June 30, 2004

Bring the Troops Home From Where?

Posted by TMLutas

Driving through downtown Chicago today, I saw a protest marching by Buckingham Fountain. It was small, as such things go, maybe 30 people and I only had time to read the biggest sign which read "BRING THE TROOPS HOME NOW". My first reaction was annoyance, the signs had caused traffic on Lake Shore Drive to slow down and back up and it probably delayed my arrival home by 5 minutes.

Thinking more about it, I wish that I could have asked them if they wanted the troops home from South Korea, Japan, Germany, and the dozens of other places where we base abroad. No doubt their major focus is on Iraq but read at face value this was a protest by the tie-dyed left that was blatantly isolationist. Isn't isolationism supposed to be the province of the loony right wing nuts?

Space Elevator Progress Note

Posted by TMLutas

Space elevators have been a recurring feature on this blog because it's the sort of disruptive technology that can upset an awful lot of pessimistic predictions about the future. If you can knock two zeroes off the cost of lifting a pound into orbit, many things change, from realistic energy from orbit to space manufacturing, to military implications, cheap, safe access to space changes an awful lot. This isn't even counting the inevitable spinoffs of large scale carbon nanotube production at the strength levels necessary to make the cable and beamed power systems to energize the lifters.

The Liftport Group has long listed April 12, 2018 as their target launch date for a space elevator but now Dr. Bradley Edwards is predicting that it will only be two years to develop carbon nanotube fiber strong enough for the elevator ribbon. That's a real milestone to watch. If the ribbon appears in that time frame, I'd say that it's time to stop scoffing at the possibility and time to start thinking through the consequences of this disruptive technology because it's going to happen.

Partisan Lows

Posted by TMLutas

I always thought that the absolute low for vicious partisanship was reached in the campaign against Andrew Jackson. I recall a caricature of him sitting down on a pile of skulls with his sword out and embedded in the pile. Now, via Andrew Sullivan, I find we've sunk to identical depths in the campaign against George Bush. The Nation owes the nation an apology for running such trash. Unfortunately, it's likely to only get worse as the campaign unfolds. The ability of the sane left to restrain these lunatics seems woefully underdeveloped.

Chaos Theory & Economics

Posted by TMLutas

SDB's recent wide ranging post on chaos theory got my creative juices flowing as I also have long been fascinated by chaos theory. In the pedantic column, the base of chaos theory is rightfully included in mathematics (I believe) though people seem to have discovered it in observing various disparate phenomena, from weather prediction to stock market behavior, to economics. The formulas they derived to talk about it really don't vary so a base science like math is a good place for it. Your mileage may vary.

One of the things about chaos theory and economics that I find highly useful in policy is how chaos theory affects statist economics. The natural order of things in economics seems to be a slow, secular form of progress with high variation, the boom and bust cycle. The busts, in particular, have very cruel and nasty results and a major form of human effort into the science of economics is how to ameliorate or end the bad effects of the busts. One of Marx's basic predictions regarding capitalist society is that the boom/bust cycle will grow ever wilder, to the point where the whole societal system cannot stand the magnitude of the economic perturbations and something else will arise to take its place, that something else being communism.

This kind of chaotic system perturbation is seen in biology in the way that heart attacks happen. Of course, like heart attacks, this is something that you want to avoid.

The empirical reality of a century of various economic experimentations across the world has given us a body of knowledge that demonstrates that Marx's analysis was fatally flawed. Any interference in correcting the busts seems to have two side effects. It reduces the booms, and it lowers the slope of the secular path in an unpredictable manner. You manage things too much, too long, and the secular upward path turns into a secular downward path and the natural virtuous circles of the economy turn into vicious circles as the country goes down the drain.

But "there is a lot of ruin in a nation" and free market advocates have long had poor records of predicting when, exactly the bad effects will come out. This is because, like everything else in the system, the side effects appear chaotically. But appear they will and it is a remarkable betrayal of the intergenerational societal compact to just kick the can down the road.

But we're all guilty of doing it.

We've fairly well enough established that total government control of the economy leads to horrendous negative effects. The two ideas left are lassez faire economics buttressed by a private charitable safety net and lightly managing the economy in order to pluck the economic goose but still get enough golden eggs to maintain the secular upward trend.

The problem is that politically, the temptation is always to pluck just a bit more in order to gain political advantage over your electoral rivals. Inevitably, this intersection of political interest and economic danger leads to US style stagflation and today's eurosclerosis.

For today's budding statist, the trick is to push out the economic bad news until after your political career is over. FDR's new deal is breaking down decades after he passed away and was enshrined as a great president. LBJ's great society ended up being a net negative to poor people sometime around Ronald Reagan's second term. Few curse him for the harm he has done to the poor and disadvantaged of today and tomorrow. The distance between cause and effect are too much for political purposes but the link is real.

June 29, 2004

Trumping the Guantanamo Habeas Ruling

Posted by TMLutas

Eugene Volokh worries about enemy litigation as a consequence of the Guantanamo detainees being granted habeas corpus rights. The ruling, as I understand it, can be trumped by legislation and I would do so in a two part law.

1. Deny jurisdiction to lower courts. If the USSC desires enemy combatants to have habeas rights, fine. Let them do the work. By denying jurisdiction to lower courts (a rarely used constitutional power of Congress), the problem of a flood of habeas petitions is limited to the body that created the mess.

2. Define as an impeachable offense the wrongful granting of habeas to combatants. Furthermore, if they're found in future on the battlefield, dead or captured, this shall be considered sufficient proof that they were combatants at time of the habeas hearing.

The power to impeach justices and the power to deny jurisdiction are not areas which are readily addressable by the Court. Since the only ones being impeached under the law would be Supreme Court justices any pronouncement they make has conflict of interest written all over it.

Make Them Pay

Posted by TMLutas

Hugh Hewitt opines that the media wants Iraq to fail and is betraying their stated principles of objectivity in order to fight against the victory of US foreign and war fighting policy. While this is morally odious, my bad opinion isn't likely to sway any journalists. However, denying this copperhead media the financial fruits of credibility and influence in society is their most crucial weakness. If nobody's listening, nobody will pay to advertise and their broadcast licenses and printing presses will get sold at auction in bankruptcy proceedings.

May that day come soon.

Keeping Your Word Dividends

Posted by TMLutas

I've always felt that no matter how we did it, honoring our word and ending the occupation was the crucial element in the Iraqi operation to depose Saddam. The first evidence is in that this is true. If Iraqis can't rule Iraq better than the US, then the imperialists are right and we might as well rule the world for the good of all.

The imperialists are wrong. We'll see evidence of that in Iraq in the coming years and, hopefully, the pro-imperialists in the US will be shamed into silence over the spectacle of free people ruling themselves despite their "cultural difficulties" that supposedly make that impossible.

Foreign Policy Brickbats

Posted by TMLutas

It's pretty clear that Foreign Policy Magazine has little love for George W Bush. A recent e-mail I got from them had the following items:

Imperial Amnesia
Europe's Quiet Leap Forward
Bush's Willing Enablers
The Metrosexual Superpower
Iraq's Excluded Women
Counting Civilian Casualties

And that's just in the free (or free registration) content. All the articles downplaying US accomplishments, hyping alternatives to the US and knocking George W Bush and his administration directly.

While I could get into a point by point rebuttal of a lot of the hot air that passes for serious criticism (I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you to find turmoil in a country with an active, foreign sponsored insurgency), It would make this post far, far too long. Rather, I think that what's really eating at the FP folks (and much of the rest of the left and right establishment) is that George W Bush has upset an apple cart that is so fundamental to their entire world view that, at all costs, his decision must not be confirmed by the next president of the opposite party. I'm speaking of Bush's decision to embrace post-westphalianism as the underlying logic beneath US foreign policy in his administration.

These people are not dumb. They simply hold that countries do not declare literal war against terrorist groups. War is reserved to interactions between states and has been since the Peace of Westphalia. In fact, when an Israeli cabinet minister declared that Israel was in a war with Hamas, he was savagely attacked and the Israeli government had to repudiate the idea. Since this happened after President Bush declared that we were in a GWOT, declaring war on all terrorist groups, the lack of condemnation in the US case is telling. They know that if they try to pull that kind of direct full court press on the US they will fail, uniting the country behind the President and his strategy.

Instead, they have opted for a death by a thousand cuts. Serious people with serious resumes write protest letters. Serious magazines devote article after article showing how GWB is an awful president and ruining the world. No good news gets reported, no risks are ever judged to have paid off. Only bad news, all the time, will be fit for print until this idea is dead and buried.

Unfortunately, the establishment has no realistic answer to the question of how to stop the terrorists without the framework of war. They would just prefer to keep the insecurity and dying to a sustainable level and value stability over problem resolution. In short, they are morally bankrupt and float in a sea of innocent victim's blood. They are the collective authors of the nasty bargains we have made to keep corrupt autocrats in power all over the world.

There was a time when such a bargain, compared to nuclear annihilation, seemed the lesser of two evils. In todays world, it is the greater of evils and must be named, shamed, and put aside as unworthy of our consideration.

The task of reforming the international system to unwind all the corrupt bargains of the past is huge. It can't be done all at once successfully. In fact, the terrorists' only hope of victory is for the US and allies to take on more than they can chew at once and strike in the zones of weakness that will inevitably form.

This struggle is the great challenge of our generation. And you won't hear about it for quite awhile on the evening news. They, after all, are not observers in the struggle, but participants.

Like Eisenhower confirmed FDR's New Deal, Nixon confirmed LBJ's Great Society, and Clinton confirmed Reagan's vision of America, GWB's foreign and domestic policy must not only succeed, but succeed in such a way that the next President from the opposing party will leave the heart of it untouched. There are two ways to avoid this. You can have an alternative intellectual framework to offer and implement when elected, and you can make the achievements of the policy so disreputable that agenda-less drift in wartime is preferable. It is that latter alternative that is what FP and all of the EU ankle biters are after.

June 28, 2004

Burch on Lutas on Burch on Energy

Posted by TMLutas

B-)

Greg Burch answers my critique on the idea that Beijing will quickly become cleaner thanks to the birth of the hydrogen age. He rightly points out that the PRC government has enormous resources to dump into a vanity project to clean up Beijing smog. This is the option of virtually every totalitarian government out there. They can always rob 5 peters to pay 4 pauls.

What I had left out of my prior analysis was a very big assumption that, being implicit, might have been missed. The assumption is that the PRC leadership is in a huge bind, racing somewhat ahead of a disaster of popular disappointment and revolution. The problems of their rotten banking sector, pervasive corruption, lack of jobs, huge economic drains of State Owned Enterprises, and just general lack of legitimacy makes the exercise of shifting money out of current uses to a pollution cleanup that doesn't make economic sense very dangerous to regime stability. The PRC apparatchiks are already juggling just as many balls as they can handle and I think they're just about out of the ability to add more glamour projects that don't make economic sense.

As the PRC grows rich, clean technology will become worth it for them. Until they get rid of their unemployment problem and/or other regime threatening crises, it isn't likely to happen.

Ding Dong, the Occupation's Dead

Posted by TMLutas

Every terrorist assault from here on out in Iraq is now an attack on a sovereign, independent nation. The transitional government is in place. The elections are going to go forward. The security situation will continue to get significant "Coalition of the willing" support but the Iraqis are running their own show.

The early transfer complicates plans by the terrorists to have some great big bangs to try to make out that America's cutting and running. Poor terrorists (heh) they've got to come up with new plans and with new justifications.

HT: Flit (my eventual blogfather) there were several rounds of jokes about how the Conservatives would never get their act together sufficiently to challenge the Liberals and that Canada had become a one party state.

'Nuff said.

June 25, 2004

Where I Defend Michael Moore

Posted by TMLutas

Pay attention because this won't happen too often. Michael Moore is likely to have his free speech stifled this summer and fall. His odious movie, Farenheit 911, looks to get entangled in the campaign finance restrictions of McCain-Feingold, interfering with his right to promote his work. This is a sad, disgusting spectacle and utterly predictable.

Michael Moore's beliefs and mine are miles apart. But he has a right to peddle his views, no matter how mistaken, even in wartime. To not be able to advertise his movie because such advertisements would fall too close to an election is a very disturbing sign that the 1st amendment (and with it the health of our electoral system) is dying on the vine. It is all our responsibilities, as citizens, to ensure that we revive our system of free speech.

June 23, 2004

The Nameless Beheaded

Posted by TMLutas

We're not apt to forget Paul Johnson anytime soon but I wonder how much would have changed if we had ever known the names and stories of the people beheaded by muslims in Chechnya (warning: beheading videos at link). If we don't know the ones who came before, we should know the ones who come from here on in. The Russian dead deserve no less notice and recognition from us than Kim Son Il from South Korea.

Will they get press coverage in the US equal to the dead from other countries? I hope so but it's not very likely. The Russian experience in Chechnya is where we may yet end up if we are not very careful.

Do You Have an Obligation to Tell the Truth to Police?

Posted by TMLutas

The recent Supreme Court case declaring that laws requiring that we identify ourselves to law enforcement are constitutional has got my gut bunched up. Like the convicted defendant, this provision is much more likely to be used against non-war related defendants than prospective terrorists. What most of the negative commentary on this case glosses over is that not all states have legislation requiring this and there is no examination of which state constitutions might grant protection from official harassment via request for identification.

Freedom lost one in this case. That doesn't mean that the game's over, nor that it's irrecoverable.

Clean Energy Won't Clean the Third World (Any Time Soon)

Posted by TMLutas

Greg Burch is in Beijing and notes the ungodly pollution in that city. He links finding a replacement for oil, a new source of energy, with cleaning up the city. Here he's in error. Beijing will become clean as it becomes rich, not as new sources of energy come on line. The reason is that the rich are the leading edge and the poor form the trailing edge in the adoption of just about every technology. Very new technology has yet to recoup its R&D costs so it is invariably expensive. It often also requires ancillary expenses (in this case a new energy distribution system) that make its adoption even more likely to be concentrated among the rich.

Even if hydrogen with fuel cells were to cross over and become cheaper than oil used with internal combustion engines (ICEs) ICEs would still abound. As long as it's cheaper to continue to operate old equipment rather than purchase new equipment, the old polluting stuff is going to stay in service. Even new purchasers in poor countries that can afford the new technology will be leery of being an early adopter because they know very well that they are living in a trailing edge country and that their maintenance expenditures are going to be sky high for much longer than they would be in the first world.

Thus, you're going to see adoption first in the 1st world and then a filter down effect. Since energy competition is going to be a major factor in the transition period, we're going to see progress on price in one area creating a ceiling on prices in the other. As hydrogen drops, oil for ICE producers will find that there is only a certain amount they can charge without losing major customers to hydrogen fuel cells, customers who will never return. This shrinking market will constrain their ability to raise prices and we should see gasoline prices trend downward along with hydrogen as new energy comes on line (pace energy pessimists, I know you don't believe it's going to happen, but for this scenario, it's an assumption that it will).

Cheaper gasoline will reduce the incentives for those on the trailing edge to move to hydrogen. In short, Beijing and 3rd world capitals are going to be the last to be clean because they're going to be the last to adopt the new technology.

June 22, 2004

Using Immigration as a Foreign Policy Tool

Posted by TMLutas

In a followup to my earlier piece I privately corresponded with Mark Krikorian over the need for immigration restrictionists to make their arguments from net costs, not gross ones.

Unfortunately Mr. Krikorian has yet to be convinced and gave an almost rote repetition of the great (but gross) costs of large scale immigration of poor people. He did give a good link on immigrant ingratitude but Steve Sailor isn't quite getting at the problem that I usually address, the problem of the core and the gap. My latest salvo is below:


You are pointing out real, true costs of immigration, some which could be ameliorated via changes in public policy. I find it very puzzling that you would not want to make those changes in the very real immigration overhaul that should happen in the nearest possible future.

Most of the costs, from a conservative perspective, are ones that ought to be reformed anyway. Welfare reform may have added urgency due to immigrant abuse of it but it needed reform irrespective of the level of immigration. Linkage provides leverage for faster reform.

Regarding the foreign policy benefit of letting people into this country, the effect is greatest among immigrants who come, work, go home, and build a business there, not here. A middle class business owner may not be an advocate for economic freedom and the rule of law but, really, do you want to propose that on net that group won't strongly trend in this direction?

You also mistake the character of the foreign policy benefit. The existential challenge of the US in this age is not to be liked. To be liked is the cherry on top of the whole enterprise. The real problem is that we have a huge portion of the world that is disconnected from the functioning core of civilization. In that gap, the group of countries that are non-integrating, the pathologies of the world concentrate and periodically erupt. Yet no matter how poor the gap is, there is money, there is ability. There will always be people able to pry into the chinks in our armor and create ever larger attacks, killing and terrorizing us more until we cut ourselves off at the knees and drop to their height.

With the growing ease of creating WMD of all types and the utter simplicity of creating mass carnage even without WMD (see the Padilla plot for mass death via gas explosion in apartment buildings for a practical example), the US must resolve this challenge or utterly abandon any hope of fulfilling the most basic function of government, protecting the lives of its citizens.

We must use every tool, even if it depresses wage growth, even if it threatens certain industries with powerful competition (for example our sugar industry quota system has got to go). The most basic function of government must come first. We are vulnerable, highly vulnerable, to the most simple attacks. That our enemies either do not know this or are too disordered by our offensive operations is great good fortune and hard work that is not something we can depend on in perpetuity.

Immigration, in this context, can be a powerful tool for connection, for shrinking the Gap. This may create legions of people who cordially hate the US as LA residents hate NYC but who do not bomb NYC. I used to live in NY. I can take it. I suspect you can too.

Ah, Interview Day!

Posted by TMLutas

Today's the big day. My wife is going for her citizenship interview (thus the low level of posting around here lately as I gave her too much information on various subjects lightly covered in the BCIS interview). I still remember all the crazy days that started off with our meeting, educating her in the fine points of why she never, ever, ever wants to get a "J" visa and going through all the crazy paperwork hassles that immigration puts you through.

We're finally at the last hurdle, and when she passes (as I'm sure she will) she'll be taking the oath as soon as possible (though I don't know if Chicago provides for same day oaths).

Promoting Virtue II

Posted by TMLutas

SDB just put up his promoting virtue piece and has sufficiently adjusted his model of three women that I withdraw my previous suggestion to bump it to four. RTWT

It was SDB's original construct of Alice (where I thought he was too hard on the poor girl) that I was worried about. There is a rare case that is utterly impossible to create via human external action. This is the case where there is simply no temptation, not even in the most appealing circumstance. Alice, Betty, and Cathy can all shift to this fourth state, called sainthood by Christians. The historical ranks of the saints are mostly drawn from the Cathys of the world who work up to it but the Alices can have it from the start and the Bettys can reform and stick to it.

As I said, it is an utterly useless state when thinking about the promotion of virtue as there is no human method to prevent fleeting temptations that are not acted on, only divine intervention can accomplish that. It is the end state that all should aspire to and far too few actually achieve.

A society of saints makes a lot of things we normally worry about irrelevant. Saints don't lie, cheat, steal, or shirk so even the most defective of economic and political arrangements can work in a society exclusively made up of saints. Of course, utopians are always populating their imaginary societies with saints as it makes thinking up novel social arrangements much easier.

But in the real world, there is no reliable method to produce them. You just hope for them and try to shift as many people over to Cathy status as possible because the chance of Cathy moving to sainthood is somewhat larger and being a Cathy is a pretty good thing in itself.

June 20, 2004

NY Times to Clinton: You've Used Up Your Free Bites

Posted by TMLutas

Bill Clinton just got a wakeup call from the NY Times. He's no longer the head of the Democrat Party, he no longer gets a free pass since his fate can no longer sink the party, and he's made a lot of enemies over the years.

I've never had a lot of sympathy for clinton but this review is of a brutality that had me wincing in sympathy without even realizing it.

Ouch.

A Question for the Readers

Posted by TMLutas

Does anybody know how to price out a round trip to Baghdad? e-mail me if you have the answer.

June 19, 2004

Testing, Testing

Posted by TMLutas

For those who participate in comments, you already know that Bruce Rolston shut down Flitters. Now I have to figure out how to tie off the bloody stump on this end.

Please bear with me.

June 18, 2004

Promoting Virtue

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste's Singapore article provoked a bit of thought and some private conversation. SDB thought that his thoughts (yes, he does it long in email too) was easily adapted to a post and asked whether I wanted to put my own take up here so he could play off me.

Starting from the idea of Singapore being a society that intensely promotes virtue, I wrote:


Let me give you the story of two wives.

One does not look at other men because she loves her husband The other does not look at other men when she can be caught but lusts after them and fantasizes about sleeping with others.

Which woman is the more virtuous? Which woman's virtue would be safer if challenged (ie she came into a situation where she could sleep with someone without being caught)?

I suggest that virtue via state action is akin to the second woman. It is a hollow thing that is all too frail. It is not more intense at all. It just is more overbearing.

I would suggest that you would get a lot further with talk of reform by talking about replacing inefficient and ineffective government efforts to promote virtue with more effective and efficient private ones. Take a moment to look from the eyes of your poor opponent in such an argument. How would he counter it? He can only insist that public efforts be maintained where they are more effective. He lays himself open to the step by step destruction of his position as public controls are demonstrated to be worse than private social consensus.

One of the great secrets of the monotheistic concept of free will is that God knows that puppets are of little worth compared to those who freely choose Him, freely choose virtue.

I'll leave SDB to elaborate his own theories but he expands out my model to three wives (when the article goes up, I'll link to it here). I like the extension but saw what I thought was a rough spot and expanded to four. I'll save that (brief) note for later.

Update: SDB's article is here

Pissing on Reagan's Grave

Posted by TMLutas

For those that have forgotten (or never knew) Ronald Reagan was a pro-life politician. He was very strong in his beliefs and would not even make the smallest philosophical concession in the proposition that life begins at conception. Free standing, embryonic stem cell research funding, had it come to his desk in the form of legislation would have been vetoed and given a scathing veto message to take back to the Congress.

The Chicago Report notes that the ghouls have decided to dance on Reagan's grave and relieve themselves on the freshly turned earth by renaming stem cell legislation "in honor" of Ronald Reagan. It's a disgrace. Unfortunately, it's likely going to be repeated across the country if pro-life activists don't get the truth out about Reagan's history on life issues.

June 17, 2004

Defining Islam

Posted by TMLutas

A story in Dhimmi Watch got me thinking. Turkey's prime minister Erdogan made a very strong statement when he stated that there is just Islam, that there is no such thing as moderate Islam. So when Al Queda blows up and kills muslims by other means, calling them apostate, that means that those dead (some of them Turkish) are either apostates or Osama bin Laden is. It's a pity that nobody asked the good prime minister that. The next time somebody says that there are no such things as moderate and radical muslims, somebody should ask. I would be fascinated by the answer.

Defining Brownshirts

Posted by TMLutas

Academia has always had a problem throwing out the brownshirts. Academic freedom cannot survive organized campaigns of violence and intimidation but cast the net too wide and you get official repression of dissenting view. With the controversy over Prof. John Yoo, it's starting to become evident that where to draw the line is once again going to be a problem.

What Prof. Woo did is provide legal advice, exploring whether or not the Taliban or Al Queda fell under the terms of the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions provide lots of different protections and they should be viewed as something of a reward for honoring the restrictions in warfare that qualify you for them. According to the petitioners, because Prof. Woo did not interject observations unrelated to the question (whether torture was ok), he should be drummed out of academia.

The petitioners are still (barely) on the civilized side of the brownshirt category in my opinion. How much further they can go before they cross the line would be an interesting question. With the long-established pattern of criminal conduct against conservatives at university being accepted by faculty and staff all over the nation, I don't think this will be an intellectual exercise for very long.

Update: If you're not that familiar with the torture memos, Prof. Yoo had a recent defense of them in the LA Times.

Immigration Cost Analysis

Posted by TMLutas

Over at NRO's The Corner, Andrew Stuttaford misses the point of Bush's new immigration initiative. I always pegged the immigration initiative as a twofer, neither of which is what Stuttaford thinks the initiative is about. The reasons to support the initiative are that it will increase the proportion of people coming into this country via legal means and thus dry up the protective camouflage that terrorists sneaking into the country need and that it is a more effective means of foreign aid than traditional government disbursements.

The first is a pretty clear benefit but the latter requires a bit of explanation. Large corporations have long known that if you want to train people to behave in significantly different ways (to counter a national culture, for example) it is very useful to take them out of their normal environments and train them in an environment where the desired behavior is the cultural norm. Once they've gotten used to that norm, they are much better equipped to maintain their new behaviors when they go home.

This dynamic works the same whether the training program is a formal bout of instruction or it consists of the informal lessons in capitalism and freedom that all immigrants get in the US. So Stuttaford's observations of lower wages for americans needs to be tempered by the real benefits to our foreign policy of trying to lift other nations out of tyranny and poverty. The relevant facts are as follows:

On the cost side:
How much money has been lost in wages by the excess immigrants who would not otherwise be in the US?

On the benefit side:
How much foreign aid money would we have had to spend to get the equivalent good effect of the people who go back and, with their new found wealth, fund pro-freedom politics in their own country, inspire others who have never gone to the US to fight more for their own freedoms, and generally enhance the probability of a government and culture that is happy with the US?

If you only examine the gross cost without also throwing in the benefits of the plan, it's neither a useful, nor persuasive, analysis. Stuttaford's (and the LA Times' article on which they arebased) error is twofold.

On the cost side, noncitizens are not a monolithic category. One example is that our pathological tort system has driven out enough domestic doctors that we cannot run our medical system without importing doctors. You could close the borders down very tightly and you'd still need to import doctors.

There is also the phenomenon of permanent residents who simply haven't applied for citizenship. My parents became citizens after 10 years, my wife will be doing it after 6. Since Hispanics seem to have very low voter participation rates, I strongly suspect that they also are not jumping quickly on the citizenship process and there are plenty of people who keep renewing their green cards many years after they qualify for citizenship.

The benefit side is completely unexamined, both from a security standpoint, and as a more efficient form of foreign aid. This isn't to say that the numbers absolutely would justify the program. But without the relevant numbers and an honest examination of them, all we have are dressed up, adult versions of playground arguments.

June 16, 2004

Instilling Virtue

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste has an interesting article up highlighting correspondance with Daryl a correspondent from Singapore. They speak to each other about law and order but it seems wrong somehow. To my eyes, the discussion is less about revolution and more about virtue and how to instill it. Normally, I'd run this in email to the fellow in Singapore but since I can't seem to find his email...

Virtue, in the both Singapore and the US, is of concern by the state. But the liberal values of the US make instilling virtue largely something that the people do while in Singapore, the state works intensively in the field of promoting virtue. While this has good effects in some areas, it lays waste the entire field of intellectual exploration and creates a group of people who are much more vulnerable to cultural change by exposure to new ideas. Singaporeans may show higher levels of virtue in their controlled environment but they must stay small, stay inside that environment for the system to continue to work.

In contrast the virtue promotion system in the US is much more resilient. It will never achieve the high levels that a Singaporan style system can achieve but it can survive assault much better. I can't imagine how Singapore would handle the gay marriage situation that has arisen in the US where elements in the government are violating laws and issuing tendentious court decisions. I can't imagine it would be resolved without violence whereas I can hardly imagine it ending in violence in the US.

Both systems obviously are viable in the short run but I think that Singapore's the one that's really in trouble. It's handicapped intellectual class will continually need to import the results its freer colleagues are creating because they will continue to fall behind without reforms giving them more freedom. And they will be vulnerable to intellectual movements that are incompatible with the state system they have chosen because the third raters who remain in Singapore and work under the censorious government rules will not be able to forever reconcile Singapore's unique system with the progress the rest of the world is producing.

Singapore will have to change. I just hope that it's a gradual, peaceful shift.

June 15, 2004

The Little Dutch Boy

Posted by TMLutas

I've been looking for a story, a simple story, that would help explain my attitude towards government v. private effort in solving problems. I think I've come up with something.

The story of the little dutch boy is pretty well known by everybody. Boy walks around, sees water coming through dike, sticks his finger in dike and saves town from flood. Townspeople eventually come to his rescue and replace him with a permanent fix.

This is a very heroic story of courage and doing what it takes in an emergency when nobody else is around to fix things, even if your solution is not the best for the long haul. If water coming through the dike is a generic problem, the little dutch boy's brave solution is government action. It works but it's a patch. Even he knows that he can't stay there forever but he'll bravely stick it out until help arrives with a better solution.

Big government types see the little dutch boy and says "hey, good solution. Let's stick with that". Instead of fixing the dike with a better fix (private action) they stick with the patch because it's less effort than shifting to a permanent one. They institute a line of little dutch boys so they can swap off, sticking their finger in the dike.

It's a really stupid idea, no? But that's the entire point. Problems have to get solved. Government solutions, when they're the only game in town, are preferable to disaster. But the spirit of adopting them should always be the little dutch boy's heartfelt happiness when he no longer has to do it anymore. In the real world, the townspeople have to fight him, kicking and screaming, to get his damn finger out of the dike so the permanent fix can go in.

Invisible Cloaks, Invisible Walls

Posted by TMLutas

John Cole couldn't think of a legal, moral use for an invisibility cloak. That kind of bothered me and as I was reading another article on the subject, a completely above board use came to mind. Translucent walls would make an excellent improvement in the eastern christian iconostasis.

Another use will be in the fashion world. One thing that is not made very clear in most articles about this technology is that the realistic image projected out does not absolutely have to be what is on the other side of the body. Imagine images that subtly enhance the body image that you would otherwise project. That will be the subtle end of the spectrum but combine this technology with a punk rock sensibility and the sky's the limit.

June 14, 2004

This Could Have Been Iraq

Posted by TMLutas

The OmbudsGod has the goods on Hans Blix:


Former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix cast doubt on Wednesday on charges that Iran engaged in a civilian energy programme to make a nuclear bomb, saying there was no direct evidence. Reuters, November 12, 2003

Iran on Saturday said it would reject international restrictions on its nuclear program and challenged the world to accept Tehran as a member of the "nuclear club." -- Associated Press, June 12, 2004


That could have been a quote from Saddam Hussein after sanctions were lifted. Remember, the programs were there, that much has been documented.

Drumming Someone Out of Academia

Posted by TMLutas

Juan Non-Volokh comments on Prof. Yoo's troubles at Berkeley. The problem seems to be that Prof. Yoo worked for the Bush Justice Department and issued a controversial memorandum on torture. This, according to student petitioners requires recantation or resignation. Juan Non-Volokh appropriately skewers the petitioners, demonstrating that even when granting the most favorable possible view of the facts, resignation is not an appropriate punishment and would damage academia more than cleanse it.

One thing that is not examined is what is the appropriate reaction regarding petitioners who assault academic freedom under a specious claim to improving academia? Should it instead be the petitioners who "repent or resign"?

June 13, 2004

The Billion Smartasses of Catholicism

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste has a very wide ranging article on the concepts of ethics, identity, and property. At one point, he talks about the discovered ethical problem of tissue and identity transference and how this leads to very unpleasant answers for christians. I suggest that this is an unlikely situation because of the billion smartasses of Catholicism.

An explanation is in order.

The Catholic Church runs one of if not the biggest school system on the planet. Like all schools, each one of them has their share of smartasses who ask questions like this because they're bored and they want to play "stump the teacher" or in this case priest. Over the centuries, there have probably been billions of smartasses posing an uncounted number of impertinent and improbable questions. Sometimes they just get the brush off, but surprisingly often not and there is a huge body of scholarship that resides in the bowels of the Vatican containing the answers to a lot of very unlikely questions, many posed by that great inspiration to research, the billion smartasses of Catholicism.

I claim honorary membership among the BSoC as poor Fr. Clinet can probably attest to from Heaven. Even though I never attended catholic schools, I made up for it by asking questions later. When I discovered Catholic Answers I really felt I'd discovered a little slice of Heaven. Even today, I'm looking with great anticipation as the Catholic Church takes all of that collected knowledge and documentation and (too slowly!) puts it up on the web. I've found it of invaluable use to differentiate between media spin as to what the Catholic Church's position is and the actual position. The two are not often in agreement.

But back to SDB's essay. Because he places his dilemma in the realm of science fiction, he seems to believe that this is some new uncharted realm. However, a much more mundane situation nearly fits the same challenges, the case of amnesiacs. If you have a murderer who becomes an amnesiac and the new personality is holy, do the prior sins count against him during final judgment? Since such cases have undoubtedly come up in the last two millennia plus the BSoC has undoubtedly posed the question numerous times, I feel confident that somewhere there are entire volumes devoted to such questions.

But I find the very idea that memory is necessary for guilt to be highly unsatisfactory. Imagine SDB's mad scientist did not go around switching brains but rather made a machine which could produce targeted amnesia. If an assassin is trained and has every one of his murders wiped from his memory, is he guilty of murder? He doesn't remember doing a single one. How satisfactory would a world be where this assassin would not be guilty?

Check.

June 12, 2004

Fixing Military Reporting

Posted by TMLutas

As I was just finishing off my previous note it struck me that what the media really needs is a set of credible people who watchdog their military coverage and embarrass them into hiring some people who are competent in matters military. This isn't for any sort of ideological reasons but just so they have sufficient expertise to competently exercise their news judgment.

But who would do it? It struck me that we've a set of groups who are perfectly capable of pulling it off, veteran's groups. If some local VFW posts start embarrassing the local media because they're running AP or UPI pieces that are shamefully incorrect on the basic facts, the local outlets are going to start giving the wire services an earful. A report card grading system could be instituted, the military reporting competence index with an award show yearly. I'm sure that CSPAN would cover it.

Reporting on the Military Competently

Posted by TMLutas

Iraq Now is really turning into a nice little news source for things military. The latest gem illustrates how to figure out whether the military dogs really were there on orders from higher ups or this is just a piece of someone's PR campaign that has no basis in reality.

The answers might be classified but there is no reason for journalists not to ask the question and for constituents who have Congressmen on the relevant oversight committee(s) to hammer their lawmakers to get to the bottom of this.

The whole Abu Ghraib scandal has high potential to really do a number on the US military's prosecution of the war. If we've veered off course at higher levels this needs to be found and fixed as soon as possible, not drawn out for political advantage. An incompetent group of journalists isn't helping this process move forward.

June 11, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXIV

Posted by TMLutas

Steven Den Beste get's enthusiastic support on energy from Reverend Sensing. Unsurprisingly, I disagree:


If exposing the fallacy that conservation would be enough is all that SDB were doing, I would join you in cheering him in his efforts. Unfortunately, that is not all that he's doing. He also attacks the idea of creating new sources of energy both as additions to and replacements of oil on any significant scale. This has several bad effects.

First of all, it is inaccurate. We are fast approaching a crossover point where our current energy creation and use infrastructure is going to be significantly changed. SDB's essays are not consistent with this coming reality. GM does not make a habit of seriously considering pie-in-the-sky solutions for its car platform powerplants, nor do major oil companies rush to rebrand themselves on a whim. Have you noticed lately that everybody's an energy company now?

If SDB is right, we might as well elect the "realism" candidate this November, John Kerry, as there are hard engineering limits that make spreading liberty to the 3rd world (and thus a free market hungry for energy) impractical and destabilizing for us.

Fortunately, SDB is wrong on this issue. He realizes the magnitude of the task but fails to understand that people are meeting the challenges. It's a hellishly complicated and difficult thing, to remake an energy infrastructure. By giving the false impression that it's not merely difficult, but impossible, SDB has turned himself into a nattering nabob of negativism.

June 10, 2004

Withdrawing Constitutional Protections

Posted by TMLutas

I recently had the pleasure of a cousin coming to visit me in Chicago. He's in the political game and enjoys talking philosophy and politics. In our discussion on abortion, he drew the line at brain wave activity. If the unborn child thought, it should not be killed without some sort of medical emergency. I praised him for seeking to restrict abortion by that amount and said I'd be happy to get the law to reflect his position, coming back for the rest of the unborn in another round.

*ding* *ding* round two coming up.

Imagine a strange sort of malady. It absolutely flat lines your brain, killing you if you don't have body support. But if you do have physical support to keep your body going, in 10 weeks, you will wake from your profound vegetative state to eventually make a full recovery. During the time which you don't have brain waves, do you surrender your right to life? Why not?

The common sense position is that if you know you're going to come out of this vegetative state with a very high probability of full function, it makes no sense to pull the plug even weeks and months of monitoring and not detecting a single brain wave. Pulling the plug and killing the patient when there is a reasonable chance for later good health and meaningful independent life is simply not acceptable, especially if the reason to pull the plug is convenience on the part of others. Even if the recovery is only partial, pulling the plug is not ethical, nor would the local prosecutor likely find it legal.

So why does a human life that will almost certainly develop into a normal, thinking, rational individual because brain wave activity has not started yet, though it is almost certain to start in a short time?

Letter to the Paper XXIII

Posted by TMLutas

Dhimmi Watch asks "where, o where, is this deep knowledge of Islam that will refute the radicals? Virtualy every analysis I've seen from self-proclaimed moderates is superficial and doesn't confront radical exegesis of the Qur'an and Sunnah at all." It's a fair question with a very simple answer. When alternate interpretations are burned, the Koran subtly changed shortly after its compilation, and heterodox muslims subject to death for centuries, the cruel jihadists have an enormous amount of their authority tied up in the idea of an unchanging Koran:


I will attempt to answer this challenge. The first key to disarming Islam is not some sort of alternate Koran. For centuries, any alternate Korans have been destroyed and a myth promulgated that the Koran of today is exactly the same as always, that the book is unchanging. This is a lie which has been disproven by the discovery of early koranic fragments which differ in minor ways from the modern Koran. That the Koran has a history, a history that has been ruthlessly suppressed by religious authorities and secular rulers in the muslim world is a huge deal. It means that it is possible to be an honest heterodox muslim and simultaneously be closer to true Islam than the hidebound imams who preach the cult of death.

If the apostates are those who kill to defend an inauthentic koran, the entire muslim world is turned on its head. These strident apostates have been masquerading as the true believers. Without the authority of the unchanging Koran, they are lost entirely. There is the loose thread that will unravel the Islamist abomination.

June 09, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXII

Posted by TMLutas

Thomas Barnett's got a review of reviews series going and he picked a negative, pseudo-libertarian one this time. I say pseudo-libertarian because I don't believe that libertarianism is properly about accepting brutal foreign tyranny in preference to the risk of domestically losing our souls. I wrote as much in comments:


There are times when olympian judgment is necessary to judge the morality of a particular war. Then there is now. If you have somebody declare war (Islamists, Osama bin Laden), you should take that seriously and oblige the declarer with a war. The fact that we did not led to thousands dead in NY and DC. The war that was declared was a very old fashioned sort of war, non-Westphalian. We haven't had one of those in a very, very long time.

Non-Westphalian wars are incredibly destructive. That's why we stopped having them after the 30 Years War via non-interference in domestic affairs (enshrined in the Peace of Westphalia, thus Westphalianism). But non-Westphalian wars are the only ones that the Gap can reasonably have a chance at winning.

I'm a libertarian. I believe in reducing government to the maximum extent possible so we're dealing with a campfire, not a forest fire. That being said, when the wolves come out of the darkness, it's time to grab a burning brand and swing away. The scary part of formal Libertarianism has always been the unwillingness of too many libertarians to risk the forest fire to save ourselves. It is raising the forest's health as fetish over the value of our own lives and freedoms.

If we swing our flaming brands too energetically, we may end up lighting a conflagration of tyranny. But baring your own throat to the wolf instead of taking the risk to defend yourself is no solution, not even a libertarian one.

June 08, 2004

Energy War Redux

Posted by TMLutas

Greg Burch wonders why he is being misunderstood about his energy comments. Perhaps this will explain my take on his remarks:


We've got years, perhaps decades, of violent conflict with the Islamic world ahead of us. Sooner or later we'll have to realize that the only thing that is making this necessary is our dependence on oil from the Middle East. The culture that is attempting to destroy us is on artificial life support through the money pumped into the Middle East for oil. If that stopped, our enemy would wither and die, or change.

In the scenario of shrinking the Gap, the end of the age of oil would leave oil as a major component feedstock in the hydrogen economy. The arabs would be making just as much money as before, perhaps even more. It all depends on how much we grow the energy supplies via increased efficiency in the 3rd world, new energy sources, and increased exploitation of conventional sources on the one hand (driving down arab oil income). The other hand is how fast we shrink the Gap and bring on hungry new economies who thirst for energy and will bid up the price (improving oil incomes for OPEC). If winning the war is shrinking the Gap, the arabs make money maybe even more money than before. In this scenario, impoverishing the arabs isn't the goal, it's counterproductive as poor arabs are likely to be in the Gap.

Campaign Questions I

Posted by TMLutas

I just sent off the following to the Badnarik campaign's media email. It's a list of 9 questions that I hope will provoke not only interesting answers but more than a little thought into what exactly a Libertarian candidate should be thinking and talking about during the campaign and beyond:


I would be interested in the candidate's position on the following 9 questions which I will post on my blog, Flit(TM) http://www.snappingturtle.net/jmc/tmblog/

1. Muslims run a parallel judiciary which, unlike most western religious courts, includes physical punishments for both believers and nonbelievers. The muslim judiciary's judgments (fatwas) can and have had the effect of reducing freedom of speech and artistic freedom. What do you think is appropriate government action to defend americans against these foreign courts who assert jurisdiction over us without our consent and while we stay in our own country?

2. What should the government role be in restraining private individuals from conducting their own foreign policy. And when such individuals inevitably offend foreign governments what should be the federal government's role regarding any attempts by foreign governments at retribution?

3. Lax government prosecution of corporate crimes such as fraud have led to substitute legislation such as antitrust and RICO law. How should government act in order to establish that corporate fraud will no longer be tolerated even in highly complex and technical cases such as Microsoft?

4. If elected, what are the measures you would take to ensure that transition to a libertarian society will be orderly and fair? How will you act in order to minimize injustice during the changeover?

5. Do you believe that the right to restrict copying via patents, copyrights, and trademarks is an acceptable compromise of our liberty? How should a proper balance be struck between copiers, derivers, and innovators?

6. Do you think that marriage should entail civil privileges, on what grounds, to what extent, and to what end?

7. What is the appropriate executive response to courts that base judicial decisions on foreign, not domestic legislation? What is the appropriate response for mixed cases where judicial decisions are rendered in part under the Constitution and in part under foreign law not incorporated via treaty or legislation?

8. If elected, how would you handle the rights of US citizens in space? With the imminent dawn of successful non-government space programs, how far should the US government go in extending constitutional protections to citizens in orbit and beyond?

9. At what point does a human gain constitutional rights and at what point do such rights cease and do you think the lines are properly drawn today?

If I get any response, it will be posted.

Get Rid of 80% of Spam

Posted by TMLutas

A new study estimates that 80% of spam out on the 'net today is from compromised MS Windows systems. Spam is now the majority of email messages sent and a huge source of lost productivity and daily annoyance. It's time to start shifting the customers who are highly likely to be compromised out of Windows. If Grandma and Grandpa want to get on the Internet, by all means encourage them. But also encourage them to get a Macintosh.

June 07, 2004

Future Tech Library

Posted by TMLutas

This whole energy innovation thread that Steven Den Beste has written about reminds me of a very basic principle in innovation. There are two kinds of innovation, incremental and disruptive (revolutionary). Incremental advances are the most common. You take your vacuum tube and you make it 3% better. A disruptive or revolutionary technology would be replacing vacuum tubes with solid state transistors.

In the world of incremental technology, SDB's pessimistic world view about the possibility of feasible radical advances is just good sense. Nobody is ever going to build a space elevator out of kevlar no matter how you improve the weave of the stuff.

But there is another world, the world of disruptive technology. It's a world where science fiction turns into science fact because where the author talks about beanstalks made of "unobtanium" a japanese electron microscopist turns unobtanium into carbon nanotubes one day in 1991. And all of a sudden the race is on to realize the high strength potential of this disruptive advance in material science. All of a sudden a hundred boyhood tales from pulp science fiction are no longer mere flights of fancy because material science has caught up.

What I think is missing in the optimists' presentations is in defining their "unobtaniums". If you don't understand that you're really asking for a miracle, you get the idea that making these things happen is just a matter of time. It's not just time but time plus disruptive advances. How much better does energy capture + energy transmission efficiency have to get before solar power satellites become commercially feasible? How low do you have to have sunny location land prices before a terrestrial mirror solar station become practical?

Something complex, like novel energy forms, might well require several different disruptive advances. Solar Power Stations require a revolution in lower launch costs, significant increases in collection efficiency and better orbit to ground transmission efficiency, for example. Core taps require radical improvements in drilling technique both in the ability to drill deep and to drill cheap.

Such advances might be coming from any of several different fields. Laser drilling seems to be the best hope for core taps and that's largely come from impressive work done by defense contractors researching SDI missile defense systems. The oil extraction industry sees laser drilling as a way to improve speed and thus efficiency in deploying very expensive drill platforms.

A few hundred years ago, it would be ludicrous to even try to keep track of all the miracles you need. But, as I've noted before, the rate at which disruptive technologies occur has been accelerating for centuries and it's no longer unrealistic to think that there will be enough new disruptive inventions in our lifetimes to start keeping more formal track of the impractical dreams of today.

Let's take flying cars for instance. We currently have at least 04:13 PM | Comments

Political Graciousness

Posted by TMLutas

On his passing, Reagan has both elicited a lot of nastiness from the left as well as some surprisingly gracious and appropriate tributes from his political opponents. I hope that when Carter and Clinton's time comes, the right can skip the cattiness and just stick with the gracious tributes.

June 06, 2004

The End of the Oil Age

Posted by TMLutas

The idea of the end of the oil age is completely misunderstood by far too many people. Unfortunately that seems to include Greg Burch You don't have to eliminate all use of oil to end the oil age. In fact, oil usage will continue to happen long after the end of the age of oil much as whale oil continued to be used long after the current oil age (petroleum version) started.

Let's say that average petroleum based motor has a lifetime of 20 years (some more, some less). Let's further stipulate that we count an engine that uses twice as much petroleum twice as much as a smaller motor. Taking this weighted measure means that every year, we're replacing 5% of our oil demand (these are not real numbers). When the age of oil ends, most motors won't be replaced any faster than normal. They'll just run out their lives and be replaced by the new technology, let's say electric motors using hydrogen fuel cells for power with an ultimate source of orbital solar power.

The oil wells will still be pumping for motor two decades after the end of the oil age. They'll still be pumping after that because oil will be needed for lubrication, for plastic production, and for non-fuel uses. Since the Middle East is the world's low cost producer, they'll be the last producers forced to cap their wells because of lack of profits. Making the arabs choke on their oil won't be accomplished by ending the oil age.

But ending the oil age is necessary to win the GWOT in a way that is completely different than what Greg Burch talks about on his blog. We need to end the oil age so that we vastly increase our available energy stream to bring the world into the Functioning Core and out of the Non-Integrating Gap. As states enter the Core, they cease to be terrorist producers and start to be terrorist fighters. We can only win when the terrorists no longer have safe haven states which are pretty much to be found in the Gap and not the Core. The demand for additional energy to fulfill this project far exceeds what we can deliver using current methods even if we go all out and remove most political restraints on energy production. We just don't have enough oil, uranium, natural gas, or coal to manage the huge new demands on energy.

This sad fact is a major reason why we need to shift over to a hydrogen economy, not because it's cleaner (though it tends to be), but because it is multi-fuel friendly. In fact, being multi-fuel friendly is largely what makes hydrogen cleaner. It smoothes out renewable, bursty electrical sources into hydrogen producers that can release hydrogen out when it's needed, not when the sun's out or the wind's blowing and it's a lot better than the current battery alternatives.

Any bright new idea for energy has a much lower barrier of entry in a hydrogen economy. So if you have turkey guts, you convert them to hydrogen and plug your (smallish) contribution into a common energy backplane. No more need to tune cars for different fuels. Everything is convertible into hydrogen and everything can run on hydrogen. No more retooling infrastructure to accommodate advances in energy production.

Tasteless Politics

Posted by TMLutas

With the passing of Ronald Reagan at the advanced age of 93, most mourn his passing (as I do), some people cheer in a disgusting display of partisanship, and some people can't take off their political hats for even one day.

K-Lo wonders why CNN's Bill Schneider would warn conservatives not to "politicize Reagan". I can spot it now and it's a slam dunk. The obvious meme that's waiting for Rove to notice is "win one for the Gipper". Look for it to show up, quietly, discreetly, in very Republican circles over the election campaign.

June 05, 2004

Media Unprotected

Posted by TMLutas

The DNC is taking a huge risk by moving their convention media center outside convention security. Viking Pundit thinks this will just annoy the media. I think it'll be much worse than that. The name of the game for protesters is to gain media attention. If the media is outside of the security perimeter, there is nothing between the protesters and the media. They won't be bothering to protest the convention. The smart ones will just ring the media center and protest there. If they besiege the media and they can't get to the convention, the only story they'll have is the protest.

Energy Scaling: Separating Wheat from Chaff

Posted by TMLutas

Poor SDB. Apparently every time the USS Clueless enters the wild and wooly waters of alternative energy, he gets inundated with ideas that simply won't scale and won't work. For the most part, he's holding up admirably well but I have my usual nits to pick.

One of the biggest is that just because there are people who provide ideas that simply do not fly, it does not follow that there aren't serious, reasonable methods of going forward with a solution. Mea culpa, I googled up a link that solved the problem of high efficiency electricity to microwave conversion and missed that this particular approach was unlikely to scale (at least according to Steven Den Beste's dismissal). Upon further research, the papers at JUSPS provides several papers examining the specific problem of space to earth power transmission and seems to be an awful lot more optimistic even though they're also realistic enough to know that this is not going to happen tomorrow.

One paper I found particularly interesting was this one from the University of Michigan (PDF) which contrasted the vacuum tube approach that SDB characterized this way:


This is one of the few remaining applications where semiconductors have not yet displaced vacuum tubes. In a modern TV transmitter rated for 500 KW or 1 MW, everything is transistorized right up to the very last amplification stage, which uses vacuum tubes the size of garbage cans.

The satellite downlink will have to generate and transmit as much RF as a thousand such TV stations. Doing that is difficult. Doing that with 90% efficiency is "nontrivial".


The recommendation of the paper is to use semiconductor components in a decentralized fashion. Apparently the current state of the art for doing the space power to ground is currently 60% efficiency. Losing 40% of your power getting it to ground is no walk in the park but considering that you're gaining over 5x the energy by going above the atmosphere, this is an acceptable loss since your net gain is thus a bit over 3x terrestrial solar energy potential. Distributed conversion also creates larger surface areas for heat dissipation, a real problem for space applications.

Whether the original link that provides a 90% solution can be combined with the decentralized, distributed approach currently rated at 60% is not something that I'm really qualified to judge. I do suspect that the answer to such challenges is much more likely to be in the engineering realm of "tough and challenging" rather than "nontrivial". With cheap enough lift costs 60% efficiency might be feasible today. We don't have enough numbers in our debate to be sure yet where the tipover points are.

I've gotten burned myself on things I thought would "never" happen, or not in my lifetime. In 1978, environmental airheads were touting synfuels as a panacea and I, in my youth, sneered at the idea that I'd ever see anything practical come out of such pie in the sky research. They were extracting tar sand oil for about $40/barrel in 1979. In today's money (2003) that's somewhat north of $101 a barrel. The current extraction cost is $12 a barrel which puts Canada's Albertan oil sands right around Russia's Siberian extraction costs.

The skeptics were right that it was far too little and too late to fix an oil shock that died away in the next few years but the optimists were right to pursue the technology. A few hundred thousand barrels out of Canada (limited only by water availability), and who knows how many other hundreds of thousands of barrels available in nontraditional oil areas (Brazil for example) and you have a significant addition to world supply that isn't going to run out anytime soon.

So one problem is not one of technological difficulty but of time. I think that it will take decades, not centuries to solve the problems because serious scientists are putting out papers showing progress that's going along at a fair clip and they seem to have at least conceptually solved an awful lot of the problems already.

Another time component is that we're talking about a crisis that isn't going to go away after a few years like the 1979 oil shock did. We're talking about a multi-decade effort that is going to roll up the Gap and pull the third world into intimate contact with the first, creating a place where everybody has a stake in the system and there is no place where you can go off and plot for many years to create WMD in some sort of safe haven where the locals are with you.

So if you combine the shortening of time from thousands of years to tens of years on the solution side and the lengthening of the crisis time from the few years that some people (not necessarily SDB) think that this GWOT is going to last to the decades I believe will be the minimum time it's going to take to really solve the problem and you have an inescapable conclusion. Hunting after new energy sources including unconventional sources is an important component to winning the war.

Moderate Muslims Getting Their Act Together

Posted by TMLutas

Muslim women are taking courageous action to shake up Islam and start the process of reform in that faith. They are agitating to be able to pray in the main hall of mosques along with the men. I've spoken often in the past about the need of moderate muslims to clean up Islam and I view this as an important step. It's similar, in its way, to France's banning of veils in schools, a small act on the face of it that is exquisitely designed to provoke a foolish madness on the part of radicals that will weaken the radicals position and drive them out from positions of power.

This movement of praying in the main hall has the advantage of being an entirely intra-muslim affair. There is no hope of labelling this as anti-muslim, or a crusade and thus shutting down reason and thought. Bravo for the women and I look forward to more initiatives like this. Hopefully the Wahabbi import imams will either change their outlook or change their address and go back to Saudi Arabia and do one of the two soon.

More Media Follies

Posted by TMLutas

Jason Van Steenwyk over at Iraq Now is doing very good work exposing media incompetence covering the military. They can't be bothered to fact check simple things like rank, military structure, and unit identification on our own forces. How can we ever trust them to even get the basic facts right on the other side?

The only nit to pick over the excellent Iraq Now coverage is we haven't found out yet who he thinks (beside himself) we should be depending on to get real news. Who are the good guys of military media coverage?

June 04, 2004

Good News From the PRC

Posted by TMLutas

They seem to be getting ready to get rid of their one child policy. Putting aside the horrendous immorality of the entire project, the practical effects have always been dubious.

The purpose of the project has always been to preserve social stability by slowing the growth of population so that the PRC's (then) creaky economic system could catch up. But the "solution" of the one child policy led to mass female infanticide with the PRC currently at a sex ratio of 117 boys for every 100 girls. This is a ratio that will lead to instability if continued not just internally for the PRC but externally as the female shortage is arbitraged away or surplus males are sent on casualty rich military adventures.

Hopefully speculation that Shanghai's new policy of relaxing birth limits will spread to a general abandonment of the one child policy is more than just speculation.

The Problem of Horizontal Thinkers

Posted by TMLutas

Two of my favorite thinkers are Steven Den Beste and Thomas PM Barnett. They both regularly help stretch my mind and provide lots of provocative, useful thoughts that have wide implications. They are what I like to call horizontal thinkers. They roam across the intellectual landscape assembling new and useful structures without diving in depth to work out the details (which would be vertical thinking). Barnett is even more of a horizontal thinker than SDB but I believe that he better understands the limitations of this particular mode of thought and doesn't fall into the major trap of horizontal thinking, thinking that variables are constants and making generalizations that, on further, deeper examination, simply don't hold up.

SDB has a pretty good summary posted on his site of the process by which we would follow in ending the oil age to replace it with some other energy source. His article fails in that it has some factual errors in it which are sufficient to invalidate his conclusions on new energy sources. It's a particularly thorny problem of article analysis because on the larger point he's right, ending the oil age isn't going solve our terrorism problem (that analysis is going to be another post after this one).

My beef with the article is not that there is some easy way to end the oil age. But the problems are tough and challenging, not nontrivial.

From Den Beste's previous note on electric cars we find out that terrestrial solar is at most in the range of 240 watts per square meter. This contrasts with orbital solar which has a value of 1400 watts per square meter, 5.8 times the energy available per square meter. This is the foundation of the promise of extra-atmospheric solar energy (of both orbital and lunar varieties).

The first major problem in the realm of facts comes here:


Solar satellite power generation is particularly poor in this regard. Sunlight is concentrated using mirrors (with some losses) onto a boiler (with some of the light reflecting instead of being converted to heat, and some of the heat radiating away via black-box radiation). The next few steps are the same as for a coal plant: steam drives a turbine, which drives a dynamo, which generates electricity. At that point, all you have to do is to deliver it, but that is not easy with solar satellites.

No design for solar power generation that I have ever seen uses this system. They're all based on solar cells and most of those designs have fresnel lenses over those to concentrate solar energy onto the cells. Solar cell efficiencies is another (smaller) error that affects his reasoning. Typical commercial cells are not 10% efficient as his background article states but rather are currently at 15% and going up. As Den Beste points out himself, incremental changes in any long chain conversion can have large results in the end:


The efficiencies of every step have to be multiplied together to calculate the overall system efficiency. If you have five steps and each one wastes 20%, then each step has an efficiency of 0.8, and the overall system efficiency will be 0.8*0.8*0.8*0.8*0.8 == 0.328, meaning about 33% of the original energy would be delivered to end users, with the remaining 67% being lost. But if each of those five steps wasted 30% instead of 20%, the overall system would only deliver 17% of the original energy. The more conversions required, and the worse the efficiency on those conversions, then the lower the efficiency of the overall system.

You just have to change Den Beste's pessimistic scenario of increasing inefficiency into an optimistic one of increasing efficiency.

Since some applications are profitable at 15% efficiency, solar cell efficiency improvement work is no longer pie in the sky but a commercial imperative that will generate continuous, small, incremental improvement in photovoltaic efficiencies as time goes on. This sort of virtuous circle where a small profitable market creates incentives to increase efficiency, thus enlarging the market are what you want to look for in determining whether a larger, challenging project is merely difficult and challenging or nontrivial.

SDB makes a claim that microwave conversion to electricity is a very lossy procedure. This is only if DC-RF conversion of 85-90% (pdf link) is considered "a lot of losses". I don't think that's 10%-15% in loss was what SDB had in mind when he said this.

SDB is more right regarding the RF-DC conversion inefficiency on the other end. That figure seems to be in the mid 20% range. There doesn't seem to be much of a virtuous circle there with no obvious currently profitable applications so this end is in need of basic R&D to make work.

Atmospheric effects (another potential loss) are generally pretty predictable and affect some wavelengths far less than others. It is certain that the wavelength picked for transmission will be one which minimizes distortion.

SDB didn't get into it much this time but lift costs are a huge barrier to orbital solar power stations. With the availability of new materials, space elevators and other novel lift platforms are becoming feasible and will radically lower lift costs.

But even SDB's preferred solution of core taps succumbs to his horizontal thinking vagueness. He's right that laser drilling looks promising but he doesn't seem to realize that laser drilling is recognized as faster and is being seriously scrutinized as the next generation drilling technology of choice for the oil and gas industry because it works faster than conventional drilling technology.

SDB took on an almost impossible task, proving that something cannot be done feasibly. Very great scientific minds are regularly embarrassed by previous negative predictions that something will not happen or cannot happen. Such pessimistic predictions are almost always wrong in the end. SDB hasn't improved the pessimists' batting average.

Update: SDB has kindly linked and swatted me on the backside for a factual misstatement of my own. My response:


I'll pick this up in the evening for a fuller response. I have to earn my bread on the road today.

I'll concede that my knowledge of conversion % is pulled from Google searches. But the problem of relegating things to 'nontrivial' (ie not in our lifetime) status is a very hard thing to do and be right about it when we're talking about engineering problems that significant groups are seriously working on. I stand behind that larger point. I suggest that oil sands is a case in point. The current price to extract is ~$12/barrel. That has led Canada to jump to the #2 spot in worldwide oil reserves as of last year. If you think back to the Carter years, the naysayers were saying this would never happen (and I believed them at the time). It took a generation, but here we are. The major problems left are water availability (current process is water intensive) and environmental degradation (largely water related). I expect that things will improve over time.

This war is going to be a generational struggle. We need to start laying the groundwork so we don't run into an extremely damaging energy bind as we bring gap nations into the core over the next several decades. Working out each of the individual problems in as many new potential power sources as possible has to be part of that.

SDB says that he's not trying to say that these power projects are impossible, just too far down the road to be politically relevant for this war. I think he's underestimating how long this struggle is likely to last. Beating down the Islamists is only the beginning of the problem of super-empowered individuals in disconnected, messed up societies.

June 03, 2004

What Bothers Me About the Chalabi Scandals

Posted by TMLutas

From what I can understand, the main evidence that is being held against Chalabi is that the Iranians used a broken code to send a message that the code was broken and that Chalabi was the source of the information. After that, they changed the code. At a minimum, this is incredibly rude spycraft. You're burning your source on purpose, something that will always dry up any further intelligence from any of your sources at a certain level and up. Everybody wonders who else you will burn and ruin their lives.

There is one exception to this rule. If Chalabi isn't actually the source but they were just mad at Chalabi and claimed he was the source, the message makes perfect sense as a false trail away from their real source. The fact that this scenario makes perfect sense in spycraft terms doesn't mean that it is true. However, it does mean that everybody piling on Chalabi as an Iranian spy are very much jumping the gun. There is an investigation going on. Chalabi should be treated warily in case the accusation is true and the investigation is entirely appropriate to determine the facts. An awful lot of people are going to owe the man an apology if it turns out that Chalabi pissed off the Iranians and got savaged by the US for it.

June 02, 2004

Stem Cell Spin

Posted by TMLutas

Kevin Drum should know better by know to refer to embryonic stem cell research by the generic term stem cell research as if there was no such thing as adult stem cell research. The truth is that of all the research excitement over embryonic cell research, it is the adult stem cells that are producing the best results currently and are the furthest along in clinical trials, even in countries that do not restrict embryonic stem cell research.

It's dishonest spin to ignore the more promising treatments in order to play partisan political games.

Misunderstanding the Neocons

Posted by TMLutas

David Ignatius writes a mostly reasonable piece but really drops the ball in his analysis of neocon motivations:


You have to wonder what Chalabi's neoconservative enthusiasts were thinking backing a man who had been so closely allied with an Iran that arguably poses the biggest strategic threat to Israel. If there's a logic here, it eludes me.

Maybe, just maybe, the attack against neocons that they're a bunch of jews with dual loyalty to Israel is just a slander and a libel? After all, if you make a choice that you think fulfills US interests but not Israel's doesn't that really absolve you of the dual loyalty charge? At least it should with anybody that has pretensions of seriousness.

Giving Communists the Mickey

Posted by TMLutas

The Dissident Frogman Famously gave Marx and Che "the Mickey" but now imitation rears its head with Mickey Mao making his first appearance.

I'm starting to lean towards my own shirt, tentatively titled "Mickey Nicky" with Nicolae Ceausescu "getting the Mickey". Anybody know any good T-shirt producers specializing in small runs?

Iraqi Government Assembles

Posted by TMLutas

I seem to recall an awful lot of people worried that we wouldn't be able to find enough credible figures to staff an Iraqi transitional government. Now that Prime Minister and President have been named and are both suitably thankful for what the US has done and properly rebuking the US for what it has failed to do, the critics seem to have turned to other things. Is it because now they'll have to insult real people who can actually respond to calumny and libel? Or is it because they see that maybe the transitional government might turn out all right after all.

There's a lot of ruin in a nation. There's so much that even Saddam and the Baath couldn't spoil Iraq completely and kill all the potential honorable leadership. Go independent Iraq!

Depending on Fools

Posted by TMLutas

I've come to the conclusion that past a certain point, if you depend on unreliable mass media sources exclusively for your outlook on the world, you just can't be taken seriously as an intellectual. There is a new wing opening in the house of moonbattery, the "mainstream media" wing. Just like an exclusive use of LaRouche sources is a sure fire way to identify a kook very quickly, I'm coming to the conclusion that you can no longer be a serious intellectual on the important questions of the day and exclusively derive your news from CBS/ABC/NBC/CNN and even the AP.

All moonbat publications occasionally get the story right, sometimes even frequently enough that you can include them in regular rotation in your reading list but you can never rely on them exclusively. This is going to have profound effects on the viewership of the "mainsteram" media. I look forward to their collapse and replacement by a more diverse crew.

Serious Post-Westphalianism II

Posted by TMLutas

Alan Dershowitz is trying to reset the Geneva Conventions for a post-Westphalian world. The attempt will fail because he's trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. The Geneva Conventions are perfectly fine for conflicts in which all sides are relatively committed to honoring them. They are like black tie event dress codes. If you're at a black tie event, the rules are just fine. The problem is that the incidence of black tie events is rather small in most people's lives. So you need new rule sets in addition to the Geneva Conventions, not instead of. You need a new protocol that covers in much more detail the growing incidence of combat that does not fall under the convention rule set.

Fundamentally, you need to fill in the grey area of what is permissible when one side or another does not fall within the protections of the Geneva Conventions and you have to explicitly make them pretty bad things. Achieving Geneva Convention military protected status needs to once again become a coveted status because bad things happen to you when you are not protected.

Currently, this is implicit in the Conventions but, like many implicit legal consequences (see 9th and 10th amendments to the US Constitution), the original message has been lost and the genteel art of leaving ugly things unsaid but clear must be replaced with directives that cannot be mistaken or twisted.

The fundamental truth that must be recognized is that including unlawful combatants under the protections of the Geneva Conventions is not civilized and magnanimous. It is rather an expression of decadence and societal rot that denigrates and demeans the sacrifices that lawful combatants and their societies make. All the shortcuts and clever strategies that are denied us by following the Conventions lengthen war, increase costs, and increase casualties.

Urban warfare would be a snap without protections of civilian populations. You just flatten the place and run a rolling line of FAE across the ruins if you're not in a hurry. If you are in a rush and don't mind the radiation, a simple nuke does the job in a few minutes. Instead, we are deathly afraid of urban combat because doing it within Convention restrictions is a long, painful process that causes many casualties on our side.

This new Geneva Convention will be a very difficult treaty to negotiate. It must, however be negotiated. Post-westphalianism is not a conservative, roll back the clock, event (at least if we are to survive it). It is a type of spiral development where we bring back necessary elements of primal, total war sufficient to heal the seams and flaws of our limiting war via tools such as national sovereignty and protection of civilians. These seams and gaps are a great weapon in the hands of the jihadis.

HT: Petrified Truth

June 01, 2004

Serious Post-Westphalianism

Posted by TMLutas

One of the consequences of post-westphalianism is that by the breakdown of the westphalian limitations, there are an awful lot of things that we now have to keep track of that we don't have to under the westphalian rules. Westphalian rule sets permit you to create a black box called a country and you have very limited things you have to track. You have to track government pronouncements, economic treaties, etc. but you don't have to cover an awful lot of things that are internal to that country because the national government assures you that they will take care of any bad things so they don't spill across the border. Thus in westphalian foreign policy, we trust that the government of Iran will not permit a fatwa that is not official government policy to exceed the borders of Iran. In a functional westphalian system, Salman Rushdie could rest easy in the UK.

The reality is that Rushdie is still nervous and with good reason. The non-state judicial system of Islam arrogates to itself the right to issue punishments throughout the world. It claims universal jurisdiction and does not recognize westphalian limits. So, is our State Department tracking these fatwas? Does the Defense Department game out how to prevent assaults against our citizens as a consequence of these fatwas? Does anybody in the federal government have an official answer to the question of at what point does a fatwa become a judicial declaration of war?

The problem is that the answers to these questions are very hard. We can barely wrap our minds around the idea that we've declared war against a non-state actor. How do you respond to a non-state judiciary? Our serious thinkers seem to be so much at a loss on that one that they have no answers.

Public Domain Follies

Posted by TMLutas

Tyler Cowen blows it when he analyzes the idea of perfect copies of paintings. He quotes a piece speculating on the results:


Economically, I assume that the acceptance of copies would devastate the resale value of originals of everything except the first-tier work. But for the first-tier work--the owners of which would have the exclusive right to reproduce it--the amount of money to be made selling copies might well rival current market value.

Tyler Cowen suggests that people prefer the inferior artworks that they are using as wall decorations right now. What he misses is that intellectual property is not true property. You don't have permanent reproduction rights and most great art works predate the 20th century. Reproductions without controls are inevitable for public domain pieces, the more famous the greater the likelihood.

Perfect duplication of the genius of times past will always be popular, though what is viewed as genius will change with modern sensibilities and taste. Public domain, though beaten down by modern commercial interests, is still a powerful force. It was a missed opportunity not to take it into account.


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

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