February 28, 2005

Raising a Political Class

Posted by TMLutas

In 1989, I bent the ear of anybody I could in the romanian-american community that Romania needed political schools to raise up a democratic political class. Being under the age of 40 at the time (heck, I'm still under 40) I wasn't taken seriously. But ten years later I heard the laments that if only such a school had been created, the debacle of the 1996 opposition government would have been avoided.

There was just no critical mass of new thinkers who understood that if you build your campaign about the promise to resign if you can't get your program through in 200 days, day 201 should see mass resignations and new elections. The result was in 2000, the opposition parties who led the way in that government, including my personal favorite, PNT-cd were obliterated and only the liberals who had cannily maintained enough distance to avoid the blowback managed to survive.

I bring this up because I'm hearing an awful lot of talk about EU cynicism, about how the EU political class simply does not trust the people, does not permit them a real say in how things are run, and they specialize in back room deals that make the franchise something of a joke as real choice is leached out of the system.

The solution is as obvious today as it was in 1989. Somebody needs to plunk down the money, in country after country, to raise a political class in the EU republics dedicated to the proposition that citizens are the ultimate authority, that the political class are their servants, and that rise or fall, politics will be conducted honestly.

It's a strikingly impractical suggestion. It's as impractical as the suffragettes, the good government movements that brought down the corrupt urban machines, as impractical as the civil rights movement. Such a movement would require vision and a march through the institutions as tenacious as the fabian's was a century ago.

February 27, 2005

The Power of OSS

Posted by TMLutas

Classic solution
Small business PBX, NEC DS 1000 w/3 phones (no voice mail) $600, with voice mail $1250
Open Source solution
HP Vectra $155 (incl/shipping)
3 line input cards $30
3 SIP phones $195
Included voice mail $0
Total solution cost $380

The ability to customize your solution and integrate everything into the rest of your IT infrastructure because you can modify the code yourself... priceless.

February 24, 2005

TV's Replacement II

Posted by TMLutas

Microsoft has announced that it's entering the TV market to provide IPTV a TV over IP solution for large manufacturers. The idea is to provide some sort of unified solution that provides a trifecta of Video/Data/Voice solutions and high margin value added services.

Microsoft seems to be aiming this at over the wire TV instead of over the air TV but it's unlikely that such a device would succeed without over the air capability. We'll see. Such a big undertaking isn't going to get out of the lab (for technical development)/conference room (for the business negotiations) for a few years. In any case, we're unlikely to see it fully flower until IPv6 rolls out at the end of the decade to provide a sound transport method that provides reliable Quality of Service (QoS) and standard security (IPSEC).

February 23, 2005


Posted by TMLutas

I just got dumped with a large amount of work. Posting will be erratic and probably low. I hope to climb out of this hole in the next three weeks.

February 22, 2005

Who is He Giving the Finger To?

Posted by TMLutas

First thing I noticed about the Bush tapes story was the accompanying picture (look at his left hand). He's giving somebody the finger, but who?


The first contender is that it's Bush, but if that's so, he's going about it in a very strange way. The accompanying story is probably the best press that Bush has gotten out of the NY Times in years. If this is saying screw you to the Bush clan, that's a funny way of going about it. But still, there's that semi-extended middle finger, so who's he sending a message to?

February 21, 2005

Letter to the Paper ILI

Posted by TMLutas

World Changing ran a recent article entitled How Green Was My Atom taking apart a prior paean to nuclear energy. Since getting the entire world to a 1st world lifestyle is not achievable using any one energy source, I found a great deal to take exception with in the article. My critique (in their comments) is below):

It's not a case of either/or, as any serious consideration of the PRC and India would demonstrate in about five minutes. There are a few billion people who want into the 1st world lifestyle and, frankly, conventional sources of power are not sufficient to do it at current rates of efficiency even if you used all available energy sources including renewables and including nuclear. Clearly there is a great deal of gain to be made in making inefficient 3rd world economies run as efficiently as the 1st world. But even if that is accomplished, the amount of energy available via renewables is insufficient for them to handle the job alone. The same goes for any "silver bullet" solution.

This is why hydrogen is so important. Hydrogen provides, not energy per se but, a middleware that allows most types of energy sources to plug into the same major infrastructure and go into the same end user markets, making all sorts of energy sources more economical.

This will lead us all to a future that is persistently multi-fuel. That means that everybody's pet energy source has a place and if you want to drive out all "bad" competitors, your clean/moral/ultra-nifty energy source just has to be the lowest cost producer that can scale to supply everybody. Oh, you can't do that? Back to the lab for you boy scout and let us know when you solve those problems.

In the end, we won't end up back in the caves where Luddite fantasy would like us to go. We also won't end up with the oligarchic Seven Sisters of previous decades either. The energy business will be fed by a large number of small, medium, and large firms that, as a side effect of their other businesses, also produce hydrogen or something that converts very easily to it. Sewage plants, agriculture (all up and down the chain), and various manufacturing concerns will all dip a toe into the energy markets because they all have the potential to turn current waste streams into energy profits. No doubt even "green gyms" will show up with little generators attached to workout machines instead of iron plates. Generate enough energy and your membership is free!

What is not worthwhile, however, is wasting a great deal of time attacking somebody else's favorite form of energy. Sure, we don't want hidden subsidies to distort energy markets but everybody can point to subsidies from petroleum to nuclear to renewables. Let's not have the pot calling the kettle black but figure out a way to fairly unwind them all.

Evidence of Moderate Islam

Posted by TMLutas

I'm very glad I scrolled down to an older Donald Sensing item at One Hand Clapping. I completely agree that this moderate Islam article is both important and exciting. The $64,000 question for those who equate islamism with the whole of Islam has always been how such a dysfunctional ideology could have survived so many centuries.

The answer that this article comes back is that Islamism didn't because it isn't of ancient pedigree but a modern mutation that is less than fully rooted in the events that led to the writing of the Koran. Essentially, this article places modern Islamism within a tradition of Islamic puritan movements that crop up every once in awhile and then get beaten down by mainstream Islamic forces. Apparently there have been several episodes of this sort of thing in the past.

None of this is indicative of whether non Wahabbi/Salafist/puritanical is not also fundamentally incompatible with modernity. In fact, if it wasn't for mainstream Islam's long downhill slide, the Wahabbi/Salafist puritans would likely not be so advanced. That's largely a fight for another day, though.

The decline of mainstream Islam is going to have to be corrected internally or the religion is going to eventually disappear. Managing that decline is a delicate job, one that seems to have gone amiss lately. Hopefully in future they will do better.

February 19, 2005

My Morning

Posted by TMLutas

Maria: Daddy, George took a hammer and tried to beat me!
George: Noooo!
Me: Did you deserve it?
Maria: Yes I did!
Me: Good.

Considering the ICC

Posted by TMLutas

This article by Thomas Barnett led me to consider the ICC a bit more. The idea of "moving the pile" and reconfiguring dialogues so that they don't just go nowhere is a powerful one but I wonder if all the variables are properly defined as variables.

The fundamental problem with the ICC is that it exists at a supranational level and is a part of the corrupt UN constellation. Judges are already the hardest part of the government process to keep honest and reigned in with accountability. By their nature, they need to be divorced from immediate political accountability in order to render retail justice without favor to the powerful. If they go rogue, independent justices pose a difficult problem in reigning just the rogues in without destroying systemic independence.

The current iteration of balancing the two classic problems of a judiciary is not to our liking, so we're sitting this institution out right now. So where are we? Are we just a late signer onto a fundamentally sound institution or are we the last hope of rescuing the world from a fatally flawed implementation of international justice.

Dr. Barnett's right that we will eventually need something that fills the organizational space that the ICC currently occupies. That doesn't mean that it's ever going to happen with the ICC as it's currently constituted. For advocates of us signing on to the ICC, accountability questions have to still be answered in light of a world where the UN system was so obviously corrupted by a 3rd rate dictator like Saddam Hussein. For those who do not think the ICC should have US participation, the question remains of what do you put in its place that would be workable. Would a pay to play system work acceptably where the proportion of contribution to the judiciary is calculated by the 5 year average of your contribution proportion to the SysAdmin force?

Both the US and the UN had early false starts (the Confederacy of the United States and the League of Nations respectively). There's nothing magic about the ICC treaty that mandates that we have to accept the first round if it's fundamentally flawed. But that doesn't excuse us from moving the pile forward and committing to a structure that would be better. If the ICC is fundamentally flawed, it'll eventually collapse. It would behoove us to be ready with version 2 when the time comes.

Letter to the Paper IL

Posted by TMLutas

Tech Central Station has an ultimately disappointing examination of dhimma from a muslim perspective called Reductio ad Jihadam. I wrote the author a letter expressing my dissatisfaction.

I read with interest your TCS column on dhimma from a muslim perspective (http://www.techcentralstation.com/021705B.html). Unfortunately, I find it filled with straw men and other disappointments. An analogy to US practices on race makes the real objection to dhimma more clear. In the era of slavery, an advocate of Jim Crow would have been considered a radical progressive, lumped in with the abolitionists as a threat to the even more oppressive slavery system. But after the Civil War and the freedom of blacks under Reconstruction, the same policies were a method of partial re-enslavement, a reactionary movement that increased suffering and was a form of evil.

In the time of christian intolerance the dhimma system was jim crow in a world of cross-confessional harsh repression and admirable by comparison to many christian practices. In the time of universal human rights, dhimma is still jim crow and a black mark against Islam where it is still practiced.

But where is dhimma still practiced? I would suggest that a habitual repression is hardly noticed by the masters in a system. It is felt far more keenly by the people at the bottom of the heap. Ask the Copts of Egypt whether it is true that the Pact of Umar has no relevance to their lives. You will find that Copts can only build churches with special permission. Liberalization on this matter means that instead of a church repair or construction being personally approved by Hosni Mubarak, in recent years he has increased the number of people who can issue such approvals to two. You cannot say that it is as bad as before but it is also certainly repression and worthy of condemnation that mosques not only have easy approval but public subsidy while the remnants of the Egyptian christian community struggle for simple things. Sticking to just Egypt, the apostasy laws are certainly still in force and muslims who convert to christianity receive a very hostile reception from the Egyptian state. Those whose spiritual journey is in the other direction have no such impediments as changing their ID card or worrying about christian assassins killing them. Muslims killing apostates is a real issue.

Today, in the US, to openly call for the reestablishment of Jim Crow is not just a small minority opinion. Publicly advocating such is a sure route to social ostracism, political unpopularity, and a multi-racial economic boycott. Openly calling for the worldwide establishment of a dhimma system as Osama bin Laden has done seems to lead to rock star status from Indonesia to Morocco. When the reaction to wearing an Osama bin Laden t-shirt is the same in Indonesia as wearing a 'Bull Conner' or Lester Maddox t-shirt is here (ie you'd have to explain who he is and would get a hostile reaction thereafter), Islam can claim to have caught back up to the civilized world.

February 18, 2005

Axis Formation

Posted by TMLutas

This is the top news blurb on Debka as I write:

Iran’s president Khatami called for Tehran’s strategic alliance with Syria to create a powerful Islamic front that could confront America and Israel. He threatened anyone striking Iran’s nuclear facilities with swift and crushing response.

The dog that didn't bark here is, of course, Iraq's transitional government. Liberals are spreading about the idea that the new government is in thrall to Iran. It seems like Khatami hasn't gotten the news.

February 16, 2005


Posted by TMLutas

Dick Meyer complains about bias complaints saying that an accusation of bias is a conversation ender. I don't agree. I've seen the same dynamic that he has, I've been accused of bias myself. What I don't accept is that bias is anything more than a start of a conversation. "Yeah, I'm biased. And your point is?" is the attitude I take.

The honest truth is that if people who have different biases can't talk to each other and work out their differences, the Republic is doomed and we might as well just start the civil war now. Just because Dick Meyer is biased doesn't mean that he's wrong, it just means that he's not necessarily giving the other side a fair shake in his own presentations. Examining his blind spots, and my own, would lead to a pretty interesting conversation if good humor and good manners don't flee the scene entirely.

The partisan press doesn't much suffer from accusations of bias. Everybody knows that The Nation is on the left and National Review is on the right. When they show bias, it's not a failing but part of their explicit business plan.

I think that for CBS, the problem is very much their own business plan which is to sell their news offerings as objectives. It's the hypocrisy of saying your objective but not delivering the goods that gets so many people's riled up. Whether objectivity is available at all is another question but CBS offers it up and sets themselves up for failure when their reportage is rated by media watchdog groups like FAIR on the left and AIM on the right.

Stop offering up hypocrisy, measure out your bias, let people know what it is, and suddenly it's a badge of honor, not contentious in the least. That's really the tragedy. CBS and the rest of the MSM could end the bias wars by just labeling their product honestly, authentically providing the viewpoint they wish to without any cover of false objectivity. Too bad they have yet to twig to that fact.

Poor Scientific Review

Posted by TMLutas

Vol. 81, No. 6 (June 2000) of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society contains an extremely eye opening article on poorly conducted, peer reviewed science. According to the article, meteorology has been on a 20 year slide in scientific quality with more and more papers being met by fewer and fewer comments (a drop of more than 50% in commented papers in that period). The lack of comments seems to have had some serious effect as to scientific validity.

I have used the terms “sometimes,” “may,”
“some,” etc., in my comments here. If these vague
words referred to less than 20% of papers, perhaps that
would be acceptable. Some poor papers would get
through any review process. In research topics that I
read, however, 50% may be a closer estimate of misleading
or fundamentally wrong papers. Such a number
is not easy to evaluate. If it is this high, however,
we have a problem that should not be ignored.

I was led to this paper by a comment on a general item on the poor state of peer review, especially in climate science. Steve McIntyre undertook to verify a central study in the IPCC report, the MBH 98,99 "hockey stick" graph and uncovered enough error to pretty conclusively demonstrate that (irrespective of what theory is ultimately right or wrong) the entire world has embarked on a global warming crusade without checking for scientific validity.

Huge diplomatic rows between the US and so many countries in Europe may be based on bad science. Global growth may be cut needlessly and millions in the third world prolonged needlessly in their poverty in part due to papers that can't survive outsider fact checking. The two sides in that controversy have set up dueling blogs with the pro-warming side being answered by McIntyre's show your work site.

Bulky Law Review Articles

Posted by TMLutas

Prof. Bainbridge asks why are law review articles so long. He comes to the conclusion that people are ballooning their articles so that student editors understand the basic concepts in the field relevant to the article and thus understand why the article is worthy of being published. If the basic stuff is just there for the editors, why include it in the article at all? Why don't authors simply include an editor's briefing pack and leave the article itself slimmed down and just covering what it should?

Chaos Investing

Posted by TMLutas

Russ Nelson is unhappy with historical economics, or using past data to make predictions of future stock price moves. I'm 90% of the way with him but I do have a 10% caveat. Stock prices, as part of a complex system, are chaotic, in the sense of Chaos theory. In that sense, finding whether there are attractors or strange attractors should be able to increase your profit potential based on past data analysis. The patterns won't entirely hold but even small increases in predictability can lead to large increases in profit. Chaotic patterns don't hold, but they almost do, and almost may well be good enough to increase profitability over strict fundamentals investing.

Some AIDS Sanity Emerges

Posted by TMLutas

The gay community, after a quarter century, has finally started catching up with public health officials.

While many are calling for a renewed commitment to prevention efforts and free condoms, some veterans of the war on AIDS are advocating an entirely new approach to the spread of unsafe sex, much of which is fueled by a surge in methamphetamine abuse. They want to track down those who knowingly engage in risky behavior and try to stop them before they can infect others.

It is a radical idea, born of desperation, that has been gaining ground in recent months as a growing number of gay men become infected despite warnings about unsafe sex.

Although gay advocates and health care workers are just beginning to talk about how this might be done, it could involve showing up at places where impromptu sex parties happen and confronting the participants. Or it might mean infiltrating Web sites that promote gay hookups and thwarting liaisons involving crystal meth.

Other ideas include collaborating with health officials in tracking down the partners of those newly infected with H.I.V. At the very least, these advocates say, gay men must start taking responsibility for their own, before a resurgent epidemic draws government officials who could use even more aggressive tactics.

"Gay men do not have the right to spread a debilitating and often fatal disease," said Charles Kaiser, a historian and author of "The Gay Metropolis." "A person who is H.I.V.-positive has no more right to unprotected intercourse than he has the right to put a bullet through another person's head," he said.

Once this new ethic takes hold, whenever it finally does, and creates a new homosexual consensus, I would expect that infection rates will finally start dropping from their depressingly persistent rate of 40k a year. Once we figure out the long-term effectiveness of these common sense measures, we can start counting the corpses of the unnecessary dead, the people who could have been saved but weren't because of liberal political correctness and homosexual militancy.

RIP to the victims, by then most of the perpetrators themselves will likely be deceased.

HT: Michael Williams

February 15, 2005

Building a Business

Posted by TMLutas

Starting up a medical practice has certainly widened my horizons. Currently I'm waiting for a call back from a real estate agent. I'm climbing the learning curve to build out a PBX for the first time in my life, and I was hunting for a truck with a gate lift so I can move some 500 lb exam tables later this week.

I love it.

<Idea> 0.01

Posted by TMLutas

Imagine an idea tag. Whenever you put an idea in an article, you would surround it with the tag. The tag would have all the parameters of the idea inside the tag. What are the parameters of an idea? I'm not sure of all of them yet but they would include constraints, confidence levels of overall truth, and all the other little voices of doubt and hedging that we all have, but usually don't include.

Once an idea tag is promulgated, the problem then becomes how do you parse it and properly represent the parsing. That's another post.

February 14, 2005

Pathetic Media

Posted by TMLutas

I listened, with sadness, about the bombing of Rafiq Hariri's convoy, killing him and many others. I was tuned in to NPR and they were providing both original reporting and broadcasting a BBC item on it. Nobody said a peep about Hariri's politics, which faction he belonged to, was he in the government or the opposition, nor was there any mention of Syria. There were so many elephants being ignored that you could have made up a circus show out of the herd.

It wasn't until I read Debka that I found out that Hariri was in the anti-Syria faction, that the bombing had enraged the entire opposition and united them across traditional sectarian lines. Debka gets many things wrong but at least they understand who is on whose side and report it. The MSM is pathetic when it can't even get the basic relevant facts out.

Progressive Conservatives, Reactionary Liberals

Posted by TMLutas

TCS is running a neat article called Anti-Powerfulism examining the strange reactive stance of the Left to President Bush's "almost revolutionary program". It seems to me that we're facing a very new phenomenon, the phenomenon of the reactionary left and the progressive right. Whether it's going to be sustainable is a big question. Either the progressives on the left will come up with a competing positive agenda to Bush's or they will leave the left, loving progress more than the label. That fracture would geld the left and stick them in permanent minority status. The right has fracture issues to as Patrick Buchanan has shown with his championing a reactionary paleoconservatism that is downright grumpy.

The rest of the world must be horribly confused.

February 13, 2005

"No Special Deals" Act of 2005

Posted by TMLutas

Disregard: Thanks, Hank, for pointing out that I was operating off old information (20 years old in fact). The CSRS system which was outside Social Security is grandfathered in, but is not the pension system of new employees. More facts here

I can imagine a very quick way to turn the Social Security debate into a route for the private account side. Simply propose a "No Special Deals" bill which would dump government workers right back into Social Security in whatever form it is starting 2015. It would strengthen the finances of Social Security as more money entered the system. Its passage would put very powerful government unions on the side of reforming the larger program. And any opposition to it would look elitist and awfully hypocritical for the "party of the little guys", the Democrats.

I can't imagine that the Republicans aren't going to continue point out the hypocrisy of government workers getting a private accounts deal while their unions and their friendly representatives fight tooth and nail to keep that deal away from the general public. After all, it was a highly effective line in President Bush's State of the Union speech. Why shouldn't that be put into legislation? At the very least, a bill will be drawn up and circulated to the government worker union leaders. They'll have a choice then. They can either keep their superior retirement plan and put pressure on Democrats to vote for partially privatized Social Security or they can see that draft bill introduced and get their retirement fates tied to the Social Security system they fought so hard to escape from.

February 12, 2005

Slow Joe Biden Strikes

Posted by TMLutas

Building up an armed force from scratch can take a generation. For basic soldiers it's much shorter, of course. But NCOs take longer than privates, officers still longer and ultimately, your generals can take that generation to grow and mature into their roles. Most people understand that. But even green troops that are inadequately trained can stand and fight. As a statistical matter, they're just less likely to do so. Most people understand that too. Apparently not Joe Biden. He believes that

The guard has taken heavy casualties, been plagued by high absenteeism -- the result of an effective intimidation campaign -- and been infiltrated by insurgents. At best, the guard can handle fixed-point security -- as it did with the police and army for last week's elections -- but only if it has heavy U.S. combat and logistical support.

The police and guard make up 94,000 of the 136,000 "trained and equipped" Iraqis. The army, border enforcement units and specialized forces make up the rest. Yet despite their courage few can operate independently against the insurgency. Their ability to take on other key missions, such as providing basic law and order, is unproven.

After more than a year of drift, the administration took a critical step in the right direction: It put Gen. David Petraeus in charge of the security training. He has added counterinsurgency to the police curriculum, emphasized leadership skills and building cohesive units, and developed special forces with much longer training times. As a result some Iraqis are starting to get the equipment, training and leadership skills they need to fight the insurgency. They include police commandos (about 5,000), special intervention forces (about 9,000), SWAT teams and other specialized forces (about 4,000). These forces total some 18,000 men.

But that is far short of the administration's 136,000 estimate. And of those 18,000, many are rookies with little experience. Indeed, in testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, senior administration officials couldn't say how many Iraqi forces can operate independently against the insurgency. That's why I believe the number of Iraqis prepared to take on the insurgency is somewhere between 4,000 and 18,000.

I did a long quote to provide full context but the bolded section is the money quote. The reason that administration officials couldn't say how many Iraqi forces can operate independently is that they, quite rightly, did not want to impugn the courage or honor of those Iraqi troops that would stand and fight and could stand and fight without the training wheels of US backup. We know this because in the past, the blogosphere has celebrated instances of Iraqi units calling in for US support in the form of more ammunition and asking the US military to stand back otherwise.

Senator Biden is apparently comfortable calling the vast bulk of the Iraqi armed forces incompetent and hinting at cowardice. That sort of confidence sapping analysis is simply not acceptable for a person in a position of power and responsibility. Shame on him.

Donald Rumsfeld gets it right

Many thousands of Iraqi security personnel are performing exceptionally, and a few examples are worth mentioning. On Election Day, Iraqi security forces stopped a total of eight suicide bombers across Iraq who were hoping to upset the democratic process and kill innocent people. As was widely reported, one Iraqi policeman tackled and drove a suicide bomber back 50 feet from a polling station screaming, "Let me save the people!" before the bomber's belt exploded, killing them both. In the lead-up to the elections, Kirkuk police and the 207th Iraqi Army Battalion raided eight terrorist safe houses, capturing more than 30 extremists. The 205th Iraqi Army Battalion independently planned and executed an operation in the town of Miqdadiyah, capturing six extremists. Three days later, after receiving tips from local citizens, the 205th captured another 70 extremists, a large cache of weapons and bomb-making material.

Many observers have focused critically on setbacks with respect to the Iraqi security forces. And over time, the performance of units has been somewhat mixed. Early on, in particular, some forces did not perform as well as hoped. But this is not without historical precedent. George Washington repeatedly expressed frustration with poorly trained troops, many of whom fled from battles. At one point, Washington threw down his hat, whipped fleeing soldiers with his riding crop, and muttered: "Are these the men with which I am to defend America?" They were; and he did. Americans won their battle for liberty because they were willing to take the risks and make the sacrifices that freedom requires. The Iraqis' performance last Sunday shows that they are ready to do the same. They deserve our respect for their courage, and not criticism from the safety of thousands of miles away.

Again, the bold is the money quote. Shame on Sen. Biden.

February 11, 2005

Little Eichmanns

Posted by TMLutas

I was reflecting on the whole Ward Churchill/University of Colorado mess and one phrase stuck with me. The people who died in the WTC were "little Eichmanns". I wonder, what made the dishwasher at Windows on the World a little Eichmann? Was it the building he was working in? That would be absurd. If he worked in the Chrysler building would anything essential change about him? Of course nothing would have changed so, essentially, we're stuck looking for the essential characteristics that make even the most humble victims of 9/11 "little Eichmanns" and thus not innocent.

After much thought, I've come to the conclusion that the only thing they had in common was being taxpayers, contributing to the US government and working in the private sector. That means that there are tens of millions of little Eichmanns in the US. You'd wonder what makes Ward Churchill not a little Eichmann? On that question, I've got nothing.

Two Down, Five to Go

Posted by TMLutas

In the great Apple/Microsoft rivalry, one of the big points in Microsoft's favor has always been its stock performance. Apple has been lapped by Microsoft 7 times at the peak of Microsoft's lead with stock splits after stock split favoring Microsoft's business tactics. But the latest split was Apple's, not Microsoft's and today, Apple announced another split at 2 for 1. For financially minded macophiles, it's a very sweet story.

February 09, 2005

Sloth: The Novel

Posted by TMLutas

Mark Goldblatt writes occasionally for National Review and usually very well. But this time, he wrote well enough for me to want to write a note to him so I took a look at his website and found this (read down to find the book excerpt).

I will be buying Sloth, or whatever it's titled when it goes to press. The excerpt is a real gem. Go over and read it.

Iraq Election Results Delayed 1 Day

Posted by TMLutas

Iraq's election results will likely come out one day late as protests and recounts force further checks to ensure the integrity of the vote. Considering our own election problems, a day behind schedule isn't too shabby. There doesn't seem to be too much shouting going on about the delay but it's useful to note it. I do wish we had a better scorecard so we even knew the parties who were sure to be seated and the parties on the edge who were fighting for representation.

February 08, 2005

The River Lethe

Posted by TMLutas

Arianna Huffington is a boob at the best of times but outdoes herself in her Iraqi post-election coverage.

So, amid all the talk of turning points and historic days, let us steadfastly refuse to drink from the River Lethe, which brought forgetfulness and oblivion to my ancient ancestors.

Let's not forget that for all President Bush's rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy, a free election was the administration's fallback position — more Plan D than guiding principle. We were initially going to install Ahmad Chalabi as our man in Baghdad, remember? And the White House consented to an open election only after Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani sent his followers into the streets to demand it — and chose an election date that came after our presidential campaign was done, just in case more suicide bombers than voters turned up at Iraqi polling places.

No, let's not drink of the river Lethe. Let's not forget Bush's prewar AEI speech where he talked about Iraqi liberty either. Freeing Iraq was no plan D. Though there were plenty in the Pentagon that hoped that Chalabi could be a stand-in for George Washington, nobody wanted to give him a crown (as some americans wanted to give Washington) at any time. Chalabi is a remarkable man. Proof positive is available for anyone with eyes. When he was cut off from US support by the machinations of his enemies at CIA and State he built himself a real, independent power base, justifying his defenders' faith in him.

Arianna extends the fog of, if not forgetfulness, at least ignorance with this.

Let's not forget that this was a legitimate democratic election in name only. Actually, not even in name, because most of the candidates on Sunday's ballot had less name recognition than your average candidate for dogcatcher. That's because they were too afraid to hold rallies, give speeches or engage in debates. Many were so anxious about the threat of being killed that they fought to keep their names from being made public.

The elections are based on party lists with 4000 candidates vying for 275 spots. Individual name recognition is usually close to nil in these cases. In such cases the world over, people generally vote for party and platform, following local, neighborhood opinion leaders who they trust. The gutsy ones who put their name out early will reap the reward of early leadership, the rest will rise and fall on their merits in legislative action. Parliamentary elections can be a wild ride, first elections on that principle even more so. This does not make them illegitimate, merely strange to an american audience.

More bits of idiocy follow:

Let's not forget that many Iraqi voters turned out to send a defiant message not just to the insurgents but also to Bush. Many of those voters' purple fingers were raised in our direction. According to a poll taken by our own government before the June 2004 handover, 92% of Iraqis viewed the U.S.-led forces in Iraq as "occupiers," while only 2% saw them as "liberators."

Truman was really getting crushed by Dewey 7 months prior to our own elections of 1948 but that was cold comfort for Dewey the following January as Truman took the oath of office. All polling has a shelf life and this little chestnut is long past its expiration date. The very fact that we promised elections and delivered has to have a huge impact on Iraqi perceptions of the US. It was reasonable, in June 2004, that some Iraqis would think that we were not going to deliver on elections. As the votes are counted, it is not so reasonable anymore.

The piece de resistance is worth commenting on:

And let's never forget this administration's real goal in Iraq, as laid out by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and their fellow neocon members of the Project for the New American Century back in 1998, when they urged President Clinton and Congress to take down Hussein "to protect our vital interests in the Gulf." These vital interests were cloaked in mushroom clouds, WMD that turned into "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" and a Hussein/Al Qaeda link that turned into, well, nothing. Long before the Bushies landed on freedom and democracy as their 2005 buzzwords, they had their eyes on the Iraqi prize: the second-largest oil reserves in the world and a permanent home for U.S. bases in the Middle East.

This is still the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the election, as heartwarming as it was, doesn't change any of that.

While we're not forgetting things, let us also not forget that the entire country chorused that "everything changed on September 11". Our vital interests have been redefined in a way that only a Radical Republican could do it. We're on a march for freedom worthy of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Theological quibbling over the exact place to put Jesus in the assembly of monotheistic holy men aside, that's a song that can stir muslims as well as christians even if they call it jihad and we call it crusade. Arianna's test marketing a path to return to 9/10 America. Let's not forget the ultimate price for a comfortable return to old habits.

Copyright Musings

Posted by TMLutas

Tyler Cowen steps into the copyright debate, prompted by the Supreme Court's addressing the issue of P2P. He decides to take an economist's point of view. Or does he?

His first point (of three) is puzzling.

In ten year's time, what will happen to the DVD and pay-for-view trades?  BitTorrent allows people to download movies very quickly.  Note that DVDs already account for more than half of Hollywood domestic revenue.  Furthermore the process will be eased when TVs and computers can "talk" to each other more readily.  Yes, I am familiar with Koleman Strumpf's excellent work showing that illegal file-sharing has not hurt music sales.  But a song download can be a loss leader for an entire CD or a concert tour.  Downloading an entire movie does not prompt a person to spend money in comparable fashion.

First, bemoaning the death of an industry because new technology destroys its business model is very rarely economic thought. You might as well bemoan the decimation of the buggy whip industry with the coming of Ford's Model T. The creation of IP has little to do with the DVD or pay-per-view trade. If content creators can find a way to make more money via new methods, the passing of intermediary mediated pay-per-view will not be a tragedy.

It's simply not true that movies prompt no further sales. Some do so today and quite shamelessly as any parent knows. If you knew that every bit of clothing, furniture, or other items that appeared in a movie were available at the movie's website for easy purchase, a significant revenue stream would be had, for instance. If the ancillary revenues from selling products placed in the movie were enough, free distribution would increase revenues to the producers of the movie. While this would shake up the distribution industry, perhaps even as much as the buggy whip manufacturers were shaken up by the introduction of the model T, it's no loss that an economist should be crying over.

Tyler Cowen's 2nd point is betterr, but not by much.

Perhaps we can make file-sharing services identify (and block) illegally traded files.  After all, the listeners can find the illegal files and verify they have what they wanted.  Grokster, sooner or later, will be able to do the same.  Yes, fully decentralized and "foreign rogue" systems may proliferate, and any identification system will be imperfect.  But this is one way to heed legitimate copyright suits without passing the notorious "Induce Act."

This is half right. Any economist worth their salt should know in their gut that there are at least two solutions to most problems, one major being the stick of legal enforcement, another being the carrot of superior product/service tempting people to do the right thing. In this case, Tyler lays out some "stick" related reasoning but entirely ignores the possibility of carrots. Apple's iTMS shows the way here. Price your product reasonably, make it easy to get, and you'll explode the available market. Here's a case in point. The 2003 Galactica pilot is available on DVD for about $20. I'm not paying $20 for it, the price is too high. If it were available at Hollywood Video I'd rent it for a buck or two. If it were available as a download, I'd probably pay $5 because it's worth $3-$4 to avoid the hassle of ripping. You price your wares too high, you use distribution chains that are too expensive and your market shrinks.

So which model is right, the carrot or the stick? That's an entirely other question but it's a good bet that both have their uses. The stick works an awful lot better when there are plenty of pleasant, legal carrots around to munch on and carrots increase their appeal when a stick is handy to discourage the use of illegal alternatives.

Turning to Tyler Cowen's 3rd (and final) point, he goes downhill again.

I question the almost universal disdain for the "Micky Mouse" copyright extension act.  OK, lengthening the copyright extension does not provide much in the way of favorable incentives.  Who innovates with the expectation of reaping copyright revenues seventy-five years from now?  But this is a corporate rather than an individual issue.  Furthermore economic research indicates that current cash flow is a very good predictor of investment.  So the revenue in fact stimulates additional investment in creative outputs.  If I had my finger on the button, I still would have pushed "no" on the Mickey Mouse extension, if only because of the rule of law.  Privileges of this kind should not be extended repeatedly due to special interest pressures.  But we are fooling ourselves if we deny that the extension will benefit artistic output, at least in the United States. 
One of the major problems of the copyright extension act was that it actually stopped the flow of product from protected to public domain. That means that the creative "watering" that new public domain material provides is gone from the US scene for the next 20 years for any extended product. Extension could have been done 6 months every year for the next 40 years and achieved the same eventual length as the actual legislation but it wouldn't have dried up the well completely. Of course, such legislation wouldn't have been nearly as popular. That change in popularity would have been telling.

The truth is that the people have suffered a taking without compensation and we're in danger over the next two decades of forgetting the original intent of the system, temporary protection and eventual shifting to public domain, reasserting the fundamental right to copy, in exchange for increased creative product on average. When, 15 years from now, the next extension bill wends its way through Congress, an entire generation will be out there that will not have felt and understood the utility of public domain intellectual product. That's a danger to our constitutional system as corporate interests try to creep us back to the old English system of permanent IP protection. That system is gone because it led to stagnation. If economic analysis doesn't fit the historical data, there's something wrong with that analysis.

February 07, 2005


Posted by TMLutas

I just came across a great description of podcasting the phenomenon of doing radio over the net in downloadable files that you easily transfer to your iPod or other music player. It lays out the groundwork for the current state of the field as well as its potential to become a commercial force as threatening to broadcast radio as weblogs are to print media.

One thing that didn't come across in the article is the potential commute productivity enhancement that this could provide. Imagine a script taking your unread email, having your computer read it, make sound files out of each email, and loading the files onto your iPod so you can listen to your emails while you drive. You can process the information while driving without any more distraction than talk radio would generate (and yes, boys, this paragraph's prior art for patent challenges down the road).

Reading off text is old hat for Mac customers (the capability has been embedded in the OS forever) and there are plenty of good programs on the Windows side to do it too. You just have to figure out how to make .mp3 files and not your speakers be the output device.

February 06, 2005

That ratty rat race

Posted by TMLutas

Bombarded by demands far in excess of what was true in the past, we lose perspective, we make poor decisions, we are frazzled.

Sounds like we need better support systems that generate less noise to signal. More on this theme later. I just wanted to put the link above as a note on Decisions Support Systems (DSS)/Thought Support Ssystems (TSS) for future use.

February 05, 2005

Gay Marriage Judicial Activism

Posted by TMLutas

Orin Kerr reports that a NY trial judge has ruled gay marriage legal. The opinion is online (pdf). It's difficult to know where to begin but there doesn't seem to be any basis in this decision to defend marriage as an institution for only two people. If marriage is maleable enough to extend it to effective tripartite marriages (two women and a male sperm donor) it seems a short distance to pulling the rest of the guy into the arrangement beyond renting his gonads. You can also attack consanguinity regulation of marriage on equal protection grounds because we do not limit marriage between people who have as high a risk of genetic defects as uncle/neice pairings would. This is just really poor and I hope this summary judgment decision gets squashed quickly.

SOTU 2005: Education Noose Tightening

Posted by TMLutas

Continuing my belated SOTU analysis, here's a bit on education:

To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we're closing the achievement gap for minority students. Now we must demand better results from our high schools, so every high school diploma is a ticket to success.

The argument on the right over NCLB was always about giving too much away to Ted Kennedy. Those on the right who supported NCLB claimed that the giveaway was worth it because the noose around incompetent teachers and dysfunctional schools would be tightened step by step over time. The other side didn't buy the idea that continual pressure was politically possible. The noose tighteners seem to have won a round.

Corner and Kill Friedman

Posted by TMLutas

Every once in awhile Thomas Friedman goes absolutely bonkers. His idea of a Geo-Green movement is downright pernicious:

Yes, there is an alternative to the Euro-wimps and the neocons, and it is the "geo-greens." I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil - by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power - we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.

In reality, productive reform requires more capital flowing into a society, not less. Cornering a regime and killing off an economy leads people straight into the arms of the extremists, in this case the Islamists. Under crushing, punitive sanctions in the '90s, Saddam started getting awfully religious for a secular tyrant. He changed the national flag to include a religious saying in arabic script. He famously gave enough blood to write out an entire Koran, and he also went on a mosque building spree with some really unusual architecture cropping up. If an authoritarian regime doesn't have money to stay in power anymore, fanaticism is cheap, if dangerous.

This Geo-Green strategy is one that will put these societies in a corner and when they lash out at us (perhaps in another 9/11?) we'll have to kill them off. Instead of doing that, we need to lead them out of their current dead end and give the elite an exit strategy that makes lashing out to retain power highly unattractive. I don't see how $18 a barrel oil is going to get us there.

One fortunate thing about the scheme is that we're not going to get $18 a barrel oil again until after the end of the age of oil. We need a huge amount of energy to bring India and the PRC to the 1st world and we just can't drill enough to do it. All the conservation in the world isn't going to satisfy 2.4 billion people who want to go from a yearly per capita consumption of 1 barrel a year to a first world level of 25. In a sense, it's a moot strategy because any significant downward pressure on oil is simply going to get swept up in further buying in south and east Asia. That dynamic isn't going to change until we get a disruptive advance in energy.

February 04, 2005

Sinclair and Shareholder Primacy

Posted by TMLutas

Professor Bainbridge wrongs the cause of shareholder primacy in his analysis of Sinclair over the showing of Stolen Honor.

Bainbridge quotes Tom Smith extensively on the matter to the effect that the Sinclair effort is a textbook case of shareholder activism gone amok. In fact, it is just the opposite.

The threat that Bill Lerach and the NYS controller issued was, essentially, to beat down Sinclair's share price via politically motivated selling and judicial action below Sinclair's normal market clearing price. This is a profit opportunity in big screaming capital letters. Yet nobody came to Sinclair's rescue to the benefit of their investors.

No similarly sized market player came and announced that they would be glad to take the money of the pensioners of the State of NY in favor of their own fund holders at bargain prices. If the pension funds of TX, OK, and GA did that, the NYS pension fund threat would evaporate and people in the pension system in NY would start complaining that their agent, the controller of NYS was not acting in their interest. In a better world of shareholder activism, significant chunks of the pension system funds would be taken from the controller's control over the affair.

The Lerach threat of lawsuit was toothless as Prof. Bainbridge himself noted except as an invitation to actual shareholders to sell stock. With a major seller appearing and preannouncing a major sale and no major buyers stepping up to the plate, Sinclair capitulated. But it is the imbalance between activist sellers and activist buyers that caused the problem, not the existence of sellers and buyers acting outside their obvious economic interests. Furthermore, the entire affair is mischaracterized as a war between agents and shareholders but it was not because the true owner of the money isn't the state of NY but rather the pension holders who have imperfect control over their own agent. It was a fight between one form of agent (corporate directors) and another (fund management directors).

Shareholder activism is imperfectly done in the US today and there is a political imbalance among activists that is of concern. That imbalance is at least partially caused by Prof. Bainbridge and others like him who, I suspect, get a much more favorable hearing on the right than on the left.

No matter how much people tut tut over the crass shareholders exercising their rights to buy and sell as they please, some are going to do it on non-economic grounds. It would improve things if we institutionalize the practice and have activists on all sides in that fight. Otherwise we are going to get repeat after repeat of this sort of browbeating from the left.

Sunni Parliament %

Posted by TMLutas

According to the CIA World Fact Book the ethnic and religious balance is as follows:

Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%, Turkoman, Assyrian or other 5%

Muslim 97% (Shi'a 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%), Christian or other 3%

Since the overwhelming majority of Kurds are Sunni, that means that 12%-22% of the population is Sunni Arab, the only group of any significance that boycotted the recent elections.

Based on these percentages, between 33 and 61 seats should end up being Sunni held if the Sunnis are to be represented up to their numbers. Anything below 33 seats and they're certainly underrepresented. Anything above 61 seats and they are overrepresented.

When the final results come out, pay attention to the ethnic breakdown. If the number falls out of the grey zone of 33-61 seats for Sunni representation and you see people making excuses for underrepresentation or denigrating overrepresentation, you can safely dismiss the opinion as not having a reasonable link to reality.

Managing the Decline of Microsoft

Posted by TMLutas

Assuming the Bill Gates is not just being a lying weasel (never a sure bet either way) Microsoft's strategy of embrace and extend just died.

New Strategy Unveiled

"Over the years, our industry has tried many approaches to come to grips with the heterogeneity of software. But the solution that has proven consistently effective -- and the one that yields the greatest success for developers today -- is a strong commitment to interoperability," Gates says in the message.

Interoperability is more pragmatic than other approaches, such as attempting to make all systems compatible at the code level, he adds.

Microsoft's strategy will focus on creating interoperability with software that customers currently are using, and on developing applications and Web services based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML).

Interoperability has always been something that Microsoft always tried to poison. They would support standards until they had the upper hand and then "extend" them until only Microsoft tools would allow you to conduct your day to day operations. This has antagonized so many that they're in danger of losing their dominant position. Microsoft's going down because of it and their only hope is to make a reliable promise of interoperability so that large customers can depend that there will never be a next time of being forced into an MS solution when it's not the best solution available because of purposefully placed interoperability problems.

Apple's in the same boat (OS X is a walking testament to the strategy) and if Microsoft's joining them in that uncomfortable boat, they realize that they're only going to thrive by legitimately being the best.

Well, it isn't the first time that Microsoft's promised interoperability but here's to hope, hope that Bill Gates is not being a lying weasel again.

Under the Weather

Posted by TMLutas

Absolutely miseravle, confined to bed, cranky as hell, if my wife doesn't take away the laptop, I have a lot of unhappiness to share.

Altruism at Davos?

Posted by TMLutas

Jay Nordlinger catches something important at Davos:

Kwasniewski gives a brief, quite eloquent speech, noting that he will not be addressing the Davos throng again — not as Polish president.

He plumps for his neighbor to the east. One of his points: If we're going to admit Turkey [to the EU], we'd better admit Ukraine. Like Yushchenko, he urges Davosers to "discover" this country: "For most of us, it is unknown — terra incognita. Let's discover Ukraine!" He calls for "international solidarity with a democratic Ukraine."

It occurs to me that I have never heard a head of state give a speech devoted entirely to the boosting of another country.

The significance of the matter, unfortunately, is lost on him. It isn't a moment of geopolitical altruism but of hard headed realism that prompts the president of Poland to devote his entire time in front of the movers and shakers of the world in praise of another country. All seam states, states on the fault line between Core and Gap, between competing civilizations, have very uncomfortable lives. Not only do they want to get on the right side of the line (based on whatever system you draw these lines) but they want to no longer be on the border. Poland praises Ukraine because it's in the club today and wants to stay in. retrenchment and loss of the most recently gained territory is a fact of life of power blocks throughout the ages. Poland simply doesn't want to be on the "most recently gained" list. It not only wants in the first world, it wants to be secure in that membership. Security is pulling somebody else behind you so they, and not you, are the sacrificial lamb, if a sacrifice is called for.

February 03, 2005

Dr. Barnett Doesn't Like Verticalization

Posted by TMLutas

In its entirety, I thought the SOTU was about taking the broad, horizontal strokes of his Inaugural address and starting the process of verticalizing them, getting into detail and starting up Bismark's famous legislative sausage machine to actually get stuff done. Dr. Barnett finds this boring:

So what I got out of the speech was: I've got some domestic stuff I want to get done in second term, and I want Iraq to get better and serve as an example to the rest of the Middle East. Not exactly ambition defined, I would say, given what he did and tried to do in the first term.

Again, you got the feeling the White House wanted to avoid anything expansive on foreign policy after the way in which the inaugural speech was interpreted. But to me, that's not letting Bush be Bush, and if he's gonna be president another four years, shouldn't he be?

I'm getting the message that Dr. Barnett is a fellow who simply thrives on the horizontal and doesn't much care for the vertical. Unfortunate, that, because I'd estimate that 90% of the actual work of changing the world is in verticalization of the kinds of horizontal concepts that he does so well in PNM and elsewhere.

Retarded Suicide Bombers

Posted by TMLutas

When I say retarded suicide bombers, I don't mean they're rhetorically mentally deficient, I mean literally. The technique seems to be to take up (by force) the mentally impaired and put remote control bomb vests on them, point them towards their targets and simply tell them to go walk towards it.

This is sick, disgusting, and utterly beyond any legitimate military tactic in any code. Unfortunately, I've got no doubt that there are fatwas out there in support of this. I'm looking forward to the unified roar of condemnation from all mental health professionals, all muslim scholars and every decent person out there of whatever faith (or none at all).

The hard part is in figuring out what the proper punishment is when you catch somebody who does this kind of thing. Treating them the same as military POWs can't be it though.

SOTU 2005: Fiscal Restraint

Posted by TMLutas

More SOTU commentary:

America's prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government. I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline. I will send you a budget that holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, makes tax relief permanent, and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. (Applause.) My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts, or do not fulfill essential priorities. The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all. (Applause.)

Now there's a marker to keep an eye on. I'm really looking forward to getting that list of 150 government programs. Unfortunately, fiscal restraint in the non-entitlement sector isn't going to be enough. Fortunately, we've finally got a president who is taking the entitlement bull by the horns. More on that later but right now, as Social Security keeps building up a balance on its trust fund, keeping growth below inflation will be sufficient. If we wait to reform entitlements until those trust fund dollars start to be redeemed, actual current dollar cuts are going to be required avoid exploding the deficit or imposing ruinous tax increases.

SOTU 2005: Now, Details

Posted by TMLutas
Two weeks ago, I stood on the steps of this Capitol and renewed the commitment of our nation to the guiding ideal of liberty for all. This evening I will set forth policies to advance that ideal at home and around the world.
The problem of way too much analysis of Bush's 2nd Inaugural speech revolved around the mistaken notion that it was an independent set piece that stood on its own. Here, President Bush made clear that it wasn't, that it was just the thematic proclamation with a great deal more detail to come in this and likely further speeches. If we're very lucky, speaking about the progress of freedom in the world will become as obligatory as saying "the state of our union is confident and strong" for both this president and future presidents of both parties.

White House Press Passes

Posted by TMLutas

I had a lot of time on the clock yesterday in my car and decided to tune in Rush Limbaugh. As usual he was entertaining and bombastic. One of the issues he covered had deep implications for public issues bloggers. Apparently Talon News Service has been getting one of its men in to the White House Press Pool for press conferences on daily passes for over two years. I hadn't ever heard about daily press passes before (thanks! Rush) and they sound intriguing. A quick perusal of the white house web site left me with no rules but did give me a switchboard number. Hmm... *beep* *bop* *boop*, leave a message, and hopefully I can get the actual requirements reasonably soon.

I don't know whether I'd ever actually apply for one but I can certainly see circumstances when I'd want to. I can certainly see where the blogosphere would generate lots of people who want one. Ultimately, those rules are going to come out, hopefully in a managed, orderly way. If not that, there's always FOIA.

SOTU 2005: Overview

Posted by TMLutas

I got to see most of the State of the Union (SOTU) speech but really didn't feel up to blogging about the thing at the time but I'll be writing a series of articles today (time willing) on the subject. The speech is available both in video and text forms from the White House.

February 01, 2005

Ah, So Much Better!

Posted by TMLutas

I've finally found a good renicer for Mac OS X. All Unix variants come with some way to prioritize code but usually they're ugly CLI utilities that require opening up a window and typing. Process Wizard works well and has entirely eliminated a problem I've been having with Safari chewing up all my CPU cycles and freezing up on me.

Hats off to La Chose Interactive for making some nice bits of freeware.

Letter to the Paper XXXIX

Posted by TMLutas

Daniel Drezner gets an earful from me in comment to this story about the US' soft power problems.

Moravcsik recycles an awful lot of conventional wisdom. The last I checked, happiness surveys favored the US over most of Europe, not the other way around. The alternative models to the US one are as threatening as Japan Inc. was in the 1980s. People were absolutely convinced that Japan was going to take over everything. It didn't turn out that way because Japan had been cooking its books in a massive way that makes our current problems in that area seem puny.

Europe has similar problems. Their biggest problem is that they aren't making an awful lot of biological Europeans so they're going to have to import them and they're absolutely awful at assimilation.

A great deal of the statistics that are bad for the US are a problem in part or wholly because immigration, while ultimately (post assimilation) strengthening society with fresh blood, drive down all sorts of statistics of health and well-being. Until the mid-to-late '90s, every newly arrived Romanian I met had need of some pretty hefty dental work. Those repairs impacted US health statistics, though they were no reflection at all on the US system.

Right now, the US is going through a period of trial. Its model is being challenged and pretty much all of the challengers as well as the incumbent are at significant risk of crashing and falling as Japan did. These are pretty high stakes bets and the game won't get settled for at least the next couple of decades.

While I think that Moravcsik has his finger well placed on several US weaknesses, I don't think he really understands that the alternative systems have their own weaknesses. Every potential world hegemon has faced a moment when the world was groping toward an "everybody else" coalition that was devoted to knocking down the world beater. Until that coalition breaks apart because some or all of the alternate models prove unsustainable in reality, US soft power will weaken under that coalition assault. This one sided analysis means that Moravcsik's predictions are very far off from what is most likely to happen.

Moravcsik has a very out of date notion of the lag time between adopting seed corn eating social welfare policies and when the bad consequences of those policies start to hit the visible economy. The lag times for such things are long and Europe is only now starting to seriously feel the strain.

Other "charges" like his throwaway line about US "ugly racial tensions" are simply not credible. It isn't that the US doesn't have racial problems, but that Europe has them so much worse. When was the last time a black athlete was openly mocked for his skin color in the US? You'd measure that in decades. For Europe, you can measure that in days or weeks.

In the end, faults are only to be found in the american model. Failure is only an option for the US. The failure of the American Dream is something that is known a priori, apart from investigation. That makes the article just one more tiresome exercise in wish fulfillment.



Posted by TMLutas

I just came across a neat bit from Karl Popper (who I have to get to reading one of these days).

The conspiracy theory of society ... comes from abandoning God and then
asking, 'Who is in His place?' -- Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations,

It really stopped me short because possibly the most conspiracy theory heavy locus on the planet is the muslim Middle East. Theorizing that obscure conspiracies are the fault of all that goes wrong in the world does seem to show a decided lack of faith in God.

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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