December 29, 2004

Constant Casualties

Posted by TMLutas

Phil Carter's Slate article (as well as on his blog) on equalizing casualties across wars really bothers me. He explicitly links it to constant dollars, taking out inflation. You do this by equalizing what you can buy across time.

So what do you "buy" with one casualty and how does that change? What is the purpose of equalization? Why are better technologies, better tactics, and better medical care factors that can legitimately be taken out of the system?

I have a gut feel that this concept is ripe for politically motivated abuse. When you get the idea of fake casualties pumping up actual funerals that are being attended by flesh and blood casualties, two effects seem to be inevitable. The first reaction is an increase in negative feelings toward current military operations, the second is very much a backlash reaction that casualties, being partially fake, will reduce the impact of the actual casualties that are real tragedies. What the good effects of creating the "constant" casualty are, I can't really see.

December 28, 2004

Liberal Bewilderment

Posted by TMLutas

Juan Cole detects that we're winning in the fight against bin Laden:

It appears that Bin Laden is so weak now that he is forced to play to his own base, of Saudi and Salafi jihadists, some of whom are volunteer guerrillas in Iraq. They are the only ones in Iraq who would be happy to see this particular videotape.

The only way Bin Laden could profit from this intervention in the least would be if a civil war between Sunni Arabs and Shiites really did break out in Iraq, and if the beleaguered Sunnis went over to al-Qaeda in large numbers. Since the Sunni Arabs are a minority of 20%, they and he would still lose, but for Bin Laden, who is now a refugee and without any strong political base outside a few provinces of Saudi Arabia, to pick up 5 million Iraqi Sunni Arabs, would be a major political victory. His recent videotape calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government suggests that he might hope to use any increased popularity in Anbar province as a springboard for renewed attacks on Saudi Arabia, especially on its petroleum sector.

It is a desperate, crackpot hope. The narrow, sectarian and politically unskilfull character of this speech is the most hopeful sign I have seen in some time that al-Qaeda is a doomed political force, a mere Baader-Meinhof Gang or Red Army Faction with greater geographical reach.

It's not a bad analysis as far as it goes but it sits there screaming the question what caused this weakness? Prof. Cole's description of US action clearly shows how we couldn't be the cause of it so what happened? This is the face of modern liberal bewilderment. You critique US action time and again, showing how we're constantly on the verge of a new Vietnam, Tet, Somalia, Beirut, or other ignominious failure and then... somehow... there is a magic step and the US wins again. It has to be very puzzling, especially for someone like Prof. Cole who can read the relevant languages in the ME.

Bilious Fisking

Posted by TMLutas

Jason Van Steenwyk, I salute you. You've committed a real work of art. Bob Herbert should hang his head in shame.

Gay Marriage Referendums: Missing the Point

Posted by TMLutas

Jonathan Rauch misses the point of all those gay marriage referendums. He goes on and on about how courts should trim this or that, and how likely they are to succeed in shifting this referendum or that. The entire point of the referendums was to take them out of the courts and put them smack into the political process. Any court action is going to brew up harsher responses on the order of "and this time, we mean it" circumscribing court powers more and more, every time there's a new bit of judicial overreach.

Whatever you think about marriage, courts are simply not the place for hashing it out. I think that Rauch is wrong on the merits of gay marriage but he's even worse on the question of courts settling the issue. The courts overreach in a lot of areas. Marriage is one of the worst.

The Need for History

Posted by TMLutas

It's a bit scary when a high ranking presidential advisor's historical memory doesn't go back farther than WW II. John Podesta scares me.

Since the end of World War II, governments around the world have been given virtual carte blanche to mistreat their citizens without fear of outside interference.

The actual start of this system wasn't WW II, but rather 1648 with the passage of the Peace of Westphalia. If you can't hit the right century on a major historical event, people get worried about high school students. If Democrat presidents are getting advice from John Podesta, things are a great deal worse.

The problem, fundamentally, is that the horrors of the preceding system are of such a nature that it is very easy to lose your way and unleash old, bad habits. The present unpleasantness over the murder of Theo van Gogh where muslims wake up with pig heads nailed to their doors is just a small taste of where things can go badly wrong in the space of a week if we mistakenly fall into a pre-westphalian pattern instead of brewing a truly new post-westphalian reality.

The US is unique among major powers because we've never existed as a pre-westphalian entity. All other peoples have some cultural memory of pre-westphalian reality. The jihad brigades and their poster boy, Osama bin Laden, explicitly call for a return to pre-westphalian patterns. We, on the other hand, have the best chance of creating true post-westphalianism because we are unburdened by history and have the economic, political, and military power to affect the course of nations.

This is a huge conversation, one that will stretch and challenge the intellectuals of the world to come to a successful conclusion. We're not served well by those who think that WW II is the limit of history. John Podesta is asking the right question, and that's to his credit but without a proper historical framework, the right question is next to useless.

December 27, 2004

Camouflage for Englishmen

Posted by TMLutas

There's been some talk going around recently on the art of pretending to be Canadian for Americans abroad. Somebody even sells a kit to help pull off the imposture. It now transpires that englishmen visiting Scotland are in a similar circumstance. It seems that claiming to be Australian does the trick there.

December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

Posted by TMLutas

It might be late, but it's very heartfelt. A merry Christmas to all and may the new year bring joy and happiness to you all.

December 24, 2004

Oddball Programming Hiccup

Posted by TMLutas

In my alternate life, I've been using NetBeans 3.6 IDE to do a bit of java programming. My ambition is to create a GUI driven java based html parser. I just noticed that 4.0 came out so I downloaded the thing and imported my project. Ugh, it wouldn't compile in 4.0, giving me an error that it couldn't find org.netbeans.lib.awtextra, something that it absolutely, positively had to have in order to use absolute layout. After a bit of googling, I couldn't find a quick solution so I experimented. If you reassign the layouts, even swapping to grid bag layout and right back to absolute (which is netbeans proprietary), the compile works.

In fact, with netbeans 4.0 everything works a great deal better. Normally I wouldn't write about these little triumphs here but maybe Google will pick up the article and make it easier for the next guy to quickly fix. The purpose of the project for me (besides keeping the rust off my coding skills) is also to be able to get some form of data pulling tool to spice up the blog with so that I can publish datasets that would be of interest to my readership.

December 22, 2004

More Marriage Purposes

Posted by TMLutas

Clayton Cramer exposes more details on our marriage laws. It seems that the major impetus for banning first cousin marriages was originally to ensure that bloodlines were mixed better and that warfare between powerful families was reduced by family ties across factional lines.

This is the sort of "hey I didn't know that" moment that I keep running into on marriage time after time. Tread carefully on marriage reform and look skeptically on recent reforms to measure their actual v claimed effects. Marriage isn't healthy and we need to fix what's broken more than innovate and add more novelties to an already weakened structure.

Religious Bubble Babies

Posted by TMLutas

Reading through Charles Krauthammer's take on the Christmas wars, these paragraphs struck me as particularly important

I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own.

Amen to that and it brings to mind the sad stories of severely immune-compromised "bubble boys" living their lives in plastic isolation from the real world of rough and tumble. Are these faiths worthy of the name that can't handle a little foreign expression of religion in the public square? I think not. If tolerance means anything, it's that when somebody's celebrating and you don't share that faith, you have a bottom line minimum requirement to avert your gaze. Christians do this every year for both religious and non-religious faiths. The majority deserves no less tolerance from the minorities for our own celebrations.

December 20, 2004

New Yorker Nonsense

Posted by TMLutas

George Packer's recent comment piece contrasting the "unilateralist" Iraq effort at democratization with recent outside efforts to ensure Ukraine's election is not stolen ignores the huge elephant in the room.

Unlike Ukraine, Saddam spent freely, and for many years, to buy up influence and international votes to keep any such international consensus on reforming Iraq from gelling. The thesis of the article, that the US should only act in concert with the rest of the West means that any dictatorship can buy itself immunity from intervention by spreading around millions in the capitals of Europe. That's a roadmap for continued misery in the 3rd world and spreading corruption in the 1st world.

Shameful nonsense.

December 18, 2004

Yes, Andrew They Do Execute Muslim Apostates

Posted by TMLutas

I can't imagine that anybody who was already on the execution list for muslims (as all homosexuals like Andrew Sullivan are) wouldn't do the minimal research necessary to find out who are possible sources of mutual support, ie the other guys on the mullah death list. Apparently, Andrew Sullivan never did this basic bit of research. As a non-dhimmi christian, I'm on the death list too so I did that sort of research a long time ago.

Now the substance of the article is that Prince Charles has been trying to tell muslims that killing apostates is wrong and was told off rather strongly that he should keep out by local british muslim groups. Even muslim moderates seem to have something of an issue with the concept of universal human rights.

Update: Perry de Haviland says it better here. Muslim moderates are worthless if all they do is provide cover for the extremists.

December 16, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXXVII

Posted by TMLutas

India Uncut has no comments, but you can email the author. In an article on euthanasia Amit Varma remarks

Is the possible, or even probable, misuse of a law reason enough to be against it if the law itself is just? (After all, isn't every law misused in India?) Would that not be injustice to those who would legitimately benefit from the law if it existed, as Venkatesh and his family would?

I wrote a letter back arguing that euthanasia is not the answer, that even in life's final moments, there is value, there is teaching, there is something worth doing.

What is a law? What is the rule of law? Is it what you see in books or is it the reality of how the books interact with human beings? You ask whether a mercy killing law would be just. I have to say that it would not. I point to the case of US Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole. He was horribly wounded in WW II. If he had been wounded a year earlier, it would have been certainly understandable for him to ask for mercy killing. His wounds were extensive, impossible to cure, and he would have suffered a lot before succumbing to infection. The future Sen. Dole was one of the early experimental patients who received the miracle cure of penicillin. His subsequent contribution to US political life would have been snuffed out without a stubborn, even obstinate attachment to life.

The case you bring up in your blog of K Venkatesh is even more clear cut. Here is a talented man, already proven in your own society. Let him fight, let him use his talents, let him teach a last lesson in how to die. As a younger person who has been on the receiving end of such a lesson, let me tell you that it is a profound thing, to be with a man near his last moments, to silently urge him to live, live, come back one more time, give one more smile, tell one more story, win one more fight, and know, in the end, the battle was well fought to the last gasp of breath.

Society is robbed of such lessons in a euthanasia regime. I assure you, it is the poorer for it. If I have the fortune of someone who cares to receive such a lesson from me in my last days, I will do my best to be worthy of my audience.

Kinsley's Social Security Challenge

Posted by TMLutas

A bleg from Michael Kinsley via Andrew Sullivan:

My contention: Social Security privatization is not just unlikely to succeed, for various reasons that are subject to discussion. It is mathematically certain to fail. Discussion is pointless.

The usual case against privatization is that (1) millions of inexperienced investors may end up worse off, and (2) stocks don't necessarily do better than bonds over the long-run, as proponents assume.But privatization won't work for a better reason: it can't possibly work, even in theory. The logic is not very complicated.

Announcing that "Discussion is pointless" as a prelude to an offer of discussion is a big red flag that the discussion that follows is not entirely honest. As I make clear throughout my contribution to the discussion, there are considerable tricks that need to be employed to make privatization "mathematically certain to fail", tricks that won't hold true in the real world. The logic of the "mathematical" case against privatization is not complicated only if you drink the koolaid of false premises laced throughout.

1. To "work," privatization must generate more money for retirees than current arrangements. This bonus is supposed to be extra money in retirees' pockets and/or it is supposed to make up for a reduction in promised benefits, thus helping to close the looming revenue gap.

As a practical matter, the money that I get as a retired person currently depends on a persistent majority of the US electorate coming out to vote for politicians who will continue to adjust the tax rates and benefits in a manner that will provide me with some benefit from this program when I retire. For current and near retirees, this is a pretty safe bet. For a 20 year old, chaos (as in chaos theory) intervenes in a big way.

Thereís really no guarantee that the politico-social compact will continue several decades from now in the face of unknown population trends. There is a high risk factor that I donít think is properly priced into most defenderís calculations of current returns and certainly not in the Michael Kinsley one under analysis.

At what pain level will the system collapse? This is an unknown. The pain level will depend in large part by the ratio of retirees to workers. If youíre below the age of 47, some of those workers havenít even been born yet.

In a world where the big demographic story is birth dearth and collapsing birth rates the world over, itís not unreasonable to view the current social security system as a junk bond that will never make maturity. You donít have to make very much money in a private system to beat the ďcurrent arrangementsĒ in that scenario.

The requirements to beat the current scenario if you donít foresee a US taxpaying population sufficient to give yourself any benefits is that the new system has to stay solvent long enough so that you donít have to support your parents who have their SS checks as a bedrock element of their retirement planning. This modest goal is achieved by virtually all reform plans and certainly any reform plan that will actually be introduced as legislation.

The rest of the questions all depend on the bedrock assumption that promised Social Security benefits will actually materialize under the current system. They assume that the junk bond of Social Security is a blue chip stock. They are thus fundamentally flawed from the beginning.

When the current system will break, again, is uncertain. Where to set the bar for the new partially privatized system is thus difficult. Whistling past the graveyard and assuming that ever increasing taxes or the government printing press will always come to the rescue is just not credible.

2. Where does this bonus come from? There are only two possibilities: from greater economic growth, or from other people.

There is something of a third possibility, heavily paired with economic growth, removing economic drag.

3. Greater economic growth requires either more capital to invest, or smarter investment of the same amount of capital. Privatization will not lead to either of these.

If nothing else in the federal budget changes, every dollar deflected from the federal treasury into private social security accounts must be replaced by a dollar that the government raises in private markets. So the total pool of capital available for private investment remains the same.

Since the entire mechanism of Social Security funding is, in large part, a psychological construct of an intergenerational social contract, a privatization plan that changes voting public and congressional psychology will cause further changes in the federal budget, changes that are unlikely to happen absent privatizing Social Security.

By artificially assuming that such changes will not take place, further distortions are introduced into the discussion. Each of these distortions makes the discussion simpler, with less likelihood of chaos rearing its head and upsetting all. Each of these distortions also makes the discussion less real, less useful.

The only change in decision-making about capital investment is that the decisions about some fraction of the capital stock will be made by people with little or no financial experience. Maybe this will not be the disaster that some critics predict. But there is no reason to think that it will actually increase the overall return on capital.

Actually, there is every reason to think that it will improve the decisions on capital stock. The capital stock of the nation is not entirely in private hands. A large chunk of it (a couple of trillion) is in the hands of the government. By entering all into the investor class, the resulting education will improve management of those couple of trillion, not only resulting in improved management of that capital but also on a reduced drag on the other 8-9 trillion of capital in private hands. That drag manifests itself in the form of bureaucratic rules shackling growth.

4. If the economy doesn't produce more than it otherwise would, the Social Security privatization bonus must come from other investors, in the form of a lower return.

This is true, as far as it goes. Again we have an assumption that entry into the investment class does not change voting behavior (how we manage our government controlled capital stock). We know this is empirically false. One of the big strategies the Republican party has is to increase the investor class because investing changes voting behavior in the GOPís favor.

a) This is in fact the implicit assumption behind the notion of putting Social Security money into stocks, instead of government bonds, because stocks have a better long-term return. The bonus will come from those saps who sell the stocks and buy the bonds.

I fully intend to buy both stocks and bonds in any investment portfolio that I have. Every serious investor does. Itís called diversification of risk. You break out your money in percentages, so much for risky, so much for safe. The percentages change over time. The last few years prior to retirement will be years of increasing bond exposure and lowered stock exposure.

Anybody who has gone to a financial planner knows this. Why doesnít Michael Kinsley? The scare stories of people losing half their retirement savings right before retirement age in a stock crash are almost entirely eliminated by a properly risk diversified portfolio. The real saps are those who donít reduce risk and buy some bonds to go along with their stocks.

b) In other words, privatization means betting the nation's most important social program on a theory that cannot be true unless many people are convinced that it's false.

... same as above. Why is Michael Kinsley trash talking standard financial planning wisdom that has guided hundreds of millions to a safe and well funded retirement?

c) Even if the theory is true, initially, privatization will make it false. The money newly available for private investment will bid up the price of (and thus lower the return on) stocks, while the government will need to raise the interest on bonds in order to attract replacement money.

The theory here seems to be that the only time dumping a huge new pool of money into the financial markets is justified is when there are no adjustment consequences. Thatís ridiculous on the face of it.

d) In short, there is no way other investors can be tricked or induced into financing a higher return on Social Security.

Since weíve artificially pulled over $2T (trillion with a t) of the nationís capital stock out of consideration (see 2 and 3 above) for this discussion, the statement above doesnít sound completely insane if youíve drunk the Kinsley koolaid. Two trillion is an awful lot of money to work with though and in the real world, itís not off the table as a source of increased growth. The Federal Code and state codes are also not off the table as sources of reduced economic drag.

5. If the privatization bonus cannot come from the existing economy, and cannot come from growth, it cannot exist. And therefore, privatization cannot work.

The privatization bonus can exist. It can exist because in the real world weíre living in a country that has an $11 trillion economy with a government, not an anarchy with an $8 trillion private economy. Reducing regulatory economic drag can improve growth. Social Security privatization will create an electorate which will make that happen. Increasing internal government efficiency in expenditures can improve growth by reducing the tax burden that is wasted. Social Security privatization will increase the clout of the good government, spending watchdogs and reformers.

The privatization of Social Security will be a huge boon to the Republican party initially, just as the privatization of UK council housing was a boon to the Tory party there. But Labour eventually got its act together and Tony Blair dominates the UK political scene as a future Democrat no doubt will once that party gets rid of its failed economic theories. The resistance of Democrats to privatization is largely a case of the party not wanting to make those reforms and only seeing the downside of change to their political prospects instead of the benefits to the country at large.

December 13, 2004

Romanian Politics II

Posted by TMLutas

The Liberals won the Romanian presidency

The preliminary official numbers are as follows:
Traian Basescu 51,75%
Adrian Nastase 48,25%

Prime Minister Nastase has conceded.

This means that the head of state is now Liberal while who will form the government and select a prime minister is still unclear with the Social Democrats having the right to try first. To make the math work, they need to get to 167 seats.

Their electoral alliance socialist/humanist got 132 seats. Add in the hungarian chauvinist party's 22 seats and they have 154, 13 shy. The only other available source of votes are the minority parties.

Romania's constitution gives 18 recognized minorities 1 seat each in the House of Deputies (lower house) and, for the first time under the current constitution, they're the power brokers. If the liberals can pull 6 of them to their side, the PSD can't form a government without going to the PRM, something that would absolutely kill Romania's chances for integration with the EU and guarantee a PSD defeat in 2008.

But taking on each minority deputy means taking on a different party's demands for patronage and policy input. If the PSD goes for the minimum number to form a government, they'll have a 16 party coalition. If they get all the minority parties in, they'll have a 21 party coalition.

Any student of parliamentary politics knows that this has very little chance to last the full parliamentary term. Early elections are all but foregone in that scenario.

The people who really run Romania in the smoke filled back rooms do not want early elections. They've never wanted early elections, seeing it as a nasty step backwards towards the post WW II Italian laughingstock model of politics.

The latest is that the humanists are talking of bolting the social democrats. The hungarian chauvinists are saying all bets are off if the humanists do that, and all of a sudden, a liberal government seems very possible.

The back rooms are still full of smoke and the deal makers are wheeling and dealing in an opera that would make Boss Tweed or Mayor Daley (either one) smile and nod in recognition of the very familiar rhythms of power ebbing and flowing among the people who really matter.

Some day, the bosses will be broken in Romania as Tammany Hall was broken, but not today, not today. That's going to be a generational fight, hopefully starting in 2008.

Cuomo's Fake Science

Posted by TMLutas

Science concerns itself with certain parts of human existence. It doesn't touch others at all. Mario Cuomo, unfortunately, hasn't figured that out. He thinks that science can define where to draw the line on when constitutional protections begin and end, as well as whether gay relationships should be promoted or discouraged.

Sorry, governor, there's no scientific basis for universal suffrage either so why isn't a scientific intelligence or sanity test for the franchise on your list of things to put in the hands of the guys with white lab coats? Science has a lot to teach us about the world but it doesn't solve every problem and pretending it does is just another sort of faith.

A faith in science is not scientific.Science deals in physical evidence, the world as it is. Politics is something that deals with not only the world as it is but the world as it should be. In that world, science, true science has little to say. Cuomo's version of science has all too much to say about it though, more's the pity.

This Journalist Has Bush Figured

Posted by TMLutas

Fred Barnes has a few words to help out those who have stumbled the past few years in understanding George W Bush. GWB is:

Barnes nails it and it's surprising how few in the mainstream have figured out Bush as well. The Presidency is the most powerful post in the world and everybody analyzes the President, no matter who it is or how long he'll serve. Bush constantly surprises but he's an open book if you just look the right way. It's not like any of these characteristics were hidden over the past four years.

Signed Up for Blog Explosion

Posted by TMLutas

I'm not sure I like Blog Explosion yet but I signed up anyway. At worst, I'll get a bit more traffic by just being included in the directory. At best, several future blog explosion users will use the link above to sign up and help me out.

99% BS

Posted by TMLutas

Damien Penny is adding his $0.02 to the whiners who are trying to delegitimize the Parents Television Council (PTC). The complaint, when you think it through unemotionally, is that the PTC and its FCC complaint web service are dominant in their demographic.

The PTC doesn't actually internally generate these complaints. They simply make it ridiculously easy to file one if your engine is revved over a particular program. If PTC's web activism model is illegitimate then so is and all the deaniac and other web activist groups who offer the same sort of web services. If one ideological use of technology is illegitimate, they all are. That would be a shame because the technology has the potential to be the greatest advance in democratic participation in quite a long time. What the left doesn't seem to understand is that all ideological opinions are going to use the same tools in future. They don't like that and want to mau mau the right into not taking advantage of the tools that they themselves increasingly depend on.

Here's what I left in comments:

I suspect, though I don't know, that if I visit the Parents Television Council, click on their File an FCC Complaint link, and actually send something off, the people who are complaining about PTC dominance of the FCC complaint will jot down my opinion as less valid because I used a simple web form instead of running a search and sorting through it all myself.

The campaign against the PTC is essentially one against web forms that make life easy when the form does something the campaigners don't like. The PTC apparently dominates the sector of bluestocking complainants. That doesn't make the individual complaints any less valid than if they had not used the web form or had no contact with the PTC whatsoever.

I'm sure that PTC dominance will eventually break down, if nothing else than because monkeywrenchers are inevitably going to target the thing. But it seems to me that a principle is being established here, one that is not very good for free speech on the Internet mediated by web services. Today the PTC, tomorrow somebody you might approve of quite a bit more.

December 12, 2004

Privatized Prison Twist

Posted by TMLutas

Late last night I was reading Lexington Green go on about prison reform and he was right in that it really is a scandal how brutal, dangerous, and inhumane we've made all too many prisons especially with prison rape run rampant. In one of those moments of "AHA!" a new twist came to me, marry the long Catholic tradition of odd moneymaking enterprises (there's a monastery selling ink cartridges in the US) with the new US idea of prison privatization. Voila, a Catholic run prison.

Yes, yes, after you've gotten all the jokes out of your system, think about it seriously for a bit. If Catholic prisons would replicate the success of Catholic hospitals and schools, what secular reason would there be to keep them out of a privatization auction if a monastery or diocese wanted to make a bid? The prisoners themselves could get instant transfers out of the prison and threaten the income stream if they were forcibly proselytized, the ACLU would see to that. So beyond that theoretical problem, what would be the objection?

December 11, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXXVI

Posted by TMLutas

David Sucher relays a Matthew Yglesias diss of David Brooks' recent column on Social Security reform. They're both all wet and Brooks is right but I find it interesting that both critics seem to have misunderstood what "trusting the market" really is about. That phrase is simply about what sort of heuristic do you have when you have imperfect information and you need to decide between a market solution or a government solution to a problem and it seems both writers missed it. As a bonus, David Sucher tries to make the case that if you're an intellectual, you can't really understand markets and only those who are business investors/owners are in a position to really do so.

Anyway, here's my comment on David Sucher's blog:

I think I'll frame this article as a prime example of anti-intellectualism on the left. Really, if you haven't invested in a business but have acted as an intellectual (whether "sort of" or the real kind) your positions are not as worthy as somebody who has fought in the trenches. That's almost a textbook case of soft anti-intellectual bias. It's like dissing Machiavelli because he never, you know, actually ran a country.

Moving along, I think that both you and Yglesias are misinterpreting Brooks and every other free marketeer out there who talks about trusting the market. Given perfect information, those who trust the market v those who distrust it will always pick the most optimal solution between two candidate solutions, one being market oriented, the other government oriented.

Given imperfect information, where you really can't guarantee how things are going to turn out, those who "trust the market" will have a higher propensity to guess that the market solution will be superior to the government solution than those who distrust the market.

You can say that it all reduces down to some sort of trite truism that those who trust, will trust. That doesn't make it "bullshit" nor do I think it particularly galling at this stage of the game when there is so little actual information out there that the only people seriously peeved or revved about Social Security reform are gathering to tribal banners, not really expressing anything about policy.

Having read the Brooks article, it seems to me that he's making a sociological observation about the Democrat tribe qua tribe. The old head shaman has retired and some of the new ones are dabbling in dark magic, preparing the tribe for a dirty fight. Some other shamans are looking to bring the tribe forward to a different path.

At a certain point, the reform proposals will come out and we'll get to the point of hashing out policy. That's going to be way after we've finished with our tribal posturing. That tribal posturing really is going to determine the battlefield. Are we going to have a new "no child left behind" bill which merely sets the stage for further reform as the measurement data comes in? Are those on the right going to go for the brass ring straight off? It all depends on the tribal alignments and who trusts what. That's what Brooks seems to be talking about and I find it interesting.

There IS a God I

Posted by TMLutas

At 81 a leading British atheist, a well respected philosophy professor, has decided that there is a God after all. Best line?

Prometheus [ed: his new book's publisher] specializes in skeptical thought, but if his belief upsets people, well "that's too bad," Flew said. "My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

HT: Mark LaRochelle, in email

December 10, 2004

Going Back I

Posted by TMLutas

Thomas Barnett asks:

The "need job, will travel" route certainly represents a release valve function on an individual basis for those who feel trapped in dead-end lives, but when enough of them go, like in the case of Armenia today, you get the Gap equivalent of a dying prairie town, with all the morose social sentiment that mass departure represents. As one young Armenia woman put it, "We can fit in anywhere. The only place we can't is Armenia."

That's good for the Core, which always needs people willing to work, but that's a killer statement for the very Gap-ish Armenia. I mean, how can Armenia join the Core if its young people mostly want to leave?

There is an answer, a quite simple one. Change the rulesets so that those emigrants or their descendents can make a good living back in the old country and you will have people moving back to provide both a skill boost and a source of capital. I speak from personal experience here as being raised in the US but born in Romania and having a wife who grew up and trained in Romania, we have discussed the idea extensively.

We ended up deciding that we would make the move if we could generate enough income to live decently and to have enough extra put away so that if our children wanted to strike out anywhere in the world, they'd be able to given the material base we had established in our generation. That means being able to fund college and provide startup financing for new couples for three children, the oldest of whom is 5 right now.

We've never been able to make the numbers work but every once in awhile we reexamine the situation (most recently about a month ago) informally. I suspect that there is a pretty large group of ethnics out there in the world who are doing much the same thing with respect to their own homelands, including those from Tom Barnett's example, Armenia.

I know personally of one family who made the jump back and another that is right in the middle of the process. These examples aren't from the numerous "temporaries" who are here for a few years to make some startup cash and go home to start a business. Those kinds of reverse migrants are a dime a dozen in any ethnic community. These are US citizens with good US careers who have voluntarily made that choice.

If any Gap nation wants to reverse the brain drain and gain skills and investment, change the rules and the people will come. It really is that simple.


Posted by TMLutas

Glenn Reynolds points to a good UNSCAM article in the NY Post. One thing particularly struck me:

But the explanation is simple: Kofi Annan is the symbol of the United Nations' lack of accountability. He is never held responsible for what goes wrong, because the United Nations is never held responsible, either. It sails in a cloud of noble idealism over the actual failures, hypocrisy, corruption and outright criminality that attend some U.N. actions on the ground below.

And there is a polite consensus outside the United States not to notice the glaring contradictions between idealism and reality. Too many influential people and institutions have invested too much in the United Nations and the U.N. system to see its flaws clearly.

You would think that UN reformers would have caught onto the public choice implications of this by now but most of them seem clueless. You need to offer alternative "investment vehicles" for the "influential people and institutions" to invest in so that they can diversify and cut their losses. Unfortunately, Glenn Reynolds can only see two options

Indeed. The U.N. needs to be either fixed, or crippled so thoroughly that it can no longer harm U.S. interests in the slightest. Whether it is aware of it or not, the "international community" seems to be opting for number two.

There is another way, replace the UN with parallel institutions that are improved in function and permit people to migrate off the humiliating UN system (because it is humiliating for decent men to give respect and deference to monsters). It's a pity that Prof. Reynolds doesn't see it.

December 09, 2004

Talk to Hispanics, Win Hispanic Votes

Posted by TMLutas

Richard Nadler does excellent work debunking anti-immigration agitprop, specifically that somehow the Democrats, and the left in general, own the vote of Hispanics.

It turns out that where hispanic voters are actually presented with a Republican/conservative message in their local/spanish language media the vote shifts significantly over areas where such campaigns are not run. This means that there are significant opportunities for Republicans to become competitive in that vote and thus it makes sense to court them extensively. If the Hispanic bloc shifts from its current 2:1 Democrat tilt to a more balanced 1:1, or even better for Republicans, the Democrat party is going to have one more huge secular demographic trend going against them.

It's going to be an interesting next couple of decades in US political demography.

December 06, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXXV

Posted by TMLutas

I like the idea of rethinking urban spaces to make them better. I like the idea of a new urbanist movement to demolish past errors and monstrosities. What I don't like is that some people seem to think that such a desire tilts one way or another politically.

David Sucher wrote a fine book on how to remake a city in a more people friendly manner. He's written in the past that he doesn't want new urbanism to devolve into some sort of factional political cause. He slipped badly in criticizing Tom Wolfe and explicitly pairing a political opinion ("The liberal elite hasn't got a clue") with an architectural opinion (2 Columbus Circle in NYC). That's playing with fire. So I thought I might add a bit of napalm:

The problem of libertarians (and liberals) is separation between themselves and the libertines who share the labels. Here's an example. I advocate and predict the end of broadcast in favor of multicasting in part because it gets the FCC out of the censorship business. What'll be out there without decency regulations will be appalling and there'll be nobody left to complain to. But those who are moral will not buy it, will not pay for it, and will be able to shield themselves and their loved ones in far better fashion than the current system. It would be very easy indeed to celebrate the first and not the latter effect and give entirely the wrong impression.

You can argue that the libertines do not actually have the upper hand amongst the liberals. You can also argue pretty well that they, in fact, do.

As for east coast pretensions, try rereading that Urban Archipelago article mentioned a few posts back on this site and you'll get an eyeful if you put yourself in the shoes of a red state reader, maybe one whose neighbor in the FD went to help out on 9/11 in NYC or who had a bake sale to support NYC in its crisis. It's a giant political middle finger raised towards the red states and the blue state elites have not hooted it down, suppressing it as stupid, ignorant, or mean spirited (in point of fact, it is all three).

The liberal elite *doesn't* have a clue and if the advocacy of urbanism is to span left and right on this site, Tom Wolfe's saying so should not be linked to his architectural opinions. This is the kind of post that makes me question whether new urbanism has much of a future in the hands of its current advocates. Buildings are for everyone, as are the streets, the grid, and the public transit systems.

As any careful observer will note, both left and right elites take turns in the clueless category right before and after they are ejected from power by the native good sense of the people. Being ejected into the outer darkness of perennial opposition leads to a dark night of the political soul, a reformation of the movement, and a comeback against the new clueless. Most of the time that rejuvenation in the US comes with identical party labels but that's not always the case (see the rise of the Republican party for an example).

Power creates isolation in elites and from that, cluelessness. Based on objective observations of government power shifts, party affiliation figures, and current voting trends in the past three federal elections, the liberal elite is currently cluelessness personified.

Solving Newspaper Theft?

Posted by TMLutas

I was going through yet another article about how conservative student papers are being stolen as an act of ideological suppression when it hit me. The problem of these papers is one of pricing.

If you were able to differentially price each copy, say free for students who want to read it, $0.25 for those who grab it to use it as packing material or bird cage liner (without first reading it), and $10 for those who take it in bulk to not let others read it, you would cease to have a newspaper theft problem, especially one where the administration lets culprits go with a minor slap on the wrist. Bulk theft of newspapers without payment would be elevated to felony.

Who would speak out against charging thieves? What could administration authorities do to continue to protect thieves with which they are in sympathy or afraid of? If they act to protect such thieves, they end up liable themselves for suppressing evidence and facilitating theft, in court themselves and highly embarrassed.

A small, fine print contract printed in the newspapers themselves would change how newspaper theft is dealt with on US campuses. With state courts as a recourse, who would decide to be the test case?

December 04, 2004

test torrent post

Posted by TMLutas

trying my first torrent
Brainwashing 101
[insert torrent url here]

That's What I'm Talking About

Posted by TMLutas

Kudos to the Adam Smith Institute! They've got the key to undoing the statist nightmare, figuring out what the relevant interests are and accommodating enough of them with a free market solution that can achieve a political coalition strong enough to actually pass in the legislature.

There are an awful lot of libertarians out there who would rather be living in a statist society so long as they are personally pure enough rather than doing the extra work necessary to improve things in the real world while satisfying enough people's interests whether the people care about libertarianism or not.

December 02, 2004

Syrian War Making

Posted by TMLutas

According to the Telegraph, Syrian NGOs are raising an army and sending it piecemeal over the border to Iraq to fight for a Baathist restoration.

A network of Syrian mosques is sending men, money and weapons to Iraq, fuelling the insurgency.

An investigation by the Telegraph has shown that Arab volunteers are streaming across the border despite Damascus government claims that it is curbing cross-border terrorism.

Much of the traffic is financed by former members of Saddam Hussein's regime living in the Syrian capital and has the backing of prominent tribal leaders.

If the Syrian government were doing this, it would be an act of war. Since private groups are doing it, they are protected from the consequences of their actions by international law in accordance with the westphalian framework. The traditional westphalian response is to declare war on Syria, replace the Syrian government with one that is capable of restraining this private NGO war network, and move on.

In today's sad political reality, this doesn't seem to be in the cards. So if westphalian solutions are out, what would pre and post westphalian solutions offer us.

Pre-westphalianism would have H. Ross Perot, or some other corporate titan, rent a mercenary company to enter Syria, hang Assad in a public square with a message pinned on him for his successor to do better at controlling the jihadists and go home. This is a solution that would have all sorts of difficulties attached to it in the form of poor coordination, a marked increase in the chance of reprisals and other mayhem on US soil, and all sorts of unpredictable consequences that could spin the world political situation out of control.

That's the past. But what about a future, post-westphalian response?

Unfortunately, post-westphalianism, at least to the extent that it's developed, doesn't yet offer much better than plain jane westphalianism at this juncture. Sure, when Iraq dies down, Syria really has to worry that it's next for a makeover and that makeover will likely have a higher probability of success but there is currently no material advantage in this particular situation of post-westphalianism over westphalianism and a distinct disadvantage in the ability to marshall supplementary forces relative to pre-westphalian practices.

Is there a way to increase our ability to raise ad-hoc forces? I think that we're stumbling our way to it. Private military contractors are increasingly used and we're trying to reign in the bad effects by making their actions subject to the UCMJ. The system's by no means complete but I can see a future where present trends continue into a de-facto or even de-jure invigoration of the letters of marquee and reprisals clause of the Constitution. Close integration with US C4I systems would reduce the amount of trouble that an out of control unit might get into.

So why depend on such irregulars at all? I suspect that there is a pool of manpower out there that would be willing to participate in military operations of a specific duration and type as long as they could be sure that they go home at the end of what they signed up for. This is something that no army really every promises, certainly not the US Armed Forces. Dipping into that sort of pool of manpower, or renting mercenary forces would fit into Dr. Barnett's idea of a plug in military force, though he was thinking of it in terms of the back-end Sys admin force instead of ad-hoc improvements to the Leviathan force.

I think the Leviathan force is just as much in need of plug-ins as the Sys Admin force because of the strategy of parallelization. Al Queda clearly has been trying to stretch forces thin. If we can successfully demonstrate the capability of incorporating temporary units, parallelization becomes much less practical. We're no longer trapped between bulking up and crippling our economy with a massive military infrastructure and running so lean we can't stop our enemies from winning.

Changing Disability

Posted by TMLutas

Phil Carter has a good article on how the military is treating disabled soldiers. The new attitude is essentially, prove you can do the job and you stay in. It's an incredibly healthy attitude and will likely spill over into the civilian sector. I don't think this is reasonable accommodation as is usually understood in current civilian disability law but an uncompromising "if you can do it, stay. If you can't, go" that will be an awful lot more acceptable to others than our current status quo.

December 01, 2004

Upping the Stakes in Ashcroft v Raich

Posted by TMLutas

Glenn Reynolds just upped the stakes on Ashcroft v Raich:

ASHCROFT V. RAICH isn't a case about marijuana, really. As Jonathan Adler explains, it's really a test of whether the Supreme Court takes the constitution seriously.

When you ask a question like this, you really ought to ask yourself what you're going to do about it if the answer is no. If the US Supreme Court exposes itself as not taking "the constitution seriously", what is your obligation as a citizen? You can't unelect them. You certainly can't count on the seriously broken political appointment process to replace them with better justices. So what do you do, just give up constsitutional republicanism? Should you start talking about Jefferson's right of rebellion?

Where, exactly, do you go when the USSC is no longer serious about properly interpreting the US Constitution?

Radley Balko's Cramped Libertarian Foreign Policy

Posted by TMLutas

After reading Radley Balko's recent TCS column defending Cato style libertarian foreign policy I felt he deserved a letter. I'm copying it below:

Here are a couple of facts on the situation of Islam for your consideration:

Islam has always had a tradition of dividing the world into two sections, Islamic territory, which must always remain Islamic and the rest of the world, which is under contention and must eventually be incorporated into the Islamic world.
Islam has a long tradition of military conquest, never meaningfully repudiated
Islam's accommodation for other religious opinion is dhimmitude, the second class status off "people of the book" who must be frequently, ritually humiliated as a condition of tolerance.
The price for renouncing Islam is death.
Islamic scholars are capable of writing judicial decrees and those judicial decrees have universal jurisdiction.

Nothing that I see in your TCS article ( or in anything out of Cato seems to come to grips with these facts which all predate the discovery of America, much less the founding of the US, much less any aggressive foreign policy sins we might have committed. Until your brand of libertarianism realistically looks at the world as it is, instead of some self-flagellating masochistic vision where we are mainly at fault, I submit that your strain of libertarian thought is due for a serious rethink because it just doesn't jibe much with reality. Any libertarian worth his salt should be able to see that these facts are recipes for aggressive war against liberty that eventually will come to our shores, our neighborhoods. The only question is when.

Closer to the 20th century, but still before the founding of the US, the present international political order started with the Peace of Westphalia to end the 30 years war. That system (westphalianism) is under assault, in large part by Islamists, many of whom operate under the Al Queda label. I think that there is much that libertarianism could contribute to a new, better, post-westphalian order. I don't see how your particular brand of libertarianism is productively coming to grips with this problem much less pulling its weight in ensuring that we don't fall back to the pre-westphalian dispensation. That would be a bloody resumption of ethnic and religious violence on a scale not seen since, well since the Peace of Westphalia.

Day By Day is Back

Posted by TMLutas

After a significant family tragedy related hiatus, Chris Muir's Day by Day cartoon is back.

And there was much rejoicing.

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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