April 30, 2004
Compiling Life II
It was too good to be true. I hit my first misconfiguration in /openoffice/soltools/mkdepend which includes -lX11 even though I'd defined earlier that OpenOffice was to compile without it. Time to put out my first bug report... and there it is.
It's pretty easy to get around the bug but it needs to be fixed. Frankly, this sort of thing is not going to be a priority for the project maintainers but they'll eventually get around to it because it's such a trivial fix. But trivial fixes are what make polished programs and even an administrator type who mostly dabbles in code can contribute to the polish.
I started compiling Open Office using the current work but without X11. This, theoretically should provide a native widget set and a semi-working version of Open Office but nobody's officially checked this for quite some time. The compile seems to be running fine with minor modifications to the install script I'm currently at the following step:
Begin consuming those cases of beer. You'll be waiting about a day. If you have a slower machine, you may want to invest in a few cases of PBR.
I think I'll pass on the Pabst Blue Ribbon but I'm wondering if it'll seriously take a day.
Is the PRC Crashing?
Stratfor's sample analysis this week (after this week, the same URL will point to a different article) points to what might be the beginning of the end for that country's economic miracle. The key graphs are below:
To understand China's problems, it is necessary to look at the structure -- and failures -- of other Asian economies. We have already seen two major systemic crackups in Asia during this generation. Japan went from being an economic superpower that was predicted to dominate the global economy in the 21st century to an economic cripple during the early 1990s. East and Southeast Asia, excluding China, similarly passed from economic miracles to economic catastrophes in 1997. In both cases, the striking characteristic was the speed at which overblown Western expectations turned into disappointment. It is our view that China, which got started later than other Asian economies, is on course to be the third Asian meltdown in this generation. The euphoria about China until very recently -- and China's assiduous attempts to stoke expectations -- tracks with what happened in the rest of Asia.
Essentially the argument is that the PRC is making the same errors that every other asian country has lived through. It is aided by the fact that its currency is nonconvertible but that's no panacea. It is suffering from a plague of crony loans made to connected people who have hollowed out their economy. Essentially, we're in the end stages of the PRC's economic pyramid scheme.
The stakes are quite high. If the PRC falls into crisis, it is much less likely to survive than Japan and more likely to fracture into the traditional solution of warlord dominated regional entities.
Are we Japan/PRC's Power Projection In Iraq?
Japan and China hold almost $1Trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds. Increasingly, their view of the world will merge, with China’s moving closer to pragmatic Japan’s. The U.S. is looking at a dual strategic partner in this pair. We better get used to it, plan for it, and exploit it whenever possible. Those two countries bought the bulk of the sovereign debt we floated to pay for the Iraq war. We better make sure they get the outcome they thought they were buying when they purchased all that debt. Otherwise, next time they may not finance the war.
It's a truism that whoever pays the piper calls the tune. The PRC and Japan are paying the piper. What's the tune they're really calling? Asia is in deep trouble over energy supplies with Middle East oil being full dollars more expensive when shipped to Asia. This "Asian Premium" holds the region back by making everything more expensive than if they paid the same energy costs everybody else was paying.
If the PRC and Japan are both betting that US security efforts in the Middle East are something that they are willing to fund, the price for feckless withdrawal in Iraq would not just be in increased terrorist strikes against us. More significantly, there would be no reason for them to continue to float huge loans in order to rid themselves of their $3/barrel millstone around their necks.
The sad spectacle of US troops abusing prisoners demonstrates (once again) that democracy and freedom isn't about having a much better government than any other. It's about finding the bad apples relatively early, punishing them, and excluding them from further service so the rot doesn't spread. If Saddam Hussein was given a 25 year hard labor punishment when he first demonstrated that he was part of Iraqi rot, Lietenant, Captain, or Major Hussein would be a sad, disgraced figure in Tikrit trying to live down his shame for the rest of his life and Iraq would have been spared his rule.
1st world democratic republics have all the venality and nastiness floating around in their governments that other countries have. Their advantage is in their superior willingness to remove the rot. We are shamed by it. But we know that it would be worse if we covered it up. It is a heavy responsibility of citizenship and CBS did right by airing the story.
This is the central element of what has been so frustrating about false charges of abuse. The problem is real, it always has been. It is real everywhere because human nature is the same everywhere and everywhen. As wise men have said, human nature has no history. But crying wolf and falsely maligning soldiers makes it more difficult to sort the truth of abuse from the fiction of it. Fortunately, the system still seems to work.
Why You Should Never Mess With the US (and the rest of the 1st world)
Because the US is chock full of people who amuse themselves like this. Good Morning Silicon Valley always has a quirky or humerous link at the bottom nder the label "Off topic" which is something that will amuse the geeks that are its normal audience. Today they thought it would be fun to link to a couple of enterprising geeks who decided to make a taser out of a $5 disposable camera.
Like probably half the geeks that read the article my first, instinctive impulse was to start asking how you could improve the thing, possibly by using two disposable cameras. I know that I'm not that abnormal for the technical minded. We're just like that, many of us and we're relatively harmless in that we limit our weaponeering impulses to intellectual exercises and web pages instructing how to make catapults, tasers, and other esoterica out of readily available items. We do this, not because we are incapable of violence, but because you have to generally have a long time horizon to absorb much geeky knowledge or culture and we're generally content with our political and social arrangements.
Free, inventive people with technical knowledge are best left alone with their amusements.
April 29, 2004
I really wish I had read Steven Den Beste's current essay on the nature of independence when I was 14-15. It would have saved me a lot of trouble and been a shortcut to the destination I eventually reached. I always instinctively saw the cliques and mini cultures that I saw in my high school as sheep-like but it took my quite a while to sort out the whole rebellion/independence thing.
Of course, I'd want to have my kids see the essay but they're too young to need it now and when they'll need it, they won't trust it coming from me. Hmm... what a dilemma.
Another Reverse Acquisition
Everybody who's looked at the Apple/NeXT deal knows that it was NeXT that really acquired Apple. Apple had the better brand viability so it says Apple on all the business cards but the executives, the philosophy, the code, they very much scream NeXT computer Corporation.
Now it looks like this 'reverse acquisition' started a mini-trend with the same thing happening in the Gateway/eMachines deal. The cow style boxes will stay but the stores are all closing, the executives show a distinct tilt towards old eMachines alums and the headquarters is moving to Irvine, where eMachines used to work out of. Appearances are deceiving. Who buys who is going to be less clear at closing in the future I think.
Material science is making its usual unheralded contribution to health and safety. In this case, it's liquid armor. It's a liquid filling to put inside armor or even normal clothing items like boots that remains light and flexible in normal use but stiffens immediately to rigidity under sudden stress. After the stress goes away, it softens right up again. Not only is liquid armor useful in areas like limbs than kevlar with rigid plates it also has potential civilian uses like a steel toed boot replacement.
It also has the advantage of being better against stab wounds than regular body armor, a must for law enforcement/penal operations.
In reading a WSJ piece on the attempted Al Queda attack in Amman I was struck by the top end figure of up to 80,000 casualties. Looking up Jordan's population, as near as I could figure it, it has somewhat shy of 6 million people in it. For the US, the proportionately equivalent figure for Jordan's 80k casualties would bee approximately 4 million. That's the equivalent of losing a major city.
This is grand drama and is getting very little coverage given how huge this is for Jordan and the entire Middle East. No doubt there are well off families living in nice houses in Amman who gave generously to Al Queda and its cousins. They are now realizing that they just barely escaped losing their lives to an attack that they may very well have helped pay for. No doubt they are, even as I post this, rethinking their prior financial commitments to this cause. No doubt many of the good citizens of Amman are also rethinking their tolerance for clerics who preach the Islamist version of jihad.
Indiscriminate area weapons against muslims are likely to be the worst blunder our enemies have made in years. It desperately deserves coverage, perhaps a nightline segment, maybe tomorrow?
The Coming Opportunity of Cheap Farm Land
Since agricultural products are no longer protected under the WTO under special rules as of December 31, knowledgeable observers have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. The first clatter has just occurred. The Wile E Coyote moment has ended and now the developing nations are likely to come at the WTO fast and furious with cases of excessive subsidies and protection.
But all the land that is under the plow in these rich countries today has a market value that is, in part, a reflection of these rich subsidies. With subsidies likely to be eviscerated by the WTO, agricultural states will either have to realign their crops to more profitable, specialty ones that are suited to the climate or they are going to go fallow, not being worth the energy to cultivate.
So what do we do with that land when the price craters?
80% of Oil For Food Contracts Disappear?
The New York Post is breaking the story that after the UN turned over all its records to the GAO for an investigation, 80% of the contracts aren't there. Where they shredded, burned, hidden away in a filing cabinet drawer like the Rwanda airplane black box (the plane crash ended up sparking the Rwandan genocide), or never received by the UN in the first place? Take all the private scandals of the past few years, Enron, Worldcom, Arthur Anderson, Parmalat, and you will find none of them missing 80% of their records.
And if they had, the repercussions would have been severe. I wonder how many, even now, have not even heard that there is an oil for bribes scandal going on at all?
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XXIII
Sandy Berger was commissioned by Foreign Affairs to produce a foreign policy essay for the next president from a Democrat perspective.
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XXIII is below:
What Democrats must offer is a sense of realism: when the United States goes to war it had better be prepared to stay where it has fought, to fix what it has broken, and to work with allies for years, if necessary, to consolidate its victories. We must demonstrate staying power, not just firepower, whether in the Balkans or Afghanistan or Iraq.
It just amazes me that a member of the administration that ran home from Somalia with its tail between its legs after one horrific incident (Black Hawk Down) can write the above paragraph and not even tangentially address the credibility chasm that Democrats bring to the table on the issue of sticking out reverses and staying the course in foreign interventions. But it's worse than ignoring Somalia and the other examples of Democrat ADHD (yes, there are Republican examples too but President Bush has already made it clear that they were a mistake, something that's lacking on the Democrat side). One of the scary features about our political system is that governments change regularly for domestic political reasons. If there is no consensus on foreign policy, the US will never manage to stay the course because the incoming party will have an entirely different course in mind and foreign partners and opponents will develop an entirely unhealthy interest in US domestic politics. They will have to in order to arrange their own affairs.
So where is the commitment to forging bipartisan consensus across party changeovers? It's nowhere to be found which means that we're likely to continue to get nasty last minute transition surprises when we go from Democrat to Republican administrations for the foreseeable future.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XXII
Sandy Berger was commissioned by Foreign Affairs to produce a foreign policy essay for the next president from a Democrat perspective.
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XXII is below:
Of course, there will also be times when the war on terrorism tests our military, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Yemen, and in the Philippines. What will the war on terrorism require in terms of new doctrines, tactics, equipment, and training? How will it change our military organization? How can we defeat this new enemy while upholding the values that protect our own troops in wartime and that define who we are? The Bush administration has not addressed these questions. A Democratic administration must answer them.
This is bizarro world stuff. Yes, there's some truth to it but in a very backwards sort of way and any resemblence to the actual situation on the ground is somewhat coincidental. Yes the military will be called on to defeat terrorism. In fact, Democratic criticism to date has largely rested on the idea that it has been called on too much to deal with the subject. The Bush administration's redefinition of war in post-Westphalian terms is such a huge change that it's been given a soft open, ie it's been stated simply (we're at war with Al Queda) and matter-of-factly because it upsets so many applecarts that to engage in significant public analysis invites the panicked formation of a grand coalition against the idea. Tony Blair can get away with explicit references to post-Westphalian international systems. The US president can't without starting something that may not end well for us. There is a lot of ground work that has to be done and, like the rest of the Bush administration initiatives it imitates, it will probably surface, nearly fully formed, at an appropriate time.
It is an unexceptional truth that the Bush administration was focused conventionally in its military thinking prior to 9/11. But blame them for that and you might as well condemn FDR while you are at it. He too made a considerable U-turn from his original campaign ideas of national military strategy.
The Democrat party simultaneously does not want to give the military more money, wants it to have more troops, and is the most sensitized portion of the country to the idea of US casualties. The truth is that if you reduce per soldier spending you get more casualties. You have fewer protective devices, less training, less skills, less experience, and that means more dead soldiers. The fact that we are not in a time of exploding military expenditures is precisely because Democrats are salivating at the political drubbing they would administer to George W. Bush if he were to dare submit such a budget and the margins in Congress are so thin that the administration dares not give them that set piece battle.
So the military stretches.
Fallujah Urban Warfare Update
Wretchard has an excellent article detailing the military situation in Fallujah. It seems like his previous articles speculating on marine strategy were right on. The insurgents are now trapped in a slum and vulnerable to airborne fire whenever they can be identified.
Apparently there is a lot of moonlight in Iraq right now. The siege will probably last until the waning moon gives less illumination to our opponents eyes so look to see this wrapped up by month's end at the latest and more likely by mid-month. With an area 2000 meters on a side still under their control, there isn't a lot of retreating they can still do.
Update: One single instead of double quotation missed and it swallows the rest of the note. Sorry about that.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XXI
Sandy Berger was commissioned by Foreign Affairs to produce a foreign policy essay for the next president from a Democrat perspective.
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XXI is below:
Most Democrats agree with President Bush that terrorists, and even recalcitrant regimes on occasion, must be confronted with force. The question should be how, not whether, our military and intelligence assets are employed, and whether we are adapting them rapidly enough to the challenges the United States faces today.
This is theoretically very reassuring but I worry about the contrast between Democract and Republican response to military recalcitrance to the use of force. In Kosovo, purposeful delay removed Apache helicopters from the arsenal of usable military platforms. The civilians wanted them used and the military didn't. The military won that argument, but not honestly. Before Iraq was invaded Gen. Shinseki said in Congressional testimony that we would need several hundreds of thousands of troops to occupy Iraq, a figure we simply didn't have over the time necessary to transition to a free Iraqi government. Even today, it's clear that Shinseki's estimates were completely out of line and designed, once again, to dictate to civilian authorities whether military force could be used. Rumsfeld fired him for it.
There is a new transformation that needs to occur but it's not simply an intelligence transformation. It's the creation of Tom Barnett's Sys Admin force. If it is simply an intelligence operation, how are we supposed to get hold of these terrorists hiding in the shadows? Are we supposed to ask nicely of the governments who have been well bribed to protect them? Or perhaps we should just violate their national sovereignty and take them out. More likely, we will end up exactly where the Clinton administration was, with UAVs taking pictures of terrorists but us unable, legally, to do anything about them.
To go into these countries requires a new intellectual framework to go beyond the Westphalian strictures of national sovereignty. A revitalized intelligence operation won't get the job done because if they do what's necessary without the concomitant reform of post-Westphalianism, they'll go to jail, whether via some US trial or an ICC process. Remember, Democrats would bargain away our reservations on the ICC in exchange for more cooperation on the Global War On Terror so even if we don't try these people, you can be sure that an indictment will come out of the ICC and, at the very least, the usefulness of these agents will come to an end in any ICC signatory nation.
April 28, 2004
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XX
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XX is below:
A Democratic administration should seek to strengthen global rules against proliferation more generally. The existing Non-Proliferation Treaty (npt) established an important norm. Since 1975, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Taiwan, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, and now Libya have reversed course and given up their nuclear weapons programs under its auspices. But the npt remains flawed, because it permits countries to develop all the building blocks of a nuclear weapons program and then to withdraw from the treaty without penalty once they are ready to enrich uranium or produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
First, Libya gave up their WMD not because of the NPT but because the US led a coalition to go beyond the NPT inspection regime:
But the problem of peaceful nuclear development can be solved without having to import designs or expertise from current nuclear powers. What justification is there for interfering with a country that is creating their own nuclear program without outside aid or outside fuel? The reality is that there is nothing wrong with a free, stable nation developing and maintaining a nuclear program. It provides new competition in the nuclear field. The fundamental problem is and has always been the quality of national leadership and national institutions. As time goes on, unstable countries will gain the ability to gain the bomb. In fact, with Pakistan as a nuclear power we have arguably already crossed that threshold. The cure for this is not a new treaty but a new relationship with these countries, creating the conditions for them to join the Functioning Core. As they do so, the concerns we naturally have will dissipate as their stake in the maintenance of the present order grows.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XIX
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XIX is below:
We need the same kind of "overt action" plan for Iran, offering -- in full public view -- normal relations in exchange for total renunciation of nuclear aspirations and terrorism by Tehran. Let the Iranian government say no to such an offer and be the obstacle to its people's aspirations, a decision that would create its own dynamic inside Iran. We have other problems with Iran and North Korea, including their appalling human rights abuses. But those can best be addressed if we first bring them out of isolation.
President Wilson must be rolling over in his grave. To give the mullahs of Iran normal political relations with the United States as they internally repress their own people is not normal Democrat politics. When a regime like that in Iran is no longer even able to staff the machinery of repression with their own nationals but must import palestinians and other foreigners to crack heads and beat down dissent it's a regime on its last legs. Giving Iran a new lease on life will stifle Iraq's possible role as a safe haven for pro-democracy Shiites to come study and plan in Iraq's religious centers and create a genuine alternative to the distorted Islamic interpretations now in vogue among the governing mullahs of Tehran.
Sandy Berger, it seems, would rather play for a tie rather than to fight to win. That's a real shame because we need two parties willing to fight to win this war. War cannot be a permanent state and the only end to it is to win or surrender.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XVIII
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XVIII is below:
A Democratic administration must clearly and promptly test whether Kim Jong Il intends North Korea to become a nuclear factory or whether he will negotiate his way into the international community. U.S. officials must put a serious proposition on the table -- a nationwide, verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs in exchange for economic and political integration -- and be prepared to sequence implementation in a reciprocal way once the ultimate objectives are accepted. We must be prepared to take yes for an answer. And if Pyongyang's answer is no, South Korea, Japan, and China will join us in coercive actions only if they are convinced that we made a serious, good-faith effort to avoid confrontation. The worst option is one in which cash-starved North Korea becomes a supplier of nuclear weapons to al Qaeda or Hamas or to radical Chechens, who then deliver them to Washington, London, or Moscow.
And the North Koreans will simply say that they will not talk about such vital matters until the important issue of the shape of the table is resolved. The US will either confess to wanting a deal badly enough to give away the store or be stuck negotiating the shape of the table with neither a yes, nor a no available to use to convince our regional partners to take further action against North Korea. Indirect pressure can be used, but it is already being used.
The United States has already demonstrated that it is willing to take yes for an answer. The demonstration has quite publicly happened in the case of Libya, which is now well on the way to restoring its position in the community of nations despite a long history of bad behavior. The difference is that there is a demonstrated change in attitude and action. North Korea has not undergone the same change. It has not uttered a real yes so our behavior hasn't changed towards it.
Option This Iraqi War Story
Hollywood, or anybody smart enough to beat them, has a ready made war movie script playing out in Najaf:
If he were still around and of an age for this kind of film, this would be a fantastic Charles Bronson vehicle. Iraqi everyman, tired of the thugs lording it over decent people goes out and takes them down, exposing them for the bullies and thugs that they are. This isn't even a US story so you can sidestep the whole "is the US right in Iraq" controversy.
When they figure out who this guy is, somebody ought to get him representation.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XVII
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XVII is below:
The one country that we know has the capacity, and conceivably the inclination, actually to sell a working nuclear weapon to a terrorist group is North Korea. Yet the administration has reacted with inexplicable complacency as North Korea has crossed line after line on its way to becoming the world's first nuclear Wal-Mart. Pyongyang is now capable of producing, and potentially selling, up to 6 nuclear weapons at any time -- possibly 20 a year by the end of this decade -- something that even the most dire intelligence estimates did not predict in Iraq. We do not know how much plutonium North Korea has reprocessed into useable nuclear fuel over the past 18 months, since it expelled international monitors while we were busy negotiating the shape of the table.
For those not familiar with the term, to negotiate the shape of the table is a diplomatic tactic, seldom used by the US, to engage in a contest of wills, insisting that certain trivial issues must be negotiated before any talk of substance starts. The loser is he who agrees to the other's proposal for 'the shape of the table' thus admitting that he is the weaker party who will be giving the bulk of concessions when it comes to the substantial portion of the negotiation.
In the Korean War, it literally took the form of negotiations of the shape of the table at which talks would proceed and the excruciating length of these negotiations are where the term comes from.
Sandy Berger is preemptively announcing that in any negotiation with North Korea under a Democrat administration following his advice, the US will be the weaker party and the N. Koreans can wear us down with delaying tactics at will. How he can possibly give away the store so early and so publicly is beyond me. What is he thinking?
The Missing Kerry Poll
Reading this Village Voice "dump Kerry" editorial the thought occurs that if dump Kerry becomes a serious meme in Democrat politics, shouldn't polling be done of Democrat party delegates and electors on the matter? And this isn't just an intramural Democrat party spat. If President Bush is wise, he'll look at what happened to the Republican candidate when Sen. Torricelli was pulled from the ballot late in the race. The presidency is a funny post. It's not elected directly.
What people vote for is a slate of electors. If the electors are willing to jump ship if Kerry sinks enough, the Bush campaign had better have a plan 'B' in mind because they are going to need one. There would be little time to do opposition research, prepare messages catering to the new candidate's weaknesses and change gears quickly enough to win. In fact, the electors have the (never actually exercised to date) right to vote somebody else into the White House than the candidate to whom they were pledged.
Now Kerry's been eulogized before, as recently as this very campaign. If he comes back, fine, we'll have a conventional presidential race. But it would be interesting to poll the delegates and the electors to see what Kerry's numbers are. It would be a unique media product and would genuinely provide new information about Kerry's base strength.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XVI
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XVI is below:
Another hopeful section:
The Bush administration's argument for invading Iraq rested, in part, on the belief that the United States cannot wait until a WMD threat is imminent before taking action. Yet its overall approach to combating WMD proliferation defies the logic of this position.
I don't know why Nunn-Lugar spending fell victim to the budgetary ax. I wish it hadn't. If it is as effective as advertised above, it needs to be strengthened. If it's not working, don't starve it, scrap it, and tell Russia that now that its economy is running high on petrodollars it's going to have to shoulder its own responsibilities for keeping control of its own nuclear weapons material.
The present situation is one of my own difficulties with this administration and I wish they would sort this out better.
Oil For Food? Oil For Bribes!
If you're looking for a good article explaining exactly what all the fuss is about regarding the UN oil for food program, I found it. Here's a short summary of the importance of the affair
What lies at the core of this story is the United Nations, and how it came to pass that an institution charged with bringing peace and probity to the world should have offered itself up—willingly, even eagerly—as the vehicle for a festival of abuse and fraud.
Remember and consider this paragraph (and the explosive facts in the larger story) every time you hear calls for multilateralism and UN involvement and UN legitimacy. The US can't just prosecute and kill off the organization like it did with Arthur Anderson. So what were we supposed to do?
Update: The original rationale for this program was food and health supplies. By official count $15B of expenditures (not counting kickbacks in this part of the program) went to that amount on a total revenue of $65B. That means that less than a quarter went where it was supposed to (23.08%). How seriously would you treat a humanitarian organization that misdirected over 75% of proceeds?
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XV
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XV is below:
Iraq, too, will require a generational commitment by the international community. Regardless of whether the war was justified, everyone now has a profound stake in Iraq's success. The disintegration of that country along ethnic and religious fault lines would destabilize the Middle East and energize radical movements that threaten the world. A stable and democratic Iraq, on the other hand, would stimulate reform throughout the region. Attaining the latter outcome will require continuous involvement in Iraq's reconstruction and political development, as well as a proactive military posture that does not leave foreign troops hunkered down in bases and barracks, delegating security to an ill-prepared Iraqi security force. But that level of involvement will be unsustainable -- and will be considered illegitimate by ordinary Iraqis -- unless it is viewed as a truly international, rather than exclusively American, effort.
And if these allies say no thank you, they'll stay out of Iraq anyway? You end up right back where the "unilateralist" Bush administration has placed us, in a posture of selective cooptition, cooperation and competition balanced in the same relationship. They're not wholehearted allies, but not enemies either. They are self-announced strategic competitors but not competitors in raw geopolitical strength. They're ankle biters trying to draw down US strength so they don't have to climb what they feel are impossible heights to catch up with us.
Anybody can pick a pretext about which to be outraged. Kerry's support of the Sharon plan would do fine all by itself. Diplomacy is often the art of making mountains out of molehills and vice versa in the neverending pursuit of your country's permanent interests. If the French, German, and other governments who are balking now are doing so based on their permanent interests, no amount of calm soothing words will smooth their ruffled feathers. The feathers are ruffled as part of a political strategy, one that will not be denied.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XIV
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XIV is below:
As we re-engage in the peace process and rebuild frayed ties with our allies, what should a Democratic president ask of our allies in return? First and foremost, we should ask for a real commitment of troops and money to Afghanistan and Iraq. Now that NATO has finally agreed to lead an expanded peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, there is a desperate need for European forces to augment the existing U.S. military presence in the country, to ensure that it does not return to a state of chaos that threatens our interests. Afghanistan, with Pakistan, remains a frontline battleground in the war on terrorism. But given the state of transatlantic relations, there is little support in Europe for sending troops on dangerous missions there. A new administration will have to overcome this challenge if it is to restore security to Afghanistan and relieve the burden on U.S. forces.
This section denies the idea that transatlantic issues are anything more than one presidential administration's pique. If it weren't for that darn prickly George W Bush, France would not be talking about a multipolar world, trying to create a European Union that is a counterweight to the US. There would be no talk about an EU army competing with NATO. There would be no stereotypes of ugly americans floating around. But of course all this occurred during the Clinton administration too so it's very hard to tell where Berger is getting this idea that the only thing that has fundamentally changed has happened in the past few years and is exclusively on this side of the Atlantic.
Certainly the Bush administration is guilty of refusing to paper over differences and they did start off their relationship by stomping on the lit bags of feces left by the Clinton Administration (ICC & Kyoto). That didn't make things any better. But would smiling and playing nice, ignoring the ankle biting have improved things? Or would it just have worsened the US position. Without a frank recognition that the causes of friction exist on both sides of the relationship, it's impossible to even address the question. This is embarrassing for a senior diplomatic voice to offer up in a serious piece for a magazine like Foreign Affairs.
April 27, 2004
Nitpicking the Angry Economist
Healthcare is the Angry Economist's current rant. And unfortunately, he doesn't quite nail down the nature of healthcare. Healthcare is largely an economic good but it is a very special kind of economic good, not readily comparable to blue jeans and hot dogs. Bad hot dogs don't rampage across town corrupting the good hot dogs and making your life miserable even though you avoid them. Communicable diseases and antibiotic resistance are two specific factors that make healthcare different. This is why I would support subsidized vaccinations and base level emergency care including measures to stop antibiotic abuse. Multi-Drug-Resistent tuberculosis is a major pain in the butt and is significantly caused by poor people poorly exercising their free choices in the area of healthcare.
So yes, I'm in favor of the free market. I'm also in favor of describing things accurately so the free market solutions we devise actually solve the problems we face better than government. Treating healthcare purely as an economic good much as a regular consumer good doesn't get us good outcomes. We need something better. I just have little confidence that this better thing will be government.
Of Course Bush Has Nothing to do With It
Sudan orders Syrian WMD out of country is a welcome headline for any decent person to read but the question I have is what made them change their mind? Purchase, transport, risking seizure on the high seas, these are all real costs. Why go to all the trouble and just order them shipped back? And why do it in a public way that embarrasses the Syrians?
Libya first, now Sudan, of course prickly unilateralist George W. Bush has nothing to do with it. You hear about these things all the time. It's WMD buyer's remorse. They just want to take advantage of their three day 'change your mind' clause in their rogue state club contract. No, no, no, no secondary effect regarding Iraq here.
Battlefield 'Net VII
The Airforce is creating software to allow UAVs to conduct automated airborne refueling. This will help in providing persistence on the battlefield and is important for many reasons. One of these is that it would allow UAVs to serve as airborne wireless network access points. Motorala has a wireless system that has a range measured in miles not feet. Combine that with a flying wireless routing station and you can provide a persistent, inexpensive, generally inaccessible by insurgents, airborne network infrastructure.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XIII
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XII is below:
As part of a new bargain with our allies, the United States must re-engage in what the rest of the world rightly considers the cornerstone of a lasting transformation of the Middle East: ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So long as that dispute continues, Arab rulers will use it as an excuse to avoid reform and to resist open cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism.
Likely this was written prior to the presentation of Sharon's unilateral Gaza withdrawal which seems to fit all the qualifications of a Berger foreign policy in this area. And the continuation of the suicide strategy is in doubt now that Israel has made it clear that being a pro-suicide bombing leader forfeits any immunity you might have against assassination. Sandy Berger should be happy.
Indeed, it seems he is happy and has convinced Kerry to come aboard the Sharon initiative. That's got to make a lot of the left spit nails but where are they going to go, Nader?
What is wrong with the left in Germany? The indispensible Davids Medienkritik points out an odious example of modern day anti-semitism in regional German public TV. In his commentary he notes that anti-semitism has largely ceased to be a right wing problem in Germany and is now found largely in leftist political circles.
The left has no less an obligation than the right to stamp out anti-semitism and should be punished with the exact same severity when it falls down on the job. I'm looking forward to hearing about how the TV channel in question (NDR) got its head handed to them for this idiocy.
Hamas Leader Not Anonymous After All?
I had earlier talked about Hamas' leadership practices taking a page from papal instances of naming anonymous leadership. Apparently, the secret might be out of the bag. The new Hamas leader's name seems to be Mahmoud A-Zahar. I'm sure he'll be just as missile proof as the previous holder of the title (ie not very). Israel, I'm sure, is keeping a close watch on such things and barring a Labor resurgence there seems to be no end in sight for the policy of targeting leadership in their war against Hamas.
A Problem With Microsoft
I'm taking a small break (after browser crash) from my opus fisking of Sandy Berger's Foreign Affairs piece on the foreign policy of the next Democrat President and going through my mail read an XPNews item about Service Pack 2.
Some users are reporting problems with Norton anti-virus after installing SP2 (specifically, that NAV 2004 will no longer update its virus definitions). Other third-party programs that have been reported to have problems with SP2 include StyleXP, AOL and WinFax. Updated versions of these programs have been or will most likely be patched to work with the service pack after its final release.
This is where the government's failure to prosecute Microsoft for its crimes really hits me. You see every single one of these programs and thousands like them are written by Microsoft customers (using their development kits which must be paid for) on the promise that there will be a certain level of interoperability provided and that certain things will stay stable between versions. Yet Microsoft has admitted in court (DR-DOS case for example) and in the press that it has purposefully changed its software products so that its competitors will lose business because their current versions of software will no longer work properly.
So for anybody, like me, who has something of a sense of computer history whenever I see a paragraph like the above, I end up going through the computer equivalent of kremlinology. Are these programs strategic competitors of Microsoft? Is MS doing this on purpose to set the stage for the introduction of a competing product? What should I tell my clients?
Now the highest probability is that it's all innocent but Microsoft has employed people who purposefully and illegally break compatibility and they have never been dealt with by the justice system. You just don't know and will never know until some prosecutor gets an appropriate budget to look into this mess.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XII
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XII is below:
The Democratic approach to resolving disputes with Europe over treaties should be pragmatic, focused on improving flawed agreements rather than ripping them up. International law is not self-enforcing. It does not, by itself, solve anything. But when our goals are embodied in binding agreements, we can gain international support in enforcing them when they are violated. By the same token, nothing undermines U.S. authority more than the perception that the United States considers itself too powerful to be bound by the norms we preach to others.
A useful corollary might be not to sign things that can't get past the Senate. Kyoto would still be under negotiation if it were not for Sandy Berger's old boss Bill Clinton signing away what he knew would have to be unsigned. Signing treaties that you know are unacceptable to the national interest is a good way to set up talking points in the next election but is highly deleterious to our nation's standing. It is a poor principle that no matter what is signed at the 11th hour, no agreement is too lopsided, unfair, or unworkable to deserve repudiation by the next government. Truly adopting such an idea would be a step backwards for our system of government as we went back to the old style of transitions where hostility reigned and damn the national interest.
April 26, 2004
Berger's Vision: The Fisking XI
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part XI is below:
A Democratic administration will need to reaffirm the United States' willingness to use military power -- alone if necessary -- in defense of its vital interests. But it will have no more urgent task than to restore America's global moral and political authority, so that when we decide to act we can persuade others to join us. Achieving this reversal will require forging a new strategic bargain with our closest allies, particularly in Europe. To this end, Washington should begin with a simple statement of policy: that the United States will act in concert with its allies in meeting global threats as a first, not last, resort. When we ask our allies to join us in military action, or in nation-building efforts in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, we should be ready to share not just the risks but also the decision-making. That is what we did when NATO went to war in Bosnia and Kosovo, and what the administration irresponsibly failed to do when NATO invoked its collective defense clause to offer aid to the United States in Afghanistan. The U.S. side of the bargain must also include a disciplined focus on our true global priorities, starting with the war on terrorism, undistracted by petty ideological disputes over issues such as Kyoto, the ICC, and the biological weapons convention.
I expect that the US will not have to repeat the methods and tactics that we used in Afghanistan and Iraq because these were an artifact of the shift from peace to war. The cross-border entanglements where major political players are compromised by dictators are going to come out, have started coming out. As the scandalous behavior of all too many becomes clear, what will also come clear is that such behavior, no matter how profitable in the short run, will be exposed and will destroy reputation and livelihood when it is uncovered. A virtuous circle is starting to form and will emerge over the next few years cleaning up the politics both at home and abroad and reducing the influence that such compromised figures have in our foreign policy decisions.
This requires no new strategic bargain, merely a recognition that they've cleaned up their act and are acting in their own interest and no longer as shills for dictators. When we are truly negotiating with our allies, we can give them all that Sandy Berger says we should. The disturbing thought is when we have allied governments bought and paid for by our enemies Berger would still have us share command, share all information, and give them heavy influence over our actions.
It's also instructive that Kyoto, a treaty embodying principles preemptively rejected 95-0 by the US Senate is included in a list of 'petty ideological disagreements'. If anything is passed 95-0 in the US Senate, you can be very sure that this issue is not a subject of mere petty ideological disagreement.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking X
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part X is below:
Going into Iraq, the Bush administration believed that most of our allies would get on board if we made it clear that the train would leave without them. It also believed that we did not need the legitimacy UN authorization and involvement would have bestowed. Those theories did not stand up to reality. Washington's failure to gain the support of capable allies (France, Germany, and Turkey, rather than, say, the Marshall Islands) vastly increased the human, financial, and strategic costs of the war and has threatened the success of the occupation.
This section assumes that there was some magical method of overcoming the fact that powerful actors in our "capable allies" were bought by Saddam. It is still not laughable that such a scenario could have existed yet, just as it was not laughable for some time to defend Hiss or claim that the USCP was not controlled by the Soviets. Eventually the damning truth came out as it will in this case. I don't think Sandy Berger will be very proud of this statement a decade from now.
The administration continued to squander U.S. influence with its allies even after the war. Much has been said about the Pentagon's rash decision to deny Iraqi reconstruction contracts to companies from NATO allies such as Canada, France, and Germany, just as the United States was asking them to forgive Iraqi debt. But few people noticed the administration's even more bizarre decision to suspend millions in military aid to countries that supported the war because they refused to grant Americans full immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the end, we treated "new Europe" as shabbily as we treated "old Europe."
News Flash, high Democrat policy wise man advocates US allow troops to go before kangaroo court. We don't belong to the ICC because we think that the ICC is not a proper tribunal and will be filled with abuses. Berger doesn't take the stupid but defensible position that we should join the ICC. Instead he is saying here that we should not act in any way to actually defend our position. He is trying to forge a linkage between support for Iraq and permitting the prosecution of our troops via a court that we feel would create unjust prosecutions. Defending our interests is treating our allies shabbily. Much better, in Berger's eyes, to treat our troops shabbily and not insist on treaties that complicate our allies' relationships with the French.
The UN, of course, was the focus of two major successful resolution campaigns and a major speech at the UN by President Bush. Since this doesn't fit the mold of a presidential administration determined to sideline the UN, history is ignored for a good story line. What ended up happening was that we were forced into a choice between action and inaction with sanctions coming apart at the seams and Saddam in the home stretch of his campaign to get out from under the post-Kuwait restrictive regime. At the last possible minute before we lost our good weather, we invaded. It was a close run thing.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking IX
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part IX is below:
A posture of strength and resolve and a willingness to define clear terms and to impose consequences are clearly the right approach for dealing with our adversaries. But where the Bush administration has gone badly wrong is in applying its "with us or against us" philosophy to friends as well as foes. Put simply, our natural allies are much more likely to be persuaded by the power of American arguments than by the argument of American power. Democratically elected leaders -- whether in Germany, the United Kingdom, Mexico, or South Korea -- must sustain popular support for joint endeavors with the United States. When we work to convince them that the United States is using its strength for the common good, we enable them to stand with us. But when we compel them to serve our ends, we make it politically necessary, even advantageous, for them to resist us. It would have been hard to imagine a decade ago that leaders of Germany and South Korea -- two nations that owe their existence to the sacrifice of American blood -- would win elections by appealing to anti-Americanism.
The problem here is that Berger is thinking too much in terms of black and white compared to the nuanced position of the Bush administration. No, I'm not kidding and yes, you read that correctly. The a large part of the exercise of Westphalia was in reducing nuance. The complexities of a particular country were reduced to a broad unit called the state. Everybody was homogenized and restricted from interacting with the component pieces of the state. You just took whatever where the outputs of that state and dealt with the ruling government to fix any problems you had with what ever came out. The internal workings were none of your business.
In the Westphalian revisionist efforts of the Bush and Blair governments, we're opening up those units called states and finding out that a large part of why entities such as Iraq were fundamentally unfixable were because some people had long been forging non-Westphalian alliances for private gain. People in the Functioning Core who are well connected politically are taking money from dictators in the Non-Integrating Gap in order to frustrate efforts at overthrowing the tyrants and moving these societies into the Core. This is becoming public in the slow motion catastrophe that is the oil-for-food scandal.
In such a situation where your allies are riddled with traitors who are in foreign pay and the obstructionism of a friend who doesn't yet see reason is indistinguishable from the obstructionism of a paid enemy agent there has to be a period of clarification where we sort the sheep from the goats.
Berger provides no recognition of this reality on the ground and his simplistic and naive position ignoring these important realities handicaps and will continue to handicap his ability to give useful advice.
How, exactly, would a future Democrat president address our current and future Cardinal Richelieu-like plotters who wield enormous influence with governments all across the Functioning Core? How are we supposed to react the next time governments in the Core are bought off by dictators in the Gap?
Berger's Vision: The Fisking VIII
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part VIII is below:
Likewise, we must reject the convenient fallacies that free markets inevitably give rise to free societies or that globalization by itself will lead to peace. Nations and leaders are not captive to abstract historical forces but act in accordance with their interests and ambitions. For the foreseeable future, the United States and its allies must be prepared to employ raw military and economic power to check the ambitions of those who threaten our interests.
There are two forms of competition challenging the US right now, competition and friction within the Functioning Core and the dangers that are emerging from the Non-Integrating Gap. The competition and the friction within the Functioning Core is at its lowest ebb in centuries. There are no civilizational conflicts on the horizon. There are no alternative great ideas that people will die in their millions for. We are in a period of consolidation and cleanup in the victory of free market capitalism over other economic systems and pluralism in the Core as a social system.
Berger is right that globalization, by itself, does not inevitably lead to peace but that is a half-truth. The kind of frictions that it does not help out with are intra-Core frictions, the very problems that we can put on the back burner because of their low threat level. The chance of Islamists coming in and imposing Sharia is much higher than the French coming in and forcing us to recite in school how "our fathers, the Gauls" created everything.
Where globalization and adopting the Core's rulesets does promote peace is in the friction and danger coming out of the Non-Integrating Gap. Since this is our primary security challenge of this era it's disturbing that Berger isn't talking about the elephant in the room.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking VII
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part VII is below:
And now, for a more hopeful section:
Bush administration hard-liners have not been bashful about defining and defending their vision. In an election year, Democrats must also be clear about what they believe and about what they would do to advance U.S. security, prosperity, and democratic ideals, to restore our influence, standing, and ability to lead. Democrats must outline a foreign policy that not only sets the right goals, but also rebuilds America's capacity to achieve them.
The only thing that I would add to this section besides a bravo, well done is that there is one other thing you can do with committed terrorists, you can attack their belief system. This is a crucial distinction and an important challenge for anybody seeking high political office in the US today. Getting the government to publicly challenge the Islamist's belief system is a very difficult thing to do because it runs smack into the first amendment's protection of religious expression and the religious peace treaty that marks the miracle of so many faiths sharing the same country peacefully where in other nations the same faiths fight and kill each other. It used to be that I'd idly wonder how we would handle a modern day thuggee, a religion that is a murder cult. Would we do better than the british who exterminated it or could we even do as well? We now have the chance to find out but Sandy Berger doesn't even address the issue in this otherwise admirable segment.
Do Your Job or Lose It
Saeb Ereket is wondering Why Did Bush Take My Job. The answer is right in front of him. The ultimate danger of a delay and war strategy where the weaker party tries to delay final settlement and take advantage of truces to strengthen its position via plausibly deniable attacks is that the stronger party will grow so tired of this that it will impose a solution unilaterally.
Palestinians misunderstood the risks and thought that they could go on forever with this war and negotiation strategy without anybody ever changing the game. When George Bush, in his NED speech criticized past US administrations' willingness to betray US principles and promised a new course the Palestinians did not understand that this applied to them as well. They have grown so used to their own exceptionalism that they thought that it could last forever. It could not. The exceptionalism of the strong cannot last forever. Eventually the strong weaken and are taken down. The exceptionalism of the weak is not even that durable. It is outside their own control. It's now being rescinded and Palestinians will be forced to grow up.
Hopefully the resulting civil war will be as brief and as bloodless as the jewish one was at the birth of their nation.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking VI
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part VI is below:
The real "clash of civilizations" is taking place within Washington. Considering the open differences between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it is even playing out within the Bush administration itself. It is not really a clash over discrete policy issues -- the merits of the war in Iraq, the costs of the Kyoto Protocol, or the level of spending on foreign aid, for example -- but between diametrically opposed conceptions of America's role in the world. It is a battle fought between liberal internationalists in both parties who believe that our strength is usually greatest when we work in concert with allies in defense of shared values and interests, versus those who seem to believe that the United States should go it alone -- or not go it at all.
This is simply misstating the situation at hand. Yes there are fights but they are fights of action versus inaction. Nobody has made a single speech, opinion piece, or policy paper advocating going it alone rather than with more allies as a preferential strategy. The question is whether the loss of any ally should cause us to stop our fight when we can bear the burden and achieve victory alone. Sure, going it alone is more risky and carries a greater burden in both blood and treasure. That is not the same as "go it alone -- or not go it at all."
Why would someone who has served at the highest level of government in our diplomatic service make such an obvious blunder? They wouldn't and that makes this partisan spin, not honest policy prescription. The real dividing line is who are the essential allies who may, by their real or threatened withdrawal, extract any concession in a coalition in order that the operation may go forward at all? If such allies exist, they should be named. Berger never does name them because to do so would expose the utter bankruptcy of the position. The greatest power in the world would be revealed as a horse and we would know the identities of the riders.
From a political viewpoint, it is much better to just saddle up and let our betters choose the rider of the day. Is that what serious Democrat foreign policy has come to in this century?
April 25, 2004
Berger's Vision: The Fisking V
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part V is below:
These ["U.S. power -- particularly military power -- is the only real force for advancing U.S. interests"] are not new ideas. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, a hard-line faction of congressional Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Robert Taft, fought virtually every measure to build the postwar international order. They opposed NATO and the permanent deployment of U.S. troops in Europe, believing we should rely on the unilateral exercise of military power to defeat Soviet designs. They fought the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and turned against the UN. And they disdained "one worlders" such as Eleanor Roosevelt for their support of international law. Taft Republicans were briefly dominant in the U.S. Congress (until the combined efforts of Democrats and internationalist Republicans such as Dwight Eisenhower relegated them to the sidelines). But their radical world-view never drove policy in the executive branch -- until today.
This section is so detached from reality that I'm having a hard time trying to figure out where to start. International Communism was an existential challenge but it was generally not a challenge to the Westphalian system though there were some tertiary aspects to Communism that did threaten the system in theory. You might recall that theoretically the state was eventually going to wither away.
The true state of things today isn't a mainstream choice between two forms of action to counter this threat but rather between real action and verbal posturing. The reality is that parts of our international system have either always been dysfunctional or have grown that way. Ronald Reagan tried to force reform by withdrawing from UNESCO. And his method worked, after 20 years...
So if the IAEA is ineffective in N. Korea and Iran, and it is missing proliferation cabals like the Libyan group effort recently abandoned should we withdraw and wait two decades for reform to happen in the UN? Or should we take the Bush approach and create a new institution, the Proliferation Security Initiative? The PSI may not have the fancy offices and institutional age and weight that the IAEA has but it does have one advantage, effectiveness.
The pattern of opting for effective action once permanent institutions prove ineffective is a continuing theme for the Bush administration. But what is the Berger alternative for effective action once a permanent part of the international system shows itself as ineffective or worse? There doesn't seem to be one other than to take the defeat gracefully and just live with it. Such a strategy is simply not acceptable wartime thinking.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking IV
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part IV is below:
As a result, although the United States has never enjoyed greater power than it does today, it has rarely possessed so little influence. We can compel, but far too often we cannot persuade. Our most important global initiatives, from advancing reform in the Middle East to defeating terrorism, will likely fail, unless there is a change in approach -- or a change in leadership.
So, we compelled Libya to give up its WMD programs (what a trick that was), it's just coincidental that Saudi Arabia is talking about elections for local positions for the first time, and democratic protests in Syria have nothing at all to do with demonstrated US resolve.
The foreign policy debate in this year's presidential election is as much about means as it is about ends. Most Democrats agree with President Bush that the fight against terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) must be top global priorities, that the war in Afghanistan was necessary and just, and that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed a threat that needed to be dealt with in one form or another. Over time, moreover, the Bush administration has, at least rhetorically, embraced the Democrats' argument that to win the war on terrorism the United States must do more than destroy something bad; it must also construct something good, supporting other peoples' aspirations to live in freedom and peace and to conquer poverty and disease.
Actually both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair understand that the entire international system is based on some bedrock assumptions about national sovereignty. The World Bank, the IMF, the UN, the entire edifice of international institutions all assume that the national sovereignty principles first enunciated in the Peace of Westphalia still hold true today.
The problem is that the Islamists think so too. They have built their battle plan around the idea that they can walk the fault lines of Westphalia, that they can have their cake (be stateless and free from western warfare) and eat it too (attack the West with impunity and cause long term capitulation through a series of ever worsening accommodations).
It is not that these Westphalian institutions were built to restrain the US. They were built to restrain everybody and herd them into only acting at the nation/state level. Such restraints will cause us to lose the War on Terrorism.
This is a key point in US and UK strategy. If you miss this, you have no hope of understanding either Bush or Blair or crafting an opposition alternative that might improve on the present policy in either ends or means.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking III
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part III is below:
Such negative feelings result in part from a natural resentment of U.S. military, economic, and cultural might, about which we can do little and for which we need not apologize. But they have been accentuated by the manner in which the Bush administration has pursued its goals. The administration's high-handed style and its gratuitous unilateralism have embittered even those most likely to embrace American values and invited opposition even from those with most to gain from American successes. All around the world, fewer and fewer people accept that any connection exists between their aspirations and the principles Washington preaches.
We are just starting to find out how many nations had prominent politicians bribed into supporting Saddam. In such an environment there was no realistic chance of either exposing the bribe takers or getting any sort of traditional coalition assembled against Saddam. Too many people were feeding on oil-for-food money, selling their souls for oil contracts.
The practicalities of such a situation are that you have to gather who you can so you can turn over the rock and expose the ugliness hidden underneath. Once that is done, you trace the threads back and find out who the corrupt were who went along with starving children to line their own pockets.
But Iraq is not unique. This nasty little scenario repeats in tyranny after tyranny. Our hands are not 100% clean either. There are forces in this country that have established interests in tyrannical, disconnected regimes and they shill for dictators to protect their financial interests.
The practical effect of not being high handed and unilateral is inaction, gridlock, and talk as a substitute for results. That might have been acceptable in the Clinton administration when we refused to recognize that the Islamists had declared war on the US but in wartime this is unacceptable.
Berger's Vision: The Fisking II
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part II is below:
Similar contradictions abound in other parts of the world. Washington is committed to defending South Korea if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, yet growing numbers of young South Koreans see the United States as a greater threat to security than North Korea.
I personally recall anti-american protests, even violent ones as far back as the Reagan administration. Youth groups protesting against US forces in Korea are not new and have been growing long before George W. Bush took office. Yet somehow the biggest protests when we move our troops out of Seoul is because we are moving them so far away from the DMZ not that we are staying in South Korea at all. The further away the Korean War sinks into the mists of time and away from living memory, the less Koreans, especially the young, will feel a sense of gratitude. This is a fact of human nature, not of any policy or personality in the US.
We have made our position clear. If S. Korea truly wants us gone, we'll pack our bags and leave. When confronted by the willingness to walk away, it's amazing how quickly anti-american posturing dries up. We are no longer spending our treasure to defend S. Korea from global Communism. We are there because we gave our word and because we are needed.
We are waging a war on terrorism that is as vital to Europe's security as to our own, yet increasing numbers of Europeans associate it with self-interested American power and therefore press their leaders to reject it.
Maybe all those Democrats talking about blood for oil and spinning fantasies about pipelines in Afghanistan might have had something to do with this perception? Again, anti-american developments are like Athena issuing from Zeus' skull, fully formed and armed without any inconvenient issues of who is midwifing these attitudes.
Staying the course and step by step creating a free Middle East will end these flights of fancy as Europeans tire of being laughed at for believing such fables as 9/11 was actually done by a cabal of US intelligence operatives. While the US may have misconceptions of the political scene in Europe, the ignorance is mutual as any reader of Davids Medienkritik could tell you.
Unfortunately, our State Department has been hamstrung with a dysfunctional organizational system for many years. Reform of that system should proceed as soon as Homeland Security and the DoD reorganizations are settled. Our public diplomacy needs voices that are clear and effective. We haven't had that for a very long time.
April 24, 2004
Berger's Vision: The Fisking I
This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part I is below:
Speaking before the National Endowment for Democracy last fall, President George W. Bush delivered an important statement of American purpose. He rightly argued that the United States has an interest in political freedom in Muslim countries, because the absence of freedom denies people peaceful avenues for expressing dissent and thus drives them toward shadowy, violent alternatives. He fairly criticized past administrations for having been too tolerant of authoritarian Arab regimes. And he committed the United States to the difficult but vital task of supporting more open and democratic societies in the Middle East.
The problem with what Berger is saying is that he is stripping the criticism of crucial context. When you have over half a century of actual history in the region of supporting authoritarian, brutal regimes and betraying your own founding principles, it is highly unrealistic to think that a speech is going to change much. In fact, only retrospectively will arabs come to look at the Bush's NED speech as the turning point where the US returned to advocating honestly and sticking to its principles. What are missing are US actions at the time of the speech, actions that have started to be shown in Iraq today. As the dates for transition are hit and promises are kept, arabs will start to see not only pretty words but actions.
All the arab criticism that I saw from arab liberals and democrats was very much in the Missouri "show me" tradition. This is not unreasonable when the US is working to reverse multi-decade trends in its own actions. It's unreasonable to think that Berger doesn't know this very well.
I had this forwarded to me in email. I thought it was hilarious. I was born in the SW quadrant of the new Bulibasaland, myself:
I think that Steven Bainbridge has it wrong when he questions the willingness of Catholic bishops to lay down the law and establish that they are serious about the admission requirements for holy communion. The rule is simple, if you're reconciled to the church and free from serious sin at the moment of communion it's ok, otherwise, you do your soul grave injury by fraudulently taking communion.
A commission on the subject will likely not rule before the election, and rightly so. This is not about politics but the souls of the various Catholic politicians who are taking a position that, according to Catholic theology, is tantamount to endorsing murder and facilitating millions of murders a year. No matter the ultimate rightness or wrongness of abortion, partaking of the sacraments is voluntary and most people are assumed to be right with God when they go to receive them. Where priests know that this is not the case they have a duty to prevent further injury by refusing to participate in a mockery of the faith.
I suspect that the list of courageous Bishops will be near complete, in the end.
The Inhuman Left
Earlier when I made a bunch of noise about people putting down those killed in Fallujah, I was only touching the surface of a deep pathology, the left's contempt for, and habit of dehumanizing, those it disagrees with politically. Indymedia doesn't pussyfoot around in it's story Dumb Jock Killed in Afghanistan. The underlying article is straight from the Washington Post but the comments from leftists are long and mostly vile. The name calling is fast and furious, many in the form of headline replacements:
There are some decent people fighting back and looking to shame these people into some common courtesy but it seems a lost cause. I wonder when Kos will get around to condemning the 'dumb jock' story. Or will he applaud them for their creativity?
HT: Right Wing News
A Saudi Civil War?
Are we seeing the start of the second Saudi civil war? The Religious Policeman thinks we are and condemns those who had the duty to speak out against the terrorists long ago but did not. I'm quite sure that there are an awful lot of Saudi's coming to the same conclusion.
So where does that put us? Where do we stand as Americans for this new found outrage and realization of Saudi error? I think that if we're as dumb as the EU thinks we are we won't take advantage of this grand opportunity. We'll get in our "I told you so" and feel sanctimonious and smug and we will not capture the Saudi people's hearts to fight on our side.
The truth is that we need to put aside the memory of 19 terrorists and worry about the next 19. Those 19 will, with Saudi aid, be converted away from their beliefs to a more pacific form of Islam. But we have to do more than cluck our tongues and grimly think "now see how you like it". If we're not going to end up in a genocidal conflict we're going to have to help muslims come to some sort of conclusion that excludes the nihilistic death cultists from among their ranks. We can't do it for them. But we can support them and watch their backs and flanks.
There's an opening here. We need to take it.
April 23, 2004
Pharma Price Controls Going?
Contrary to Chip Taylor I don't view the coming bill to allow imports from Canada to be the beginning of price controls in the US. I think it's the beginning of the end of price controls in Canada. The name brand medicines are really what this is all about. The drug companies haven't wanted to test NAFTA and have given in to the idea of lowering prices for Canada in order not to provoke the government there from invalidating their patents. But if it's the case of completely giving up their largest market and destroying their business versus trying their luck in court I predict that the majors will withdraw from the Canadian market unless Canada normalizes prices to resemble US levels.
This will somewhat lower US prices but the larger effect will likely be higher Canadian prices.
Expanding the Army Responsibly
From Strategy Page:
This is part of a long list of Iraq myths. But one of the things that could be done would be to add skeleton units for W. Europe and other spots that are not likely to see combat, staff them with people that you're now refusing to let reenlist, fill them out with new soldiers and deploy the freed up units to hotter spots. Let's face it, there's still a bunch of places that the US military has forces that aren't likely to see combat anytime soon. Letting the soldiers who man those posts be understaffed skeleton crews you pull from the pool of people who normally wouldn't be permitted to reenlist. Add your new, less well trained recruits there, two track the army so that more of the well-trained soldiers are on the pointy end of the spear and the support functions that absolutely demand soldiers are more recent entrants and marginal performers. After you've bulked up, you can back fill your training and bring the new units up to snuff.
You can't be firing already trained soldiers and simultaneously complain that you can't train new soldiers fast enough to do any good.
Anti-Catholic Bigotry Alert
There's not much to say about Matthew Yglesias' recent posting on Negroponte beyond this quotation "As we all know, the Pope hates fags."
No, we don't actually.
This is about as funny as a blackface minstrel show and about as illuminating. I don't know what was going on in his mind when he wrote it but he hasn't yet come out with a clarification that he was just kidding about the Pope.
PRC Gives In On 802.11
The PRC has rescinded its decree that any wireless access point provide a nation specific encryption scheme burned in silicon. This is a great day for both technology standards and for the PRC's status in the world community. International businessmen will no longer have to worry about being able to use their wireless gear in the PRC, increasing the cost of doing business there and local vendors will not have to pay more to get the same functionality because smaller unit runs would have driven up prices.
SD Gannett Loses Its Mind
It's getting nasty out in South Dakota as blogging criticism of the major Gannett paper in the state and its star political reporter has led to intemperate criticism of his indirect competitors. The paper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, is being criticized because it is shilling for Tom Daschle, using a reporter who has been giving confidential advice to Democrat candidates for years while supposedly objectively covering them. And all this done without any disclosure. Since it apparently is the largest paper in the state, a great many of their stories are picked up by smaller, hometown newspapers all over the state and it's the go to news source for the national press when they want to cover South Dakota politics.
The accusation that there is a "violent" group of bloggers acting as a "cabal" to get his paper and his political reporter has got to mark the biggest domestic leap into looney land for 2004.
It looks like South Dakota could use a new paper of record.
April 22, 2004
Fallujah's Water War?
One of the dogs that hasn't barked in Iraq is the fact that Saddam Hussein diverted an awful lot of water away from the Shiites down south, the so-called marsh arabs. All that diverted water, over a decade, creates a political constituency and anybody who has ever paid attention to water politics anywhere knows that water disputes can turn violent and often do. So who got all that formerly Shiite water and who is deprived of that water now that the marshes are reflooding? It's a zero sum game. For the marsh arabs to have their water restored means that industry, agriculture, and upstream populations must be deprived.
A small clue to what might be happening for arrives courtesy of Defense Link:
So if you map the diversion of water under Saddam for political reasons, the growth in those areas where such water was diverted, and who's losing water now that there's new management, how much of a correlation is there to centers of resistance to the occupation? How much is this all a water war?
HT: Belmont Club
Apple is Going Corporate II
Thanks to the Peeve Farm for linking to my previous Apple gushing but Brian Tiemann doesn't quite get it right when he says "[t]hat's the enterprise market pretty well covered, if you ask me—Apple seems to be going after the big-iron crowd with a vengeance".
First of all, the 'big-iron' crowd turns its nose up at 20 year old Unix implementations as still being a bit green. Things like CICS, VMS, IMS and the rest of the mainframe alphabet soup that handles a remarkable part of the world of corporate IT is not going to be swapping over to Objective-C and the drinking the rest of the Apple koolaid anytime soon.
But there's lots of room for Apple to come up with new solutions for the enterprise. Here's a few things they're missing (and this is by no means an exhaustive list):
Blade Servers (for when 1U is not dense enough)
In other words, Apple's still in humble phase, and rightfully so. It's got a long way to go before its business strategy fully unfolds. It's just that with the release of Apple's SAN solution, Xsan, negative minded Apple watchers can no longer even pretend that they're just trying to pick off limited vertical markets like video or genetics companies. There's a lot of growth potential left for new hardware and software solutions before Apple's enterprise market strategy has reached the mature phase of limited growth.
Andrew Sullivan's getting hysterical about a proposed law in Michigan. Contrary to Sullivan's assertion, and the overwrought article that he relies on for evidence, nobody is going to put up a sign saying "we don't treat gays". In fact, the bill prohibits any conscientious objections from ever being known by patients [11(1)c of the bill].
The way it would really work is that if a nurse objects to providing birth control advice, she doesn't get assigned to patients who want that service. There is also an exception for emergency treatment where everybody is required to pitch in to save lives. And whatever Michigan requires as a normal standard of care is not changed at all by this bill so if you're a solo practitioner, you're kind of out of luck on conscientious objections. With nobody else to hand care off to, you have to provide it anyway to maintain the proper standard of care as defined by the state. Furthermore, you can't discriminate against people with a particular condition like AIDS. That sort of discrimination is specifically prohibited.
Unlike Andrew Sullivan, I looked up the text of the bill and provided a link to it. It's not that long and is written pretty clearly. Homosexuals, prostitutes, drunks, and adulterers would continue to get medical care. It's just that those who have moral objections are much less likely to be fired for expressing them with the passage of this legislation. That doesn't seem to me to be a bad thing at all.
Assassination is Wrong
This morning, I read through Andrew Sullivan and found this item about a Republican in New Mexico who joked that censure was the only measure open to them to disapprove of a clerk who issued same sex marriage license "[o]ther than assassination".
If he was quoted correctly, he at best was having a very bad case of foot in mouth disease and, more likely, he's a horse's ass who should be put out to pasture as soon as possible. Grimace, grumble, I thought about posting on it but figured, eh, he's not worth the effort for a bad joke.
I now go and find Andrew Sullivan has a new item (about which I'll be writing another item myself right after this one) where he complains that nobody is condemning this moron. Well, consider him condemned for his poor word choice and unamerican association of violence with politics.
I can't imagine anybody decent who'd support the NM committee chairman on this in either major party.
Progress on N. Korean Nukes?
It's just a single press report but supposedly we've laid down the law to the PRC, stating that the level of restraint that the PRC imposes on N. Korea's nuclear program will be reciprocated in our level of restraint regarding potential nuclear programs in Taiwan and Japan.
The PRC cannot afford a nuclear armed Taiwan. It would destroy the illusion that they have occupied the army with for so long, that there was a possibility of a military operation to make Tawian part of the PRC. For the PLA to continue on the same tack with a nuclear armed Taiwan would require massive increases in civil defense and military spending on anti-missile systems, sums that Beijing just doesn't have. Such a nuclear escalation would also impact foreign investment in the PRC in a very negative way.
Hopefully the threat, if it was made at all, will be taken seriously.
Wars Against Individuals
Thomas Barnett has an item on our tendency to run wars against individuals instead of states. While I wouldn't put down Korea and Vietnam as wars against individuals, I believe he makes a compelling case that post-Westphalian tendencies were creeping into US foreign policy long before the current president took the bold step of declaring literal war against a non-state entity.
In other news, you can no longer preorder The Pentagon's New Map as it's now shipping (order now!).
(To my own shame, I don't qualify for a Barnett cookie, which he offered for anybody who knew the last declared war of the US. I didn't know that the US' last one was against Romania in 1943)
The Road to GWOT Success Does Not Go Through Oswald Mosley
This is the kind of comment that I've been worried about since late 2001. It's a sign of fascist backlash and very dangerous in its own right. Fascism, if it ever revives will be as a consequence of the failure of liberal (in the broad, 19th century sense) policies to defeat terrorism and muslim cultural aggression. The cure will hardly be better than the disease and once again the free world will be plagued with dueling pathologies fighting over who shall consume freedom's corpse.
It doesn't have to be this way. In fact, a careful reading of history shows that we are in plenty of time to nip this in the bud before it gets past an intemperate web posting or two. But we should not be blind to the likely consequence of our failure as pro-liberty fighters against the Islamists. Being pushed back will lead to an impatient public tiring of our nuanced and respectful war. A Weimar scale collapse is not inevitable, but it is remotely possible.
We should be on guard.
The Fundamental Unseriousness of Democrats
Donald Sensing's excellent demolition of the draft is a must read but it makes me think, why now? Charlie Rangel has been advocating this for years but I don't think his advocacy ever prompted such an excellent response. Then, it hit me, the detailed response was unnecessary because Charlie Rangel is fundamentally recognized as an unserious person a priori while Chuck Hegel is not and his similar proposal must be treated more seriously. This is little reflection on the race of the two proposers and much more on their party affiliation.
The Democrats still have their Vietnam induced affliction as being unserious about national defense. This is not universally true, Thomas Barnett is a Democrat and probably the best national security grand strategist of our time, but it shocked me to find out his party affiliation. Activists inside the Democrat party do work hard to make it so, driving out "Scoop Jackson Democrats" and turning them into the dreaded neoconservatives that they continue to vilify and attack. When they were Democrats, they didn't receive much better treatment.
This is a fundamental problem, not only for Democrats, but for all patriotic US citizens. We need two healthy parties when it comes to national defense and security. We don't have them today. The left has an obligation to fix that.
The Fundamental Unseriousness of Democrats
Donald Sensing's excellent demolition of the draft is a must read but it makes me think, why now? Charlie Rangel has been advocating this for years but I don't think his advocacy ever prompted such an excellent response. Then, it hit me, the detailed response was unnecessary because Charlie Rangel is fundamentally recognized as an unserious person a priori while Chuck Hegel is not and his similar proposal must be treated more seriously. This is little reflection on the race of the two proposers and much more on their party affiliation.
The Democrats still have their Vietnam induced affliction as being unserious about national defense. This is not universally true, Thomas Barnett is a Democrat and probably the best national security grand strategist of our time, but it shocked me to find out his party affiliation. Activists inside the Democrat party do work hard to make it so, driving out "Scoop Jackson Democrats" and turning them into the dreaded neoconservatives that they continue to vilify and attack. When they were Democrats, they didn't receive much better treatment.
This is a fundamental problem, not only for Democrats, but for all patriotic US citizens. We need two healthy parties when it comes to national defense and security. We don't have them today. The left has an obligation to fix that.
April 21, 2004
Blog Tank II
Glenn Reynolds talks about people using technology to become the media with the NRA as a clear example. This may hold true for large groups but this does leave the small fry out in the cold, doesn't it? Navigating the maze of accreditation to go cover an event, for example, will be easy for the NRA. They have the budget to hire somebody to handle that for all their correspondents. But one man press shops are not similarly blessed with rich budgets.
This is one of the sorts of services that I would see a blogging think tank handle. Getting people on distribution lists for review copies of books in their field, getting them accredited if they want to do a bit of journalism with their opinion pieces, the infrastructure that goes on, sight unseen, in traditional media shops will always keep the traditional media one up on the blogging world until there is an infrastructure shop for the serious blogger to get those services.
Blog Tank is my idea for such a shop. The donation button is to the left in the sidebar. Please give generously.
Cargo Cult Science: Bjorn Lomberg
Bjorn Lomberg, the much maligned author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, apparently is being compared to Hitler by Rajendra Pachauri the head of the UN's IPCC. For any who have forgotten, the IPCC is the UN's premier body for dealing with climate change. Instead of fighting Lomberg's observations with scientific evidence the riposte from the IPCC attacks the person and uses the reputation of the post occupied by the attacker to increase the credibility of the charge. While the reaction so far seems to be about the moral issues of unfairly tarring somebody with a Hitler label I'd take a different tack. This is engaging in cargo cult science.
Scientists have an obligation to actually use the scientific method in scientific disputes. By not actually addressing the charges but just hurling invective you not only are not doing science but you are misleading the less informed as to what science is. Scientists need to be especially on guard against this because it is such an easy bad habit to fall into. Call your opponent an idiot, discredit him in the eyes of all so nobody listens, who cares if the point he's trying to make isn't actually disproven, you've accomplished your political goal and destroyed any threat that your scientific position will be successfully dethroned from that quarter.
But you really don't have a scientific position at that point. What you have is a religious statement of faith dressed in the robes of science. How do scientists tolerate this corruption in their midst?
HT: Andrew Sullivan
Snarky Patent Issue of the Day
Form Clayton Cramer comes the news that East Germany's national symbol is patented. According to FRG law, you now have to pay a businessman to use the symbol on any products. It's unclear whether textbooks and encyclopedias owe royalties as well.
I'm guessing South Vietnam is available as is Katanga for similar symbol mining. Somehow I find it very difficult to believe this is a legitimate patent but who's going to protest?
More Contractor Deaths
This time working for the UN. I await the dismissive, derisive comments about their status and how we should not mourn them because they were just in it for a buck. But no, there aren't likely to be any such posts because they would reflect badly on the United Nations.
The US Congress controls the amount of US troops. Member nations control the amount of troops that the UN can use. Both the US executive and the UN fill out their actual needed rosters with contractors where they need to but one is somehow morally more objectionable than the other.
Can we keep partisan politics outside the cemetary?
Apple is Going Corporate
Apple's recent product entries have pretty much let the cat out of the bag for even the most unobservant that Apple does, in fact, have a business strategy. It's one that they've been executing quite well for some time now. They're trying to get into the server room and the network infrastructure business. Why else would they revise their WiFi base station so you can legally put it in the space above a drop ceiling while not having to plug it into a wall socket for power? They're also releasing software and hardware that undercuts traditional application price points by huge margins in certain vertical markets. Avid is losing huge amounts of business to Final Cut Pro for example.
And now Apple's server hardware line, already impressive with its 1U rackmounted Xserve and Xraid disk array solutions are complemented by the new Xsan Storage Area Network software that Apple just announced.
It looks like the Safari experience was not a fluke. Safari, Apple's browser, uses KHTML, a well respected HTML rendering library published by the KDE group intended as part of their Konqueror browser. The various available browser engines were tested and KHTML came out as best.
Xsan is 100% compatible with (and probably borrows the guts from) ADIC's StorNext File System. This means that anybody who is comfortable with the ADIC solution has to seriously consider Apple's hardware. Because Apple's RAID solution is much cheaper than its competitors, it's reasonable that its going to start cranking out a good deal of demonstration units to test Xsan this winter and start making serious sales come 2005. There are no additional licensing costs beyond the $999 software cost per controller server. And the price savings are sufficiently eye opening that nobody can afford to ignore this entry into the field. Apple's total solutions cost for a SAN is around $30k while similar capacity and performance systems run $150k-$200k. That's aggressive pricing by anybody's standards.
April 20, 2004
Idiotic Draft Ideas
Count Chuck Hegel among the idiots who wish to reinstate a draft absent any sort of manpower shortage in the US armed forces. Senator Hegel should know full well that the manpower strength of the volunteer force is capped by law. If he wants more troops, he should introduce a bill raising the caps and finding funds to pay for them. Instead, he wants conscription reinstated absent even one reporting period of recruiters failing to make their numbers. The truth is that the armed forces, absent a couple of specialties where they are getting outbid by private industry, is turning people away and refusing to accept people who want to reenlist to do so.
This simply makes no sense whatsoever. Chuck Hegel should be ashamed of himself. The draft is the closest thing we've got to indentured servitude. In the case of national emergency where we have military manpower needs that cannot be met by a volunteer army, sure, it beats having our society fall to tyrants or barbarians. But we're not there, not by a long shot.
Yadda, Yadda, What?
Sometimes a column just writes itself. Other times a column reads itself. Sometimes I can skim awfully fast over a column and get what the author is saying because there isn't an original thought in the whole thing. I've read it all before. I maybe read 2 words in 10. Thomas Friedman's current effort is not one of those columns but it contains two of the boring variety in an ingenious device.
He spends a couple of paragraphs describing the theme of two utterly conventional pieces of analysis, complete columns that you could write yourself given the short descriptions he provides. I've read dozens like them.
Then he gets to his actual theme and the meat of the column, which is admitting that the status quo was at least as big a mess as this new situation and with far less hope for the future as it was a deadlocked dance to the death. Now that is interesting because Friedman speaks for the thinking liberals. If he's giving even grudging praise to such a bold move by the President, there's a shot at building a consensus around this new policy.
Friedman lays down three reasonable markers of what he wants for the future. Success in uniting enough of Likud to pull off the pullout (this will happen as Netanyahu is onboard and no successful Likud revolt will happen with Sharon united with Netanyahu), Bush administration followup in making sure the plan is implemented without stalling (I am not so sure this is such a big deal because it's a unilateral plan and you don't have excuses to stall on a unilateral plan) and finally that the Palestinians need to get their act together and actually govern this new mini-state in Gaza. This, unfortunately, is a real roadblock. Will the men with guns permit functional civilian leadership to emerge and rule?
The Return of John Doe #2?
One of the important things about the justice system in a rule of law state is not only was justice served (did we get the right bad guy) but was everything done properly and according to the rules. Now new evidence is reopening ugly wounds. Did the Clinton Administration screw up the OKC bombing prosecution? It's pretty clear that justice was served, that they got the right guy. But did they neaten things up too much in order not to confuse the jury? Are there other conspirators out there who, essentially have gotten away with it?
There is a cottage industry of tinfoil hat types that thrives on this sort of ambiguity. They always cast doubt that the official story is the real story and sow suspicion and distrust of the government. It's starting to look like they've got a live one this time.
Man in the Middle
Donald Sensing's useful primer on coded speech is marred by one small fact. The Western Union example is readily replicable with email. In fact, it's probably very easy to do.
E-mail is what is known as 'store and forward' technology and is usually sent in plain text. What the FBI did to the Western Union telegram, substituting deceased for dead in the original, is called a man-in-the-middle attack and is a well known method of assaulting a communication. If you suspect coded speech is being used, creating a program that takes messages and changes a few words here and there using a thesaurus and synonyms would not be too difficult a technical task. And the nature of e-mail over the Internet is that it's not instantaneous or even timed transmission. A delay of a few seconds wouldn't be noticed.
No, Rev. Sensing isn't right when he says such attacks are mostly historical and that we wouldn't have much opportunity to replicate them in today's counter-intelligence environment. In fact, there's probably more opportunity today than any other time in history for the man-in-the-middle to make a muddle of codes and one time pads.
There's a delightful post over at Cafe Hayek regarding Keynes' oft repeated barb "in the long run, we're all dead." I hadn't thought it through much but he's absolutely right that environmental policy, deficit reduction, and pensions in general are all instances where nobody seriously thinks this is a good idea. But it's not just these three that are out there, education is a long-term benefit with short-term costs (opportunity costs, tuition costs). In fact pretty much all basic sciences research can also be dismissed. Transistors, the Internet, who needs those? Remember it was 1957 when the Internet was conceived but the public at large didn't really see much benefit until the 90s.
No, no, no, this won't do at all. Either Keynes' utterance should be tossed over the side or you should disconnect your modem and back away from your computer. It's the only consistent thing to do.
The Arab Way of War
I've got to get a better browse system. In my daily reading I came across a link to this excellent article but lost where I got the link from. Darn.
In any case, the article in the Naval Institute Proceedings takes a run at examining how the arabs fight and runs smack dab into the reality that they are walking the fault lines of Westphalian national sovereignty. It goes into a great deal more detail regarding what they are doing to us and how we might respond. The only handicap is that there seems to be no understanding that the politicians, at least in the US and UK, have decided that chucking Westphalia over the side is an integral part of the response. No doubt such a decision is way past the good captain's pay grade and even for Australian politicians is something that they could not do on their own, lacking the population, heft, and tradition of doing such Great Power acts.
Within its limits, though, it's a good article and a great illustration of some of the frustrations inherent in our new form of warfare. The arabs are not as mad, or as dumb, as many think. They will eventually lose but it's not the slam dunk some think it is.
Update: Thanks, Brett Taylor for noting it came from the Belmont Club. You're better than Google.
An article in WinXPNews got me thinking. Boxed software retailers generally do not take back opened software. It makes piracy too easy. On the other hand, EULAs often are unreadable until the software is opened as they solely exist as electronic documents. If you do not agree with the terms, the sole remedy is to return for a refund, not from the manufacturer, but from the retailer you bought it from.
Software manufacturers have the right to control the behavior of their distribution chains. They contract with companies and impose various conditions on their sellers. The fact that they permit their resellers to eviscerate the right of return makes the whole prospect suspect. When you throw in anti-trust law, things get even worse because a monopoly both has greater influence with its resellers and has greater obligations under the law. Microsoft would seem to have the most issues here but IBM might too since it has an old monopoly suit in its past as well.
Anti-trust, ultimately, is bunk, but only so long as we have prosecutors who are willing to actually prosecute the more prosaic forms of theft that monopolies can get away with so easily. This willingness to prosecute has not proven to be the case in reality so we're stuck with anti-trust law for now.
April 19, 2004
I've been thinking about the idea of a blogging think tank for some time. Essentially, a think tank would provide a measure of respectability to the blog format as well as provide resources to bloggers such as group subscriptions to various information services and, hopefully in future, a reasonable employment avenue for the best of the best.
Getting things off the ground will be the hardest part. Once a foundation is formed, it's easy to see the benefits of participation and the more bloggers that participate, the more revenue will come in. So I'm starting a tip jar and Amazon book link revenue is also going to the foundation. I'm currently going on the idea of creating a Donor's Trust account with their minimum donation amount of $10,000. So give early, give often, and give big.
This concludes the begging portion of the daily program.
Battlefield 'Net VI
The US, via DARPA is moving towards cognitive radios. These are software defined radios that are loaded with local rules and search for open chunks of spectrum to use for their transmissions. This permits a much higher use of spectrum without providing interference. DARPA has decided to release the specifications of these radios as an open standard, hoping civilian equipment manufacturers will widely adopt the technology and make military interference in local RF networks a thing of the past as both military and civilian equipment adjusts to stay out of each other's way.
This also has implications on bandwidth licensing. The current FCC structure, for instance, assumes dumb end devices that require rigid spectrum allocation according to very old formulas. With cognitive radios and like minded equipment like cell phones and TVs, such rigid rules can be relaxed in future (if we can get the bureaucracy to loosen its death grip on power).
Talk to the Human Shields
I've seen lots of reports of this sort of thing happening. What I've never seen is anybody going out and trying to find these children afterward and interviewing them. Why aren't journalists getting the story out of this happening and putting a human face on these modern day human shields. What do the children's parents think? What is the legal situation of combatants doing this? What are the religious scholars saying about it. Really, this is a huge story begging to be covered in depth and at all angles.
It's certainly not a good news story where you can be accused of happy talk, nothing to make people happy about Iraq here. And I'm very sure that Al Jazeera and co. are not covering this at all. What's the rationale for our media not filing gripping human interest stories about these children? There's no physical danger in reporting such a story. It's all after the fact interviews. You don't have to use their real names. I'm sure you won't find any security concerns blocking reporting and the military press officers will trip over themselves to help you out. Finally, you'll steal a march on the arab media and their claims of massive casualties among children.
The only answers that I can come up with are simply not very complimentary about our news gathering professionals. I'd like to think there are other reasons. Anybody care to supply some?
Via Innocents Abroad comes a disturbing notion from north of the border, conservative opposition to liberal policies is not just mistaken, it's anti-canadian. This news, available via Canada's National Post shows a disturbing lack of understanding of what democratic republics are all about. The loyal opposition is only loyal as long as it agrees to stay outside the halls of power, in opposition. If they make a serious run at replacing the powers that be, they represent "anti-canadian" ideas and values.
The question begs to be asked (and I'm sure the Martin Liberals will develop the theme of conservatives being anti-canadian as they go on) what are anti-canadians doing being allowed to vie for power in Canada? This is delegitimization of dissent far beyond anything seen in the US outside of an Ann Coulter book. It's a betrayal of the premise of a free society that all the major poles of thought in the country are presumed loyal and that policy differences are just that, policy differences, and do not require some loyalty oath to the various government programs upheld by one particular political strain.
April 18, 2004
Hamas Taking Tips From the Papacy
Apparently, the new Hamas leader has been picked but his name is a secret. The only other organization that I've heard of doing this is the papacy who will sometimes name a cardinal "in pectoris" or close to the chest to put off persecution and martyrdom in a particularly tough territory. Current "in pectoris" appointments include cardinals in the PRC, as an example. This does set up Hamas for some trouble though. What happened to their ideological taunts that they love death and martyrdom? Isn't the adoption of this Catholic practice a hypocritical nod to the culture of life? I'm sure Shin Bet is savoring the psy-ops possibilities of this as we speak.
Welcome to our Post-Westphalian World
With the death of Abdel Aziz Rantisi the hazards and pitfalls of the post-Westphalian world start to show up. As a terrorist criminal, Rantisi should have been arrested, tried, convicted, and punished judicially. His extra-judicial killing should be condemned. As the leader of Hamas, a group with whom Israel is at war, Rantisi is a legitimate target for a missile at any time, any place. If he surrounds himself with civilians, their deaths are his fault, not the Israelis'.
Israel is somewhat at fault for not declaring the war it is conducting against Hamas but this is a relatively minor point. The fact that Israel is at war with Hamas is the elephant in the room. Everybody knows it, if nobody wants to talk about it. The US, in conditionally supporting the action is remaining true to its implicit post-Westphalian commitment while the UK, in condemning the killing, is behaving hypocritically, stepping back from Tony Blair's explicit announcement that Westphalian notions are no longer UK policy and that we're in a post-Westphalian world.
Arguing about Westphalia is fraught with danger to all manner of international institutions so nobody wants to open the Pandora's box. An essential part of the challenge of Al Queda and other trans-national terrorist groups is that they are fundamentally counting on our political elite's cowardice in this matter. They position themselves so that to strike at them effectively, we must dismantle the Westphalian construct of national sovereignty.
In the end, we can give up our freedom or we can give up Westphalian sensibilities. The choice is up to us.
April 17, 2004
Evolution as Cargo Cult
Over at Matthew Yglesias' blog I've been commenting on my beef with evolution. I worry about the state of science because I find people using evolution as something as a cargo cult in their war on religion. They don't want to actually go through the hard work of proving their theories scientifically so they use rhetoric, disdain, and propaganda as substitutes. This upsets me because it is a very high form of hypocrisy and ultimately damaging to science. The truth is that evolution is probably right but before we cast out people to the outer darkness for questioning the new holy writ, we really ought to go through the tedious procedure of proving the darn thing is true.
I think that, ultimately, the ID folks are tilting at windmills but if they get people to pay attention and actually do the work of proving evolution up and down the scale from biochemical processes to gross structures and entire species, they've done as much of a service to science as the anti-federalists did to the creation of the US Constitution.
Underwear Tax Silliness
I guess Glenn Reynold's has a quota because he's raising the issue of Clinton's used underwear tax writeoffs for a piece. You know you're scraping the bottom of the barrel when you hit that old bit of Clinton sleaze. A note to professor Reynolds: The problem with the Clinton donations were that they were itemized and ridiculously high. $3 for a used piece of underwear? That was the problem, not the actual donation itself. Poor people need underwear too.
The Kerry donation was a lump sum, one line donation, well within the normal paramaters of what a household could expect to toss in a year. Heck, you could reasonably get $87 for just one used suit if the original price was several hundred dollars. There are lots of character issues, lots of policy issues that Kerry is weak on. Donating $87 to Goodwill is not one of them.
April 16, 2004
Letter to the Paper XVII
I found the monograph unpersuasive to say the least. The author's email was more easily found than the journalists so I sent my fisking direct to him. I include it below:
Three Corner Wars and the French
Steven Den Beste is currently ending his rant against Bruce Rolston with the following question "Are we not permitted to consider other French actions, and Australian actions, before concluding that the Australians are steadfast friends and the French are enemies in all but name?"
I think SDB is losing the threads of his own argument here. He and I (and I'm guessing Bruce too) agree that we're in a three corner war. Three corner wars are pretty ugly affairs and often will have shifting alliances. This is not perfidy, merely rational behavior, trying not to end up on a losing side. The best strategy that I can imagine in such a conflict for the stronger party (which I believe is the US side) is to create an alliance with the lesser opponent against the greater one and then win it all in the end.
For both the Islamists and the empiricist US, the EU is the lesser opponent. The EU's logical position is to play both sides against each other for their own maximum benefit so that each side, exhausted, becomes weaker than the EU. This behavior does not make them perfidious, or an enemy (whether full out or in all but name).
A very bad move would be to push the French further into the Islamist corner. They won't go too far, but they can certainly go around to the back door and negotiate a separate peace with Bin Laden. We're all little fish on the grand scale of international influence but SDB is a bit bigger than the usual blogger. He should have chosen his words better.
The truth is that the United States of America holds a plurality of military, economic, and geopolitical power in the world. The natural reaction of everybody else has always been to form a grand alliance to reestablish the balance in the Great Power game. The US, if it is to avoid that historically common fate, has to avoid giving unnecessary offense.
The French have been our allies. They can be our allies once again. What they are now is confusing to us and they should clarify where they stand. If we leave a door open for them, we improve our own position. We should follow our national interest in this, not an emotionally satisfying but counterproductive labeling exercise.
Stuck in the Middle
From the fact that I comment on Steven Den Beste frequently, (though not as a cheerleader) regular readers would rightly gather that I highly respect him and his output. He has a justified reputation in and out of the blogosphere. The fact that I'm posting on a forum under Bruce Rolston's control when I certainly have the technical skill and resources to do otherwise speaks to my respect for him (born out of his OIF coverage). This leaves me in a bit of a pickle with these two crashing against each other.
I think SDB has defended himself well and given a rational reason for differentiating between Australia and France in the two instances of not dropping bombs. Unless SDB's not relating the true facts of the two situations, they are different and there's no fault in treating different behaviors differently.
On the other hand, there's the larger issue of Bruce's neologism jingopundit. In his first post using the term, I believe that he made things pretty clear that this is an attempt at political hygiene. That is to say, that the jingopundits do harm by getting essential details wrong no matter how right they may be on the larger questions like whether it was a good idea to go after Saddam.
I happen to think very highly of the idea of policing our own side. It is essential for us to survive as a free nation to refuse to get as sloppy as our opponents have been in characterizing issues. As the conventional political poles morph and change in odd and unexpected ways it is even more important that we not only get the big questions right but as many of the details as possible.
I do wish Bruce would take a bit of time out to rigorously define this neologism. Who is a jingopundit and what gets you on or off the list?
It's Not Hopeless
Matthew Yglesias asks whether "it's hopeless". By this he means the war on terror and the remaking of the muslim world as tolerant, free nations that are at peace with modernity. He starts off by setting up the straw man of treason, that supporters of George W. Bush call any opposition to Bush administration policies treason and defeatism (being "with the terrorists"). I call this a straw man because you find criticism of Bush policies both from the left and the right and a certain type of criticism is never tagged as treason even by the biggest tinfoil hat types.
It's pretty obvious if you come at the question "can opposition be treasonous" objectively that certainly some of it can. Rolling grenades into your officers' and comrades' tents is many things, one of them being treasonous. Supporting treasonous actions in word and deed would also qualify though sometimes you wouldn't be able to get a formal conviction because of the high bar to treason prosecutions in the US. But aside from such obvious cases, treason is usually not used as a charge by serious people; stupid, counterproductive, and idiotic are much more appropriate labels. And it's up to the right wing to police our own misusers of the term.
It's also pretty clear that a huge chunk of the left simply has not gotten on side to the idea that we're at war. And until they are spanked soundly at the voting booth (possibly several times since 2002 clearly wasn't enough) they're not likely to do so. There is defeatism, there is an attempt to undermine morale on the part of some sections of the opposition, and there has been an appalling lack of effort on the part of too much of the responsible left to clean up after their own nutballs.
But what's really upsetting is Yglesias' second premise, the idea that public opinion in dictatorships is reliably measured by polling the people and that even where it's accurate, it means much. We've got a lot of experience with soviet bloc opinion measurements. It's unlikely that the arab dictatorships are any different in their attempts to manipulate public opinion. In fact, it's a central reality of the region that Israel is used as a whipping boy to distract the populace from focusing on their domestic leadership's culpability in the sorry state these countries find themselves in.
The opposition by the leadership of arab regimes to freedom and democracy in Iraq is palpable and completely understandable. They don't want to be shown up as the pathetic losers that they are. They wish to cling to their national myths that they are the necessary whip hand needed to keep their people in line. And the overwhelming weight of the state owned and controlled media in that part of the world is an active participant in this myth making.
But these are rotten, hollow governments, terrified of freedom in Iraq because they know that they could not stand the spectacle of day in, day out life in an Iraq that was free and progressed faster than they were. As Iraq stabilizes and Iraqis start learning the lessons and habits of free men, whether they agree with the US all the time or not, they will be a subversive force in the Middle East just by existing. And in a way Iraq will be worse than Israel because they are Sunni, they are Shiite, they are Christian, they are Arab, they are Kurd, they provide none of the excuses, the ability to demonize them as outsiders that Israel offers.
Can we do this? Sure we can. Will we do it? We will, despite the ankle biters in Europe and the ones at home. Fundamentally I think we've grown tired of cutting and running. The idea that a new face on the same old policy of liberation and democratization is going to get France et al to provide troops because of our new nuance is very much a non-starter. There is room for a loyal opposition to provide alternatives but they need to be realistic alternatives. Too much of what is coming out of the wall sounds and feels like advice to turn our face to the wall and die.
Pace Glenn Reynolds there is a front door and a back door for people to engage in truce talks. While the official spokesmen of every european country will be at the front door protesting their underlings can simultaneously be at the back door negotiating details. It's too early to determine whether Osama's Hudna truly has "blown up in his face". Such things will be measured by facts, not rhetoric. Will cooperation with certain EU countries dry up? Will there be a further announcement by Osama to lay off one or more 'hudna heretics'? We are meant to be taken in by the public declarations of no negotiations and relax our vigilance. The protestations may be true. There may be, in fact, no secret negotiations at the back door. But we can't depend on just the surface words. It is action that matters.
April 15, 2004
The RNC Makes a Joke
Kerry's Middle Class Misery Index has just begun it's second life as a comedy device. The RNC adopted just the right tone, creating a competing Index De Le Miserables (IDM) with the most ridiculous measuring tools available. And how did they create it? "Same way the Kerry campaign did."
In stark contrast to Debka's alarmism David Bernstein paints a much more likely picture of why the 1949 armistice lines cropped up in Bush's speech. In short, this scenario speculates that Bush is suggesting that arab population centers currently in Israel proper might be pushed into the new Palestinian state. This would serve several good purposes, the biggest of which would be that it would raise expectations. These are palestinians who actually have lived under and know how a functioning state works. There are city councilors, mayors, even parliamentarians with real work experience and knowledge of what it takes to run a government. There is no reason to believe that they will just roll over and allow themselves to be swallowed up in a morass of corruption and dysfunctional government.
Maybe the Pakistanis and Indians can be called in for advice in how to do a partition?
Choose Metrics Wisely
Viking Pundit nails it when he notes John Kerry's new misery index includes some elements that are beyond the rightful power of government to intervene in. Personal bankruptcies are often borne of personal choices. You just have to get that bit of consumer electronics bliss and it sets you back beyond what you can pay off the next month and you spiral downwards from there.
So what's government supposed to do in such situations? All it really can do that won't make matters worse is to become some sort of national scold, guilting people into lowering their purchase of items they don't truly need until they actually have money to buy them. Personal bankruptcies, in extraordinary circumstances, do show some government caused pain but such circumstances are associated with other metrics like obscenely high interest rates and high unemployment. Choosing what you measure is going to affect what you concentrate on in terms of policy. Everybody wants to be able to brag that they've made whatever metrics are used better since they've been on the job. Choosing metrics that the government shouldn't be directly influencing is one way to guarantee government morphs even further beyond what it is supposed to be doing.
April 14, 2004
Debka Really Hates Sharon
The only conclusion I can draw from this article on the recent Sharon visit is that Debka absolutely hates Ariel Sharon. The idea that settled treaties will be opened up because a US President says things in a variation of past formulas is beyond the usual tinfoil hat stuff that can mark Debka's work. With Debka, the question has always been who is behind it. Part of the question can be answered now. It's not Ariel Sharon.
I would just like to say that the US tax system is an abomination and a betrayal of the most fundamental aspect of a free society, that the law should be clear and the average person should have an honest shot at obeying it if he wants to.
Flat tax anyone?
Stupid Kerry Statistics
In 1976, Jimmy Carter ran using something called the Misery Index. This was unemployment added to inflation and tracking that number didn't look too good for President Ford. Carter won, in part on the back of the Misery Index. Four years later it came back to haunt him because the Misery Index numbers looked even worse under Carter. Ronald Reagan won office by asking, twice, "are you better off now than you were four years ago?" The response in 1980 was no, we weren't, and in 1984 yes we were.
The Misery Index worked because it was simple and spoke to a real sense of how we were doing in a way that just about anybody could understand. Now John Kerry wants to make a new statistic part of the US political conversation, the Middle Class Misery Index. The first clue that this is a bogus statistic is that Carter gets a better economic rating in his four years than Reagan does. That doesn't pass the laugh test.
Kerry's political misery index is also confusing. The higher the index is, the better according to Kerry but the index includes numbers that are both good when they get higher (median family income, homeownership rate, and private sector job growth) and bad when they get higher (college tuition, health costs, gasoline cost, and bankruptcies). This means you have to invert the values for four of the seven components, something a bit more challenging than adding up two numbers.
I predict that this is going to sink like a stone.
HT: Iraq Now
Lamm the Pollution Foolish
Environmentalism is supposed to be concerned with saving the planet. Richard Lamm's version is perfectly happy with a dirtier planet so long as the dirt is conveniently out of sight.
Immigration is generally a flow from poor nations to rich nations. And those poor nations generally have horribly polluting economic systems. People come here to get a better life, for themselves and for the next generation. This basic desire can be accommodated in their own lands if we close down the borders but the extra economic growth will likely come with a higher amount of pollution per $ of GDP.
So what is Gov. Lamm advocating here? Either he wants the US clean and relatively empty while the rest of the world puts out more pollution, or he wants the US clean, relatively empty and the rest of the world stuck in economic hell where they don't live very decent lives but they don't pollute much either.
Now I'm not a Sierra Club member so I won't be voting on whether Lamm merits a board seat but the Sierra Club has got a problem on its hands if Lamm makes it to the Board. They need responsible people to carry out their charter. Gov. Lamm simply does not fit the bill.
April 13, 2004
David Warren wrote an article on Fallujah in which he came close to despair over our western media:
The answer is simple, you do not watch it anymore. You find alternative methods of getting your information and entertainment and let them bleed cash until they come to their senses. There is no need for major organizing efforts, just a raised expectation of what we expect from our news gatherers. It seems a minimum sacrifice to not patronize fifth columnists. And, looking over the recent history of mainstream media market share, it seems like an awful lot of people have come to the same conclusion. The longer the media decide to impose their views in the imagery and stories that they provide, the longer the trend of dwindling market share will continue.
We're nowhere near it today but past a certain point, the mainstream media will start to be eclipsed by rivals who gain more customers than they do because they are offering a better product that is more popular. At that point, the mainstream media will become the new alternative fringe, and not a day too soon.
HT: Donald Sensing
Battlefield 'Net V
StrategyPage, invaluable as usual (despite no permalinks), points out the availability ofcomputerized translation for the armed forces. As Moore's law works its magic, in the next decade we should be seeing the availability of cheap enough solutions so a future occupation could distribute information appliances widely to occupied populations to both enhance security and accelerate the process of convincing people to act for themselves and to form (or re-form) civil society.
This is all first generation stuff so anybody without a sense of tech history will find the scenario I'm laying out a bit far-fetched. But the pieces necessary for including the occupied civilian population in an occupation 'net are rapidly falling into place.
Dhimmi Watch reports an Iraqi group is threatening church burnings as a tactic to get the US to lay off. There isn't much to say to that except that such things are unacceptable. If churches have become fair game, not because they hide combatants, but merely because they exist, there is no reason to think that even traditional muslim tolerance and protection in exchange for christian submission is viable anymore. Somebody needs to bring the subject of tolerance to Sistani and ask what the penalties are for muslims who violate them.
April 12, 2004
Ken Bode, in this piece, calls for a restoration of the draft. The article, titled "Sharing the sacrifices of war", starts by assuming that our military has trouble rounding up soldiers for the volunteer force. He also seems to be under the mistaken idea that a draft, in and of itself, would increase troop strength.
In fact, Congress has put a ceiling on the number of troops. If they would raise the ceiling and fund that increase so the military isn't hollowed out by reducing per soldier funding, we could have a larger level of armed forces without a draft.
The writer, a professor at DePauw gives the game away towards the end:
I found the idea of imposing a draft, our only legal form of involuntary servitude outside of the penal system, to be offensive as something to be done as a better way of polling. I wrote:
The good professor replied. Here is his response in toto:
There is no polite language that is available in response to that. He didn't even attempt to deny that more would die if his proposal were to be adopted. He just insists on his lack of responsibility for the excess casualties over what a professional military force would have suffered.
The article has the professor's email listed.
Ralph Peter's, though I often agree with him, doesn't understand US strategy. One level of the struggle in the War on Terror is the struggle between serialization and parallelization. The US wants to serialize the conflict, to engage on no more fronts than it can be confident of winning. The key insight to this strategy is that we will bow, scrape, and drop our trousers and bend over on problems that exceed our capability to handle them at that moment in time.
Our enemy knows that they cannot win on any one front. Their goal is parallelization. They want to force us to go one bridge too far, one crisis too many, so we pull enough forces from all fronts so we become beatable on any front they choose to concentrate their forces on.
Thus there is a deadly serious need to constructively ignore certain realities. We ignore Saudi financing of terror because taking out Saudi Arabia is too big a fish to gulp right now. And we ignore insanity in Turkmenistan because we would get too little bang for the buck. In fact, we're ignoring the majority of the fronts that would be on any rational list to address in order to shrink and eliminate the Non-Integrating Gap and we will continue to do so if we are smartt. We need to ruthlessly prioritize the list and stubbornly refuse to be drawn into conflicts that would create parallelization induced weakness so that we can be defeated.
Thus Iran's mullahs and Syria's socialists get free shots at us without us declaring war... for the time being. Peters can be completely correct in his characterization of what's going on in Iraq, but when he doesn't set it in the proper context of serialization/parallelization he does our enemy's work for them.
We Need a Manufacturing Jobs Counter
Actually we need a series of them. The first one would be global, the total worldwide number of manufacturing jobs. The second would be a series of counters of manufacturing jobs in the US. You would have the total number of jobs, the number of jobs that we would have if we kept even in our percentage of worldwide manufacturing jobs and how much higher or lower we're trending from neutral.
If (as I think is true) manufacturing jobs are shrinking worldwide, we should be losing jobs right along with everybody else, and in fact we're losing fewer than our fair share of manufacturing jobs, then not only would the counters illustrate that, they would put a stake in the idea that we're in some sort of manufacturing crisis caused by poor policy at the national level. I could probably cobble together such counters. The necessary script isn't that complicated. The only problem is I don't know where to get the raw data. Any economists out there want to help me out? If you don't see an update at the bottom thanking someone for stepping up to the plate, I still need the data.
April 11, 2004
A New Good Guy Heuristic
One old rule of thumb that I've heard ad nauseum was that countries that have McDonalds don't go to war. Thomas Barnett's come up with a new twist on the tale. It appears that there is a Martha Stewart imitator running around the PRC, teaching such exotica as, I kid you not, barbecuing. His rule of thumb is that any country with a Martha Stewart is simply going to be too busy with doilies to really get into the role of worldwide bad guy.
It's an interesting theory, to say the least.
Women in the Church
In listening to services today, one thing struck me about the traditional resurrection story. God's plan, as set out in the Bible was for women to be the first to go forth and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. For a supposedly patriarchical, woman suppressing Church it's pretty interesting that the first to hear, to be called to spread the word were devout women.
Traditional Romanian Greeting For This Day
Greeter: "Christ is risen!"
April 10, 2004
Questions and Answers
For What it's Worth has just gotten added to my daily read. The idea of asking questions and listening to the answers is worth encouraging in any man of the left.
The first question reads:
"Is It Unfair To Point Out That Bush And Rice Should Have Anticipated An Imminent Al Qaeda Attack On U.S. Soil? "
I put my answer in comments and reprint it here:
It is correct to say that the first obligation of a government is to protect the people. The government that was headed by George W. Bush objectively failed in that task with the 9/11 attack just as the government headed by Bill Clinton failed in the first WTC bombing, the Cole bombing, the embassy bombings, etc. I don't know of a presidency who has had a military engagement on his watch who didn't objectively deviate from perfection. No doubt the widows and orphans concerned contained people who blamed that President. I can't condemn that. But what is the use of the question?
What's our Obligation to Iraq in Case of Invasion?
Donald Sensing is furthering the case that Iraq's overrun with foreign fighters. I'm not a lawyer of any type (not even barracks or jailhouse) but I can certainly see that if Iraq were sovereign and in a normal situation, they would have every right to declare war against Iran and Syria for funding revolt and supplying fighters to try to overthrow the current order.
I have yet to see anybody ask the question of whether such invasion is a legitimate cause of war with the United States. Isn't it about time that we started?
While President Bush's visit to the troops was astonishing, Prime Minister Berlusconi's visit to Italian troops today is off the charts. I can't think of a better way to throw cold water on the idea that Iraq is spiraling out of control than for a major EU head of government to visit his troops in Iraq in the middle of two supposedly uncontrolled rebellions. Of course, the political implications of this are going to impact coverage here with the usual suspects either pretending the visit didn't happen at all or minimizing the implications, spinning for all they're worth.
A country that is spinning out of control does not get wester heads of government to pull off even one day surprise visits and Berlusconi was more adventurous than President Bush, traveling to pay his respects at the site of November's bombing that killed 19 soldiers.
April 09, 2004
Practical Libertarianism: Broadcast
An occasional series on what I'd love to see the Libertarian Party adopt instead of their half-baked impractical radicalism
Dear Mr. Libertarian:
What would you do about the problem of the public airwaves and the problem of broadcast immorality?
I'm glad to get a chance to address this topic. The problem of the public airwaves is, first of all, that they are public. They were conceived in a time and place when people did not have the vision necessary to create a functioning, innovative, superior form of over the air communications system. Unfortunately, the system that was chosen then was flawed. It was flawed because it did not take into account progress. It remains flawed to this day because it subjects progress to the political process and thus we have a technically backwards system that stunts progress. We're not used to improving things and if we are willing to change that, not only will we be able to solve the problem of public filth but we will be able to do so without compromising our principles of liberty and free speech.
One of the most important things any nation faces is the subject of virtue. A degraded people will give up their inheritance of liberty and justice for a mess of pottage. We must, as citizens, strive to create a climate where this never happens. But how shall we do this? Should we use the club of the state to beat down with fines or prison terms those of our compatriots who make moral mistakes? Or should we fight speech with speech, vulgarity with nobility, and work to ennoble the people through the example of virtue? I believe that the best choice for America is a new path where we abandon the club of the fine or the censor, the license and the jail term.
But how shall we ensure that the vulgar do not swamp the virtuous? How can we ensure that the limited number of broadcast stations are not held by a small group that does not share our values and dominates the airwaves? I believe that we have the capability of reforming the airwaves by converting them from a system of broadcast to a system of multicast.
Most people, if they ever look at their phone wiring, will see four wires. a red, green, yellow and black insulated piece of copper that is wrapped in a bundle. With that phone line, you can carry one, two, 24, 30, or more conversations simultaneously depending on what sort of equipment you put on each end of the wire. If you use the same sort of telephone your grandfather might have used you'll be getting one or two conversations out of those wires. If you use more sophisticated equipment that was modern back in the 1970s you're able to get 20-30 conversations out of the same wires.
We're now able to do a similar thing with TV and radio, change the transmitters and receivers that's at both ends of exchange from broadcast equipment to multicast equipment, an Internet style way of getting content to a lot of people and we should make that conversion as soon as we can. Once you go to multicast instead of broadcast, the government is no longer forcing the country into an artificial shortage of 'stations' which they use to justify all sorts of intrusive things that the government has no business doing in a normal free society.
One thing about the way this technology works is that it enables parents to filter out inappropriate content for the minors in our care. Parents can leave those filters off or they can put them on, or they can even monitor what their children listen and watch in a nightly report and just talk to them if the kids are poking into what's age inappropriate.
Giving parents the power to supervise their children is a traditional model for promoting virtue that the government should be accommodating. It's a model that allows us to stop doing constitutionally dubious backflips that keep verbal media and visual media outside the full protection of the 1st amendment. And its a model that is future reform friendly. It will allow for even brighter, even smarter future generations to build something even better with a fraction of the effort it will take us to move to a multicast system in the first place.
The Majesty of the King and European Negotiating Tactics
Steven Den Beste's piece on negotiation is generally good but I think it underestimates what the EU is trying to do with their attempts at haughtiness. They are trying to go to an old well, the assumed cultural and civilizational superiority of Europe and the ingrained habit of other countries to bow down to that superiority. This isn't necessarily a bad tactic. In a Kerry administration, for example, it is far more likely to work which is why the US center-right is talking about how "french looking" John Kerry is. It's a veiled reference to their conviction that he will concede unnecessarily to the assumption that the EU contains his betters and that he will take marching orders from them.
Obviously, Texas Republicanism is less susceptible to this sort of thinking and it drives the EU batty to no end. But the tactic of trying to assume the majesty of the king and impose their will on us through sheer awe at their magnificence is not a bad idea as long as it has a hope of working. It will not end until there is a durable bipartisan agreement between Democrats and Republicans that, no, we are the superior force and it is they, not we, who should tremble before the majesty of our system, our civilization that we have taken from their hands and improved beyond their capability to imitate.
This would require a great deal of reform in the center-left of our political tradition. It would require an even greater reform in academia which serves as exhibit #1 in any parade of american cultural forces quivering in awe at the superiority of Europe.
In the US, the people are king. And it is before that kingly majesty and the shining city on the hill that they create in their daily efforts that the world, rightly should cede primacy of place. You want something different, do better now, do better in future. Create your multipolar world by equaling and, if you can, besting us. But until you can manage it, don't expect to be taken seriously by your betters. While we're not betters by right, we're betters by results of effort. Europe needs to recognize its place, while recoverable, is no longer the top of the heap.
Letter to the Paper XVI
David Sucher [see correction below] is a pretty good commentator about architecture and urban development. At least he's a serious one and exposes real issues. Unfortunately, he's usually much shakier when he steps off his home turf. He posits the idea that our oil expenditures are a major reason for the War on Terror. I take him to task in comments and transcribe below:
I'm sorry but the idea that Islamists are after us because of oil requires you to take up their collected writings and speeches and ignore them as the work of morons who do not know their own desires, wants, and goals. This is what we do with small children who grandly announce, in the space of a week, that they will be astronauts, doctors, judges, and gardeners. Whether you meant to or not, you have deeply insulted the maturity of our enemies and infantalized them. It is a deeply bigoted attitude, and one that is widely shared in the West among the left.
Correction: the post was not by David Sucher but by Francis Morrone. My apologies to David.
First Amendment Idiots
When will people learn that if you don't defend your rights, you lose them. Two reporters erased their tapes on the (likely unenforceable) demand of a woman identifying herself as a law enforcement officer. This is a replay of the "consensual search" rules where people can ask to search but if you stand on your rights, they cannot force a search without a warrant.
If accurately reported, a Supreme Court justice is walking up to (but not crossing) the line marked illegal censorship. The problem is that reporters simply gave in to legally unenforceable demands. These people need a severe reprimand from their bosses at a minimum (and maybe a career change) and a quick tutorial on their 1st amendment rights in any case.
The problem is neverending. Rights must be defended to remain in force in the day-to-day life of a society. It is a civic duty to peacefully resist attempts at encroaching on our rights. It is how we continually ensure that government remains our servant and not our master.
Stratfor leaves one of their basic analysis pieces out here. When this is being written, it is an analysis of the current events in Iraq. The short version is this; it could be a disaster but likely isn't, just Sistani demonstrating that it could be and extracting concessions from the US for further cooperation.
I tend to think that Stratfor is correct in its basic analysis. There is a 'spiraling out of control' scenario but that scenario is very unlikely since Sistani doesn't get what he wants by pursuing things to that point.
The story at Stratfor will change weekly. If you're reading more than a week after it was written, there will be a different analysis piece up at Stratfor. For copyright and fairness reasons (Stratfor's a pay service) I'm not just going to cut and paste the thing here.
April 08, 2004
Rating Air America
It's astounding, really how mendacious the stuff over at Air America is. Every time I tune in to catch whether there is good radio going on, and thus a network that's likely to survive, I trip over fact after fact that is just wrong. If they do manage to survive the commercial challenges of establishing a new radio brand, they're going to get eviscerated by the fact checkers like Donald Luskin.
Will they survive and evolve into something decent? I actually hope so. Based on what I've heard so far, I have serious doubts.
Westphalian Ignorance Watch I
Fareed Zakaria is supposed to be a smart man. And usually he doesn't let me down but he's completely missed the significance of Tony Blair explicitly repudiating the Treaty of Westphalia and he's also convinced that George W. Bush's declaration of war on terrorism is a metaphorical, not a literal/legal war. And so he goes sailing off the cliff into flights of fancy.
After all, whom would we wage war on now? Germany for being home to some of the 9/11 plotters? Spain because the Madrid bombers lived and plotted there? Iran and Syria? Would that stop the next Madrid bombing?
He's obviously locked into the Westphalian worldview, that you cannot fight a war except when all parties are states. What is scary is that I'm not seeing gales of laughter at this tremendous faux pas. Few others are spotting it either. So, dear readers, you find yourself tremendously ahead of the curve. I hope you use that knowledge well.
Georgia On My Mind
The Republic of Georgia has, among other signs of friendship with Russia, signed on to Russia's military officer education system again. Such education trips not only create an officer corps in the small country that is more compatible with the big country's style but the personal relationships that are formed are quite useful in the long run.
But Georgia is also signed up for the US run of courses. I'm not sure, but I think that this might be the first time that a country has signed on to both sets of educational experiences at the same time. Usually it historically has been one or the other. This makes little sense for Georgia unless it's agreed to become a laboratory for mixing and unifying the two systems of military affairs. A low key effort in an out-of-the-way place like Georgia allows pride in both the US and Russia to be kept intact while both larger powers can start to learn from each other through their Georgian intermediary.
Well, it's a theory at least. If the US military education training programs come to a halt in the near future this post is bunk, but if it doesn't something new is turning up in the Caucuses, something that is hopeful for the US/Russia relationship.
April 07, 2004
PETA's tin ear
I'm not quite sure in what way to get outraged by PETA's latest offensive campaign. Should I be pissed off that they've decided to update the golden calf and put it on a crucifix? Or should a cow in Pope regalia be the focus of my outrage? Nah, I think it's the complete distortion of christian vegetarianism that really gets my goat.
Christianity has no problem with vegetarianism as a sacrifice that we do for love of God. But PETA makes a mockery of such traditional sacrifices with their faux faith and faulty theology. They do lots of things wrong, from supporting violent terrorists to trying to suppress medical progress but no matter how wacky their beliefs are, do they really need to be raising a new heresy?
Sadr's Only Hope
I think that Sadr does have a hope of surviving this emerging debacle where his military forces are cut to shreds and, along with them, any influence he hopes to have. His one and only hope is that when he is taken into custody, he does a deal that exposes how Iran funded and supported him in violation of all norms of international law and says he has been acting under Iranian orders through his patron who stays in Iran.
Doing such a deal would not do much for his reputation but it might just keep him from getting put on death row once the US suspension of the death penalty comes undone. Sadr must realize by now that he's playing a losing hand and all he can hope to salvage is his life. If anything will keep Sadr alive, this will. It would move the debate from what is the US doing wrong in Iraq to provoke such rebellions to what punitive measures should be enacted to ensure that fomenting coups ceases to be an Iranian habit.
Rules of War
I've previously commented on the inadvisability of turning Fallujah into a lake of glass. That's explicitly what we were invited to do by those four desecrated corpses. War is such a savage act and we are so good at it, that we (like boys who have discovered that their bodies are now big enough to kill each other) have hemmed it in with rules of mutual self-preservation. I'll work with precise violence and so will you, say these rules. This works in various ways and the desecrated corpses were an invitation to throw out the rulebook. Where that ends up is one plane, one bomb, one city sized lake of molten glass, Carthago Delenda Est in the most literal modern fashion.
This, and not the blood guilt that Armed Liberal talks about in his recent post is why the contractor's desecration matters more than the very real child's death that Armed Liberal uses for comparison. There were five soldiers killed that same day and their deaths did not provoke that same outrage. The only differences were that one set of victims maximized pay and decided to forego the flag and the other had flag and reduced pay on the one hand and on the other the contracters were desecrated and the soldiers were not. Since it would be considered normal for the outrage to be greater for the patriotic soldiers the reason it was the other way around has to center around the desecration. And desecration only matters as a violation of war crimes rules. Armed Liberal is saying true things, but they are not directly relevant to the visceral emotions at hand.
The enemy must be destroyed but Carthago Delenda Est should not be applied literally if we can at all avoid it. Violations of the laws of war are invitations for us to do just that and they've been threatened for some time (since Afghanistan, really). The USG has struggled to keep such incidents quiet because it does not want the public baying for blood. It's counterproductive and leads to bad long-term choices. The desecrators of Fallujah demand that we take note of their barbarity and took that option away from us.
We are thus thrust into the world of war crimes reprisals to enforce the rules. It is an arena that is fraught with peril. We need to step back and choose wisely our method of reprisal to avoid a descent into hell.
April 06, 2004
QED is a latin acronym which, expanded and translated, means "which was to be shown or proved". It's used as a sort of summing up device when you've gone through the proof of something and its so long that you want to point out to the reader that the original question has been proved.
I thought of this when I got an email from a new discussion site. I don't recall promising to look at it but what the heck. In their politics and government forum, I don't get past the first thread before I see the following by a board moderator with the handle Merlov:
No country in the world has ever persued socialism. Ok? Never the real thing.
I can tell I'm not going to be there for very long. Does socialism work? 100 million murdered citizens says it doesn't. A prudent man would read The Black Book of Communism and stop there, QED.
But some, like the above quoted Merlov, aren't prudent, don't sit down, shut up, and think of an ideology that doesn't lead to over a 100 million killed. They demand that we prove to them, again and again, in retail fashion why this wrinkle or that one will turn the entire bloody enterprise on its head and a humane, true version of socialism will magically appear.
Sorry, the blood of the 100 million deserves a bit more respect than that. QED, socialism, communism, these bloody twins of totalitarianism has already been demonstrated to be false; the proof is in marked and unmarked graves all over the world and men and women who have an ounce of feeling and compassion in their hearts have turned away from the brutal realities of the practice. All that are left are the ignorant and the evil.
QED, that's all the explanation these advocates deserve at this point and if they declare that they know the past death toll and they're willing to risk adding to the corpse pile to try one more variation, they are simply nothing but monsters and deserve to be shunned, excluded from our society.
The ASI blog has a story on the stupidity of 'buy american' campaigns and by extension patriotic buying programs worldwide. They're mostly right but there is, I believe, one circumstance in which they are somewhat justified, when a domestic industry is taking real measures to improve quality, there is a lag time between improved products and regained customers. A patriotic buy program at that point would not be the normal boondoggle. The difficulty, of course, is that the number of people actually making improvements is usually swamped by the number of people claiming to make improvements but are actually just looking for a handout from the state. I put the following in their comments:
There is a circumstance in which 'buy american' does do some good though I doubt that the effect dominates. Some people do not investigate the quality of goods and tend to buy on reputation. The auto industry lost a lot of these customers as their reputation hit the toilet and Japan's autos grew in reputation. When US quality improved, the poor and newly monied driver tended to buy american at higher rates than the older, more afluent, more established money because the latter would buy on reputation and the former would do their homework.
Well, That Didn't Take Long...
It looks like the coup is a busted flush. The same story that announced Sadr's coup has now been updated to reflect the emerging reality that it just isn't going to work.
Sadr failed just like Tet failed.
Now watch the spinmeister's try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It's all Bush's fault, you know.
April 05, 2004
Ease Up on the Hysteria
Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan and probably dozens of other bloggers are commenting on this story over at Healing Iraq. Apparently Sadr and his backers (everybody seems to think he's Iran's catspaw) are trying to make an insurrection. While in Fallujah, they seem to be trying to replay Mogadishu, in Sadr City, they seem to be trying to replay Tet.
Tet, as every serious historian now knows, was a military failure but a tremendous propaganda coup that created a level of hysteria and defeatism on the home front sufficient to cause the US to lose the Vietnam war. So what's Sullivan's thought on this assault? "We could be losing the ball-game right now, guys." That sort of shoot-from-the-hip defeatism that is not backed by facts, not backed by any sort of solid information, is exactly what Sadr and his goons are counting on.
They want us to lose heart. They want us to be afraid. And make no mistake, the attack is not aimed at the police stations and the troops, and all the rest. Sadr doesn't even have the majority of Shiites behind him, much less the majority of Iraqis. The attack is aimed at Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, every news reporter and pundit in the free world. I'm counting Sullivan as a casualty (though hopefully he'll make a speedy recovery).
If the rumors about Sadr and Iran are true, the Iranians are in a terrible panic. If Sadr fails (and he's almost sure to fail militarily) and clear evidence is uncovered that Iran tried to install a puppet to rule Iraq, it would come out that Iran has engaged in an unacceptable assault that would activate the self-defense portions of the UN Charter and authorize Iraq to invade Iran. Since Iraq is currently under Coalition protection, this means that, in essence, Iran has handed the US carte blanche to invade at will with a UN stamp of approval. The only thing that would save them would be a deliverable nuke (ie something that can fit on a missile) and even that would be very iffy.
Sadr has been indicted for assassinating a fellow cleric which means he's down to his last card, violent revolt. This could mean that Iran isn't even in control of what's going on, Sadr's just trying to save his neck. This won't save Iran if Sadr just moved forward Iran's coup timetable up a few months. Their fingerprints would be all over this and it would be a death knell for the regime.
I can't stress it enough. Sit, wait, learn, and then calmly judge. Whatever side you end up on with regards to policy make it reasoned and deliberate. Don't be spooked into hasty judgments lest you awaken the spirit of Tet. That's one shade that needs to stay in its grave.
Update: On further thought, I remind myself that I'm not a lawyer. Somebody needs to start asking questions as to what, exactly, the legal situation is as far as current law and international precedent.
Internet Freedom Tools
The debate is ongoing whether technology will be freedom enhancing or freedom denying. On the enhancing side, a BBC article about getting around the PRCs country sized firewall filters is useful. It seems like important work is going on to upgrade information access tools. Of course most people don't care to run the risk of accessing banned information but I believe that this is because the benefit is small while the potential consequences can be large.
But this risk/reward equation is not stable. In unsettled times, every citizen will have a choice, to go out on the streets and bring the government down or stay indoors and assent to another Tienanmen square massacre. At that point, having an established network of tools and techniques for gaining access to unfiltered, timely information will raise the rewards to a much higher level.
With free tools available in many locations and an exponential increase in the number of people willing to host proxies during such a crisis, it's at that crisis point that the worth of the dissident networks will be proven. But you can't start at the crisis point. You have to start now so you'll be prepared then. Nobody knows what shape or form this crisis will happen or when it will occur. But the best chance that freedom will have is for the dissidents to be ready for when the moment strikes.
Letter to the Paper XV
Fran Poretto is a very smart man who I normally agree with and was a personal inspiration in my transition from conservatism to libertarianism. I think of him as my friend but even friends can disagree. His proposal for a cordon and ultimatum (now a two part essay) around Fallujah is one of the most wrong-headed things I've ever heard or seen come out of him. Of course, I responded:
I don't think that there is a city in Iraq that is currently monolithic either for or against the US. It's all preponderance and tendency. Now sometimes that tilts far enough to one side that it looks like unity but no society as highly split along tribal, religious, and ethnic lines as Iraq is likely to see unanimity except in highly limited circumstances.
Real World Manipulation via Virtual Games
I'm not so happy with the development of real world manipulation in virtual games.
"We used the map to give creatures some interesting behavior. Some creatures only hunt at night. Some hang around close to parks." If a player wants to find that creature, they'll have to travel near a park in the evening hours. ... It has a community dimension to it, I chat with other players, I also know how far I am from them and finding out some are less than a few hundred meters to me is really exciting. Over the past month, I bumped into a player who turned out to be the creator of the game, I had to race to pick up a flag that had been put on the map at equal distance between me and another player to encourage us to meet.
Especially when the game participants are likely to be kids, this has some real risks involved. Being able to lure people to a particular destination at a particular time has long been a successful strategy for criminals. It's reasonable that there will, at the very least, be a period where the brighter muggers, rapists, and murderers will hire hackers to lure their targets to a convenient spot.
April 04, 2004
Canada, the Oil Giant?
Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections is one of the industry's bibles. It covers who's who and what's what in an accessible way. While this is an older article from there, it contains an important gem that I was unaware of. The price for extracting a barrel of Canadian tar sands is now $12 per barrel. That puts them at a competitive price with Siberian crude. Congratulations, Shell corp., you've solved the upcoming energy crisis, at least when you can get the water requirements down.
The age of the article shows when it talks about the pricing problem of Saudi Arabia which can swing production to crash oil prices, dropping them to $10 at will and bankrupting expensive producers if they become too large a threat. This is no longer true as the Saudis are running at capacity now and will likely stay like that in future.
As soon as the water supply problem clears up and the dirtiness of the production problem is addressed, the US is going to have another oil power on its border, this time to the north and Canada will become the world's new swing producer, with the political power and responsibility that this position implies. The Middle East will still be important, but its importance will no longer be outsized because of its control of world energy markets.
The problem of getting sufficient water to the fields to inject them is not a trivial one and transporting sufficient water from other sources may balloon prices back up beyond economic viability but Canada has to be treated seriously now when discussing the oil situation. Tar sands (which occur in many nations besides Canada) have to be treated seriously, especially where they are combined with large sources of nearby water.
The very fact that Saudi Arabia can no longer peak its production and bankrupt high cost oil suppliers like the tar sands producers in Alberta is a revolution. In the coming years, we're likely to see a lot of fallout from that and a big positive for Canada.
April 03, 2004
There's been some loose talk about the people who were killed in Falluja being mercenaries. My understanding of the term is that it covers a soldier who is fighting for a government or rebel cause for pay instead of God and Country. By any stretch of the imagination, does this cover the four who died? The official story is that they were working for a private contractor, safeguarding food convoys. If they were mercenaries then every former military man with a security guard job is a mercenary.
But generally we've kept a separation between security guards (who are often former police or military) and mercenaries. But what if the story is just a front? If they were just pretending to be security guards, they were most likely really working for... the US government. Again, working an undercover job for your own government is not mercenary activity. So what's really going on?
The title mercenary is one of disrepute in today's world. Calling someone a mercenary is a way to put them one down and to lower their value. So when they're killed, burned, and hung from a bridge, it's not quite as bad because, after all they're only mercenaries. Is that morally acceptable?
The boys over at FT putting on the blinders and putting forward the same old conventional response to any oil price difficulties. It would all be better if we just raised taxes, they sadly say. Hogwash!
Given its domestic oil output is in long-term decline, the US needs to focus on curbing oil demand, and here Mr Kerry has so far failed as badly as Mr Bush. He dare not substantiate the tax accusation by proposing a rise in the federal gasoline tax (all of 18.4 cents per gallon, though state excises usually double the total tax). He is soft- pedalling his previous call for tighter fuel efficiency standards, because he wants to carry car-making states. Yet only by showing that it could make do with less Opec oil will the US ever increase its leverage on the cartel.
There are several missed points here. The first is that the actual objective is to secure energy (not necessarily oil) supplies over the long term at reasonable prices to ensure that economic growth will not be energy constrained. Gaining influence over the OPEC cartel is, at best, a tactical goal in a larger strategic plan. It can be important, but making it the be all and end all of your energy policy is just stupid.
Decreasing demand and threatening to impoverish OPEC nations is simply not very smart geopolitics. Sure, efficiency gains should be adopted as they come online but there are several other ways to work the supply side.
1. Increase non-OPEC output: This can be done by providing security and technology to non-OPEC producers.
But raising taxes is a much simpler (and simplistic) "solution" to the problem of OPEC. After all, it's worked so well for Europe. Oh, you mean it hasn't? What a surprise, that the EU's experiment in high oil prices hasn't turned the trick after all these years.
Non-Luddite Resistence to Data Mining
The following sentence caught my eye in this article attacking privacy advocates' opposition to technological data gathering innovations through the use of data mining:
Public health authorities have mined medical data to spot the outbreak of infectious disease, and credit-card companies have found fraudulent credit-card purchases with the method, among other applications.
Like many other credit card holders, I've received a call asking about a particular transaction. Every time I've been called, it was a false positive. This imposes a cost on me (I have to answer the phone, I have to listen and judge about the transaction). The cost is small and so I don't mind paying it, but it is a cost. Now what would be the cost of being falsely flagged by an anti-terrorism data system? I might not be permitted to get on a plane. My house might be broken into, my computer might have monitoring software secretly put on it, I could lose contracts that I'm bidding on. I could be simply thrown in jail for a day or two and have my reputation ruined.
These failure modes are much higher in cost. It doesn't take a paranoid or a luddite to be worried about them. Now this problem is not insoluble but it you have to identify what the problem is, that data mining creates an awful lot of false positives, especially as you're just starting your system and haven't refined your algorithms through real world experience.
You can make two types of adjustments that improve the acceptability of data mining in a defense environment. You can change the failure modes, the consequences of false positives, and you can change the frequency of failure modes. The first thing that absolutely has to change is the reputational consequence of being tagged. You have to get rid of the idea that a machine can look at a set of data and say "here, here's a terrorist" with any acceptable degree of reliability. Once being tagged just means that you're leading an interesting life and a human being should make a judgment whether you're in the small % of interesting lives that are also bad guys, the cost of being tagged falsely drops. Of course, the perceived value of the system also drops so advocates don't want to do this, but that's not the fault of the privacy advocates.
The false positive consequence of being refused carriage, or being subject to an unwarranted search also needs addressing, as does the business problem of losing contracts due to being tagged. All of these are difficult things to manage and it's so much easier to dump a luddite or paranoid tag on somebody who is complaining than do the hard work of harm reduction in the inevitable cases of false positives.
Total Information Awareness (TIA) might not be a bad idea in principle, but it needs a lot of work in harm reduction before it can see the light of day in real world use and the same goes for the rest of the resisted IT initiatives that the article talks about. Instead of whining about how we should all be willing to take it in the shorts without complaint, maybe a reduction in the rate of friendly fire might be in order.
April 02, 2004
Mandated Telecom Competition
The Bit Bucket fires off at the idea of mandating competition in private telecommunication infrastructure. While that's all well and good, it's a blinkered approach to what has been a long-standing problem. We need to go back to the root cause to understand why the free-market community seems to be divided up between pro-managed competition and anti-managed competition factions regarding telecommunication.
The original problem is the monopoly that companies have to use public lands to string up their wires. Once you grant such a monopoly, all sorts of bad things follow and government attempts to undo the damage by 'mandating competition'. The long-term cure is to undo the monopoly and allow multiple vendors to string their cables wether copper or glass.
But building networks takes time. How do you provide relief from the bad consequences of monopolies sometimes granted over a century ago? I don't think that mandated competition is a great idea but as a phase in the transfer over to fully built out competitive networks, it's not an abhorrent transition phase.
The key in these transition phases is not whether they are good solutions, by definition transition phases must only be less bad than the previous phase and facilitate the next phase which will be even better. So what is the prior phase, what is the subsequent phase, and does this transition phase meet the criteria of a good transitional solution? It's this sort of comparative examination of incremental solutions that marks the difference between the practical politician and the impractical ideologue.
The pro-managed forces believe that this will be a useful stepping stone up from the current state and allow companies to get revenue and profit which will be plowed back into the creation of the parallel networks that need to end up being built. The anti-managed group thinks that we're going to get stuck here forever in this bastard middle ground between socialism and the free market whose closest historical antecedents are fascism.
In the end, I think the incumbent carriers and their technical tricks will drive their competitors onto their own networks. When a customer is getting service from a provider without a network, he's getting a lower class of service because he has to guess which provider is at fault with every outage. Is it the physical line provider or the network provider running over the line? But the anti-managed competition group gets a lot of good points in along the way and any managed competition plan should seriously address the problem of enforcing the movement off the shared network route to parallel networks.
I would suggest that a forced savings plan be put into effect for companies using shared networks and that money be put into private accounts and when a sufficient amount has been gathered, they virtual network companies are required to build out their own network.
Letter to the Paper XIV
Fran Poretto usually writes well in his Curmudgeon Emeritus page but the Falluja attack seems to have temporarily unhinged him (and he is personally one of the nicest guys I've met). His tantrum advocating Rome's solution to Carthage merited a decent response so I put one in comments. Here it is for you, below:
I'd like my military response to be effective, not merely viscerally satisfying on the lowest animalistic level. We're trying to create a new FRG without having to deal with the memories of a new Dresden firebombing. We want to move to Iraqi control of their territory as fast as possible and maintain a relationship that allows us significant facilities in Iraq for the follow-on campaigns we will need to do against Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
George HW Bush's Secret Smile
A decade and a half ago, George HW Bush, the current president's father introduced the idea of pollution trading credits as a way to gain pollution curbs while limiting economic damage. The idea that pollution was a commodity that could be paid for and traded scandalized Europe. This was viewed as an unfeeling, uncaring solution to pollution that would permit polluters to pollute forever.
Now, in the face of Kyoto, Europe is adopting just such a trading regime. The EU climbdown from its previous opposition has to be galling for people who remember the introduction of the original innovation in the US and the controversy it engendered. But, in retirement, I have no doubt that GHWB has a very discreet, secret smile plastered all over his face on the news.
Letter to the Paper XIII
Fareed Zakaria notes that terrorists don't need states, and he's right. That's the heart of the need to remake the world system. Terrorists don't need states but any traditional response to terrorists does need a state. This is the best thing that Al Queda and the rest of the nihilistic death cultists have going for them. Unfortunately, Zakaria doesn't pursue the larger point, though I don't know whether he, himself, doesn't understand the problem of westphalian revisionism or such a subject is too big for a column. Below, the letter I wrote him:
When you say that people don't understand "this same error" that society sponsored terror is the dominant threat and that this error persists today, I think you make entirely too much light as to the nature of the problem. Society sponsored terror, and I agree you are correct in pointing to it as the problem, requires addressing, not states, but societies. Few have the scope of vision to understand exactly how far reaching the changes in our international system will have to be.
April 01, 2004
"Our Cour System is a Joke" is a sentiment born of frustration, completely lacking in respent, and ladled with a healthy dose of contempt, but if you put a sign saying that on your front lawn, it's not a crime, right?
Judge Haralson, of Jackson county, signed an arrest warrent and had hone Phillip Dean tossed him in jail for contempt, had the sign removed and coerced an apology out of Dean as he literally stood in chains before the judge.
The sign was posted on Dean's own front yard.
Not only was the judge contemptible, but the police who carried out this obviously illegal arrest order share in his shame. The people of Jackson county do have a remedy for this mess. Judge Haralson is apparently an elected official. If they can't find somebody else besides this worm who thinks that jackboots are an appropriate fashion accessory to his black robes, then the people of Jackson County also will be contemptible.
I hadn't made any plans to visit Alabama in the near future, but if something comes up, I'll be steering clear of Jackson County as long as leg irons are the reward of exercising your constitutional right to free speech.
I ran a series on Bush's Lucy Strategy where I put our President in the place of Lucy, always convincing Charlie Brown to take another shot at kicking the football, always delighting in pulling it away at the last minute. Now Dean Esmay has a different football analogy, the mousetrap play, another way of gaining by misdirection. In the end, it amounts to much the same thing.
The really funny thing is that so many can write about this, for so long, and people don't seem to get it. They enjoy the caricature of George W. Bush so much that they are unwilling to face the reality of him. They are addicted to not treating him or his ideas seriously and realistically. In a way, that's almost the definition of a party that needs more time out of power so I guess things work out in the end.
Kerry's Health Status
Does Kerry have a health problem or just a health records problem? It seems like Kerry wants to continue in the tradition of Bill Clinton, who also never fully opened his medical records. While this is a frequent early campaign jousting tool as candidates try to draw a line between their privacy and the needs of the country to ensure that their leadership isn't going to cause a worldwide crisis by dropping dead at an uncomfortable moment. Kerry has a little bit more of a problem here than even usual as his genes are at least somewhat Ashkenazi jewish and that genotype has some unusual (and thank goodness relatively rare) vulnerabilities that are fair game in the health record derby. This is a political danger that he's got to face up to as most people still think he's of irish extraction and while he hasn't lied about it for the most part, its going to come up eventually and his long-term record of being happy to let people live with a mistaken impression of his ethnicity as long as it served him politically is bound to come out.
There are pretty obvious ways of playing things unfairly here and the risk only grows as long as Kerry delays. This assumes that there is no hidden condition there that would be a problem. But we don't know that, do we? And if John F Kerry has anything to say about it, we never will.
Draining the Political Swamp
George Will's column on Clarke is notable not just for the skill he uses to take down Clarke but that he does double service by embedding in his critique of Clarke a call to pull the hounds back in. He recognizes, rightly, that there is both a failure in Clarke and his Republican critics. The whole mess has gone off the rails and it does not serve the country well.
Clarke has long served his country, and though I have my suspicions about his Republican registration, he certainly did a great deal more than a lot of people to highlight the post Cold War threat that actually emerged as the leading next generation problem. For that service he deserves a decent hearing, which he got, and then a quiet bundling out of town as his own contradictory and foolish partisan statements tarnishes his retirement pocket watch, his reputation that could have served him as an elder statesman in the community.
Will is right in reigning in excesses on the right, one of the more admirable parts of that portion of the US ideological spectrum.
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.