May 21, 2009

The Big MOSS rework I

Unlike the rest of the non-retail country, I'm redoing our Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS) this weekend. It's fun, needle under your fingernail fun.

Good times.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:52 PM

December 08, 2007

OpenGroupware VM

I'm updating my previous foray into opengroupware as it's maturing as a product and I'm going to want to be able to open up a vm bottle with this as I please in the future. Since I have access to a VMware licensed server right now, I figure I'll do it in that environment but eventually, I'll probably replicate this using Xen.

Ok, on to the steps
1. download CentOS 5 as a DVD .iso file.
2. create vmware image, mark it using Redhat 5
3. tell the vm machine to use the .iso file you downloaded in step one as its CD-ROM drive
4. install centOS (KDE desktop, server, and server GUI options)
5. boot and log in as root
6. load vmware tools:
6a. yum install gcc kernel-devel
6b. uname -r
6c. rpm -q kernel-devel
6d. the two versions should match, if not, make them:
yum upgrade -y kernel kernel-devel
6e. login and from the VM menu, select Install VMware tools
6f. mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/
6g. install the rpm
6h. If you're getting a lot of VFS errors, just reboot otherwise unmount the image
6j. logout and log back in
At this point you should be able to start xwindows and should no longer have the "vmwaretools not installed" error message annoying you. If not, try looking here.
7. yum install postgresql-server
8. figure out what version of OpenGroupware you want to install
9. cd to /etc/yum.repos.d
10. vi ogo.repos
11. add three repo entries editing the strings for the OGO version you want:
11a. [ogo-releases] release builds
11b. [sope-releases]
name=Sope 4.4 Release
11c. [thirdparty-releases]
name=Third Party Support Packages for OpenGroupware
12. rpm --import
13. yum install ogo-meta
14. chkconfig --level 2345 postgresql on
15. service postgresql start
Warning: this section fixes a temporary problem with Apache 2.2. If you are using a different Apache version, you should skip this section
16. lynx
17. download modified
18. gunzip
19. copy out the old one "just in case" and move your new one to /usr/lib/httpd/modules
-- end skippable section --
20. service httpd restart
21. In /var/lib/pgsql/data/postgresql.conf set 'tcpip_socket = true'
22. In /var/lib/pgsql/data/pg_hba.conf appand the following lines and comment out
all other lines:
host all all trust
local all all trust
23. su - root
su - postgres
createdb OGo
createuser -A -D OGo
pushd /usr/local/lib/
psql -h localhost OGo OGo
24. Inside the psql terminal
\i Resources/pg-build-schema.psql
25. exit (get back to root)
26. yum install libobjc (CentOS5 apparently doesn't have it and the next command won't work without it)
27. Defaults write NSGlobalDomain LSConnectionDictionary '{databaseName = OGo; hostName = localhost; password = ""; port = 5432; userName = OGo}'
28. Defaults write NSGlobalDomain LSAdaptor PostgreSQL
29. service ogo-nhsd start
30. service ogo-webui start
31. service ogo-xmlrpcd start
32. service ogo-zidestore start
33. map the image port 20000 to the host adaptor port you want to use
You should be done

Posted by TMLutas at 11:45 PM

December 19, 2005

Remembering Echelon

In all the brouhaha over the exposure of the secret NSA intercept program for those connected to Al Queda, one thing strikes me as utterly separated from reality. Nobody, pro or contra, is recognizing that all these conversations were likely intercepted already. The ECHELON program is a longstanding effort to, essentially, hoover up every international conversation, everywhere and run them through computer threat analysis, forwarding a tiny percentage of them for human analysis.

Essentially, what the executive order did was change the rules for which intercepted conversations were subject to human scrutiny. It's absurd to think that already intercepted conversations cannot be listened to by agents of the executive absent a warrant. What is going on is not a new search but rather analysis of an already ongoing search, a search that's been continually conducted in the world for decades.

So if this search was OK during the Clinton administration (ECHELON far predates it) during peacetime, the exigencies of wartime mean we should blind our existing eyes? What kind of nonsense is this?

Welcome Instapundit readers:

I have a followup to this article here on how this could have been derailed responsibly if, in fact, the program were actually unconstitutional.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:11 AM

October 13, 2005

Open Source Gets a Process

One of the weaknesses that has traditionally dogged the OSS field is that there are a number of important but nontechnical issues in developing software. These have tended to lag and the lags bring down the whole enterprise. Really good fonts is one example. Another example is in development process. It really is so bad that I played with the idea of reimplementing a really good one. Finally, software development process has gotten a major corporate boost. IBM is donating one of the best process systems out there, the Rational Unified Process to the OSS community. That's going to drive software development professionalism to greater heights across a wide variety of projects. The funny thing is, this is the very process that I had seriously considered reimplementing.

Kudos to IBM, Capgemini, BearingPoint, Covansys, Number Six Software, Ivar Jacobson International, Armstrong Process Group, Ambysoft, Object Mentor and Bedarra Research Labs, as well as Unisys, NTT Comware, Sogeti, Wind River, Jaczone and Object Management Group who are going forward with this project.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:22 AM

October 04, 2005

Donald Sensing's Missing the Changes

Donald Sensing thinks that GWB is Carteresque in that he's full of ideas but none of those ideas are long term or last much beyond January 2009.


Here's what I left in comments:

President Bush's most lasting legacy will be in very unsexy, nuts and bolts areas of the government. You have to go looking for this sort of thing and the news media isn't helping. Here's a few far reaching changes:

1. We now have an education system that actually tests for competence in a way that parents can use to judge spending effectiveness
2. We are committed to eliminating treatment favoritism in old age medical care. We used to subsidize expensive surgery and not subsidize cheap pills. Now we're moving to an even-handed system.
3. We're committed to forcing the medical profession to get out of the 1980s with their technology usage and, over the next 8 years (it's a ten year plan started 2 years ago) squeeze out enormous costs by reducing paperwork through automation
4. We're completely redoing the DoD personnel system in a way that will very much reduce the social pain of military life creating better soldiers in the bargain.
5. In fact, we're redoing the entire DoD in a way that hasn't been done since its creation (see Tom Barnett's recent Esquire interview with Rumsfeld)
6. The Government Accounting Office is now the Government Accountability Office and is starting to act like it.

There are others but I'm saving it for a blog post

All throughout the government, throughout every government, in fact, the big problem has been that feedback loops are either nonexistent or seriously distorted, not fulfilling their proper role of moderating bad behavior and encouraging good. In fact, what feedback loops exist are more often just the reverse, encouraging the most perverse sort of behavior. "If you solve a problem, you lose your job" creates an ethic of making sure that no problems are ever actually solved. The proposition that this can ever be fully fixed is a central tenet of communism and the proposition that this can never be fully fixed is a central tenet of capitalism as well as conservatism.

This does not mean that all governments are doomed to the same level of incompetence. George W Bush is our first MBA president and all jokes aside about his intellectual skills, the man is working hard at creating a government system that is much better at imitating free market feedback loops than it was when he arrived in office. Those reforms are not sexy, they're not generally covered by the media, but they'll be paying benefits for the american people for decades out in the future.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:20 AM

March 20, 2005

Nitpicking Extravaganza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by TMLutas at 06:46 PM

March 19, 2005

Notes and Asides

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

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

Posted by TMLutas at 08:07 AM

March 09, 2005

Forcing the Moment

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

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

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

Posted by TMLutas at 08:05 AM

March 07, 2005

Marxism, Undead

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

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

Posted by TMLutas at 10:12 AM

February 16, 2005

Poor Scientific Review

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

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

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

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

Posted by TMLutas at 09:22 AM

Bulky Law Review Articles

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

Posted by TMLutas at 03:04 AM

February 03, 2005

SOTU 2005: Overview

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

Posted by TMLutas at 07:32 AM

January 26, 2005

Prediction Border Conditions

Thomas Barnett is getting bombarded with the more evidence crowd:

I'm still not convinced! Have you taken into account inflation and the Hubbert's Curve effect on crude oil prices in your calculations? Because if you could just get those numbers right, I'm pretty sure I'd be emotionally invested in your vision of the future! No, really! Just get me those two numbers!

I'll give highly qualified backing to the numbers people on this one. Past a certain point, numbers do change the validity of even grand strategy. Here's an example. Dr. Barnett has predicted that the PRC will be heading to the Middle East in 20 years. If launch costs drop from $10k-$40k per kg down to $100/kg, the PRC doesn't have to go to the ME because enough of the world will be beaming power down from orbital solar stations that they won't have to. Oil will have a new, very clean, energy competitor that is likely to be priced lower than most current producers. The huge new supply overhang will mean that oil will be available to the third world for as long as they need it as the rich will jump to hydrogen very fast.

So who could drop launch costs that much? These guys are predicting launch in 2018, 13 years from now, of a structure that could do exactly that, a space elevator.

The question is what are the numeric border conditions that would knock your predicted future into nonviability? How likely are we to get to those numeric conditions? In Dr. Barnett's case, I think we're talking about pretty wide variances and pretty unlikely outcomes. But then again, you never know.

Until 1991, space elevators were creatures of science fiction and engineers calculated that only mythical "unobtanium" could build the things. One scientist in Japan finds Single Walled Carbon NanoTubes (SWCNT) and we're off to the races with lots of previous eminently sensible predictions becoming very unrealistic in the blink of an eye. Disruptive, transformative innovation is becoming more common so predictions without border conditions are becoming less valuable, especially long term predictions.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:31 PM

January 18, 2005

Drug Approvals: Two Ways to Kill

I really wish whoever does lobbying for pharmaceutical firms would figure up a death clock, or rather two death clocks, to accurately illustrate how the current drug approval system tilts toward non-approval. You could tote up all the saved lives as a consequence of drugs approved between 2004-2005 and project back to 2003, figuring out how many people died in 2003 because our drug approval process can't have two years shaved off of it. Then you could provide a much easier to find total of how many people died in 2003 because of drugs that shouldn't have been approved getting on the market.

I suspect that there is a huge disparity between the two figures and that the former is much larger than the latter. In a just, humane society, they'd be roughly in balance and you'd work to drive down the overall figures. Because it's hard to figure blame when a drug is not approved, we have an institutional bias to withhold drugs from the market, creating excess deaths that could have been avoided.

HT: Real Clear Politics and Russell Roberts

Posted by TMLutas at 05:07 PM

January 17, 2005

When Facts Aren't

One of the great baseline facts of the Israel/Palestine problem has been the demographic reality that the jews aren't having babies and the arabs are. This has underlied the foreign policies of all involved nations, the policy prescriptions of virtually every commentator and analyst of all political stripes. The switchover of the western part of the old british mandate of Palestine from majority jewish to majority arab population was going to bring about huge changes that everybody was feverishly planning for.

Now we find that there may not be any demographic switchover at all. In Israel proper, including Jerusalem, Israel is 80% jewish. If you throw in the occupied territories, it's 59.5% jewish, a drop from 64.1% in 1967.

In a perfect world, you could go to a computer and find a list of predictions, policies, and commentary that depended on the double counters, the falsified population growth rates, and correct it all. Unfortunately, none of that is possible because predictions, analysis, and commentary as published today are all black box entities. None of their internals are visible and easily trackable.

This sort of opacity is very familiar to computer people. The same sort of mystery attended old style software. You knew what came out but you had no idea what was going on internally and you had no ability to adjust the software to take account of changing realities without very expensive rewrites.

If we can create some sort of standard way to represent public policy internals, those internals can be categorized and you can quickly and easily identify exactly what policy documents have to be adjusted, who was hoodwinked most heavily among the commentariat, and how to avoid the problem of false facts taking on a life of their own.

Now if we can only figure out how to propagate tools that will allow us to do that sort of thing easily...

Posted by TMLutas at 11:34 AM

December 28, 2004

Liberal Bewilderment

Juan Cole detects that we're winning in the fight against bin Laden:

It appears that Bin Laden is so weak now that he is forced to play to his own base, of Saudi and Salafi jihadists, some of whom are volunteer guerrillas in Iraq. They are the only ones in Iraq who would be happy to see this particular videotape.

The only way Bin Laden could profit from this intervention in the least would be if a civil war between Sunni Arabs and Shiites really did break out in Iraq, and if the beleaguered Sunnis went over to al-Qaeda in large numbers. Since the Sunni Arabs are a minority of 20%, they and he would still lose, but for Bin Laden, who is now a refugee and without any strong political base outside a few provinces of Saudi Arabia, to pick up 5 million Iraqi Sunni Arabs, would be a major political victory. His recent videotape calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government suggests that he might hope to use any increased popularity in Anbar province as a springboard for renewed attacks on Saudi Arabia, especially on its petroleum sector.

It is a desperate, crackpot hope. The narrow, sectarian and politically unskilfull character of this speech is the most hopeful sign I have seen in some time that al-Qaeda is a doomed political force, a mere Baader-Meinhof Gang or Red Army Faction with greater geographical reach.

It's not a bad analysis as far as it goes but it sits there screaming the question what caused this weakness? Prof. Cole's description of US action clearly shows how we couldn't be the cause of it so what happened? This is the face of modern liberal bewilderment. You critique US action time and again, showing how we're constantly on the verge of a new Vietnam, Tet, Somalia, Beirut, or other ignominious failure and then... somehow... there is a magic step and the US wins again. It has to be very puzzling, especially for someone like Prof. Cole who can read the relevant languages in the ME.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:06 PM

November 22, 2004

Check Your Assumptions

The Ergosphere has a long energy article out. It's interesting, as far as it goes but the entire edifice rests on a few questions of geostrategy

Suppose that the US decided to take the following as national security issues:

  • Dependence on foreign (particularly middle-east) oil and vulnerability to price shocks.

  • Decreasing availability of N. American natural gas and price spikes.

  • Air pollution and its consequent health effects.

  • Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

The problem with all this is not in the copiously documented plans springing from these assumptions but from the foundational assumptions themselves.

We have dependence on a lot of things that come from other places. A mutually interdependent trading system sees to that. If we were to view all of these dependencies as a national security issue, we might as well start planning the end of the Republic because the only way to secure ourselves (under that false idea of national security issues) is to take over the world. No thanks.

I was going to do a point by point analysis but once you see that a plan is built on a false idea of what is in our national security interest, there is no salvaging it. There is no point. There's some good facts sprinkled in there and the analysis is spot on, but it's spot on for some parallel universe where international specialization and trade is not win-win and we want to beggar other nations, not grow rich and secure together. That's not the kind of world that I would want to live in.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:43 PM

November 19, 2004

Poorly Grounded

Kevin Drum is complaining that many of the 11 referendums banning gay marriage that passed this election did more than strictly ban the issuance of marriage licenses. He's only noticing this now and surmises that a lot of other people are unaware as well.

This is exactly the sort of thing that ticks me off about the entire marriage debate. Is it too much to ask that people actually have readily available a tool that describes actual civil marriage, hopefully with commentary and history so normal human beings can actually understand why the law is what it is? I've wrote my own share about gay marriage (and my traffic dips every time I do it to excess) but whatever your position, I hope we can all agree that this sort of ignorance is embarrassing. Left, right, or moderate, we should know better, or at least the advocates should know better. I'm growing in the conviction that we're all blind men feeling the elephant.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:58 PM

October 20, 2004

War Polling Implications

Putting aside the presidential race for a moment a new poll has huge implications on the War On Terror (WOT).

Where the poll got interesting was on the war. 69% said the war on terror was a real war as opposed to a figurative war. The Republicans were most likely to feel that way at 87% and the Democrats least likely to feel that way at 56%. Independents were at 65%. Interestingly, this quesiton really captures the 9/11 mentality, I think. When asked if the war was being waged too aggressively, not aggressively enough, or just right, surprisingly 32% said not aggressively enough with 35% saying just right. Only 25% thought it was being waged too aggressively. When asked which candidate would "more aggressively fight the war on terrorism," 61% said George Bush and only 25% said John Kerry.

The question in the poll that stood out was "do you think it is more important to win the war in Iraq or end the war in Iraq?" 46% said win and 46% said end. Republicans at 69% said win and only 23% of Democrats said win. Among Independents, 46% said win and 45% said end.

That approximately 7 in 10 voters feel that we are in a real war, a war that is non-westphalian, is incredibly disruptive to the current international system which is based on westphalian principles and which can not survive in a non-westphalian world. This poll means that a durable majority in the country that supplies nearly 50% of the world's military force essentially believes that all the international applecarts are going to have to get turned over. Furthermore, this is one of the two issues that they feel are most important for the country to face today. This is an electoral tiger that neither candidate is entirely comfortable riding though President Bush comes a lot closer to popular sentiment than Senator Kerry.

What I truly wish would be that this section of the poll gets expanded out and run internationally. The expansion would ideally detail both the consequences of WOT being a real war and answer the question of who started and who can stop this war.

Did the WOT start when George W Bush proclaimed it or did prior Al Queda attacks start it? If a new president stops fighting the WOT as a war and takes a law enforcement approach, does that mean that the war is over or do underlying facts have to change in our enemies before the war can be over? What has to happen, who has to give up for the war to end? And, most provocatively, do the people know and understand our enemies' war aims, what we would have to do for them to declare victory?

I suspect that if the poll were taken among the political elite and among the general population, a huge, yawning chasm would appear in their responses. In this bifurcated nation between the people and the powerful, it would be President Bush on the side of the people, with the powerful's champion being Senator Kerry.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:18 AM

October 18, 2004

Pessimist Propaganda on Hydrogen

Nature has picked up a paper(pdf) by the Oswald brothers published in the journal Accountancy.

I can't recall the blog I first read describing the paper but it looked fishy enough to write and protest that the numbers weren't right. Jim Oswald did respond and his response made it very clear that whatever they were talking about, they were not talking about the hydrogen economy as most people conceive of it.

1. The calculations are for hydrogen burned in internal combustion engines (ICE), not hydrogen fuel cells. Virtually everybody views the hydrogen economy as a fuel cell economy with hydrogen run through the cells to directly create electricity, not burnt in cylinders that drive pistons, that turn a wheel or drive a generator.

2. Like all other ICE type motors, hydrogen ICE are limited in efficiency as they are Carnot heat engines. At realistic temperatures, fuel cells can have 3x the efficiency of ICE. This means that even with hydrocarbon created hydrogen, you lower pollution with hydrogen as everybody except the Oswalds in this scenario look at it.

3. The Oswalds deliberately and artificially narrowed the available sources of hydrogen to nonpolluting sources that are commercially viable today with no technological progress allowed for, nor any thought to how rising petroleum costs would make other sources of hydrogen become viable as energy prices rose.

4. Energy is lost in transportation with the shorter you go, the less you lose. Hydrogen is likely, on average (and certainly for the US & UK) to be produced closer to home than our current oil supplies. This effect is unaccounted for.

When all the constraints and fudges are made explicit and clear, the Oswalds' paper is a somewhat useful teaching tool to drive home the point that a totally clean hydrogen economy is going to be hard work. But that's not how Nature interpreted it and it's not how most people will read it who know nothing but the buzzwords of a "hydrogen economy". While the Oswalds are honest enough to freely admit their constraints when asked, they're not doing their duty to the truth in bludgeoning even science journalists to get the story right about the narrowness of their actual claims.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:04 PM

October 16, 2004

Hunting Sullivans

Clayton Cramer's asking why Instapundit's characterizing Kerry's & Bush's positions on stem cells as the same. It's pretty obvious that he's baiting Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan's reading Kerry's position on gay marriage as it was meant to be read by homosexuals, as a wink and nod understanding that he'll go along with the judges and push things quietly forward. But Instapundit's calling Sullivan out on the issue, putting Sullivan in a bind. If he admits that Kerry's lying about his position, he opens the door to the question of what else is Kerry lying about. That would end up being a very long list so AS would rather we just not go there and let him vote for Kerry in peace. Instapundit's having none of it though and he gets enough readers that he can't be ignored forever.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:01 AM

October 12, 2004

Global Capital Shortage

In comments in the recent thread An Interview With Dr. Barnett the subject of capital shortages came up and it's gotten to the point where I think it's better broken out as an article in itself.

First of all, there is no such thing as a capital shortage apart from a specific project. Capital is a particular good that has a supply. In a perfect market, you list all projects in order of ROI, you allocate your capital until you run out and you find your market clearing level of capital using economic projects. If capital supply shrinks, you need a higher ROI to get funding at the new market clearing point. All projects that do not meet ROI requirements see a "capital shortage" but it's just an artifact of their not being profitable enough to make the cut.

When you have a project like shrinking the Gap in order to avoid more 9/11s (and worse, the loss of entire cities) things change. The ROI of not losing Chicago is huge but the connections between that and a water project in Afghanistan are too diffuse to meaningfully assign even though driving average income in Afghanistan above the $3k per year level would likely take that country out of the Gap and could prevent just such a city loss 20 years from now.

The problem is that taking one nation or another from the Gap doesn't really solve the problem. It just makes monitoring the rest of the Gap nations easier as you have less and less territory and population to cover. Instead of using Sudan as a headquarters, Al Queda moved to Afghanistan. Further moves are likely from Gap nation to Gap nation. So you have to tote up the price tag of doing all of them. Instead of a global list, you make up a list of individual Gap nations and projects that would economically benefit them (again in ROI order but this time by country). You draw the line at how many projects would have to go forward to raise incomes to the $3k level at which point you start to see significant middle class formation and internal civic society strength reaching the point where a critical mass wants into the Core and has the resources to get that wish into national public policy.

Once you create those lists and tote up the total costs, you see that there just isn't enough money out there to elevate all these Gap nations out of the economic danger zone, not enough troops to remake the political apparat in the nations who don't want to get with the program and certainly not enough willpower in the international community to starve Core economies of more profitable uses of capital locally in order to ship money to Gap nations so they can graduate to the Core.

We end up having to take what money is available and concentrate them on high value targets, such as the axis of evil countries where you have the worst of the security risks grouped. You end up driving the terrorists from base to base that way but doing that reduces their ability to attack in the Core while you shrink the Gap as fast as you can.

That's not the best strategy there is out there. It's the best one we've got as long as a capital shortage constrains our action in bringing all nations in the Gap into the Core.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:04 PM

September 22, 2004

The Forced Socialization of Compassion Trap

I accused Russ Nelson of being too harsh in his (rightful) condemnation of the present US system of schooling. With his latest missive on the subject, I find I might have gotten him a bit wrong. He's not necessarily thinking too harshly. Instead, he's thinking too small. The results are the same, an angry economist who isn't getting his program adopted.

At the level he talks about, schooling is no longer properly considered a separate subject but merely a unit in a larger bit of socialism, the forced socialization of compassion. Once you have swallowed the (false) idea that government can do compassion by force better than private individuals can voluntarily, government takes the compassion business over and immediately begins to extend its tentacles into greater and greater areas of life in order to ensure that the objects of compassion are as few as possible. One of the ways that this manifests itself is in an inevitable slide into mandatory schooling so that children do not grow up to be low skilled wretches who forever beg for handouts.

If you do not fix the forced socialization of compassion, you will always fail in attempts to negate mandatory schooling. All that the enemies of better schools need to do to destroy any reasonable coalition to implement your program is to come up with higher social spending bills that will "inevitably" follow the "reckless" removal of mandatory school rules. If you make the figures high enough, you will fracture off the immoral green eyeshade types who fetishize fiscal efficiency over all other considerations. There are enough of these to make it practically impossible to implement any program of voluntary schooling as a replacement of mandatory schooling.

If one doesn't care about actually getting their ideas embedded into law this sort of objection doesn't really matter. For those of us who do care, we have to navigate the waters of the politically possible and create ladders of legislative and informational proposals where each step taken prepares society for the next step on the journey to the final destination.

School reform should be brought about in a way that it will make the ultimate end of compulsion schooling more and more feasible when society finally decides that the forced socialization of compassion was a fundamental mistake. What it should not do is to present the situation in such a way that we're trapped in a vicious, chicken and egg situation. The forced socialization of compassion is a huge meta-issue. It impacts government provision of all sorts of services, not just education. Children shouldn't have to wait in poor government schools until we've unravelled this big issue. Instead we should be creating interim reforms that can improve the lot of children for the likely decades of debate and pro-liberty work it will take to unwind the forced socialization of compassion idea.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:18 PM

September 20, 2004

The Substance of Free Market Style

The Angry Economist completely misses the point of a prior article on school reform and conservative reform in general.

If anybody can tell me what the point is of alienating moderates is by adopting a belligerent style, I really would appreciate it. Other than an exercise of the bile and spleen, I can't see the utility of it and I certainly see disadvantages to it. In education reform, such rhetorical excesses as "(t)here are, however, so many people whose livelihoods are involved in schooling, that closing the schools will take many, many years" leads to stiffer opposition from teachers unions, administration groups, and the PTA and on a marginal basis increases the number of children who leave their childhood with the poor education that the present system will give them instead of the superior results from a choice system.

Why, oh why do free market advocates continue to shoot themselves in the foot like this and let down the children and other constituencies who would benefit from more freedom in education and other areas of life? I just don't understand it outside of the psychological matrix of a fear of success. Are there any alternative reasons?

Posted by TMLutas at 08:13 PM

September 14, 2004

Bad Conservatism

The Angry Economist's recent anti-Bush tear has been bothering me but I couldn't put my finger on why until his most recent post. Substantively, if you're already in the "small government tribe" there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. And that's it's deadly flaw, because if you aren't in the tribe it comes off as anti-school/anti-education in the most heartless, barbaric way.

The truth is that public schools can be easily repurposed to provide more effective education, producing better, more well rounded citizens than they are currently doing so and introducing real competition by eliminating the tilt toward their dysfunctional model is a very great service we can do for the next generation. In the end, many of the same people who currently work in the old, subpar system will continue to work in the new. Others will come in as new entrants and some will decide that a school system that focuses more on education than bureaucracy and time serving is not for them.

The difference for somebody who is a small government advocate is small to nonexistent. But in terms of actually getting policy enacted, it's all the difference in the world.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:07 PM

July 27, 2004

Iron Blogger Topic List

The Iron Blog site is an exercise in competitive blogging. They have an interesting method for picking topics. Since lately I've been running a bit low on my own topics, I figure why not steal a march and sketch out my opinions on their topic list.

If anything, it'll keep me away from the Democrat party national convention.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:01 AM

July 26, 2004

Telling the Difference on Feasability

Steven Den Beste's current article lays into a major problem, the unreasonable expectations people have of engineers and other practical problem solvers.

He justly pounds into the ground the starry eyed optimists who just wave their hands and airly declare "just make it happen". He alludes to, but does not address, a paired problem (that falls to me). He says "Engineers are magicians, and we're supposed to make magic happen. We've pulled off so many miracles before, so why not this one?" It's a very good question and deserving a serious answer.

The problem is twofold. Sometimes Pointy Haired Bosses (PHBs) ask the infeasible of engineers and are unsatisfied with the engineer's realistic response that it's not going to happen. But other times, the PHBs ask for something that is feasible but either beyond the imagination or beyond the work ethic of the particular engineer. The response by the engineer in this latter case is verbally indistinguishable from the former case. The PHB can't tell the difference. This leads to guessing on the part of the PHB as to when the engineers are lying and two bad outcomes, infeasible projects going forward and feasible projects getting stopped.

One example of a feasible project getting stopped with large worldwide consequences is the Nazi A-bomb. It turns out that some errors led the engineers to convince their masters that an A-bomb was simply infeasible. Thankfully, nobody corrected their error but from an engineer v. PHB view, the engineers were clearly in the wrong as the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki learned a short time later. The major controversy left in the area is whether the mistake was really a mistake or subtle scientific sabotage.

So the socially useful question is what is the appropriate tool set for PHBs and other non-engineers to tell when the engineers are lying, mistaken, or correct. The problem becomes even worse because there two major types of engineer liars, the lazy that I describe above and the greedy who see endless R&D budgets for infeasible projects. That particular wrinkle, I'll save for another article but this state of greed would explain a lot of SDB's skepticism to alternative energy claims.

At the heart of "just make the magic happen" pablum is, I think, a social engineering test. The PHB who says such things may be a technoignorant boob but not necessarily so. He might just be looking for secondary markers of dishonesty. He also might be pushing for a more thorough analysis of the possibilities before abandoning this course. In short, he's annoying his engineers to a purpose, a purpose that he cannot directly satisfy because he, himself, does not have the technical skills necessary to directly find out why he's hearing no.

It's pretty obvious that SDB (along with an army of engineers who don't have the audience SDB has) keeps hitting this problem in various contexts. He's likely to keep right on running into it until some sort of reliable "truth telling engineer/lying engineer" methodology is worked out. Unfortunately, in this context, my contribution is limited to problem identification.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:25 AM

July 22, 2004

Are Enough Recruits Entering the Armed Forces?

IraqNow has an article on troop recruitment where Jason Van Steenwyk ends up with "My baloney detectors are singing these days." Mine are too but I'm not quite sure who's dishing out the baloney or is everybody doing it.

The Washington Post article on the Army's Delayed Entry program notes that we're at a 3 year low with 23%. The 2001 number was 22% and the 2000 number was 19%. The Army's goal is 35%. Would it have killed the Post to put in a graph showing the historical numbers since the system was started (most likely with the volunteer Army in the 70s)? How common is it to have a 23% number or lower? We don't know from the story and I have no idea where to find such information.

This is the kind of grunt work that makes professional reporting a real job that will survive blogging. It's worth paying for that information because with the data, you can judge how bad things are. If we were hitting 35% for most of the 80s and the first half of the 90s, that says one thing. If we've hit 35% once or twice in the entire history of the program with low-to-mid 20% levels being the norm, I'm a whole lot less excited about our impending manpower crisis.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:54 PM

July 19, 2004

Coming to a Sensible Solution

Steven Den Beste's doing on his side (pro-gay marriage) what I was doing yesterday on my side (pro-traditional marriage) cleaning up weak arguments. This is something of a necessity, especially when you have allies who are fouling up your own side and weakening your own arguments unintentionally. Of course, SDB's version is much longer and wide ranging.

I'm somewhat encouraged because I think that the worst part about how this whole issue is unfolding is the speed and stealth which it's coming to be. What's been sorely lacking have been pro-gay marriage forces who seriously want to examine marriage, what it does, and try, in good faith, to predict, measure, and react to the data as it becomes available. SDB's the sort of empiricist who should have little problem dropping gay marriage if, objectively, it has the negative effects that the traditionalists say it does. I wish him luck in cleaning up his side as I'm sure he would wish me in cleaning up my own.

The point of the exercise is, in the end, both sides present their best arguments, answer them, and hopefully the best side wins and becomes public policy. That's the sort of level politics is supposed to be at. Let's hope we someday get to that point.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:02 AM

June 07, 2004

Political Graciousness

On his passing, Reagan has both elicited a lot of nastiness from the left as well as some surprisingly gracious and appropriate tributes from his political opponents. I hope that when Carter and Clinton's time comes, the right can skip the cattiness and just stick with the gracious tributes.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:52 AM

June 04, 2004

The Problem of Horizontal Thinkers

Two of my favorite thinkers are Steven Den Beste and Thomas PM Barnett. They both regularly help stretch my mind and provide lots of provocative, useful thoughts that have wide implications. They are what I like to call horizontal thinkers. They roam across the intellectual landscape assembling new and useful structures without diving in depth to work out the details (which would be vertical thinking). Barnett is even more of a horizontal thinker than SDB but I believe that he better understands the limitations of this particular mode of thought and doesn't fall into the major trap of horizontal thinking, thinking that variables are constants and making generalizations that, on further, deeper examination, simply don't hold up.

SDB has a pretty good summary posted on his site of the process by which we would follow in ending the oil age to replace it with some other energy source. His article fails in that it has some factual errors in it which are sufficient to invalidate his conclusions on new energy sources. It's a particularly thorny problem of article analysis because on the larger point he's right, ending the oil age isn't going solve our terrorism problem (that analysis is going to be another post after this one).

My beef with the article is not that there is some easy way to end the oil age. But the problems are tough and challenging, not nontrivial.

From Den Beste's previous note on electric cars we find out that terrestrial solar is at most in the range of 240 watts per square meter. This contrasts with orbital solar which has a value of 1400 watts per square meter, 5.8 times the energy available per square meter. This is the foundation of the promise of extra-atmospheric solar energy (of both orbital and lunar varieties).

The first major problem in the realm of facts comes here:

Solar satellite power generation is particularly poor in this regard. Sunlight is concentrated using mirrors (with some losses) onto a boiler (with some of the light reflecting instead of being converted to heat, and some of the heat radiating away via black-box radiation). The next few steps are the same as for a coal plant: steam drives a turbine, which drives a dynamo, which generates electricity. At that point, all you have to do is to deliver it, but that is not easy with solar satellites.

No design for solar power generation that I have ever seen uses this system. They're all based on solar cells and most of those designs have fresnel lenses over those to concentrate solar energy onto the cells. Solar cell efficiencies is another (smaller) error that affects his reasoning. Typical commercial cells are not 10% efficient as his background article states but rather are currently at 15% and going up. As Den Beste points out himself, incremental changes in any long chain conversion can have large results in the end:

The efficiencies of every step have to be multiplied together to calculate the overall system efficiency. If you have five steps and each one wastes 20%, then each step has an efficiency of 0.8, and the overall system efficiency will be 0.8*0.8*0.8*0.8*0.8 == 0.328, meaning about 33% of the original energy would be delivered to end users, with the remaining 67% being lost. But if each of those five steps wasted 30% instead of 20%, the overall system would only deliver 17% of the original energy. The more conversions required, and the worse the efficiency on those conversions, then the lower the efficiency of the overall system.

You just have to change Den Beste's pessimistic scenario of increasing inefficiency into an optimistic one of increasing efficiency.

Since some applications are profitable at 15% efficiency, solar cell efficiency improvement work is no longer pie in the sky but a commercial imperative that will generate continuous, small, incremental improvement in photovoltaic efficiencies as time goes on. This sort of virtuous circle where a small profitable market creates incentives to increase efficiency, thus enlarging the market are what you want to look for in determining whether a larger, challenging project is merely difficult and challenging or nontrivial.

SDB makes a claim that microwave conversion to electricity is a very lossy procedure. This is only if DC-RF conversion of 85-90% (pdf link) is considered "a lot of losses". I don't think that's 10%-15% in loss was what SDB had in mind when he said this.

SDB is more right regarding the RF-DC conversion inefficiency on the other end. That figure seems to be in the mid 20% range. There doesn't seem to be much of a virtuous circle there with no obvious currently profitable applications so this end is in need of basic R&D to make work.

Atmospheric effects (another potential loss) are generally pretty predictable and affect some wavelengths far less than others. It is certain that the wavelength picked for transmission will be one which minimizes distortion.

SDB didn't get into it much this time but lift costs are a huge barrier to orbital solar power stations. With the availability of new materials, space elevators and other novel lift platforms are becoming feasible and will radically lower lift costs.

But even SDB's preferred solution of core taps succumbs to his horizontal thinking vagueness. He's right that laser drilling looks promising but he doesn't seem to realize that laser drilling is recognized as faster and is being seriously scrutinized as the next generation drilling technology of choice for the oil and gas industry because it works faster than conventional drilling technology.

SDB took on an almost impossible task, proving that something cannot be done feasibly. Very great scientific minds are regularly embarrassed by previous negative predictions that something will not happen or cannot happen. Such pessimistic predictions are almost always wrong in the end. SDB hasn't improved the pessimists' batting average.

Update: SDB has kindly linked and swatted me on the backside for a factual misstatement of my own. My response:

I'll pick this up in the evening for a fuller response. I have to earn my bread on the road today.

I'll concede that my knowledge of conversion % is pulled from Google searches. But the problem of relegating things to 'nontrivial' (ie not in our lifetime) status is a very hard thing to do and be right about it when we're talking about engineering problems that significant groups are seriously working on. I stand behind that larger point. I suggest that oil sands is a case in point. The current price to extract is ~$12/barrel. That has led Canada to jump to the #2 spot in worldwide oil reserves as of last year. If you think back to the Carter years, the naysayers were saying this would never happen (and I believed them at the time). It took a generation, but here we are. The major problems left are water availability (current process is water intensive) and environmental degradation (largely water related). I expect that things will improve over time.

This war is going to be a generational struggle. We need to start laying the groundwork so we don't run into an extremely damaging energy bind as we bring gap nations into the core over the next several decades. Working out each of the individual problems in as many new potential power sources as possible has to be part of that.

SDB says that he's not trying to say that these power projects are impossible, just too far down the road to be politically relevant for this war. I think he's underestimating how long this struggle is likely to last. Beating down the Islamists is only the beginning of the problem of super-empowered individuals in disconnected, messed up societies.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:22 AM

May 08, 2004

Fake Organizational Fights

SmartMobs has a post contrasting Dean style smartmobs with Bush style MLM grassroots marketing organizational styles. Frankly, I don't buy it. It's not an issue of the future (smartmobs) versus the past (MLM) but rather two competing systems that will grow and borrow from each other as time goes by. I view it more analogous to the RISC v. CISC wars in computer chips. The CISC side, which is championed by x86, looks like it's winning but the guts of the beast have all been redone to be very much like a RISC chip. So who won? Who cares? Well, in my more geeky moments I do but I'm never deluded enough to think this is more than a very small minority opinion.

The problem of smart mobs will be the weak control from the center. The problem of organizationally hierarchical MLM systems will be the lack of ability to take advantage of the full creative abilities of the network nodes. Both sides will seek to shore up their weaknesses but I give the Republicans the edge. It's a lot easier to loosen control and speed innovation than to reign in a bunch of free spirits to stay on message.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:42 PM

May 06, 2004


I have overlays on my mind. I'll explain but first a bit of background. I've dealt with a lot of very paranoid people in my lifetime, dissidents who seriously worry about assassination, people who have been turned in and served years in jail for an ill-timed joke. They very often have a conspiratorial mindset and often react very inappropriately to US society because they interpret stupidity as conspiracy, irritating people as a plot to destroy community, etc. And you know what? Sometimes, they are right. It was amazing in the days and months after Ceausescu fell how certain people changed their behavior in the Romanian-American community, like a light switch. Things that were impossible were suddenly possible and it's never gotten as bad as the bad old days ever again.

But I would never agree with the conspiratorial mindset. I always thought, and could often demonstrate how a superior course was to be followed by giving the person the benefit of the doubt and acting as if they were in some sort of Schrodinger's cat, both innocent and guilty simultaneously. I calibrated my reactions to them so that what I said and acted in respect to them were good irrespective of which scenario were actually true. This permitted me, as a very small wheel in the community, to move around and do largely as I pleased without having to expend the huge amount of resources these conspiratorialists expended on the largely fruitless task of sorting the crotchety from the evil.

I essentially took two world views and put them on top of each other like two overlays on an overhead projector. And darned if 99% of the time there wasn't at least one way to get through both world views with honor and effectiveness. Very often there were multiple ways of doing it.

This tactic of skipping the task of determining friend or foe but acting as if they are both friend and foe simultaneously has the advantage of saving an awful lot of time, effort and emotional investment. I think it's a part of what is behind the old saw in diplomacy that nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. You go after your permanent interests and if your enemy is tricked into helping you get them, well, make a toast, slap him on the back, and go for the next round and try to do it again. And if your friend is obstructing you, ankle biting, and being generally unpleasant, that also means little. Give him a glare and capture him back for the next round.

The general simplifying screen of viewing the players in the geopolitical game as only playing one game at a time has always been over-simplistic. It is even more so today. Geopolitics is overlay on top of overlay. You might be playing 5, 6, even 10 games simultaneously. It's enough to make your head hurt. Sometimes one game becomes so important that all the other games become subordinate to that one game's needs. Wartime is like that most of the time. But this particular war, the Global War On Terror (GWOT) is a bit different. Since GWOT is an asymmetric war, we both need to fight it on our own terms and on our enemies' terms as well. This ends up being an overlay situation. We have to take down the other side's fighters but at the same time we need to fight them to out recruit them in their target populations. These are two very different wars and you have to not foul up one conflict type via your efforts to prosecute the other conflict type.

in any case, these are just two examples of overlay type thought. It's a generalized concept that can often be used to sort through competing claims on resources.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:09 PM

A Slave Mentality

One thing bothers me about the Argus' otherwise great article on the events in Ajaria (Go Saakashvili!) and that's this small snippet:

Say what you will about the Bush administration. Tell me it's all about oil. Tell me it's a plot to substitute fine Georgian wine with Coke. Tell me Saakashvili, a US-trained lawyer, was groomed for this role by the CIA.

I don't care.

Bottom line: half a million people are free tonight that weren't free this morning. Why? The Bush administration, the State Department in particular, did a fantastic job of sticking to its values and convincing Russia to stand by our side to bring freedom to Ajaria.

If that's unilateralism and cynical manipulation in pursuit of profits, pass it on down, I want some more.

This is conceding the intellectual and moral high ground, letting them define the terms when they really have no right and no credibility in doing so. The left that smears the Bush administration with all sorts of libels including blood for oil, can lose everything in terms of bottom lines and factual analysis, but if we still grant them the right to define the terms and agree that even theoretically they're the moral force and freedom was won through cynical manipulation they will hang on and undermine all our victories.

Not only are the pessimistic, anti-Bush left wrong on the facts, they are wrong on the morals, the intellectual foundations, and are incredibly rotten from top to bottom in their own cynical manipulation of public discourse. And the decent left lets them get away with it.

This is the hangover dating back from the New Deal domination of national politics in the US. Not only were they in charge but they were the bright shining light of Camelot and the Great Society. The resisters weren't just wrong, they were disreputable, lesser men and women and such attitudes were internalized on both sides of the political spectrum. This is not quite a slave mentality on the part of the right but it's the next closest thing to one.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:41 PM

May 01, 2004

Writing a Blog Spec

One of the great things that separates the pros from the very talented amateurs in programming is the discipline that the professionals exhibit in programming from a specification document. Clients always think that programming is something that just flows forth from mind to keyboard to compiler. It can, but you very often get bad code that way. It may be clever, but it usually doesn't meet actual needs because very few people really understand what they want, they just think they do.

I'm starting to think that blogging is similar in this way. You can just randomly fire off posts and you may end up being a very talented amateur but without some sort of specification of what you want to accomplish and how you are going to get there, that's all that you will remain, a talented amateur.

I'm not sure, exactly, where I want to go with that insight for my own blog but it's something that I'm sure I'll be chewing over for quite some time.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:03 PM

April 21, 2004

Cargo Cult Science: Bjorn Lomberg

Bjorn Lomberg, the much maligned author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, apparently is being compared to Hitler by Rajendra Pachauri the head of the UN's IPCC. For any who have forgotten, the IPCC is the UN's premier body for dealing with climate change. Instead of fighting Lomberg's observations with scientific evidence the riposte from the IPCC attacks the person and uses the reputation of the post occupied by the attacker to increase the credibility of the charge. While the reaction so far seems to be about the moral issues of unfairly tarring somebody with a Hitler label I'd take a different tack. This is engaging in cargo cult science.

Scientists have an obligation to actually use the scientific method in scientific disputes. By not actually addressing the charges but just hurling invective you not only are not doing science but you are misleading the less informed as to what science is. Scientists need to be especially on guard against this because it is such an easy bad habit to fall into. Call your opponent an idiot, discredit him in the eyes of all so nobody listens, who cares if the point he's trying to make isn't actually disproven, you've accomplished your political goal and destroyed any threat that your scientific position will be successfully dethroned from that quarter.

But you really don't have a scientific position at that point. What you have is a religious statement of faith dressed in the robes of science. How do scientists tolerate this corruption in their midst?

HT: Andrew Sullivan

Posted by TMLutas at 03:45 PM

April 15, 2004

Choose Metrics Wisely

Viking Pundit nails it when he notes John Kerry's new misery index includes some elements that are beyond the rightful power of government to intervene in. Personal bankruptcies are often borne of personal choices. You just have to get that bit of consumer electronics bliss and it sets you back beyond what you can pay off the next month and you spiral downwards from there.

So what's government supposed to do in such situations? All it really can do that won't make matters worse is to become some sort of national scold, guilting people into lowering their purchase of items they don't truly need until they actually have money to buy them. Personal bankruptcies, in extraordinary circumstances, do show some government caused pain but such circumstances are associated with other metrics like obscenely high interest rates and high unemployment. Choosing what you measure is going to affect what you concentrate on in terms of policy. Everybody wants to be able to brag that they've made whatever metrics are used better since they've been on the job. Choosing metrics that the government shouldn't be directly influencing is one way to guarantee government morphs even further beyond what it is supposed to be doing.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:58 AM

March 26, 2004

How Much Nonsense Does it Take to Discredit?

Over at Samizdata, they're noting Paul Ehrlich's 1968 prediction that India would never be self-sufficient in food. Six years later they were. It got me to thinking, why do certain figures seem to maintain credibility even though they have made ludicrous statements and predictions in the past while others who are guilty of far less foolishness lose their credibility and aren't ever treated seriously again?

It doesn't seem to follow any pattern of rhyme or reason though there are a few trends. The media seems to play a great role in enabling the rehabilitation of tattered reputations. It isn't absolutely necessary but it is quite useful if you happen to share a mindset with the media. I think that in this fashion, credible institutions can loan out a bit of their credibility and permit the discredited to make a recovery.

But having the mainstream media against you, while a handicap, is certainly not determinative as Richard Nixon proved in his several comebacks. So while access and good relations to the media is important, it is not determinative of the ability to make such comebacks. But what are the alternative factors?

The entertainment factor has to be one. I can't imagine shaman style punditry groups like the McGlaughlin Report would survive without being great fun. The prediction accuracy level there is horrible. I call them shaman style because they often seem to do as much good as a shaman (who mainly works through the psychological trick of the placebo effect). It's a wonder that nobody tracks these people's prediction accuracy record to give them a nonsense score exposing their level of craft v. blowhard. But nobody does it.

That's not exactly true. Donald Luskin and other "truth squad" efforts do go after certain figures, in Luskin's case, Paul Krugman. These efforts are narrowly tailored but deeply examine and attack credibility. There are other efforts like the Media Research Center that are broad but not as deep going after general inaccuracy creeping in via ideological bias.

All of these efforts seem to be about throwing things at the wall and seeing what will stick. There isn't any sort of public effort that I can find that examines all the variables of credibility and reputation so that you can achieve an effort that is simultaneously broad and deep. Note to aspiring academics, your thesis could be here.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:22 AM

March 24, 2004

A Question for Sharon

A question for Israel's Prime Minister:

Prime Minister Sharon, The UK has explicitly repudiated the Treaty of Westphalia which is the bedrock of the idea that you cannot declare war on someone who is not a state. The US has implicitly repudiated the same principles by declaring War on Terrorism. Do you agree that the time is past when only states can war and are you at war with Hamas?

Under the laws of war, Yassin was a legitimate target. But without a war, Israel's moral position grows cloudier. What was the estimated casualty figure if a capture strategy was used?

Posted by TMLutas at 12:51 AM

March 23, 2004


I wasn't there so I can't really comment much on the catfight currently going on over who said what in internal debates inside the administration. I can only say one thing that I know is valid. Grow up!

The truth is that there's a reason that internal debate is supposed to stay inside the administration. Especially when a big event goes on and you need to build a new policy direction from scratch (the very thing that happened on 9/11) you want to start off with a period of letting loose with the most off the wall ideas. You want to create a climate of being able to toss out all sorts of thoughts and proposals and winnow them out later.

What you don't want is a bunch of people who are intensely image conscious and won't speak up and provide an idea rich terrain from which the best will be refined and eventually implemented and the rest quietly discarded without damaging any reputations. And regardless of whether Clarke is telling the truth or not. The kinds of accusations that he's making, that internal debates went along nonproductive lines but were not implemented in policy are almost tailor made for sabotaging the intellectual problem solving process. You couldn't create a better method of stifling innovation and problem solving creativity if you tried.

Again, it doesn't make any difference if he's right or wrong on the facts in his tell all tome. He's still materially impeding the policy process for this, and future administrations of either party and that makes him a self-interested, mercenary, huge jerk.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:49 PM

Westphalia and Gay Marriage

The two topics wouldn't normally seem to go together but they are related, in the sense that both topics relate to highly foundational subjects. By that I mean that both the Treaty of Westphalia and the institution of marriage imply an awful lot of other things. In the case of the Treaty of Westphalia, repudiation is done purposefully in order to radically change the board. The reformers (Bush and Blair) both know and understand how wide ranging a change they are initiating. They've evaluated, as much as is possible, the consequences of shifting the foundations of the international law system. The emergence of significant national security threats from non-state actors requires the adjustment so a great deal of pain and shifting is justified by the survival of our way of life.

Gay marriage reformers, in contrast, are stubborn about how changing marriage to include them will change nothing else. They purposefully close their eyes and ears to the follow on effects and ask, no demand, that their plea be treated in isolation. This sort of approach is staggeringly irresponsible. And because the reformers have dominated the debate for so long, only now, with their goal in sight, are people starting to figure out that it's important to know what the follow on effects are. But even now you commonly find people wondering why government is getting involved in the first place. A single example suffices. The Social Security system has literally trillions in unfunded liabilities, liabilities that were assumed on the assumption that we would have a rate of population growth sufficient in perpetuity to fund this ponzi style scheme. Gay marriage, and its inevitable follow on variants, will have an effect of lowering total fertility, thus reducing the solvency of Social Security and increasing the punitive taxes necessary to keep the system running.

Thus Social Security (and most other entitlement programs) rest on the bedrock of fertility which is influenced by marriage policy. In the Westphalia repudiation, the surface effects of terrorists escaping justice by becoming stateless was a pernicious effect that is being dynamited by the repudiation. The consequences are desired. Is dynamiting our entitlements system with gay marriage an intention of gay marriage reformers? I don't think so.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:04 AM

March 15, 2004

Bear Hygiene

People don't manage their Truth Laid Bear entries very well. NZB does read the comments and make changes but there's a lot of dead wood floating around. Sometimes, in my wanderings, I'll find a blog that isn't listed on the Ecosystem and add it or find one that should have been changed or deleted and comment on it. This isn't, strictly speaking, charity. I've got an eye to using the ecosystem data for some of my own projects so I actually care about the deadwood. What most people seem to not realize is that it's an open system. Anybody can suggest any changes and if NZB agrees, they happen.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:27 PM

Ignoring Modern Science

One of the things that has always fascinated me is how much scientific evidence was there for the taking to the ancient world and nobody ever noticed. Anybody looking at a dew drop on a blade of grass had the basics of magnifying lenses staring at him in the face yet it too millenia for anybody to notice. There are lots of other examples of 'obvious' advances being either ignored or relegated to the sidelines like chinese gunpowder that was mostly used for fireworks and the greek steam engine that was only used as a childrens toy in classical Greece.

Before we get too cocky about those foolish ancients, we have our own problems. What does it say about us when you have a major dimming of the sun going on around us for decades and a published paper addressing the subject isn't even noticed? And now all those models on global warming get to be revised (again!) based on scientific information that was out for years prior to the original computer model formation? What does this say about the state of global warming science? What does it say about the IT ability of scientists to process information into relevant knowledge?

There's unmined gold in the scientific literature. There's quite likely a lot of it.

HT: MonkeyX

Posted by TMLutas at 02:47 PM

March 12, 2004

Wounded Counts

It puzzles me that I know how many wounded there are in the Madrid bombings, the Iraq casualties are often split into wounded and dead. I can't remember the Bali bombing figures but I recall that they also included wounded but I can't recall ever hearing much about the 9/11 wounded counts and a couple of quick google searches doesn't lead to much enlightenment either.

Isn't that odd? Is it intentional or am I just seeing phantoms?

Posted by TMLutas at 02:40 PM

If I Was a Spaniard in Chicago

I'd be truly ticked off.

I caught the Chicago CBS affiliate newscast and its meagre offering on the tragedy of Spain was so self-centered and isolationist as to seem to be a parody. The newscast was like that stuck up rich girl who, looking at a sea of human suffering is only focused on "but what does this mean for me and my needs." Instead of spending time telling where flowers and other condolences could be sent locally (Chicago has a consulate) they just passed right over that, and any other, basic bit of decency.

At least they managed to call the ETA terrorists.


There is a book of condolences available at the Spanish consulate that can be signed today until 2PM and Monday-Wednesday next week during the same hours. Contact information for the consulate is below:

180 N. Michigan Av.
Suite 1500,
Chicago, IL 60601.
(312) 782-4588

Posted by TMLutas at 08:52 AM

March 09, 2004

Libertarian Purity Test

Even though my score is quite different from Matthew Yglesias' 21, I too agree that the questions on the Libertarian Purity test should be redone. I also think the scoring section needs work as well as it seems designed to showcase the idea that the movement is filled with extremists who want to repel those of more moderate persuasion.

My score, if anybody is curious, was 134.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:25 AM

March 05, 2004

Extremists Tactics Link

One of the great, scary things to come out of the neo-nazi movement is the concept of leaderless resistance, the idea of simply putting out ideas and having people come up with their own ways of implementing the ideology in blood in the streets.

US right wing extremists are fans of the idea and supposedly the OKC bombing was an example of it. The ALF/ELF use the same sort of tactics on the left with people independently adopting the label in their actions. And now, from StrategyPage comes this:

While the idea of al Qaeda "concentrating on Iraq," is attractive, the truth is that al Qaeda is no longer an organization as much as it is a bunch of like minded people all over the world. The numerous al Qaeda "members" do what they can in the areas where they live.

This seems to fit into the broad idea of leaderless resistance and provide an intellectual framework within which all such movements should be confronted. There's no reason not to concentrate on finding a generalized formula for defeating leaderless resistance movements.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:54 PM

March 02, 2004

Iraki WMD Update: Not Closed Yet

Douglas Hanson writes an article expressing how very premature and wrong it is to come to any conclusions regarding Iraq's possession of WMD based on the evidence of his own eyes from the inside of the operation to hunt down the facts of Saddam's WMD operations.

The bottom line, the searches have not been done properly, there was insufficient coordination between elements of the hunting groups, and the case is still not closed. with only 10 of Iraq's 130 known major weapons storage facilities having been searched and extensive evidence of records destruction generally acknowledged, an objective description of the events anonymized to prevent bias would read something like this:

A massive criminal conspiracy was alleged in an organization. After being investigated and convicted for wrongdoing the organization agreed to special monitoring and to regularly open its records and premises for examination as a condition for continuing operations. Those promises were erratically kept over the next decade.

Finally, prosecutors raided all the enterprise's facilities and found massive record destruction, very close mouthed employees, and evidence of witness intimidation. On the matters of the warrant, after approximately 15% of the facilities were searched, conclusive evidence on some but not all of the warrant's charges was found. The major charges have had little or no substantiation to this point, the searches continue.

Given these facts, would anybody care in the slightest that not all charges had been proven? Would anybody claim that the biggest charges, had been disproven? Would anybody demand that the investigation end right now as it is obvious that nothing will be found on the most serious charges?

Once you take the politics and the emotion out of it and merely look at it as an anonymous crime story, we could be talking about the Teamsters here. And in that more dispassionate framing, the Bush critics look awfully irresponsible.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:57 PM

February 18, 2004


Glen Reynold's current TCS column covers picking a subject as part of the process of becoming an influential blogger (in his words, a blogging bigshot). In short, find an empty niche, fill it, provide original content is his advice.

It's pretty good advice. One of his thoughts was municipal blogging, but municipalities are not the only political jurisdictions that are under-covered. You can also cover a metropolitan area, a county, or a state which will give you more material to work with.

Also, if you're going to branch out into a nontraditional format, the idea of using audio and video aren't the only options on the table. Maintaining a database of information on your chosen specialty or publishing a wiki are two further alternatives.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:31 PM

February 17, 2004

Serious Blogging and Recharging Batteries

Since he requested that nobody write letters, I shan't (though I'll send him a pointer to this post) but Steven Den Beste's feeling a bit burned out and is taking a break and his output will cease until his batteries recharge.

This is a problem that I've thought about in the past and have a few answers to. But first, let's define the question.

For the vast majority of bloggers, figuring out what to do when it stops being fun is very simple. You just walk away. Your blog isn't there to make money. Your blog is there to have a conversation with your friends and family and maybe work out a bit of frustration along the way.

But for the distinct minority who wants to do this seriously to become a personality, to make a name for themselves, to make money at it, stopping is a problem. No updates means your circulation drops, and it drops pretty fast.

For linkers, there isn't much you can do about this, but for thinkers, those who create original content there is an option, evergreens. This term comes from a newspaper practice of assigning reporters to, when there is nothing else to do, write up stories that have no timeliness. These stories can run in the next day's paper or ten years later and they would still inform just as much. A story on the history of the local town's founding is an example of an evergreen.

You could write up your thoughts on Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, for example, and set your software to publish it at a particular date and time so that even though you aren't commenting on the events of the day, your blog has new content up while you are recharging your batteries. This does nothing for your writers' block except, perhaps, it would relieve the guilt and stress of not putting up content and knowing you're losing readership every day you don't post.

A very disciplined webcomic artist by the name of Howard Taylor is my inspiration on the subject of keeping the content flowing no matter what. His comic, Schlock Mercenary, comes out daily. He doesn't miss a day, and the reason for it is that he has a buffer that he fills as the mood strikes him and which drops out a new comic daily. Since his day job is at Novell, the buffer metaphor works perfectly for him.

Now the webcomic business is a bit different because it generally isn't topical so the buffer system wouldn't work exactly the same way for a blog. But not all thinkers are topical either. Certainly Steven Den Beste isn't always commenting on time sensitive matters. He could create a buffer of 5 anime DVD reviews, 6 talks on various engineering topics, and take two weeks off without anybody noticing unless they wrote and didn't get their usual polite reply.

For myself, I'm still working on creating such a buffer of evergreen articles. It's something of a different type of writing process. I suspect I'll need to take a break at some point, though not anytime soon.

Unlike SDB, I wouldn't mind suggestions for topics.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:15 PM

Facts Must Matter II

Thomas Sowell has a good column out on the importance of facts. Unfortunately, he also illustrates how facts can be twisted to produce horrible outcomes when they are abused by wrongheaded principles.

It is not just a few readers but government agencies and the highest courts in the land that dogmatize against any recognition of differences in behavior or performances among groups. Statistical differences in outcomes automatically fall under suspicion of discrimination, as if the groups themselves could not possibly be any different in behavior or performance.

Any school that disciplines black boys much more frequently than Asian American girls can be risking a federal lawsuit, as if there could not possibly be any differences in behavior among the children themselves. Employers can be judged guilty of discrimination, even if no one can find a single person who was discriminated against, if their hiring and promotions data show differences among ethnic groups or between women and men.

The problem isn't just one of ignoring the facts of the situation. Facts may be stubborn things but unprotected, unfortified by meaningful rules to make sense of them, they can be just as stubbornly overlooked until the pain they cause creates a half-understood heuristic that is always vulnerable to the next great wave of mistaken theory. For a current example, you can see the gay marriage debate which clearly demonstrates at least one thing. Most people don't understand why we have the marriage system we have evolved.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:04 PM

Facts Must Matter

It's entirely disheartening to read about The Tyranny of the Facts in Transport Blog. In certain policy discussions, facts not only matter, they are paramount. Not understanding the facts can and does get people killed. Ask the families of the Challenger astronauts whether facts matter.

The idea that facts do not matter is something of a misframing of the true situation, that facts are relatively defenseless when unbuttressed by principles making sense of those facts. Everybody who looked at a dewy lawn throughout history knew, at some level or another, the fact that dew drops bend light and enlarges the view of the blade of grass the dew drop is on. When the fact was treated seriously and organized in a collection to create a theory, a principle if you will, its power became manifest. But the fact was always there just as the facts are always there, sabotaging and undermining our lives as we proceed with them using deluded theories that do not conform to them.

You can sail the middle of the ocean with bad charts saying where the coastline reefs are and it doesn't much matter. But if you approach the coast and do not have someone up front to take soundings, if you incautiously plunge ahead based on your false charts (your false principles) you will take the bottom out of your boat and sink quickly like a stone.

So let us all adopt a sensible principle to take soundings, look at the facts, and resolve to order our principles in accord with them, as we know them.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:51 AM

February 15, 2004

Vertical v. Horizontal Thinking

One of the great intellectual divisions is between vertical thinkers, specialists who go into depth in a single field, and horizontal thinkers, those who gain the essence of many fields without delving into the depths of any. Each have their advantages, each has their flaws. The advantage of vertical thinkers is that when you need the answer to a question in the field, you are much more likely to actually get a correct answer. The great advantage of horizontal thinkers is that you are much more likely to ask the right questions, and to be able to ask questions that bridge fields and stitch the disparate answers together.

What's the point of this little lesson? Horizontal thinkers are like yeast. You don't need a great deal of it but you can't make beer without it (and what bread you make will generally be awful). The way our government is organized, it's largely divided up into functional specialties. But what if a problem comes along that falls into multiple specialties? What you end up with is a tug of war where each department tries to pull in as much of the problem into its purview so it can gain power (measured by budget) over its rivals.

What a way to run a railroad.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:07 AM

February 01, 2004

Doze Blogging

With a new baby and with my wife insisting on being the only one to take care of our daughter, I end up "making appearances" when she needs help. She can't walk very well and getting up and sitting down are torture. She almost killed herself climbing stairs (not recommended two days after a c-section) so she's camped out on the couch with our daughter next to her.

I doze asleep at the computer, wake up at a sound and try to stuff enough into my subconscious to create plentiful bloggy goodness for this brand new month. I guess such entries that arise out of such a state would best be categorized as doze blogging, not quite the same as writing while drinking but sharing many characteristics. It'll be interesting to see the results when fully awake, which should next happen about the time my daughter starts sleeping through the entire night.

Update: Well, that was interesting. I didn't get much done but had some very vivid dreams in betweeen playing Gungha Din to my wife's sahib all night.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:03 AM

January 30, 2004

Taking Advantage of Amnesia

This David Frum diary entry got me to thinking. A correspondent suggests that the nature of intelligence might be of such ambiguous character that getting things as wrong as they seem to have been gotten in Iraq is a pretty common circumstance, that intelligence is more like reading tea leaves than any hard science.

What occurs to me is that with a couple of hundred years of history, it should be relatively easy to take important episodes of US intelligence where the decision makers had as ambiguous evidence as existed in Iraq and present such scenarios for people to issue their own judgments and see how well they did. This wouldn't work in a very historically literate populace but the historical amnesia of modern US popular culture works to advantage here. Think of it as something similar to America's Army but for intelligence analysis.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:51 PM

December 17, 2003

Variables and Constants I

One of the most persistent errors in human affairs when it comes to progress is assuming a variable is a constant. These days this error shows up all the time in virtually every field of human endeavor. So, why do we do this? Because for the vast majority of humanity's history it worked so well and for a lot of circumstances, it still works well most of the time. Constants don't have to be calculated so you save a tremendous amount of work in assuming slow moving variables are constants. Everybody ends up doing it, sometimes to disasterous effect but usually not.

Osama Bin Laden did this when he ordered the attacks on the WTC and assumed that the US would react as it always had before. People act as though the population is and always will be going up. Until recently, inflation was assumed to be a constant of the modern condition. The Democrats and Republicans will always alternate in ruling the US and the Liberals have an electoral lock in Canada.

It used to be that tools were considered a constant. Before the industrial revolution and interchangeable parts, a hammer wasn't much different from year to year and specialization of tools and tool development were slow to happen and slow to spread. Essentially, a whole lot of people could get away with long term planning by setting the quality of your manufacturing tools as a constant. That's no longer the case. We know now that they're variables because tools change frequently and do the same jobs faster, more reliably, and cheaper in a constantly shifting tripod of improvements (as the classic phrase goes, pick any two).

But in the shift from viewing something as a constant to viewing it as a variable, ther is a sticky period where you have something I'll call a shifting constant. When plow innovations happen every couple of hundred years or so, adjusting crop yields upwards, it's more efficient to view yields as constants and simply change the constant as a one off exercise if you happen to be alive when an innovation happens. No problem, you have the efficiency savings of not calculating the variable effects most of the time and adjust once as your forecasts go off because of this rarity called innovation.

In more and more fields of endeavor, we're going through that sticky period at the same time.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:28 PM

December 09, 2003

Hothouse Libertarians II

I started this note as a comment over at The American Mind but decided it made a better post.

Professor Bainbridge dishonestly responds to my original charge but at least he's direct about being intellectually dishonest. He calls it "feeling sort of smart-alecky" and flatly says he's not addressing the substance of my post. Instead he notes:

Anybody who thinks fighting dirty is unworthy of an academic hasn't spent much time in faculty meetings! There is a famous line frequently attributed to Henry Kissinger: "academic politics are so spiteful because there is so little at stake." And I learned at the feet of some of the masters.

Nobody who knows me for very long will ever accuse me of being a fan of the kumbayah style of argumentation. But the problem isn't being strong in opinion, underhanded, or disagreeable per se. The problem is doing all those things without striving with intellectual rigor to understand your opponent and taking what's good from their arguments and reconciling them with your own while ruthlessly eliminating the bad points and creating a situation where your opponent is maximally likely to give in and come over to your side. It's the intellectual sloppiness, laziness, and puerility that is unworthy of an academic. There, was that 'dirty' enough for you Professor?

The problem is that we're not really fighting a War on Terror. It is a false phraseology. Comically, the good Professor recognizes this in a later item. We're fighting a war on aggressive nihilism that is a consequence of the existence of non-integrating gap countries. The problem is that the label, the War on Terror is fundamentally a strategic deception in order to serialize the war. Truth telling would tend to parallelize the war and that's our enemies' strategy. The Stratfor folks are right on that one. I hope everyone agrees there is no good reason to help along the enemy in his strategy for destroying our freedoms.

Aggressive nihilism is an ideology that you get to from multiple paths, the two most relevant are islamism and communism. It is not a tactic, like terrorism, and thus you can properly war on it and have an end to it eventually when you run out of non-integrating gap countries.

What is tripping up Karen De Coster (the original blogger that Prof. Bainbridge was commenting on) is that she is taken in by the strategic deception. Libertarianism recognizes that lying creates societal inefficiencies and are the start of a very dangerous form of rot. Generally, you go after the lies and promote truth telling so your economic limited means stretch further in satisfying your infinite wants. You also do it for moral reasons.

It's not nuts to be taken in by a strategic deception launched by the US government. Every time I write one of these posts I worry about the effect my letting the cat out of the bag has on the strategic situation. Then I look at the hit counter on my blog and don't worry so much anymore. I'm also plausibly deniable because I'm someone with no influence or connection with the US government other than my citizenship and right to vote.

But that moment of worry is a small shadow of the worry the administration has. It has to suffer the slings and arrows of natural allies because if they were to say to anybody it's all a put up job to lull our enemies then the game is up. Their audience runs into the billions.

So what can they do? They can purposefully make their strategic deception as penetrable by cultural americans as possible while maintaining enough utility that the deception still largely works against our enemies and hope that enough americans will figure it out to jog the elbows of the rest and whisper the truth to our fellows. Then they hope and pray that they've calibrated their distortion well enough not to warp the country into an unrecognizable shape. It's a dangerous and daring strategy but if core/gap theory is being applied seriously, we're obligated to do it.

Now discuss further on those terms and we may be singing kumbayah around the fire after all B-)

Yeah right.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:49 AM

December 02, 2003

Bush's Lucy Strategy: Speeches

Michael Novak spots Bush's Lucy strategy cropping up in his speeches. He's always the tongue tied poor public speaker who has abysmal expectations going into every major speech but somehow he always pulls out a miracle and inspires, persuades, and convinces when he really has to.

This is just an instantiation of the whole Lucy strategy. He does this with everything and everybody, unfortunately friend as well as foe. The day the world stops being surprised by it is the day that they'll be able to predict his moves. May it not come before 2009.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:47 PM