January 29, 2006
Progress in Palestine
Although the folks at The Corner may not see it, Hamas just gave George Bush 50% of US demands that Hamas no longer have an armed wing and recognize Israel's right to exist. This confirms that Hamas can count past its fingers and toes and knows what "making payroll" means for a government. This is encouraging. As the old song says, "one down, one to go, another town and one more show".
Hamas can bluster and fuss all it wants. They can keep their dignity and never admit they are giving in. That doesn't change the fact that they are giving in. Democracy forces people to grow up. Let's hope that the process is fast and relatively painless. When the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is folded into the Palestinian military structure, we'll really have made progress on ending the good cop/bad cop game of palestinian irresponsibility.
At that point, funding cutoffs become realistic because violence against Israel is violence initiated by the State. The PA will be responsible because they will have all the guns. Hopefully, Hamas will never lose the ability to count and never forget that they have to meet payroll and are utterly unable to do so without major outside help, 40% of their budget coming from the West (US & EU).
A Just Way for Google to Engage the PRC
After reading this condemnation of the left, I guess I better put my marker down on the Google/PRC censorship brouhaha. I think that Google, on balance, should move into the PRC. There is nothing, at least as far as I can tell, that would prevent them from providing a penance for their sins. If Google is to remain committed to its "do no evil" ethos, it has to explicitly work to overcome the necessary compromise in censorship.
It could do so by providing the list of censored terms in real time. By providing the list, it both aids in working around the censorship and also gives a fascinating bit of information for the world to see, what is the PRC government afraid of its people learning? A lot of the list would be unsurprising. Tibet, Falun Gong, Taiwan independence, are almost guaranteed to be on the list. But I would be very surprised if the full list didn't also provide information on certain sensitive spots that virtually nobody knows the PRC is paranoid about. Who on the CCP purged list is also on the Internet censorship list?
There's no reason to just pick on the PRC. What search terms is Google blocking in France or Germany? Are there any blocks in the US? What are they? Engagement isn't worth a damn if you don't try to move the societal pile towards freedom. Boycotts aren't worth much either if you don't give the target a way out. Here's a way out. Here's a way to move the pile.
January 28, 2006
Laffering All the Way to the Bank
Every year, the CBO estimates how much money is going to come in. It changes those estimates based on changes in the tax law and will also research speculative estimates when legislation is under consideration. Donald Luskin reports that the 2003 capital gains tax cut turned the prior CBO estimate of $125B in revenue for 2004-2005 into one of $98B. The actual figure for capital gains tax revenue is $151B for those two years.
In other words, we have $26B in the US Treasury that we wouldn't have had had we kept prior tax policy. We gained actual money by lowering tax rates on "the rich".
This is a very good thing for the country. It also happens to vindicate standard conservative economic theory, specifically the Laffer Curve. I do wonder if Democrats will take note?
Letter to the Paper LI
Donklephant contends that there is no difference between Bush and Kerry Iran policy. I beg to differ in comments.
So what was GWB's last Iran policy? In public, it was non-interference with EU diplomatic efforts. Today, it's non-interference with Russian diplomatic efforts. The hidden caravan moves on despite all the noisy barking.
January 26, 2006
Hamas in Power
President Bush, short version, unless you want an aid cutoff, Hamas, merge your militia into the PA armed forces and change your charter so it doesn't mandate war.
The EU, not being unitary, is less organized but it seems to be lining up on a parallel course. If Hamas wishes to be able to pay government salaries or even continue its own charitable work, it needs Western aid. That aid will not be forthcoming without a renunciation of violence and a merger of the PA armed forces with the Hamas militia under the PA banner.
Egoism Is Not the Only Sin
TCS has an article talking down manifestos and romanticism. This is all well and good and cold water does need to be dumped on an absurdly large number of "head in the clouds" scatter brains. Unfortunately, he picks a poor example, the idea that the Internet has created a different enough experience that we've got something truly new going on. In fact the Internet is something new, something different in the form of orders of magnitude cheaper information storage and transmission. This radical change means that the information stream is significantly harder to reduce and filter than it is to just let pass. The larger that gap gets, the more behavior is going to go on that is useless or annoying to the powers that be but just isn't worth squashing. This is important because it creates a growing gap between contol regimes, reminiscent of the old medieval "free cities" that escaped feudal restrictions and eventually led to the downfall of the system.
Anyway, here's my comment.
With the Internet suite of technologies the cost (both monetary and nonmonetary) of transmitting and storing information has been lowered by orders of magnitude. Whenever you lop a few zeros of any cost, odd things happen. When the commodity being altered is as widespread and useful as information, the odd things that happen filter throughout society and have large impacts everywhere.
January 25, 2006
Alvaro Vargas Llosa critiques the too common (and too emotional) fears that Latin America is swinging back to leftist radicalism and a resurgence of communist revolutionary excess. The labels of left and right are too limiting, according to Mr Vargas Llosa. Instead, the left should be divided between herbivores and carnivores. The carnivores are Castro and Chavez, leaders who are not only leftist but toxic to civil society and political freedom. The herbivores, though no less wrong on economic theory are tolerable in their practice, not least of which is that they simply will not try to retain power once the people want a new choice. This latter brand of leftist seems to be what is currently on the rise.
The right has its herbivores and carnivores too. Pinochet was a carnivore, for instance, as were many of the military juntas of yore. But today's right is decidedly not dominated by carnivores. In fact, I can't think of one right-wing latin american carnivore in power or likely to get power in the future.
For Latin America to become a normal political zone, the left has to go through this process too. The herbivores must triumph and only then will the people be safe.
January 23, 2006
Got to Move Soon
I go through mood swings in my writing. Sometimes I want to write posts. Other times, it's comments that get my juices flowing. Unfortunately, my current arrangements don't allow for comments so when I get in a "comment" mood, I end up commenting in other people's conversations and not on my own blog's. I've got to change that.
Now if only I could afford it.
January 19, 2006
Will Pixar Buy Disney?
There are lots of stories out and about mooting a Disney purchase of Pixar Steve Jobs' other hugely successful company. What's not there is any sort of analysis of Steve Jobs' other company, NeXT and how that guppy swallowed the beached whale that was Apple at the time. If you look at the top executives of NeXT and Apple at the time of the merger and then took a snapshot of Apple's executives a short two years later, all the Apple people were gone, either replaced by outsiders or by their NeXT counterparts. In a very real sense, the corporation known as Apple is Apple in name and brand only. What is sitting at 1 Infinite Loop is NeXT in terms of corporate culture and philosophy which is all that really matters.
If Steve Jobs allows himself to be acquired again, is it really reasonable to think that he'll go through such a merger with anything less than the intention of proving that he can do the same fantastic trick all over again? Why would he tie himself down with a boss when he doesn't have to? Pixar can get a distribution deal anywhere, with anyone. It's got one of the best batting records of any studio in the world. So why sell? For a man with an ego the size of Steve Jobs there has to be more than money at stake. Taking Disney and turning it into a Pixar writ large would fit. Is there any other challenge that would justify the deal? I don't think so.
January 16, 2006
Best Blond Joke
Donald Sensing joins the Conga line with the best blond joke ever.
January 14, 2006
As I speculated earlier might happen Apple is going with Intel's next generation EFI. This quite likely means that buying a copy of Mac OS X 10.4 in 2007 will permit you to install that OS on non-Apple hardware. All that need happen is for Dell to implement their EFI systems for Vista the same way or a way compatible to Apple so that a little firmware adjustment will allow OS X to run.
There are some neat things that Apple's ported over from its previous firmware system OpenFirmware to EFI. Target Disk Mode is one of them. I can plug in a laptop to a desktop with a firewire cable, hold down the T key and turn it on. It boots as a hard disk. This makes it very easy to recover data on a heavily virused disk because the compromised OS doesn't run at all. It's just another new disk available to the admin system. I hope that Windows will be supporting that too when Microsoft gets around to releasing Vista.
January 13, 2006
Hard Kill v Soft Kill in Iran
An old conversation cycles through my head lately. Dr. Thomas Barnett, in email wrote repeatedly that the US should go after the soft-kill in Iran. He just did it again on his blog. Connect with them and drown the mullah's madness in outside interdependence and relationships that compete with loyalty to the regime. I reject the idea, feeling that it's just not going to work, not that it couldn't in some idealized world but that the real world craziness of the mullahs would make it impossible. I fear I didn't carry my argument off very well, certainly not well enough to convince.
President Ahmadinejad seems to be fixated on carrying my argument for me. He's playing a special mullah version of 'crazy Nixon'. Nixon ran heavy bombing raids against North Vietnam during the Paris Peace Conference according to later reports in order to convince the PRC that Nixon was somewhat unhinged and that the US shouldn't be pushed too hard. President Ahmadinejad seems to be setting up a scenario specifically tailored against letting "soft kill" work. In all conflicts, the enemy gets to have a vote and the Iranian government seems to have voted to protect itself from the soft kill.
Iran doesn't fear the hard kill because it perceives that nobody who has the force levels necessary to accomplish the goal is free to act. The soft kill is the major threat so the Iranian hardliners will make themselves as repulsive as necessary to make it politically impossible to strategically coopt them by economic and social contacts with the West combined with political engagement. Iranian policy for hard liner survival must be all connectivity shall be mediated connectivity with safe implicit villains filtering out the unwanted aspects of international contact. This is a real, practical motivation behind the apocalyptic statements of President Ahmadijenad.
This takes care of western contact but what is left is the Iraqi threat. Iraq's religious scholars have a consensus belief that Khomeinism is heresy. If they are successful at establishing a superior alternative in Iraq, they are a deep threat to the regime as they have influence with the regime's strongest supporters, the ultra-conservative minority that forms the backbone of what's left of regime support (which putters around 30%). These scholars are neutralized by Iranian influence in Iraqi movements like the SCIRI and the Sadrists. Placing assassins near enough to the scholars so that they can remove anybody who writes anti-Khomeinist fatwas as an object lesson to silence the others neutralizes the threat from Najaf and Karbala.
Iran's doing a very good job at defending on both the hard kill of invasion (fomenting trouble in Iraq to keep US forces occupied) and the soft kill of connectivity. No matter how open and inviting the West resolves to be, we must maintain a level of self-respect and dignity. Ahmadinejad will ensure that we must degrade ourselves further than we can bear to avoid the soft-kill's deadly embrace of reforming connectivity.
January 10, 2006
Small Effects Consistency
The crux of the global warming position is the assertion that the small amounts of human inputs into weather systems via pollution of various types are sufficient to measurably change the weather. It occurs to me that nobody ever really gives us the relevant % that human activity contributes to these systems. The reason to want to know that number is to examine proposed large human projects and see if their effects will trip the threshold. For instance, how much of the earth's surface can you cover with solar cells before you start affecting the weather? Will it be a warming or cooling effect? How much energy can you extract out of wind, tidal surge, or river current before you achieve the same altering effects?
Are renewable energy sources really the environmentalist free lunch that everybody makes them out to be. It would be painful to find out that we've ripped out our infrastructure to make room for vast "green" energy structures that had their own nasty climate forcing effects. It would not surprise me in the least to find near zero studies on the subject.
January 06, 2006
Securing Against EMP
All I could think of when I read this scare story regarding an EMP attack is "Why aren't people insuring themselves against this?" and I still can't imagine why not. It's not really that hard to set up a reasonable scheme. You talk to manufacturers and get them to license the production of certain replacement components in their current lines, the ones that would be vulnerable to EMP blast. Your license to produce only kicks in after there has been an EMP attack so their current supply chain has no problems with this new arrangement. Even if their equipment would survive, there's no way they could deal with the surge in demand at the time so they're not really losing anything.
You offer EMP insurance for reasonably low prices in the form of guaranteeing the existence of hardened production facilities to create the parts needed to replace EMP damaged components and granting the right to buy when an EMP blast goes off. You have a small factory that is created to produce very short runs of electronics quickly with stock sealed to prevent EMP damage. Under normal conditions, such a plant is uneconomic but if nobody is operating due to component failures, such a plant is worth pure gold in restarting factory lines or in replacing hard to find, discontinued parts.
Alternatively, you offer safe, secure storage for the necessary parts in bunkers designed to withstand any EMP blast and simply store these parts for your clients, something like a safety deposit box. It's a reasonable solution for larger institutions like UPS that might need thousands of truck computer replacements to get their fleet back up to snuff. A secondary line would be selling off that inventory of replacement parts for your clients when they change equipment models and no longer need the parts they had been storing.
Prime customers would be the very SCADA system managers that the authors fear would lead to cascading societal failure. However, if the system could be made efficient enough, paying insurance to maintain idle, expensive, hardened production capacity might be a fairly standard rider offered by all sorts of existing property insurance, such as renters, auto, and home insurances as well as part of extended warranty offers on lots of electronics.
January 05, 2006
A Small Thought On Inversion
Rates have recently started to flatten and even started to invert. This means that it costs less to borrow money for the use of the US government for 10 years than it does to borrow it for 3 months. Considering our mammoth debt, why would we issue *any* short term paper at all? Why not just issue only 10 year notes or longer, pushing up the long rate with extra supply and lowering it on the short end with lower supply?
It's something of a puzzle.
January 03, 2006
How to Make Things Not Go to Hell in Peacetime
StrategyPage has a very informative list of items showing how military preparadness will inevitably backslide once peace breaks out. I can see why they've been true in the past but I don't see why all of them have to be true in the future. Out of five items, I think that two are solvable.
@ Make sure all troops have their basic infantry skills down cold. This means making sure that, during Basic Training, the civilian recruits get that necessary mental adjustment needed to deal with stress and combat. But Basic tends to get watered down in peacetime, mainly for political reasons. Too many (or just any) injuries during training can get the media and politicians in an uproar. During the 1990s, there was a major flap over the problems female trainees had keeping up with males. It wasn’t fair. For the moment, everyone is getting pretty strenuous Basic, but that will change one peacetime returns.
Why not make it a requirement to calculate the likely increased battle deaths that will be incurred by reducing training in infantry skills? By making the blood for money tradeoffs explicit, backsliding can be minimized.
@ Let the troops fire their weapons a lot, with real ammo. Marksmanship is a perishable skill, so you have to find the time, and money (for the ammo and building enough firing ranges) to do this. Gunfire is unpopular in peacetime, no matter how important it is. In wartime, it’s easier to get this done. Which is why the U.S. Department of Defense has, since September 11, 2001, been buying three times as much rifle and machine-gun ammo for training. Come peacetime, the amount of ammo bought will shrink, as will all that damn (to the increasing number of civilians building homes near military bases) noise.There are two cures for this. First, privatize the training bullet budget by creating a trust that will make up for congressional shortfalls in peacetime. If you manage the trust well enough, the skinflints in Congress aren't going to have their usual deleterious effects. The second half of the cure (noise issues) can be mitigated or entirely eliminated by sound cancellation.
Missing the Freaking Point
Not all ventilators are created equal and that's the point that Steven E. Landsburg fails to understand in his otherwise on target fisking of Yucutan man's generally idiotic tear jerker post blaming George W Bush for a terminally ill cancer patient's ventilator support withdrawal.
Let's face facts. Not every poor person gets the charity care that we'd wish they had. There isn't enough money to provide 1st class medical care equivalent to what a member of Congress or a corporate titan gets. There just isn't enough money even in the most liberal of fantasy budgets.
So when you have X ventilator bed days available in your charity care budget, who do you give it to? Do you give two weeks of ICU to the poor guy who got caught in a building fire and has smoke inhallation and serious burns allowing him to recover and go back to supporting his family or do you give two more weeks to the terminal cancer patient who is waiting for her mom so that she can have her plug pulled and die in her mother's arms?
Did her brother offer a spare room and rent a ventilator for $80 a day? Let's say they did an ambulance transport (~$500), bought a hospital bed (~$700), and got somebody from the neighborhood to stay with her (~$700/wk). If mom took two extra weeks we're talking about under $4000 in expenses here. Her family could have raised that. Her family could have financed that. They didn't care enough to set back their own financial plans. (In reality, you'd shop for a cheaper bed or rent it and you'd pay more for skilled nursing visits but I can't find the appropriate numbers).
Hospital beds are an expensive way to wait to die. ICU beds are ~$1800 a day. That's the hospital overhead with all that equipment, all that specialized training waiting to resuscitate you at the drop of a hat. A two week wait for mom to show up would have pulled ~$25,000 from that hospital's charity care budget.
Tirhas Habtegiris' family decided that if society wasn't willing to pay ~$25k, they weren't personally willing to pay ~$4k and spend the time and effort to keep Tirhas alive. The reality is that Tirhas was failed. But it was her family that failed her. Her touching wish didn't merit her family's consideration. Why should society have granted her wish at 6 times the cost? And if her mom would have taken more than two weeks to arrive, the cost differential would have widened, not narrowed.
Providing charity care is something that a decent society does. You can do it publicly, privately, or using a mix of the two systems. It's always rationed though and the bottom of the list for that sort of care is, and should be, very expensive care for the terminally ill that has no medical benefit. The hospital, no doubt, would have been willing to move her home, helped out with providing a ventilator, maybe even educated a family member how to tend to the machine so Tirhas could have her wish. All that could have been done for less net expense. Hospitals are willing to do all sorts of unorthodox things if they're asked. Instead, Tirhas stayed in ICU and she died of it.
It's a real shame.
I'm speaking as someone who has gone through the process, including paying the bills afterwards (in my case the relative lived and continues to live). This sad story could have ended differently. The system provided a way out. The family either didn't choose to take it or the hospital didn't educate them that there was an alternative. Either way, the fault is not George W Bush's.
January 02, 2006
From the Google Cache
I'm currently in a bit of a spat over at City Comforts regarding the warrantless foreign taps where 1 end is inside the US. In the process of setting up my current reply, I find that something that I relied upon is in danger of dying from bit rot. Thus I'm going to rescue it and put it up on my own blog.
I happen to disagree with Jim Rockford on the nature of the threat. I'm pretty sure that if we were to undergo an order of magnitude higher casualties than 9/11 (30k instead of 3k), we'd have enough anger to roll through constitutional amendments that would gut current protections. We wouldn't have to go all the way up to losing an entire city and million plus casualties. We'd lose the Constitution well before then. The rot has set in enough that we've already endangered political free speech with campaign finance reform and that's just over instances of buying policy outcomes. When lives are at stake, tens of thousands of funerals are already being held, the paper protection of the Constitution won't last long and it'll be overthrown in a way that can't be lawyered away, by amendment and with teeth in it that can't be gotten around.
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.