November 30, 2005

The Paralyzed May Walk Without Embryonic Stem Cells

Posted by TMLutas

One of the great tragedies of embryonic stem cell research may end up being that we will get our miracle cures after all but embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) research may slow them down by drawing funding into experimental techniques that never actually pay off. That outcome is drawing nearer with the announcement of approaching human trials to reverse spinal cord injuries using adult stem cells (ASC) from the patient's nose.

Famously, allowing Chris Reeve to walk again via stem cell research was a rallying cry at at least one of Sen. Edwards campaign speeches in 2004 and the reluctance to support ESC was and is a major charge in the bill of indictment that the GOP is anti-science.

The ASC human trials keep on coming, the actual ASC cures keep on coming, yet somehow it is ESC that gains all the attention and is preferentially favored by so many in political circles. The nose cell nerve regeneration human trials, for example, await further funding (they're 1M british pounds short). The nose cell studies are exactly the sort of work that is difficult to fund commercially because there's little money to be made in it. Nothing's patentable about it. Once the technique is perfected, most reasonably equipped hospital can use the technique. It's always difficult to raise money for less trendy research and the left has made sure that ASC research is as untrendy as possible. Pity.

Tribal Rejection

Posted by TMLutas

This is the sort of thing that I've been hoping to see.

We, the sons of the Bani Hassan tribe in all its branches in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan support and express solidarity with our cousins, the al-Khalayleh clan, and their decision to sever relations with the terrorist Ahmad Fadheel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, who calls himself Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,

We condemn all terrorist actions carried out or claimed by this individual — actions which are alien to members of this tribe,

In Arab shame culture, this is a huge deal. It is going to make Al Queda in Iraq's recruiting job much tougher and possibly cause them to lose a number of their current operatives.

It's not how we do it in the West. But then again, it doesn't have to be. The job of dismantling Al Queda got a huge boost with this. We should give credit to the Bani Hassan and all the rest who do the right thing and cast out the terrorists among them. It's an honorable and laudable thing. That they do this for their own reasons and not in response to pressure from us makes it even more laudable.

November 29, 2005

Rebutting Odom X

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

9) Talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops.

9) On not supporting our troops by debating an early pullout. Many US officers in Iraq, especially at company and field grade levels, know that while they are winning every tactical battle, they are losing strategically. And according to the New York Times last week, they are beginning to voice complaints about Americans at home bearing none of the pains of the war. One can only guess about the enlisted ranks, but those on a second tour – probably the majority today – are probably anxious for an early pullout. It is also noteworthy that US generals in Iraq are not bubbling over with optimistic reports they way they were during the first few years of the war in Vietnam. Their careful statements and caution probably reflect serious doubts that they do not, and should not, express publicly. The more important question is whether or not the repressive and vindictive behavior by the secretary of defense and his deputy against the senior military -- especially the Army leadership, which is the critical component in the war -- has made it impossible for field commanders to make the political leaders see the facts.

Most surprising to me is that no American political leader today has tried to unmask the absurdity of the administration's case that to question the strategic wisdom of the war is unpatriotic and a failure to support our troops. Most officers and probably most troops don't see it that way. They are angry at the deficiencies in materiel support they get from the Department of Defense, and especially about the irresponsibly long deployments they must now endure because Mr. Rumsfeld and his staff have refused to enlarge the ground forces to provide shorter tours. In the meantime, they know that the defense budget shovels money out the door to maritime forces, SDI, etc., while refusing to increase dramatically the size of the Army.

As I wrote several years ago, "the Pentagon's post-Cold War force structure is so maritime heavy and land force weak that it is firmly in charge of the porpoises and whales while leaving the land to tyrants." The Army, some of the Air Force, the National Guard, and the reserves are now the victims of this gross mismatch between military missions and force structure. Neither the Bush nor the Clinton administration has properly "supported the troops." The media could ask the president why he fails to support our troops by not firing his secretary of defense.

It's just not true that one can only guess about the enlisted ranks, or even about the officer corps anymore. The blogging revolution has created a rich cadre of military bloggers of all ranks (though the generals tend to blog on restricted access .mil sites so far). We know what they believe because they write it for us to see and comment on each other's work. It is that work that informs and encourages civilians like me to raise my own voice.

While not every military voice is united in optimism, the vast majority are and you can read them in all their glory on the Internet. But not all milbloggers are currently serving. Some could resign or retire at any time and do a sharp about face the moment that they are no longer covered by the UCMJ. I watch for such about faces because I'm fully aware of the possibility of feeding disinformation through the milblog channel. If we start finding fake or pressured milbloggers it would be right to discredit this source but until then, named military officers who write on the record beat out anonymous claimed officers who won't sign their names to their supposed opinions. These people come to the end of their careers too. Why aren't they writing, speaking out, putting their name to their opinions? The discussion might actually improve public discourse

If Newt Gingrich is right that this is a Long War, a war of multiple generations, then pacing our sacrifice and involvement is key to our ultimate victory. If we're less than 10% into this war, I'm not sure what the appropriate pace of civilian sacrifice is. What I am sure of is that it shouldn't be a huge effort that will leave society burned out long before ultimate victory is in sight. It's a legitimate request to increase societal sacrifice but we've got to make sure that it's on a pacing that is sustainable.

Massive personnel increases combined with rapid pullout of Iraq do seem to be an odd policy combination. Personnel are the most expensive part of fielding an army. If we aren't to stick around to the finish in Iraq, what are all those soldiers supposed to be doing? We're closing down the FRG bases, moving to new basing structures that have far fewer troops at them, and flooding Afghanistan with US troops was never a bright idea because it might give the Afghans the wrong idea that we wanted to actually stay on a permanent basis.

Rebutting Odom IX

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

8) We haven’t fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet.

8) On training the Iraq military and police. The insurgents are fighting very effectively without US or European military advisors to train them. Why don't the soldiers and police in the present Iraqi regime's service do their duty as well? Because they are uncertain about committing their lives to this regime. They are being asked to take a political stand, just as the insurgents are. Political consolidation, not military-technical consolidation, is the issue.

The issue is not military training; it is institutional loyalty. We trained the Vietnamese military effectively. Its generals took power and proved to be lousy politicians and poor fighters in the final showdown. In many battles over a decade or more, South Vietnamese military units fought very well, defeating VC and NVA units. But South Vietnam's political leaders lost the war.

Even if we were able to successfully train an Iraqi military and police force, the likely result, after all that, would be another military dictatorship. Experience around the world teaches us that military dictatorships arise when the military’s institutional modernization gets ahead of political consolidation.

I challenge the idea that the insurgents have been fighting effectively. They have absorbed brutal levels of losses. They are losing leadership and trained cadre faster than any military organization can absorb. They are losing the money men that have financed their allied "rent a gang" mercenaries. The position of the insurgency in November, 2005 has to be viewed as precarious.

What little we know for sure about the insurgency's position is from captured correspondence that is released by Coalition forces. From that we know that they fear the establishment of a democratically elected Iraqi government. They fear the arrival of an Iraqi military and the loss of the visible presence of US forces on Iraqi streets. They fear that they will have to pack up and move on because they are running out of places to move on to.

This does not sound like an insurgency that is fighting effectively and winning in Iraq. This sounds like an insurgency that prays that figures in the US, figures such as Gen. Odom, will win in the fight domestically and force a pullout of critical US forces before the Iraqi armed forces are ready to fully take over the task of Iraq's security. These Iraqi forces are already shouldering part of the burden and their part grows greater every month.

The idea that Iraqi forces are tentative about their loyalty to their government is an unfair broad brush. Iraqis are individuals and will have varying commitments to their government as we have varying commitments to our own. It's unrealistic and insulting to make negative categoric statements about all Iraqi soldiers and policemen as lacking loyalty to and belief in their government. Surely some lack conviction and some lack loyalty. It's also a sure thing that such things come out in combat and that such people are washed out when they desert, run from a fight, or just don't run their patrol routes but hide in a building for the requisite amount of time and go home.

All measures of Iraqi troop and police effectiveness are improving over the past year. Iraqi police stations don't get overrun anymore (the insurgents gave up on that after losing too many battles) Iraqi troops no longer suffer from massive desertions in combat situations (training is improved and there are experienced troops with them that stiffen their resolve). Iraqi troops are successfully holding what US and Iraqi forces are successfully clearing.

It is true that Iraq's political leadership is going to win or lose things in the end. That's true for every country in every war. Here, General Odom assumes incompetence instead of bothering to demonstrate it. The Iraqi political class is not made up of one party, one faction. Judgements about their ability to lead the country are extremely premature at this point.

Rebutting Odom VIII

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

7) Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen.

7) On Shiite-Sunni conflict. The US presence is not preventing Shiite-Sunni conflict; it merely delays it. Iran is preventing it today, and it will probably encourage it once the Shiites dominate the new government, an outcome US policy virtually ensures.

Unless Gen. Odom thinks that Sistani is Iran's agent, this is a curiously flat analysis of what's going on. Sistani, by all I've read, has had a major influence in holding back the Shia. Pegging Sistani as Iran's agent is rather odd as Sistani has written that Iran is ruled by heretics. Sistani's rejection of Khomeinism is the key missing piece to most defeatist analyses of Iraq that I've seen. An Iraq in civil war is an Iraq that is in danger of falling to the heretical Khomeinism Sistani fears.

It's much better to make peace with the Sunni in a pluralistic government and get about the religiously vital business of cleaning up the mess of mullah run Iran. Najaf's scholars do not want Tehran's domination and thus will resist sectarian fighting. The US presence aids that fight and our service will be fondly remembered. The US presence need not be permanent. It only has to last long enough for a peace to be worked out despite Iranian and Syrian meddling.

Rebutting Odom VII

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

6) Unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq's neighbors

6) On Iraq’s neighbors. The civil war we leave behind may well draw in Syria, Turkey and Iran. But already today each of those states is deeply involved in support for or opposition to factions in the ongoing Iraqi civil war. The very act of invading Iraq almost insured that violence would involve the larger region. And so it has and will continue, with, or without, US forces in Iraq.

I don't think that Syria's current position in Lebanon, where it has to support its proxies covertly, is better for Syria than its position two years ago when it could do so overtly with a strong and open Syrian presence. I'm sure that Syria would prefer to be open about its support for certain factions in Iraq too but that would lead to a US response that would decapitate the Syrian regime.

So is Lebanon today better for the US than Lebanon two years ago? It certainly is better for Lebanon itself and I think it is better for the US too. Would open Syrian intervention in Anbar and surrounding provinces be a preferred US outcome? Only if Syria having troops in the Bekaa was a preferred outcome for us.

Rebutting Odom VI

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

5) Iranian influence in Iraq would increase

5) On Iranian influence. Iranian leaders see US policy in Iraq as being so much in Teheran's interests that they have been advising Iraqi Shiite leaders to do exactly what the Americans ask them to do. Elections will allow the Shiites to take power legally. Once in charge, they can settle scores with the Baathists and Sunnis. If US policy in Iraq begins to undercut Iran's interests, then Teheran can use its growing influence among Iraqi Shiites to stir up trouble, possibly committing Shiite militias to an insurgency against US forces there. The US invasion has vastly increased Iran's influence in Iraq, not sealed it out.

Questions for the administration: "Why do the Iranians support our presence in Iraq today? Why do they tell the Shiite leaders to avoid a sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shiites? Given all the money and weapons they provide Shiite groups, why are they not stirring up more trouble for the US? Will Iranian policy change once a Shiite majority has the reins of government? Would it not be better to pull out now rather than to continue our present course of weakening the Sunnis and Baathists, opening the way for a Shiite dictatorship?"

Since Iran seems to be shipping in sophisticated explosive devices to kill our soldiers, they do seem to have a funny way of saying they support our presence. Perhaps they believe that "nothing says I love you like Semtex"?

If they're supposed to be waiting to settle scores with the Baathists until we leave, those torture rooms some Shiites have been running are showing a little bit of eagerness and independence, no? Allawi has been making an issue of the provisional government's mishandling of Sunni prisoners. His share of the Shiite vote on December 15th is a good sign whether the bulk of the Shia are going along with this scenario.

Iraq and Iran have been fighting each other for centuries. The idea that they will become lasting best buddies because of a short-term US occupation is just not serious. These are traditional regional rivals. Any alliance between the two will be fleeting. The best we can hope for is to sublimate the rivalry into a bloodless economic competition instead of a bloody battlefield one.

Rebutting Odom V

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

4) Iraq would become a haven for terrorists.

4) On terrorists. Iraq is already a training ground for terrorists. In fact, the CIA has pointed out to the administration and congress that Iraq is spawning so many terrorists that they are returning home to many other countries to further practice their skills there. The quicker a new dictator wins the political power in Iraq and imposes order, the sooner the country will stop producing well-experienced terrorists.

Why not ask: "Mr. President, since you and the vice president insisted that Saddam's Iraq supported al Qaeda -- which we now know it did not -- isn't your policy in Iraq today strengthening al Qaeda's position in that country?"

Any training ground with this high a fatality rate would be shut down and its operators would be arrested and quickly convicted on multiple counts of felony murder. But notice that there's a nice bit of sleight of hand here. Even if you accept that Iraq is a terrorist training ground (perhaps run by the Marquis de Sade?), that doesn't make it a terrorist haven. A terrorist haven is where you can sit, relax, plan, and recover from your strenous labors elsewhere. Iraq, for terrorists today, is all about 24x7 stress.

Is that guy there with the cell phone turning me in? Is that buzzing overhead a UAV, or even worse a UCAV? Has my cell been penetrated by the local intelligence forces? Is a marine sniper looking at my head through a scope? Am I going to be the next "emir of the week" to get promoted and quickly killed?

Iraq is not a terrorist haven. If we pull out the wrong way, it could become one and some future Richard Clarke will once again worry about terrorists doing the boogie to Baghdad.

Saddam offered bin Laden asylum in Iraq. He was turned down because the Taliban gave bin Laden a better deal, not for any other reason. It's just not true that Saddam didn't support Al Queda.

Rebutting Odom IV

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

3) It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.

3) On the insurgency and democracy. There is no question the insurgents and other anti-American parties will take over the government once we leave. But that will happen no matter how long we stay. Any government capable of holding power in Iraq will be anti-American, because the Iraqi people are increasingly becoming anti-American.

Also, the U.S. will not leave behind a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq no matter how long it stays. Holding elections is easy. It is impossible to make it a constitutional democracy in a hurry.

President Bush’s statements about progress in Iraq are increasingly resembling LBJ's statements during the Vietnam War. For instance, Johnson’s comments about the 1968 election are very similar to what Bush said in February 2005 after the election of a provisional parliament.

Ask the president: Why should we expect a different outcome in Iraq than in Vietnam?

Ask the president if he intends to leave a pro-American liberal regime in place. Because that’s just impossible. Postwar Germany and Japan are not models for Iraq. Each had mature (at least a full generation old) constitutional orders by the end of the 19th century. They both endured as constitutional orders until the 1930s. Thus General Clay and General MacArthur were merely reversing a decade and a half totalitarianism -- returning to nearly a century of liberal political change in Japan and a much longer period in Germany.

Imposing a liberal constitutional order in Iraq would be to accomplish something that has never been done before. Of all the world's political cultures, an Arab-Muslim one may be the most resistant to such a change of any in the world. Even the Muslim society in Turkey (an anti-Arab society) stands out for being the only example of a constitutional order in an Islamic society, and even it backslides occasionally.

The anti-american nature of the Iraqi people is very much up for debate. I believe that the nature of our departure is crucial. If the Iraqi government has an army and police force that is capable of fighting and winning and we pull out and continue to provide advice and support, that exit will turn Iraqi opinion in a markedly pro-american direction. If we leave a mess, a bad civil war, and abandon our allies to the not-so-tender mercies of our enemies then our exit will create a much more anti-american Iraqi populace.

It's absolutely false that if we pull out of Iraq, we will not leave behind a liberal, constitutional democracy. We've already established one and its first election is December 15 of this year. Denigrating this achievement, pretending it never happened, is just not right.

The only question is whether this new Iraqi order is self-sustaining. Is the political savvy that defanged Sadr, is pulling in the Sunnis tribe by tribe, in from the cold, the very talents that formed the INC itself all just a series of flukes or are the Iraqi people blessed with a series of secular and religious leaders in this generation that have the critical mass necessary to sustain the constitution that they have already adopted? Is all this political talent just a mirage? I don't think it is. I don't think that the Iraqi leadership is just a bunch of US puppets. They have their own leadership, their own talents, and, objectively, it looks pretty good. If we stay long enough so that they have a decent army and police force and continue to support them with air cover until they get a decent air force, they're very likely to continue the political system that has already been established.

As for the supposed arab incapacity to have a liberal democracy, if they're so bad, shouldn't they be barred the vote here? Of course that would be plain lunacy to even suggest it but it's the logical conclusion of the idea that arabs are incapable of governing themselves in a free, democratic society.

The US has done innumerable things that have never been done before. Being the midwife to Iraqi democracy is no more astounding than digging the Panama Canal or landing a man on the moon.

Rebutting Odom III

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

2) We would lose credibility on the world stage.

2) On credibility. If we were Russia or some other insecure nation, we might have to worry about credibility. A hyperpower need not worry about credibility. That’s one of the great advantages of being a hyperpower: When we have made a big strategic mistake, we can reverse it. And it may even enhance our credibility. Staying there damages our credibility more than leaving.

Ask the president if he really worries about US credibility. Or, what will happen to our credibility if the course he is pursuing proves to be a major strategic disaster? Would it not be better for our long-term credibility to withdraw earlier than later in this event?

I have to say that this is the weakest of all of Odom's points. Were we weakened when we abandoned South Vietnam by suddenly cutting off funding for the South Vietnamese military? Were we weakened when Iran took our embassy and held hostages during the Carter administration? Were we weakened when we cut and ran in Beirut and Somalia?

It's just absurd to say that we're not weakened by abandoning allies. Odom can't or won't concede that we might actually make this project work. Seeing the inevitability of credibility destruction, which course would have the least of it. That's a legitimate point to make and debate but dressing it up with the idea that our hyperpower status makes it impossible for us to lose our credibility because we're not insecure is just a nonstarter.

I do see ways that this could end up being a win for the US so I see the whole point as being an exercise in making false choices. Trapping ourselves in a false strategic viewpoint is bad. There I agree with Odom. It's actually worse, though, to trap yourself into a false strategic viewpoint and pull defeat from the jaws of victory than it is to fight the good fight and go down in a moral campign to spread freedom. The question remains, what's the correct strategic viewpoint? This analysis point doesn't do a thing to help answer that.

Rebutting Odom II

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

1) We would leave behind a civil war.

1) On civil war. Iraqis are already fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. That’s civil war. We created the civil war when we invaded; we can’t prevent a civil war by staying.

For those who really worry about destabilizing the region, the sensible policy is not to stay the course in Iraq. It is rapid withdrawal, re-establishing strong relations with our allies in Europe, showing confidence in the UN Security Council, and trying to knit together a large coalition including the major states of Europe, Japan, South Korea, China, and India to back a strategy for stabilizing the area from the eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until the United States withdraws from Iraq and admits its strategic error, no such coalition can be formed.

Thus those who fear leaving a mess are actually helping make things worse while preventing a new strategic approach with some promise of success.

Since the explicit purpose of the US enterprise in Iraq is to destabilize the region into a controlled reform movement that replaces autocracies with indigenous free societies in the broad democratic camp, what Odom is talking about here is not civil war per se but rather a paean to authoritarianism. But is authoritarianism stable?

I would say that authoritarianism is not stable in a modern world of super-empowered individuals like Osama bin Laden or even on a more minor scale, like Mohammad Atta. Authoritarian regimes are not very good at controlling small groups of individuals. They traditionally have let minor irritants go unaddressed, waiting for them to grow to convenient size before they are suppressed brutally. To get down to the fine grain control of the individual level, the repressive machinery really has to be totalitarian, not authoritarian in nature.

We have abandoned our support for authoritarian regimes, in part, because authoritarian regimes are breaking down in their effectiveness. To our credit, there is a moral component as well and we should be proud of raising the banner of freedom as a moral enterprise but even just looking at things in a utilitarian way, authoritarianism is dying as a practical control vehicle. Something new must come and that something new should be the least-worst alternative possible. Reasserting the status quo is just not acceptable, even in a purely realism based foreign policy perspective.

But I don't think that civil war is necessarily a bad thing. There are certainly a lot of bad actors in Iraq. If the decen citizenry (which you can find across ethnic and religious lines) unites to bring those bad actors to justice in a civil war, this is not a failure. If, on the other hand, the civil war occurs on ethno-religious grounds and results in a tripartite partition of Iraq and a regional war fighting over the scraps left of that country, this would be a bad sort of civil war. I submit that with our presence, the former type is much more likely than the latter. Without us, the probabilities worsen for a bad type of civil war.

Rebutting Odom I

Posted by TMLutas

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

If I were a journalist, I would list all the arguments that you hear against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, the horrible things that people say would happen, and then ask: Aren’t they happening already? Would a pullout really make things worse? Maybe it would make things better.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

1) We would leave behind a civil war.
2) We would lose credibility on the world stage.
3) It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.
4) Iraq would become a haven for terrorists.
5) Iranian influence in Iraq would increase.
6) Unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq's neighbors.
7) Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen.
8) We haven’t fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet.
9) Talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops.

The list itself is biased to his arguments and frames the debate in a manner that favors his argument. That's not a mortal sin but it's certainly not a fair minded analysis of the situation by somebody with no axe to grind.

The big unlisted elephant is, of course, national partition along ethno-religious lines with a tripartite division with Shiite Arab, Sunni Kurd, and Sunni Arab successor states emerging. This doesn't match the Odom narrative so is unmentioned.

A corollary to that would be the precedent in the region of creating such ethno-religous sub-states would become popular in a region that is full of artificial lines and weak authoritarian governments. The regionalization of that precedent would be a separate bad outcome from the original partition.

One of the crucial (and very underanalyzed) outcomes necessary for a victory on the War on Terror is the emergence of a muslim theological corpus of judicial decisions that delegitimizes terrorism. Iraq is very much in the forefront of that developing body of anti-terror theology. A US pullout would free imams to shut up anti-terror theologians by violence in a way that they are constrained from doing today.

No doubt there's others but it's a fundamental flaw of the article that no inconvenient pro-stay the course rationale that doesn't fit the preconceived narrative is included. Wasn't that supposed to be the major Bush administration sin on pre-war intelligence? Here we see the effect in full flower without the least excuse for it.

Hwang Scandal Not Overblown

Posted by TMLutas

Glenn Reynolds is wrong when he says:

THIS SCANDAL over Korean cloning expert Dr. Hwang Woo Suk and his lab seems like pretty small beer to me. Yes, you don't want egg donations to be coerced, but the fact that junior researchers donated eggs doesn't demonstrate coercion to me. There's a long tradition of scientists participating in their own experiments, and I wonder if there isn't a trace of sexism in the notion that junior female researchers must have been coerced.

The worst of the scandal isn't that the junior female researchers must have been coerced. I could be persuaded either way. The problem is that when Dr. Hwang found out about what happened he did not tell the truth. He lied about what happened. When you lie about any aspect of your research protocols, there is a natural question what else you might have found embarrassing and inconvenient enough to lie about. Your research becomes suspect and must be approached with greater caution by others in the field.

Dr. Hwang rightly resigned over his lies. If he had told the truth, he might have escaped that. It's a pity that Glenn Reynolds can't see the real ethical problem.

November 25, 2005

Zap! Goes the Shower

Posted by TMLutas

God loves fools. Proof positive is that the people who wire their showers to provide their hot water haven't died out yet. That's just a Darwin award waiting to happen but apparently is common in Latin America.


November 23, 2005

Just Disappear!

Posted by TMLutas

Reading this story on blowing colored bubbles was really entertaining, heartwarming, and inspiring. It also pointed out something that I hadn't thought about for some time, the unique value of the ephemeral. I first thought about this upon reading the history of the sticky note and finding out how much of a revelation it was to work towards an adhesive that wasn't too sticky. Colored bubbles are a similar story.

The original inventor could figure out how to make colored bubbles but his bubbles would stain. On his own, the best he could figure out was something that was washable. The random chaos of bubble landings quickly demonstrated that washable just wasn't good enough for moms. Color had to disappear without effort. The solution created an entirely new class of dyes and colored bubbles turned out to be just the door opener in an enterprise that should be changing our aesthetic world starting in 2006 and for the rest of our lives.

We spend so much of our effort inventing things that will last longer, create lasting value, be a permanent monument to this or that. What if we've been missing an entire world of the ephemeral? What if looking at ordinary things and asking how to improve them by making them temporary is the great overlooked opportunity of our time?

Somethign to think about...

November 20, 2005

Intelligent Design - A Pox on Both Houses

Posted by TMLutas

Glenn Reynolds' recent linkagery and Michael Williams' criticism of Rev. Coyne's theology (Coyne being head of the Vatican Observatory) has led me back into the swamp of Intelligent Design.

In short, I think that ID is wrong. I think it's wrong as a matter of faith. I also think that the large majority of its detractors (Glenn Reynolds included but not Michael Williams) are doing science a disservice by replacing pseudo-science with a differing pseudo-science. The popular tack of saying that ID can't be tested will merely morph and refine ID down to irreducible complexity, something that can be tested. And then where are you? Back at square one with nothing accomplished but improving ID theory.

Now an improved ID theory that is testable would seem, to some, to better the current state of affairs but the problem is that it is not clear that the other side would accept that ID was testable under any circumstances. Several advocacy organizations have staked out the territory that ID can never be tested under any circumstances. This is pseudo-science because irreducible complexity self-evidently can be disproven for any particular system and thus, repeating across an entire creature's genome, you can demonstrate that a species does not require ID to have come into existence.

The scary part is that the reputable science organizations who should be saying a pox on both your houses to pseudo-science in whatever form it pops up in are simply not doing so. Oh, sure, individual scientists will concede in private that it's not helpful for false statements to be made on their own side but it's certainly not a flag they're going to stake their reputations on.

This leaves us in a very bad state.

November 19, 2005

The "Murtha" Resolution

Posted by TMLutas

I just got through a 500+ comment thread on the recent resolution by the House to immediately withdraw from Iraq. The vote was 400-4. The commentary would be hysterical if it wasn't so pathetically childish.

Here's the comment I put at the end of this monstrosity:

The vote isn’t important about the domestic effects. The vote is important because it sends a clear message that there are 4 votes for pullout and 400 votes against when push comes to shove.

The Senate voted for regular reports and shifting the burden over to Iraqis in 2006. Lots of people called that stupid because it sends a message that we’re going to leave people high and dry.

Murtha provided a nice excuse to the House leadership to create a counter-message. The resolution was stripped down to such a short length that there’s no excuse not to read it out on Al Jazeera in full as well as print it in full in every muslim newspaper along with the vote total, 400-4 against. This is a shot in the arm for any waverers who started getting nervous when they get the (inevitably garbled) message of the Senate vote.

Short, clear, simple, unspinnable by Al Queda and its mouthpieces. That was the goal of the resolution put up to vote and it accomplished its task. The domestic theater is just a sideshow. The foreign message is the main event.

November 17, 2005

The New Napoleons

Posted by TMLutas

Here's food for thought in a throwaway line:

"A vast army of young unemployed Muslims ... stands at the disposal of the would be Napoleons of radical Islam, and they have no choice but to lead it," wrote the Asia Times commentator known simply as "Spengler." "The outcome well might be a new Algerian war, fought on French soil."

Let's posit that the Napoleons of radical Islam take up their pre-ordained posts at the head of their new army. What happens then?

The war to restore the Caliphate is not going to be a short war, even by its most optimistic of proponents. Such dreams have died as dead as the dreams of a quick Civil War died at First Bull Run. The new "french troops" in the jihad army, are they good for suicide bombing? Are they faithful, pious muslims? Are they disciplined, trained? Are they ideologically compatible with the new Napoleons or their other troops? Are they assimilable and willing to take on the faiths and ideologies of their muslim brothers at arms?

After only a little thought, the answers come quickly, no, no, no, no, and no. This spells trouble for our new little corporals, especially the last. It is one thing to create tactical alliance with a Saddam. There is leadership on both sides of the table and agreements can be made with the other without having to sully your own ideological purity.

As the Hohenzollern's learned upon taking up the crown of Romania, when a people comes to you for leadership, you must become part of them or eventually you will be rejected by them. Hohenzollern fought Hohenzollern in WW I and the Romanian branch was denied the name thereafter. What is the price the new Napoleons would have to pay to reliably command the loyalty of their French cohorts?

There is tremendous risk for the Islamists in rushing to head the French banlieus in their smoldering revolt against France. I am astonished that nobody else comments on it.

French Names

Posted by TMLutas

A quick thought. If French employers are quick to toss resumes of non-french named candidates, this can't have been a mystery for long. So why not change your name? Why not name your children using french names? Why not adjust your surname to sound more french? Why haven't african immigrants been doing this?

Or have they?

Is there a subsection of african immigrants who have been changing their names? And have they reaped an economic advantage by doing so? To my knowledge nobody is asking. It's a strange thing that such obvious questions are simply not being asked.

November 13, 2005

The US has Bird Flu

Posted by TMLutas

Strategy Page, in an article about using H5N1 as a bioweapon, has the following chilling paragraph:

In a recent batch of smuggled birds tested by the Fish and Wildlife Service, about a third of the sample tested positive for H5N1. Some idea of the degree to which bird smuggling may pose a threat to public health, Britain’s first cases of avian flu occurred in birds brought into the country by a smuggler who had reportedly made over six million dollars in the illegal trade.

In short, we've got bird flu. There is no smuggler interdiction program that has a 100% compliance rate. We've got the stuff because two oceans aren't going to help when there's an active bird smuggling problem in your country.

November 09, 2005

Tomorrow's France

Posted by TMLutas

A thought occurs on next steps in France, not ours, but theirs. The current troubles seem bent on proving that the government cannot discharge its responsibilities to police the country and protect society. What if they turn to discrediting the government by attacking its electoral legitimacy. Given the limp response that seems to be well-underway, is it so far-fetched that at an electoral cycle coming near you, it won't be cars, but polling stations that are firebombed?

To pull off an election while under attack from insurgents, you have to have a very heavy police and military presence. If France is unwilling to provide this, if they choose appeasement, why wouldn't the "marginalized" strike to delegitimize the French state? Why wouldn't they disrupt elections? The whole edifice is rotten, they might say. Why not pull it all down? It makes no difference which faction of the political class divides the spoils for the next few years.

And then what?

Apache Tops 70%

Posted by TMLutas

Netcraft has, for the first time, measured Apache market share at over 70% of active domains. Apache had seemingly stalled, right below 70% for months. As far as actual market consequence, the importance is purely psychological. Both servers are free. The real money is in the ecosystems of programers that surround both web server platforms. The bigger the market share, the more likely skills in a particular platform will translate into a well paid, interesting job. Programmers centered around IIS, while by no means needing to head for the exits, may find that fewer people are choosing to join that community. If Microsoft doesn't watch out, that can have long term negative effects.

November 05, 2005

Danish Riots

Posted by TMLutas

I knew that Paris was burning over the deaths of two youths and that it overshadowed similar riots in Denmark. I never did find out what the Aarnhus riots were about until now. It seems like the muslims are continuing their push for CGI films of Mohammed, this time with mass violence instead of targeted assassination. I can see rioting over a lot of things but cartoons?

Jesus wept.

Changing Media Labels

Posted by TMLutas

James Pinkerton has a nice retrospective on Reagan but a throwaway line really grabbed me:

That was my problem, and that was the country's problem: we all spent too much time credulously absorbing the pessimism put out by the Main Stream Media, although back then it was just "The Media.

It's taken us 20 years to go from "The Media" to the "Main Stream Media". What will they be called 20 years from now? How will that affect us all?

It will certainly widen out the acceptable marketplace of ideas. Without universally acknowledged gatekeepers, we're going to have to deal with excluding the quacks some other way than just starving them of attention. After all, they could just start a blog...

We're also going to find ourselves more misunderstood in the world. The world is used to looking at a few outlets and saying that this is the US. They are quite likely to continue doing so long after such a simple approach ceases to work.

November 03, 2005

What Would the Descent of the West Look Like?

Posted by TMLutas

I'm reading Dalrymple's latest and was shocked at this section:

I noticed one day that his mood had greatly improved; he was communicative and almost jovial, which he had never been before. I asked him what had changed in his life for the better. He had made his decision, he said. Everything was resolved. He was not going to kill himself in an isolated way, as he had previously intended. Suicide was a mortal sin, according to the tenets of the Islamic faith. No, when he got out of prison he would not kill himself; he would make himself a martyr, and be rewarded eternally, by making himself into a bomb and taking as many enemies with him as he could.

Enemies, I asked; what enemies? How could he know that the people he killed at random would be enemies? They were enemies, he said, because they lived happily in our rotten and unjust society. Therefore, by definition, they were enemies—enemies in the objective sense, as Stalin might have put it—and hence were legitimate targets.

I asked him whether he thought that, in order to deter him from his course of action, it would be right for the state to threaten to kill his mother and his brothers and sisters—and to carry out this threat if he carried out his, in order to deter others like him.

The idea appalled him, not because it was yet another example of the wickedness of a Western democratic state, but because he could not conceive of such a state acting in this unprincipled way. In other words, he assumed a high degree of moral restraint on the part of the very organism that he wanted to attack and destroy.

Dalrymple has put his finger on a crucial weakness of the Islamist cause. The entire enterprise counts on a continuing moral restraint on the part of the West. It was a great shock to Al Queda that the US has launched the GWOT and not just lobbed a few missiles in "precision strikes" as in the past. But the tendency obviously remains to assume a great deal of moral restraint on our side (Dar al Harb).

Of course, as a practical matter, we have the technical capability to end things rather quickly. Even the emaciated militaries of W. Europe are quite capable of massive destructive acts far beyond anything that Islamists are capable of generating. The destruction of the entire world, for that matter, would be a targeting exercise doable over a long lunch in the US, and possibly Russia. If the target list were restrained to muslim nations, the UK, France, and the PRC would find themselves in that list.

Yet the Islamists universally ignore the danger that even a fraction of these technical capabilities will ever be used. They cannot imagine that the nice restrained kaffirs can ever revert back to the internecine warriors who for centuries would regularly make the streets run with blood and were the most accomplished and cruel butchers on the planet. They pretend that they can. In fact, they try to provoke overreaction in order to galvinize more muslims to their extremist variants of Islam. I sincerely believe that they do not understand the explosives that they are playing with.

I remember being in Bucharest, watching the images of 9/11 unfold, nightmarishly on the TV. A relative asked me what the US will do. I reacted instinctively, but truly. "The US will wake up, and the world isn't going to like it." I stand by those words to this day. The US has woken up, and the world hasn't liked it.

I have no such instinctive knowledge of France. I know enough to see the players. Given the right combination of factors, we could see an awakened France. The world would like it even less. An awakened France would not have the internal checks and balances that the US system has that have restrained our reaction more than most outsiders understand.

The next President will be elected in 2007. Chirac is out and Villepin is going to fight with Sarkozy for leadership of the Gaullists. If Villepin wins the internal struggle, France will have soggy (Gaullist) and soggier (Socialist) toast as its major party electoral choices.

This leaves Le Pen as the only alternative for those who believe that there should be no mini-3rd world autocracies in France. It would be better for Sarkozy to win and provide a major party option for law and order. The worst result would be for Villepin to not only win but purge Sarkozy and his faction, driving them into an alliance with Le Pen's National Front.

If the National Front makes the Presidential 2nd round again, its an earthquake that rolls across the entire EU. In the worst case, a Sarkozy fortified NF would have a good shot at winning.

I'm spinning the stuff of nightmares here. It's much more likely that the NF will continue its slow rise, or even fall if Sarkozy provides a more respectable outlet for the law and order impulse. I do wish I knew more about the internal politics of France. The French may soon start to matter in a way they haven't in decades.

November 02, 2005

Define "Mandatory"

Posted by TMLutas

My three children will be getting vaccinated against the papilloma viruses that can cause cervical cancer and take too many lives each year. I think that Glenn Reynolds is right to tout the vaccine as a worthy advance for human health and to chide those who decry it as sending a bad message on abstinence. After all, if a girl goes to the altar a virgin and remains faithful her entire life, she can still catch the virus from her cheating husband bringing it home. A big part of vaccines is not catching the consequences of somebody else's bad behavior.

And yet, I think that the promoters are going overboard:

"I would like to see it that if you don't have your HPV vaccine, you can't start high school," said Juan Carlos Felix of the University of Southern California, who leads the National Cervical Cancer Coalition's medical advisory panel.

That bothers me. Keeping people out of school because of a lack of shots is supposed to be for safety reasons, not as a punitive measure. The kind of contact that occurs during normal school activity is not going to lead to HPV transmittal. There is no safety argument for denying public schooling as a consequence of not taking this vaccine. Do we really want to expand the criteria for excluding people from an education beyond the safety of other children? If an explosion of home schooling makes this sort of punishment an impractical stick what else can be taken away? A right to drive? A right to drink? What's the natural stopping point?

I'm not sure that there is a natural stopping point. I wish there was. Ace of Spades writes about:

I didn't mention this in the original piece, but there is sometimes an undercurrent of punitive prudery running through these arguments. One can make a good-faith argument against the vaccine, but sometimes people do seem to be thinking, way back in their skulls, "Well, you're a dirty whore. A little cervical cancer'll learn ya."

Punitive prudery sounds pretty awful. In fact, it's probably a good way to get to Hell. But is it appropriately punished by forcing a child out of the public schools?

You can sidestep the question:

Further, when the debate is over the "mandatory" immunization, I assume "mandatory" has wiggle-room in it. I think parents can opt out of MMR vaccination; I assume they could do the same with this one. It might be a pain in the ass to do so, but, you know, if you've chosen to let a kid risk getting cervical cancer which could be prevented by a shot, I think the least you can do is fill out some f'n' paperwork.

but that's just ignoring that first quote. Some public health officials don't want there to be any wiggle room.

I wouldn't have a problem with a few more roadblocks to nonvaccination beyond a little paperwork. In my book, it wouldn't be out of line to track at least the girls and inform them of the issues and offer vaccination when they achieve their majority. I do have a problem with those girls achieving their majority with substandard education because mom and dad have funny beliefs.

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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