May 31, 2007
Easy Arms Race Fix
Putin cries out It wasn't us who initiated a new round of arms race. And it's true that the US has made a bunch of military moves in what Russian imperialists would consider their rightful zones of control. But it takes two to create an arms race. A simple lack of reaction will eventually get the message across that we really aren't trying to humiliate Russia.
When Russia upgrades their nukes or changes the deployment of their conventional forces, the US and the EU will have a choice, to react or not to react. The best confidence building mechanism is to simply smile and say to Russia that it's welcome to deploy systems that would overwhelm the proposed missile shield because that system is not aimed at them and our evaluation of its effectiveness is not altered no matter how Russia reconfigures its force structure so long as Russia remains committed to engaging with the world and maintains a non-imperialist policy.
So long as sane military and political actors rule in the Kremlin, a thin shield is adequate. And if the insane return to power, we'll have plenty of time to thicken that skin.
May 28, 2007
When Iraq started fielding its first troop post-Saddam troop formations things were pretty grim. Entire units melted away. Others had desertion rates of 75%. Many of those who stayed would not fight insurgents. Others wouldn't travel. Others were insurgent plants. But since then, things have measurably improved. You don't hear about entire units melting away anymore. You don't hear about massive desertion rates. There are units who will fight and die for Iraq and they grow more numerous as time goes on. But not all of those problems have gone away and the NY Times provides a most unhelpful spin with "As Allies Turn Foe, Disillusion Rises in Some G.I.’s". Instead of looking at the sorry mess as part of a time sequence, providing the context that people really need to translate events into proper news, what you get is a sort of time sequence in reverse. They were our allies and now are our enemies. By implication, they are monolithic, undifferentiated and only the brave captain's inexplicable optimism is holding things together.
The reality is that US soldiers in WW II didn't much care about Hitler in 1944. In fact, the consensus view on the question of combat motivation (which really only started to be seriously examined in WW II) is that soldiers fight for their comrades in arms most of all with little ideology being involved, though some have argued that latent ideology plays some role. So unless you are aware of this background, having either served yourself or applied yourself to study warfare, you end up with a completely distorted picture of a perfectly normal situation within the abnormal milieu that is warfare.
It would be disappointing save that I don't really expect that much from the New York Times.
May 25, 2007
Apres Ahmadinejad, le deluge
So, according to this, Iranian interest rates were set in two tiers. State banks were offering interest at 14% while private lenders were offering money at anything between 17% to 28%. Officially, inflation is at 15% in Iran, but is believed to actually be much higher. Based on the higher private rates, it's probably bouncing around the 20-23% range with a 5-8% risk premium. Rates under the actual inflation rate were for the well connected who wanted their bribes couched as sure ways to make money.
But now Ahmadinejad has taken Iranian interest rates and lowered them, King Canute style, to a 12% fixed rate for both state and private institutions. The result is predictable. Lending will collapse, capital will flee, the economy will tank. So why do such an ill conceived, desperate maneuver, straight out of the Nixon economic playbook? Unlike Nixon, Ahmadinejad already knows that this is a bad idea. He bucked his domestic economic experts to issue this decree who no doubt explained to him how painful this is going to be for the economy. There is no rational reason to do this unless you're at the end of your rope and you want to stave off the revolution for a few months longer.
Of course, that isn't what the mainstream media is talking about. It isn't even what the alternate press is talking about. No doubt I'm off my head and there is some cunning plan for creating large negative interest rates by political decree. I'd love to hear it. It's a pity that nobody's supplying any sane reason.
May 23, 2007
Forgot to close the garage door today and I just got a close encounter with a raccoon for the first time since we moved here. He was huge, in my garage, and just exploring (not interested in the garbage cans at all). I figured something was up when he knocked a crow bar down off a railing and the clatter startled me. A larger, more insolent beast I have not had guest in our house. But after a few hisses and a feint, he languorously picked his way out of the garage and went on to his next stop.
I need much more secure garbage cans.
May 21, 2007
Disk Warrior 4
Every once in awhile there's a disk failure that Apple's utilities just can't handle, or only fix partially. At times like that, Alsoft's Disk Warrior tends to do the trick. Fortunately (or unfortunately) by the time I get another round of disk problems OSX has iterated another version and I have to go whip out the credit card for another copy.
Good product, even if it takes forever to run.
Treating Copyright Like Real Estate
In 2001, the New York Times wrote about adverse possession the legal doctrine that you can become the owner of property by using it without permission (the period varies but in NY it is 10 years). This is an interesting feature of property law but why bring it up now? Mark Helprin, coincidentally also in the New York Times, wants to treat copyrighted works like real estate.
Under the misleading title "A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?" Helprin wants Congress to extend "the term of copyright. It last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far as it can throw. Would it not be just and fair for those who try to extract a living from the uncertain arts of writing and composing to be freed from a form of confiscation not visited upon anyone else? The answer is obvious, and transcends even justice. No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind." But the vast majority of copyrighted works cease to be actively defended soon after publication because they simply do not make much money and the cost is prohibitive to defend such rights absent the prospect of significant financial gain. In fact, the vast majority of the beneficiaries of perpetual copyright will be the very "perpetrators of sensationalist trash" that Helprin gives such backhanded compliments to.
So by all means provide copyright the same protections, taxes, and regulations as property ownership so as to eliminate "such an unfair exception". But how shall we assess our scribblers' taxes? Shall tax opinion pieces in the NY Times at 100x the rate this blog gets taxed because such pieces are distributed in an "attractive neighborhood"? You can have a lot of twisted fun with this but the bottom line remains the same. Perpetual copyrights are a very dumb idea, only made attractive by selectively making false comparisons with real property which do, one way or another, eventually return to the common planetary stock.
May 19, 2007
Conservation as Barbarism
As part of my tech reading I go through Good Morning Silicon Valley regularly. Today, I was jolted by this interview pull:
My first question was what is a Type III civilization, which quickly brought me to the Kardashev scale, a common measure of technological advancement where the metric is raw energy use. The more you use, the more civilized you are.
As soon as I got to Carl Sagan's contribution of fractional values (he calculated Earth as a 0.7 type) it struck me that in this framework, energy conservation is a priori defined as a retrograde action. The more energy you save, the less you use and thus the lower you drive your Kardashev scale value, thus conservation is barbarism. I think it's kind of catchy.
Russia's Caspian Interest
Russia has enormous oil and gas reserves. It's currently using that fact to keep the EU in check, forcing them to overlook Russia's various sins against democracy, economic liberty, and human rights because these governments couldn't survive sanctions against Russia and everybody knows it while Russia could route its exports around the EU and have enough revenue to survive. And where are the EU governments going to go for morally superior energy supplies, Saudi Arabia?
But Caspian Sea energy, were it to find a route to the EU without Russia getting its fingers in the pie, would upset this equation in a manner most threatening to Russia's current government (though not necessarily to Russia's detriment). Simply reading a map can inform you of Russia's likely strategies if you keep your eyes open and your mind in gear.
Russia has an interest in making the safest, most moral route for that energy westward to be through Russia's pipeline network. Russia has an interest in instability and odious governments arising in Georgia (or separatist region's thereof) and Azerbaijan. It has an interest in Turkey's romance with the EU ending in failure. Most intriguing of all, it has an interest in keeping the mullah regime staggering along in Iran.
It's the southern route that is most threatening to Russia because unlike the Caucuses, Iran is not historically "bandit country" where grievances are relatively easy to stir up and profound instability is just a few strategic tribal/clan murders away. Iran is historically its own creature, a regional and sometimes world class power that is difficult to disrupt. It's also the swiftest route for Caspian energy to hit the sea at which point it can go all over the world, including the EU. Russia's strategy of political impunity through energy dominance of Europe is history if a stable post-mullah regime emerges in Iran.
Is Russia reading the map the same way? Or do they see overriding interests that make them act differently? Just read the headlines and Russian moves cease to be puzzling, bearish orneriness and start fitting into a pattern pretty quickly.
Inspiration HT: Instapundit
May 18, 2007
So Wolfowitz resigned and now the tit for tat counterstrikes are starting. I think the whole thing is going to end up like the Plame scandal where the burning question of "who leaked" ended up removing significant protections for journalists at their own request. Hoist by one's own petard is what I see coming down the pike because for the first time in a long time, significant elements of the world elite have steadfastly pronounced that ethics actually matter and hounded out the head of a major institution on those grounds. Now how are they going to continue to enforce their code of omerta regarding everybody else's fun?
May 17, 2007
National Guard Readiness
I just got a pretty nasty political attack in the mail.
If true, whenever there was a disaster, governors would be calling on their neighboring state guards constantly. That doesn't seem to be happening. But the accusations get very specific
So who are we to believe, the National Guard or some political operative, even if he is the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee? Tom McMahon wins when Democrats win, whether he tells the truth or not. This time, it seems like he's picked not.
Four years, three hundred and fifty four days into a five year warranty and our tape drive fails. Five year warranties usually don't pay off. Today, this one did. But then again, the tape drive that we got replaced is completely inadequate for our capacity needs but by gum we got ourselves a new inadequate one inside of 4 hours.
May 16, 2007
Time is NOT on Iran's Side
The two major currents in Shia today are Grand Ayatollah Sistani's quietism and Iranian khomeinism. They are unalterably opposed to each other, one shunning direct political activity, the other wholeheartedly embracing it. This conflict, like many others had its lid kept on by Saddam's Baathist dictatorship. Iraqi quietism is probably the best vector we have to implement a firm kill as opposed to Tom Barnett's soft kill option (killing via connectivity), a scenario that I've never quite got with regards to Iran since the Iranians aren't stupid and know how to make themselves repulsive enough that they will always be able to limit connectivity sufficiently (through foreign disconnection campaigns) to maintain a grip on power.
Yet Barnett has a real point when he says:
Proliferation is irrelevant when the government of Iran is our friend. An illustration is that we fundamentally do not care that Japan could become a nuclear weapons power inside of a year and that they are too vital to the world economic system to ever become subject to a significant sanctions regime. Even the PRC (no friend of Japan there) does not dream of denying or rolling Japan back to a position where they do not have this breakout capacity.
Thus the solution to the Iranian problem is making the government of Iran our friend (at least to the level of friendship with France) no matter which faction is in power. But the US is singularly ill equipped to fight a religious conflict. We would tear apart our 1st amendment if we were to do such a thing. Here is where Grand Ayatollah Sistani comes in.
This is not the kind of fight where they hand out a scorecard and you know all the players. It is also a fight where the Heisenberg principle is in partial effect. Observing the participants too energetically affects the outcome, usually to our disadvantage. It's not out of line, however, to observe that your religious enemy is squashing pygmies for you because you have such mojo inside their own camp that they have to protect you to some extent. It's a rare public sign that they're losing the fight and the battlespace is being set for the firm kill.
May 12, 2007
Take the Training Wheels Off
It's a very old chestnut in the conservative arsenal to decry the 1970s gutting of US intelligence. The intelligence agency geldings that started then continued pretty much until 9/11 awoke all us to the horror of what we had collectively done, blinded our guardians (though some had been awake and warning of the coming catastrophe from the beginning). But all that's over. We have so recovered our national intelligence capabilities that, according to Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, we can divert resources to assessing climate change impacts.
The immediate threat of jihadis massacring soldiers in their bases and civilians in the malls has been resolved adequately. Our program of rebuilding our human intelligence capabilities needs no further resources. Our technological intelligence facilities need nothing more. The guys at the pointy end of the spear are overflowing with timely intelligence reports and pictures flowing flawlessly.
Were it not, the insertion of the DNI into a partisan debate over would be entirely inappropriate. The threat of global warming is not a threat for next week or even next year. An awful lot of americans have already died because of the gelding of our human intelligence and our self-imposed limitations on covert action. Collectively, we haven't descended into an orgy of "I told you so's" and finger pointing over those 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s decisions. We've given our intelligence agencies pass after pass, let them get by on lower standards, essentially let them ride with training wheels.
But with this foray into global warming, the training wheels should come off. We need to take this statement as a "coming out party" for our intelligence agencies, that they are comfortable with their core competencies and are ready to branch out to more long term and speculative work. That's fine, as far as it goes. If we truly have turned the corner, you won't find anybody happier than me. But if they haven't turned the corner, they haven't fixed the troubles that have led to so much death and misapplied action on the part of the US government, heads should roll for taking their eyes off the ball and taking on a politically popular but very long-term and uncertain threat.
May 10, 2007
Mass media is usually viewed as a connecting force but a recent article by Fred Thompson made me rethink the assumption to take the dynamic to a finer granularity. Sometimes media can be a disconnecting force.
Sarkozy’s victory over anti-American political forces was not just decisive; it was far more of a mandate than our own current congress claims. In his first post-election speech, he went out of his way to say, “I want to call out to our American friends to tell them that they can count on our friendship.”
I've written before about the very obvious problem I've seen about how many foreign observers mistake the visible US media for the american people instead of the ideological and cultural sectarian, coastal elites that they actually represent but it struck me that the problem may just be that mass media in general is not aligned with the ideas and aspirations of their national and local populations anywhere. Other than the occasional Sarkozy type breaking through their national media's bias on their election eve victory speeches how can ordinary people tell? Almost all information we currently get is filtered through these media, leaving a profound effect on our foreign dealings and even more so in countries where large constituencies actually care about foreign policy (in the US, this constituency usually hovers at or below 1% of the voting public).
Certainly blogs can be a canary in the coal mine, giving faces and voices to alternate viewpoints that don't make it into the international scene much no matter how popular they may actually be among the people. However, individual independent voices raise their own problems of determining how popular the alternative presented is. I love Iraq the Model but have no idea how popular their collective viewpoint actually is in Iraq.
A wikipedia scale effort could probably outline the factions and what they think is important but would not be able to give reliable figures on popularity. Partisanship would be too tempting, inflating "my side" and minimizing "the other guy". Polling could sort out the various faction strengths but it suffers from the defect of being expensive and also tending not to ask the same questions and not the same way, leading to "apples and oranges" comparison and more distortion masquerading as data.
All of that distortion weakens connectivity and collectively threaten to break it. The stress placed on the atlantic relationship between europe and america these days stems in part to media created/enhanced distortions on the political, economic, even cultural realms. Ultimately either the distorting/disconnecting forces are rendered irrelevant by being worked around or you get Great Schism like break which takes a very long time to mend. It's a challenge that's going to have to be met and overcome decisively but we just don't have the tools yet.
May 06, 2007
Signs for Winning Iraq
Irrespective of what your opinion is on the current state of affairs in Iraq, there should be no difference on what the signs are that we are on the road to victory. The ultimate end-state is that Iraq has built up a set of organizations that are sufficient to handle its political, economic, and security needs.
Let's take the easy ones first. Politically, they need their own constitution (check) with sufficient buy-in from the populace (referendum, check) and politicians that have a measure of legitimacy (elections, check) that can form a durable political class that does not resort to violence (needs work but better than two years ago). The sorting mechanism of time and political maneuvering will supply Iraq with a steady stream of better politicians and there's no way to advance more rapidly up the experience curve than 1 second per second.
Economically, the economy's booming so it is prima facie obvious that despite the crumbling infrastructure of Saddam and the blown up infrastructure of present security difficulties, something's going right. Aside from dividing up petroleum so that it does not curse the political system (which seems to be progressing smartly in the form of a new petroleum law) the major impediment to economic progress is security. This brings us to the most controversial of the signs, the security situation
Iraq's security situation is complex, to say the least. But any fair minded observer should agree that if the locals at any level (district, town, province or the entire country) can handle the security challenge, this is a sign of victory. Another sign would be if we are only needed as a tripwire force, such as we supply in Sinai, S. Korea, and lots of other places. In 4 entire provinces in the Shia dominated south and innumerable subdivisions there and elsewhere, we've turned over the security situation over to the locals. In 3 other provinces in the Kurdish north, their greatest security worry is foreign incursion from Iran and Turkey (but mostly Turkey). Those 3 provinces are nothing to worry about either.
Another sign of victory is where local institutions that had been hostile to us turn friendly (such as Anbar's tribes who are now fighting Al Queda instead of helping it and funneling in their own young men into the local police and army). A related sign is the creation of new institutions such as the new joint Sunni-Shia Bolster Dialah organization.
Is there a map out there of all the jurisdictions that have been turned over to local control? A time sequence of hand-overs nationwide would be a powerful objective indicator of the true security situation in Iraq. It's dumbfounding to me that there doesn't seem to be an easily accessible one around.
May 05, 2007
Letter to the Paper LVII
The new OPSEC regulations have caused a bit of controversy as they (as written) require every blog post to be approved. This has generated
People keep asserting that the locals can somehow simply change the regulation locally. There is a section titled "Supplementation" that seems to address this.Supplementation of this regulation and establishment of command or local forms are prohibited without prior approval from HQDA G–3/5/7 (DAMO–ODI) , 3200 Army Pentagon, Washington, DC 20310.
CounterColumn claims this is a Third Commandment issue but it's not. When you get out of the vehicle everybody can easily affect willful blindness on whether somebody, at some time, wore their seatbelt. Blog posts, while not forever, are much more permanent and every jerk of an officer can type in an URL and cut and paste the offending post to local storage in preparation for lasting persecution.
We can sort of, kind of, ignore this for a time but this is a major friction point between the old army and the new and compromise will not last forever.
May 04, 2007
Letter to the Paper LVI
Can't seem to post to this thread on Open Boook regarding futile care so I'll post it here.
Until the day comes when everybody can get all the healthcare they need, keeping someone alive without hope for improvement means somebody else who could have recovered will end up dead or unnecessarily crippled. Everybody's created in the image and likeness of God. Just because I don't know the names of those that will pay doesn't mean that it's ok to make them suffer because I want to precariously prolong my life on somebody else's dime with no hope for success.
May 03, 2007
Democrats Against Energy Independence
Democrats killed, on a party line vote a coal to liquid fuels mandate. Now I'm not too fond of government mandates, thinking that the government would do well to stay out of the question of what fuels other people should be buying. If they want to promote the use of certain fuels, they can buy it for their own use (something that the DoD is testing right now). Democrats are nearly uniformly in favor of alternative fuel mandates and plenty of them have provided lip service support for the technology. When they had an actual opportunity to vote for the mandate, they turned their back on it in favor of increased reliance on foreign energy.
Hypocrisy, your name is Democrat.
May 02, 2007
Prof. Howard Gardner is Hobbs professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education so it's really not appropriate to call the man a moron but one is left struggling for a better word when reading the tripe he wrote in Foreign Policy magazine who somehow thought that a paleolithic socialist screed was fit to be called one of "21 Solutions to Save the World".
Let's start with a fundamental truth. There is no actual standard, neither today nor 50 years ago called "enough wealth" in law. This is a fiction upon which the whole sad edifice of this piece is based on. While socialists have advocated such schemes their effects where they have been tried have been universally pernicious. The capable flee such regimes or slide into sloth once they have hit the societally permitted maximum and society loses the hard work and inventiveness that they otherwise would have contributed. A century ago, you might have some argument for trying it out, "just to see". But we've seen and the results all over the socialist bloc (both hard and soft) are disappointing, sometimes devastating.
Absent throughout this piece is any real examination of why wealth limitation for honestly earned income is a good thing. The closest he comes is a throwaway line that "it is as likely that there will be clear winners and losers, as that all will benefit from a market economy". This is simply not the case. You can certainly find societies where the rich rig the markets and it is impossible to get into the club because the politicians have been bought by the oligarchs. But this is not a market economy but rather one with fairly heavy state intervention in favor of the existing rich to the detriment of the hard working "would be rich" who are artificially kept in poverty.
Where such political market rigging is absent, inventiveness, hard work, and luck all play a role in a continual shrinking of the poor as they rise to the middle class and even become rich. Sloth, unimaginativeness, and luck also create downward mobility for the rich. Poor investments, a lack of diversification, simply not paying proper attention has led to the fall of many an obscenely rich family as fools and their money are soon parted.
This is a singularly poorly thought out essay and that it was written by such a prominent professor and published in such a prominent elite magazine makes me shudder. It is as if the elite were trying to talk itself out from the realization that socialism just doesn't work, that all the death and destruction of the marxian experiments meant nothing.
At heart there is some sort of unspoken moral case here, one that I see time and time again that concedes the moral ground to the socialist and (so far) only grudgingly recognizes capitalism for its practical effects at production efficiency. Regarding this situation, Rand was right that there must be a moral underpinning to capitalism for the system to be sustainable in the long term. I'm not a great fan of her particular take on how that morality should be but essays like this prove her point. Until people like Prof. Gardner are shamed not only for their practical economic illiteracy but also for their immorality this is just never going to end.
Shame on you, Prof. Gardner. You've not only written bad economics, but your position is inherently immoral. It is simply immoral to punish talent.
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.