack credibility. There are other efforts like the Media Research Center that are broad but not as deep going after general inaccuracy creeping in via ideological bias.

All of these efforts seem to be about throwing things at the wall and seeing what will stick. There isn't any sort of public effort that I can find that examines all the variables of credibility and reputation so that you can achieve an effort that is simultaneously broad and deep. Note to aspiring academics, your thesis could be here.

March 25, 2004

If You Have to Ask...

Posted by TMLutas

Matthew Yglesias is polling his readership as to whether he's been castrated. Apparently he's opened up his world a crack and found out that some people find american women quite disturbing in that they have devoted an extraordinary amount of energy into attacking masculine traits. He claims to have been entirely unaware of this issue prior to now.

He apparently missed the girls rule/boys drool T-shirt and song kerfuffle, the general shifting of schoolyard rules to discriminate against games boys traditionally play, the decline below parity of male representation in US colleges, and books like The War Against Boys.

Now I'm not really going into the merits of the argument here (I'm on culture war overload over the gay marriage thing). I'm just wondering where the heck has he been that he's simply been unaware of the controversy. What a blinkered, ignorant life he must lead.

What Would Happen to An Honest Russian Pol?

Posted by TMLutas

Let me draw out a thought experiment. It's 2004 and next week somebody in Moscow invents the new Rubik's cube. A week later, his good buddy invents the next Tetris. They become near instant billionaires, all honestly, by the end of the year. by the end of 2006 they've decided to invest some of their wealth into creating an honest political movement that will compete with the security services dominated Putin followers so that elections in 2008 will have a choice.

So, assuming that there are no skeletons in their closets, they have paid all their taxes, and they are proposing a sane ideology, what would happen to them and their dream of a new Russian political pole? Such a movement would be a tremendously positive step in one sense, because it would provide a serious alternative to the current administration without giving in to corruption or bringing back any failed totalitarian retreads.

There are two major possibilities. First, Putin the thug emerges and in a campaign of dirty tricks and skullduggery destroys them and hounds them out of the country. This is the fear that people who believe in the idea of Russia backsliding into a new authoritarianism are worried about.

The second possibility is a bit more hopeful. Putin, the believer in the dictatorship of law, emerges from the Kremlin and runs a clean campaign on his record and probably clobbers them anyway but the new movement gains considerable parliamentary representation and draws a lot of strength away from the crazier elements of Russian politics.

So which scenario will likely happen? It's hard to tell. The truth is that Putin's spy dominated government is plausibly undercutting the rotten remnants of the old system, both Soviet and Yeltsin era. If they are just cleaning out the corrupt rich and laying the stage for the development of new, honestly earned fortunes, they will hold power for quite some time and eventually be beaten by some of the clean parties they make possible. But we won't know the reality of it until new Russian political movements without ties to dirty politicians and dirty money emerge to challenge Putin's commitment to law and order in the electoral process.

Bine Ati Venit America!

Posted by TMLutas

Apparently, the rumors are turning into fact and Romania looks to become the major SE European basing hub for US forces. This is important, not only because it will improve things in terms of US cost structure to forward deploy troops but it will also improve things in Romania. Romania is a classic border state, perennially on the wrong side of the line between the core of civilization that must be defended and those peripheral areas which are nice to have but nobody much looses sleep over losing. With a significant US military presence, a large number of romanians are going to come into day-to-day contact with people who have first world expectations in terms of adherence to 1st world civilizational norms. Providing a tilted playing field where the honest tend to win and the guys with connections, the shady operators work at a perennial disadvantage will be a welcome change for the country.

Looking For a Freeware GUI Style HTML Parser

Posted by TMLutas

One of the things that would be quite useful for me is to have the ability to set up automatic pulls of data that can be subsequently imported into a database for further manipulation. I know that there are commercial products that can do this. There are also freeware libraries that do the heart of the job. What I don't see is something that will take non-standard HTML and pull out the data with a nice GUI interface that I can use and script well.

Anybody out there have any experience in this sort of thing?

Replenishing Seed Corn

Posted by TMLutas

Part of the problem of the Iraqi reconstruction is that so much of what is wrong with Iraq is replenishing dangerously depleted 'seed corn'. While actual seed corn is also a problem, most of what I'm talking about is the maintenance and improvements that are both difficult to spot in the normal order of business and which dictatorships habitually try to make people believe are not important. The dictatorships do this in order for them to rob these accounts and create their 'miracles' of efficiency and national pride with the money. By the time the infrastructure becomes totally dilapidated, it can be decades later.

This is not unique to dictatorships. The most obvious example of this in the US is the collapse of the West Side Highway in New York City due to many years of delayed maintenance and other neglect. It took over a decade for NYC to climb out of its maintenance hole and some claim that it hasn't fully climbed out to this day. Certainly, the West Side Highway was never fully restored. The problem (and it's largely unsolved as far as I can tell) is how to make such normal maintenance tasks both visible and a sign of bad government when they start to be robbed?

Inflation and Information Costs

Posted by TMLutas

The Angry Economist has a thoughtful essay on inflation and what it actually means. One thing stuck out at me, the flat statement that people viscerally do not wish to have productivity lower wages so a Federal Reserve or like institution is absolutely necessary to inflate the currency and keep prices from deflating. This is an unusual economic proposition to say the least. People usually have desires for such abstract things as a unit of account not as absolute values which must be provided but as relative values which can be trumped by a competing desire that is worth more.

Now a central bank constantly runs the risk of mis-inflating and distorting the relations between debtors and creditors by inflating things unexpectedly fast or slow, advantaging one class over the other. This is a real risk that carries tremendous consequences as any student of the Weimar Republic would know. Inflation can lead to political unrest and war in the most extreme cases and often leads to poverty and destitution for people who are caught in its terrible grasp. But the defenses against inflation are a daily cost for all of us as we calculate whether to accept inflation risk or lay that off to some insurance agent who will either provide a lower return (like TIPS bonds versus regular Treasury bonds in the US) or pay off on an actual inflation policy.

So what is the nature of this fear of shifting things to a mechanistic system where wages drop but prices drop more due to productivity? Why is adopting such a system worse than living with the caprice of government officials who manipulate the wealth of the nation to fulfill their own ambitions? And how bad would the costs of those political decisions have to be before the nation says, enough, we'd rather have a static money supply and dropping prices? Could the next Weimar short-circuit the rise of the next Hitler by shifting to such a system? Or would worldwide mayhem and mass casualties really be a price people are willing to bear to preserve their inflating unit of account?

Genital Mutilation

Posted by TMLutas

It's definitely a new world we're living in. Apparently, the Georgia legislature is considering legislation to ban female genital mutilation. Since such things are most often practiced by arabized muslims at the initiative of the parents, no exceptions are made, not for consent, not even for piercings. After passing one house without debate or dissent, the question was raised regarding non-muslims who engage in the practice as a sexual decoration/aid. And the culture wars resumed as the legislation's sponsor's jaw dropped to the floor.

Frankly, I can't see how to get around the coercive power of the traditional muslim family. At what point can a girl pierce her ears with parental consent? Should there be a different age of consent for other body parts? Is that more selective ban going to hold up in court or be tossed out as anti-muslim and, more importantly, is that going to stamp out the practice or just move up the age at which it is done from young girl given no say to young woman given no practical say?

March 24, 2004

The Pre-9/11 Mindset

Posted by TMLutas

One thing puzzles me about the line of defense that the Clinton administration alumni are using, that there was a pre-9/11 mindset that blocked stronger action against Al-Queda:

The commissioners on the Sept. 11 panel asked the same question over and over: Why didn't the Clinton administration take stronger military action against al Qaeda's Taliban refuge in the 1990s, when the Sept. 11 plot was being hatched?

Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright's consistent response was simple: "You have to go back to the pre-9/11 mindset." By this she meant that before Sept. 11, stronger military action was politically impossible; thus the blame for the Clinton administration's failures to act preemptively against al Qaeda rests on everyone, not specifically on the commander in chief.

Why is it that the pre-9/11 mindset existed for Clinton but did not exist for Bush? Why aren't Madeline Albright and company eviscerating Clarke's accusations that Bush dropped the ball and was insufficiently aggressive before 9/11? Wouldn't the logic of their argument carry through that it is grossly unfair to insist that President Bush should be blamed anymore than President Clinton should be blamed for failing to take action in an atmosphere where decisive action was politically impossible?

Don't expect the mainstream media to ask such questions of Clinton alumni, nor should you expect good answers even if the questions do get asked. It's smoke and mirrors hiding a political hatchet job with attacks coming from multiple angles, designed to trip up President Bush no matter what he does to counter them.

Ethics Bait and Switch

Posted by TMLutas

Juan Non-Volokh notes a silly NYT article on the Scalia recusal mess. The new 'wrinkle' is that the authors allege that Scalia's purchase of a round trip ticket of which he only ended up using the return leg of the ticket was ethically wrong.

There is a twofold bait and switch going on here. The first is in the article itself when they compare the cheapest round-trip fares (which are always restricted) with the cheapest unrestricted one-way fare which is not usually the cheapest one-way fare. The second bait and switch is on the subject of ethics. Frankly, I don't care if Scalia takes a few extra napkins at McDonalds for his glove compartment. Strictly speaking though, this is an ethical lapse. The relevant standard (and where this discussion started off at) was an ethical lapse that was worthy of recusal, ie getting paid for not doing your job because of a conflict of interest.

There's no recusal worthy ethical lapse here, not even close. Did the airline specifically omit to enforce the ticket contract provision and charge Scalia the difference between the round-trip ticket and the one-way ticket in order to influence the justice on a court case in which they are not a party to? It's ludicrous to think so.

But we're in the land of extra ketchup packets from McDonalds here. It might or might not be a perfect ethical move but since when is perfect ethics at this level something we ask of our public servants? Now if the airline does not invoke its rights to raise fares under its contract, waiving that term, does that make Scalia's move ethical? How about if the airline invoked it and Scalia paid extra but didn't put that fact in his memo? What if the lowest comparable one-way ticket was less expensive than the round-trip ticket (sometimes they are) and the airline didn't nullify Scalia's round-trip ticket because then they would owe him money? In a purely speculative article with little to no actual reporting done, we're not even sure whether even the faintest wiff of an irrelevant ethical lapse was committed.

In short, it's just a hit piece. Move along, there's nothing to see here but the paper of record pimping its reputation out to partisan hacks.

Dick Morris' Optimistic Blowout

Posted by TMLutas

Dick Morris is starting to think that a blowout is the likely result in November. I doubt it. If we were in a normal election under the old rules of campaigning he might have a point. Kerry is showing signs of fatal weakness. He has trouble explaining certain votes on basic issues and he apparently did not choose some of his political associates very well in his youth.

But what Morris is ignoring is that this is not a normal election. The rules have radically changed regarding election speech and the newly potent 527 committees are going to be cranking out the political venom with no accountability available until after the election. So if Bush pulls away come Labor Day, by mid October look for a flood of Democrat Party dirty tricks and shady expenditures designed to skirt the law and kneecap the Republican campaign.

This isn't over yet. It's barely begun.

Remembering the 'W' keys

Posted by TMLutas

When George W Bush came into office, there were a number of juvenile pranks played on the incoming staff. From destroying the W keys on keyboards at the White House to cutting phone lines to more serious vandalism like proposing last minute policy changes that were unsupportable by any US administration but would cause trouble with core Democrat groups when they inevitably were rolled back, this was a very contentious transition. In classy style, the Bush administration kept few records of the petty stuff and refrained from too much finger pointing about Clinton's last minute antics. But it did take a few weeks to undo the physical sabotage and several months to go through a thorough review of all the policy and regulatory sabotage.

So why is this ancient history of dirty tricks relevant today? Isn't it time to move on? Not so fast, as the period in question is crucial to the Clarke accusation that the incoming Bush administration was rudderless in the early part of the administration with regards to terrorism and that there was a secret Clinton plan handed over during the transition that the Bush administration refused to act on.

Given a civilized transition, this would be a serious charge. But nobody is looking back at the horrible partisanship of the transition period and asking the question, would it have been reasonable to accept a Clinton plan on much of anything, much less the vital issue of terrorism at face value? If one of Clinton's little policy jokes was embedded in this supposed plan (the Bush administration denies there even was a plan) it could have had long-lasting negative effects for the country.

I wonder whether Clarke, who must have seen the chaos from both sides as both a Clinton and Bush staffer, thinks of that period.

Battlefield 'Net III

Posted by TMLutas

Winds of Change has a good article on the current and future battlefield net. The ability to communicate with each other has achieved critical mass and people understand how much more lethal they can be, and with how much fewer casualties, if they are pervasively networked and digitized.

One extremely important implication is that it is quite dangerous for allies to fight alongside US forces and not be integrated into US information systems. But other militaries don't seem to be getting it, either intellectually, with spending authority, or both. As the difference grows in the effectiveness of a networked soldier versus a non-networked one, the rough logistical equality of supporting both means that the military value of allied troops who don't climb on board to the new network centric warfare is dropping and likely will continue to drop. This creates a deep political problem in nations that are still mired in the idea of a large conscription based force.

It's Not the Crime, It's the Coverup I

Posted by TMLutas

Clayton Cramer's noting that Kerry's campaign is trying to get witnesses to lie to the media over whether Kerry was present when an assassination plot was debated at the VVAW to kill US Senators in favor of Vietnam. Now Kerry helped to defeat this idea from becoming VVAW policy before resigning over the issue according to eyewitnesses and FBI record indicate that Kerry was there but Kerry maintains that he wasn't. The reason is that his absence would excuse him from any obligation to report the conspiracy to law enforcement.

Clayton Cramer thinks this entirely destroys Kerry's viability as a candidate. I'm not sure he's right. It could be worse than that and deny him the nomination even though he has a majority of delegates pledged to him.

Let's swallow the Kerry spin for a moment that his presence is only a historical footnote. What is the campaign doing trying to get witnesses to lie instead of telling the truth? What else is there in his biography that has been covered up successfully?

Barnett on Clarke

Posted by TMLutas

Possibly the best analysis on Clarke that I've seen to date (and while I'm not commenting much, I'm reading a lot) is by Thomas Barnett on his new blog.

Key 'graph:

My bottom line is this: until we break up and reconfigure the antiquated, Cold War-style long-range force structure planning system, all our strategic analysis inside the Pentagon will remain a slave to this process, thus preventing any serious reordering of our intelligence structure, its collection methods, and the processing and prioritization of analysis. The end product in this vast Pentagon planning pipeline remains a high-end, great power war-oriented force, and so the system continues to feed a view of the world that fits that desired end product. Check out the current threat analysis that justifies the Pentagon’s long range acquisition plans, and you will see China looming behind every “big bet” analysis. Al Qaeda and the GWOT are really nowhere to be found in this vision of the future, because they do not justify the preferred force structure.

This ultimately puts the ball in my and your court my fellow americans who read this. Ultimately, the things that get acquired are run through Congress and we're responsible for them and the pork barrel big ticket military purchases that they force on the Pentagon. He who pays the piper calls the tune and Congress has the power of the purse.

Now there's an election year analysis that would be welcome out of the 9/11 commission. Don't hold your breath on it's actually happing though.

A Question for Sharon

Posted by TMLutas

A question for Israel's Prime Minister:

Prime Minister Sharon, The UK has explicitly repudiated the Treaty of Westphalia which is the bedrock of the idea that you cannot declare war on someone who is not a state. The US has implicitly repudiated the same principles by declaring War on Terrorism. Do you agree that the time is past when only states can war and are you at war with Hamas?

Under the laws of war, Yassin was a legitimate target. But without a war, Israel's moral position grows cloudier. What was the estimated casualty figure if a capture strategy was used?

March 23, 2004


Posted by TMLutas

I wasn't there so I can't really comment much on the catfight currently going on over who said what in internal debates inside the administration. I can only say one thing that I know is valid. Grow up!

The truth is that there's a reason that internal debate is supposed to stay inside the administration. Especially when a big event goes on and you need to build a new policy direction from scratch (the very thing that happened on 9/11) you want to start off with a period of letting loose with the most off the wall ideas. You want to create a climate of being able to toss out all sorts of thoughts and proposals and winnow them out later.

What you don't want is a bunch of people who are intensely image conscious and won't speak up and provide an idea rich terrain from which the best will be refined and eventually implemented and the rest quietly discarded without damaging any reputations. And regardless of whether Clarke is telling the truth or not. The kinds of accusations that he's making, that internal debates went along nonproductive lines but were not implemented in policy are almost tailor made for sabotaging the intellectual problem solving process. You couldn't create a better method of stifling innovation and problem solving creativity if you tried.

Again, it doesn't make any difference if he's right or wrong on the facts in his tell all tome. He's still materially impeding the policy process for this, and future administrations of either party and that makes him a self-interested, mercenary, huge jerk.

Zambia Learning to Play the Immigration Game

Posted by TMLutas

Apparently, Zambia is providing support to white Zimbabweans fleeing Mugabe's persecution. They apparently don't mind a white face if it comes with a reputation for producing a great deal of food and export income for the country.

The long-term benefits will accrue to those in Africa who are willing to embrace the talented who are politically inconvenient elsewhere and are willing to work hard and build a better future. But the entire continent will benefit as everybody sees how such an open policy pays off over the long run.

Real Life Rent Control

Posted by TMLutas

The original rent control statutes for New York City were adopted in order to soak up an excess housing condition during World War II. Everybody was off to the war and things were crazy so they adopted 'emergency' stabilization measures. It look's like the emergency housing glut is over. The key statement is "The only new construction in the area are developments with enormous, jacuzzi-filled mansions." If prices are booming, why aren't people building houses that are relatively affordable?

The problem is simple, builders don't trust the local politicians anymore. They've had too much stolen too often to trust that politicians will keep their word and allow them to charge market rents for the long haul. So they only build for the rich because the rich can always afford to buy and they are the least likely to be able to get the local council to rob the developer blind.

French Crimes Against Humanity

Posted by TMLutas

Here's a sleeper issue, french complicity and active participation in the Rwandan genocide. I don't have a great deal to add other than it seems very strange to hear about Rwanda in this way. It's not just fallen off the mainstream media's radar screen but most of the blogosphere's as well.

Best Press Conference Photo of the Day

Posted by TMLutas

You know that in small countries sometimes that have to have people wearing multiple hats and really stretch to get all the personnel slots filled but you would think they could find a first rate press secretary

On the other hand, in terms of truthfulness, this may be an improvement on some of his colleagues.

Democrat Cluelessness on Network Security

Posted by TMLutas

I don't know whether to laugh or to cry over this article on Democrat efforts to secure their electronic work product. If you give somebody rights to sensitive documents that they shouldn't have access to, you should be fired. If you leave the security hole open after you're informed, you're doubly culpable. That's what went on over at the Senate during the 'memogate' scandal.

Over at the House, they did security better with Democrats and Republicans operating in different security domains, making such mistakes much harder to make. But Rep. Brad Sherman wants to install completely irrelevant separate Internet lines even though that's not where the security threat is coming from. If what he's trying to do is achieve physical security, he'd be asking to physically separate the networks but he's not. Instead, he's just piling on irrelevant expenditures on top of measures that would likely lessen security.

It's cluelessness on a sad scale in 2004 at the highest levels of government.

Letter to the Paper XI

Posted by TMLutas

Over at Iberian Notes it's a classic conservative pity party from the '70s in the US. The topic at hand is the hostile media culture for conservatives. US conservatives have largely solved the problem of how to get around a hostile media culture and there's no reason Spanish conservatives have to suffer the same learning curve. My comments below:

It was always impossible for Republicans to overcome the biased US media to present a conservative message. But they managed it anyway and I suspect that the same is true in Spain.

The key is confidence in your own opinions. The anti-american media largely shapes things by its omission of events. They do not report various truths because they would paint the US in a favorable light. Thus people who have no access to the information are simply ignorant on certain subjects and the ignorant do not wish to talk about their ignorance.

The cure is to bring up subjects that require a knowledge of things not reported in the anti-american press, not in a tendentious way, but simply to discuss things. You can talk about the rate of improvement of the electrical grid in Iraq and ask somebody their opinion on whether this newly increased domestic energy system is going to make a dent in Iraqi oil exports raising the price of gasoline in Spain.

Since the anti-american press will not be eager to report neither that oil exports from Iraq are healthy and going up nor that energy demand is up because of a rapidly improving economy after decades of infrastructure neglect, the person fed only a strict diet of anti-american media will have to plead ignorance. Repeat the process on different subjects until they ask where are you reading such things.

The key is not to get them to buy into a different spin. Rightly, they will want to form their own opinions. The key is to get them hungry for a more complete set of facts about the world.

Once people gain the sense that they are being kept in the dark and only know half the picture, you've just added to the market a person hungry for a different style of news. From there, capitalism will take over and new outlets will be created to sate the new demand and old media will run around, exactly as they do in the US, and wonder why they are losing customers in such a steady stream.

Bear Update II

Posted by TMLutas

It looks like NZ Bear is still going through adjustments and for me, it's all good. for the first time, I've gotten out of my reptilian stage and am now a flappy bird. It's 8 more unique links (blogrolls are best) to adorable rodent, and 24 more unique links to marauding marsupial.

The question is, why care? For a few reasons. Many moons ago when I helped out with The Patriot over at SUNY Stony Brook, I saw real journalism first hand. We were a student publication but entirely advertising supported. The kind of politics we were advancing (heavy libertarian) neither would have permitted us to take coercively extracted student funds nor would the student government have likely given us an allocation (our reporting on student government antics was rather... severe).

I'd like to get back into public policy journalism, at least as a side line via this blog so I know that at around 10k readers people start treating you seriously for revenue generation purposes. Increasing links both increases hits via the links themselves and increases the likelihood that people will click on my blog based on the NZ Bear list itself.

But beyond making Flit(tm) a viable commercial property I'd like to see unique and interesting voices being able to blog on the payroll as part of a virtual think tank. To that end, the first $10k of income from the blog is going to go towards establishing a nonprofit so that hitting associated blogger's tip jars will be tax deductible donations and people who would do well on the writing end of professional blogging don't have to waste a great deal of their time on the finance end so that they can devote more time to thinking profound thoughts and furthering the public interest.

Westphalia and Gay Marriage

Posted by TMLutas

The two topics wouldn't normally seem to go together but they are related, in the sense that both topics relate to highly foundational subjects. By that I mean that both the Treaty of Westphalia and the institution of marriage imply an awful lot of other things. In the case of the Treaty of Westphalia, repudiation is done purposefully in order to radically change the board. The reformers (Bush and Blair) both know and understand how wide ranging a change they are initiating. They've evaluated, as much as is possible, the consequences of shifting the foundations of the international law system. The emergence of significant national security threats from non-state actors requires the adjustment so a great deal of pain and shifting is justified by the survival of our way of life.

Gay marriage reformers, in contrast, are stubborn about how changing marriage to include them will change nothing else. They purposefully close their eyes and ears to the follow on effects and ask, no demand, that their plea be treated in isolation. This sort of approach is staggeringly irresponsible. And because the reformers have dominated the debate for so long, only now, with their goal in sight, are people starting to figure out that it's important to know what the follow on effects are. But even now you commonly find people wondering why government is getting involved in the first place. A single example suffices. The Social Security system has literally trillions in unfunded liabilities, liabilities that were assumed on the assumption that we would have a rate of population growth sufficient in perpetuity to fund this ponzi style scheme. Gay marriage, and its inevitable follow on variants, will have an effect of lowering total fertility, thus reducing the solvency of Social Security and increasing the punitive taxes necessary to keep the system running.

Thus Social Security (and most other entitlement programs) rest on the bedrock of fertility which is influenced by marriage policy. In the Westphalia repudiation, the surface effects of terrorists escaping justice by becoming stateless was a pernicious effect that is being dynamited by the repudiation. The consequences are desired. Is dynamiting our entitlements system with gay marriage an intention of gay marriage reformers? I don't think so.

More Insults to Lebanon

Posted by TMLutas

Hezbollah, according to Debka (and there's little reason to doubt them this time) is continuing to launch cross-border attacks. I still haven't seen the first article asking Lebanese government officials about fulfilling their responsibility to stop such attacks. You know your government is a joke when illegal military assaults are launched from your territory and nobody from the press or diplomatic corps even bothers to call you up to talk to you about it.

March 22, 2004

Is This Normal?

Posted by TMLutas

From Debka:

Hizballah directed heavy cross-border missile-mortar bombardment at IDF positions Monday night for almost three hours. Israeli air force and artillery returned fire against Hizballah firing positions along border and inside Lebanese territory.

Ho hum, just another international bombardment. In normal circumstances, this is considered an act of war. At the very least the country from which the attacks are launched has an obligation to catch these people and hand them over to the attacked for trial.

Is anybody even bothering to demand that of Beirut? How about Damascus?

Bear Update

Posted by TMLutas

I'm just so confused. TTLB doesn't update for a long time and now... I just dropped a huge number of links, it's got the right traffic numbers, and I've improved about 300 places in the rankings.

Is anybody else out there noticing oddness going on with the Bear?

Unlawful Killing?

Posted by TMLutas

Let's put aside the question, for the moment of whether it's a bright idea to have blown up Sheik Yassin, of Hamas infamy. What caught my eye was Jack Straw's statement that Yassim's killing was unlawful.

What law, exactly, was violated?

Extra points if you don't step all over UK Prime Minister Blair's position that we're in a post-Westphalian world (which Minister Straw is not supposed to do until after he resigns).

Smarter Maps, Smarter Journalism

Posted by TMLutas

Imagine a map on a computer screen. Click on a border and a box comes up explaining how that border was set, when was it established, what treaties led up to it and the conflicts that preceded the current border's establishment. All that information is available today in encyclopedias, history books, and other weighty tomes. But what you don't get is some sort of easy connection between an everyday act (like looking at a map) and all that deep knowledge that you could plunge into if you were just the least bit curious.

I had a colleague who was absolutely gaga over Edward Tufte and especially his book Visual Explanations. At first I didn't quite get what the fuss was all about but eventually he got it through to me that without access to information in an understandable way, information is virtually worthless. And you can have information right in front of you without ever really understanding what you're seeing. The classic example of that is the Challenger tragedy where the managers simply didn't understand that a powerpoint chart they were looking at wasn't just dots and lines and failure rate percentages but a death sentence for the astronauts if they persisted in launching.

But back to maps, they are a highly useful graphical presentation of the world around us. In fact, an entire field has grown up around the use of layered smart maps called GIS (Geographic Information Systems). But these maps are mostly used as specialty tools for planning where to put the sewers and other very practical but highly specialized tasks. What's missing is a GIS system that you can go to when current events bring up places that you've never heard of with histories that you never even imagined and have all the details in all its glorious layers laid out in front of you quickly and comprehensibly in a compact, comprehensible manner.

If we could develop a system like that, the light fluff and commentary driven focus of nightly news broadcasts would be much less pernicious. It wouldn't matter so much that the anchorman doesn't give all the basic facts before launching into speculation and interpretation. If you know them already, well and good. If you don't, you have a freely available tool that the news organization is tying into their report that lets you dig into the background sufficient that you no longer need to be brought up to speed in the actual body of the report.

Romanian Busines R&D

Posted by TMLutas

Over at @rgumente, Dragos wonders at how small and medium enterprises in Romania can benefit from government research. I can recall one bit of government research that was highly productive (and we could use repeated doses all over the planet). It's an approach spearheaded by Newt Gingrich around when he took over the Congress and the Republicans were in full "Contract with America" mode. He went and gathered business leaders and asked them what were the legal changes that would best cause them to hire additional workers.

In a country like Romania where the law is a horrible mishmash of several constitutional systems, with unnecessary complexity, inconsistent application of the law, and outright pernicious regulation all over the place, a consistent program of identifying the worst of what is wrong with the law and the regulatory regime would be a real positive. Research that analyzes employment effects subsequent to changing the law so that people can measure and see things getting better is also another benefit.

Research doesn't have to be about new products or services to be of use to the SME sector. In the world of the Non-Integrating Gap, identifying and measuring exactly how the government is worsening people's lives and measuring improvements is a real service, no matter who pays for it.

Charity or Focusing on the Goal? II

Posted by TMLutas

After I wrote the original in this series, I read Steven Den Beste's latest which led me to revisit the topic.

I do believe that we have the same ultimate objective as Europe with regards to the Nihilist Death Cultists (NDCs), to be rid of them and their bomb attacks and stabbings and shootings etc. The problem arises in that shortly after that point, we diverge on the issue of the mutability of our opponents. It's funny because the original crusaders, the proselytizers the nations with the longest history of forcible conversions are convinced that this foe is immutable and thus must be appeased and accommodated. The US, the land of religious tolerance, is adopting strategies that ultimately rely on the intellectual destruction of the NDC intellectual framework.

But these two things are strategic goals, not ultimate objectives, and they share a feature that makes day-to-day cooperation on anti-terrorist activity possible. They both require a significant amount of time to accomplish. This time requirement implies that until the strategy bears fruit, the NDCs must be pruned back as severely as possible. So we have a top level agreement with Europe on the level of ultimate objectives and a coincidental bottom level agreement on day-to-day tactics. Where we disagree is in the middle at the level of strategy and this makes the bizarre we're friends/we're fighting relationship with France and the rest of Old Europe (to use the gentler Rumsfeld construction) possible, even inevitable. But I don't think it is ultimately stable.

From their perspective, we're jogging their elbow on the road to accommodation and ultimate political settlement. From our perspective, they are confusing the jihadiis and giving them hope that they can win at the peace table what they cannot win on the battlefield. Arguments over tactics like the prison camp at Guantanamo are largely illusory and a point of contention because of their strategic implications, not for any legitimate human rights concern over fair trials or harsh interrogation techniques.

Given the obvious truth that a burden shared is a lighter burden, it makes sense from both sides' perspective to try to find some way to pull in the same direction at the strategy level. The US has done a very dangerous thing by upsetting the bedrock of so much of the international legal system in repudiating nonintervention and state sovereignty. Without limits, this would put us smack back in the middle of the same unsustainable system that produced The Thirty Years War. One of the US' foreign policy failures has been to delineate the limits of the new post-Westphalian revisionism and this has led to some suspicion that there is no limit. The European Union cannot survive such a state and, in any case, wholesale repudiation of Westphalia is not necessary for the US to achieve its objectives and would even be counterproductive. But what is the dividing line in the zone of sovereignty and the zone of Westphalian repudiation?

The answer to that is in Thomas Barnett's upcoming book The Pentagon's New Map which outlines the guts of the current US grand strategy (and yes, you should preorder this book if you haven't already). The intellectual construct of a Functioning Core and a Non-Integrating Gap (Core and Gap from here on out) with Westphalian repudiation limited to the Gap adequately addresses Europe's nightmare of an elimination of sovereignty while retaining the freedom of movement that the US' strategy demands.

But this only addresses one part of the friction and, I fear that we're going to have to engage Europe to convince them that political accommodation with an intact NDC ideology is simply untenable, even in the medium term and we might as well get on with the inevitable task of convincing these people that Heaven does not await the suicide bomber. As we do this, we should never lose sight that what we are arguing over a profound difference in strategy, not a difference in objectives, which are shared. Our objective is not to kill NDCs per se but to be able to live in peace with the lifestyle that we choose secure in the knowledge that there are no NDCs plotting to kill us for having the audacity to not join their macabre philosophies.

Leftist Racism

Posted by TMLutas

I thought I'd stroll over to Hesiod after Bill Herbert's Cointel Pro complained about some piece. It was pretty much as bad as he was saying but I thought I'd wander around and see if this was just an isolated faux pas. At the top of the page I found a nasty bit of racism. The only thing that would have been worse was labeling a picture of a gorilla as Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell. It's a two photograph set with 'funny' captions of Bush with Cheney in one photo and Buh and Rice for the other. The photos are from the Dukes of Hazard with the corrupt sheriff being Bush, the political boss being Cheney and the sheriff's pet dog being Rice.

According to Hesiod, Rice is identified as a dog because she's very obedient (the dog in the show wasn't) and highly incompetent so no, identifying her as a sad eyed basset hound has nothing to do with the long and well established history of dehumanizing portraits of blacks that elites long used to aid in repressing them.

Pull the other one.

Charity or Focusing on the Goal?

Posted by TMLutas

I just got a hat tip over at Brownian Notions that disturbed me a bit. YHN thinks that I'm being charitable when I suggest that an honest comparison should be done between civilian law limits on civil rights that Spain has adopted and the imposition of military law on terrorism. In fact, what I'm doing is staying focused on my goals.

In discussing terrorism and how to defeat it, my goal is not to prove that the US is number one. The truth of its national ranking on any particular question will come out without me having to beat anyone over the head with that. My goal is to reduce the number of Nihilistic Death Cultists (NDC) to zero, or as near to zero as makes no difference. The best solution for that is to forge the broadest possible alliance of heavily interconnected states that not only goes beyond the US but far transcends antique notions of the West, even of pre-Great Schism christendom.

Such a grand alliance would be a fearsome thing for any terrorist to face and one of their major goals is to sow dissension in our ranks and cause unreasoning hatred and overheated argument, for us to hurt each other so much that we no longer trust each other enough to share information and coordinate our efforts effectively.

So it is not compassion or charity that motivates me when I talk about a dispassionate comparison of the two systems, it is not even scientific or social science curiosity. It is a simple, practical desire to frustrate the NDCs and enhance our abilities so the day of our victory will draw closer. If a boot to the rear would make our victory draw closer, then I'd be kicking up a storm and encouraging others.

So before we all start kicking, let's just remember what the end goal is. We share it with an awful lot of people, a lot more than you might think. There's no reason to further our mutual foe's goals by burning bridges where we don't have to.

March 21, 2004

When do Victims Forfeit Protection?

Posted by TMLutas

Albanians were the victims of a nasty bit of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Now they're returning the favor but with a twist, they're doing it under the shelter of NATO.

We bear a certain amount of responsibility for the albanian atrocities because without us, they would not be able to operate as they are. So what are we to do? We are somewhat culpable because we threaten the Yugoslav army's ability to redress these wrongs but we don't commit enough force to actually stop the attacks. So what now?

The first question is whether Serbia has changed sufficiently that they can have their province back. If the answer is yes, invite them in to fill out the ranks necessary to eliminate the unrest and pull the foreign troops back out. Sorry Kosovars, you blew it. Get used to being part of Yugoslavia again because your actions have made it clear you're unfit to be part of the civilized world.

But if Serbia hasn't changed, then we're in a great big pickle. The US military is stretched too far to ramp up for another Balkan war right now so the rest of NATO is going to have to bear the brunt of it. But are the German and French armies sufficient to the task? I hear Spain's about to have a few thousand extra troops cut loose from prior commitments...

Why is Government Infrastructure the Only Option?

Posted by TMLutas

Outside the Beltway has an interesting conversation regarding India and their poor political system. Sure they have a democracy but the politicians are utterly hopeless at building infrastructure. This is a tremendous opportunity for libertarian minded infrastructure geeks. What's needed is some sort of India friendly model law that outsources infrastructure on some performance goal basis. That way individual companies won't have to build their own infrastructure but neither will they have to reform the entire caste ridden, class infested mess that is Indian politics in order to get electricity and water and decent roads.

The Importance of Europe's Left Wing Parties to Right Wing Americans

Posted by TMLutas

Foreign policy becomes national consensus only when the major parties that will form the heart of any parliamentary majority all agree on the proposition. Right now, philoamericanism is not national consensus in any 1st tier EU nation with the exception of the UK. Those parties that are friendly to the US are generally center-right parties while center-left parties are generally more hostile to the US and US interests.

If we are to avoid a divided West, this really should change. Relations with Spain, Germany, Italy and others will all cool every time the national electorate in these places throw the bums out for purely domestic reasons. The problem is how to go about it. The left does not like the US because the center of US politics is far to the right of their own countries, thus even a left-winger in US terms is a bit to the right in the EU. Right wingers are so far to the right as to be unacceptable and thus friction naturally increases.

This makes for problems for US center-right politicians and theoreticians. The solution of US center-left politicians is simple, move the US center to the left and the problem is solved. Since moving the US political center is part of the traditional job description of any politician, this is a pretty conventional task for them. The problem for the center-right politician is different. He doesn't want to move the US center to the left. He'd like to see the center of Spain, Germany, et al move to the right but interfering with the internal political workings of foreign countries (contrary to imperialism fetishists) is not traditionally part of the job description.

Thus we have a conundrum, one that presents two potential solutions in my view. The first is to go imperial and make interfering in the domestic affairs of the EU part of the job description. I believe this would be a horrible mistake but it's a natural temptation so it needs to be guarded against vigilantly.

The second option would be to pay much more attention intellectually to the center-right so that they gain the local equivalents of the William F Buckley with his fusionism, Ronald Reagan with his popular optimism and ability to move the center, and Newt Gingrich with his ability to organize and institutionalize changes. All three figures in the US came and were instrumental in moving the center right both further right (while becoming less nutty at the same time) and in gaining influence.

It is only by the center-right creating intellectual positions and electoral platforms that are to the right of center and appeal to greater than 55% of the electorate that the center-left, out of sheer political necessity, will start adopting elements of what was previously right-wing ideology as their own to make themselves once more competitive. But such things cannot come out of the US government lest national pride and xenophobia undo any good that is created.

This isn't to say that such efforts don't already exist. But I don't think that most people understand them as crucial to creating a durable national consensus of pro-americanism, especially those on the center-left in the US. While center-rightists must accept that the center-left's attempts to move the political center in their direction is a valid tool of foreign policy, leftists have to learn to not cry "imperialism" at the IRI every time it says boo.

March 20, 2004

The Need for Memory II

Posted by TMLutas

The snarky Tbogg opines that Robert Moran has no common sense because "everybody falls" when they snowboard. But falling from a stage is abnormal so there's a difference between the Dole fall in the '96 race and Kerry's fall now. Somebody should tell Sen. Kerry that falling is normal when you snowboard because he told reporters "I don't fall down." So is Kerry now the guy lacking common sense?

Sometimes you need an elephants memory to catch the hypocrites, other times, a week's worth will do just fine.

Watchdogging Police Reports

Posted by TMLutas

TalkLeft's got a story on police falsifying crime reports either by downgrading them or not reporting them at all. If true, it's a horrible example of a failure in information systems, one that could be easily remedied by simply providing a feedback loop for the crime victim to know and understand what is going on with his case. Simply by creating an extranet that contains the public record portion of all open crimes you have most of the problem solved. You hand the crime victim (or closest appropriate family member or guardian) a serial number and give them an access password so they can keep those who should be informed, informed. So if you file a complaint for rape and see it's filed under misdemeanor assault, you can raise a stink immediately. And that's really the point because once police know that they're going to get monitored, their incentive to make the numbers look good disappears because falsifying a report will look much worse than any possible gain from fudging the numbers.

The dumb ones might still try it but they're likely to get fired, and that's a good thing. The data entry overhead for such a system means it probably won't work for very small towns that aren't computerized but that's likely not where the problem is. The big issue is likely to crop up in cities that are already computerized.

What makes this solution even better is that you could probably organize the victims groups, the civil libertarians, and the police watchdog groups to create a generic program that can be customized, release it as open source, and give it as a gift to the police forces of America. And Mr. Police Chief, Mr. Mayor, why is it that you don't want to accept a free system whose only effect is to give crime victims easy access to information they have a right to anyway? The politics of it make a continued coverup very difficult to maintain.

Furthermore, since the code is open source, the police may have their own ideas about usefulness and add features that actually improve policing by making it easier to enter the data they already have to input. In the end, I suspect that police will find such a system as useful in their job as police car cameras are for the honest cop.

Letter to the Paper X

Posted by TMLutas

This one is written in response on Calpundit's thread Why the Socialists Won....Part Two

First, let me reject the calumny that 'the right wing' has no sympathy for the human tragedy of the bombing unless the political results are to our liking. That's not only false, it's somewhat dehumanizing and a low blow. If you're human, you weep for the dead, no matter the politics. Shame on those who wish to take that away no matter what their political stripe.

Now irrespective of the song and dance that everybody puts on the fact is that Al Queda is sending messages across the network to lay off operations in Spain post election because Spain is to be rewarded for voting right unless they backtrack and start acting wrongly, wrongly being identified as staying in Iraq and cooperating with the US in the War on Terror. No matter how the spanish intended to vote, how Al Queda perceived the vote is largely how the US right wing has been spinning things.

Al Queda was in a major jam. It had not had any major western successes since 9/11 and was killing an awful lot of muslims compared to its infidel body count. The challenge that muslims against Al Queda could throw at them was 'sure you took down a few buildings but you stirred up the worst hornets nest there is' with the result being the War on Terror.

Now Al Queda is claiming they have changed a government and the new government is more to their liking. They have not only proved their viability but proved that they can achieve their political goals. Irrespective of what goes on in the heads of spaniards, this is the reality in the islamic world and it is a reality that will help Al Queda recruit more agents, recruit more bombers, and the cost will be an increased death toll.

Intentional or not, the Spanish electorate sent a message that had effects on the WoT and those effects will be positive for the Islamists and negative for those of us who want to defend civilization and human decency. You can argue that the signers of the Kellog-Briand pact that outlawed war did not intend to create an intellectual climate that enabled the rise of tyrants and emboldened war mongers but thats the way things played out.

Spain made a major error. They're not alone. The US made lots of errors of this type over the past two decades plus and those errors spanned both parties, Democrat and Republican. We might have hoped that Spain would have learned from our mistakes in Tehran, Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Iraq (1991), Somalia, and the rest of the US' feckless litany of shame, but they didn't. Right wingers are understandably upset by it. Hopefully the Socialists will either straighten out or the government will fall (it's a minority government) over the terrorist issue, we'll see.

Major Happy Day for Russia?

Posted by TMLutas

Regnum Crucis is covering the heavy fighting in Waziristan and currently (update 10 et seq) is reporting that the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a major troublemaker in Central Asia is the most likely high value target that's causing all the fuss. In any case, somebody from the compound under fire is talking to people in the Pankisi Gorge and the Ferghana Valley in Uzbek and Chechen.

All this is huge news for Russia if it pans out and would justify Putin's prior acquiescence to the US presence in Central Asia. If major leadership figures in the Islamist movements bedeviling Russia are being taken by US and Pakistani forces without Russia having to lift a finger much less spill blood, it's a very good day for Russia and it may well mark a good time for US/Russia relations to take a turn for the better.

More Sprawl Please III

Posted by TMLutas

Samizdata is running an article on the real world consequences of insufficient sprawl as I've written before it is both hazardous to middle class retirement funds as well as third world farmers to have too much land set aside for green space or otherwise restricted from building.

Others have noted in Flitters, that sometimes it's the opposite problem that's true. Government sometimes mandates more sprawl by creating unnaturally large lot sizes and restricting the ability to subdivide property to meet actual need. This too is a problem.

At heart, it is the government interference in the property market that is the major cause of both problems and the solution is to back out of the market in a measured way so that you ruin the least amount of people possible.

I am guessing though that with the green movement organizing to create more wilderness, it is the lack of sprawl that will predominate as a problem, not development that is too sparse. Thus it's more sprawl please, not pack 'em tighter and hurry that I am titling this line of inquiry.

The Need for Memory

Posted by TMLutas

Robert Moran compare's Dole's embarassing campaign fall to Kerry's and notes that Kerry's fall was not included in any of the pictures used to accompany the story. It's amazing, I had completely forgotten about the Bob Dole pictures and the mini-scandal that had surrounded their use. At that time the news media swore up and down that they were not being partisan and would have published photos of a falling Bill Clinton.

Bob Dole was the previous major party candidate challenging a sitting president of the other party from his perch in the Senate. The only difference is the party label. If the papers weren't lying about their commitment to feature pictorials of future falling Democrats, at what point did they change the rules and who changed them?

The hypocrisy and bias spans many years.

Guantanamo v Incommunicado

Posted by TMLutas

Iberian Notes, inside a longer post on the latest from Spain opines:

Here's the latest from Spain. The five people, three Moroccans and two citizens of India, who were arrested on Saturday have been placed in preventive and "incomunicado" custody in Madrid by Judge Juan del Olmo of the Audiencia Nacional. Under Spanish law, they can now be held for two years without an indictment, which can be extended to two more years. Spain doesn't need a Guantanamo; they can lock these guys up for four years without even having to indict them, much less try them.

This is a difference of approach that, merits close observation and investigation. What is the difference between preventative, 'incommunicado' detention by civilian authorities and military detention? What makes one better than the other? Is part of the EU's concern over Guantanamo because they fundamentally never understood that we don't have such tools as preventative and 'incommunicado' detention? That in the normal course of events we can't just toss somebody in a black hole for four years?

But if they didn't understand such things, why didn't they? Who should have been telling them? Journalists should, of course, but the State Department has a role in that too. Did they do their job on the subject? The foreign ministries of the various EU states also had an obligation. Citizens of EU countries should be asking how did their own authorities do on that?

March 19, 2004

Iraqi Poll Question I'd Love to See

Posted by TMLutas

Q: How do you think the next Iraqi government should treat countries that actively opposed the US led coalition in Iraq?

Should the next Iraqi government:

A. Forge closer relations with such states as a reward
B. Keep relations the same as the last government
C. Create some extra distance until they make it up to us
D. Put relations on ice for the foreseeable future as punishment

If I were France, Germany, Russia or anybody who was very loud in rejecting intervention, I would be quite interested in the honest feelings of the Iraqi people. Public opinion will likely influence Iraqi foreign policy for the first time in quite some time and nobody seems to be asking them such questions.

Trolling for Links (a Pro Kerry Post)

Posted by TMLutas

VodkaPundit offers a bounty in the form of a link, to the first person who defends the 'first I voted for it before I voted against it' statement on supporting the 87B funding allocation to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don't think I can manage to spin this as exactly helpful, but it is, in the narrowest sense accurate. The real problem is a general one, the problem of horrible civic education in the United States. The truth is that legislation is often loaded down with various special pleadings designed to garner extra votes, votes that would not have been forthcoming if the measure were simply an up or down vote on the issue addressed by the bill title. This phenomenon occurs more often in the Senate than in the House which has better rules on the subject and more central control regarding the amendment process.

All sorts of votes happen in the Senate in the struggle for the soul of a bill with various factions voting on both sides of adoption at various points. What Kerry was trying to say was that he supported the idea of supporting the troops but at a certain point of additional pork, irrelevant legislative language, and bad policy prescriptions, it makes sense to vote against final passage and immediately get to work on a better bill.

Sometimes this strategy even works, improving policy, which is why just about every Senator does it at one time or another and the inside baseball nature of the strategy is why every Senator running for President gets slammed for it. This also at least partially explains why so few sitting Senators get elected to President.

So is Kerry a courageous man of principle for his vote against final passage? 11 of his Senate colleagues think so.

Did the Other Shoe Drop?

Posted by TMLutas

Al Queda has been facing a daunting task in recent years. Post 9/11 it's had the challenge of establishing that it has absorbed the counter-attack and still remains potent and able to pursue the Islamist goal of a restored Caliphate. The subsequent Al Queda bombings were too small and had too little consequence for them to answer that question. But at this point, Al Queda can claim to have changed the Spanish government. In other words, it's won 3 years of life where it can say, "oh, after 9/11 we decided to go from big announcements of our capabilities to real world changes like changing the government of Spain". This is a potent pitch line for Al Queda recruiters and it's likely to work.

This means that we have until about 2006-2007 for their next big effort and our next opportunity to kill of this group. The bottom line is that Al Queda must have a major success every 2-3 years otherwise its recruiting will dry up, and that's game over for them. Whatever happens, Al Queda has always had, and always will have, a big problem with attrition. Not only do they have to worry about active efforts to kill and capture their members, they also have to worry about defections to more peaceful forms of Islam or just plain apostasy.

So President Bush or President Kerry will get a single shot in the next term to kill Al Queda by ruining their ability to replace these losses. The election should be conducted discussing who will best lead the US in the throttling of this monster.

Stubborn Economists

Posted by TMLutas

You can always tell when somebody is set back on their heels by having their argument challenged when their argument is a quantitative one and they resort to handwaving that such effects must be minor and unimportant. This is different from positions like the Laffer Curve, or my own argument that net numbers, not gross numbers of innocent lives lost should be used in morally evaluating Iraq from a humanitarian perspective. The validity of such arguments does not depend on the exact numbers. They are true across the vast majority of circumstances.

So is the argument that artificial hearts don't save lives one that is numbers dependent or does the lack of numbers just indicative that nobody wants to do the long laborious research process.

Long and laborious, hah!

Three google searches leads me to the Division of Transplantation, one phone call and a single transfer leads me to Laura Tidwell, who's off to get the real numbers and who suggests the following links for good statistics on transplantation while she's looking:

The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network

The actual numbers (and how significant an effect this actually is) should be in an update at the bottom when I get the callback.

The only numbers in the mix so far are the 77 days of average use that such temporary artificial hearts are used for. Now this doesn't mean that you're on a heart for 77 days on average and you keel over. You might get a permanent solution of a donated heart in 40 days and that, according to Alex Tabarrok's calculation would bring down the value of the artificial heart by bringing down its use value.

If I didn't die last month because of a lack of a transplanted heart and I get a transplant a month or two later that will last me years, the value of the temporary solution is quite high and not quantifiable in such a simple formula as lifetime extended by permanent heart divided by lifetime extended by temporary heart. This is also why it's not unjust to pay a great deal more for gasoline off a tow truck that you call than gasoline at the gas station. You're buying two different things that have different values.

It seems odd to be arguing for marginal analysis with somebody who rights the marginal revolutions blog but here I am. Money spent on increasing donations versus research dollars on an artificial heart are not a proper comparison. First of all, organ donation encouragement needs to be looked at not in total spending but at the margin. How much extra fuss and expense do you need to go through for the next heart?

Also, you need to look at expenses for artificial hearts in a different way. The ultimate goal is a heart that will work fine without being chained to external machinery. If you can take intermediate results of that research and make a product out of them, all to the good. The income will help fund further research to a permanent solution.

What's happening is that you're comparing a production problem (increase heart supply via donation) with the rehabilitation of a waste product (failed intermediate steps toward the permanent, wholly internal, artificial heart) of the research program to create a substitute good for donated hearts. What's being protested is a method of fundraising for the research program.

Thus, even if the argument were entirely true (and I'm still waiting for that return phone call to get the actual data) it's a stupid one to make because the mechanism a research program uses to save lives versus a production level procedure is entirely different. It's apples and oranges.

The UN Disaster

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste's recent post on whether Iraq was a distraction featured a single sentence that I believe is very important to provide amplification "The invasion had very little to do with WMDs, even though that was the core of the public debate in the UN." The question naturally arises why didn't we debate the real questions and instead created some sort of shadow puppet debate that created confusion where there should, ideally, be clarity.

The core of the problem is that the UN is one of the many institutions and systems that is founded on the bedrock that the nonintervention principles of the Peace of Westphalia. Since the US and the UK have declared Westphalia to be defunct, in the technical sense of the term, they are the most powerful rogue nations on the planet as far as the UN system is concerned and it is a complete deriliction of duty for Kofi Annan not to declare them so.

It's really a pity that he doesn't because it would bring the crisis to a head and ensure that we come to a relatively quick and efficient solution. He hasn't, doesn't, and likely won't do this unless he's absolutely forced to because if he does, he will end up being on the side arguing against a fuller expression of the universal values that the UN is supposed to be upholding. He will expose the name of the organization as the farce that it is. The UN neither represents nations, nor is it united. It represents states, whatever their character.

To illustrate, the Kurds are a nation but they have no state. Yugoslavia was a state but there was no nation of yugoslavs. The US, well we're special. We're an emerging nation with maybe a couple of hundred years of history as americans

Speaking of special cases, the Catholic theocracy of Vatican State is admitted to the UN under special regulations but the theocracy of Orthodox clerics is not admitted. Is this religious discrimination? Hardly, it's just that the Catholic Church runs a state and the Orthodox Church is melded with the local state. If the EU wins its fight with Greece over the male only status of Mount Athos, It will cease to be a part of Greece and either the Orthodox monks will rejoin Greece and admit women or they will set about the business of running a state which, no doubt, will eventually be admitted to the UN, not because the people of Mount Athos will be of a particular nation, but they will be a state. As a sidenote, the question of Mount Athos could be abstracted into a really neat press conference question. The underlying issues have significant application.

But let's get back to the UN. The UN, crys out much of Western Europe, is largely a US created institution. Why doesn't the US just work within the UN framework? The answer is simple. If you're going to blow up bedrock, one thing you absolutely must do is before you hit the detonator switch is to stop standing on it.

The UN system as currently constituted fundamentally depends on the bedrock of the nonintervention principles of the Peace of Westphalia. If you wanted to 'work within the system', you would have to first completely remake the UN, a process that is likely to take years of time, countless personnel, and huge political and human resources all so that... you have a new set of charters, rules, and regulations with absolutely no increase in security and no lessening of the threat. On the contrary, the threat that these nihilistic death cults pose will likely grow as you dither with the sisyphean task of UN reform.

If this were a multipolar world where some of the relatively equal great powers agreed on destroying Westphalia while others were dedicated to defending it, the world would be in an awful lot more trouble than it is now. Fortunately, we do not live in that world. And in the unipolar world we do live in, restraining the one power when it wants to remake the world system is like tying down Gulliver. The Lilliputians keep trying but it's just not working.

So here we are, confronted by an Islamist force that carefully walks the fault lines of the Westphalian system and the US running after it causing earthquakes and all the other nihilistic death cults (NDCs from here on out) taking copious notes and working on imitating whatever successes the Islamists have.

We chose to act first, in part as a method of forcing the UN to confront how untenable its baseline assumptions are, in part because we couldn't sit around and argue out the paperwork before we acted. But we also chose not to completely break the system and humiliate the world but leave everybody a figleaf.

And that's why the UN discussed WMDs so much.

March 18, 2004

OKC Mistakes, Spanish Lessons?

Posted by TMLutas

One of the things that I remember about the Oklahoma City bombing was that originally, everybody thought that it was the work of Islamic terrorists. It took some time to sort out that, no, we had a domestic terror operation on our hands (to this day some people in the political fever swamps think that a Middle Eastern John Doe #2 had something to do with things).

I look at articles like this and wonder how would things have changed if Spain had reacted as the US public did after the OKC tragedy and the error in pointing out blame in those first few days? And then again, what would have happened if the US public had acted as the Spanish one did after the Madrid bombing?

Probation Plus

Posted by TMLutas

Here's something you don't see every day, a principled, conservative argument for going easy on felons. What's even more unusual is that it's a pretty sound prescription. Essentially the argument is to bring back the pardon as a social policy tool to encourage good behavior after felons serve their prison terms.

It's an intriguing idea and, after a lot more meat gets put on the bones of this article, I could see myself supporting this. The major problem will be governors who start up the old political favors or cash contributions for pardons scam. The current solution of limiting pardons to a select few cases is one way to do it but we need to do better.

I Am So Much a Geek

Posted by TMLutas

James Lilek's current bleat revolves largely around an odd looking pen with separate buttons to extend and retract the pen in its case. He goes into a long riff on how awful an idea this pen was and the little saga that inevitably must have surrounded the production, rise, and fall of this pen in the '60s.

I remember this pen. I remember stumbling across one and it's even geekier multicolor pen cousins (press this button for black, that for blue).

I liked that pen.

It must have had some legs too since the packaging on the bleat screams '60s and we didn't arrive in the 'States until 1971 and I didn't start rummaging around in my dad's engineering stuff until at the earliest the late-70s. In my geeky nostalgia, I wondered, whatever happened to Scripto? It seems, from their current lineup that they've mostly gotten out of the retractable pen business.

What's really funny is how seem to have been taken over by the japanese in 1984 (subsuming the Scripto name into the Tokai corporation) and four years later, they become Scripto-Tokai and currently have their headquarters in California with manufacturing done in Mexico. All in all, an interesting corporate tale for the company founded by the inventor of the mechanical pencil.

2005: Altenate Futures

Posted by TMLutas

Correction: I should have noted from the start, I came to this thought experiment from reading this article

It's March, 2005 and Iraq comes before the UN Security Council with proof that the government of Iran is behind a large number of the terrorist infiltrators that continue to plague the new free and democratic government. Iraq requests that the UNSC authorize an intervention to respond to this armed conflict in a manner similar to its intervention in Korea.

So what would be the vote count on such a resolution and how would the five veto wielding states vote?


HR 3920: Wimps!

Posted by TMLutas

Judicial activism is a major bane to our society. Whether you are on the left or on the right, having a black robe legislate from the bench his pet theories instead of interpreting the law is just wrong. Now HR 3920 attempts to tackle this but as written it's obvious it won't work.

But there are other issues. As I wrote before, purposeful violation of the law should be an impeachable offense. During the impeachment and trial process, the reasoning of the legislatures debating removal would certainly provide a clear record of what the issues are and what the Congress intended.

This clears the problem that Prof. Volokh brings up about the same justices simply finding the same way in subsequent cases. You do that more than once and I think it'll guarantee you get bounced off the bench. Sure, you can then join Alcee Hastings in Congress but that's where you should have been in the first place if you have a passion for legislating.

Professor Bainbridge believes it's a shot across the bow meant to send a message to the courts to knock it off or something with teeth will come back next year. I don't much buy into that. We've gone well beyond shot across the bow territory. The question is whether the Congress is willing to go beyond just annulling to impeach justices who waste everybody's time with these horrible cases.

Artificial Hearts Can Save Lives

Posted by TMLutas

Tyler Cown's Marginal Revolutions is generally a good read but I can't say I particularly like this article that argues against the idea that artificial hearts save lives.

The idea is that if there are only 2200 hearts made available each year, there are only 2200 lives that can be saved and only an increase in supply will increase lives saved. This has two problems with it, both of which rely on non-economic knowledge. First, not all hearts that are harvested can be used. It is quite possible that not all compatibility types are represented at any one time on the waiting list and if a heart comes available where there is no matching recipient available you either lose the heart or you stick it in somebody who isn't really compatible but will last long enough on their 'temporary' heart until a better one comes along (or the tissue rejection kills them). In other terms, for temporary artificial hearts to be useless, organ wastage has to be zero.

But beyond assuming wastage is zero, it also assumes that scientific advance is zero for all practical purposes. If you have a temporary artificial heart that extends your life 9 months, max and on month three, a new treatment for a permanent artificial heart or some other new advance comes about and you shift to the new technology, you would not have made it but for that temporary heart and it is proper to say that your life was saved by that stopgap measure. So, if a new technique can be applied to 10% of the donor waiting list, having a longer list increases lives saved.

The unfortunate reality is that too many economists make unwarranted assumptions and discredit perfectly good theories by spouting nonsense like artificial hearts won't save lives when a proper accounting of the facts would lead to the inevitable conclusion that they do (and by using the exact same theories, mind you).

RFID is a Two Way Street

Posted by TMLutas

Phillips has a new take on RFID and wants to put RFID readers in mobile phones so you can comparison shop. This, along with a bar code reader, would take away a lot of the normal retail strategies that stores use to enhance profits via sales. People go into stores just to get what's on sale but what the retail outlet wants them to do is to buy enough other items so that they increase gross sales and profitability at the same time. Being able to consult a database wirelessly and know that the item you're looking at (or a comparable one) is available for less a block away will drastically change shopping patterns, especially for multiple stores in a category that are close to each other.

If it were little trouble, I would simply submit my shopping list to the database and take the road instructions to minimize my overall cost. Simply enter in your fuel economy (if traveling by car) and how much you value your time and you can cherry pick among two or three stores and know, before leaving, who has what for less. Any impulse shopping would bring out the RFID/bar code reader and you'd see if the next store had that new gizmo or treat for less.

Of course stores would hate this and would not cooperate in creating the necessary database. But they can't hide the receipt and they are unlikely to ban cell phones so the data is going to get entered. There will be attempts to poison or game the database with quick lasting sales or simply putting employees up to entering in false data. It's a war that they are unlikely to win and this will end up changing both day-to-day pricing strategy and store site location as it becomes a more significant competitive danger to locate a store next to your competitor.

Mexican Agents?

Posted by TMLutas

Michael Williams has got the right idea but the wrong law to go after illegal aliens lobbying for the foreign government of Mexico. He points to an article alleging Mexican Govt. involvement in lobbying using illegal aliens holding matricula consular cards. It is just this side of possible that there would be legal aliens caught up in an INS raid in the legislative gallery so this idea is fraught with peril. But if the government connection is established, the right thing to do is to go after them for being unregistered agents of a foreign power, a charge that is a great deal less likely to blowback against those who think that such foreign political interference is wrong.

I believe that would change the windbreakers to FBI from INS but that would be about it in terms of initial positive effects. The difference is the follow-on benefits because it deprives people of the 'racist, xenophobic' charge. Of course, the original article could be wrong and there is no actual foreign government involvement which makes everything all around a lot less sinister.

I'm Tired and Bored

Posted by TMLutas

Writing the same old thing is starting to get to me. I see the same dynamics starting to operate with the blogosphere that I despise about regular mainstream journalism. It converges on story themes and you get sort of a pack phenomenon where everybody's talking about similar things. It's a presidential election year so a great deal of election blogging is going to go on. It's a big decision but is starting wall to wall Kerry/Bush coverage in March a bright idea? I don't think so.

I'm not sure how I'm going to manage it but I'm thinking about how to avoid the mind-numbing bore fest that seems inevitable at this point if we all keep going down the pack mentality road.

March 17, 2004

Interview Pack Software

Posted by TMLutas

One of the limitations of the press conference format is that if you need more than two questions to nail a politician, you're sunk. You might get your first question in, if you're lucky even two, but if you need three you have to depend on your colleagues continuing on the same thread and hitting the press secretary out of the park.

Now imagine an ad-hoc network going on, maybe with pdas, maybe laptops, maybe projected light on glasses, who cares. You not only throw out your own questions but you provide the rest of the group the killer followup question, the knowledge only you know about when a briefer is lying, etc. In other words, you create something of a press conference chat room where evasions are researched and dissected with the press gaining intelligence because the questioning process becomes more explicitly collaboration across outlet lines. Sometimes you get to take the briefer's head off after others set you up for it, sometimes it works the other way around. But press conferences become more intelligent, more focused, and more productive for all concerned.

Zapatero's Vietnam?

Posted by TMLutas

The Belmont Club's Wretchard speculates that Zapatero has adopted a strategy strongly reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson's in Vietnam, calibrate your fight so you don't overly provoke the other side but that you don't lose. Winning is never even in the picture. This ends up costing thousands upon thousands of lives and in the end, even the most callous of free people tire of neverending casualties without prospect of ever winning.

Now the minor parties have a momentous choice to make. Zapatero isn't guaranteed to lead the next government. He can only do so with the support of at least two other parties (unless the PP loses its mind and supports Zapatero). They need to satisfy themselves that Zapatero not only has a plan to manage terrorism but to beat it. Otherwise, their votes of support for his government will put blood on their hands as much as fighting against terrorism with no intention of winning would bloody the hands of Spains socialists.

I really do wonder how things will turn out.

Being Fair to the French II

Posted by TMLutas

I previously wrote about the need to be fair to the French and look at their 'no veils' policy with an honest eye to see if the darn thing works. Now there are signs it has. I say hats off to french political genius.

They pass a law, very evenhanded that affects muslims, jews, and christians. The jews shrug and comply (they're french jews, after all), the christians shrug and comply (they too are french). The muslims, they threaten bombings, death, and revolution (very much not french). I can't imagine a situation more perfectly calibrated to give cover to France's joining the coalition of the willing with a majority mandate given where France's political center was when the legislation was first proposed, can you?

Is there anything more likely to turn things around for France than to be threatened bombings for imposing a dress code? In a country whose culture is centered around a public fetish that the elite knows best, what would rouse horror better than rebellion to an elite pronouncement that is such a light burden compared to all the other things that the french have already swallowed from their government?

The natural suspicion is that they've tumbled to this by accident that they didn't even mean for things to go this far. But a moments reflection will show this suspicion to be baseless. This is a governing system that makes a specialty of backing down to street protests and other aggrieved minority demands. They've got legions of foreign experts with decades of experience with muslim and arab dress sensibilities. It's impossible that they didn't know what they were getting into, they didn't know exactly how to back out with a minimum of fuss if they wanted to, and yet they refused to back down as if there was something important to be gained. And there was, the cassus belli which will let France backtrack without ever having to become filoamerican.

I can just imagine anglo-saxon readers scratching their head and saying "that's such a weird way of going about things." But that's why they call this sort of thing foreign. I've always been somewhat distrustful of the whole anglosphere construction. It always felt too self-limiting to me. It's wiser to not blindly dismiss other methods but to quietly note them and see whether they work without jeering too much in the process.

Update: The Argus provides an example of what I think the French are trying to achieve.

Update: Virginia Postrel provides evidence that the French find us just as foreign as any american might find them.

Look Out! Things Are Getting Better

Posted by TMLutas

Francis Poretto notes the convergance of the death the death cults a phenomenon that I've quietly noted for awhile and the motivating spirit behind the Bush Administration's Axis of Evil construction. Fran (I know him from long ago though we've largely lost touch) throws the net very widely and talks about death cults from Catholic mortification groups to the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, "senescence begins when growth ends" and no matter the source, there's quite a bit of truth to that.

Taking things a bit further, there is an important question implied by this convergence, why are they doing it? Why are atheists and Islmists converging? Why are old barriers between hated nihilistic rivals falling? I think that the reason for this gathering danger is fundamentally optimistic, things are getting better. The culture of death used to run an awful lot of the world and its grip is slipping. Human freedom, growth, choice, democracy, equal rights, all these antidotes to death cults of all stripes are gaining ground worldwide in a quiet assault that has panicked nihilists around the world. They can see the end of the road for all of them so they band together to put down these upstarts.

This sort of grand coalition to bring down any potential player who has the potential for world domination is a very common feature of geopolitics. Such strange bedfellows coalitions exhist in the fall of most dictatorships, the rise of world powers like Napoleon's France, and potentially against the US today in the 'multipolarity' movement. It makes sense that in a spiritual fight between the forces of spiritual growth and senescence, the same mechanism would function.

If we fail today (and most bids for persistent global domination fail) the forces of spiritual growth and light need to prepare better for the next push. The grand coalition of nihilists will be waiting for them.

Zapatero and Terrorism

Posted by TMLutas

Is Prime Minister elect Zapatero serious about terrorism? Those who think that Iraq is a centerpoint in the War on Terror say no, others (mostly like minded leftists) say yes. But neither side is putting up much of an intellectual effort to back up their positions. It's all surface posturing. So let's start by finding a couple of the right questions to ask PM Zapatero, questions that would fit him and be useful to ask any other new leader in waiting.

One of the biggest dividing lines in fighting terrorism is how much in the way of resources should be thrown at the problem. Is terrorism something that can be handled by a portion of the regular police taken away from normal crime fighting efforts? Should the intelligence agencies focus on terrorism? Is there a role for the military? Should the military be reconfigured to fight against such attackers as the primary threat to the country?

Only the most irresponsible of leaders would say no to all of these questions with the first being easiest to answer yes and subsequent yesses indicating stronger efforts against terrorism.

Another question (with a similar scale) that I think is vitally important is a question of which law code shall be used with regard to terrorists. Should straightforward criminal law be used? Should the general law code be adjusted to take into account any unique circumstances regarding terrorism? Should terrorism itself be considered a special crime to be prosecuted in special courts which can trigger restrictions in rights inappropriate for other crimes? Is terrorism which has a formal end goal of changing the constitution of the state war and thus should be prosecuted under the laws of war and the military justice system?

There are probably other question series that would fit the theme but it somewhat bothers me that I don't know the answers already from others who are more in tune with spanish politics (and who actually speak the language).

Posting Light Today

Posted by TMLutas

My regular computer is busy getting its directory rebuilt (wonderful as Macintosh's are, it is possible for their disks to degrade) and so I'm on my wife's portable for now. DiskWarrior is very thorough but it's not the fastest tool around.

Most of my speed difficulty is born of the fact that I've gotten awfully used to a five button mouse (yes USB multi-button mice and macs work fine together) and I'm currently typing in my lap.

I'm sure I'll think of something to post, though so check in please.

March 16, 2004

Surveying Anti-Semitism

Posted by TMLutas

Well, the numbers are in for US moviegoers who saw The Passion of The Christ and it looks like Mel Gibson doesn't have to worry much about creating a wave of anti-semitism so far. By far the largest group is the 89% who say it doesn't change their opinion about jews, followed by 9% who say it made them feel more positive toward jews with the remaining two feeling more negative about jews.

HT: 07:55 PM | Comments

A Very Worthy Site

Posted by TMLutas

If you enjoy good letter writing, if you especially enjoy correspondence cons, you must read The Lost Art of Correspondance. Her most recent prank? Kim Jong Il's getting a letter of support, but not really.

Go, read it now.

Minor Outage

Posted by TMLutas

Hmm. It looks like the system was down for a time. Oh well, I can't complain about the hosting price...

Train Brakes

Posted by TMLutas

Brian Crozier over at Transport Blog muses about train stopping ability a subject that I didn't know much about but this referenced article makes all clear (it pays to read comments). One improvement that presents itself immediately to me is to combine the current air pressure brake signalling system with some sort of electronic communication. Currently, it can take many precious seconds for the back car on a freight train to get the signal to start applying its brakes. The article supplies an example figure of 16 seconds. If there were a parallel electronic system that could achieve sub-second response times, stopping distances would be improved, though how often that would make a difference and would the expense be worth the savings is beyond me. No doubt a trial lawyer will be making that argument at some future date in some tragic case.

Another issue is that brakes are monolithically set so that they do not skid, whether under load or empty. Adding intelligence to the braking system in the form of a type of rail car ABS system would also increase stopping power. The cost of such systems versus the improved braking performance would have to be weighed as well as what happens when you have a bunch of old and new cars mixed together. Anyway, it's an interesting intellectual exercise. Unfortunately, such innovations are unlikely in the US as the dead hand of government regulation has been killing off railroad innovation for over a century.

Population Assumptions II

Posted by TMLutas

Poliblogger notes that Greenspan is bullish on mortgage debt. As I've noted before, secular trends in rising real estate prices can be upset by shrinking populations. If a new black death were to sweep the world, dropping worldwide population by a third, housing prices would crater for a long, long time as excess housing stock was absorbed.

But plague and war are not the only way that population can drop as the EU is finding out with it's sub-replacement fertility rates. Greenspan's a very bright fellow but I think that he might want to make the implicit assumption in his analysis explicit. The growth of mortgage debt is only a good thing if the US does not fall into negative population growth.

Political Tiering

Posted by TMLutas

Programmers create additional 'tiers' of programs in order to reduce complexity and separate out certain bits so they can be independently adjusted. The overall complexity of the system is much higher, but because you are only dealing with one chunk of the system at a time, the actual problem you have to deal with at any one time becomes smaller and more manageable.

One of the reasons that you separate out things is not just complexity but the commingling of things that really should be separate. One example is presentation and business logic. You can make a program that has everything all hooked together in one huge monolithic file but this inevitably means that changes to one or the other either do not get done properly, and it's usually the most important part, the business logic, that suffers.

A similar process has gone on in politics in the past. It was an important innovation for the king to separate and create a distinction between his private purse and the public purse, the state jewels and his own private collection. An independent judiciary is another such 'tiering' sort of solution.

Some of the hallmarks of something that needs to be pulled out and specialized into its own tier is that the issue is important, it keeps popping out in seemingly random ways, across disparate conventional areas and few are talking about the issue holistically and sensibly. Population policy is just such an issue.

We run huge portions of our public expenditures on the assumption Ponzi scheme style of assumption that the next generation will always supply a wide enough base of new participants to keep things going. We funnel huge portions of our savings into land and houses, assuming that there will be a sufficient increase in the population base to raise prices and pay for our retirements. We are frightened of too fast an increase in 'their' population so we flood the third world with more condoms than life saving antibiotics. Abortion, too, is very much a population issue as the enduring controversy over whether abortion has been targeted for [note: link has some disturbing imagery] racial or other 'eugenics' reasons.

I probably have strong opinions on all, or at least most, of the individual issues that collectively would make up the population tier. That's not what I want to talk about here. What I'd like to suggest is that population policy be pulled out into its own tier, that public policy actions that will narrow the base of future generations be explicitly linked to a need to reform public expenditures and private savings that depend on a certain rate of population growth, or such population growth reduction measures be balanced by other changes that will raise the future population base.

This is a highly complex problem and past mismanagement has led the entire first world to the brink of a projected collapse in the mid-21st century. The very least that we can do is to stop pretending that this collection of issues is not actually connected.

It's the May, Not October Bombing I'm Worried About

Posted by TMLutas

The blogosphere seems to have started worrying about a repetition of the Madrid strikes in the US. The phrase "October Surprise" is back again doing new duty. But I'm not worried about an October surprise at all. The tendency of US voters to give the US president a boost in popularity in time of crisis is too well known for such a bombing to be likely.

Instead, worry about May. In an April-May-June bombing, the rallying effect (which will last for 3-4 months) will have dissipated and the negative effect on the President's rating regarding his handling of homeland security will assert itself. If we can get into the late summer without a successful operation in the US, we're largely home free from any chance at an effective Al Queda attack. They still might bomb, they still might kill people, but they won't have much chance of changing an election in a way they like.

And changing election results is the bottom line because the US has elections more than any other country in the world. I've seen years with three elections, without runoffs or cancellations. The spring has school board elections, the summer has its primary season and late fall we have regular elections growing up in Westchester County, NY. With many state and lower elections on a one year offset of the federal cycle, voters have a yearly chance to speak their mind.

Now imagine if all those elections became realistic targets for terrorist strikes. This nightmare is what spaniards are likely not to understand about US annoyance with their 11th hour, post bombing, change in electoral preferences, much as most US people don't understand how central trains are to the EU lifestyle since the US has give or take 1/10th of the population density of Europe and a correspondingly less used train system. Election bombings are a special US nightmare for as long as we hold near continual elections. Changing the system would very much transform the US for the worse.

Gay Marriage Opposition Cannot Be a Defensive Line

Posted by TMLutas

I think that Andrew Sullivan has something when he talks about the foolishness of making gay marriage the new demarcation line of what is permissible and what is not. But I don't really see gay marriage as the point at which to draw a new line and 'defend' marriage. Gay marriage is the rally point to gather up a winning coalition and go through the entire institution of marriage and review what the heck we're doing with it. It is a cost on society. It imposes burdens on singles. It is supposed to provide some sort of benefits but the majority of people don't understand what they are. Marriage is a mess and the homosexuals are right when they say that if we are satisfied with the current state of marriage than we might as well let them in.

But I don't know anybody who is truly happy with the current state of marriage. We spend an awful lot of time, money, and energy patching the poor results that the last few rounds of marriage reforms have done and the cost is terrible in broken relationships and social pathologies. So let's not leave the mistaken impression that it's about excluding gays and nothing else. Gay marriage is just the straw that breaks the camel's back.

March 15, 2004

Automated Wall Builder

Posted by TMLutas

This should kick up the problem of automation eliminating jobs a notch. A UCLA researcher is getting the bugs out of an automated house building robot that is, essentially a 3d printer working on a building scale and in concrete.

The US, with it's residential preference for wood frame housing is not likely to use it much for standard homebuilding but it should prove popular in Europe as well as commercial construction in the US.

HT: Rex 2.0

Bear Hygiene

Posted by TMLutas

People don't manage their Truth Laid Bear entries very well. NZB does read the comments and make changes but there's a lot of dead wood floating around. Sometimes, in my wanderings, I'll find a blog that isn't listed on the Ecosystem and add it or find one that should have been changed or deleted and comment on it. This isn't, strictly speaking, charity. I've got an eye to using the ecosystem data for some of my own projects so I actually care about the deadwood. What most people seem to not realize is that it's an open system. Anybody can suggest any changes and if NZB agrees, they happen.

Ignoring Modern Science

Posted by TMLutas

One of the things that has always fascinated me is how much scientific evidence was there for the taking to the ancient world and nobody ever noticed. Anybody looking at a dew drop on a blade of grass had the basics of magnifying lenses staring at him in the face yet it too millenia for anybody to notice. There are lots of other examples of 'obvious' advances being either ignored or relegated to the sidelines like chinese gunpowder that was mostly used for fireworks and the greek steam engine that was only used as a childrens toy in classical Greece.

Before we get too cocky about those foolish ancients, we have our own problems. What does it say about us when you have a major dimming of the sun going on around us for decades and a published paper addressing the subject isn't even noticed? And now all those models on global warming get to be revised (again!) based on scientific information that was out for years prior to the original computer model formation? What does this say about the state of global warming science? What does it say about the IT ability of scientists to process information into relevant knowledge?

There's unmined gold in the scientific literature. There's quite likely a lot of it.

HT: MonkeyX

Yay For Stem Cell Research! I

Posted by TMLutas

What's a pro-life libertarian doing cheering on stem-cell research? Well, when it's adult stem cells and it provides an actual cure, I'm all for it.

Imagine that, you don't have to kill embryos to get a workable permanent treatment for baldness using stem cells. In fact, if you were to use embryonic stem cells, results would likely be worse. Think of that, the next time somebody tries to sell the tripe that only embryonic stem cell research is worthwhile because adult stem cells aren't as flexible.

Who's Next For Election Bombings

Posted by TMLutas

Andrew Sullivan believes either the UK or US is next for an election eve bomb. But if Spain was chosen for the twin sins of being former muslim territory and being part of the coalition of the willing the next obvious candidate by those criteria would be Romania which holds national elections this fall. While Romania's status was always... complex with regard to the muslims, no doubt they view that territory as theirs as much as Spain is regarded as part of a lost Dar al Islaam.

A Message to Future Electorates

Posted by TMLutas

My fellow voting citizens of the free and semi-free world. You are a potential lab rat for terrorists. Spain's horrific Madrid bombing was the first iteration of a renewed terrorist experiment. The question they want answered is "what is the effect of high explosives on the ballot box?" Until the destruction of the terrorist's nihilist death cult, they are likely to continue the experiments.

Such experiments are costly to them and for them to continue, they need positive results. There is only one result that is entirely negative for them, no change whatsoever in voting behavior. That is the only result that will likely end the rain of bombs just in advance of elections.

This is not something that a government can manage, only its citizens. It is not something that can be easily managed in the white hot passion of events, with blood in the streets and bodies everywhere. Such things are only possible ahead of time, by calmly and thoughtfully asking yourself what you would do at the ballot box in the face of such a disaster. What statement can you make that will discourage such events in future, both for your own elections, and elections in other nations.

I don't pretend to give you any sort of partisan political advice. Your beliefs will guide you. But unless we all band together and agree that we will simply not react to such provocations more will die, and there is no guarantee that next time it will not be your neighbors or your family who suffer.

Terrorists want to change our behavior and are willing to use explosives to do it. You have the ability to resist this in a way that the government does not. You have a responsibility to exercise that ability for the sake of all of us.

The Indecent Left

Posted by TMLutas

The problem of the assumed moral superiority of the Left is fairly widespread. Unfortunately, a great many people believe that past moral crusades of people wearing the leftist label has earned leftists a presumption of good intentions and good will.

This presumption, unfortunately, has relaxed the intellectual standards that leftists use as the minimum level necessary to avoid embarrassment. The results are sad. You can bash the Bush administration for missing the boat and not spotting that something has changed but professional corruption or more specifically professionals engaging in a corrupted policy process where economists are putting out propaganda, not analysis does go beyond the pale.

It happens time and again. It is not enough that the center-right is mistaken or their solutions don't work. They want to starve people, kill them, burn down churches, and stage domestic coups. And because of the banked up good feeling of a great many honest, middle-of-the-road americans, they have often gotten away with it in the past. Such charges, and the lack of repudiation by others in the left, are marks of the rise to prominence of an indecent, immoral left. They will say any charge, repeat any lie, if it staves off their collapse due to their intellectual bankruptcy. The only thing more horrifying to these people than being outside the halls of power is having to sit down and rethink basic premises of what an honest left should be about now that socialism has been proven a mistake.

How Many Swing Voters?

Posted by TMLutas

One of the great unanswered question regarding Spain's election is how many people swung? That is to say, what is the difference in voting patterns between that predicted by reliable polls just before the bombing and the actual poll results. This is the percent of the vote that the terrorists can convince to move their way with a bombing. The electoral reality is that you want your base to go out to vote but what usually moves elections is this swing percentage.

It is also the safety margin for Spain's next election. If the conservatives are leading with less than this percentage, it pays for terrorists to repeat their performance with a bomb right before polls. If it exceeds it, they've just created another Bush, but one with an explicit electoral mandate to go all out against them. Unfortunately my spanish is practically nil and I don't have access to such polling figures so I can't personally calculate the numbers. However, I wonder what the major media's excuse is for not reporting them?

March 14, 2004

To My Spanish Friends

Posted by TMLutas

If you are a PP supporter, well, now you know how George HW Bush supporters felt in 1992. We couldn't imagine it either. Yet we survived, the nation even went through an economic boom, and two years after an ignoble defeat, the legislature was completely in Republican hands for the first time in over four decades. I wish you luck and effectiveness as the loyal opposition. May you be spared the Spanish equivalent of Bob Dole's presidential race.

If you are a Socialist. I suggest that you look to your north and east to the fate of Gerhard Schroeder's SPD. He too, was not supposed to win his last election, yet on a tide of strident anti-americanism, he rode a temporary wave of emotion to victory. Since then his party has suffered setback after setback and will likely be eviscerated in the next round.

Democracy is like that.

It's been about 30 years since you've become a free nation. No doubt there will be changes in policy with the new government. Just know this, that there are friends in America. Friends who will wait patiently and hope for good times together no matter what political color the present or future administration may have.

I believe that the people of Spain have made a tremendous mistake. It is a mistake that, I fear, will only be undone with further Spanish blood. It is the kind of error that the US has made in the past and, with similar foolishness, will likely make in some future. The chain of errors that started in Beirut was not redeemed until we declared War on Terrorism two decades later. It was a bloody, costly series of errors. May the Spanish electorate not be so stubbornly stupid.

Reigning in Your Own

Posted by TMLutas

I like Wretchard's blog and I generally support the positions that he takes but there's something wrong with the latest essay at the Belmont Club. Animal models are well and good for making analogies to human situations. George Orwell took this form to great heights in his classic Animal Farm but there is a terrible danger of dehumanization in using such models.

The major problem with his article is that it frames the situation in a self-defeating way. The idea of a human form of Ichneumon Wasp with islamist killing parasites being made secure by a paralyzing fifth column of postmodernists, cultural relativists, and assorted other tribes of the left is to give these people a subhuman quality that is intrinsically evil and impossible to reform. Kill them all is the instinctive response. But is that what we want? No.

What we want is to fracture them against each other. A kill them all response unites them. What we want is to reform and peel off those we can to our own side. A dehumanizing message gives them no common ground with us. We can no longer befriend the bug, the assassin, the parasitic demon.

What we need is something better, much better than this message, but unfortunately Wretchard is very talented in his walk down the wrong road. Glenn Reynolds has graced him with an instalanche and the killer bug, intrinsically evil meme has already gone 'round the world.

What we need is to demonstrate to the leftists that they can turn away from the codependent enablers of the islamists and turn back to the noble cause of battling for human liberty when it counts. The left, too much of it anyway, seems to have forgotten that the center-right is its electoral opponent but those who believe in slavery, in unequal rights based on religion, in conversion or death, those are the enemy. No matter how far fetched the idea of a restored Caliphate ruling triumphantly over the entire world, this is their goal and it is not a goal that any honest leftist can tolerate in any shape, way, or form.

What we need to demonstrate to the islamists is that Islam does not honor the suicide. It condemns the apostate to hell. And the leadership of Al Queda and the rest of the terrorist breed are not true faithful but betrayers of the faith, members of a nihilistic death cult that is abhorrent to God. Following them means losing any hope of salvation and paradise.

And what we need to demonstrate to our fellow war-coalition members is that while dehumanization may be momentarily satisfying to our most base emotions, it is destructive to the cause and it strengthens the hand of the terror masters to reclaim their waverers. The Islamists and their leftist enablers are members of the culture of death. You cannot fight death with death, only with life. That's a hard challenge for even the best of wordsmiths. I hope that Wretchard rises to that challenge next time he takes up the subject.

Taking Lawsuits Off the Table

Posted by TMLutas

The cheeseburger bill is going forward. This bill is aimed at directing the plaintiff's bar away from doing it's "infinite number of monkey's tapping at an infinite number of typewriters" imitation in the hope of ending up with a successful lawsuit. In a precedent based legal system like the US has, this sort of closing off avenues to sue is vitally important. The US has a huge number of lawyers and they either have to keep busy filing lawsuits or they starve. The idea that you can claim damages from McDonalds when you overconsume their products is a mockery of justice but you don't need to win more than once before a precedent is set and that sets the stage for further wins, snowballing into a major cash drain on the fast food industry and a huge change in societal behavior created by lawsuit.

Letter to the Paper IX

Posted by TMLutas

Over at Trickster talks about the election effect of terrorists trying to time their attacks to move the electorate in ways that they wish. The comments section, by the time I got to it was long and involved and had a lot of discussion over whether the War on Terror was truly better conceived as a war or as an intelligence/law enforcement operation. On that subject, I wrote a response:

Moving things back to the war/law enforcement portion of the discussion, I suggest that both sides have largely missed the boat on what it means to adopt different models. At the first screening, military and law enforcement models classically involved different personnel called armed forces and police respectively. In a terror war, such distinctions largely become meaningless because neither force has enough people by itself to take care of the job properly. Anybody who doesn't integrate and use both forces is criminally lax in addressing the threat using either model.

An integrated, full on law enforcement response would have a suspension of the posse comitatus laws with regards to terrorism and placing the military under the rubrics and rules of the law enforcement world. A military response would militarize law enforcement and loosen their restrictions and suspect protections, largely after arrest. Both would end up having the full force of the State's coercive powers aimed at an unusual threat that does not fit into normal categories.

So do terrorists gain the right to confront their accusers when their accusers are deep cover intel agents still active inside their organization? Yes for law enforcement, no for military models.

If a terrorist is caught and tried, does Miranda apply or can interrogation proceed without counsel? Yes Miranda applies for law enforcement, no for military models.

If four terrorist are driving down the road and you can kill them all with a missile off a UCAV but can't capture them do you hold off firing the missile? Yes for law enforcement, no for military models.

These and many other use cases change behavior depending on the model the government has chosen. So when Kerry stands up and says he views this as law enforcement he's saying intelligence should have further restrictions put on it that would eviscerate humint, all interrogations at Gitmo should have lawyers present, and those terrorists we blew off the face of the earth in Yemen? Well that was a crime and there should be prosecutions for wrongful death.

To say otherwise (that law enforcement does not require these changes) is to say that secret evidence should become admissible in your civilian criminal trial and you no longer have a right to counsel when interrogated by the police after arrest. Avoiding such changes also means that JAG officers become part of the fire loop in very unsatisfactory ways. I believe we lost two occasions to have OBL meet his maker for this very reason during operations in Afghanistan.

Civil libertarians should be scared stiff about the idea of having a winning effort against terrorists that is not a war. Instead of having erosion in specific areas regarding terrorist acts, you'd have a generalized erosion of civil liberties across the board.

Mass Transit Anyone?

Posted by TMLutas

Philip Carter, over at Intel Dump covers some of the difficulties of securing mass transit systems. Mass transit has always been a poor fit for the US since it has so few people per square mile in comparison with Europe. It makes sense in a few places, significantly the Boston-Washington coastal corridor and the similar megalopoli on the west coast and the Great Lakes region but relatively little sense elsewhere.

With the US' 9/11 tragedy being airborne, and Europe's major tragedy being focused on trians, it looks like the security professionals are going to be battling out transportation security for a long time with US experts twitching about airplanes and their European counterparts worried about trains. I don't envy the Europeans their end of the job as the difficulties are formidable.

The classic response when you have a concentrated set of targets that are difficult to defend is dispersal. But what would be dispersal in a transport context? It would mean increased reliance on cars and other autonomous systems to get around. This creates huge issues since everybody has been pushing for people to go the other way and have been engaged in city planning to implement those elite preferences.

March 13, 2004

Right on Law, Wrong on Policy

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste just put up a conventional analysis of the relevant legal issues facing California's courts on the upcoming gay marriage cases.

We deeply disagree on policy (and I won't go over that again) but he's got it mostly right on the legal issue. I'm much more pessimistic about the California courts though. This should have been put down on straightforward legal grounds by now and it hasn't. It is quite possible that there will be an outbreak of penumbras and tortured legal reasoning that will lead to California being unable to keep anything illegal. As a libertarian, that theoretically pleases me. As a practical man, I'm horrified at the idea that courts are likely to start running willy nilly through the legal code throwing out random chunks without any serious consideration as to the political compromises that led to the current legal balance.

Unfortunately, I think that Bill Quick is likely going to be right on at least some of the State Court majorities and though SDB's legal reasoning is sound, it doesn't much matter when you have a black robed legislature.

More Sprawl Please II

Posted by TMLutas

I regularly read the City Comforts Blog because I think that we can do better in how we construct our physical space. The author of City Comforts and I have an on again, off again email correspondance going between us. Surprisingly, he was somewhat on my side in my paen to sprawl as a solution to agricultural overproduction.

It seems his major objection to sprawl is that the commercial strip malls are not very walkable and are simply built in a manner that makes them very unfriendly to pedestrians. As somebody who has actually walked these things, I think this is not, at heart, an unreasonable criticism. The problem is how to find a solution that is practical.

Essentially, most of these commercial zones are mostly reached via passenger car and this is unlikely to change anytime soon barring a knockoff of the Segway that undercuts its price by a large amount. So what's being asked for is a reconfiguration of what is so far a very viable commercial public space model to accommodate what is a very small minority of potential users, pedestrians.

The only way that I can see this going forward is to create either a new mode of transport, either Segway or something very much like it, or creating a very low cost way to create and maintain pedestrian walkways, something like the moving walkways in the Isaac Asimov book Caves of Steel but built for all weather outdoors use with low maintenance. The distances are large, usage is low, so costs explode to maintain conventional pedestrian transportation. I think the moving sidewalk is a lot further off into the future. Getting a cheap Segway might not be so far off though.

In consumer electronics and other established economic sectors, certain price points are well understood. You introduce something above that price point and only a few people will buy it. They're generally called early adopters and have the combination of loving new things for their own sake and plenty of disposable income. But if you get enough early adopters, you can scale up production and lower prices. Once you hit the magic price point, everybody wants one.

But what is that magic price point for a pedestrian like transporter that will make pedestrian style sidewalks economical in sparse suburban commercial construction? And when will Segway style vehicles hit that price point? Once you have the answers to those questions, you've generally solved the problem of architects making pedestrian unfriendly commercial malls in suburban sprawl developments.

Architects, once they know that a new mode of transportation is either here or predictably coming within the lifetime of their development, will accommodate it without much debate. Let's say the magically patent unencumbered $599 Segwee is projected to be three years out. Why would anybody design a shopping mall in 2004 that's designed to last 20 years in its current configuration without taking into account a major new shopping reality that's going to be around for 17 of them?

Thus the problem of unwalkability has a simple technological solution and those who care about such things deeply should, by all means create studies to find the price point and assemble prizes for the first person to create a Segway like device that hits that price point.

Letter to the Paper VIII

Posted by TMLutas

Thomas Lipscomb's NY Sun article on how John Kerry resigned from VVAW over at Outside the Beltway. The affair is a shocker, if true. This shouldn't be left to wander around in the fever swamps and it should be easily debunked if John Kerry is telling the truth that he did not attend the fateful four day meeting.

Clearly VVAW was being monitored by the government. It's quite possible that the FBI files on this radical group can exonerate John Kerry. If he's telling the truth, Kerry can likely provide corroboration of his actual location during those four days in November, 1971. If he's lying, it's important to uncover that too.

Discount Blogger commented on the Outside the Beltway article and thought that this is automatically right wing character assassination. I left the following in comments over there:

After reading the article and the comments at outside the beltway, I've come to a somewhat different conclusion. Kerry, at age 27, had some significant difficulty spotting violent, treasonous nutcases but when push came to shove he resigned which speaks well of his ultimate judgment.

The question really is what are you supposed to do when you belong to an organization that has a significant minority (a lone nut wouldn't have caused Kerry to resign) that believes in political assassination.

Clearly, they knew that they were being spied upon by the government. They had to move twice to avoid that spying just to debate the assassination plot. So, assuming that the two eyewitnesses who place Kerry at the meeting are correct, and the three sources affirming the assassination plot are also correct, does this have as much relevance to judging Kerry fit for the presidency as to the pacing of George W. Bush's National Guard service?

I think it does. The presidency creates the most microscopic public examination of a person's history and character available on the planet. This is fit for probably the most influential executive position on the planet. The meat grinder is always toughest for first time presidential contenders like Kerry.

If Kerry wasn't there, there should be corroborating witnesses for that time period. They should be produced and it should be done as soon as possible. This is a four day time period we're talking about when Kerry was already a public figure. At the very least, the FBI records of the meeting should be released. If the evidence shows he wasn't there, fine, case closed and it's despicable right-wing mudslinging.

But if he was there, at the very least he's been lying in a significant way about his past political history. That says something about John Kerry that should be relevant to voters and it should say something about how deeply journalists need to fact check John Kerry's other statements about his political past.

Market v Political Economic Innovation

Posted by TMLutas

In Brownian Notions, YHN posits a potential left/right alliance over electric/hybrid vehicles. It's likely not going to happen because the fault lines aren't where he thinks they are. The following thought experiment demonstrates the effect.

I'd love to see the US turn to solar power.
I'm against solar power.
The above two statements are part of a sane, consistent ideology.

I would love to see the US use solar power because I see realistic future scenarios where such power sources are less polluting, less labor intensive, and cheaper than current energy sources. I also see solar power as a method of reducing the number of ideological compromises we currently make with repressive dictatorships because these repressive dictatorships sit on top of large energy sources.

I'm against solar power because the only reason that such questions are even asked is in a political quest for economic subsidies extracted through the tax system. Such subsidies are distortive and prevent or delay the emergence of a truly useful solar power system.

The actual left/right fault line is the usual question of the use of political coercion to achieve economic desires. As all libertarians believe, I'm mostly against such things, especially where there are free market paths of achieving the same goals.

Getting back to electric/hybrids there are certain circumstances where such things make sense and in those scenarios the market will produce vehicles that use that sort of powerplant. Distorting this market via subsidies wastes an awful lot of money that could have been used for other things and would have created a better world in ways that are too complex to put on a bumper sticker and are, because of the subsidies, unknowable alternative futures.

Such 'strange bedfellows coalitions' exist because each side, for its own reasons, is willing to give up something of its desires in order to achieve a goal that is largely common. If free marketers are to give up subsidies, what is the left half of this coalition supposed to be giving up?

March 12, 2004

Xenophobia v. Restrictionism

Posted by TMLutas

I'm an open borders sort of fellow. Being a gradualist, I don't favor just opening them without taking adequate precautions and wartime is not the best time to start such experiments as a practical matter. But as an end state, I'd like the world to get to the point where borders are a minor formality.

There are people who never want that to happen. They're commonly labeled xenophobes. I've even met a few who consciously and purposefully embraced the label for themselves. They are a somewhat small group in my personal experience. Much larger is the restrictionists, the people who think that immigration, in moderation is fine, but the rate of immigration should never exceed the rate of assimilation.

I'm not to unhappy with that idea in principle as a sort of mid-term state on the road to my happy minarchist ultimate society. Keeping the ideology of liberty alive as a persistent majority until we can get government small enough that it doesn't much matter and hemmed in enough that it can't break out of its restraints is an important practical necessity.

The major real world problem lies in another cultural force, multiculturalism, which is absolutely opposed to assimilation. They want a salad bowl instead of a melting pot and preferably without dressing at all. No blending of flavors for them in their worldview. They have been awfully good at reducing the incentives to assimilate and thus the reductionists want to reduce immigration to match the new lower assimilation levels.

And that's where they lose me. Instead of fighting to increase assimilation. They act as if the battle is lost. Instead of even mentioning it to keep it on the political agenda, they simply assume assimilation is a policy area that is beyond their control so they exclusively concentrate on reducing immigration.

What makes things worse is that this tactic is self-destructive. The major difference between the xenophobes (who are almost universally ignored) and the reductionists is in the reductionist willingness to raise immigration if assimilation capability is likewise raised. But by not mentioning assimilation, it is awfully easy to tar reductionists with the xenophobe label.

So why am I ranting on this particular topic? I'm having this very conversation with Mark Krikorian and this is something of a recap of our email. He's a reductionist and seems as if he would be willing to talk more about assimilation if he got some support. So I'm looking at pro-assimilation ideas that reductionists could love and would move them to ease up the pressure against higher immigration quotas.



Posted by TMLutas

Can we quit it with new sexual lifestyles? Apparently not. The technosexual is apparently a metrosexual with a gadget fetish (get your mind out of the gutter, not those gadgets). PDA, WAP, he's not only fully accessorized, he's techno-jargonized. Just what the tech world needs, more posers.

I'm just waiting for the four horsemen.

HT: Good Morning Silicon Valley

Manufacturing Jobs

Posted by TMLutas

If I understand things correctly, the number of manufacturing jobs that exist worldwide is shrinking. Automation is killing them off faster than increased consumption produces them. If that's the case, I would expect that if you have x% of the manufacturing in your country, all things being equal, you'd lose x% of the worldwide manufacturing job loss. The political policies that a country adopts in a shrinking job environment would need to be adjusted to the reality of worldwide manufacturing job loss so if you would expect that 20k jobs would be lost in a given year but you lost 5k then that's a pretty good year for those 15k that didn't lose their jobs even though they normally would have. This is similar in principle to the seasonal adjustments in unemployment that are done to take into account that certain parts of the year have unusal numbers of hirings and firings.

So why isn't anybody doing this sort of adjustment? Even if you can't quickly get reliable worldwide figures, you'd think that they'd compile the numbers as they come in to get some sort of measuring stick to keep expectations properly aligned with reality. The truth is, it would be a public service. People, by continually hearing about the secular reductions in worldwide manufacturing jobs, would no longer be tempted by xenophobic rants. They would also make better career choices and fewer of them would be caught in the nasty position of losing a job in a declining industry where there is always a surplus of qualified labor in the field.

It's a mystery

Ignoring War Crimes

Posted by TMLutas

I just got through reading an interesting article on Strategy Page regarding the arrest of five terrorists who killed two americans and their iraqi interpreter. One thing absolutely bothered me about the article. There was no recognition, no notice that wearing somebody else's uniform is a war crime. This is a big problem.

We cannot become desensitized to the idea of the enemy committing war crimes. If we do, we might as well get rid of the Geneva Conventions entirely as they would become worthless, one sided pieces of paper of no use to us. At the very least, we have, as civilians, an obligation to note and mention that what was done was a war crime. We cannot give that up without descending a step down a very slippery slope.

Wounded Counts

Posted by TMLutas

It puzzles me that I know how many wounded there are in the Madrid bombings, the Iraq casualties are often split into wounded and dead. I can't remember the Bali bombing figures but I recall that they also included wounded but I can't recall ever hearing much about the 9/11 wounded counts and a couple of quick google searches doesn't lead to much enlightenment either.

Isn't that odd? Is it intentional or am I just seeing phantoms?

Spain's Always Been A Target

Posted by TMLutas

I am a bit miffed about the fact that everybody seems to have developed an awfully comprehensive case of amnesia regarding Al Queda's long sought goals regarding Spain. This is a problem that seems to be afflicting the right as well as the left so it's not motivated by partisanship. Long before the election of the current center-right government, Al Queda said it wanted to retake all muslim lands and repeatedly, specifically mentioned Andalusian Spain.

I can only speculate that there is something of a demented psychological defense mechanism at work that wishes to wrest control of events from the Islamists and make this about us. It is something that we did that provoked hostility, enmity, and the current attack. If Aznar wasn't heading the government, if Spain hadn't gotten involved in Iraq, the hostility towards Spain that Al Queda has would not be different in character. They would still want the king dead, the Spanish Constitution torn to shreds, and a sharia regime imposed on that land as part of a restored Caliphate.

There is nothing that Spain can do about that sentiment among Islamists. All it can do is to take action to kill the ideology that gives birth to such undying enmity and while that long-term strategy is working to reduce the number of believers via police and military action as much as possible.

Changing positions on Iraq will not spare Spain. It would not spare any of us.


Lileks gets it.

If I Was a Spaniard in Chicago

Posted by TMLutas

I'd be truly ticked off.

I caught the Chicago CBS affiliate newscast and its meagre offering on the tragedy of Spain was so self-centered and isolationist as to seem to be a parody. The newscast was like that stuck up rich girl who, looking at a sea of human suffering is only focused on "but what does this mean for me and my needs." Instead of spending time telling where flowers and other condolences could be sent locally (Chicago has a consulate) they just passed right over that, and any other, basic bit of decency.

At least they managed to call the ETA terrorists.


There is a book of condolences available at the Spanish consulate that can be signed today until 2PM and Monday-Wednesday next week during the same hours. Contact information for the consulate is below:

180 N. Michigan Av.
Suite 1500,
Chicago, IL 60601.
(312) 782-4588

March 11, 2004

Class Action Bonanza?

Posted by TMLutas

An article over at Clayton Cramer's Blog on condoms has opened my eyes to some interesting Democrat coalition fissures. It's a case of the free love feminists against the trial lawyers.

It seems that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that is not stopped by condom use. rates vary widely from 1% to 88% depending on the population. Men are asymptomatic but women with HPV can get cervical cancer. California already has warning labels but Democrats are balking at making them a national requirement.

The problem is that cervical cancer fears from a disease that has no effect on men might make women have far fewer sexual partners, restoring female chastity to some extent. This makes free love advocates and feminists on the left very unhappy. On the other hand, tobacco litigation experts have got to be salivating over the idea of a product that is known to cause a crippling and sometimes fatal disease but carries no warning label.

If it weren't a life and death issue, the political implications would be highly entertaining to watch as they play out. Unfortunately, people are and will be dying because of this political fight so a lighthearted mood is highly inappropriate. The bottom line is that condom mania is just not an appropriate attitude if what you really care about is public health.

France/Spain Connection?

Posted by TMLutas

I haven't seen any news speculation about it yet but it does seem strange that France would have a train bombing blackmail plot one week and Spain would have a huge set of train bombings the next week. Synchronicity is possible but I do hope that the police are at least considering a connection. If there is a connection, it's hard to see what sort of national groups would do both deeds.

Hopeful Islam? I

Posted by TMLutas

Over at Winds of Change, I find this link to an incredibly encouraging story about an educational movement in Islam to modernize it and to seek rapprochement with judaism and christianity.

This is the sort of development that will truly allow us to get off the color charts and the clash of civilizations maps, simple people establishing schools, engaging the radical islamists and the violent militias and claiming that they are insufficiently islamic, with enough knowledge and education to back that claim up. This is an islam that does not have to be warred against but debated with. It is something that can live and thrive in the modern world and we can reach an agreement with it.

May many more such initiatives come about.

Maybe Not So Funny After All

Posted by TMLutas

Virginia Postrel has an amusing article on someone who inherited Chris Rock's phone number. Go read it, it's a blast. Now, imagine this, celebrities change their phone numbers reasonably often to avoid stalkers or enthusiastic fans so this can happen but it's not a very frequent occurrence.

Terrorists change their phone numbers all the time. And some of them are sloppy about phone security. Imagine it isn't Chris Rock's number you've gotten but somebody more famous at the post office than in the pages of Variety. You start getting calls asking seemingly innocent questions and two weeks later you find yourself pulled in for an FBI interrogation, you're always getting searched at airports, or you have odd reports from your friends and acquaintences that people are asking about you and what interests you have.

All of a sudden it stops being funny, doesn't it.

Cultural Separation?

Posted by TMLutas

Wretchard is worrying about cultural separation over several informative posts.

The idea that a multicultural society is going to splinter and spin off into separate worlds is not a new one. Any culture that is as large as the United States has significant potential for such centrifugal force to create mutually incomprehensible subcultures. What does the flinty farmer in the hills of New Hampshire have in common with the surfer dude on California's beaches? Very little. But I think that Wretchard's pushing the idea a bit too hard, assuming we need to have a consensus of shared cultural experience, not just enough core common values to agree on in order to form a coalition type of a country.

The truth is that we never have been entirely united under one common culture. There were always regional differences and while the rise of broadcast TV has rubbed away a lot of the older linguistic differences, new differences rise in job, activity, or outlook subcultures. Slacker culture, geek culture, engineer culture, these are all new differences that are rising up to replace the fading hatreds of Wisconsin cheese heads v. Illinois FIBS.

Another thing that is likely to work against the separatism trend is the ability to share culture over the Internet. I looked at a paragraph in Wretchard's latest and couldn't figure out what QRF stood for. A bit of googling and I found out that its both a D&D models company and an acronym for a Quick Reaction Force.

While christians may be tempted to withdraw from society, this is profoundly against christian tradition, whether Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant. Christianity is an evangelizing faith and most people, at heart, know it. You can't spread the news if you only interact with current believers. It is this central evangelizing feature of christianity that reassures me the most that we're not going to truly see a christian/secularist split in the US.

Letter to the Paper VII

Posted by TMLutas

I figured that my message of condolence and commentary on today's tragedy in Madrid should be seen by Spanish eyes. I wrote the following in comments to Inside Europe: Iberian Notes:

First of all, no matter what else, my heart and prayers go out to the suffering people of Spain. As you stood valiantly and faithfully by us, we will stand by you. You have earned our gratitude, may we earn yours as true brothers in arms and partners in civilization.

As for who did this, who cares? From a policy standpoint it matters little. It is only important in what language the translators must speak and which direction the forces of order must be pointed.

The bombers are barbarians, nihilists who want death and destruction and they must be stopped before they gain WMD as the british eventually stopped the horrific threat of thuggee in India. This is the true face of the culture of death and we all must drive it back.

Regarding whether to adopt a military or police response, I suggest that everybody slow down and understand the consequences of what is going on. To adopt a military response is to overturn the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 and all the treaties and international understandings that built on that foundation.

That Westphalia die is the position of George W. Bush. This is also the position of Tony Blair. In fact, Blair is more explicit in citing Westphalia's death than even Bush.

Whatever the eventual decision of Spain is (and I'm with Bush and Blair on this one) it needs to be thought through to understand and respond properly to the profound consequences of choosing one or the other path. Both paths have significant risks to the very survival of Spain.

Viking Pundit Gets Suckered

Posted by TMLutas

It never fails, every election cycle, right after the nominations are settled, most people in the US turn off politics. They shut it out and let the skeleton crew of interested and obsessed fight it out over the period before Labor day when they wake up and pay attention in order to make the final decision. It's in this period, the period that doesn't count for most voters, that the vast majority of pro-republican stories run.

You can count on it like clockwork yet Viking Pundit is running an article marveling at the alternative universe he finds himself in. He suspects he's landed in an alternate universe. He hasn't the frontloading of the Democrat party nominating process has also front loaded the wave of positive stories for Republicans when few are paying attention.

March 10, 2004

What's misrepresentation?

Posted by TMLutas

If you say one thing yesterday and another thing today is that misrepresentation? That's the problem that I have with this Spinsanity title "Kerry joins others in misrepresenting his platform". After all, can't you have grown from one position to another? Or might you be lying both times? Or might you even be confused and not know what's going on? To say that Kerry is misrepresenting his position is to engage in a very particular set of spin. It says that his official position papers are his actual position and that when he strays from that, he's actually misrepresenting himself.

This might be too cruel or too kind but it would only be right by merest happenstance because Kerry's positions on so many issues seem to be in flux. For a site like Spinsanity that is devoted to cutting through political spin, such a candidate is a real challenge and it looks like they haven't thought through this problem. When you have a position and somebody else claims it is something else, that's clear misrepresentation. But when you do it to yourself, that's very often going to be something else.

Hollywood Passion Sequel

Posted by TMLutas

With all of Hollywood looking for ways to hitch their wagon onto the runaway fiscal success that is The Passion of The Christ, I got my own idea after reading one more Hollywood Reporter item. The Moses led the tribes of Israel for forty years as they wandered the desert and little by little they were challenged and strengthened with periodic eliminations often based on criteria that the participants in these challenges simply didn't know ahead of time.

It's a fourty year long version of Survivor where there's ample room to make stuff up as the Old Testament obviously is glossing over a lot of what happened during that time period.

Royalties may be sent via paypal to

Acting White

Posted by TMLutas

The most annoying thing about blacks for me has always been their self-destructive habit of equating successful behavior with "acting white" and characterizing such behavior as a brand of race treason. This sabotage of black success turns out not only to be powerful but to be a sociological equilibrium point, that is, a stable state that is hard for a group to shift out of.

This phenomenon is probably the largest challenge of race relations today. Whites want an end to affirmative action because they perceive this sort of limiting behavior as not their fault but that they pay a price in continuing reverse discrimination. Blacks have not been very forthcoming in admitting that some of their lower performance on a wide variety of statistics is due to their own contempt for those amongst them who "act white" and succeed.

Things get even more complicated in that nobody seems to have a clue as to how much of the difference in performance is due to "acting white" destructive behavior and how much is due to problems legitimately rooted in racial discrimination today or discrimination in the past. Lots more work has to be done to study this phenomenon to achieve a just balance in phasing out assistance to make up for problems that are rooted in black america's own chosen behavior.

HT: Fried Man

Russia's Chechnya Victory

Posted by TMLutas

StrategyPage is noting Russian progress in Chechnya. No permalink and its short so here's the item below:

March 9, 2004: In Chechnya, rebel leader Magomed Khambiyev and an aide surrendered to Russian forces. Khambiyev was the right hand man to senior Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. The war in Chechnya has turned into a civil war, with more and more Chechens backing the pro-Russian government. Most of the police are now Chechen, although Russian commandoes do most of the patrolling and raiding (of rebel camps) up in the mountains. 

Turning this from an outsider v. local conflict to a civil war is a major step forward for Russia. It becomes progressively more difficult for rebels to rail against the nasty foreigners when they're shooting at more and more chechens and there are fewer and fewer visibly russian faces in the administration. Retaining the loyalty of that chechen administration will require a somewhat hands off policy and significant material support from Moscow but that's likely all that the great mass of chechens ever wanted in the first place.

There seems to be a way out of this for Russia with an unambiguous win. For the US, the big opportunity is to learn whether there were any Russian innovations which we could pick up in standing up a friendly local government and offer some advice in exchange on some ways we would do (and are doing) things better. The main benefit is the military to military connectivity though, not any mutual incremental benefit in solving such problems.

Abortion Irregularities

Posted by TMLutas

After reading a rather disturbing article on the sad state of abortion effects research, I have a modest proposal. There shall be no differential between the notification of women who abort and the notification requirements of any other medical procedure or pill. After 3 years either the notification requirements of abortionists shall rise to the level of other procedures or the other procedures will be freed from their notification requirements.

The truth is, today, that there is a reporting differential, there is a research differential, and abortion doesn't come under the same rules as anything else in the medical world because it has a rabid band of fans who view the normal cautions and restrictions put on other medical treatments as violating a woman's right to choose. But is there some right to lesser notification, lesser information, less informed consent than any other procedure or pill? I don't think so. So let's free up the rest of surgery, the rest of the pharmaceutical world. Let hospitals save money by not printing up and tracking all those forms, let no lawsuits go forward based on a lack of information.

It's the only consistent thing to do.

March 09, 2004

Friendly Canadians

Posted by TMLutas

The Funny Farm crew is paying homage to the Canadian military and their... friendliness.

And yes, it's work safe.

The Kerry Weathervane

Posted by TMLutas

In writing up a comment on Kerry's candidacy I came up with the image of Kerry's policymaking process being akin to a weathervane. Sometimes the weathervane points this way, sometimes that. And sometimes it spins so rapidly around you can't tell where it points. But what is the wind that blows the weathervane? It can't be a core of philosophical beliefs. There would be no policy straddling with those. And it can't be just classic finger to the wind political polling. Kerry wouldn't have such out of mainstream voting records for the ACU and ADA. There's something there that motivates him but I can't tell what it is or whether this mysterious force would lead Kerry to make good decisions if he ends up working from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for the next four years.

Update: As of this writing, I just got a notice that Nickspace is moving to a new location. You may find the link above at the old site for now or perhaps the new one.

The Germans Invaded Pearl Harbor?

Posted by TMLutas

One of the funniest moments in Animal House was Bluto (John Belushi was a comedic genius) rousing his fellow fraternity members with an impassioned speech exclaiming:

Bluto' s inspirational speech: "Over? Did you say, 'over?' Nothing is over until WE decide it is! Was over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"

Boone: "Germans?"

Otter: "Forget it. He's rolling."

Lileks is having a Bluto moment:

But Kerry? It reminds me of the cover in ’84 after the Democrat convention: it had a picture of Dukakis, looking confident and secure. The cover said “THE DUKE.” It played right to the emotions of his supporters: we are not entirely unenthusiastic of his candidacy, Reagan is insane, and our guy has a great nickname that makes us feel cool when we say it! Landslide loss.

Dukakis ran in 1988 against George Bush, Reagan's Vice President.

But don't stop him, he's rolling.

Martha Stewart & Saddam Hussein

Posted by TMLutas

Martha Stewart and Saddam Hussein are usually examined in two different worlds. But there are a few relevant similarities that we should take into account. She's the queen of domesticity who was nailed for lying about an illegal stock transaction that she was never convicted of making. Saddam Hussein was the dictator of Iraq who was nailed for not complying with UNSC 1441 and lying about the stocks of WMD that nobody has found.

So, a simple question comes to my mind. How many of you out there are comfortable with only one or the other being taken down? And why, if both of them have their underlying offenses currently unproven, do they deserve differential treatment in your mind?


The Nature of Electrical Markets III

Posted by TMLutas

I wrote last August about creating a new smart grid that would allow people to have quick access to pricing information and for smart appliances to have profiles that would adjust their consumption downward during price spikes. I had no idea until now that a first generation effort in just such a grid was happening right next door in Chicago. The first year's results are in and even with very primitive IT tools (phone calls and a web site you manually visit), people are happy with a smarter grid because it saves them money.

This success is likely to drive early adoption of a smart grid because it is a month to month reality, unlike the catastrophic scenario of teams of terrorists taking down the grid every few days. The methods of control are very primitive. Fortunately, the IEEE has a working group that is likely to be able to provide help, IEEE P1547 specifically P1547.3. The same sort of information that a central utility would tell a distributed power generator (the explicit target for P1547) it's time to turn on or shut off would be the same sort of information useful for a consumer to decide whether to shut down or leave running their various energy consuming appliances.

According to the minutes of the last meeting, P1547.3 is currently scheduled to come up for a vote in December of 2004. This puts the engineering of a smart grid IT system in the realm of practicality starting mid 2005. The smart grid is coming and the evidence is showing up in out of the way, practical forums like the IEEE.

Lia Roberts 2004 I

Posted by TMLutas

Lia Roberts, I can safely report, is not overly impressed with herself. If you ask the Nevada Republican Party about her they will give you a contact number. She's still personally picking up that number. John Kerry style politicians have staff for that. She doesn't, even though she could afford it. She'll be in Romania through April 4 so things might change as her run gets more organized but its nice to see a well financed candidacy for such an important post where the candidate isn't in a bubble surrounded by a nearly impenetrable barrier of staffers.

As of March 1st she's no longer the head of Nevada Republicans though no doubt President Bush will still take her calls. Resigning a party post is normal and expected under the circumstances. Still the Nevada Republicans are getting 5-10 calls a day from press and romanian-americans asking for information about her run. As time goes on, I expect that number to increase.

The fundamental problem for romanian centrists and sane right wingers is that until Mrs. Roberts' candidacy, they had no obvious practical place to turn to for the 2004 presidential election. The left will likely be uniting around the current prime minister, Adrian Nastase while the xenophobic right will rally to Corneliu Vadim Tudor (or as his detractors like to call him VC Tudor). That left a broad swathe of the romanian electorate up for grabs, still reeling after the monumental stupidity the center right engaged in in 1996 by creating an electoral "Contract with Romania", promising to resign if they didn't fulfill the contract terms, and then, to a man, going back on their word.

Lia Roberts is not implicated in that long ago mess. She was busy heading up the Nevada Federation of Republican Women at the time. The question is whether she will be able to cobble together a coalition sufficient to get her into the 2nd voting round where broad style coalitions quickly form up for the last push to the Presidency.

Libertarian Purity Test

Posted by TMLutas

Even though my score is quite different from Matthew Yglesias' 21, I too agree that the questions on the Libertarian Purity test should be redone. I also think the scoring section needs work as well as it seems designed to showcase the idea that the movement is filled with extremists who want to repel those of more moderate persuasion.

My score, if anybody is curious, was 134.

Battlefield 'Net II

Posted by TMLutas

The battlefield Internet is moving forward and it looks like it will progress along the same style 'S' curve as the Internet itself into a full fledged occupation net that covers all aspects of an occupation. The new innovation is multilingual chat and this makes possible simplified cross-linguistic communication even when people aren't speaking the same language.

This development can take the grand strategy of Thomas Barnett and rewrite it small in the day to day activities of future US military interventions. With a solar rechargeable simputer like device deployed across the population, information connectivity is pretty quickly achieved because simputers are designed so that you don't need previous computer experience or even literacy. With these two innovations combined, you get near instant connectivity. At first, you just hand them out and announce that security notices, where to get food, and where to get jobs and money will be sent through these systems. You maintain a parallel classic announcement system for notices that can get people killed but quickly move over money, job, and resource announcements through the electronic systems.

Once they are in use for such basic things, you've got a communications pipeline into every home in the occupied zone. Tell the truth faster, more complete, than your opponents propaganda can circulate and you win the propaganda war. Provide the information tools to promote the formation of burkean 'little platoons' and you give a leg up to civil society formation. Create reporting modules so that people can inform the military about rebel movements and hideouts without leaving their homes and rebels can no longer intimidate locals into silence.

Monitor the packets that travel across the network and you'll catch rebels trying to piggyback on your system (with airborne wireless access points, they'll never be able to take over all of it). Create economics modules for trading, education modules for learning the habits of freedom, history modules to learn their own history without the cult of personality the previous dictator is likely to have created during the previous regime.

It's an information matrix that is not very useful for the creation of an empire but will provide a very effective information substrate if what you're after is planting a liberty tree.

Update: Ooops I ommitted the link to the story that made me write this article in the first place. It's corrected above and also the link in this update.

Apple Lapped Microsoft

Posted by TMLutas

Apple Computer over the long course of its competition with Microsoft got lapped by it 7 times. That is, Microsoft increased it's stock price beyond Apple's split, and passed Apple again. One of the interesting aspects of the bubble is that Apple actually lapped Microsoft. When the crash came, Microsoft regained its price lead. It did so, at least, until last Thursday when Apple once again has regained its pricing position over Microsoft. 1 down, 6 more to go.

March 08, 2004

War on Terror Stamina

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste thinks that we are in danger of accelerating the development of a truly effective islamist movement if we take the cure halfway, much as foolish patients have endangered millions by creating drug resistant bugs by not following their doctors orders. If we halt the War on Terror before we actually win it, the Islamists will come back, stronger and more virulent than before.

I see the danger. He's right that such a halfway course of action is problematic at best. Unlike him, I also see a solution to hand and have been advocating its adoption for some time. You win the struggle to maintain a War on Terror that is likely to stretch generations by creating a consensus foreign policy position for both major parties, one that prosecutes the war in a way that is acceptable to a durable majority of both parties.

I am referring to Thomas Barnett and The Pentagon's New Map. In fact, beyond this effort, I can't find any practical effort to create a bipartisan durable intellectual framework that would survive changing party control of the Presidency and the Congress.

If Barnett's right, we have a workable map and an intellectual framework from which to work from that will survive the vagaries of the ballot box. If Barnett's recommendations are not capable of selling on both sides of the aisle, it is vitally important that something else be found to fill this policy niche. It's a matter of national survival.

A little birdie told me that advance copies of this book might just be circulating through the Kerry campaign. Certainly, this strategy seems to have heavily influenced Bush administration strategy. I'm going to be interested to see whether Barnett style reasoning starts permeating the Kerry candidacy.

UN Legitimacy

Posted by TMLutas

Lack of UN approval has been cited as a problem in Iraq by an awful lot of people. Kerry would have worked really, really, really hard at getting the UN on board so we could have the maximum amount of legitimacy.

But, as the UN bombing soon proved, not only do we have different criteria than the UN on when military action is called for, we have different criteria on installation security and how many casualties are required before we tuck our tail between our legs and scamper for the exits.

I would truly be interested in Kerry's response to a hypothetical where France, Germany, and the UN all blessed the Iraq operation but afterwards turned tail and ran at the very beginning of the occupation due to very light casualties. Would that change the legitimacy of the operation and when and how would it lose legitimacy. And if it remained legitimate, why does it remain legitimate? Is their initial assent a permanent stamp of legitimacy?

If an initial assent maintains legitimacy throughout the operation, UNSC 1441's last chance provisions along with Saddam Hussein's proven lies subsequent to this mandatory UNSC resolution would seem to provide just such initial legitimacy. If initial legitimacy doctrine doesn't apply, wouldn't that mean that we should have turned tail when we lost a chopper or two in the Sunni Triangle? Does it mean that Italy should have withdrawn after its horrible losses in their barracks bombing disaster?

Why are we there now after taking many more losses than the UN took before it withdrew because of military danger? Would we still be there if it had been a Kerry presidency?

More Sprawl Please

Posted by TMLutas

I've been noticing that more and more of my intellectual output consists of unlikely paired blog postings. By maintaining an eclectic reading list (which will not be my blog roll else you could do the same thing yourselves) I get to do things like combine a whine about libertarian hopelessness on land use issues over at City Comforts and the net negatives of fair trade practices to conclude, more sprawl please.

First, the City Comforts item, which goes on and on about the impracticality of libertarian land use policy, which is laissez faire. The article bothers me because I always find, in actual circumstances, such difficulties that pro-zoning and pro-takings people bring up are usually either unrealistic, or unjust. But if you enter into the trench warfare of example via example, you've given up deduction and entered into the land of inductive reasoning, a difficult and time consuming method of reaching a conclusion on large social policy goals.

The Adam Smith Institute's article on the economics of fair trade coffee and its negative effects left me feeling a bit warmer. Fair trade coffee is likely to create larger coffee production overall as new producers enter the market and the persistent overproduction of coffee will lead to persistently strong calls for subsidy and protection. The general point is made that the free market needs to be unleashed in a fit of agricultural creative destruction.

The combination of the two leads me to think about the destructive effects of sustainable growth ideology on the supply of agricultural land. If we're in persistent oversupply of farmland, the best thing to happen would be a growth in the incidence of developers buying up farmland and taking it out of production with new suburban or urban development. In other words, sprawl is the free market solution for too much farmland and zoning and other non-libertarian land use controls that are anti-sprawl are contributing to the barriers that 3rd world farmers have to lift themselves out of poverty and misery.

So shame on you, Seattle for your cruel and heartless anti-sprawl provisions.

March 07, 2004

Liberty Trees

Posted by TMLutas

Andrew Sullivan nails one when he comments on the reemergence of Iraqi politics. I speculated that the US is attempting to plant an Iraqi liberty tree instead of creating an american empire back in July of 2003.

Today Sullivan notes:

SISTANI SHIFTS: The violence in Iraq - even the horrifying sectarian mass murders last week - have failed to derail the tortuous political process. That's hugely good news. It's not surprising that there should be last-minute renegotiations, brinksmanship and the like in forging a new constitution in a fissiparous country. That's called politics. It hasn't been practised in Iraq for many, many years. Its emergence - however imperfect - is wonderfully good news. Instead of lamenting this wrangling, we should be encouraged. What we're seeing is something you simply don't see anywhere else in the Arab-Muslim world: negotiation trumping violence. This isn't a path to democracy. In important ways, it is democracy. The first true post-war victory is ours - and, more importantly, Iraq's.

For people stuck in the paradigm of empire and pax americanus such brinksmanship is evidence of failure. For those who think in terms of planting liberty trees, (which seems to include Sullivan) the exact same evidence is a success. Does anybody want to place bets on what US political factions fall into each of the above paradigms?

The Passion From Eastern Eyes

Posted by TMLutas

Romanians are mostly eastern christians, overwhelmingly Orthodox with a light sprinkling of byzantine catholics (of which I'm one). I've asked several what they think about The Passion of The Christ and what I found is bad news for Mel Gibson, capitalist, but pretty good news for Mel Gibson christian.

I don't think The Passion of The Christ is going to do very good numbers in Eastern Europe. The reason is the utter incomprehension of those (non-american acculturated romanians) who I've talked to who've seen the film, to understand what the big fuss is all about. The attitude is best summarized by a classic phrase from one friend "It's like they've never seen a crucifixion before."

This movie is jarring and inspiring for those who have either forgotten or never really internalized what the Passion was all about, the base brutalization, suffering, and death of the most perfect being ever on this planet who, though without sin, paid for all our sins. If you've already internalized this. If you already know this in your bones, Mel Gibson doesn't have a lot to teach you via this movie and a country filled with such people will not go to see this movie in large numbers.

And you know what? I think Mel, the christian, wouldn't mind that result at all.

Martha Stewart

Posted by TMLutas

A simple reminder to all those right wing commentators who are bemoaning the fact that Martha Stewart was not convicted on the underlying stock trade count but only on the 'lying' charges (obstruction et al). Al Capone was sent to prison on a tax count and Alger Hiss was convicted only of perjury, never of spying. There is a long and distinguished legal history of people 'getting away' with the crime but not the coverup. Whatever your conclusions on Martha Stewart, the mere fact that she was only convicted of lying about a crime she was not convicted of does not exonerate her in any way. You might be right that there is an injustice but you have to provide something more for your position to be reasonable.

2 of 5 Say Westphalia's Dead

Posted by TMLutas

Of the 5 UN permanent Security Council Members, 2 of them have now enunciated policy that kills the sovereignty and non-intervention principles of the Treaty of Westphalia. President Bush's declaration in this year's State of the Union speech has already attracted my commentary but I just noticed that Prime Minister Blair's recent constituency speech in Sedgefield does the same thing:

So, for me, before September 11th, I was already reaching for a different philosophy in international relations from a traditional one that has held sway since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648; namely that a country's internal affairs are for it and you don't interfere unless it threatens you, or breaches a treaty, or triggers an obligation of alliance.

You can make a case that President Bush's abandonment of Westphalia is a neocon, right wing aberration born in inappropriate reaction to 9/11. Blair's rejection of Westphalia is explicit, it predates 9/11, and is issued from the world leader of the '3rd way' movement. This demands more thoughtful treatment by those who are knee-jerk anti-Bush, anti-Republican, or anti-US.

Westphalia's dead. The principles it enunciates can't withstand the rejection of even 2 of 5 permanent Security Council members. When those two are a defacto majority of the planet's military power, there's little hope that Westphalia's non-interventionism will be resurrected anytime soon.

Letter to the Paper VI

Posted by TMLutas

Hellblazer writes that I'm not only whiny because I don't like the idea that 9/11 is only ok to bring up in Democrat campaign materials, but that the RNC is the real free speech villain because they are trying to get campaign commercials pulled as they violate the new rules of McCain-Feingold.

Here's the reply I left in his comments:

The position that I've had has always been that the campaign finance rules were idiotic and that full disclosure and unlimited free speech are the best rule for the US political system.

That being said, after an incredible multi-year demonization campaign, largely run by left wing and Democrat partisans (though some Republicans, most famously John McCain, were leaders in this), the law has changed and everybody's required to follow the new rules.

The truth is that Democrats shot themselves in the foot with McCain-Feingold, as a matter of practical partisan politics. That they did so in the pursuit of an outrageous violation of the US Constitution's guarantee of free speech (yes, I know the USSC doesn't agree) makes it all the more delicious that they find themselves in a practical bind because they are unable to raise as many hard dollars as Republicans. Now the 527 committees are a game that both sides are playing, just like the soft money awfulness that arose out of Buckley v. Valeo. But these new committees have to follow the rules. They can avoid the restrictions (like individuals can avoid taxes) but they cannot evade them (in tax terms that's an audit, a fine, and maybe jail time if you're blatant about it).

The truth is that the law has changed in the past year. For a lawyer to claim that it's relevant that such commercials were legal under the Buckley v. Valeo rules is simply not relevant. Commercials that run now have to comply with the law after McCain-Feingold, the FEC rulings implementing it and the USSC affirming its constitutionality. If you don't like your free speech infringed (and I agree that this infringement is outrageous), you should have the law changed.

The worst result possible is to have one or both sides violate the law instead of changing the law to conform with the well understood limits to government action regarding free speech that ruled from the founding into the 1970s. That's what is trying to accomplish. That's what the RNC is calling them on. And if it takes a few pulled TV licenses to create a new majority coalition to repeal McCain Feingold's free speech limitations, so be it.

Oh, I forgot to directly quote the's lawyer comment. Here it is:

"The federal campaign laws have permitted precisely this use of money for advertising for the past 25 years," he said.

Again, the point of McCain-Feingold was to make certain things that were legal for the past quarter-century illegal. I hope they aren't paying this lawyer much. Even if he's pro-bono, he's being compensated too much.

Who the Heck is Lia Roberts?

Posted by TMLutas

"Who is Lia Roberts?" is something that I keep hearing, in one form or another, in the romanian emigre community. I once had the pleasure of hearing her speak before a romanian crowd and I understand US politics enough so people are asking me. For those outside the tribe, Lia Roberts is the State Chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party. She is a dual citizen (as am I) and has announced that she will be running for the presidency of Romania and plunking down a $15 million dollar campaign war chest to finance her campaign. This is a big deal in Romania as the 2000 races for the presidency saw expenditures run from $1M-$5M. Dick Morris is advising her and President Bush seems to look on her candidacy with approval (a wise move given his own race in 2004).

Right now, I'm leaning towards getting my paperwork in order so I can vote for her this fall. But she hasn't closed the deal yet with many, even in the romanian-american community that could be a source of money and definitely will be where a lot of romanians will turn to for advice about this unexpected development in politics. I figure this to be an issue to cover and a place where I might make my own real contribution to the evolution of events in the real world so be prepared, this blog is likely to significantly up its romanian political level.

March 06, 2004

Avoiding the End of Europe

Posted by TMLutas

Wretcherd points to an excellent AEI speech by Niall Ferguson on the decline and fall of Europe.

It's all very well and good but there is no Hollywood ending here, not even the hope of a concrete plan of action to reverse the tide. In other words, Europe is doomed in its current economic, ethnic, and cultural configuration and there is nothing to do but to wait for the arrival of the minarets.


There is nothing inevitable about the decline of Europe, even in countries that are currently rushing headlong to demographic decline and death. There is a fundamental difference between choosing to face the wall and die and having that be your own alternative.

Christianity is a cultural heritage for Europe's post-christian millions but, more than that, it is a choice. There is an unspoken assumption interwoven through most (including this) "Europe is declining" stories that note post-christianity in the EU, that is that christianity is a spent force. Looking worldwide, this is a laughably inaccurate observation. All sorts of christian churches are gaining not only through births in the 3rd world but through active conversions including most if not all the classic christian faiths of Europe.

Another choice that is presented as an inevitability is a low birth rate, largely an artifact of abortion and birth control. This is a radical choice but it is ludicrous to think that there is no choice and it should not even be presented as a possibility.

A third choice is in assimilation. The US has a much larger assimilation capability than most EU states yet even the US needs to work on assimilation. Europe has its own choices to make in this field.

None of these choices are likely in the next electoral cycle but none of the threats to Europe are likely to come to a head in the next electoral cycle either. The first step is to note the problem. The second step is to define solutions that would work. The third step is to choose and implement the best solutions available. By simply taking real public policy choices off the table a priori, those who are currently projecting a decline in the EU are doing Europe a major disservice. A grave problem such as the death of nations deserves the widest possible discussion regarding the widest possible set of solutions.

If nothing else, the Poles of America will fund and retake Poland as will the Germans of America and so on. They will have the money to do so (European economic decline remember?) the numbers to do so (US has a higher birth rate than many EU states) and the faith to do so (spiritual renewal in US christianity is a subject of history and the present day). If the prospect of sharia and the islmization of Europe does not drive Europeans to take action, the reality that eventually their American cousins will eventually come back is likely to do it.

Go Europe!

How to Tell North Korea's Favorite

Posted by TMLutas

North Korea, bombastic, crude, dissembling and enraging it may be but it's leadership is not stupid. They know that George W. Bush would like to settle the issue of their nuclear program but if they wait a year, George W. Bush may no longer be President.

N. Korea has two options, it can rush into an agreement with President Bush if they think he will give them a better deal or, if they think a President Kerry would serve their interests better, they can keep the door open to negotiations while ensuring that nothing much happens until the new administration opens for business in January, 2005.

There are no circumstances which Kerry can directly influence the direction of negotiations and there are no circumstances where it would pay for Bush to delay a success in negotiations past the elections. Thus, the US side is very predictable in its actions. The only thing that will vary is North Korean behavior based on North Korean political evaluation of the two potential US presidents from 2005-2009. North Korea's evaluation of who would be worse for their repressive dictatorial regime will be crystal clear. So far, it seems the dictators prefer President Kerry.


The Financial Times is playing this same 'kremlinology' style game of observing the North Korean's preferences and has an article observing that John Kerry is getting very good press in N. Korea.

Hizb ut Tahrir: Turning?

Posted by TMLutas

The Argus notes a possible case of violence by Hizb ut Tahrir. Things are very unclear at the moment whether this is a put up job or a real turning point where they abandon non-violent tactics but it strongly bears watching.

National Movie Industries Don't Deserve Protection

Posted by TMLutas

Evan Kirchoff has an analysis of The Passion of The Christ from a movie business perspective. Key graf:

The stunning fact here is that Hollywood failed to notice that there was about a billion dollars (remember that the movie hasn't yet been released in the major world centers of Christianity: Africa, the other Americas) lying around for the taking. That demonstrates a mindboggling sampling bias in the market research of an industry whose interest in reliable data is at least equal to that of the Kerry campaign. If something this big can be completely off our sociocultural radar, then our radar sucks.

But it's not only Hollywood's radar. Is there a national cinema in the world that couldn't have put on this production? It's not like there's some language or cultural advantage to the anglosphere. This is the ultimate in foreign films, shot entirely in aramaic with a bit of latin sprinkled on top. Maybe Vatican City might have a natural language advantage but they don't have serious studios.

Every single movie industry that asks for protection from the big bad americans from here on out should have the box office grosses from The Passion shoved under their noses and asked "why aren't you just making films that are good?" They no longer have an excuse. The lie that Hollywood has seized the cultural high ground upon which it is possible to make movie gold is exposed as an utter illusion. The national movie making groups are guilty of being too much like Hollywood, not too little like it. The only thing they refuse to share is Hollywood's deep visceral desire to make movies that people want to watch. The only reason that Hollywood is the only film industry being beaten up is that the others are seen as not really mattering.

This too is a lie and a blind spot. I wonder which national cinema will be the first to prove it?

March 05, 2004

Extremists Tactics Link

Posted by TMLutas

One of the great, scary things to come out of the neo-nazi movement is the concept of leaderless resistance, the idea of simply putting out ideas and having people come up with their own ways of implementing the ideology in blood in the streets.

US right wing extremists are fans of the idea and supposedly the OKC bombing was an example of it. The ALF/ELF use the same sort of tactics on the left with people independently adopting the label in their actions. And now, from StrategyPage comes this:

While the idea of al Qaeda "concentrating on Iraq," is attractive, the truth is that al Qaeda is no longer an organization as much as it is a bunch of like minded people all over the world. The numerous al Qaeda "members" do what they can in the areas where they live.

This seems to fit into the broad idea of leaderless resistance and provide an intellectual framework within which all such movements should be confronted. There's no reason not to concentrate on finding a generalized formula for defeating leaderless resistance movements.

Defeating Bunkers

Posted by TMLutas

Strategypage (still no permalinks, darn it) has a story on bunker busters and the difficulty that the offense is currently having against the defense. I recall that the oil and gas folks have been experimenting with laser powered oil drilling rigs. A little googling shows that they've gotten very close to deployment with civilian systems based on Reagan era SDI patents coming into operation by 2007.

I don't think it takes much of a genius to see the full circle potential. Take an airborne laser, combine it with orbital beamed power, and you just have to maintain air superiority for the length of time it takes to drill down, using a system that "can slice through rock like a hot knife through butter." There isn't a country in the world that can challenge us in the air and this is likely to continue for some time. With such a system, we wouldn't need nuclear bunker busters.

Beamed power is currently a NASA priority and due to deploy a decade or two down the road. Putting a military application on it would certainly enhance funding and speed up deployment.

Electing Judges

Posted by TMLutas

I love talking to acculturated Romanians about politics. They show surprise at so many things that it really brings to life the exceptional nature of the US government. I was speaking to a romanian ethnic political science graduate student. She was hearing all sorts of high level poli-sci terms but nobody had ever sat her down and given her the basics of how things worked and she was missing a lot of the subtext of lectures. So while I was occupied in fixing the DSL line that, among other things, lets her surf the web, we talked US political basics. She absolutely couldn't understand how the US judicial branch survives with elected judges.

People don't understand the law, she maintained, how can they choose good judges? The reason, I replied, dated back to colonial days where certain judges simply made stuff up as they went along. After the revolution, the newly independent americans decided that they would never have that happen again and would elect judges in order to be able to have an ultimate check on a judiciary run amok. On the way back home, I recalled that a great many people opined that the old danger of a judiciary that just made stuff up was long gone with the british and it was time to do away with an elected judiciary.

They all swore it would never happen again.

Look around and tell me with a straight face that you can say that today. Whether it's the US Supreme Court permitting gross violations of freedom of speech in politics, pro-gay rights judges ignoring the law and permitting gay marriages to go forward in San Francisco by refusing to issue an injunction, or any of a dozen abuses that have angered both left and right, it's becoming clear that the time is come that we start electing more, rather than less judges.

Is 9/11 a Legitimate Campaign Issue?

Posted by TMLutas

I have to take some issue with today's WSJ editorial on 9/11. It leads off with an inaccuracy:

September 11, 2001, marked the worst foreign attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor--the bloodiest ever on the American mainland. It's certainly been the defining event of George W. Bush's Presidency. But according to Democrats and their media echo chamber, it now shouldn't be a campaign issue.

This is patently false because it's not what the Democrat party and their presumptive nominee John Kerry have been claiming. Instead what they are saying is that Democrats, including John Kerry, can fault President Bush for any problems leading up to or following 9/11 and even claim that he is not doing enough in the war on terror. The Wall Street Journal is complicit in perpetuating a fraud, that the upper echelons of the Democratic party have any appreciable reserves of good faith. What they want is to take 9/11 off the table for Republicans only, making it illegitimate only for them to raise the issue.

Free speech for me but not for thee is a recipe for the end of civil society. The irony that such attacks are likely to be largely funded by George Soros is a bitter turn of events.

March 04, 2004

Question for Arafat

Posted by TMLutas

This excellent article on Iran's Great Game provided a lot of thought but this article will just note one item, the import of palestinian bully boys.

Can there be an importer without an exporter? Is anybody even bothering to talk to Yasser Arafat and get his official position on the Iranian elections and the evident use of palestinians as storm troopers for a no longer illegitimate regime?

There are a bunch of ways that the question could be asked and how Arafat could respond. The key is that Arafat is not used to such questions and he is not used to people taking him seriously as a democratically election national leader. So what could be a better way to expose him on an issue that has no possible links to Israel, requires him to at least pro-forma condemn one of his terrorist activity supporters, and provides the EU with something more than the same old, same old script coming out of the West Bank?


Posted by TMLutas

In blogging, I've been concentrating so much on the writing that I haven't done much about formatting or creating the sidebar that I truly want. Most of the links to the left are leftovers from Flit's original links though slowly the two sidebars are diverging.

I'm including a book list, starting with The Pentagon's New Map. I've always been susceptible to the libertarian disease that you should, "just go read this book". I know that it's not the most effective way to convince an awful lot of people but I've got the itch so this new section will somewhat scratch it.

Simple Question I

Posted by TMLutas

If the Federal Republic of Germany's people wish to turn their back on the anti-americanism of the current FRG government, they only need to elect the CDU which has quietly maintained its credibility as a philo-american political movement.

If France's people wish to turn their back on the anti-americanism of the current French government, who do they elect?

Free Borders Foolishness

Posted by TMLutas

At some level, even Libertarians recognize that borders are necessary to preserve societal identity. This is why the LP doesn't generally permit outsiders to vote in their primaries nor does it endorse the practice of multiple-party endorsement (also known as cross-endorsement). The Libertarian Party, with its ideology of free movement of people across borders, instinctively knows that if it practiced what it preached, it would get swamped and lose its ideological identity. It would continue as a corporation but it would be subject to takeover.

The same is true for states and is the bottom line on decent, non-xenophobic immigration restrictionism. For the restrictionist who is not motivated by bigotry, the problem has to come down to whether these immigrants will gain the ability to swamp natives and destroy the society that currently exists. For the United States, this is a real problem because traditionally it has been very easy to become a voting citizen and there is little that cannot be changed in US law with a persistent enough majority.

The reason that people come to the United States is that they want a better life than they can realistically get for themselves or their children (the latter is more common than you might think). Very often though, immigrants bring with them the seeds of cultural, economic, and political attitudes that made their own country such a mess and, given a quick vote and no change in attitude, they will vote that way. They don't generally intend to destroy the society they have sacrificed much to join but that's the way they vote.

This isn't just a theoretical exercise for me. I know plenty of immigrants who seriously do not understand the US. They do so in different ways. Some are fearful of 'the jews', others of economic exploitation, others just are really unhappy with US culture and all its liberties. It varies widely and I will betray no confidences.

With time and assimilation, such attitudes soften, often completely reversing. The american experience often changes opinions as observation convinces people that though they may not understand it, all these crazy innovations that shouldn't work, do work and they work better than back in the old country.

Mexico may be lobbying for an amnesty or more guest workers but they'd get an awfully lot further if they took the bold step of saying that mexican ethnic migrants, temporary or permanent, would do very well to learn the way they do things up north and ask that assimilation assistance and even enhanced assimilation requirements be paired with increased mexican immigration.

Restrictionist Follies

Posted by TMLutas

I've found Mark Krikorian to be a generally civilized immigration restrictionist. He answers his mail (I've corresponded with him) and is generally thoughtful in his positions. I just can't understand how he misses the lay of the land on immigration. The solution to restrictionist concerns is, and has always been, in bludgeoning high immigration advocates with the fact that assimilation is badly broken and needs to get fixed at least as much as the visa regime needs to get fixed.

His recent item in The Corner lays the essential facts out cogently but he doesn't make the final necessary step to create a durable majoritarian synthesis between civilized restrictionists, the increased immigration crowd, and the economic interests who want an increase in the labor force. It isn't about immigration at the fundamental level. It is about assimilation and preserving a broad consensus that will retain and even improve America as the best country on the planet.

Political Hygien: The Left Can Do It

Posted by TMLutas

Matt Yglesias provides a nice example of how to clean up your own side's excesses and why it's vital that it be done.

He takes a stab at Paul Krugman for essentially going over-the-top and going for guilty by association/blood guilt (your uncle had business dealings with his cousin therefore...). I'll quote the reasons why:

Moreover, there's plenty of perfectly legit Bush-Saudi and Bush-Mideast hijinks in general that really can be established. When you throw something dubious and over-the-top into the mix, though, it's hard to take other charges seriously.

I happen to believe that Bush is currently the best choice for election to the Presidency. But it is incumbent that both left and right elevate the debate and maintain civility, not just for the sake of the country but for the sake of our own success.

March 03, 2004

Population Assumptions

Posted by TMLutas

One of the assumptions interwoven into our financial lives is the long-term appreciation of real estate. The common phrase "God isn't making any more land" to imply that buying property now will lead to appreciation and a nice retirement nest egg decades later only holds true if population increases over those decades.

The opposite is also mostly true. God isn't destroying much land either. Sure, you have a Krakatoa or an Atlantis every once in awhile but that's a fluke if it happens during your lifetime. If the population drops in absolute numbers and also ages, you end up with a secular lower demand for land. This has huge implications for the real estate market and how to create retirement nest eggs in the 2050 and beyond period where world population is supposed to stabilize and then shrink somewhat. I'll barely miss this trend but my children won't.

Long-term fortunes have always depended on stable rental income. Great merchant houses have often arisen over history but they always buy land to hedge their bets once they have accumulated their fortunes. But with land a depreciating, not appreciating asset, the whole financial calculus of buying a house building equity and using that equity for a retirement nest egg goes out the window.

And, tick tock, tick tock, nobody even worries about it.

Fusion News

Posted by TMLutas

It seems that sonoluminescence might end up being a real source of energy. Sonoluminescence is the long-known phenomenon that sound waves in liquids can cause random light flashes in air bubbles. The effect was first picked up in cavitation studies. Current studies seem to show extremely high heat being created and neutron releases indicative of actual fusion. The equipment necessary for the study is orders of magnitude less than classic fusion with the most recent work being done on about $1M of equipment (including a Macintosh fx computer!).

Right now, they're looking to scale things up to see if they can get a chain reaction going. Every time one of these things (possible radical advances in energy technology) pops up, it could be nothing, or it could shake up the world and create new realities that change everybody's daily life and the entire geopolitical system.

Linguistic Alternatives

Posted by TMLutas

I found myself pondering the term "Useful Idiot" after reading this article in Balloon-Juice. There is a fundamental problem with the term in that it originated and takes the point of view of the tyrant. For a citizen in a free society, the phrase has no inherent core meaning without transporting your self-view, however momentarily, to that of a dictator. And once you arrive in that dirty place, there is only a feeling of disgust and cynicism that after these idiots have outlived their usefulness, they too will go to the wall.

But taken from the point of view of the lover of liberty, useful idiots may still be idiotic but they are certainly not useful, nor is there any future plan for their execution or imprisonment. The species needs another label, something that puts, not the dictator, but the son of liberty at the psychological center. If hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue, useful idiot and other such borrow terms from the slavemaster's dictionary are the compliments that free men pay to tyrants.

It is an unnecessary compromise. We should rid ourselves of it.

March 02, 2004

Gay Marriage: Baseline Documents I

Posted by TMLutas

In previous articles, I've mentioned that somewhere between 800 and a thousand laws are affected by marriage in the US. According to this GAO report in 1997 it seems that I've grossly undercounted. There are at least 1049 federal laws that deal with marriage in the US Code (in the last 7 years, they might have increased). State, county, and municipal codes undoubtedly provide many more laws that would need to be adjusted and reviewed.

The GAO report is available on their offical website here, in PDF format.

As far as I can tell, this also does not include common law privileges like the spousal privileges in the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Some treaty law is included in federal marriage law, a wrinkle that I've yet to see examined in any way, reasonable or unreasonable including significant language regarding spousal rights to indian treaty lands. Since each tribe has their own traditions and beliefs and individual treaties with the United States, I somehow doubt that this is going to play out simply.

A Banking Ace?

Posted by TMLutas

Ace Hardware is an interesting entity in business. You see them everywhere but they're not a corporate monolith like Home Depot or Loewes. In fact, they're a dealer owned cooperative enterprise. Ace comes to mind when I hear about David and Goliath stories like this one about the advantages that big banks have over small banks in their online operations.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing stopping these small banks from building their own Ace. They could pool their resources and create a internet banking services infrastructure that was modular and could easily fit whatever IT the banks were already running internally. They would get more services for less money and have a legitimate shot at beating the big boys online as well as at their brick and mortar locations where locally owned and operated banks already excel.

It's quite likely that they would also be able to leverage a great deal of unpaid programming talent. Bankers all over the world would likely be willing to make contributions to such an effort if it were open source and code verification costs would be lowered as large customers sent their own programming talent through the files, auditing and verifying for free the robustness of code.

Right now, all these banks are reinventing the online banking wheel. They have a built-in advantage in the physical world with their superior local knowledge and connections but that doesn't count for much in terms of online services. With a pooled effort, such banks would be able to increase the quality of their online offerings at a fraction of their current spending.

Too Cute by Half I

Posted by TMLutas

I had my own entry in this category earlier so I understand that such things can be done in fun or as a fantasy. Here's one that just hit my mailbox where the writer says "In case it isn't clear, I'm dead serious about every word of this.":

A Petition to the United States Congress on behalf of John F. Kerry

Whereas section 3 of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution states:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

And whereas John F. Kerry, United States Senator and contender for the office of President of the United States, did swear an oath as an officer of the United States Navy to support the Constitution of the United States, and did subsequently organize and participate in street demonstrations which comforted the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), whose forces were then in actual combat against the forces of the United States, and which had the affect of aiding them in the defeat of the Republic of Vietnam, then allied to the United States, Mr. Kerry is ineligible under the Constitution for the office of President and for the office of Senator to which he was elected by the people of Massachusetts.

Whereas Mr. Kerry served honorably in combat against the enemies of the United States, and whereas his subsequent actions were protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, both as free speech and as an exercise of the right to petition for redress of grievances, and whereas Mr. Kerry’s actions do not rise to the level of treason, defined in Article 3, Section 3 as requiring adherence to the enemies of the United States, and testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, as well as providing both aid AND comfort to these enemies, I hereby petition the Congress to exercise its power under the Constitution to remove Mr. Kerry’s disability to hold office under the United States. Furthermore I ask that Congress formally establish the precedent that all other persons who actively supported the enemies of the United States during the war in Vietnam by street demonstration or similar act, but who were not convicted of any related crime, will also have such disability removed.

The problem starts with the assumption of guilt. This is simply unamerican. I happen to think that what John Kerry has done regarding war crimes accusations is despicable and that depending on further evidence, it is possible that he might have violated his oath and committed treason to the United States. However, you just don't assume such things.

The presumption of innocence is too important to be thrown overboard for mere political advantage and prosecutorial discretion is an important ancillary principle of US law. If the full time professionals think that it'll do the country more harm than good to prosecute, I am willing to go along with that. Those that disagree need to petition for a prosecution. If they're feeling forgiving afterwards they can petition for a removal of the disability. This is worse than the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. It's not verdict first, trial afterwards. This is clemency first, then verdict, then trial, a most bizarre and uniquely destructive concoction.

I suspect that the "Too Cute by Half" title is going to get a workout during this election season. It's too bad.

Iraki WMD Update: Not Closed Yet

Posted by TMLutas

Douglas Hanson writes an article expressing how very premature and wrong it is to come to any conclusions regarding Iraq's possession of WMD based on the evidence of his own eyes from the inside of the operation to hunt down the facts of Saddam's WMD operations.

The bottom line, the searches have not been done properly, there was insufficient coordination between elements of the hunting groups, and the case is still not closed. with only 10 of Iraq's 130 known major weapons storage facilities having been searched and extensive evidence of records destruction generally acknowledged, an objective description of the events anonymized to prevent bias would read something like this:

A massive criminal conspiracy was alleged in an organization. After being investigated and convicted for wrongdoing the organization agreed to special monitoring and to regularly open its records and premises for examination as a condition for continuing operations. Those promises were erratically kept over the next decade.

Finally, prosecutors raided all the enterprise's facilities and found massive record destruction, very close mouthed employees, and evidence of witness intimidation. On the matters of the warrant, after approximately 15% of the facilities were searched, conclusive evidence on some but not all of the warrant's charges was found. The major charges have had little or no substantiation to this point, the searches continue.

Given these facts, would anybody care in the slightest that not all charges had been proven? Would anybody claim that the biggest charges, had been disproven? Would anybody demand that the investigation end right now as it is obvious that nothing will be found on the most serious charges?

Once you take the politics and the emotion out of it and merely look at it as an anonymous crime story, we could be talking about the Teamsters here. And in that more dispassionate framing, the Bush critics look awfully irresponsible.

Al Queda's War On Muslims I

Posted by TMLutas

The massive bombing casualties in Baghdad and Karbala are a clear sign that there will be no end to muslim deaths in Iraq until Al Queda's infrastructure is destroyed and sufficient well trained and experienced local forces are available to both secure against attacks and take away any excuses that some might still have that Al Queda is an anti-occupation force.

Such a large operation could not have been done without a support structure in place locally. But if the inter-confessional war that Al Queda clearly wants to break out actually happens, that infrastructure is likely to grow, destabilizing Iraq and raising the possibility of a regional war.

In the end, the solution will be a general muslim determination that muslims killing other muslims to provoke further war against muslims earns the perpetrators a place in hell. A useful exercise that outsiders can further is to encourage all imams to pronounce on the issue and to advertise those who are pro-fratricide and who support them.

God, Lincoln, and My Presidential Ambitions

Posted by TMLutas

I'm informed by Richard A. Heddleson in email that, contrary to my previous pessimism, my response to the question "Is God on the side of the US" is not disqualifying at all. Abraham Lincoln apparantly shared my opinion and said "My great concern is not whether God is on our side, my great concern is to be on God's side."

Yeah, me and Honest Abe, we're like peas in a pod.

So now all that stands in the way of a Lutas presidency is a pesky constitutional amendment and any appreciable skill at political campaigning.

Piece of cake.


Renewed Marriage Assault: The Single Strike Back

Posted by TMLutas

In an illustration of how other groups against the privileged marriage position of heterosexual monogamy will try to latch on to any success in legalizing gay marriage, the single have ramped up their longstanding criticisms of marriage.

The criticism of singles of the privileges of the married are of long standing. The marriage penalty in the tax code, for example, is the legacy of a previous generation's assault on the 'pro-marriage unfairness' of the original US tax code. The original 'marriage bonus' allowed a single earner two parent family to greatly reduce their tax liability vis a vis a single household. When two income families became more the norm, the tax code became unfair for the married and it took decades for elimination of the marriage penalty to be put into law.

The problem of preference of the married over the unmarried is one that needs to be addressed in any discussion of civil marriage. What are those that are privileged contributing that makes the preferential treatment deserved? The same arguments that gay marriage advocates are busy trying to discredit are the ones used in justifying the privilege over the single in the first place. Yet I haven't seen any gay marriage advocates seriously address how they are superior to single people and why they should be privileged in law over them.

If the conservative vision of gay marriage that Andrew Sullivan trumpets is to have any meaning whatsoever, gay marriage advocates have to come up with some way to defend the new dividing line that they advocate. Otherwise they are just a useful stalking horse for the ultimate elimination of marriage by covert and dishonest means.

We can have a discussion over whether marriage should even exist as a civil act or not. But it should be an explicit, honest discussion and adjust social policy in a holistic way that doesn't wreck numerous aspects of government policy by accident.

Of Chips and Businesses

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste is back and feeling a bit beset at some of the response he's getting on the XBox's use of the PPC chip. In some small part it's deserved as he's missing a few points but he obviously got an overload of viciousness he certainly does not deserve. Don't the flamers know to ease a guy back into the swing of things?

Regarding the PPC, chip pricing and Apple, things do need to be cleared up, and not just with Steven Den Beste's post but with the original that started things up, an article over at Brian Tiemann's Peeve Farm.

First of all, the original article is too limited to reliably transmit much emotional content at all. Thus I don't think either characterization of "overjoyed (and oversmug)" or "tongue-in-cheek and 'isn't that [w]eird?'" By word count it's a 90% cut and paste from the underlying Inquirer article. It's a real linker not thinker article so it's very thin gruel that SDB is hanging his article on.

But things are a little weirder than the Peeve Farm's noticed. It is quite probable that the custom NT kernel is just updated enough that it'll handle the new hardware. NT for PPC was discontinued at the SP 3 level and according to Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Workstation went completely out of support on June 30, 2003 so if you have any problems with security, functionality, etc. you're just out of luck.

Microsoft Support Lifecycle policies nowadays are pretty well set out and NT 4 Workstation is just not going to be supported. This is not tolerable for a major Microsoft product line so either Microsoft is going to have to tailor an exception to their support policy or they are going to reintroduce multiplatform compatibility to Windows.

I think that NT 4 for PPC is going to be a very limited release and will be replaced by a more modern and secure version of Windows for the PPC as soon as Microsoft can crank one out. This is a major development effort that requires an awful lot of code cleanup and recompiling so why is Bill Gates doing it? You don't just restart a major platform line just for one product, an SDK to a game machine that you're adopting an inferior chip for as an anti-trust exercise to financially keep alive a semi-moribund competitor (Apple) that will not change their way of doing business so are going to die in the long run anyway.

SDB seems to have come to the conclusion that Apple has not evolved recently. In fact Apple has, and in very positive ways. In product after product Apple is demonstrating that it has squared the circle and learned to love open systems without sacrificing the anal retentive control freakiness that makes end users put up with all the disadvantages of a closed system.

Apple's Safari product is a case in point. Safari is actually just a user interface shell wrapped around KHTML. This is the reason that Apple can tolerate the expense of supporting their very own browser, they aren't really spending the money. They find partners in the open source world with whom they can work, who have engineered good products, they move in and create a secret skunk works version to improve things up to Apple standards.

While Steve Jobs is still on the keynote stage creating his latest reality distortion field presentation, the engineers are in the back rooms doing a massive code dump back into the upstream project, confident in the fact that their code is good and will be subsequently accepted and maintained by the open source geeks, creating both lower costs and a positive network effect. Konqueror wasn't widespread enough to have HTML coders specifically test for compatibility and code to it but Konqueror + Safari + whoever joins in is a different story.

The result is lower costs for development with much higher volume because the engineering interfaces that others interoperate with are not the same as program names. If your threshold for rewriting a site to a browser is 10% of the visitor traffic and Apple has 7% of your hits and Konqueror has 4% you write to the common KHTML engine and both groups are happy.

This is not the Apple I first encountered in the mid-80s or even the Apple of six or seven years ago. It is an Apple that is concentrating on engineering aesthetics as its core product and it expresses that through its operating system and application software as well as its Human Interface Guidelines. Apple's best value proposition has always been its UI and aesthetics and the enhanced productivity that flowed from those choices. They've recently figured out how to purify their offerings so that they don't have to give up control but can radically reduce cost and increase volume via these open source partnerships.

But back to the heart of the discussion which is computer hardware. The decision of a chip line ripples extensively. There is tremendous inertia and a temptation to stick with what was tried and true. This is why chip manufacturing companies create extensive roadmaps so their large customers can make their own long range plans to satisfy their own customers over the next decade. Even if a chip line is currently in first place, if your roadmap stops 3 years out and your message is go remake your own entire product line, a lot of customers are going to jump ship, heading for the exists as soon as they can.

This is the true heart of the problem for Microsoft. Intel has been saying for years now that 32bit will stay on the desktop and 64 bit will be for servers only and very highly specialized low volume workstations. Their solution was to keep on with the Pentium line and to switch to an entirely new architecture, Itanium. The entire Xbox 2 saga is Microsoft's delivery of a message to Intel rejecting its strategy because of roadmap concerns.

They saw how Apple hemorrhaged customers and lost credibility when their chip supplier had a roadmap problem. Microsoft cannot afford to get into that same bind because they would lose decades worth of psychological positioning as the default choice for a wide variety of markets. Microsoft doesn't have to be the best, but it can't afford to fall behind Linux too much or it will lose enough customers that it will, once again, descend to the level of just another computer solution provider with a wide variety of products. It can't afford that because so many people utterly despise them for their past competitive behavior and would love to exit the Microsoft product ecosystem if only they could.

Now this is more than just my naked speculation because Intel, itself, has gone back on its roadmap and surprised everybody (but AMD) with the announcement of a Xeon processor that is x86/64, something that they swore they would never do because it would absolutely kill Itanium.

For years Intel declared that x86/64 would only be a slight improvement and would peter out quickly against alternatives like the Power/PPC combination. As recently as October, 2003 speculation was still rife about whether Intel's secret "backup" project called Yamhill really existed. By February of 2004, Intel was claiming that it meant to do this all the time. This is a orwellian revisionism of the highest sort with everybody expected to flush their old roadmaps down the memory hole and forget all of Intel's previous disparaging talk about x86/64 and its limitations. A good examination of the current uncertainties in the Intel camp can be found here.

So Microsoft going to PPC for its XBox 2 and restarting the Windows on PPC production ramp make sense. IBM's roadmap is clear, the 970 is a cut down Power 4 but Power 5 is already out and the 980 will soon be too with further improvements to the Power line to follow. IBM makes too much money from the Power line not to keep on developing it as a priority. With IBM in the AIM driver's seat instead of Motorola, PPC is a safe choice for Microsoft as a backup to a x86 roadmap disaster that is growing in probability.

Now this disaster is not going to happen in the near future. Intel might figure out a way to avoid problems but even a 5% chance of such an occurrence is enough for Microsoft to be scouting for backup plans and the XBox 2 and the adjustments to MS' OS product line to re-include PPC in their lineup are just as good business as Apple's Darwin-X86 project for the reverse challenge, a PPC roadmap disaster.

The low prices that IBM is giving Apple, though, are likely not from any Machiavellian payments under the table or other such things. The low prices stem from the fact that PPC has tended to have smaller die sizes than Intel chips at comparable levels of performance. For the uninitiated, chips are made in groups on a round silicon wafer that is later cut up with individual chips that have tested good ending up in conventional packaging and sold. The cost per wafer is the same whether you make a big chip or a small chip and simple geometry tells us that you can fit more small chips on a wafer than big chips, thus your cost per chip are lowered as the fixed wafer price is spread out among more chips. Each 'bad' chip, also has a lower cost as you are removing a smaller percentage of the wafer's surface from productive use.

So PPC has always had a unit price advantage at similar chip fabrication technology levels. And Microsoft is not the only company to notice that x86 has the potential to have a roadmap disaster. IBM sells an awful lot of x86 gear in competition with its own Power/PPC gear as well using a variety of operating systems. It has its own reasons to gear up PPC because it has its own customers who need to be satisfied irrespective of whether Intel can get past this rough patch or not.

Much of this is covered in SDB's post but he declares that "Apple probably isn't happy, but had no choice" which is really where I part company with him. Apple gets royalties out of every XBox 2 sold as part of the AIM alliance and it did not do so for every XBox. Apple also gets an easier migration off its own hardware if Microsoft supports PPC. Apple might have historically subsidized software production to sell more boxes but it is doing so less than it used to, witness the phasing out of free updates for its iLife suite of programs. It's still bundled with new hardware but it's also sold separately. That's not consistent with the 'old Apple'.

Apple's opening of their architecture came with the end of the hardware ROMs. That event happened many years ago, long before Steve Jobs came back. In fact it happened some time before Apple opened things up to clone manufacturers. It's unlikely that such an old concession to openness would be withdrawn unless Microsoft ponied up some PPC business to IBM. If Apple went back to proprietary ROMs, it would certainly scare off a lot of the open source advocates that are supporting Apple's software efforts for free these days and provide nothing but bad press. It would also create an awful lot of work for Apple and would kill the Darwin project, a key part of Apple's modern strategy where the core OS (Darwin) is an open source project. That core is where most of the interaction occurs between OS and ROM/firmware so making a proprietary ROM but leaving Darwin open would make reverse engineering relatively trivial.

No, Apple has got to be feeling pretty happy right now. They want more PPC customers because they gain profits on every PPC that ships. Their core value proposition would not be too affected by Microsoft's adoption of their preferred chip and the perception that there is Apple in their own world and then everybody else would be dealt a harsh blow. Hypothetically stranded Apple customers could just load Windows on their macs and replace them with other branded PPC machines in future. The great Apple bugaboo, what to do if Apple dies, would finally have a convincing and final answer.

Episcopalians v Democrats: Where's the Money?

Posted by TMLutas

Democrats say that only the rich are benefitting from the 'jobless recovery'. Like every other real Church Episcopalians cut across all socioeconomic status but have traditionally been noted as having a healthy concentration of those very same rich people. So with Bush benefits flowing to them, you'd think their church donations would be up. Wrong, they're actually down and Midwest Conservative Journal keeps me up to date on these sorts of things (not being an episcopalian, I'd otherwise be out of the loop).

The Episcopalians claim that contributions are down because of the hard economy but it doesn't have anything to do with their actively gay bishop. Democrats claim that the economy's boom is only concentrated among the rich, a group that features numerous Episcopalians.

So who's right? They both can't be.

March 01, 2004

I Will Never Be President of the United States

Posted by TMLutas

Even if the Schwarzenegger amendment passes I'll never make President. Here is why my future presidential aspirations are doomed. Lileks has a great bleat today in which he dissects a very insightful question:

President Bush has said that freedom and fear have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them. He's made quite clear in his speeches that he feels God is on America's side.

Is God on America's side?

Lileks says that the answer to this one, if you want to actually win the White House, is to say yes and move quickly on to another subject. My impulse would have been different and I'd likely have been clobbered in the sound bite war that would have followed. I would have answered "No, God is not on our side. When we're good and just, we're on His side." Of course, the first sentence would have played nationwide through to election day.

Is it Christian Anti-Semitism if You Aren't Christian?

Posted by TMLutas

Wretchard opines that for the majority of christians, those in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, anti-semitism is incomprehensible because for most of them, they haven't met and likely won't ever meet jews.

I'm not sure I buy into this. You certainly can point to places in Europe where you are exceedingly unlikely to encounter an actual jew, yet anti-semitic attitudes still persist. But on the other hand, I wonder. The secularization of Europe is common knowledge. The christianity of Europe is becoming more and more a polite fiction in a bow to historical realities and for the tourists. Bigots all over Europe have demonstrated that you can have christian anti-semitism without jews. But the real challenge is what do you call the rage when you not only are missing the jews, but the christians as well?

Khadaffi Threatened With Terrorism?

Posted by TMLutas

The Petrified Truth is linking to a story in the Telegraph about Iranian threats to unleash a libyan terrorist group against Col. Khadaffi if he spills the beans on Iran's nuclear weapons program. If true, this is yet another example of non-Westphalian warfare. Iran won't declare war but it will harbor and support and unleash this terrorist group against its newly turned enemy Libya.

Assuming the story is true for the moment (and with the British press you can't be too cautious) does Libya have the right to go to war against Iran?

Metrosexual Jesus and The Passion

Posted by TMLutas

Donald Sensing had a very provocative post about the negative effects of metrosexual Jesus, how western churches have created a Jesus that generally looks and acts unmanly. Thinking on this amazing social phenomenon of The Passion of The Christ, I can't help but think that the movie's popularity might, in part, stem from the absence of metrosexuality of any stripe (outside of Satan, that is though maybe that's on purpose).

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

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