27 January 2003

American conquest 2
Over on my clipping blog I posted a picture of one of our troops holding a small Afghani girl in line for some medical care. My previous post made me think of that and also that the photographer found the picture and commented on it:
I would just like to thank you for using my photo to show people that the U.S. military is doing good things here in Afghanistan.
I just sent a short e-mail in reply because that wasn't an appropriate platform for pontifaction. That's what I have this blog for.

I was particularly struck by the picture because it so clearly shows what differentiates the American hegemony from those that preceeded it in history. Our troops don't fight for the sake of glory or loot or death, but for what we see in the picture. Of course, not every American soldier is a paladin, a paragon of selfless honor. But overall, and in contrast to previous world powers, the military and the citizenry are glad to see this as the end result of our military operation. First and foremost we want security for ourselves. But we as a nation do not begrudge this kind of help and comfort to others, even the citizens of a formerly enemy nation. For it is not the wealth of other nations or control of their people we seek, but safety for ourselves. And those farther sighted among know that grace in victory and a helping hand in peace builds security for us. Because of this the war part of the conquest of Iraq will be fast and easy in contrast to what we must do to truly deal with the dangers to us from that region. And it will be actions just like that in the picture that will play a key role in that effort.

Yes, this hasn't always been true. But it has been since at least WWII and probably since WWI.

26 January 2003

American conquest
Oliver Willis is ranging fire on the USS Clueless about the latter's predictions for a war with Iraq. Willis claims that
An American "conquest" (as Steven [Den Beste] calls it) debases the very values on which this country stands for, and if executed - stains us all in its power lust.
But then aren't we already stained from our conquest of Germany and Japan 50 years ago? To say that conquest in and of itself is morally staining is to be morally obtuse, to claim that there are no sins of omission. Willis also views the US as the antagonist in this relationship. Apparently Saddam's attacks on Iran and Kuwait or his flagrant violations of treaties and agreements and UN Security Council resolutions don't count as "antagonism". Willis also drags out the "US armed Iraq" argument as a point against intervention now. But as many others have said, if it was really our fault (and not the Axis Of Weasel's) don't we owe it to the Iraqi people to do what we can to clean up our mess? I would think that one key American value is "you shoot your own dog".
Robin Hood in Reverse
Apparently the global economy is Robin Hood in Reverse. That sounds right, in that the emerging global economy creates law and doesn't force people to rob to survive. But let's look at it more in depth.
Critics have labelled the global economy "Robin Hood in reverse" at the World Social Forum
"Critics". Is this different than "random whiners"?
"Money is being taken from the poor to be given to the rich," according to Social Watch, a participant at the forum, which noted that the world economy "works like a reverse Robin Hood".
Where is that happening? No example is provided, nor even a plausible means by which this would occur. What I see is oppressive rich dictators in third world countries taking money from the poor and the rich countries to line their pockets. Strangely, I don't see many protests about them.
Poverty reduction goals in the world for 2005 will not be met and financial resources transferred from developed countries to poor countries has decreased every year since 1997, according to the group.
Ah, so what's happening is the poor aren't receiving enough of the rich's money. That's must be what's meant by "taking".
The six-day forum in this southern Brazilian city is a counterweight to the World Economic Forum, a meeting of the world's top business, financial and political leaders, held currently at a ski resort in Davos, Switzerland
Perhaps they should spend more on the poor and less on conferences?
The kind of free market economic policies discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos have dashed hopes of full employment or even the chance of holding a dignified job for most workers, according to labor leaders speaking in Brazil.
What seems to work better than aid is trade but then you'd have those icky free markets where the poor make their own decisions instead of doing what conference attendees want them to do, like taking low wage jobs instead of starving or eating at McDonalds. And clearly it takes a strong socialist government like Robert Mugabe's to bring dignity to the common laborer, such as farmers, unlike the oppressed farmers in the US.
"In third world countries, workers are not protected and there is a high level of mortality," World Confederation of Labor president Basile Mahan Gahe told AFP.
Because most third world countries are ruled by thugs and despots and there is no rule of law like one would have with free markets?
Under the pretext of "deregulation," hopes of full employment are "today further than ever," said Magdalena Leon, Ecuadoran representative of the Latin American Women's Network.
Yes, if you deregulate you might get the massive unemployment that plagues the US, unlike the tight labor markets in Europe.
Huh Young Ku, a South Korean labor leader, said that the austere International Monetary Fund program imposed on his country over the past five years has led to a concentration ownership of industry among a few conglomerates.
Yes, the chaebol are a recent result of IMF policies. And North Korea is your friend. Instead South Korea should become more socialists and concentrate ownership of industry in a few government appointees. That would be more fair and beneficial to the poor. Just look at the difference between North and South Korea from the North getting rid of free markets and conglomerates.
Labor leaders from South Africa, Brazil, Ecuador, Italy and France were among the participants.
There's a set of governments who clearly know how to run an economy ... into the ground.

25 January 2003

Stalin? Beria? What party were they in again?
NPR just had a segment on this about new finds in the Soviet archives of the crimes of Lavrenti Beria. To some extent it was good because the discussion didn't mince words about Stalin and Beria killing millions, running death camps and relocating entire populations for political purposes. However, they did manage to do the entire segment without the use of the word "Communist". That's skillful wordsmithing.

24 January 2003

Out of the blog
I'm heading to California for a week on a business trip. Among other things, I am supposed to talk with certain people who want to provide input on some of my projects. It was decreed that direct talks were necessary because of my poor written communication skills. Like President Bush going to the UN, I don't execpt the talks to be in any way productive, if they even occur, but sometimes you have to go through the motions. How much interaction with the blogosphere I will have isn't clear. This isn't going to be a good week to be out of the loop and dependent on mainstream media for information - I could probably just guess more accurately than that. If I'm not around for the dropping of the hammer, God bless our troops and the Iraqi people. Saddam, there's Someone else who's going to be watching over you.
The Axis of Weasel still has some moves left
Although it may look like Chirac has played his last card with regard to Iraq, that may not be the case. Consider this: What result is Chirac afraid of from our invasion of Iraq? Suppose there is documentation about French help to Iraq after the Gulf War. Saddam isn't the brightest bubble in the Ba'ath, but keeping those documents for blackmail seems like exactly the kind of thing he is good at. So what price might Saddam extract for destroying the negatives? A villa on the Riviera? What would we do if France offers sanctuary to Saddam and allows him to continue to run the show in Iraq? What if we invade anyway and Saddam uses his effective immunity in France to set up a terror network to attack the new government of Iraq using the money he must have stashed away in various places? What could the US do at that point?

On the other hand, perhaps Saddam would organize the disaffected Muslim population of France and take over.

Learning from elders
Over at Brothers Judd there is a a post about American support for the war. I don't worry too much about the various polls concerning support. I think that support is not as strong as it could be because President Bush has not been as forthright in our purposes in pursuing war as he might have been. Presumably this is because many of our "allies" would be aghast at the real reason, which is to crush an outlaw regime that serves as a lynchpin of funding and support for our enemies, the Calipharians, who will to kill us and destroy our civilization.

Many of the problems we have now with the Middle East are because Bush 41 thought it was enough to beat Saddam's force in the field without achieving real victory. I believe the biggest reason his "victory" didn't stick internally is because it wasn't really one. Saddam was still around, murdering Iraqis who were our allies (the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs) and thumbing his nose at America and the UN. What I hope Bush 43 has learned is that if you send the US to war, kick ass and take names. Leave no doubt whatsoever about who won. Make it clear that after the war, the US will do whatever it wants to the opposing leaders, people and nation, that there is no negotiating or weaseling. This is particularly important to do to dishonorable enemies. Honorable enemies can be treated more leniently.

The final victory in WWIV will be a long time coming, but it will come faster if we have some very clear smaller victories, like grinding Saddam and his regime into a very fine paste and freeing the Iraqi people.

Room to the right of President Bush?
There has been some talk about the strength of a Gary Hart candidacy. One point is that Hart could get to the right of President Bush by attacking his domestic security policies, which have been at best disappointing. It seems that in this area that the current President Bush hasn't learned as much as he should have from the former President Bush. The primary failing of the former was his comfort level with bureacracy. For him, the proper process was always more important than the end result. That's why he went along with the bad policies promoted by the Congressional Democrats, because that's how the process is supposed to work.

In a very similary way the failings of the current administration on the domestic security policy front seems to me to have a single source - the unwillingness to confront or change procedure. I think it's clear that our intelligence agencies, both the CIA and the FBI, failed miserably in the lead up to the 11 Sep attacks. I don't see any evidence of change, which would normally seem to be a high priority for an administration at war. Neither the personel nor the structure of these agencies has really been changed. The Homeland Security Department is just the standard bureaocratic response to any problem - make a bigger agency. This seem more "old Europe" than modern America. It's not clear that there would be any political price for confronting these agencies and their directors. In fact, it seems to be politically more expensive not to.

Unfortunately for the Democrats and Hart, it's not politcally feasible for any of them to run to Bush's right on this issue. The problem is that once you start looking at shaking up our intelligence agencies and directors for poor job performance and to enforce accountablity, the voters may start asking why that's not a good idea for other agencies. There's no good for the part of Big Government down that road.

23 January 2003

We don't want off the ride!
Following a link I went to read some posts at Disgusted Liberal. The most interesting post for me was a discussion of Michael Kelly's column about the liberal Death Spiral. Both the original article and the commentary are quite good. In the comments, however, we have a classic example of why the spiralling continues.
Stop bemoaning the fact that not all will share your wider liberal analysis of the war. Greens, socialists, anarchists etc. have always been the "vanguard" of social change -- the spearheads as it were of positions that people such as yourself can come along and safely adopt when the coast is clear. [...] Accept that no war is the goal, drop your intellectual haughtiness and try to engage with people more.
I would say that there is Kelly's original point. The putative goals that liberals have, greater freedom, fairness, justice, equality, all tossed for the goal of "no war". And not even that - really just "no war by the United States". I don't remember any kind of protest like this when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The "engage with people more" is just as bizarre. Yes, those protest signs of "Bush == Hitler" and unfavorable comparisons of US electoral practices against Iraq's, the greetings from the mujahadeen, now that's engaging with people. But the commentator probably believes that those are mainstream positions. That's the kind of insularity that's pushing the death spiral along. Even a major geek like me is better connected with mainstream thought than that.

22 January 2003

Please hold on, your call is important to us...
Apparently the White House is handing off the crisis in North Korea to the United Nations. This seems like an excellent move to me. As I and others have argued, unlike Iraq time is on our side with North Korea. It already has nukes and the regime is far closer to internal collapse. Bumping them over to the UN is a three-fer:
  • Greatly delays any substantive negotiations
  • Dumps the problem in the laps of our "allies" just as it looks like Bush will be dropping the hammer on Iraq
  • Given that the North Koreans want direct talks with the US this is a good slap in the face
Are we getting results already? North Korea has just pledged to not develop nuclear weapons. That story also says that
After returning from talks in Pyongyang, the adviser, Maurice Strong, told reporters that North Korea made it clear to him that the UN Security Council should not take up the issue
Sounds like an endorsement to me!

Via Rantburg.

The promise of the Internet
The January 2003 Washington Monthly has a review (World Wide Wash) of a book about how the Internet interacts with authoritarian regimes. It's basically pessimistic in that the case studies don't support the contention that the Internet is a great liberating force. I still believe the Internet is such a force, but it works much more slowly than the authors of the book, the reviewer, or many of the Internet boosters think. If we look at the collapse of the Soviet Union, we see that it was the relative failure of the economy that eventually brought it down. The Internet is a technology that serves to magnify such differences. In particular, the Internet strongly benefits Anglospheric cultures. In addition, because of network effects the bigger the network the bigger the boost. So setting up a national Internet that doesn't connect to the outside doesn't bring that much benefit, particularly for smaller countries.

But that's not really much different than the boosters claim, is it? What is missing is an appropriate time scale. For a developed nation the Internet can change things on "Internet time" but that's not how things work in other places. Certain habits and traits of mind are required for that (habits and traits that are much more prevalent in the Anglosphere), such as a habit of compromise or free exchange of information and opinions. These aren't acquired by a culture very rapidly. There is also the tendency to overestimate the penetration of the Internet in other countries or the difficulties in connecting. Even for communications and media, the Internet is having a bigger effect on mainstream media in the US than anywhere else. Blogosphere triumphalism aside, I think it's becoming clearly harder for the old gatekeepers to in the US to control or shape the information available to citizens. Again, this hasn't happened overnight nor do I expect the New York Times to suddenly go straight, but the impact is there and will continue to increase.

The Internet is an enabling technology. The biggest effect in terms of national liberation will be that non-liberal, non-connected states will be increasingly unable to interact with the developed / networked world and therefore increasingly poorer (relatively and possibly absolutely), just as even allied militaries are finding it difficult to operate on the same battlefield as American troops. It is the case (as the book points out) that oppressive government doesn't seem so oppressive as long as it's delivering prosperity, in which people are more interested in breaking the Great Firewall of China to find porn than political tracts. When you'll see the Internet make a difference is when such regimes fail to deliver. In Iran, for instance, disatisfaction with the regime is being aided by network technology but the Internet is not the source of the discontent. But the main effect will be the disparate economic results which of themselves can drive a lot of discontent.

The belief in the immanent liberation of mankind via the Internet is standard millenialism (the flip side of conspiracy theories). But that doesn't mean that it won't have a profound, liberating effect over the long term.

21 January 2003

What Gaul!
Although everyone in the blogosphere is already piling on, I thought I'd give the latest gaseous emissions from France a whirl. I agree with Den Beste that the actions of Germany and particularly France make them look very guilty in arming Iraq after the Gulf War. The comments seem particularly vacuous. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said "We could not support unilateral action". Duh - if you supported it then it wouldn't be unilateral! Of course, France's solution to this and the dissension in the EU is for everyone to agree with France.

The article also claims that if France doesn't join up, then the cost of the war will be much higher for the US. I find this laughable - as has been mentioned recent US military actions have carefully avoiding putting any non-Anglosphere forces on a critical path.

Sadly, I must do a little defense of France. After reading multiple accounts, it's clear that the statement "We [France] believe that today nothing justifies envisaging military action" is clearly with reference to Iraq and the evidence that has been found to date, not in abstract and in general. I find that claim risible but not utter lunacy. It doesn't really matter - if we go in I have no doubt that we'll find evidence of French and German cooperation with Saddam's regime. Their intrasegience will cost them the remains of respect from the US, destroy NATO and potentially break up the EU. The castigation of the blogosphere is rather pale compared to that.

Timing the news
Has Tony Blair been waiting for the right moment to bust the Finsbury Park Mosque? Blair went on to say that despite this, a terror attack in the UK was inevitable. The recent bust of ring making the deadly poison ricin just adds to the set of concerns. Is this timing fortuitous? There's been some speculation about why this mosque hasn't been raided before but perhaps Blair has been saving it for the right moment, that being shortly before the war on Iraq starts. It would be helpful to Blair to have this sort of thing still in the headlines when the bombs start dropping. It ties in with his warning on the inevitablity of future attacks because that leads directly to "draining the swamps". It may well be that MI5 will do enough decoding of the data pulled from the mosque rapidly enough to keep churning the headlines until the hammer is dropped.
Is Chavez brutal enough to bond with Carter?
Apparently the protests againt the Chavez government in Venezuela have gotten so bad that Chavez has dropped all pretense of being a democratically elected leader and called in Jimmy Carter to help him out. If he weren't really a brutal dictator, why would he have JC get involved? The initial signs are as you'd expect, JC described the first meeting with Chavez as "very positive". That's a worrying sign, because Chavez's excesses have been to this point mostly rhetorical or anticipatory. If JC is bonding with him, there must be something more serious going on.

20 January 2003

US troops in south east Asia
One thing to keep in mind when discussing the presence of US troops in Korea or other south east asian nations is Japan. There is still a lot of antipathy directed toward Japan for its actions during the Pacific War. Japan has never really come to terms with the atrocities it committed during its heyday as a world power which unsurprisingly makes the former victims a bit nervous. One key effect of US troops is as a guarantee against Japan. A drawdown of US troops might well push other nations to get closer to China, which wouldn't be a good thing. Unfortunately, keeping troops there is the least bad alternative we have at this time.

I would also like to note that while anti-US sentiment gets lot of play, pro-US sentiment is underreported. Still, there is a problem that most of the pro-US demonstrators are older, i.e. likely to have experienced the war or have close relatives who did. There appears to be a new generation growing up believing that the North Korean regime isn't their enemy.

One last hit because the horse is still twitching
I didn't have time yesterday to fully rip on the Scientific American article. There is a side bar entitled Whose fault is it, anyway? about the issues of assigning blame for global warming.
There is no legal means of fixing responsibility on consumers, whose individual emissions are very small.
Just not true. This could be done in multiple ways, generally through taxes on things which contribute to fossil fuel burning, such as fuel or vehicles. Oh, they mean that there is no way to do so through the court system.
Consumers arguably have little choice in the matter, given that infrastructure and product availability in most of the U.S. makes high use of fossile fuels unavoidable.
Not true. Any consumer could find solar power products to reduce fossil fuel consumption (just don't ask how much fossil fuel was used to manufacture these products). Or consumers could car pool, drive less, adjust their thermostats, etc. There's plenty of choice, but that's the problem - it's a choice and can't be court imposed.
Energy producers and other fossil-fuel corporations are in a better position than consumers to internalize the costs of climate change and to implement less damaging technology. The consumer might ultimately have to pay anyway, through higher fossil-fuel prices.
I think by "better positioned" the author means "we can sue them". There is also the presupposition of global warming, along with implicit claim that the "costs of climate change" are well enough known and agreed upon to use in corporate budgeting. The author also seems to have the view that these costs will be "internalized" and not passed on to the consumer. And what's this with high fossil fuel prices? Could that be code for "carbon taxes"?

This isn't really all that excerable for an general audience opinion magazine. But what is it doing in a alledgedgly scientific magazine? If I want politically correct drivel, I'll pick up a mainstream magazine.

19 January 2003

Systems engineering and the rightward drift
One of the reasons that I lean conservative from my libertarianism is that I am a software developer. I am extremely skilled at my job. Yet even that skill is insufficient to build complex software right the first time. Yet designing a society is equivalent to building a system orders of magnitude more complex than any software and getting it basically right the first time.

I wonder if part of the rightward drift is that more and more people are exposed to actual system design. If you, as many young kids do, design a level or mission for a first person action game (such as Unreal Tournament or Red Faction) there's no fudging it. The level fits together or it doesn't. And when you show it to your friends, they can be brutal about the deficiencies. There's a very hard edge of evaulation that can't be finessed, or argued away. On the other hand there is a lot of cooperation, designers sharing techniques and resources. What's different than in the past is that much more objective judgement both by the computer and by peers. And such judgement frequently hinges on small details, such as the distance from one ledge to another or placement of entry points. The lesson is that grand plans for the ultimate "cool" level can be destroyed by poor execution or small mistakes or unintended consequences. And is this not the mode of failure for grand liberal schemes to design society? They seem nice until one gets to the details and starts to ask hard questions about specific mechanisms. It can't be good for the left to have lots of the hoi polloi asking questions like that.

The Third Sunday
This week in adult Sunday school the topic was the theology of the situation in the Middle East. Most of the early part was spent debunking the Dispensationalists. As I don't agree with that theology (which seems suspect even on Christian terms) I didn't take many notes. However, it did seem a bit strange for a Christian pastor to label as "wacky" what (he claimed) 40 million Christians in the US believe and to use The Guardian as a source on the issue. To some extent it was a riff on the Zionist Conspiracy, except it was Christian Zionists this time, which was apparently the reason President Bush sided with Israel instead of the Palestinians (and not, for example, the Karine A). This spun into a discussion of US aid to Israel. When the pastor asked the question "And what does Israel do with that aid?" I answered "Defend the values of the West". My impression of all this was to counter the image of the small Israeli population facing the Palestinians by discussing the 40 million US Christians who supported them. No mention of Arab state support for the Palestinians, although (1) Arab support is for more rhetoric than reality and (2) this was about Christians, not Muslims. The most interesting complaint about the use of US aid to Israel was a complaint about how the Israelis promised to use some F-16's only for defense but instead used them to destroy the Osirak reactor in Iraq. I, personally, thank the Israelis from the heart every time I think about that little operation, so it's hard to me to view it as a misuse of American aid. Of course, we're now doing the same thing, attacking Iraq, in the name of defense but I doubt that point would be well received.

So all in all not as bad a day as the previous ones. For personal interactions, one lady mentioned that part of the problem was that the Israelis hadn't gotten over hating the Nazis and without the Nazis around they hated the Palestinians instead. I pointed out that the local Arab states were unreformed Nazi allies in which Nazi propaganda was widespread, so the Israelis perceiving a continuing Nazi menace was not delusional. She thanked me after the meeting, although I'm not sure for what.

UnScientific AntiAmerican Magazine
We accidentally ended up with a subscription to Scientific American. I used to be a genuine subscriber until the growing political bias became too much for me. I glanced through it this month and immediately found an article that exemplified the political bias and sloppy writing that turned me off in the first place.

The article, Greenhouse Suits, comes with a subtitle that sets the tone: "Litigation becomes a tool against global warming". This presumes the reality of global warming and that the people litigating understand the problem well enough to successfully work against it and that those efforts are the correct response. The lead paragraph ends with a stronger restatement of this

Rather than treaties and regulations, litigation may soon be the weapon of choice for those concerned about human-induced global warming.
For those concerned, the assumption being that anyone who is concerned will of course agree on the appropriate response, which is litigation and restriction of human activity. No one concerned about that would ever favor a technological solution such as orbiting sun shades / power stations. This idea is undermined by the point that resorting to litigation as a "tool" is an indication of failure to achieve one's political goals by politics.

The suit highlighted by the article, where the plaintiffs

charge that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export-Import Bank (ExIm) have provided $32 billion for [...] fossil fuel endeavors. In contrast the agencies provided only $1.3 billion for renewable-energy projects [...]
Ignoring that my first response to any mention of problems with the OPIC or ExIm is to say "fine, let's abolish them", it's not clear why this would be a basis for a lawsuit. Despite this lead up, what the lawsuit is actually about is getting OPIC and ExIm to produce "cumulative impact on the climate" statements for all funded projects. The claim is that this is required by the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act. The article then goes on to state some of the hurdles faced by the plaintiffs, the primary one being able to show harm to the plaintiffs from the agencies actions. Why would that be? If the actions of the agencies are really illegal, why would it be necessary to show harm? Are government agencies free to behave illegally as long as no citizen can show harm? There's clearly something left unsaid here.

But we get to the meat of the issue in the penultimate paragraph with a claim from Donald Goldberg of the Center for International Environmental Law: "Goldberg holds that U.S. courts can solve the problem of apportioning blame". Ah, the U.S. courts. Is this because only U.S. companies are evil entities bent on warming the globe? Or because only U.S. companies should bear the burden? Why is someone from an organization for "International Law" claiming that the solution to a global problem is using U.S. courts to rule on U.S. law against U.S. companies? A cynical person might view this as more motivated by punishing the U.S. than solving the problem.

18 January 2003

Marsh-al Violence
She Who Is Perfect In All Ways mentioned something to me that she saw printed recently. I went looking for further stories on line and found this mention of the marsh draining in southern Iraq. To quote a bit,
A recent UN study has focused new attention on the destruction of southern Iraq's vast marshlands at the heart of the Fertile Crescent. The study calls the loss of the wetlands an ecological catastrophe comparable to the deforestation of the Amazon and the shrinking of the Aral Sea. The drainage of the marshlands is part of a deliberate policy by Baghdad since 1991
Why isn't this considered big news by say, the Greens in Germany who are so opposed to overthrowing the Saddam regime? Or by any of the ecologically correct protestors who were out on the streets today? What of the multiculturalists - the draining of the swamps is eradicating both a people and a way of life. Of course, Saddam has spent huge amount of money and effort to wreak this havoc in preference to feeding the Iraqi people but hey, sacrifices have to be made. Saddam would have been easily able to afford this if it weren't for those darn sanctions.

This is actually worse than "no war for oil" because at least that one, while delusional, is consistent with the general policies of those making it. And certainly an oppressive government that murders its citizens has never been against the principles of the Left. Yet there they are, promoting conservation to avoid having to "fight for oil" while actively supporting someone who's draining the largest wetlands in the Middle East and killing tens of thousands of people in the process. The final ironic touch is that the draining has allowed Iraq to do more drilling for oil in the area.

P.S. Hey, isn't that kind of ecological damage against international law?

Update: Damian Penny beat me to this. Interesting that this story, buried so long, is now percolating out as my original source is different than Mr. Penny's.

17 January 2003

When you don't care enough to fake the very best
Apparently there is an issue with the Iraqi inspections where Iraq claims to have destroyed known chemical weapons but lost the paperwork. This is truly bizarre. Given that the weapons were found after the Gulf War, that Iraq has admitted that they existed, why not just fake the records of their destruction? Is Saddam so confident that the UN and its inspectors are on his side that he sees no need to even bother falsifying records? I'm stunned that Saddam didn't pursue this option as his primary technique. Why not just whomp up a whole pile of detailed documents about how the known weapons were destroyed? Kofi Annan, Hans Blix and the UN Security Council would have believed every letter.
Reality Dysfunction - can it be cured?
In an interview Abdul Aziz al Rantisi, a spokesman for Hamas, dismissed the call for an end to suicide bombings, stating that
the number of these people does not exceed 500 at the maximum and so they are next to nil compared to the vast majority of the Palestinian people who support the [suicide bombing] operations
Just a bit later in the same article we have
Responding to a question about the intention of Sharon’s government to deport the families of the Palestinian suicide bombers outside the Palestinian lands or to Gaza Strip, Rantisi said, “these people do not believe in law. Their law is the law of jungle, terrorism and killing"
I see. So supporting suicide bombings, killing children in front of their parents and working on chemical weapons is completely different from deporting people who do these kind of things.

Rantisi also claims that with respect to Egypt, the country we pay billions of dollars a year to help bring peace to the Middle East, “There have been no pressures by our brothers in Egypt". Rantisi also denied any pressure from Syria as well, but that's to be expected. We also have the following two statements:

Rantisi denied as “baseless” the accusations that his movement has been blackmailing Fatah through exploiting the issue of suicide operations inside Israel in order to achieve political gains from the dialogue between the two factions
and
“The phrase ‘halt of martyrdom operations’ is not a relevant title for the dialogue [between PA and Hamas],” said Rantisi reiterating that Hamas wants the title to be ‘what is good for the Palestinian interests.” He added, “halting the [suicide bombing] operations will minimize the importance of the dialogue.”
Is it just me, or does it follow that if the suicide bombing operations serve to make the dialogue with the PA important, that's using those operations to achieve political gains in the dialogues? Wouldn't it be better to at least put those sorts of contradictions in different interviews? But I suspect that Rantisi and his cohorts don't see any contradition there.
Moving the bar
NPR was on for a bit this morning and there was a section on the latest findings by the UN inspectors in Iraq. It was a bit of a confused mess but a few things stood out.

Someone from the Fourth Freedom Foundation went on about how "they" wanted the inspection results to be ambiguous, that "they" didn't want actual violations to be found. Just who "they" were wasn't specified. I presume that the speaker was referring to the Bush Administration but perhaps he meant the UN inspectors or Big Oil. Bad speaking or bad editing or both. But that didn't really matter, as another speaker worked on moving the bar. Even actual chemical warheads or a factory producing chemical weapon precursors wouldn't be sufficient now. What would be wasn't stated. Of course, the NPR announcer kept using the phrasing "the most recent UN resolutions" when talking about compliance by Iraq, presumably because those are the only ones that it's not indisputable that Iraq has flagrantly violated. The best bit was the comment that if WMD was found, then we'd know that Iraq has been lying. Oh yeah, that revelation should definitely be a blind-side hit.

It's just really bizarre, this presumption of innocence and lack of guile on the part of Iraq while the US and the Bush Administration in particular are presumed to be devious lying weasels with nefarious ulterior motives. Of course, one needs to assume that in order to make any kind of case on behalf of Iraq.

16 January 2003

A retirement house built of skulls
Now that there's apparently the possibility of Saddam retiring [source] I realize that I wasn't sufficiently clear about what the quid pro quo was for allowing a brutal dictator a cushy retirement. It's not worth it to just get Scum One out of office and replace him with Scum Two. The deal must include the surrender of the government to outside forces, which may not be good but is very likely to be better than Scum Two. In Iraq, I wouldn't support a Saddam exile that didn't involve the occupation of Iraq by the US. That's the only to prevent an Uday from coming to power or Saddam running the country from the outside. To take the view that it's ok to let the dictator get away as I have is to place the highest value on the state of the citizenry. Therefore any deal must clearly and substantively improve their plight or it's just moral surrender. It's difficult to see any benefit to the people of Iraq without a thorough house cleaning which will be effectively impossible from inside.

15 January 2003

Trade not aid!
President Bush will ask Congress to extend tariff exemptions for Africa, currently due to expire in 2008. Unfortunately, he is also calling for an increase in general American foreign aid. Aid is bad in multiple ways. It goes to governments, which in Africa tend to be poorly run so any additional money generally makes the economy worse. It also gets stolen, helping to maintain corruption and encourage those looking for a quick buck into government positions (and making the leadership of a country very lucrative which unsurprisingly causes gang wars like we see in Liberia or Ivory Coast). Aid breeds dependency, and diverts efforts into sucking up to Americans rather than building businesses. It's also, in P.J. O'Rourke's term, "yo-yo" money that in many ways is really subsidies for American companies and NGO's. However, if that's what it takes to get the tariff exemptions extended, it's probably worth it.

14 January 2003

That trick never works!
Another silly article about how President Bush is the problem in the negotiations with North Korea. It actually has some interesting information about Bill Richardson and why it's not really surprising that he got involved. That case is well made
As a U.S. congressman in the 1990s, Richardson went to Pyongyang three times. In 1994, after a U.S. Army helicopter was shot down after accidentally crossing the DMZ, he negotiated the release of the pilot's remains. (The pilot was one of his constituents.) In 1996, partly on the basis of this contact, Richardson was called on to play an active role in hammering out a proposal for "Four-Party Talks," in which the two Koreas, China, and the United States might at last settle the remaining issues of the 1950-53 war. (The talks broke down when a North Korean submarine ran aground in South Korean waters.) Finally, that same year, Richardson negotiated the release of Evan Hunziker, an American peace activist who was arrested as a spy after trying to swim across the Yalu River. Richardson also used the occasion to inform the North Koreans of President Clinton's interest in arranging formal bilateral meetings.
What the author fails to wonder about is why it is in the best interests of the US to cooperate. The desired endpoint seems to be that the North Koreans gives us the same thing they've given us before (an end to their nuclear weapons development) and we give them more stuff. There is no discussion of why the North Koreans would follow the agreement this time ("Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!") and how we would know if North Korea didn't. But if the lack of any evidence that North Korea upholds any of its agreements isn't the reason Bush has been refusing to negotiate, what is? Why, personal antipathy to that great statesman Bill Clinton! The author expresses this as the hope that
Maybe, just maybe, Bush will overcome his allergy to anything touched by Clinton and give this deal a try
Why yes, since the last deal worked out so well for the US, why not do the same thing again? And, since the North Koreans are the ones who violated the agreement, why shouldn't we help them by negotiating and bribing them back to the status quo ante? Any objections are just Clinton-hating. It's all so clear now.

13 January 2003

Compassion or Justice?
HRH Damian I, Not Yet Recognized Despotic Ruler of Newfoundland, comments on a possible plan to get Robert Mugabe to step down in exchange for a clean get away. Mr. Penny notes that because of the violation of a similar deal for Agusto Pinochet, Mugabe is less likely to take this offer (although it's certainly not ruled out). As Mr. Penny says,
Ironically enough, that [violation] could be a disincentive for Mugabe to resign
Why yes, it is. This was in fact commented on heavily at the time and in my view was a strong discentive to going after Pinochet. Will those who went after Pinochet feel any guilt if Mugabe murders a few million people instead of bugging out because some "do-gooders" wanted to make some headlines and feel good about themselves? It comes down to trying to do justice to dictators vs. saving the people he is oppressing. This is something that I've pondered in various forms for many a year, but recently I've come down on the side of compassion to the people. If this is the kind of deal it takes to get Mugabe out and prevent mass starvation in Zimbabwe, well fine. Get him a villa on the Riveria. I'll chip in. The truth is, there is no way justice can be done in a case like this. There is no punishment that fits the crime. So justice is a chimera which serves only to prolong the suffering of the innocent. Not a pleasant thought but pretending otherwise benefits no one.

12 January 2003

Gosh, I'm tired.
This morning in adult sunday school the pastor spent the time going over personal stories from the West Bank. As expected, all of these involved hardship alledgedly imposed byIsraelis. Even the dire economic straights were claimed to be entirely caused by Israeli actions which were described without any context. There was the article promoting the Jenin massacre myth. At one point, after dissenting yet again from the official view, I was challenged on where I got my information and "who controls that?"". I disputed that that was relevant and that I got my infomration from a variety of sources but the challenger was unmollified. The best challenge to my claims was about the Palestinian Charter. My claim was that it had never been changed and my source was the copy I pulled off the UN mission of the Palestinian Authority website. The counter was that the US State Department claimed that it had been changed, and who was to pick between those two sources? The problem is that if it hasn't changed, it makes the two state solution infeasible and shows that it's not the Israeli side that's the biggest violator of agreements.

The most disconcerting moment was a segue from stories about the IDF violating churches. I pointed out that Palestinian had used chuches for military purposes so perhaps this wasn't completely unjustified. We went to the occupation of the Church of the Nativity as an example. This was excused by gathered Lutherans for two reasons: the gunmen were being pursued by the IDF and they didn't actually fire their weapons from the Church. I didn't know how to respond to that. But at least this week I wasn't the lone voice of dissent - someone tried to bring in context instead of just reading sad tales.

Why the excuses for Palestinian behaviour? I think it was revealed when the pastor mentioend that things are different for those who have power and those who don't, and that the Israelis are powerful. I suppose those with this view consider it pointless to think about why it's the Israelis are powerful. Or that being powerless isn't a moral blank check. But that would require making actual judgements and that's hard. Better to leave it someone else.

11 January 2003

He has a cunning plan...
I've been thinking about Illinois Governor Ryan's little problems along with a a couple of others. Ryan has spent some time visiting Cuba and getting chewing the fat with Castro. Now, originally I thought it was just to flee the press. But as his term winds down, it may be that prosecutors are just biding their time until Ryan is out of office to avoid the hassles of going after a sitting governor. So perhaps he's been planning ahead for years to flee to Cuba to escape prosecution! Certainly life can be grand in Cuba if you're a guest of the plantation owner . And Castro has a lot of pull with the Nobel Prize committee. Cuba has no extradition treaty with the US and certainly wouldn't repatriate any of Ryan's ill gotten gains. It would be quite the coup for Castro to have an American fleeing political prosecution (which is obviously only because of his opposition to the death penalty) who was a former governor. I love it when a plan comes together.
Nuclear strategy in Korea
As we face a nuclear crisis in Korea, there are a few things to keep in mind.

North Korea hasn't actually tested any nuclear devices. It's not really that simple to build a nuclear weapon, despite the scare stories you see published. While the general theory is simple, it requires some sophisticated engineering to get all of the pieces to work correctly (for instance, getting the shaped charges to collapse the critical mass). Without testing, it's not clear that the things will actually work. Note that that the US is concerned that without testing we can't be confident in our own weapons and we have much better technological capabilities than North Korea.

Even if the nukes work, how much damage will they do? There's a mythology about nukes that they are incomparably more powerful than any other weapon. That's just not the case - even in WWII the nuclear attacks on Japan were not the most deadly bombing attacks of the war. It's extremely doubtful that NK has nukes much bigger than the minimum size, about 5-10 kTons. Seoul might well be in more danger from the amount of artillery NK has massed in range than a low yield nuke. More over, if you really want to destroy a city you need to have an air burst - going off on the ground causes a lot more fallout but much less initial damage. During a war, no airplane from the North is going to make it to Seoul. Even missiles are difficult. There's a fairly narrow range of useful altitudes and a ballistic missile is going to go through it in a very short time. The nuke needs to go off between 0 and 25000 ft and at Mach3 (over .5 miles / second, slow for a ballistic missile) that's only a 10 second window. If the timer's too long the device won't go off at all. It takes very high tech to get a nuclear device to survive a supersonic ground impact and still go off. While there's nothing all that fundamental that's difficult about a timing or radar based detonator, it's like the nuke itself - the devil is in the details and without practice, it's very hard to get right the first time without a top notch tech base. Given the history of problems with NK's missiles it's not clear how much confidence we should have in their ability to deliver a nuke that works.

But here's a nasty scenario that my associate BBB suggested. North Korea has a few commercial airliners. Put the nuke on one of those and then fly it to Seoul, claiming it's been hijacked by asylum seekers. It seems unlikely that it would be shot down before it was over Seoul, at which point the nuke is detonated. This wouldn't work during war, but as an opening gambit it might be very effective. Alternatively, use a plane or a truck to drive it into the DMZ and set it off.

But we have to ask, what's in any of this for North Korean leadership? They have gotten a lot of mileage out of threatening to go postal, but actually going postal is signing their death warrants (unless they believe that China will bail them out again, which is not all that implausible). The NK leadership has consistently shown a very high regard for their own benefit so it's reasonable to expect them to do so in the future. That's why I think that the DMZ scenario is more likely. It would basically be impossible to stop and would give them at least a slim chance of conquering enough of South Korea to have a bargaining position. Nuking Seoul right off or worse a city in Japan just doesn't have a payoff that I can see but guarantees the destruction of the leadership. One may argue that they'd have to if we called their bluff to maintain credibility for next time. But it's very likely that if NK uses a nuke (especially on a city) there won't be a next time for them.

P.S. An interesting question to ask is, suppose NK fires a nuclear armed missile that impacts in Seoul and doesn't go off? What might the reaction be? Discuss amongst yourselves.

UPDATE: I failed to credit the commercial airliner trick to the original proponent, my co-worker BBB. I have corrected this error in the text.

UPDATE: A similar post showed up a few days later at Transterrestrial Musings.

UPDATE [22 Jan 2003]: Two good posts. One on cold testing where the nuclear device is tested on unenriched uranium to verify the mechanical / explosive properties. The technical help for this was alledgedly supplied by Pakistan. The other post discusses the level of corruption (high) in the North Korean military. This has an interesting correlation with an increase in the refugees [source] escaping from North Korea (which is indicative of corruption at the lowest, border guard level).

10 January 2003

Money talks
I was reading Victor Davis Hanson over at NRO this morning about the problems on the Korean peninsula. One of the points he makes is that we should increase our efforts on developing a ballistic missile defense. The standard argument against this is that any enemy would not use a missle but smuggle the nuclear weapon into the US. If that's the case, however, why are North Korea and Iraq working so hard on missiles and why are other rogue nations buying those missiles? Apparently the people running rogue nations believe that using missiles to deliver weapons is a good choice, which makes working on a ballistic missile defense a good choice for us. I'll believe the buying habits of rogue nations over the theories of western pundits.
No easy answers
A question for our time that we can only hope we don't have to answer, from Andrew X
Orin Judd says:
But the question is, will we stand by when they start gassing Muslims?
That is a horrifying question that I have pondered myself. And I would certainly like to think the answer is no. But what if Europe is going after Muslims in response to 10,000 dead in the subways of Paris and London? What if that oh-so-tolerant multi-culturalism has produced thousands of Muslims that consider their European homes to be enemy societies, to be attacked relentlessly in the name of God? What if the very weakness of Europe that we have all talked about is seen as an opportunity by those who would literally destroy the West and Judeo-Christian society as a whole? And I repeat and re-phrase.... what would be our opinion be of the German murder of the Jews the 40's their actions were after fanatical Jews murdered 10,000 Berliners, destroyed Cologne cathedral and others, stockpiled mustard and nerve gasses, and sent out radio and news releases essentially laughing at their successes, promising more and worse to come, and calling upon fellow Jews to murder Germans wherever they could be found? (All of this hypothetically taking place before any holocaust against the Jews, not after.)

So, horrible as it is to think about, just what would be our response? Should we wage war upon Germans to enable fanatics to continue their relentless mass murder against them? What options ARE we prepared to offer or expect from another country in such a situation?

It's a fair bet that question may need a real answer at some point soon. I'm not a huge fan of the 21st Century so far. And as a pretty harsh critic of Europe of late, I am not without sympathy. I believe they are facing a very difficult future, and some extremely hard choices.

I have some sympathy too, but the European elites have actively contributed to this problem so my sympathy is limited. While I've said that I would have more sympathy if the European governments did something to ameloriate the problem, this isn't what I meant. But considering the parties involved and their mindsets, I am beginning to wonder what other outcomes are possible.

09 January 2003

Taking the good with the bad
Orin Judd is rightly taking the libertarian wing of the blogosphere to task for letting the free trade agreement with Chile pass relatively unnoticed. This is not just another trade agreement, but a big step forward for any one who supports free trade (which should be anyone who values personal liberty). Much as it pains me, we must give Bill Clinton a lot of credit here because of NAFTA. After all of the gloom and doom before that treaty, it's a very minor issue in the American body politic. The success (or more accurately that lack of anything bad) from the treaty makes the next one much easier to get through Congress. Chile is a key target in the spread of free trade with the US because it's geographically remote and the South American nation most in line with free markets.

Certainly the steel tarrifs were bad and I am not as sanguine as Mr. Judd about them. But it's only fair to laud President Bush for moving taking a big step forward with this treaty. The efforts of his administration to bring extend NAFTA from Mexico down through all of Central America is truly wonderful news as well. If this effort is successful, then I'll let the steel tarrifs go as just a bump in the road. Perhaps President Bush did it as an object lesson, because the bad effects made a lot of news and there was little backlash when multiple large holes were punched in the tarriffs in the following months. Is Bush saving this up for when protectionist in the Senate starts whining about the Chile FTA? That could be interesting.

Passive audiences are passe
I have to make fun of the Chicago Tribune for writing an article about Instantman without mentioning the URL of his blog. Was it incompetence or just a mindset where it would never occur to the auther that a reader could immediateliy go and experience the same thing as the writer?
Delusions of grandure
Governor George Ryan, who is too corrupt for politics in Illinois, apparently has a website which is pushing his nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. I was aghast, but then I remembered the other recent winners of that prize and I thought, "jeebus, and here I'd thought that Ryan had hit bottom". But, like the highly experienced Illinois politician that he is, he can always dig deeper. The bit on the site that his election as governor has him "continuing a distinguished career of public service" is laughable to anyone who knows anything about state politics. Right now he's handing out state jobs to politcal allies [source] before the new governor takes over. Ryan winning the award would be worth it, however, if he has to get a prison pass to go and receive the award. [via TalkLeft]

08 January 2003

Reasonable Doubt -or- Taylor made hysteria
Over at Reason magazine's blog Jeff Taylor is getting a bit hysterical about the Hamdi decision. Taylor writes
it still isn't clear exactly why Hamdi is an enemy combatant, other than the government's say so. It's the kind of thing, oh, a court might need to decide
Well, according to Eugene Volokh the court record does not dispute that Hamdi went to Afghanistan to join the Taliban, that he was on the field of battle for the Taliban and that he had a weapon. Apparently what was disputed is whether he actually fired his weapon. Is Taylor agreeing that that as long as Hamdi didn't actually pull the trigger, he's not an enemy combatant? Further, three courts have now found the government's claim reasonable. So, in a real sense, multiple courts have decided it. This is knee-jerk libertarianism. Getting hysterical about cases like this is simply going to convince the American public that the Constitution is a barrier to security (when, IMHO, it's not). I'm not going to lose sleep because US citizens who take up arms against their own nation in foreign battles can be detained as POWs.
Not so funny when it's done to you, eh?
Also in Slate today is an article by William Saletan about the Bush Administration "disguising" a tax cut for the rich as a tax cut for seniors. That is a bit disingenious, but not that bad because of course most rich people are seniors. But the bizarre bit is that Saletan castigates Bush for this trick, as if Bush were the first politician to think of spinning legislation by renaming the beneficiaries. Who, exactly, invented the term "senior citizen"? I don't think that it was a Republican. Here's the best quote:
If Bush adds tax cuts for the old to tax cuts for the dead, there's no telling how far down the life cycle he could go. Tax breaks on leisure travel, in the name of older Americans? Tax breaks on second homes, in the name of the middle-aged? Tax breaks on capital gains, in the name of the overweight? Inventing euphemisms for the rich never gets old.
Just switch "old"/"older Americans" to "the children" and you have most of the Democratic Party play book.
I already explained the difference - pay attention!
Slate has a reasonably balanced discussion of the differences between Iraq and North Korea in terms of how the US should deal with the threats from those nations. However, the author misses the biggest difference between the two situtations, which is that North Korean regime is dependent on the charity of other countries while Iraq is a valued trading partner and can easily pay for itself. Given that the article claims to deal with "unspeakable truths", I think the fact that the US is propping up the most repressive regime on the planet might have made it in there.
Proportionate Respones
I think that Steven Den Beste is wrong that having a list of response levels to provocations is instrinsically a Bad Thing. A correspondent says
No, the problem comes from not having a proper list of gradients that are attempted with the last item being war. Even with war, there would be some gradients - military blockade all the war to the highest gradient of Nuclear response
to which Den Beste replies
Having a public list like that would be an extremely grave mistake. [.…] What it means is that an enemy has a menu he can consult to determine how far he can push you, because he can see at any given point just how far down your list of standard steps of escalation you’ve gone through so far. If he’s willing to tolerate up to step 8 and you’ve only reached step 5, then he knows he can keep pushing
I agree that a list like that described is a bad idea for the same reasons Den Beste mentions. However, I think that a different list is a positive good. One can consider Den Beste’s position that a list is ok as long as there is a single item on it - “we may respond in any way to any action”. I think a middle ground, a list with a few items on it, is better than either extreme. As Den Beste himself goes on about at length, we had such a list during WWII and it worked well. That was, “we won’t use chemical weapons as long as our enemies don’t”. Den Beste notes well the ways in which an unscrupulous actor can abuse such a list, but ignores the way such a list can encourage such actors to behave. The key is to have few levels on the list, or alternative big steps so that it’s hard to game the system because at each level there is a broad range of possible response. For instance, Jacksonians have three levels on the list:
  • You leave me alone then I leave you alone
  • You mess with me then I’ll fight honorably
  • You fight dishonorably then it’s no holds barred

I think that this is better than the single level of response Den Beste seems to be advocating, because then a scrupulous actor doesn’t really know what you might do. A list like the one above reassures such actors while giving little away to unscrupulous ones. Unpredictability morphs into irrationality quite easily and so it’s not an unalloyed good. And as Den Beste observes it’s good to have carrots as well as sticks and a short list provides carrot while not overly restricting the choice of sticks.

07 January 2003

Parochial minds
Much mock has been made of the nekkid protestors in California. While the idea of marching nekkid to support a cause is garden variety stupid, the idea of having 100,000 people do it simultaneously is simply delusional. But the true limits of the thought processes here is the idea that people in Washington DC in the middle of January will be getting nekkid as well. That's not uncomfortably, that's downright dangerous. I suspect that it the weather issue just didn't occur to the organizers - after all, while it will be a bit chilly in San Francisco then, it won't be express service hypothermia or frostbite. I believe that Donna Sheehan is simply incapable of grasping that not everyone and everyplace is just like her and her neighborhood.
Getting shriller
There are reports that some of the standard left-leaning bloggers are becoming increasingly shrill. I wonder if it's not an artifact of the apparently imminence of President Bush drop the hammeron Iraq. Of course, this would be stressful in any case, to have finally and irrevocably lost the policy argument. But I suspect something bigger - that the anti-war crowd knows that the Iraqis will be happy afterwards, just like the Afghans, and that we will find ... things ... that may well stick like tar to those opposed to the invasion. Just like Scott Ritter didn't want to talk about children's prisons in Iraq because he was against the war, the opposition doesn't want to talk about what the Iraqi regime does to the Iraqis. But what happens when FoxNews is doing interviews with the freed little tykes after the war?

There's something else driving the non-loonie opposition to the war with Iraq, but I can't figure out what it is. It's something so powerful that it makes people ignore things like horrific children's prisons, the same sort of people who not so long ago advocated military adventures across the planet (Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti, etc.). I don't believe that its simply anti-Americanism, that's not consistent with the things in the previous sentence. Could it be fear of a truly hyper-power America? One can still argue, feebly, that America is not yet the global hegemon. But if we take out Saddam and reshape the Middle East over the next decade or so, there will be no disputing it. Is this outcome seen as the straw that will break that back of collectivism? Is it some visceral anti-Bush feeling, where nothing is more important that Bush being shown to actually be an idiot? The "Bush is a moron" meme will move out to the tinfoil hat room if the war in Iraq goes well and Iran has a revolution. But that seems too petty. It passes my understanding.

Jacksonian foreign policy and gansta culture
It's a neural storm in the Mesh today. As I was thinking about the foreign policy for Iraq that I would support ("kick their ass, don't pee on them") I was considering the issue of "what if every nation adopted this policy?". In modern American "gangsta" culture you have the same view of full retaliation. Why would this work for nations and not for gangs? The difference is that Jacksonians aren't willing to fight over trifles. It's expected that you cut the other side some slack to deal with the friction that is always present. Unfortunately, that slack is an artifact of a strong internal confidence, that it's not a big deal or worth worrying about if some nation scores some small trick against us. We're the richest, most dynamic nation in the history of the world and we have better things to spend our time on than stressing out about every slight. But if your reputation is just a self referential social construct, then any slight endangers your net worth. It's the difference of whether one's worth is interal (things one has done) or external (what other think). We see this in "gangsta" culture and the Middle East. I don't see any cure except breaking the external reputation so that there's no choice but to generate worth internally. The worst thing is to cater to such belligerency, which sadly is exactly what we've done for decades. Perhaps we're finally starting to wise up.
American casualties and clarity of purpose
It looks like we're finally going to actually do something about Iraq. The carping left will of course be waiting with baited breath for American troops to die (or huge numbers of Iraqi civilians but I've already discussed that). The presumption is that once our troops start being killed, support for the war will fade. I don't believe this. I think that Americans are quite willing to accept casualties if some concrete goal is being pursued. I haven't seen any serious commentary lamenting American deaths in Afghanistan and I think that's because the American public accepts those deaths as worthwhile because of what was achieved (prevention of mass starvation, overthrow of the Taliban, retribution on Al Qaeda). Casualties in places like Vietnam and Somalia were far less acceptable because there was no clear purpose, no end goal to compensate for the loss. As a secondary effect there was the perception that because of the lack of purpose our troops were not supported as well as they could have been nor used as effectively as they should. I am a hawk myself, but I do not support military efforts that are not committed to victory. No symbology or gesture is worth the lives of our warriors. Liberating the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, crushing our enemies - that's worth it. As I've said before, there's a reason whup ass comes in cans.

06 January 2003

Is it finally clobberin' time?
I sent a package off today to my friend the Intrepid Girl Reporter. It was a bit painful because she's stationed in sub-Saharan Africa and there's much customs paperwork to fill out. However, she won't get it for a while because she's off her normal rounds now, doing "hostile environment" training near London in preparation for insertion into Kuwait or Qatar in order to "try to get into Iraq with the U.S. troops when they go in". That area isn't her duty station, so she's been pulled off that for this. Apparently the view is that the campaign will be soon and fast, as she comments that "It's odd but this duty is probably safer than Africa actually".
Monbiot and Limits to Growth
Some bloggers (Mindles H. Dreck, Samizdata and Layman's Logic) have been having fun with George Monbiot's column where he "proves" that capitalism can't work. I haven't seen any comments on two points I thought were significant, so I'll make them here.

One thing recommended by Monbiot is negative interest rates to encourage consumption and discourage accumulating cash. This is supposed to lead to ecologically sensitive prosperity. One way to get negative interest rates is when inflation is higher than nominal interest rates. This could be done by legally limiting interest paid to depositors and then inflating the currency. Didn't the US try this during the 1970's? That worked well. (Woops, apparently some of the Samizdata comments bring this up).

There are limits to growth, but they are so far away from where we are now that there's no point in us worrying about them. It's just like the following joke:

A student is in an astronomy class and suddenly jumps up, wildly agitated. He shouts at the professor "WHAT DID YOU SAY?". The professor replies, "The Sun will burn out 5 billion years from now". The student, now visibly calmed, sits back down and says "Oh. I thought you said 5 million years".
There even limits on computation based on the background temperature of the universe (basically, if you destroy information then you end up with waste heat which must be disposed of, and the background temperature of the universe limits your ability to do that. All current technology destroys information at massive rate, although there are some theoretical systems that do not). It's senseless for us to try to do anything about these limits for two reasons. The problem is so far in the future that nothing we set up now will still be operating then, and even if it could, it would be like us consulting Neanderthals about whether we should use thin or thick computational nodes for the next generation Internet.

05 January 2003

My guy's great but all the others are scum
I commented a bit ago about John Edwards and trial lawyers. Instantman, also commenting on Virginia Postrel, claimed that there was a generic good will towards lawyers in the American public. Daily Pundit riposted with this survey showing lawyers having lost a lot of respect in the last 25 years. Daily Pundit now cites another survey by the American Bar Association where only journalists ranked lower in terms of respect. I wonder if this isn't the same phenomenom that has always puzzled me about Congress. While the public generally has a very low opinion about Congress as a whole, they tend to think well of their local Congresscritter, so that every one's Congresscritter is above average. Perhaps most people like their own lawyer but think all the other lawyers are scum. This wouldn't boad well for Edwards, since he's going to be one of the "other lawyers" to virtually the entire electorate.
None are so blind as those who will not see
I went to adult Sunday school this morning because they were having a series of sessions on the Middle East. I've been following stories of moral idiotarianism on the part of various church oranizations. Apparently it's common, because the handouts I got were heavily biased in favor of the Palestinians (that is to say, in favor of equivalance between the two sides). I did what I could to inject some perspective (for instance, mentioning the several million German refugees resulting from moving the German border west to the Oder (which the pastor was completely unaware of. But when he outright denied that the violence in the region between WWI and WWII wasn't primarily pogroms against the Jews I knew there wasn't much hope. He also blamed Israel for destroying the judicial system in the West Bank because it had been there when the Ottoman Empire was in charge and now it wasn't. He also dismissed arguments about a free press by pointing out that in the US, even with a free press, we don't get the entire story. Ok, well then clearly it's not a big deal...

But to a large extent the documents (an example which was handed out, a rebuttal which wasn't) aren't filled with big lies, but selective omissions (as in the refugee issue mentioned above). The result of this is to paint the plight of the Palestinians as (1) unique and (2) externally imposed. Of course, their plight is neither and the solutions generally proposed require historically unique resolutions to common events and even if implemented would be rapidly destroyed by the dysfunctional politics and societal structure of the Palestinians, just like they destroyed Lebanon and almost destroyed Jordan. I see no hope until the Palestinians are willing to admit that other people have legitimate rights and desires. I see no evidence of that at present. And as long as we have religious organizations like this indulging the Palestinians in their delusion that everything should be arranged for teir benefit, there's little hope of change.

04 January 2003

Moral Idiotarians
In my previous post on Dennis Prager, I disputed that the conclusions that he claimed many leftists believe followed logically from the premise that people are innately good. I didn't claim that nobody drew such conclusions from that premise. Here is a prime example of the kind of people he was talking about.

This is an editorial from the The Asia Times Online which discusses how to deal with North Korea. The basic thrust of the article is that the North Korean leadership should realize that it's in the best interests of the North Korean people to engage in constructive diplomacy and open up to economic development. Gosh, really? Those 50 years of beligerence, assassination, kidnapping, treaty violations, vicious oppression and mass starvation are just because the North Korean leadership is confused about how to help the general populace? Here's a representative paragraph:

The answer is in Pyongyang, and it hinges on the strength and determination of the present leadership. Contrary to what it may seem, if Kim Jong-il is strong in his position and determined to get his country out of its misery, he should quickly stop this nuclear slide. If the saber-rattling goes on, it could indicate deep weaknesses in the North Korean leadership, strong rivalry, power struggles and a simple lack of basic understanding of the world. And that would be a nuisance.
A nuisance. Jeepers, we wouldn't want that. How could preventing misery in North Korea not be right up there on Kim Jong Il's "to-do" list? But it would take a failure now to indicate weakness in the NK leadership or a lack of basic understanding of the world? The entire editorial is written in this vaguely puzzled and disapproving tone because the author just can't figure out why Kim Jong Il won't do these things that would be good for the North Koreans. But the most bizarre part is that earlier, the author writes
[...] its [North Korea's] leadership is unreliable [...] some 20 million people are held hostage, as human shields, by their manipulative leaders who have no scruples.
Dude, perhaps that's related to why the leadership doesn't seem to be "determined to get the country out of its misery".

03 January 2003

Post-modernism - hijacked by fools
Post-modernism is rightly ridiculed by people with a clue. But like many things, it is a parody of what was once a reasonable and insightful set of ideas. One of them is a derivative of nominalism, which is the belief that words are just sounds and the concepts that they name are just social constructs. One of the early bits of post modernism was work in hermeneutics which was broadened to mean the study of the meaning of words. Since words have no fundamental existence, how do they have meaning? The essence of this is that physical reality applies only to physical instances (e.g. Orin's blog, my blog, Tim Blair's blog) but the concept is purely a social construct (e.g. "blog"). Note that I can link to the instances, but there's no place where "blog" exists. It has meaning only because we all agree (more or less) on what it means (and we don't always agree). I don't view any of that as controversial. The problem lies elsewhere.

The left has always had a tendency toward "logo-realism", mistaking the word for the thing. We can see this in much of their efforts to get people to use different words, as if that would change the underlying reality (the failure of this demonstrates the fundamental correctness of hermeneutics as described above - the instances exist regardless of what word is attached to the set of them). However, crossing this with hermeneutics leads directly to the idea that nothing is real, that all reality is a social construct, because if the words are socially constructed, and reality is controlled by words, then social constructs control reality. This is not at all what hermeneutics is about, but that's never stopped the kind of people who advocate racial preferences as a solution to racial preferences.

North Korea vs. Iraq
One big difference between North Korea and Iraq is that North Korea continues to exist only because of donated aid, while the sanctions imposed on Iraq have failed to topple the government, a key point this article fails to mention. This means that we don't need to invade North Korea, we could just stop propping them up. This provides the US with an entire set of options that simply do not exist in the case of Iraq. A side effect of this is that in our conflict with Iraq, it is Iraq that wins by running out the clock, where as with North Korea it is the US that has time on its side. That would tend to indicate that we should be more aggressive with Iraq and less so with North Korea and - hey, that's current US policy.
Are people innately good?
A recent post at the Brothers Judd cites Dennis Prager castigating those who believe that people are innately good. As one of "those", I disagree both with Judd and Prager and the people that they disagree with as well. I think Prager makes some good points, and I agree that this is an important issue. Where I diverge is the logical connection between "people are innately good" and the conclusions he lists as drawn from that. I don't dispute that many do, in fact, draw these conclusions but they're wrong as well. I will layout my basic view and then go through Prager's points one by one.

I believe that people are innately good, because otherwise we wouldn't have a civilization and we wouldn't see communities forming wherever there are people. We wouldn't even be having this discussion about good if this basic fact weren't true. I probably lost Judd and Prager here, as they believe that there is another force that would provide this impetus. But I would counter that not all communities know Him, and communities were forming long before religion existed, and finally that He doesn't decided on every little detail of existence (something we discussed before).

The key points where I diverge from the leftist pollyanas are that something innate is not necessarily expressed and that not everyone has the same innate abilities. The best analogy is language. Humans have an innate ability to use language. This doesn't mean that we don't need to teach language to humans, or that instruction in grammar, spelling and vocabulary isn't necessary to achieving true use of language. But such instruction draws on that innate ability, strengthens and shapes it. And in fact, if no training is available there may be no expression of the innate ability at all (cf. Helen Keller, abandoned children). I believe that the trait we call "goodness" has the property. Additionally, not everyone has the same amount of talent for language, so it doesn't seem implausible to me that people differ in their innate "goodness". The secular humanists derided by Prager and Judd seem to hold the belief that every one is born with the maximum amount of innate goodness, a belief I find highly implausible.

Getting back to Prager, I will address his points and show that those he castigates are at least ideologically consistent, in that the mental errors they make in this regard are specific instances of more general errors. First we have

First, if you believe people are born good, you will attribute evil to forces outside the individual
No, one can attribute that to bad environment, bad parents or bad genetics. Some people are born aphasic, some without little or no innate goodness. This may be a handicap, but we expect people to work to overcome handicaps and if not, and it endangers others, society can remove such people from itself to protect the rest of society (because this maximizes consent). In general, the secular humanists require that society adapt itself regardless of cost to disabilities and so are treating this one no different. Secondly we have
if you believe people are born good, you will not stress character development when you raise children
No more than one wouldn't stress language skills and expect children to speak and write well. Oh, wait, that's exactly what is being done in many schools. Third we have
Third, if you believe that people are basically good, G-d and religion are morally unnecessary, even harmful. Why would basically good people need a G-d or religion to provide moral standards
As with language, the precise form and structure are not innate, but must come from outside. Religion and other societal organizations are repositories of laboriously and painfully acquired knowledge of the details of goodness and building a society. Like language, if they are thrown away then eventually new versions will arise to replace them (as a pidgin will evolve into a full language) but it can be a bit rough in the mean time so I can't recommend it. Blowing off millenia of accumulated knowledge seems ... sub-optimal. Finally there is
Fourth, if you believe people are basically good, you, of course, believe that you are good -- and therefore those who disagree with you must be bad, not merely wrong
That's certainly a trait of many secular humanists (which may be why I get along better with people like Orin Judd than many of my fellow atheists). I believe that I am "good" in the sense that I want to do good, I want to be right. That's very different from believing that I always know what is good and right. I will do all I can to learn what is good and right and do them. But my thoughts and knowledge are imperfect and as a result I will do bad and wrong things. I admit that. To believe otherwise is to fall victim to what Prager describes here, or to collapse into negation (as many leftists seem to be doing these days). And when I say people are innately good, I mean that the vast majority of people want this same thing. Those who do evil would have no need of cloaking their evil in the words of good if that were not true. If you believe in a loving God, how could you believe that He would create a world where evil had the advantage? Would He not create one where people can choose, but there is a structural bias for good?
Trial Lawyers and persuasion
Virginia Postrel (who doesn't have permalinks) says that
I can't agree more with John's warning that "trial lawyer" is not a bad thing to call someone in a campaign. There's a reason successful trial lawyers are successful: They're good at persuading voters (a.k.a. jurors) to join their side.
I'm not sure how valid that is. Jurors are in general quite distinct from the general public, and trial lawyers operate in an environment where they can greatly restrict the information available to the jurors. Perhaps Ms. Postrel should read Reason magazine which has an article on jury packing. The lawyers make a determined effort to eliminate any potential juror that is (1) intelligent, (2) well-learned or (3) knowledgeable about the subject. Apparently they consider this necessary in order to persuade the jury. Moreover, the article has many examples of how the trial lawyers exclude clearly relevant facts about the case. The jurors, with the connivance of the judge, aren't allowed to ask questions or find their own experts. I wonder just how effective techniques that succeed in that environment will be in the open environment of a general election.

02 January 2003

Economics are secondary for bloggers
A bit of a meme-storm on the topic of the finances of blogging. We have Russ Smith in NRO saying that the growth of non-institutional blogs will peter out this summer and that "just a few will survive". There is of course Andrew Sullivan pulling in $80,000. Oliver Willis is quoting a story about this being the year that bloggers get paid. This last is more reasonable, as it is only claiming that some blogs may be acquired by Big Media. But the idea that if there simply isn't much money in blogging will decimate the blogs I find completely untenable. Scott Adams said it best: "Why would you have to pay people to talk? You can't pay them to shut up!".

It may a lack of being able to think dynamically. The set of blogs in operation will change rapidly - I expect that after the blogosphere matures (which I do agree with Russ Smith that that will be fairly soon, within a year) there will be a lot of turnover. But there are way too many people who do this because they must rather than because they need money for there to be only a "few survivors". Blogs have been around long enough to see a number of good writers give up, but over time accumulating so much pent up verbiage that they are compelled to start writing again. I suspect I will be the same way. I try to write every day, but sometimes it's a burden. Other times I can't type fast enough to express what I have to say. But ultimately this blog is about satisfying me. Part of that is providing something pleasing to others, but that's not the only thing. And I suspect that most bloggers are the same way. People can walk away or ignore you in person, but if you've got a blog they can't shut you up.

Capitalism, free markets and consent
As with democracy and freedom, capitalism / free markets are a secondary issue for me as well. I agree with F.A. Hayek and Hernando De Soto that free markets are not designed, but emerge naturally out of a proper legal structure. A free market capitalism is what happens when the government doesn't stop it. If this weren't the case, we wouldn't have black markets every the government tries to stop consenting partners from exchanging goods and services. I used to be a bigger direct advocate of free markets, but I've become convinved over the years that the underlying legal infrastructure of consent based government and property rights are more important. Free markets are both economically and morally good, but they are emergent properties, not something that one should strive to build directly. Write the laws and the people will trade.
Running slightly behind
John Derbyshire comments:
Nellie Muriel declares that green & blue slopes (i.e. beginner and intermediate) are "gay" -- the latest, and I think rather interesting, sub-teen synonym for "beneath contempt," "babyish," "lame," etc.
Well, back when I was a sub-teen (and that was many a year ago), a very common expression for exactly that sort of thing was "homo", short for "homosexual". So it isn't very new - it's a retread of slang that been around for a long, long time. Only the word in common use to denote it has changed. That would seem to detract from the "interesting" part. Next, Derbyshire will discover the "latest" slang for weak or ineffectual - "girly".

UPDATE: Derbyshire is deluged with e-mail pointing out the same thing I did.

01 January 2003

Creative use of language
The Guardian is starting out the new year in classic style. In a story on alledged Israeli human rights abuses, we have the following paragraph:
In August, soldiers pressed 19-year old Nidal Abu Mukhsan to enter the house of a Hamas activist and tell him to come out quietly. The activist, Nasser Jarar, mistook Mr Abu Mukhsan for a soldier and shot him fatally in the head.
The "activist" shot him in the head. And the Israelis should have not only expected an "activist" to have a gun but to shoot any soldier he sees in the head.

This story also almost qualifies for the International Law Watch for the following paragraph:

But this is very dangerous for the people they [the IDF] force to do it, and it is completely illegal under international law
Is it? The PA is not a party to and certainly never obeys the Geneva conventions that outlaw this, which if I recall correctly causes Israel to not be bound either.

So let's recap: Israeli soldiers are not expected to abuse, threaten or infringe the rights of the Palestinians in any way (and the Israeli government at least attempts to investigate lapses), while it should be considered normal for Palestinian "activists" to shoot in the head any Israeli soldier they see without warning, which apparently is not against any "international law". As Dorothy Parker said, "I try to be cynical but it's hard to keep up".

Broken paradigm shifter
Here's a quote from the Nov 2002 issue of The Washington Monthly by Charles Peters:
It is possible that the Bush gang is applying its Florida recount strategy to the U.N.'s inspection of Iraq's weapons? Just as they delayed the recount until it was too late, the are delaying the inspection or finding fault with the inspection plan - delaying until the administration comes up with enough "intelligence" to justify a preemptive strike.
I just wonder, how exactly is the "Bush gang" delaying the inspections? Does the VRWC control the UN representatives of France and Russia? And I'm speechless at the idea that someone paying attention could apparently believe that the Iraq inspections are flawless. Even granting this theory of the 2000 elections (which is very generous of me), this still seems to be a rather severe fixation on seeing everything through the single paradigm of the 2000 elections.
It's that time again

HAPPY NEW YEAR

It's going to be a big year.