January 31, 2005

Sorry Everybody

Posted by TMLutas

Wizbang's photoshopping one of those Sorry Everybody, Democrats. "Iraq. Sorry we didn't support your elections".


Libertarian Problems of Transition

Posted by TMLutas

One of the tricky bits about libertarianism is handling the transition. I believe, ultimately, that drugs should no longer carry criminal penalties for possession, use, and trade. But I think it would be pure folly to do so and make addicts able to live a carefree life of stupor on the public purse. I think that there are lots of changes that have to happen in charity, in societal attitudes toward sloth, and in subsidy for irresponsibility before full legalization can proceed without serious problems, problems that we should not inflict on society.

That doesn't mean that I'm in favor of the current system. It's cruel, heartless, and counterproductive. But it means that drug reform shouldn't be taken in isolation, shouldn't be accomplished by radical reform that only addresses legalization. In short, the permissiveness of legalization should be balanced by withdrawing permissiveness in other areas, permissiveness that is sponsored by the public purse. If there were a bill that made all drugs legal and restored welfare back to the 1970s style guaranteed benefits, I'd vote against it.

This all came to mind because te Germans are handling prostitution legalization quite badly and are attempting to force a woman to become a whore. I can't imagine a dominant private charity forcing a woman to work in a brothel. They would destroy their charitable contributor base. The German government has no such problems and shows how libertarian initiatives can lead to absurd results. In a sane world, the local churches would pass the hat and pony up the difference to keep this woman out of whoredom. There's none of that in the article and it shows that either the reporter has a sadly atrophied view of German churches or the churches themselves are atrophied beyond belief.

Malaria Medicine Thoughts

Posted by TMLutas

As usual, I wish StrategyPage had permalinks. They don't:

January 26, 2005: The U.S. Army has found that troops going to countries where malaria is common, are not taking the medicines meant to prevent them from coming down with the disease. In one study, a battalion of U.S. Army Rangers, after spending four months in Afghanistan, had 5.2 percent of the troops coming down with malaria. This was because only 52 percent of the troops took the medicine (to prevent them from getting malaria) while they were in Afghanistan, and only 41 percent continued taking the meds when they got back (to make sure no one developed a case). Worse yet, only 29 percent of the troops used insect repellant while in Afghanistan. On the bright side, the strain of malaria in Afghanistan is not fatal. But it can really knock you on your butt if you come down with it. Malaria is the all time killer disease, although rarely the number one cause of death. But each year, it kills several million people, and debilitates many more. As far back as World War II, there were problems with getting the troops to take their anti-malaria medicine. If the local strain of malaria was not particularly nasty, the troops had no ever-present incentive to take their meds. It’s an old problem, and the only solution that works is some kind of medicine that need only be taken once.

Why can't the guys who invented Norplant come up with a similar version that dispenses anti-malarial medicine? You get a small, under the skin, medicine distribution of all the pills you'd normally have to supply through your logistical tail to the front lines. As long as the medicine lasts longer than your deployment, you can either get topped off or have the delivery system popped out when you get back home.

If it's small, sturdy, and non-toxic if it releases everything at once, the surgical costs are likely to be outweighed by the cost of malaria. Then again, why not simply mandate it for soldiers who are caught not taking their meds?

January 30, 2005

Shroud of Turin Update

Posted by TMLutas

Maybe it's not a medieval fake after all. According to a new peer reviewed study, the shroud has been cunningly repaired during the Middle Ages and the 1988 radiocarbon dating experiment disproving its age took a sample of the shroud from a Middle Ages added patch put to repair old damage. It was well done too, apparently only differing in chemical composition as the (relatively) new cloth was dyed to match the older material.

This doesn't prove things one way or another as far as ultimate authenticity is concerned but it does seem to reopen the door that the Shroud is genuine.

Kojo Annan Flips

Posted by TMLutas

Kojo Annan has admitted to oil dealing in Saddam's oil and is now cooperating with UN investigators in the oil for food scandal. This is going to be a highly unpleasant and long investigation. The rot is so extensive, we have a chance at turning over all the rocks. I hope we take it.

Modernist Witch Hunts

Posted by TMLutas

Modernist witch hunts, that is to say witch hunts by modernists, seem to be underway at the Smithsonian. I can't believe that a peer reviewed article led to the following questions:
Was the editor who allowed publication a religious fundamentalist
Was the editor who allowed publication a member of a religious organization
Was the editor who allowed publication politically conservative

This is the sort of stuff that scientists should never allow. The Zoology department head who asked this should resign. If you challenge the science, fine. It's either right or wrong, peer review procedures were either followed properly or not. Article subject procedures were either properly followed or not. Certainly junk science published in a peer reviewed journal deserves a firing over the affair. But that's not what happened. What happened was that extraneous subjects were brought into the mix that have no place in judging scientific merit or journal policy.

Now the article itself, I find interesting but not entirely convincing. The problem of there not being enough time can, at least partially, be overcome by positing that fossils are actually much rarer than we think and that the number of mutating creatures was a few orders of magnitude larger than we currently imagine leading up to the Cambrian explosion. Those scientists who believe in evolution could and probably have come up with counters to the objection of not enough time available but they aren't entirely convincing either.

The battle rages on but, please, no witch hunts!

Adult Stem Cells Explained

Posted by TMLutas

I ran across a great article on adult stem cell research and why it is the superior alternative to embryonic stem cell research. I just thought I'd share. As far as I can tell, we're still in the same situation as in 2001 when the article was written. Embryonic stem cell research still gets great press and lousy results while adult stem cell research gets pushed to the side in the press while providing the bulk of advancement in scientific knowledge and the entire advancement of health in actual patients.

Why NGO Dead

Posted by TMLutas

I was going through this article on FARC's relations with Venezuela when I came to a chilling end note.

FARC terrorist Simon Trinidad's indictment last month includes information about the murder and kidnapping of American citizens in Colombia last year. Trinidad's actions were not exceptional; killing Americans is routine for FARC. For example, in 1999 FARC terrorists killed three American activists who were in Colombia on a humanitarian mission. They were Terence Freitas, 24; Ingrid Washinowatok, 41; and Lahe'ena'e Gay, 39.

Apprehended after attending a religious ceremony on an Indian reservation, Freitas, Washinowatok, and Gay were initially held for ransom but were later taken into Venezuela and executed in cold blood. Washinowatok, a New Yorker, was the head of the Fund for Four Directions, a Rockefeller-supported charity which helps indigenous peoples. Lahe'ena'e Gay was an award-winning Hawaiian photographer. Terry Freitas was an environmental activist from California. All three progressive activists had colorful life stories. Washinowatok, for example, was a Menominee Indian from Minnesota, daughter of a tribal chieftain, and personal friend of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu. She studied in Havana and is described by her friends as a champion of the oppressed. Her lifeless body, found just inside the Venezuelan border, was impossible to identify since her face had been destroyed by gunshot. The autopsy revealed that she had been forced to march barefoot through the jungle for several days despite having been bitten by a poisonous spider. She was only identified when her foundation's American Express card was found hidden in her clothing. Washinowatok and her friends were executed for one chilling reason: They were Americans.

I think that the last sentiment is not quite right. FARC wasn't going after these americans because of their nationality but because they were committing a great sin in FARC's eyes. They were usurping FARC's attempted local monopoly on connectivity. Without complete control over what those indians knew about the outside world, FARC would face a much harder task in recruiting men and getting material support. The americans had to go because they were as large a threat as a military team threatening their supply lines and were a lot easier to kill than the military because as good progressives, they no doubt were not too fond of military ties that might have helped protect them.

When progressives figure out that the connectivity that they bring is considered hostile action by so many of today's guerillas there will be a revolution in the NGO sector. Hopefully, there will be a minimum of bodies needed to teach that lesson.

January 29, 2005

The Pace of Freedom's March

Posted by TMLutas

Reading this criticism of Bush's inaugural, it really struck me how poorly researched so much journalism is.

There were the obvious contradictions between the president's stated goals and the reality of his first term. Freedom, after all, isn't exactly on the march in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or China or even Russia for that matter, and the US seems to be enjoying relatively cordial relations with those countries on economic and/or political terms.

Saudi Arabia is going to be undergoing its first elections in decades over the next few months. The PRC is undergoing a glacially paced program of electoral reform and has been holding village elections for some time now. Recently they've expanded the program. These are small steps, to be sure, but it's not exactly a good sign of reportorial competence when 50% of the examples you give of no democratic progress are actually progressing, albeit too slowly.

The closing author description was quite informative:

Dante Chinni is a senior associate with the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.

That's just too funny.

Moving on from commentary snark, I think that an overwhelming percentage of the objections to "freedom everywhere" are on the perceived pacing of change that we're trying for. There was no pacing talk actually in the speech. Those who put it there are all engaging in self-administered verbal Rorschach tests. We hear what we hope, or fear, to hear. It might do us well to have a good, serious talk about how fast freedom should be on the march.

Certainly, one man, one vote, one time is too fast. Democracy isn't the act of a one time ballot box event. It's the predictable presentation of the government to the people to be judged on their performance time after time. The idiocy and horror of post-colonial Africa show the folly of stinting on safeguards to protect the regularity of free elections.

On the other hand, my recollection is that the PRC has penciled in 2050 for their democratic experiments to reach the national legislative level. Is this too slow? I think it is. But some sort of deliberate progression from absolute rule to free-wheeling multi-party elections should be a viable pathway for authoritarian states.

We don't really have any sort of policy on how to regulate the speed of such things. When to push for "faster please" and when to hold back support because the crazies are too dominant in the opposition and will just replace a decrepit tyrant with a vigorous one. How are we to judge?

As usual, hit the permalink to get to comments.

Two Cheers for the Boston Globe

Posted by TMLutas

The Boston Globe gets one right by noting that the united Shia list is addressing its renunciation of theocracy to multiple audiences. It even notes two audiences, the US and domestic interests that are anti-theocracy. It only gets two cheers because it misses the third audience. The third audience is persian Shiites in Iran. They are saying to them that "look, you can be masters in your own house, appropriately honor Allah, and do it without setting mullahs as the supreme political power. That is a tremendously important message, one that we should not ignore.

Catching Up with RealClear Politics

Posted by TMLutas

Falling behind on my RCP reading means that you can go through and watch pundit trends emerge. The chattering class starts talking about a thing, the memes fly back and forth, and then the wave is overtaken by new sport. It's quite interesting to step out and read it not only as commentary on events but also looking at the system of how we do commentary.

Once in awhile, go back and read, the meta-trends are interesting. I can't quite pick out the patterns but I feel them there.

Tri-Cornered Revolutions

Posted by TMLutas

I think that one of the less understood effects of the Bush inaugural speech will be in how it will temporarily extend the life of some tyrannies by splitting coalitions of democrats and islamists, offering the democrats hope that they no longer have to enter into a coalition with the islamist devil in order to get rid of their local tyrant. By creating hope of democracy, he has potentially turned a largely two pole political situation between tyrant, a major islamist pole, and a minor liberal (18th century definition) pole that is largely aligned with the islamists into a true triangular struggle.

In such a struggle, the tyrant will gain by the inevitable disorder implicit in any realignment of forces as well as the ability to play one side off against the other, either openly or through black operations undertaken by his secret police. The tyrant will also be able, to some extent, to "pick his poison" by fighting one force seeking to overthrow him harder than the other, essentially picking his successor.

This new option increases the chance of a Pinochet outcome, a peaceful transition to a stable democracy with extensive guarantees of immunity, instead of an Algerian one with elections followed by civil war as the army refuses to tolerate its new masters. It reduces the number of corpses while reducing the chance at any sort of meaningful justice.

The results, as with all geopolitical novelties, will be mixed. Some authoritarian regimes will play their weakening hands well. Others will blow the opportunity to live a comfortable life in retirement.

None of this makes sense absent a fundamental shift in the survival prospects of authoritarian regimes. All this stirring the pot only works if the authoritarians are doomed to be replaced by their strongest foes and we want as many of those strongest foes to be liberal champions of freedom who we can work with, not hostile islamists who ultimately seek our enslavement.

The big question, and most have scarce examined it, is whether or not something has changed in the geopolitical mix that, all over the world, makes authoritarianism a losing bet in the medium-long term.

O'Reilly Gloom & Doom

Posted by TMLutas

Bill O'Reilly has a flashback to '70s conservatism, you know, that dour grim stuff that made conservatives a minority and liberals rule the roost, the kind of conservatism that dominated before Ronald Reagan made "morning in America" a dominant conservative theme.

O'Reilly thinks that the US stands alone, that there is no hope of breaking through a dominant world media attitude of anti-americanism. This is quite rich comming from a Fox commentator. Traditional media decrepitude is just as advanced abroad as it is here and Internet advances mean that the decline curve is likely to be steeper than it was in the US.

O'Reilly also preaches quietism for ordinary americans addressing the problem of anti-americanism abroad. Certainly we shouldn't replicate the Guardian and attempt to influence their elections directly. On the other hand, the US has been doing more elections, more regularly, than any country on earth. We elect people to positions like county clerk which are almost universally appointed positions. We do so because we have a great deal of experience in political skullduggery and how to root it out.

A better approach than to merely refrain from wearing your "orange velour sweat suit" abroad would be to simply ask the question whether their local media give a good picture of reality that lets them make accurate predictions about the future. Accuracy of prediction means they make fewer mistakes in business planning, their diplomats further their national goals better, and so on and so forth. Looking at things objectively, world media has had an execrable record providing good information on which accurate predictions can be based.

If we can just get ordinary people to open their eyes and see how badly they are being served by their media, they will behave exactly as we have done here. They will seek out alternatives that do the media's job better. New media will rise in their nations too, and the endless parade of hit pieces on america will slow down because they are money losing fantasies, not reality. In all too much of the world, they are money winning fantasies today.

January 28, 2005

Garbage Cans & Pressure Cookers

Posted by TMLutas

I think that Peggy Noonan almost gets things right in her current column on the President's 2nd inaugural. Unfortunately almost doesn't count and she errs seriously in how she views 3rd world dictatorships.

Here is an unhappy fact: Certain authoritarians and tyrants whose leadership is illegitimate and unjust have functioned in history as--ugly imagery coming--garbage-can lids on their societies. They keep freedom from entering, it is true. But when they are removed, the garbage--the freelance terrorists, the grievance merchants, the ethnic nationalists--pops out all over. Yes, freedom is good and to be strived for. But cleaning up the garbage is not pretty. And it sometimes leaves the neighborhood in an even bigger mess than it had been.

This is something of a mixed metaphor because garbage cans are not normally under pressure. You may get an increase in odor if you remove a lid, but not a messy explosion. The contents of the garbage can are generally inert.

This is not so in those dictatorships. The tyrants are more lids on pressure cookers than garbage can lids. This makes a big difference because in a pressure cooker, it is the lid that creates the danger.

This arrangement of lidding off societies through tyranny, though ugly, served us well the past hundreds of years of the westphalian era (1648-2001). A good read through the problems of the pre-westphalian era will quickly show that. The problem is that free society is on a glidepath that so empowers individuals that tyranny is untenable. Those empowering civilizational artifacts do leak out to the pressure cooker tyrannies.

The end stat is that all those pressure cookers are going to explode because no matter how tight the lid, the people are gaining the ability to apply more and more pressure to rid themselves of their constrained existence and burst into freedom. The timing of their success is highly variable but it will happen eventually, count on it. The computers we throw away in our dumps are powerful enough to empower individuals in this way. Nobody has ever been able to contain garbage pile level technology.

This process has been going on for some time and the tyrants have come upon a noxious solution to their personal dillema. They engage in a controlled venting of pressure via xenophobia, conspiracy thinking, and encouraging malcontents to take their violence elsewhere. Does this sound familiar? It should as this has been a Middle East staple for decades and one that inevitably led to 9/11. But the Middle East is not the only place where such ugly maneuvers are a way of life.

We can choose to help keep the lid on and get hurt by the shrapenel when we fail or we can help pop the lid off in a controlled way and expand our capability of cleaning up the inevitable little messes that result. In some cases, the cleanup crew will mostly be wearing a uniform. In many other cases, it will not.

I am hopeful that in a future speech, President Bush will make it clear that freedom is not a state that is limited to promotion by political action, that economic and social freedom are equal actors in the struggle to liberate the world. There was a bit of that in his speech but most seem to have missed commenting on it much. The assumption among the commentariat is that a political actor was talking about political freedom but Bush himself did not make any such distinction.

In Peggy Noonan's "garbage can" world, her solution makes a very adult sort of sense. We do not actually live in that world but a more complicated one where the clock is running on a problem that she does not seem to recognize. I too, hope for a "Return to Planet Earth" headline soon but the character who is returning is somewhat different.

January 27, 2005

Fantasy Commercials I

Posted by TMLutas

Reading this sensible article on the cost of price controls, the script of a commercial sprung to mind on the related question of bureaucratic delays to drug approvals.

A piece of paper is stamped "early approval denied" and the camera pulls back to a stereotypical bureaucrat, using the same stamp over and over. After 2-3 repeated stamps on other pages, the camera pulls back out of his office, out his building, out of DC in a frenetic pace and into a hospital room where a gravely ill woman is surrounded by beeping machines. A voice says "Sunsan Smith, and 8,548 other gravely sick patients will die because the medicine that would have safely and effectively cured them was held up by red tape. The camera backs out of the hospital and speedily returns to DC, this time the Capitol building. A generic congressman explains to an unseen lobbyist "I like the idea of reforming drug approvals to minimize overall deaths but we just can't do it. Everybody cares when we let a bad drug through. Nobody cares as much when we delay a good drug even though the delay kills more people. Pull back, go to a different hospital bed, a different patient dying, a family crying. The final cut is fade to black and big block white letters, "Nobody cares?"

If anybody ever makes this, I want the quicktime version.

January 26, 2005

Prediction Border Conditions

Posted by TMLutas

Thomas Barnett is getting bombarded with the more evidence crowd:

I'm still not convinced! Have you taken into account inflation and the Hubbert's Curve effect on crude oil prices in your calculations? Because if you could just get those numbers right, I'm pretty sure I'd be emotionally invested in your vision of the future! No, really! Just get me those two numbers!

I'll give highly qualified backing to the numbers people on this one. Past a certain point, numbers do change the validity of even grand strategy. Here's an example. Dr. Barnett has predicted that the PRC will be heading to the Middle East in 20 years. If launch costs drop from $10k-$40k per kg down to $100/kg, the PRC doesn't have to go to the ME because enough of the world will be beaming power down from orbital solar stations that they won't have to. Oil will have a new, very clean, energy competitor that is likely to be priced lower than most current producers. The huge new supply overhang will mean that oil will be available to the third world for as long as they need it as the rich will jump to hydrogen very fast.

So who could drop launch costs that much? These guys are predicting launch in 2018, 13 years from now, of a structure that could do exactly that, a space elevator.

The question is what are the numeric border conditions that would knock your predicted future into nonviability? How likely are we to get to those numeric conditions? In Dr. Barnett's case, I think we're talking about pretty wide variances and pretty unlikely outcomes. But then again, you never know.

Until 1991, space elevators were creatures of science fiction and engineers calculated that only mythical "unobtanium" could build the things. One scientist in Japan finds Single Walled Carbon NanoTubes (SWCNT) and we're off to the races with lots of previous eminently sensible predictions becoming very unrealistic in the blink of an eye. Disruptive, transformative innovation is becoming more common so predictions without border conditions are becoming less valuable, especially long term predictions.

January 25, 2005

Social Security Reform Crisis Date

Posted by TMLutas

David Adesnik gets the date wrong when Social Security is going to go into crisis. He views it as a matter of accounting. It is not. Social Security will be changed, at the latest, when a majority of the electorate knows that during their retirement years, their lifestyle will take a drop during the 2042 cuts.

The argument runs something like this:

When you're old, tired, have worked a lifetime, and really can't work anymore, the current social security program is going to take a dump on your financial balance sheet and you're going to end up having to ask "you want fries with that", "welcome to Wal Mart", or some other such low paid job that your tired, worn out body will still be barely capable of doing and will fill the hole in your financial resources. When it happens is up to the growth level of the US economy over the next few decades but our best guess is that you, personally, will get nailed sometime during your "golden years" with the bill for not reforming now.

That's an argument that will change enough votes that the political crisis for Social Security will hit long before the economic crisis arrives for the program. And, in the end, it's the first of those two crises that matters. Thus, the economic analysis is a bit beside the point. The political coalition to change Social Security grows with every year. Whether it's hit majority status yet is likely to be settled in the 2006 elections as Bush is likely to reward failure on the reform front with a strong effort to remake Congress on fidelity to reform grounds.

US Citizenship

Posted by TMLutas

Here's something to think about. Why does US citizenship require a US presence? In a globalized, high connectivity world, why can't you devise a test that would permit somebody to get the passport without having to get here first?

Certainly acquiring US citizenship abroad would be and should be harder than doing it here because there's a lot of general knowledge that you get by simply being here and dealing with the system on a daily basis, knowledge that an "outside" applicant would have to actually be tested for. Just going through the exercise of what you would like to be on such a test is a useful primer in the obligations of citizenship.

The interesting bits for me would be in how such a nonterritorial grant of citizenship affects everything else. Instead of visiting the US to give birth to "anchor babies" will S. Korea give rise to a large population of dual citizens? Will dissidents wield dual nationality like a shield to make themselves less prone to be tortured? Would dual nationality itself come under pressure with countries insisting that grant of US citizenship means rejection of birth citizenship?

It's an interesting puzzle to play with.

January 24, 2005

A Japanese Versailles?

Posted by TMLutas

James Carroll extolls John Kenneth Galbraith over his vision and prescience. One of the vignettes left me cold

Most unconventionally, the agency's report on the effects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki concluded that "Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated." In 1945, Galbraith was left with a lifelong skepticism about bombing, which, alas, his country would not share.

The surrender that JKG projects would be a surrender on the order of Germany's in WW I, a surrender with troops outside the nation's pre-war borders, a surrender that could be spun by revisionist nationalists as a betrayal by the conventional political class, a fertile ground for a Japanese Hitler to rise to power a few decades later. How, in the midst of correcting the error of Versailles somebody could advocate that we should have replicated them in the Pacific is beyond me but that's what happened and even more bizarrely such a monumental act of stupidity did not destroy JKG's reputation but, at least in the eyes of this liberal, enhanced it.

Battlefield 'Net XI

Posted by TMLutas

Daniel Drezner talks about IT weakening terrorism. The cell phone and radio transmitter are the local heroes here. Cell phone SMS messaging is apparently bagging an awful lot of Iraqi terrorists. The problem seems to be on the back end. Since it's going from one cell phone to another, there's no way of identifying good informants who provide meaningful tips on a repeat basis and ones who are cluttering up the system with noise, possibly on purpose as a low risk way of hindering the forces of order.

Convergence will eventually merge the whole thing into one system, with Internet enabled 3G/4G phones providing lots of killer apps like democracy education, the ability to find a job, the ability to make social and political connections in a profoundly disconnected society, but the cell phone has one major advantage. Having one is just wanting to make a call. It doesn't mark you as a stooge for the occupation. You don't have to distribute them. You just have to keep the towers up.

January 23, 2005

Polygamy Debates in Canada

Posted by TMLutas

Evan Kirchhoff notes that the polygamist chickens are coming home to roost in Canada. That's all well and good and something that I've long predicted here as well. Aside from Kirchhoff's glee at the recognition of polygamy (for which I think he's a fool, but a well meaning one), he makes two fundamental mistakes regarding marriage.

It's not because I have a reaction along the lines of "I told you gay marriage would lead to ruin!" Same-gender and many-partner marriages should, of course, both be permitted, and legalizing one hasn't "led to" the other except in the sense that they share a common cause -- an intuitive rejection of state management of people's personal arrangements. Historically, marriage is a Christian sacrament converted into an intrusive social program; the former is no longer seen as a legitimate government feature, and the latter shouldn't be either.

Happily, marriage has acquired a third role -- the public and legal affirmation of human pair-bonding -- that has largely trumped the other two. That's the revolution (or, if you prefer, the downfall), and the "gay" aspect simply makes it impossible to ignore. Having gone that far, the lateral move of attaching surplus wives to a standard heterosexual marriage is practically conservative. Gay marriage hasn't put us on a slipperly slope to polygamy; it merely flags a previously-existing leap well down the slope beyond polygamy. (Which, I repeat, is a good thing, because people own themselves and stuff.)

The problem is first of all, one of transition. I can see making the argument for eliminating marriage as a state institution because the state has no business involving itself in such things. That's fine and good. The problem is that the state has made hundreds of arrangements and assumptions based upon marriage existing as a state institution. Some of these are small matters. Others are huge and we have no business being continually surprised as bit after bit of our presumed solid governmental arrangements fall to pieces because they were underpinned by the old definition of marriage and collapsed as it came undone. Kirchhoff is exhibiting a brutal disregard for the fallout and that just offends me as a great many of the victims of rejiggering marriage without sufficient planning will be children.

The other problem lies in Kirchhoff's third justification for marriage. What business does the government have in "the public and legal affirmation of human pair-bonding"? Why should the spousal privilege regarding testifying, for example, hold in a gang that's entirely made up of people married to each other? If intrusive social programs are no longer to be legitimate, how can you justify legal affirmation of an entirely personal relationship?

"What is marriage, and why should we have it" is still a question that must be resolved. Reform, of just about any stripe, should await a renewed consensus on the question.

Islamic Genocide

Posted by TMLutas

In the same article noting the provincial state of security in Iraq comes a very sad tale of Sunni brutality towards a Shia wedding party:

The "Sunni problem" is very complicated because of 2 reasons. First, the Sunni Baathists and aristocracy lost power and they simply want it back. I am not sure whether they will settle for a compromise. Second, the Sunni barbaric animalistic Wahabis/Salafist will never sit with the Shias on the same table and share the country. In other words, you can't negotiate with those guys.

Yesterday one of those animals packed an ambulance with explosives and rammed the vehicle into a Shia wedding party. The bride and the groom were killed along with scores of other people. What kind of person will sacrifice his own life just to kill a number of Shias??!!

Given the Darfur precedent my hopes aren't high for recognition but, isn't the Sunni Salafist ideological contention that Shia are apostate inevitably going to lead to an attempt at genocide? Compared to the Sunni world, the Shia are really small potatoes demographically. It's quite unlikely that they would survive in a disconnected islamic world with Salafist jihadi in charge.

Iraq Election Countdown

Posted by TMLutas

It looks like there are 5 provinces on the "not so good" list in Iraq right now.

Sever: Salah al Din, Al Anbar
Worrisome: Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa (where Mosul is)

Since Baghdad is one of them, I'm pretty sure that the worrisome list is where they'll pour in lots of extra troops and make sure the election is still run, leaving the two hardest cases with low turnouts.

January 20, 2005

Give Michael Moore Some Love II

Posted by TMLutas

It seems that Michael Moore wasn't being guarded by the arrested bodyguard I wrote about earlier. The man is even more clearly in the right (assuming the current version of events holds up) than I thought. Fortunately, my previous remarks still stand. Michael Moore should be asked about the incident and asked whether he thinks NYC gun restrictions were too strict in this case and whether Patrick Burke's California and Florida gun carry licenses should give him the same sort of rights that Florida and California drivers licenses do in NYS.

Bush's Inaugural II Speech

Posted by TMLutas

This was possibly one of the most consequential second inaugural speeches ever. The trend of the second term is to come in on a great portion of good will and very insubstantial tasks. This president has piled the tasks to achieve high, very high.

I'm a supporter. I believe that President Bush got the right vision to take us to a better place in a time of significant challenge. I was heartened by his full throated embrace of world-wide liberty because there are no free societies who do not talk to others and forge the chains of connectivity, binding the impulse to war. It scares me to death how we're going get it all done.

Give Michael Moore Some Love

Posted by TMLutas

While it's fairly predictable that the center-right will cry hypocrisy, I think that we should stand behind Michael Moore and his bodyguard. The man was trying to do the right thing and landed in jail for it. My point is that reasonable license reciprocity should be as common for gun carry licenses as they are for drivers licenses. We should say so and stand with behind Michael Moore's bodyguard right along with his employer.

Michael Moore is supporting his bodyguard, isn't he?

January 19, 2005

The Road to Loving France

Posted by TMLutas

The New Sisyphus gives a heartwarming story of a very pleasant trip to Paris, topped off by a crepe seller who spoke from his heart:

"Well," he said in heavily-accented basic English,"I thought so. I want to tell you something, but the words I do not know too good, so please excuse if I say it wrong."

"No, it's fine. We understand you well. Go ahead."

"Well, it's just....I want to tell you...." He looked around furtively, quickly.


"I want to tell you God bless President Bush and God bless United States of America."

We stared, amazed, not knowing what to say. He went on, with more passion now; now that he had said that he had found his stride with his form of English and the words began to flow.

"When you get home you TELL the Americans God bless George Bush and God bless the United States of America. You tell them not to believe everything they read in the newspapers, and that there are plenty French who think this. He is the best man for the job in the dangerous time we have now. You TELL them."

So we did.

This is how we get past the vile mouthpieces, simple men saying simple things from the heart. We have a great many friends in the world out there and all too often they think themselves incapable of doing much good. That artisan of crepes, manning a crepe cart in Paris did more good for his country in a minute than a week's worth of work in the French embassy in DC.

Open Source Shampoo

Posted by TMLutas

After reading Lileks screed against Bath and Body Works, a solution seems very simple to me. If you're not going to use the formula anymore, either sell it to someone who can use it because they have a lower cost structure (possibly getting paid royalties in a license deal) or give it away for free.

Lileks' apopleptic goings on provide a highly entertaining whack to Bath and Body Works brand image which is likely to cut across their market demographics in odd ways. This is, after all, a man who makes a living out of talking about the strangest juxtaposition of things, from foods of the past to house decor that never should have been. Anyway, here's the screed (but visit his site, there's an awful lot of good things there):

An Open Letter to Bath and Body Works:

For a year I have enjoyed your “Aromatherapy” line of soaps and shampoos. It has nothing to do with the purported therapeutic benefits of the various scents, and we both know that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that slathering myself with these emollients will alter my emotional state in any way. If I find myself tense, coating myself in a thick paste of Orange Ginger moisturizer has no noticeable effect on my life, other than to make me feel unduly damp, and emit squishing sounds when I sit. But the aromas are nonetheless pleasing. If you have set foot in your stores recently, you will notice the accentuated preponderance of floral and spicy scents, as though someone had swabbed the walls with an expensive prostitute. I do not wish to smell like gardenias, which heretofore had led me to regard your line with disinterest But neither do I enjoy smelling like Oirish Spring or Dial or any other bar that starts its life with confident firmness but quickly devolves into a streaked lozenge covered with antibacterial mush; hence, my tentative foray into your shop last year. I soon came to appreciate the Aromatherapy line for its unique scents, which – if I may be so forward – were masculine in a way few other soaps dare provide.

It is frankly difficult not to smell like something, given the plethora of fragrances lurking in every product. I have sought, and found, a shaving gel that leaves no fragrance. I have sought, and found, a soothing balm for the freshly razored face that leaves a ghost of a scent that quickly demurs to whatever cologne you chose to apply. (“Pure,” Eddie Bauer, one drop on the carotid artery.) Antipersperants are likely to come in “sport” scents, which announce themselves like an unholy offspring of Brut and used sweat socks, shouting loudly as they come a’borning. To this messy farrago the common man adds the drab tang of bar soap and the soft, confused hue of botanical-infused shampoo; his clothes have the faint trace of Spring Fresh detergent, tumbled in Crisp Linen drier sheets.

The dog barely knows you.

I was delivered from this by Eucalyptus Spearmint. The soap and the shampoo worked hand in hand; they welcomed the lotion like a long-lost brother. The general scent was manly in fashion that recalled the barbershops of the Gilded Age; as one laved one’s chest one could conjure up images of bowler hats on the coat rack, well-thumbed Police Gazettes, shoe polish and cigars. A time of heavy coins and horse manure, warmish beer, a scandalous flash of ankle. When I finished my morning ablutions I had the momentary conceit that I smelled like Stanford White, and this mood carried me on its shoulders throughout the day

Last year you had a sale. I stocked up. I bought 15 bottles of liquid soap and placed them in the cabinet. The shampoo, being more dear, was purchased in a smaller quantity. I bought more as I ran out, leaving my reserve stock intact.

Last week you had another sale. The shampoos for the Aromatherapy line were discounted by 75%. I knew instantly what this meant: you had discontinued the product. The staff was cagy, but confirmed my suspicion with slight, knowing expressions and small tight smiles of sympathy.

I could understand if you had abandoned the line completely; such are the vicissitudes of retail. But to keep the line going while eliminating a crucial element of the aroma profile is an act of colossal arrogance and cruelty, knowing as you do that no other shampoo in the store meshes with such ease and familiar grace into the Eucalyptus Spearmint line. It goes without saying that the era of having a shower with identically sized and labeled bottles is over, and shall not come again. It goes without saying that you care little for this, or your hand would have stayed from signing the order to kill the product. It might well have flown to your mouth or throat, momentarily stunned at what you had almost set in motion.

I know I cannot influence your decision. But know this: I will never buy anything else at your store, because all you offer is flowery fluids I can buy cheaply at Target. I have a year’s supply of liquid soap, which I will use as ever. I will refill the empty shampoo bottles with Suave. Do you understand? Years of product testing, package design, ad campaigns, the whole lot: it comes down to Suave poured in your containers, not in the hopes you will not be unduly pained, but in the fervent desire that you will be pained unutterably, and go to your graves nursing the wound.

Damn ye, sirs. Damn ye.

Then again, he could always just get a custom shampoo made.

January 18, 2005

Drug Approvals: Two Ways to Kill

Posted by TMLutas

I really wish whoever does lobbying for pharmaceutical firms would figure up a death clock, or rather two death clocks, to accurately illustrate how the current drug approval system tilts toward non-approval. You could tote up all the saved lives as a consequence of drugs approved between 2004-2005 and project back to 2003, figuring out how many people died in 2003 because our drug approval process can't have two years shaved off of it. Then you could provide a much easier to find total of how many people died in 2003 because of drugs that shouldn't have been approved getting on the market.

I suspect that there is a huge disparity between the two figures and that the former is much larger than the latter. In a just, humane society, they'd be roughly in balance and you'd work to drive down the overall figures. Because it's hard to figure blame when a drug is not approved, we have an institutional bias to withhold drugs from the market, creating excess deaths that could have been avoided.

HT: Real Clear Politics and Russell Roberts

Foolish Hardball

Posted by TMLutas

Ryan Lizza is learning all the wrong lessons from the Democrat defeat on health care reform in the Clinton administration:

Defeat breeds defeat. In Clinton's case, time brought not only a more organized opposition but also a crush of events--a bruising budget battle, political scandals, international crises--that sapped his political capital and distracted him from focusing on health care. The lesson for Democrats is obvious: The harder it is for Bush to pass other parts of his agenda, the harder it will be for him to pass his Social Security plan. Conversely, easy Bush victories on his budget, energy bill, tort reform, and judicial nominees will strengthen his hand on Social Security. At one point in 1994, Clinton believed a swift victory on what seemed like an easy-to-pass crime bill could serve as a springboard to revive health care. But, rather than hold their fire for the health bill, Newt Gingrich and his troops launched an all-out attack on the crime bill that caught the White House completely off guard. Similarly, today some Democrats believe that a fight over a highly polarizing Supreme Court nominee could be the magic bullet that saps the energy from Social Security. 

The Republican party has spent years setting up the impression that Democrats are obstructionists, fighting unfairly to block judges for partisan reasons and keeping good people off the bench. Picking a fight against a SC nominee in order to set themselves up for Social Security reform is tailor made to feed right into that longstanding Republican narrative.

The idea a little further on that the Democrats are about to emerge as reformers real soon now makes an appearance:

Many Democrats today argue that their route back to power depends on transforming themselves into a party of reform. Some of these Democrats are scared that mere opposition--and denying Bush's claim that Social Security faces a "crisis"--hampers their efforts. But Republicans faced the same challenge in the early '90s and found that the two goals were not mutually exclusive. They didn't just kill health care reform, they used its corpse as a platform to redefine themselves as a reform movement that swept away the Democratic majority. 

The reforms that Republicans pushed in the Contract with America were well integrated in a united Republican party, were consistent with, or at least acceptable to, all major sub-party interests, and had been well chewed for many years at Heritage, Cato, and all their smaller brethren in the think tank community. There is no such well formed reform agenda available to Democrats right now.

Maybe a decade from now such an agenda will exist and the Democrats will come storming back. I doubt it will come so soon. The Democrats have yet to really face the reality that they're no longer the majority party and the Republicans have yet to grow in arrogance enough to need to be booted out.

Isolated Knowledge Silos

Posted by TMLutas

Todd Zywicki writes about the curious backwardness of much constitutional law analysis regarding commercial speech. Apparantly most of what's out there doesn't reference the most important economic works in the field of advertising analysis.

There are a few things that struck me. First, the analysis is crude because the opinions are largely black box. You can't easily ask "what are the economic theories that underly each of these opinions" and get a summary. You should be able to. If nothing else, law school students, in their yearly analysis of these cases could come to reasonable conclusions about the source of the economic theories of these opinions. In fact, they probably already do but nobody's actually distilling that intellectual work and populating a standard database with it.

If such a thing were done, you could then take the results back to the economists and find out how much of our constitutional analysis of commercial speech is based on fundamentally flawed economics. If most of it is, the chances of the Supreme Court reviewing new challenges to the status quo goes up. The chances of getting district and appellate courts to ignore stare decisis rises too.

On the other hand, if a lot of the analysis is based on articles which themselves are based on sound economics, there really is no problem. The difficulty is that with all that yearly wasted analysis going on in law school classrooms, we really can't tell which case is more true.

Entitlement Reform

Posted by TMLutas

I think that Robert Samuelson's missing the point when he complains about Bush's SS Reform efforts. Samuelson would rather that we tackle the whole problem at once. "[T]he debate becomes harder, but it also becomes more honest and meaningful." That may be true but if the debate gets too hard, you end up with a deadlock and the unsustainable status quo survives. Time is not on our side. The longer we wait, the more drastic the changes will have to be and the more human suffering will happen as people can't get adjust in time and have poorer retirements because of it.

I'm starting to suspect that Social Security reform is the domestic version of Iraq and Medicare is the domestic version of N. Korea as far as Bush policy goes. Social Security is going to get the full assault treatment because it's strategic, people understand it well, and it's about the biggest problem we can handle with that approach. Medicare is too tough, too confusing, and much more susceptible to a quiet "python" approach. So we get shifts in medical care that will tremendously increase savings like forced computerization on pain of reduced reimbursements, standardization, tort reform to reduce costs, and introducing the pharmaceutical revolution into the world of government funded senior care so we don't continue to prefer expensive surgery to inexpensive pills. This is similar to the slow squeeze we're inflicting on N. Korea with the six party talks. There isn't anywhere for the N. Koreans to play their usual games of strategically playing one great power off against another. They're all at the same table talking at the same time.

A great deal of the problem on Medicare is that I believe that government accounting simply can't take into account the substitution effect of pills for surgery. I've yet to see any credible figures for how much surgery care is going to be cut because of increased pharmaceutical use due to the Medicare drug benefit. Without those, you can't really measure the net effect and because those substitution savings are going to show up further out, we're going to hit a nasty lag period in the meantime. Economists like Samuelson could explain that but few seem to have grasped the cost savings potentials.

Too bad.

HT: National Center

The Little Guy

Posted by TMLutas

Amy Ridenour stands up for the little guy getting ahead by serving the fat cats who attend the inauguration. It's a transfer of wealth, not a waste of it. Her post reminds me of the old "luxury tax" that was imposed years ago. Democrats put it in as a blow against the rich but took it right out as ordinary people who built yachts and other luxury items for the rich saw their incomes evaporate as the tax kept rich people's money inside their wallets.

The argument is similar here. Spending your wealth increases economic mobility as the rich slow their rise or move down a bit in wealth and the ordinary service workers maybe get enough extra money to work on that nest egg to start their own businesses or expand.

But this kind of wealth transfer doesn't have the State involved so it's not to Democrat government unions' liking. They don't get their cut and that makes it illegitimate in their eyes.

So sad.

IL Worries

Posted by TMLutas

The Chicago Tribune analysis of GOP implosion really lays out some of the major reasons why I've been nervous about returning to Illinois. With the GOP losing credibility on both wings, Democrat corruption on the march in Chicago, it's tough to see how the state is going anywhere but down over the long haul.


HT: watersblogged

January 17, 2005

When Facts Aren't

Posted by TMLutas

One of the great baseline facts of the Israel/Palestine problem has been the demographic reality that the jews aren't having babies and the arabs are. This has underlied the foreign policies of all involved nations, the policy prescriptions of virtually every commentator and analyst of all political stripes. The switchover of the western part of the old british mandate of Palestine from majority jewish to majority arab population was going to bring about huge changes that everybody was feverishly planning for.

Now we find that there may not be any demographic switchover at all. In Israel proper, including Jerusalem, Israel is 80% jewish. If you throw in the occupied territories, it's 59.5% jewish, a drop from 64.1% in 1967.

In a perfect world, you could go to a computer and find a list of predictions, policies, and commentary that depended on the double counters, the falsified population growth rates, and correct it all. Unfortunately, none of that is possible because predictions, analysis, and commentary as published today are all black box entities. None of their internals are visible and easily trackable.

This sort of opacity is very familiar to computer people. The same sort of mystery attended old style software. You knew what came out but you had no idea what was going on internally and you had no ability to adjust the software to take account of changing realities without very expensive rewrites.

If we can create some sort of standard way to represent public policy internals, those internals can be categorized and you can quickly and easily identify exactly what policy documents have to be adjusted, who was hoodwinked most heavily among the commentariat, and how to avoid the problem of false facts taking on a life of their own.

Now if we can only figure out how to propagate tools that will allow us to do that sort of thing easily...

January 16, 2005

TV's Replacement

Posted by TMLutas

Damien Penny alerts us to the future of television. Fox (of course) is experimenting with failed shows, selling them pay-per-view over the Internet. This model actually makes the paying customer the viewer, instead of the advertiser. If they can keep their costs down, the next step will be to start offering smaller shows that aren't profitable on broadcast but would be profitable on the Internet exclusively via that medium. The final step will be for advertisers to offer their ads on a pay-per-view system with the advertisers paying you "Fox bucks" to watch their stuff and answer a question or two at the end to make sure you're not just downloading and playing in the background (real cash will come later as somebody disintermediates the network out of the business).

Congratulations! You've got a viable business model for visual entertainment in the 21st century.

Call For Views I

Posted by TMLutas

Here's a note I penned to Victor David Hanson:

In your recent article on triangulating war, you state "[a]fter all, there is no government handbook entitled, 'Operation 1A: How to remove a Middle East fascist regime in three weeks, reconstruct the countryside, and hold the first elections in the nation's history — all within two years.'" Put more generically, there is no process to handle politically bankrupt (often called failed) states. Historically, what has kept us from writing such a thing have been the Westphalian rules of sovereignty established in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.

Since we've pretty much chucked westphalianism out the window as part of the Bush doctrine and Prime Minister Blair explicitly called for its replacement in his own nation's foreign policy at a speech in Sedgefield, isn't it time such a manual was written and a new foreign policy consensus was forged? Westphalianism will either die a tragic death as we slide back into our pre-westphalian sins (see: Thirty Years War et al) or we will forge some sort of post-westphalian improvement, perhaps on the split Dr. Thomas Barnett has suggested that westphalian limits are prudent and remain functional for the Kantian and well ordered Functioning Core states but the disconnected Non-Integrating Gap requires a different, more hobbesian regime of international relations. What is your view?

I hope that something interesting might come of it and will continue to write such notes to interesting thinkers to see what happens. If I am lucky and good at writing, I expect a 1% positive response rate to this sort of call to civic participation.

January 14, 2005

Numa Numa Dance

Posted by TMLutas

Just because I like a laugh as well as the next guy:
Numa Numa Dance

Click on watch this movie (top right) and a new window opens, giving you O-Zone's Dragostea din Tei as you've never seen it before. The subtitles are useful for those who do not speak romanian.

Homosexual Arab Linguists

Posted by TMLutas

In all the kerfuffle over the Army kicking out homosexual arab linguists, I think that everybody is missing the easy fix. Make them take off the uniform and put them elsewhere doing exactly the same job. They're linguists for pete's sake. If they're translating in civvies and aren't in the chain of command, exactly how much utility has the USG lost? decide a cash value on excluding homosexuals that's per individual, give them all cards for a KBR recruiter and pay KBR some money to do the job.

What, exactly, is the problem with that? If it's all about dollars and cents, what's the cost of moving them out? If the Army is organizing things so they actually lose translating capability, that would seem to be a problem of bad organization not of "gays in the military".

Parallel Universes

Posted by TMLutas

Robert Kuttner must be living in some alternate dimension. In his world

There's a standard story about partisan gridlock: The American electorate is mostly middle of the road. The voters want the parties to work together and solve national problems. Both parties have become captured by extremists.

As columnist David Broder has written, "Washington has become such a partisan cockpit, with constant sniping between the parties on Capitol Hill and gridlock in the House and Senate."

The voters have to be sick of partisan wrangling and worried about unsolved national ills. But everything else about this fable is wrong.

For starters, one party has indeed been captured by extremists, but the other one has moved steadily toward the center.

In this world, we have a Democrat party that has abandoned it's tentative thoughts on Social Security reform to go full blown obstructionist (even the DLC is going to denounce them). History seems to be in scarce supply in Kuttner's parallel universe. Bill Clinton's Social Security commission proposals to privatize never happened over there and only Bush's "commission stacked with members committed to one outcome -- privatization" ever existed.

Radically reconstructing civil marriage through the courts instead of the legislature in this world turns into a kumbayah desire for tolerance "[o]nly on issues of tolerance -- gay rights, women's rights, rights of the disabled, affirmative action -- have Democrats continued to push democracy outward, and they have paid dearly." Perhaps they've paid dearly because a working majority of american voters understand that tolerance isn't what is being pushed here.

The parallel universe comparisons go on and on. Democrats won't ever gain power again without coming out of their alternate universes and gaining a better appreciation of the real one that we all live in. In the old days, you used to be able to get away with this sort of trickery because ordinary people had limited access to alternative story lines and news facts. That world is gone forever and good riddance.


Posted by TMLutas

George Will closes a good article on Social Security reform with this great paragraph:

The public—particularly the iPod-using cohort, which is a steadily increasing portion of the public—has figured something out. In the words of a much "misunderestimated" president, "Where the people are the government they do not get rid of their burdens by attempting to unload them on the government." So said the sainted Calvin Coolidge, 12 years before Social Security was born.


I really have to learn more about Coolidge.

Economic Country Deformation

Posted by TMLutas

What is the proper response when an economic partner does something truly dumb and decides to subsidize you by selling you things for less than they are worth or overproducing them globally? The first impulse is to smile quietly and say "thank you and may I have another?" but things are not so simple in the real world when you throw politics in the mix.

Those displaced by cheap goods and services howl bloody murder as they are chased from job to job by a sea of cheap foreign imports of goods and services. If you're a born engineer, it's quite uncomfortable to be chased into real estate sales and you're very likely to express some displeasure at the state of affairs when you visit the voting booth.

The result of all those cheap imports deforms our own labor pool. We graduate fewer engineers in the US, at least in part, because the communist countries graduated so many of them that engineering's recompense is lowered as barriers to labor or even service provision mobility fall due to globalization and the fall of the iron curtain.

The biggest example of economic deformation on the planet today is the People's Republic of China. The PRC's elite is in a desperate struggle to stay ahead of rising population expectations and keep their collective necks out of the noose and their bodies off street-lamps as some sort of revolutionary "strange fruit". They are the fourth generation of leadership in a movement that has killed tens of millions and impoverished hundreds of millions. They want to unwind this legacy but leave themselves on top. This leads them to make all sorts of economic deformations in order to have a decent shot at achieving their goals. Their deformation triggers corresponding deformations in the rest of the world.

They overproduce engineers, we must underproduce them or watch as the price for engineering talent spirals through the floor and a first world engineer is just another euphemism for unemployed and poor. They enter into a market and inevitably they will either conquer it or we will innovate our own efficiency to the point where they cannot match it by throwing more bodies at the problem.

But these economic deformities themselves cause further stress in the PRC so they have to be unwound as well. Each round of deformation unwinding, hopefully, will be less disruptive than the last and the end result will be a PRC that is sane and reasonably well off, firmly integrated into the Core countries in the global economic system. Simple justice suffers (many of those in the PRC elite deserve to be hung in the street) but our chance of intra-Chinese civil war and nuclear Armageddon appreciably drops if this project succeeds so simple justice will have to be delayed until after the crisis is past. Unfortunately, at that point the bloodiest hands will likely already have died.

Since we're now not talking about economics here but politics, it's quite unpredictable whether those societies (1st, 2nd, and 3rd world all) who have economic deformation imposed on them by the PRC are going to sit still and take it indefinitely. Fortunately, it is starting to looks like they won't have to as PRC wages rise and their competitive cost advantage drops.

So, what is the proper response if one of your trading partners does this to you? I guess it has to do with how flexible your society is. Can you afford to absorb some social change that would otherwise have to be expressed internally at your partner? Is your partner doing so as a desperation move to avoid revolution? Do you want revolution in that partner? What would be the consequences of that revolution in creating further stress in the system (could you get a Great Depression style chain reaction going)? In the end, it's going to be a case by case study but at least now we've got somewhat better questions.

January 13, 2005

Die Eminent Domain, Die

Posted by TMLutas

David Sucher notes that:

Eminent domain came about precisely because the market could not solve the endless bargaining problem. Eminent domain was not part of some original condition given to us by God and from which we have to escape. It was adopted by human beings to solve a problem. You may not like eminent domain and indeed it has been and is abused and needs reform, at least in the USA. But let's start our discussion with reference to reality, not fantasy. Eminent domain is itself a solution to market imperfections. Eminent domain came into use precisely because the market could not solve the bargaining problem and so it conjured up a deus ex machina to intervene.

This is fine, as far as it goes but the analysis suffers from a common problem, treating a variable as a constant. The market could not solve the problem of the dual coincidence that was necessary for trade for quite a long time. Then, somebody invented money and we no longer had to have a dual coincidence. Situations of trade without money were renamed barter and we moved on, I believe somewhere around the bronze age.

Eminent Domain may solve the "endless bargaining problem" but what, in fact, is the endless bargaining problem? Google is no help (no results) and I'm not particularly familiar with any economic literature that describes it as such. Eminent domain is the application of the violence of the state to the problem of people not willing to part with their property at a price that the buyer is willing to agree to.

In fact, I think that the history of eminent domain is an attempt to pretty up a practice that is as old as government, simple property expropriation. The state, having the necessary arms, took what it wanted and paid nothing in compensation. Who would complain, or at least survive to complain twice when government was not usually based on the consent of the governed but on might makes right?

So if we've got something of an appendix of old time state coercion here, it seems like a great opportunity for the market to step in and provide a superior alternative. It's a pity that politically bankrupt ideas survive so much longer than economically bankrupt ones.

Accommodating Faith

Posted by TMLutas

Andrew Sullivan really must be going on some sort of personal faith roller coaster. I can't imagine any other reason he's react so foolishly to a personal statement by President Bush regarding the personal challenges of the presidency. President Bush "see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord." Sullivan sees that as a threat to atheists. It is no such thing.

I don't see how you can work at a garbage dump without nose plugs or how you can be a thin chef that's any good but if I saw such things appear before my eyes, I wouldn't lift a finger to correct the world but rather correct my impressions. I'm sure that President Bush would too if we ever would elect an atheist president in his lifetime and he did well.

The whole sad note is an assumption of intolerance and bigotry on Sullivan's part. I wondered what Sullivan had become after he renounced his Catholicism. I guess I've got a good idea now.

January 11, 2005

Safari Applescript Tab Manipulation Code

Posted by TMLutas

I'm hip deep in writing something but I thought I would provide a bit of cheer for those delving into Applescript and looking to manipulate Safari.

In Apple's Applescript page devoted to Safari, they have a download link for a collection of sample scripts. One of them includes the following routine:

on new_tab()
tell application "Safari" to activate
tell application "System Events"
tell process "Safari"
click menu item "New Tab" of menu "File" of menu bar 1
end tell
end tell
end new_tab

I saw that the ability to make tabs was nice but you needed to navigate as well as close them to. Here's what I've added so far:

on next_tab()
tell application "Safari" to activate
tell application "System Events"
tell process "Safari"
click menu item "Select Next Tab" of menu "Window" of menu bar 1
end tell
end tell
end next_tab

on prev_tab()
tell application "Safari" to activate
tell application "System Events"
tell process "Safari"
click menu item "Select Previous Tab" of menu "Window" of menu bar 1
end tell
end tell
end prev_tab

on close_tab()
tell application "Safari" to activate
tell application "System Events"
tell process "Safari"
click menu item "Close Tab" of menu "File" of menu bar 1
end tell
end tell

end close_tab

What needs doing next is to be able to jump around between tabs without cycling through each one. This is for a long-term project that will allow me to pull job databases in a manner so that I can track them and it won't work so fast that some admin on the other end gets spooked and shifts things around to break my code.

Future Apple III

Posted by TMLutas

OK, time to eat crow. Yes, the low cost mac is here. It's a decent machine which has all the long-term implications that Evan Kirchhoff was talking about. The only kicker is whether Apple loses money or makes money on each unit and what's their margin.

There is one thing missing at the intro, a nice USB KVM unit. There will be people who want to swap back and forth between their Windows box and their Mac box, perhaps networking them together over ethernet (it would be really spiffy if Rendezvous could take a simple ethernet cable link, and make Windows shares show up for the Mac).

January 10, 2005

Defining Torture II

Posted by TMLutas

A thought occurs that a great part of the problem with torture word games is that people don't really understand how strict the restrictions are on interrogation under the Geneva Convention. It would be a useful educational matter to come up with some sort of smart DVD that would show an escalating interrogation that went through all the various grey zones of interrogation violations that are not in the popular definition of torture but are outlawed by a "zero tolerance" regime advocated by many on the left.

You would define a button on the remote to hit when you think the first illegal bit of interrogation happened and the DVD would go back and explain all the bits of legal violations between when you stopped the interrogation and the actual first violation. It could also let you know if you would have let in some techniques that the Bush administration has not allowed.

A picture is worth a thousand words and if the Bush administration has been drawing the legal line too close to the black, people will hit the button before the administration's limit and you'd be able to know what techniques you're really mad about and what should continue to be used without using vague legislative wording that will unintentionally knock out unobjectionable techniques for illegal combatants.

Palestine Election Thoughts

Posted by TMLutas

If Abbas had been elected in the US, we'd already know how long his term was, and speculation would already be starting on who would be opposing him for reelection. Maybe it's just my tired brain but I can't even figure out how long his mandate is for. Anybody can have an election once. They can even have a new one at the death of the previous strongman but that's not democracy.

Man v System

Posted by TMLutas

At one end of a continuum, if some absolute potentate like Kim Jong Il were to order the entire population to strip naked and dance the conga, somebody might put a bullet in his head but otherwise you would soon see the strangest dance in modern history. At the other end, if a US president did the same thing, there would be no bullet, just a quick invocation of the 25th amendment would remove the President.

A recent article on the PRC's push against Taiwan independence makes me ask where on that continuum does the PRC sit and in what direction is it moving. In the end, I agree with Thomas Barnett's idea that eventually, the PRC will move along the continuum to a spot near where the US is but that day is not today.

The security challenge for the US is how to keep the PRC strongmen contained inside the rule of law when the internal rule sets have yet to completely gel to form reliable restraints to ego driven, irresponsible uses of power. As with most complex systems, you can get the result you want from at least two different directions. You can fight to repress the PRC's power or you can fight to improve the PRC's adoption of rule sets or you can achieve some combination of the two in a form of cooptition where we are both competitors and partners simultaneously. I suspect that last option is where we are since Nixon and where we are likely to remain for some time.

Defining Torture

Posted by TMLutas

A major problem in any discussion on the use of torture is the problem of definition. The idea and practice of a zero tolerance policy is all well and good in theory but the problem of discouraging our enemies' explicit policies of military perfidy and other war crimes such as body desecration. A zero tolerance policy eliminates any grey area and colors it black. The practical effect is to enshrine in our laws a "perfidy bonus" in combat operations undertaken by our enemies. It will end up with our own and allied troops and civilians dying in greater numbers due to inexistent fear of retribution. Why not attack civilians when there is no penalty? You might as well legalize murder and seek to disclaim any responsibility for the increased traffic at the coroner's office. .

That being said, there is good reason to color the grey areas grey. Negotiating the slippery slope is difficult but if we're to stay entirely out of that sort of transaction, we have to come up with modern responses to eliminate the perfidy bonus unless we prefer the unjust blood on our hands to be that of us and our allies rather than our enemies. That sort of preference is something that I simply do not understand.

When speaking of torture, there is an obligation on both sides to responsibly pair the moral problems of torture and perfidy. Unfortunately neither side seems to be strongly raising the connection.

January 08, 2005

Letter to the Paper XXXVIII

Posted by TMLutas

Jonathan Gewirtz graciously posts about one of my previous items something entitled Libertarian Clueless III wherein I take to task the go for broke all or nothing libertarians who seem so dominant in the LP today. While reading through the site further thoughts came to me on fixing the LP:

I do not agree that the LP is inevitably dead. With so few dues paying LP members, a committed band of reasonable libertarians can take over just about any party organ and run candidates who have a chance of winning. I think that a reasonable set of principles for candidates would sound something like this:

1. I believe that Thomas Jefferson was right when he said that that government which governs least, governs best
2. I believe that we can do better at following his advice than our current crop of politicians are doing
3. I believe that improving our government by governing less will better meet the needs of all the people
4. I believe that forcing changes without first showing the happy ending of better government is short sighted and impractical. Small government is a habit which serves the people well and I pledge to work tirelessly to not only reduce government but create the societal consensus to make those changes stick.
5. I believe in humane transitions from the old to the new so that people are never sacrificed for principle.

There is nothing in this statement of candidate principles that should be objectionable to a sane LP. Such a statement would be objected to because it would leave in place certain forms of coercion for a time until public opinion understood the solution and the coercive law or regulation would be removed. A second objection would be leveled at the extra coercively extracted expenses on transition costs. Both objections are in error and desire Bismarck's tasty sausage without the disturbing sausage making.

The problem for libertarians who want to actually affect policy is that the LP is the crazy uncle who you just can't get rid of. Every time you start to make headway you either have to hide your libertarianism or you have to deal with the fact that the LP has poisoned the well and turned off many of your potential partners. The LP must be fixed because the all or nothing libertarians won't ever let it die.

January 07, 2005

King County First

Posted by TMLutas

I think that the Washington election for governor provides an interesting opportunity for Republicans in 2006. With the mid-count judicially imposed rule change only affecting counties that had not certified their elections to that point, Democrats got a great bonus as the only county that had not certified by that point was King County, a Democrat stronghold. If a future statewide race shows a similar close result, it would be a great symbol for all the Republican county election officials to refuse to certify their own counties until the lawsuit had settled the rules. This would have the dual effect of dramatically publicizing Democrat attempts at voter disenfranchisement and actually eliminating the intended effect, that Republican counties vote under one set of rules while Democrat strongholds vote under a different set.

You read it here first.

Future Apple II

Posted by TMLutas

Evan Kirchhoff ups the ante on his previous Apple speculation, claiming the new, headless Mac at $499 is now at 75% speculation and provides supporting evidence. Unfortunately for Kirchhoff's predictive batting record, there are two long-known Apple corporate traits that militate against the rumor being true. First, Apple has a highly aggressive (many say viciously vindictive) legal department. Apple has always liked suing people, especially over IP violations. They've also had a long-running feud with rumors websites, especially those who won't take down inside info stories that were illegally disseminated. The problem could be as simple as the following quote from the original Think Secret story "The new Mac, code-named Q88, will be part of the iMac family and is expected to sport a PowerPC G4 processor at a speed around 1.25GHz."

If there is a Q88 hardware project that even vaguely resembles that, the above quote is probably the fruit of an inside leak. Apple security could even have discovered the leakers and those might be most of the rest of the John Doe defendants.

Now Q88 might, or might not, be destined for release. You have to remember that Apple has publicly released Darwin for x86, a complete OS, and is widely expected that they have an internal development project with a completely running Mac OS X operating system based on x86 maintained in parallel with their PPC version. That version will never see the light of day unless the PPC consortium dies, something that is highly unlikely with the birth of the new Power initiative. Q88 could be a similar internal project. Q88 could be a project that's exactly as described but to be released at a $599 price point. Both would seriously peeve Apple for good reason.

The major negative effect for Apple is that expectations of a Q88 release will be built into Apple's stock price and non-release or release at a higher price or with lower capability configurations will all mean a hit to Apple's shareholders in the next two weeks. Every time that happens, the desperate anti-mac people (John Dvorak, please call your office) get revved up and the Apple brand takes an outsized hit that they have to work very hard to recover from.

The further rumor of a new Office software suite can also be coming out in many different ways (and it's been widely anticipated for some time). Apple has already struck a major blow by providing .doc file support as a system service. I would expect that this would continue to be improved. I also would not be surprised to find (at this conference or some other) an announcement that replicates the Safari (KHTML) rollout where an open source office application like KOffice gets a major UI upgrade and a version rolled out that is heavily integrated with Mac OS X.

As for Apple stockholders in 2010, I would want Apple will be a more diversified company and to have improved positions in all its segments, including personal computers. I would expect that Apple's consumer outlook will put it far ahead in the race to create home servers, a high margin business that can get rolled into the mortgage for housing. A complete system would require a house LAN and room terminals that would be at least as capable as today's PCs.

You don't need any secret knowledge to predict such things, just some technical understanding of Apple's current offerings as they've unfolded and the logical continuation of current trends. Apple's Rendezvous, Airport, Xsan, Xraid, and Xserve products all have potential applications in a (wireless) wired home initiative and even some of the lesser knowns such as OpenDirectory are probably not just attempts by Apple to assault the corporate purchase gates. When Apple can find a good partner in the building trades to make that sort of deal, they will as it will be highly lucrative to get clumps of a hundred servers here, two hundred there for entire upscale subdivisions. That's the kind of thing that will not only build their brand but will also increase their ability to sell further service offerings into from hardware service to Internet watch filters.

January 06, 2005

Sovereignty Reform

Posted by TMLutas

David Frum asks:

Burma's Losses

Meanwhile, it seems likely that Burma too suffered horribly from the tsunami – but that the suffering is being concealed from the world by that country’s corrupt and brutal military government. Question: By what right does a small group of violent men deny their people access to international help after a disaster? Looking back on Rwanda, many people around the world came to reject the idea that “sovereignty” entitled a government to massacre its people. But what about consciously dooming people to death by abandonment – can the claim of “sovereignty”really entitle a government to do that?

The question, unfortunately, is dangerously incomplete as asked. The problem is not sovereignty challenges per se but leaving things open ended like that means that it's at least even odds that you'll end up with a variant of one of the pre-westphalian international system (with all their bloody problems) rather than any actual post-westphalian improvement. It's a shame, really.

Non-Military Disaster Relief

Posted by TMLutas

Petrified Truth quotes Mark Steyn:

That's what you need: an operational infrastructure for long-distance emergencies — or, in a word, a military. If you don't have a functioning military, it doesn't matter how caring you profess to be.

This isn't Steyn's major point but I think that a larger issue is lost in the glancing treatment. Yes, militaries can be good at this sort of thing and certainly the UN is not an acceptable alternative unless you like increasing body counts and a dash of rape and pedophilia thrown in. But it doesn't follow that the military is the best that we can do. I'd submit that we can do better and we will do better in future, if only because the end of military great power competition has and will continue to reduce the available power projection assets that militaries around the world will have at their command (at least until Pax Americana crumbles).

Even if world governments don't quite get it this time, they'll get it in some future disaster as the dynamic plays out over the years and even less can be done with military assets. Hopefully it'll be caught proactively and this is one lesson that can be learned without an attached death toll.

Rent Seeking

Posted by TMLutas

One of the most powerful tools available to those trying to bring the federal government budget in balance were the debt clock billboards put up around the country by J. Peter Grace after he headed up the Grace Commission looking into such matters for President Reagan. Once everyday people could see the national debt ticking up and their share of it, political will coalesced to take care of the problem in the '90s.

Today, one of the big hidden problems facing us is rent seeking. We've got lots of people extracting money to shift government power to favor their own private interests and everybody has to hire their own lobbyists to ensure that at least they're not put out of business by such action even if they don't want to play the game of killing the competition via government action.

This costs us all in higher prices, more expensive regulation, and general confusion as the law tilts first this way and then that as various lobbyists succeed in moving the law to favor their clients. This all erodes the rule of law which requires, above all, predictability so you can plan ahead and obey the law.

We're in desperate need of a leading figure to tote up the costs and make a new set of billboards.

Old Fears in Iraq

Posted by TMLutas

There was a time when some people seriously feared that if we were to seriously encourage democracy in the Middle East, people would simply vote in bin Laden and we'd have one man, one vote, one time to a religious theocracy. It appears that this is no longer one of the great fears, and the fellow that really killed it is Osama himself. By putting out a message condemning the election and advocating a boycott, OBL has provided the best evidence available that theocracy simply isn't in the cards for Iraq. That's good news for us but don't expect to see that analysis in the MSM anytime before the vote results come in.

January 04, 2005

Libertarian Clueless III

Posted by TMLutas

QandO blog has a great post on practical libertarianism and takes apart libertarian extremists who cry out libertarian utopia now. It really is a great read.

The essence of the problem is the outright hostility of all too many self proclaimed libertarians to accept half a loaf today on the road to getting the full loaf tomorrow. Murray Rothbard is the main target but the Randians come in for their share of whacks. Unfortunately, practical libertarianism has lost out in the Libertarian party and with the go for broke crowd in charge of that institution, it's damnably hard for the practical libertarians to get much of a hearing. You just have to apologize too much to the people who think that if you don't legalize heroin, you shouldn't bother with medical marijuana or other smaller reforms.

The Libertarian party will have to be taken back. But that's a project for another day.

January 03, 2005

Future Apple I

Posted by TMLutas

Evan Kirchhoff takes a stab at divining Apple's future. He analyzes one of those rumors that never die, "the cheap Mac". He gets pretty much everything right until the end when he should have just said that it's a false rumor but he breathes life back into the dead and gives it a 50% chance of being true. It's just not so and I've seen this rumor come up so many times that it's obvious that it's not.

First of all, if Apple wanted to drop the entry price on its computing technology, it would much more likely pair with the new IBM initiative to promote their Power line of chip products and create a $299 satellite computer with a tiny flat screen that would run cut down versions of OS X specially tuned for the "digital dashboard" applications to be rolled out in 10.4 and fitting into a home network. The problem with a $499 computer isn't that it's too cheap for Apple but that it's too expensive.

Apple has garnered plenty of expertise in how to take over market segments by being the low price producer. Try competing with Final Cut Pro, Xserve, or Xserve RAID on price. You can't without getting out of the brand name space. Price out a 50 person workgroup with simple file and print needs using Mac OS X Server v Windows Server. Licensing costs drop the Mac OS X price far below the Windows one.

Whenever Apple has decided to win a segment by entering the low end for that segment, they have always dropped their prices down to crush the competition, never, ever meeting the low cost provider. This rumor would meet the low cost providers. That means it would not only depart from the old "high price, high chic" Apple of the past but also the new Apple "category killer that crushes on price" present.

If Apple goes low, it'll go low in creating a new category, say something in the iMac G5 form factor but wall mountable with a 9" lcd screen that will automatically hook up to mama Mac and provide you with dashboard computing functionality where you want it. Buy a 10 pack and put one in every room in the house (and yes, there will be a ruggedized version for the bathroom). Microsoft can't follow because it doesn't make the whole widget. The x86 clone makers can't follow in Windows because the Microsoft tax won't let them. The Linux folks could follow but won't succeed in the space because the 9" wall mount form factor will highlight user experience, an Apple strength and a Linux weakness.

Now this isn't a rumor. I'm just providing a prediction based on what people want, computing where they want it, when they want it. It will appear when the hardware is ready. Apple's laid the foundation for this sort of thing over the past couple of years, just as they've laid the foundation for their push into the enterprise that you'll see in the next 5 years.

January 02, 2005

New Year's Resolution IV

Posted by TMLutas

Last New Year's, I made a resolution. There are 366 days to 2004 and 1249 entries with a 2004 timestamp on them. Miracle of miracles, I actually did do more than 3 posts a day, 3.41 to be more precise. So what's to do this year? I think more of the same but less dreck and more substance.

It will be a harder challenge as I've got a new project that I'll be a regular contributor on, The New Rule Sets Project newsletter. If you have a bit of spare change in your pocket, you get to read pieces by me where I've not only put a bit more thought into the details but have an editor to polish up what I'm saying.

On a more personal note, publicly writing down a new year's resolution worked so well that I'll add one more on a more personal note. As the baby year 2006 comes in, he should see me with a weight on the south side of 200 lbs. Now that's a scary resolution for me.

January 01, 2005

Happy New Year!

Posted by TMLutas


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