March 31, 2005

The Coming Death of TV II

Posted by TMLutas

It turns out that the problem with viewing The Strand isn't in format but rather in DRM. Microsoft has not created the facility to play its current DRM in the Macintosh as far as I can tell so Mac users are being held at bay by Microsoft.

Things are not so simple though. Ambrosia Software makes a wonderful screen capture utility called SnapzProX that's now able to capture not only screen stills but also moving pictures. You can get a 30 day demo but it's commercial software at $69.

A Mac user with a much faster Mac than my own (G4 800Mhz, don't laugh just send me money) could run VirtualPC, run the Strand inside that virtual session, and capture the episode to an unprotected quicktime movie using SnapzProX. Today, it would be foolish to do it because it's a considerable amount of pain for just a little gain but if DRM protected content gets to be popular, there will be people who strip the DRM out just to gain the ability to play on their platform just as DeCSS was created in order to make sure that Linux users could use their DVDs.

All that need happen is that one subscriber possess the right hardware/software to view it himself and be annoyed enough to record it and put the now unprotected content on P2P.

By the way, it's fairly trivial to beat the P2P networks as a practical matter. You just make it easy and cheap to buy your stuff and put enough bogus copies (of the right length) out on the networks that the pain to get a watchable pirated copy is greater than the cost of the legitimate product.

The Strand project has got much of the game down. They only have to sort out how to not tick off the minority platform people and they've got a winning formula.

March 30, 2005

So Who Wants to Be the Boot On the People's Neck

Posted by TMLutas

Democracy's nasty surprises talks about supposed difficulties in helping Democracy come to the Middle East. Amitai Etzioni is quoted saying how "[Democracy] is not something that can be learned overnight, or acquired like membership of a club; it is a system that evolved over centuries of sometimes violent struggle." That's all well and good but applying that theory to the Middle East means that we are obliged to install a series of slightly less repressive tyrannies and assume responsibility for their bloody acts of repression.

We've been doing that for half a century now, aiming for "stability" in the Middle East and pleading with the tyrants we support to get on a gradual path towards liberalization. The result is that we were the object of hatred and a convenient scapegoat used all over the region by those self-same tyrants. 9/11 is the fruit of that effort and I think we should pass on further "fruits" of that strategy.

But there is no history, no comparison with the reality of 50 years of US policy "realism" with the current few years of democracy promotion "idealism", it's just a long sneer in the IHT about how the neoconservative "debating trick" is unfair, that the people of the Middle East are going to elect Hitlers. Isn't it funny that the Hitler's writings were nowhere more popular than in the Middle East during the decades of stability promotion with tepid US efforts at encouraging gradual reform?

To avoid an elected Hitler, we helped usher in Hitlers without elections. What an improvement! It's a shameful episode in the US' history and I'm glad it's drawing to a close.

March 29, 2005

Double standards at the nuclear club

Posted by TMLutas

Double standards at the nuclear club is a profoundly silly piece. It seems to take US policy as some sort of world tribune instead of what it is, the fulfillment of the US government's obligation to the people of the US. When looked at in a neutral way, it is indeed odd that we are more exercised about countries manifestly hostile to the US gaining nuclear weapons than we are about countries who are not. In this view government mandated chants of "Death to America" should not distinguish Iran from Israel in terms of US policy.

This accusation of double standards is absolutely absurd when you imagine that US policy should be in the service of those who pay for it, the people of the United States. The only arguable place where we should have a different policy is in the case of Pakistan. That's arguable only from the outside. Either their assistance in finding terrorists exceeds the danger of future proliferation or it doesn't. You can make a case for it either way absent all the secret information flows flowing from their intelligence and military agencies.

Who Does US Foreign Policy Serve

Posted by TMLutas

Double standards at the nuclear club is a profoundly silly piece. It seems to take US policy as some sort of world tribune instead of what it is, the fulfillment of the US government's obligation to the people of the US. When looked at in a neutral way, it is indeed odd that we are more exercised about countries manifestly hostile to the US gaining nuclear weapons than we are about countries who are not. In this view government mandated chants of "Death to America" should not distinguish Iran from Israel in terms of US policy.

This accusation of double standards is absolutely absurd when you imagine that US policy should be in the service of those who pay for it, the people of the United States. The only arguable place where we should have a different policy is in the case of Pakistan. That's arguable only from the outside. Either their assistance in finding terrorists exceeds the danger of future proliferation or it doesn't. You can make a case for it either way absent all the secret information flows flowing from their intelligence and military agencies.

March 27, 2005

The Coming Death of TV

Posted by TMLutas

I've pretty much written off TV after the adoption of IPv6 (coming at the end of the decade courtesy of the US Army's mandate for its vendors) as QoS makes time sensitive Internet transport reliable and easy. It might not take that long though. BitTorrent's ability to dramatically lower bandwidth costs has allowed The Strand to be offered for $0.99 an episode instead of the $4.99 conventional stream/download solutions would have priced out at. Those extra $4 in costs spell the difference between an interesting failed experiment and a new revolution in episodic video (EV) distribution, formerly known as the TV series form.

Supposedly, you can't use a macintosh but it's WMV formatted and I'm downloading it now. I'll write later whether it plays straight off, or I had to doctor it.

March 25, 2005

Schiavo Rules

Posted by TMLutas

I was personally thrust into the Schiavo case by my wife who saw the recent Nightline show on it and insisted that I sit in with her and I was hooked all over again. It's gut wrenching, horrible, and as I look closer and closer, I'm finding lies being thrown out on both sides. At this point (Supreme Court just declining to hear it) it's pretty well decided what's going to happen and no doubt Terri Schiavo is going to have major organ failure and die in the next few days.

I'm told that dying by starvation/dehydration for the terminally ill is not like it is for a healthy person, that there is no pain or feeling of want. I'd really like to know what the border condition is for that. I'd think that the desire for sustenance is something evolution put into brain construction very early in the process and you wouldn't lose that if all that was wrong with you is that you had lost your higher functions.

At the same time, the case for life has been tremendously damaged by the emotionally overwrought presentations of Terri Schiavo's parents and their supporters. They may think that Michael Schiavo is an attempted murderer who is finally going to be able to complete his deed with state sanction but they lost that fight long ago and double jeapordy is there for a reason. All they can do at this point is to look hard at the state of the law and to try to work to improve it.

As for me, I'm incredibly sad that the guardian ad litem rules are so lax in Florida, and perhaps elsewhere, that a man that is openly sleeping around and keeping a 2nd family is viewed as the appropriate guardian over his incapacitated wife when the parents are there and wish to take over the role. No matter what you believe about Terri Schiavo's state of life the past decade and a half, could we at least eliminate that travesty? A husband who acts in clear betrayal of his marriage should not be the preferred guardian. If that simple improvement had been in Florida law two decades ago, we would never have heard of the Schiavo case nationally, much less obsessed about it.


Posted by TMLutas

Ugh, my daily morning fix of keenspace comics has been taken out by something. It makes me grumpy. I'm guessing that it's some sort of dns issue because keenspace itself is up. It's just that keenspace subdomains seem to all be down. If I were in a more profound mood, I'd share thoughts on what are the obligations of a powerful traffic director like slashdot to smaller sites like keenspace and what are the obligations of a free service like keenspace are to its users on both sides of the equation.

I'm not in a profound mood though so I'll leave it for another hour.

March 24, 2005

The Other Conservatives

Posted by TMLutas

I just discovered the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a fine organization with a wealth of publicly available material, much of it going back years. In these days of freedom expanding into the Middle East and Republicans taking great credit for their embrace of the principles of liberty, it's useful to realize that it wasn't always so. There were plenty of arguments, gentlemanly fights among conservatives without insult or heated, personal invective that tried to set the stage for a post-cold war conservative ideal in foreign policy.

But I can’t help thinking of Woodrow Wilson’s complaint that the only way for a president to “compel compliance” from Congress is to get the nation into “such scrapes” and make such “rash promises” abroad that the Senate cannot disavow him without shaming the United States. And indeed, the authors conclude with a clarion call that would appear to invite scrapes and rash promises: “[Conservatives] hark back to the admonition of John Quincy Adams that America ought not ‘go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.’ But why not? The alternative is to leave monsters on the loose, ravaging and pillaging to their heart’s content, as Americans stand by and watch.” Adams’s counsel may have been wise in 1823, they concede, but today “a policy of sitting atop a hill and leading by example becomes in practice a policy of cowardice and dishonor."

I cannot let any slap at John Quincy Adams go unavenged. “Why not?” ask the authors rhetorically. Here’s why not: because if you go abroad in search of monsters, you will invariably find them even if you have to create them. You will then fight them, whether or not you need to, and you will either come home defeated, or else so bloodied that the American people will lose their tolerance for engagement altogether, or else so victorious and full of yourself that the rest of the world will hate you and fear that you'll name them the next monster. And by the way, was it not Ronald Reagan who reminded America in such moving cadences of its calling to be an exemplary City on a Hill? Kristol and Kagan also fail to quote the sentences that immediately follow Adams’s “go not abroad in search of monsters.” The reason not to is that to do so “would involve the United States beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, avarice, envy, and ambition. . . . America might become the dictatress of the world, but she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.” The road to hell, that is, is paved with good intentions, as we Vietnam veterans know.

I bear no grudge against Kristol or Kagan. I even agree with them that the U.S. must play a leading role in the world, affirm its values without apology, and recommend them to all mankind. But I believe that the American people and Congress are already, to their credit, on board for an engaged foreign policy, that the quarter of a trillion dollars in our annual Pentagon budget is no trifling sum, and that premature, imprudent crusades are the best way to play into the hands of real “isolationists.” Above all, I fear that the sins of commission that excessive zeal may provoke are more dangerous in our present era than any sins of omission borne of inordinate prudence.

And then came 9/11 and the realization that if the neoconservatives weren't entirely right, they were less wrong than most other factions, conservative or otherwise. But "John Adams" conservatives certainly have a job to do so that we don't become dictators, don't lose our spirit, remain a republic and not an empire. If we're going to win this war, we're likely to have to change a great deal. We can do it without losing our soul but it'll be the fight of our lives.

Reducing Housing Costs

Posted by TMLutas

The New York Times figures out that high housing costs mean few kids in urban neighborhoods. All those intensely creative places where all the hip people gather just don't have the right mix of low costs, space, and safety to attract children. Two bit really got my goat though:

"I don't think we're going to become a nearly childless city like San Francisco, but the age structure is really changing," said Barry Edmonston, an urban studies professor at Portland State, who does demographic projections for the school district. "People are not turning over the houses like they used to. They're aging in place, at the same time that prices are really going up, making it hard for young families to move into the city."
But what they cannot do, especially after the failure last year of a ballot measure sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce to encourage affordable housing, is bring housing prices down.

It's nonsense to say that you can't bring housing prices down. It's blind to imagine that the end of housing mobility is just happening at random. Both are artifacts of the dominant trend of urban zoning and the political pathology of rent control. If you make it harder to create housing by increasing rule compliance costs you will get less housing. With that reduction in supply prices will predictably rise. With rent control, moving means a massive rent hike so people stay put and avoid moving up to a bigger place for as long as possible. The less housing churn, the fewer opportunities there are to move in, the less liquid the market is, the riskier it becomes to move.

It's a favorite of those on the left to talk about unsustainable strategies, extolling sustainable growth. It looks like they're waking up to the fact that their bastions, the blue cities, are themselves unsustainable without massive immigration from other places and other ways of life.

HT: Dynamist Blog

Do Victims Have an Obligation to Protest

Posted by TMLutas

A Power Line item on Terri Schiavo talking points has this update:

UPDATE: Jon Miners writes: "The reason the authenticity of the Schiavo memo is not in dispute, is because those in a position to know haven't disputed it."

This brings back memories of the Rathergate controversy. Back then, this same line was trotted out by Democrat partisans but soon collapsed under the weight of obvious forgery evidence in the controversial texts. Could we be seeing round two of exactly the same tactic on the part of savvy Republicans?

The question that nobody seems to be asking is whether not protesting a fraudulent document is a legitimate tactic in the political arena. On the pro side, there's generally no obligation to speak up to denounce crime anywhere. It also breaks up the he said/she said dynamic in media coverage by not providing any "she said" rebuttal. The mainstream media are then either forced to do their own work to verify or run stories that are fundamentally unbalanced and risk their careers if they end up backing fraudulent documents. In the end, the risk to career will force independent verification to come back in style.

On the other side, not issuing a denial means you have to do an awful lot more work and some people will believe the lie far longer than otherwise. Increasing the number of deluded, conspiracy theory believing people is not generally healthy in any democratic republic.

So which rationale is more convincing? I'm tending toward the innovators in this instance, at least for now. The down side of having a hard core of true believers who buy into all those documentary lies will hopefully not express itself violently. I'm willing to entertain emails to the contrary.

March 23, 2005

Draft Fallacies

Posted by TMLutas

Phil Carter is still on his we're going to have a draft kick. It's idiocy because it commits one of the cardinal sins in predicting the future, assuming that things will continue to move in a straight line. This is the "if we continue to do [x] at the current pace" fallacy.

We're a democratic republic. Our system is all about putting feedback loops in place that stop us from doing unnecessary harm to ourselves by making the pain of doing so a real impetus for party change and policy shift in the halls of government. I've yet to see any analysis that shows that this feedback process is broken. In other words we won't have a draft because we'll cut back on doing things with our military and take a breather before we have to impose a draft.

If that means that the Iraqis have to live with an insurgency for another two years over optimal, that's going to have to be the price paid to retain our own system's capacity to do another Iraq if necessary. In other words, we won't ruin a very good military manpower system in order to hurry a process that, while necessary for our own security, does not have a set "drop dead" date. Like every other time in our nation's history, the real world will see the voters and the political class continually making shifts in order to avoid doomsday scenarios. We've only really failed to do it once, over slavery, and I hardly think we're going to go to those extremes over the issue of shrinking the Gap.

March 22, 2005

Republican Trustfunder Failure

Posted by TMLutas

Michael Barone provides an outline of Republican cultural failure in an examination of the trustfunder left. He doesn't quite put it that way, but it is a damning indictment. Republicanism, as an ideology, is pro success, pro-wealth, pro-opportunity to achieve. But once you've achieved, once you've made it, there seems to be little effective work done to stop the guilt machine of the left to work on the rich and their progeny to convince them to turn on the very ethic and morals that propelled them to the heights that they have achieved.

Essentially, modern conservatism and libertarianism are both feeding into the maw of trust funder leftism that dominates that demographic today. This dooms the GOP and the right in general in the US to eventual doom unless they figure out how to fix the institutions that lead to this "rich man's leftism". I suspect that eventually the code will be broken but until it's drawn starkly as an electoral time bomb, the party won't wake up to its peril.

March 20, 2005

Nitpicking Extravaganza

Posted by TMLutas

The Armchair Philosopher nit picks my nit picking of The Angry Economist's opposition to some creationists' use of Borel's law.

To make clear at the beginning (because I suspect that TAP might not have quite understood) all three of us believe that Borel's law does not work (if it works at all) in quite the way that the creationists who use it want it to. Thus we're all three in agreement that Borel's law is not properly invoked in explaining past events like this. The argument is over how to get to this mutually agreed on position.

The Angry Philosopher delves into nit picking by insisting that straw man technique is not a logical fallacy. Approximately 75,000 Google hits say he's wrong but what do we know? That last link reveals that there are some logic textbooks that consider it a form of misrepresented argument and not an actual fallacy.

In the end arguing whether a straw man is an actual fallacy or merely some other form of cheap trick is like arguing whether it's the third mix of land, capital and labor is properly labor or labour. It's a side tracking device that draws away from the central reality that the straw man shouldn't have been there. Either way you categorize it, straw men are a way to unfairly characterize the other side's argument and shouldn't be used in a straight up debunking that stands well on its own merits.

Moving on, we get to an interesting discourse on the nature of facts versus evidence which in principle, I'm entirely in agreement with.

Facts are just facts; they aren’t necessarily evidence for anything. The fact that “the room is filled with smoke” is not in and of itself evidence for the fact that “the house is on fire”. In order to get from “the room is filled with smoke” to “the house is on fire”, we have to apply a causal model: the most probable cause of the room being filled with smoke is that the house is on fire. Therefore, the room being filled with smoke is evidence that the house is on fire. Our causal models are the key part of what makes some facts “evidence” and some facts “not evidence”.

It's not a perfect example because there are forms of smoke (from dry ice, from smoke machines) that would lead you to believe that the house was not on fire even though you saw and smelled "smoke". It generally gets the point across though and would be greatly improved by using wood smoke in place of smoke in general.

As applied, it doesn't work at all. You can construct causal models that take out testimony as satisfactory evidence (as The Armchair Philosopher seems to want to do) but I sure wouldn't want to run a criminal justice system without witnesses. It would sort of like trying to run a national intelligence system just with objective satellites and without all those messy, subjective, fallible human spies. That last experiment was actually tried in the US to a great extent for the past few decades. The results were not favorable.

Science, when not replicated (and the MBH/MM global warming "hockey stick" controversy shows how a lot of science is not replicated but merely accepted), is indistinguishable from testimony. It is the ready replicability of science that distinguishes it. Replicability with an omnipotent being is just out of the question. One can hardly put Him in an experimental trial and see if he reliably creates universes. This says nothing about whether He exists at all, just that if He did, it would not be science that proved it. Limiting yourself to scientific proofs may very well limit your ability to actually describe and understand the Universe as it truly exists. There is a proper place for testimony in understanding the world and who and what we are.

Moving on to the Big Bang, the point of my using that story was that Fred Hoyle was a noted astronomer, a real scientist and not some crank without real accomplishment. He descended into crankdom on the Big Bang because he thought that the theory came too close to christian cosmology and rejected it because of that. That rejection was unscientific and any scientist worthy of the name should condemn him for it. That doesn't take away from his other work which was scientific.

You shouldn't be able to twist the evidence just to strike at your religious enemies and not pay a price among scientists. I know that there are plenty of people who are atheists who believe in the Big Bang theory and they should believe in it. It's the best science we've got. There are literal creationists who do not believe in Big Bang because they believe in a literal 144 hour Creation cycle and a 6000 year old Earth. That's a different sort of twisting of evidence that goes on there.

The relevance of the Big Bang to Russ Nelson's debunking of Borel's law creationists is in Fred Hoyle's rejection of the Big Bang, not in the theory itself. The Angry Economist is unhappy with God in the picture and he showed a willingness to stretch and twist the actual evidence a la Fred Hoyle to draw conclusions unwarranted by the evidence. In doing so, it strikes at science by being insufficiently unwilling to say "we just don't know scientifically" about the ultimate existence of God.

Mainstream christianity and science mostly get into fights when christians perceive that scientists aren't minding their own business of discovering and understanding the rules of the physical world and instead delve into theology. Galileo's true sin was in insisting that the Catholic Church must recognize heliocentrism in advance of actual scientific proof instead of simply arranging Church doctrines so that either system would work just fine. The fact that he was personally insufferable didn't help either and his religious judges' deplorable willingness to let that personal abrasiveness influence their judgment is why the Catholic Church eventually apologized over the affair.

The last point in TAP's article is an attempt to differentiate "rewriting history" from "rewriting causal models". As I used the term, and as it is commonly used, historical revisionism lacks any moral context or particular truth value. There's a theory to explain an event in history, let's call it X. That's the accepted model and the historical revisionists come along and say "no, what really happened was not X but Y". Either model may be right or wrong but to reverse the order of model creation is just not accurate and was the nub of my own nit pick.

Science has an obligation to stick to the facts, to discipline its own practitioners when they twist facts in order to win points in religious fights. Too often it doesn't happen and science eventually suffers for it as science loses the position it should have, objective arbiter of the physical world, and becomes just another ideologically interested group in the scrum of ideas.

Parallel Legal Systems II

Posted by TMLutas

Here's a classic instance of completely ignoring Catholic Law, an editorial attacking a bishop for denying a notorious gay bar owner right to a Catholic burial.

To our knowledge, McCusker never has been accused of doing anything illegal. If Bishop Brom has information to the contrary, he should step forward with it.

McCusker was doing illegal things, but he did not violate secular law, but Catholic law. In this instance Bishop Brom is not a citizen who must report to someone else this illegality but a high judicial official who must render a decision in accordance with the law.

The legal code of the Catholic Church defines, among other things, who can be buried in a Catholic cemetery. Bishop Robert Brom is charged, as part of his duties, to enforce that legal code. What happens when he does his job? Know Nothings from the San Diego Union-Tribune call it intolerance and seem to think he enjoys doing this for fun.

This is the sort of thing that leads to laxity in applying the rules and a return to the "spirit of love and tolerance" of the recent past that gave us the pedophilia priest scandal. Pedophiles were to be shuffled around and sent back to ministry elsewhere instead of put into remote monasteries where they could contemplate their sins and spend the rest of their years in prayer and penance far away from children.

We all know where that led us, a horrible scandal that consumed the US church and destroyed so many lives. No doubt the Union-Tribune editorialized against episcopal laxity that succored priestly pedophilia as frequently as most other papers if not more but when the bishops actually do something and start tightening up legal enforcement of the rules, the instantly swap back to licentious scolds who want the bishop to just sit back and let the good times roll.

March 19, 2005

When is a Rendition, Not a Rendition?

Posted by TMLutas

A man (Ahmed Abu Ali) is arrested in Saudi Arabia for a bombing that occurs in Riyadh. The US lets the Saudi government keep him, monitoring his interrogation sessions and participating in some questioning. He's held for 20 months in Saudi Arabia before being turned over to the US and the man's family sues, calling his detention "extraordinary rendition" and illegal under US law. This assertion is breathlessly swallowed by The New Republic as if a 20 month detention without trial is something that is a sign of 3rd world justice. It isn't.

A man is arrested in Spain can be held without trial for up to two years merely on the government's say so. If a judge concurs, the pre-trial detention can be extended to 4 years as prosecutors continue to build their case. The US State Department puts it like this

At times pretrial detention was lengthy. Under the law, suspects cannot be detained for more than 2 years before being brought to trial unless a judge, who may extend pretrial detention to 4 years, authorizes a further delay. In practice, pretrial detention usually was less than 1 year.

There are other EU countries with lengthy pre-trial detention policies. Belgium for instance doesn't seem to have a set limit, just monthly judicial review and pretrial detainees are not kept separated from convicted criminals. Italy permits 24 month detentions and follows Belgium's practice of mixing convicts with pretrial detainees.

While none of these EU states has credible allegations of torture against them, the detention challenge seems to be, at least in part, about the length of detention without charges being filed. Calling a foreign arrest of a US citizen extraordinary rendition when the US does not submit the paperwork to extradite them back to the US seems a bizarre legal theory but that's what the left is working with.

The next time you hear about "extraordinary rendition" don't swallow it uncritically. The term is getting an orwellian face lift and that has to be challenged.

Logical Fallacies in the Origin of Life

Posted by TMLutas

Russ Nelson works to take apart a logical fallacy that creationists are using "Borel's law" to argue that evolution cannot be true. Thus far, all well and good, sloppy argument has no place on either side and should be thoroughly put down. Unfortunately, he slips in his own logical fallacy in his otherwise fine refutation.

The creationists are trying to argue that something which manifestly happened -- abiogenesis -- could not have happened because it was too improbable.
cut for space and cogency [read the original to check for fairness]
The creationist would say "No, no, that's not our argument at all. Only one particular combination of coins will result in life." So what? Obviously, we are having this discussion; we are alive; the past event, however improbable, occurred.

Did you catch it? He misstates the nature of creationism to claim that abiogenesis is not part of creationism. This is manifestly untrue, at least for biblical creationists, the usual suspects in these debates. A quick reading of Genesis 2:7 shows that abiogenesis is part and parcel of the creation story. The dispute between creationists and those evolutionists who deny God is whether it is guided or unguided abiogenesis, in essence, the cause of abiogenesis instead of the fact of it.

Science is about evidence, not word games. Until we find an awful lot more evidence about the origin of life and how evolution works, its extremely premature to make any scientific conclusions about whether abiogenesis is guided or unguided.

Scripture, on the other hand, is revelatory, not scientific. Revelation is evidence but not scientific evidence. It is akin to eyewitness testimony or confession by someone in the witness box. It's God saying "I did this" and his words being taken down by a stenographer of some sort.

Evidence obtained scientifically can impeach revelation or confirm it and there is a cottage industry of scientists trying to debunk christianity this way and theologians on the other side working to leave enough play so that their theology is not debunked. So far, the theologians are winning but it's a hard game for them as they play exclusively on defense.

The origin of the universe in a Big Bang sounds an awful lot like religious creation stories to a great many people and some scientists have resisted the Big Bang because it sounded too much like Genesis, most famously the astronomer Fred Hoyle. When they do so, they become pseudo-scientific practitioners, trading on their real scientific reputations to advance their philosophical preferences without actual scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, Russ Nelson does his own version here of pseudo-science. His closing statement "Don't try to rewrite history with some entity capable of violating the physical laws of the universe" ignores the fact that long before there was any science worth speaking of there was revelatory evidence about the creation of the universe, the world. Like all testimony, it can be impeached by scientific evidence but it's a gross misread of history to try to portray science as coming first. It is scientific cosmology that is the new kid on the block that is rewriting history. Sometimes revisionists get closer to the truth than the early historians and sometimes not but let's keep things on the basis of facts, shall we?

Notes and Asides

Posted by TMLutas

In reading the Times' take on Paul Wolfowitz's World Bank appointment a few interesting facts came through. First of all, Paul Wolfowitz is a Democrat. Little as some Democrats from other factions may like it, he's one of theirs as much as the Republican moderates remain Republicans to the occasional teeth gnashing session among conservatives. So where's the credit for Bush nominating a Democrat to head the World Bank? It must be hanging around with the credit Ronald Reagan got for Jeanne Kirkpatrick's nomination to the UN (another Democrat too many Democrats are interested in disowning). I don't expect it to be showing up any time soon.

Another thing that twigged my radar is that John Bolton is only an ambassador by convenience. In reality, he's the "US Permanent Representative". Ambassadors are what we send to sovereign entities, Permanent Representatives apparently go to international organizations of convenience. This is a distinction that really ought to be drawn a bit better because there are political implications to that particular linguistic shorthand. The transnational progressives would like the UN to morph into a world government with sovereignty of its own, military force to go with it, and the power to tax and judge.

Financial Times Utterly Misses the Point

Posted by TMLutas

The Financial Times just doesn't understand the motivations behind the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz. They completely misunderstand the nature of President Bush and his strategy for moving the security of the US forward through the spread of freedom and connectivity throughout the world. It really is astonishing as President Bush has been quite plain about his intentions. Force is a last resort but it will be resorted to. Iraq, already the subject of a bipartisan law in favor of regime change when Bush entered office, was the immovable object that was pulverized by US military might. This was done for several reasons, not least of which was that we had committed ourselves to doing it in 1998 and post 9/11 it became much more important that what we said we were going to do actually got done.

But Iraq was always a special case as it was the subject of existing UN resolutions it was in defiance of and that dozens of countries were already technically at war with it, merely subject to a cease-fire accord. The only other country that approached Iraq was North Korea and there were significant differences that differentiate the two nations.

The Bush Doctrine is much more often going to be carried out by the jackhammers and chisels of diplomacy and development aid rather than the explosive charges of the US military. The Financial Times' dislike of Wolfowitz is akin to assuming that the man that just set off charges to blast rock for a tunnel is going to turn into a car bomber because he just climbed into an earth moving vehicle to clean up the debris. It's somewhat unhinged.

FT speculates that Wolfowitz's appointment is a "consolation prize". In fact, it is a promotion and a bigger job for a trusted subordinate who got the big questions right in his old job and now is being tasked to shoulder a heavier load, the reformation of the World Bank into an institution that actually works as advertised and lifts countries out of poverty by providing them with the funds to do so and the oversight so that those funds are not wasted. This is the US interest in this new world and George W Bush means to attain it as effective development aid is key to achieving his central aims as he so clearly laid them out in his 2nd inauguration speech, and so many other speeches before and since.

Terri Schiavo Thoughts

Posted by TMLutas

Supposedly Terri Schiavo's in a persistent vegetative state. View the videos and you'll see it's a crock. That's not just my opinion, but my wife's who is an MD and very much against torturing patients with medical treatment past the point where it does any good.

I really don't think that people have thought through what Terri Schiavo is going through right now. She is given nothing to drink, nothing to eat. That doesn't sound like much. It's an easy sentence to say or write. When was the last time you hungered, you thirsted? I don't mean a momentary twinge that you immediately satisfy but really not eating or drinking for an extended period of time past when it starts to bother you. Try it for a bit, just to see the kind of discomfort a profoundly brain-damaged woman is going through.

You can't really get the flavor of it because you're capable of feeding yourself and can end the experiment at any time. If you decide to do the experiment, at whatever point you end it, please think that the pain, the mental anguish, the desperate impulse to go get sustenance, all that lives deep in our primitive brains and Terri most likely is capable of feeling that drive for food, for water just as you are but is incapable of satisfying it for herself. If her husband has his way, Terri will feel what you felt and continue feeling it in growing urgency and distress until she dies of it.

If we were to prescribe this as an end for murderers, it would be judicially invalidated as cruel and unusual punishment. Why it's legal to do it when there is no crime being punished is beyond me.

As a personal note, when I played a couple of the videos that Terri's parents had filmed of Terri, I asked her whether this woman was in a persistent vegetative state. Her response was "no, she's not. But if I'm ever like that, don't you dare do that [keep her alive artificially]".

In her own perverse way, she's horribly irresponsible as she hasn't left a written record of her preference. This puts me in a spot because I have somewhat different ideas on end of life care. I'll respect her wishes but I won't euthanize and I won't starve her to death.

March 18, 2005

Democracy In a Kit?

Posted by TMLutas

New acquisition to my reading list Pundita (thanks Mark) is amazingly simplistic in his Democracy Stage Show Kit essay.

The first error is a huge error of omission. The Democracy Stage Show Kit (DSSK) is analyzed in isolation without even mentioning that it is the mirror of the Great Power Puppet Regime Kit (GPPRK), most often, but not exclusively deployed by the USSR and now Russia. The GPPRK was developed when it became clear that E. Europe satellite retention was not entirely tenable as a monolithic Soviet Bloc with the Warsaw Pact on the military end and Comecon doing the economics end of the system.

The idea of rent-a-mob is much more heavily supported in the modern GPPRK model. Romania's 1991 riots are typical of the GPPRK model's use of such resources. These are real mobs with real clubs and there's real blood in the streets in the aftermath. By comparison, the DSSK mobs, if the DSSK exists in more than Pundita's imagination, are utterly benign by comparison. What was the death toll of the Orange Revolution?

By clearing out the ugly alternative through the simple expedient of pretending it does not exist, the DSSK is examined against the platonic ideal of the let's all get along sitting room societies and, mirabile dictu, the DSSK comes up short.

No, mass protests are not a demonstration of democratic governance but when all you have is a sham democracy whose strings are pulled from the back rooms in your own country and in foreign capitals, mass protests are a pretty good first step to getting a real democratic republic complete with that rule of law that Pundita would like to see. The right of those protesting was not enshrined in the Ukrainian system, it was established in defiance of the actual Ukrainian system. That serious people in the government considered violently clearing the protesters before they ultimately blinked is an established fact in the public record.

The idea that people have no time for political freedom is, frankly, just not credible. If the franchise could be exercised two centuries ago in the wilds of Kentucky and Ohio where agriculture was the main pursuit, time saving devices were nonexistant, and the wilderness or hostile indians could destroy all you had built in the blink of an eye, it is certainly practical for people in today's Ukraine, Romania, Georgia, or Iraq where the physical and economic challenges are generally less.

Pundita complains that "The 21st Century will pound home the point that you can't have it both ways: you can't have the luxury of letting someone else take on responsibility for your governing and expect to have good government." The problem with this complaint is that it seems to be endorsing democracy over democratic republicanism. That's just stupid if its intentional and badly written if Pundita did it by accident. By definition democratic republicanism is the idea of voting to give somebody else the government for a time and not much worrying about it until next election day. It's possibly the most successful system of governance on the planet even if a little long. That's why lazy people have shortened it down to calling it a democracy (well that and not to get letters from the constitutional monarchists who have a twin system in practice with different theoretical foundations).

Again, turning back to Romania, they voted in a neo-communist first government by wide margins, voted again to put them in by slimmer margins, voted in an opposition government that promptly betrayed its electoral platform, voted the neo-communist/social democrats back into power for another term and when that turned out to be a bad idea they put in a liberal government late last year. There were lots of corruption scandals, lots of bad choices along the way but nobody can seriously say that things are worse off than if Ceasescu the butcher or his rapist son were still in power. Nor is it credible to hold that the Romanian people haven't grown in sophistication and improved in their exercise of their sovereign power through the use of the franchise.

The chants of freedom and hand signs in mass rallies eventually die away and fast or slow the people improve in their understanding of liberty and how to use politics to achieve a good life. But if the old elites were still in power none of that would happen. It's a wonder why Pundita seems to mourn their passing.

Gay Marriage Judicial Activism II

Posted by TMLutas

Evan Kirchhoff comments on the recent San Francisco ruling that conventional marriage fails both strict scrutiny and a rational basis test. Kirchhoff doesn't much get into the rational basis bit and that's a shame but he also misses the big elephant in the room. Procreation promotion law, if it ever is to also respect privacy in the least, must be general. That is to say, you must advocate procreation statistically over the entire population in order to respect privacy individually.

Procreation, of the type that is most likely to produce productive citizens, is procreation within a heterosexual marriage without divorce. Individually your mileage may vary but statistically that's just the way things are. Rationally, if you're going to tilt the society away from demographic collapse, you'd want to promote the procreative method that's most effective in producing healthy, normal individuals. There's your rational basis, assuming that it's constitutional to tilt the playing field in favor of procreation. If not, the Constitution may very well be a suicide pact, at least a demographic suicide pact.

Moving onto strict scrutiny, if gender classification is to be subject to strict scrutiny in the manner done by this judge, single sex public bathrooms have a limited lease on life. Women are denied the right to go into the men's bathroom and vice versa because of the wish that some territory be exclusive to one sex or the other. The two bathrooms are constructed differently just as marriage law is constructed differently for men and women. It is possible to create bathrooms that can be used by both sexes as residence bathrooms are used by both sexes. Certainly single sex public restrooms are not survivable if this judge's reasoning is taken seriously.

At a certain point, judicial imposition overwhelms tolerance. We simply do not want to get to that point because the blowback will be severe, most likely eviscerating judicial power at a start and then moving on to even less happy results. When you reasoning leads to regularly putting women into bathrooms where men go in as well, you've exceeded that level with me, and I suspect the vast majority of the population as well.

If we could ever get around the demographic suicide bit, I could see how it would be an eventual libertarian goal to get rid of natality promotion but it would be far behind the urgent priorities of getting rid of all the government programs that rely on natality promotion in the first place starting with Social Security, Medicare, and all the rest of the "finance the future" ideas that don't make sense if your population is going to shrink. But we haven't gotten around the demographic suicide bit and the EU states are going to be showing us in the next few decades how bad it can get when you do go down the demographic suicide rabbit hole. I don't particularly want to follow them.

Constitutional Coup

Posted by TMLutas

Sometimes, the opposition really does want to do a Constitutional coup.

Why would we give lifetime appointments to people who earn up to $200,000 a year, with absolutely a great retirement system, and all the things all Americans wish for, with absolutely no check and balance except that one confirmation vote. So we're saying we think you ought to get nine votes over the 51 required. That isn't too much to ask for such a super important position. There ought to be a super vote. Don't you think so? It's the only check and balance on these people. They're in for life. They don't stand for election like we do, which is scary.

The procedure for appointing judges is a constitutional one. You want to change the procedure, you do the work to change the constitution. Doing an end run is illegitimate and illegal. The nature of the violation is only curable by impeachment or the ballot box. For the health of the country this nonsense has to be presented to every Democrat Senator for them to either endorse or condemn and we should all vote accordingly thereafter.

March 15, 2005

Letter to the Paper ILII

Posted by TMLutas

Every once in awhile, my civic spirit overrides my partisan joy at watching Democrats self-destruct. The Dr. No routine won't work to get them back in power. It's only good for keeping Republicans weak and the country in molasses. Fortunately, the people over at Needlenose are starting to reach for something more, at least on Social Security. Here's what I left in comments as constructive criticism.

It's not a bad start and certainly better than the Dr. No routine you guys seem to be limited too lately. The problem is that the people who are going to be wacked with the 25% benefit cut in 2042 are generally old enough to vaguely remember that we were supposed to have already fixed Social Security back during the creation of the Trust Fund and an increase in retirement age (we'll be retiring at 67 in 2042) and tax increases didn't fix the problem last time so what's to keep the same sort of fix from failing this time.

Frankly, predicting female fertility 10 years from now seriously goes into the mix of whether there's going to be a political rebellion among the electorate when I need my own SS benefits, leaving me high and dry. That's a fool's game to rely on but we've tied ourselves to future female fertility with this current funding scheme. If you want a real nightmare, plug Italy's fertility curve from the past couple of decades into the SS financing formulas and watch your proposed solution completely collapse, needing further fix after further fix to the point of unsustainability.

The guaranteed benefit will always be held hostage to future female fertility with a lag of a few decades. If you guys remain committed to a holy war on private accounts, the guaranteed benefit is all you'll get. Private accounts diversify your risk. The only responsible alternative to that diversification is state restriction on abortion and contraception and lots of new workers getting a paycheck and paying retirement checks. Everything else is whistling past the graveyard and hoping that kids don't go out of style and we follow the EU to the demographic graveyard and financial ruin.

Do you guys even realize how badly you're wedging your own coalition? It's the feminists versus the seniors. Bush has given you an out of that dilemma with private accounts and you've decided that this is where you make your stand. It's a mistake.

March 10, 2005

Dueling Legal Systems

Posted by TMLutas

Terry Schiavo's Canon Law rights offer an interesting insight into the dueling claims of church and state even in relatively benign situations where Catholic legal doctrine has long ago made its general peace with civil law. It's sad, but true, that there are still conflicts. Muslim law is even more problematic because muslim law has no universally acceptable code of canons. Having no hierarchy, a universal code of canons is impossible. US law has to come to grips with this in order to facilitate some sort of interface where civil law can have reasonable expectations of followers of muslim judicial codes and flat out we don't have it yet. Then again, the job isn't entirely done with even relatively familiar challenges such as Catholic law.

March 09, 2005

Anti-Secession Statute

Posted by TMLutas

Here's a what if for you. What if the anti-secession statute is not about Taiwan? Bear with me here. Imagine this, there's some evidence that some in the booming coastal areas aren't all that fond of being sucked dry to carry the interior forward into the 21st century. What if it isn't a formal secession declaration of Taiwan that gives Beijing the willies but secession talk inside the south China coast's elite?

Sure, the legislation serves double duty to brush back Taiwanese independence but it also serves notice on anybody getting bright ideas on the mainland too. Is this implausible? Well, why not a little test? Assume, for a moment, that the coast swaps allegiance and joins Taiwan and it takes enough of the PLA to make it stick. Most of the big factories, the big development, the big money ends up on the other side of a new border, is the world going to deny recognition to the newly enlarged ROC just because it doesn't have its capital in Beijing?

Now going a bit further, what happens if the central leadership starts taking out leading business leaders in the boom towns. The PRC can read the papers and do not want to emulate Russia in their very expensive government persecution of Yukos' Khodorkovsky. The PRC needs all the FDI it can get so they need to tread lightly. So the PRC passes an anti-secession law, creates the legal structure for a purge, and distracts everybody by making them think it's all about Taiwan.

The much more likely scenario is that things are as they seem but alternate scenarios should be at least entertained. This is one that merits a bit of thought prior to dismissal.

Update: I swear I didn't read this article before I penned my note above but the Strategy Page people are quite right to consider the mainland alternative.

Locke's Loopy Libertarians

Posted by TMLutas

Robert Locke's recent article on libertarians is one big hit piece. That's not too surprising out of TAC but it's a useful forensic exercise to sort out the nuggets of truth that Locke uses to make the lies go down better. Locke calls Libertarians the "marxists of the right" and claims

But because 95 percent of the libertarianism one encounters at cocktail parties, on editorial pages, and on Capitol Hill is a kind of commonplace “street” libertarianism, I decline to allow libertarians the sophistical trick of using a vulgar libertarianism to agitate for what they want by defending a refined version of their doctrine when challenged philosophically. We’ve seen Marxists pull that before.

The high variability of libertarians is both an impediment to making blanket statements about the movement and a very positive sign of intellectual activity. If anything libertarianism consists of the fundamental proposition that on any given policy question, the libertarian can be spotted by his first impulse which is to ask why not solve the problem through a consensual, pro-liberty solution. The radicalness and the strength of the impulse are a separate issue. Difference there helps to identify flavors of libertarians. It is by no means shown by Locke that this first impulse towards liberty is wrongheaded, much less an evil like marxism. The closest you can get, I guess, is the dogmatic libertarian.

The dogmatic libertarian, like dogmatists of all stripes, doesn't bother actually considering the public policy question at hand, he has a lookup table which he plugs in a libertarian answer (or what he considers to be a libertarian answer) and just moves on. Differentiating between the dogmatic libertarian and other dogmatists is as simple as identifying the sources of his lookup table. If they are libertarian, he too is a libertarian, if a very unthinking one.

The difference between practical libertarians, and those who are impractical in one way or another does not lie in their libertarianness, in the common impulse to answer liberty as a first reaction at the posing of a public policy question. It is in what happens afterwards. Do you actually consider the question? Are you willing to acknowledge that libertarian solutions are not practical sometimes because the surrounding conditions are not yet ripe? How much real world pain are you willing to impose on society in order to force the development of libertarianism in the real world.

It is only those libertarians who are willing to take libertarian solutions and push them on the world in the face of unacceptable consequences that should be condemned (and I do condemn them). Those who would rather society be taken over by totalitarians than impose a draft, for instance, can be realistically likened to right wing marxists. They would rather lose all than compromise in the least and recover later.

Locke, however, dedicates his article to painting with a broad brush and tarring the practical libertarians right along with the impractical ones, the ones who would do america proud if they were to win power in government and the right wing marxists who unfortunately have an outsized influence in the institutional LP right now. It's unfortunate that Locke's email is not public. A short conversation would certainly clarify whether he's libeling the large bulk of libertarians on purpose or merely through sloppiness.

Forcing the Moment

Posted by TMLutas

Jason Van Steenwyk argues for forcing "the moment to its crisis" and it just goes to show, even professional military men can get strategy badly wrong. As I've written before, the US strategy is serialization. We want to pop off crises in a fairly linear fashion so that each can be handled by our available forces, our available aid structures, and our available supply of competent diplomats. Each crisis is an opportunity to spread liberty which, eventually, will lead to governments that we can deal with because they'll be accountable to their people for results and nothing we want is incompatible with that.

Our enemies are trying to create crises in parallel so that they can snatch some of these countries more fully to their side, disrupting the points of accommodation that all states make with each other and creating friendlier regimes for them. The crises themselves are merely opportunity points. They are not in and of themselves tilted to one side or the other.

I've got no doubt in my mind that Lebanon was unplanned. The assassination of Hariri blew up in ways that the original bomb maker could not have foreseen. An extra crisis point is a sign of danger for US strategy. It's using up our emergency reserves of crisis handling. Adding further fronts voluntarily at that point is executing the enemy's strategy for him. We want, need to bite, chew, and swallow to enlarge the free world. The enemy wants the free world to bite, half-chew, and bite again until we choke. We should not aid him.

March 07, 2005

Marxism, Undead

Posted by TMLutas

Russ Nelson had the quaint view that "I always thought that the quip "Marxism is dead everywhere but on the American college campus" was a cheap shot". Apparently he's just had his eyes opened. Fundamentally, this is an example of a much larger problem. Whatever mechanism we used to have to clean out the phrenologists, the claptrap artists has broken down, and broken down badly when it comes to marxists and their follow ons. It's positively pernicious.

By its very nature, getting rid of false areas of study is horribly difficult in a society that values diversity and freedom of inquiry. At a certain point, the detritus of persistently failed ideas does have to get cleared away. So how do you do it? That's the point at which we seem to be stuck.

March 04, 2005

Who Goes Home

Posted by TMLutas

Mark Krikorian asks:

Which Mexican workers does the president think will go home when the “temporary” visas expire?

My guess is that holders of temporary visas will be removed from this country if they overstay because the problem will be small enough to effectively police. I firmly believe that any sane employer will take a valid temporary visa holder for a job over someone who is illegal when both are available for work at the same salary.

In other words, the temporary visa program creates a situation where the benefit of being illegal (you get to work in the US with employers willing to look the other way) largely disappears. The highly shrunken pool of employers willing to hire illegals can be effectively policed and punished appropriately. Those who stay anyway will be few enough that we can hunt them down and deport them. It's not that they won't want to stay, it's that who will hire them when there's no benefit to hiring an illegal over a legal?

One final point to mention. I do know illegals who have gone home. They came, made "enough" money, and departed in order to start their own business all in accordance with their plans hatched before they got across the border. It does happen, even under current law. Under the president's plan, it'll happen an awful lot more and they won't have to sneak over the border to do it.

No Clinton Scandals!

Posted by TMLutas

Prof. Bainbridge goes the wrong way in this post regarding a Hillary 2008 run. Hillary will be elected or defeated on the fundamental basis of her vision for America and how it should go forward from 2009-2013 when her term would end mid-January. What here husband did in the 12th hour of his time in the White House will be of little interest to anybody but those who are already voting against her. Investigations are simply not in the cards and not good for her Republican opponent, or even her Democrat primary opponents.

Hillary Clinton is likely to be scary enough that she will be defeated but only if the Republicans campaign against her, the candidate, and her ideas and policy prescriptions, not on her husband's political dirty deeds. Republicans already went through a round of going down that self-defeating electoral cul-de-sac. They don't need to revisit defeat again.

Hillary Care is a legitimate topic of discussion because she did it. She ran that task force. It would be appropriate to ask her whether she'd do it all over again the same way and, if not, what she's learned in the meantime. Asking her how she would handle transparency, honesty, and openness issues differently than 1992-2001 when her husband was President is also fair game if personally uncomfortable for her just as the same issue was raised for President GWB with regards to his father's policies.

Please, Republicans, spare us politically minded investigations. They should have been done in 2001-2003 if they were to be done at all.

How to Vent

Posted by TMLutas

I was reading this article on a really bad love note to the North Korean dictatorship when something snapped. I got beyond venting spleen and went to the article in question and started hitting refresh, looking for ads that weren't for entities owned by the same company. After one false lead (, which is owned by the same guys) I found Vonage. Now I've got no beef against Vonage as a company. I've been planning to get their service for my wife's new business (I'm doing the tech development/deployment for her). I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't even know that their ad was running there.

Now they do.

I just got off the phone where I called their corporate headquarters. I was patched through to marketing after blasting the poor receptionist. The first marketing drone was so taken aback at the idea that Vonage advertising was supporting N. Korea that she patched me into the head of marketing's line. He wasn't in so I left a voice mail. I included my name, number, and a sincere hope that Vonage's corporate culture had nothing to do with the impulse to paper over the stomach wrenching nature of the totalitarian N. Korean regime, and that if they continued to advertise at the LA Times, I certainly would no longer consider using them for VOIP services.

Lesson's learned:
1. Online ads are great for boycotters. You just click to follow the ad, go to the corporate information page and you have the address for letters and the switchboard for phone calls.

2. Make a call. Nothing beats the immediacy of it and if you are sincere, forceful, and the company isn't used to this sort of thing, you can end up giving your message to pretty high up the food chain.

3. Pick a company that you're actually using or considering using. If you're not in the target demographic for a company, your threats not to use their service or buy their product is just so much noise for them. Losing actual or prospective customers is another thing entirely.

And now back to my regularly scheduled off-line mayhem.

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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