28 February 2003

Raise taxes → support for Hezbollah
Two cousins were arrested for smuggling cigarettes and sending the proceeds to Hezbollah. This kind of thing is endemic to high taxes on desirable goods. The government officials who are raising these taxes and thereby providing opportunities for smuggling are just helping out criminals and terrorists. Why does no one object to their endless pursuit of money, their unsatiable greed? When will they be held accountable for their rapaciousness? Citizens, it is time to speak out!
Model Rocketry
The NAR and Tripoli have issued a call for letters concerning the excessive legal restrictions on model rocketry. I've left is as a comment for anyone who is interested since I actually got a comment on that post.
Russians let US off financial hook
Apparently Russia getting ready to veto the latest UNSC resolution. I say "bring it on". If Russia vetoes, then the US
  • doesn't have to pay them off the Russian, a pontentially multi-billion dollar savings
  • doesn't have to allow them any say in running Iraq during the occupation, thereby calming fears of Russian imperialism in the region (warm water ports and all)
  • can cancel all Russia-Iraqi oil contracts which means more of the revenue can be used to pay for the Iraqi recovery
  • can cancel Iraqi debts with Russia, again saving the Iraqis and in turn the US lots of money
President Putin, you are truly a friend to take this kind of hit for us. Thanks.

27 February 2003

Not a day more
Andrew Sullivan, while overall praising President Bush's speech last night, expresses concern over the statement "We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more":
I'm a little troubled by the phrase: "not a day more." It's as if the president still believes that a real commitment to Iraq and to the region as a whole will be unpopular at home. It needn't be - if the president makes Iraq a corner-stone of this country's commitment to a freer and therefore more stable world.
Personally I am encouraged by that statement. I interpret Bush's "not one day longer" as applying to the occupation of Iraq, not the presence of US troops or other influence. It is critical that we make it clear that the US intends to occupy Iraq for a limited time to achieve a specific purpose and that afterwards we expect Iraq to be once again an independent nation. Note that Bush specifies that we will not leave behind "occupying armies". Exactly right. Note also that Bush cites specific historic examples where we still have "armies" present in the territory of our defeated enemies, but armies of alliance, not occupation. I think that same fate for Iraq is to be devoutly hoped for.
Pulling weeds
Apparently some thought is being given by the US toward how to clean out the Iraq political structure post invasion. I agree with the basic thrust of the plan outlined in the article because wholesale purging will be counter productive. Certainly there will be those who do not deserve to be executed or imprisoned but nonetheless cannot be trusted to have a position in the Iraqi government. My co-worker BBB suggested that a newly formed Iraqi justice system might well want to handle the mid level cases.

War crime trials using the captured records of the Iraqi regime will be good for everyone except the appeasers. I wonder how the anti-Bush "peace" protestors will spin the details that emerge from those trials.

UPDATE: More encouraging news. President Bush lays out a plan for improving the Middle East and declares the same basic plan for Iraq that I support. This time we must do what it takes to build a free, self ordered Iraq, for the sake of the Iraqis and our own security.

26 February 2003

American cultural anti-imperialism
There is a very interesting discussion about the complaints of a French film maker over at Samizdata. I think David Carr hit on a key point: when the Hong Kong film makers started taking market share, what did Hollywood executives do? Complain about Hong Kong's low brow culture, demand subsidies, try to restrict the imports? No, they hired the directors and adopted the style of the Hong Kong film industry. Let me repeat that - Hollywood surrendered culturally, unilaterally and without hesitation. Hollywood didn't even try to defend their film culture. And watch the reaction to Bollywood. If Indian films do well in America, Hollywood execs will be hiring Indian directors, actors, writers and doing cross distribution deals faster than you can say "residuals". America is called a "cultural imperialist" but what other nation so rapidly and unconcernedly assimilates culture from other countries?
Power seeking vs money grubbing
The previous posts on integrating Muslims and state funding for Islam in France nicely points out a key difference between the US and Old Europe. This is a general theme of mine and that is the functional difference between centralized and consent based societies. In the latter the central government is just one of multiple competing centers of power. The very number of power centers is subject to flux. This makes accomodating an minority group much easier (as the group can move into multiple power centers or even create their own) than if the group has to get a share of a single central power to have a meaningful participation in society.

This makes it interesting when Old Europeans complain about "money-grubbing" Americans. The fact that people can do that and not have to become politically involved is sign of the diversity of America. In Old Europe, France in particular, because there is only one real center of power (which in turn controls the culture, arts, etc.) only political aspirations are possible for the ambitious. Because money-grubbing isn't really possible the ambitious must be power seeking. The problem here is that power seeking is a zero sum game while money grubbing is normally a positive sum game which means more people can participate and one person's success doesn't require another person's loss. The rise of an immigrant group doesn't require the fall of other groups. In this way money-grubbing is a source of long term strength for America and the Old Europe disparagement of it is a demonstration of their fundamental weakness. (Of course, this has a long history, such as Napoleon referring to England dismissively as a "nation of shop keepers"). His modern day successors are unlikely to do much better against the shop keepers modern day equivalent.

As an end note, Orin Judd asked "why the emphasis on consent?". It is because it is consent based societies that have these beneficial properties. The alternatives for consent based or self ordered societies is central directed societies or a Hobbesian state. It's primarily an optimization based on empirical evidence. One can argue about whether that's a happy accident or an artifact of Design.

Centralized power vs. self-help
I wrote my previous post before I read the comments to the post. I could update the other post but this will make it look like I'm more productive.

M Ali Choudhury comments

You would think the best way for the French to integrate Muslims would be to liberalise their labour market so the young and poor would have a better shot at getting jobs and be too busy working to try to blow up the Metro.
This is flawed in two ways. First, it presumes that integrating the immigrant Muslim population is a goal. I think that the last few decades have shown that that is simply not the case. My view is that French politics is very cynical and that the only real goal is the acquisition of power. I think that even the voters are little fooled by the flowery rhetoric about various issues (which is part of the reason for the US/Old Europe divide).

The second problem is that France is a centralized state. Encouraging the kind of labor mobility and self-help that M. Choudhury suggests is antithetical to the paradigm of the French government. Far better to have them be just another paid off constituency than some group whose members think that they have advanced themselves by their own efforts (yet another facet of the US/Old Europe disconnect). We see a similar case here in the US, where the ethnic "leaders" do all that they can to keep their fellow group members down and dependent on government largesse, which the "leaders" control. It is, for instance, why despite the popularity of school vouchers among American blacks there is fierce opposition to them among the black "leadership". I think that of all ethnic groups, blacks leaders have been the most successful in this regard and that this is a major factor in lack of economic progress in much of the black community.

Infiltrate, co-opt, enervate
One of the memes in the blogosphere right now is France's plan to fund Islamic groups in France. This doesn't strike me as obviously stupid. In fact, if one is sufficiently cynical (a trait no one has accused the Chiraq administration of lacking) then one need merely look at the envervation of other religions in France after they became state funded, a topic I've touched on previously. It will be interesting to see how rapidly state support for Islam in France can sap the religious fervor of its adherents.
Bilateralist future
If the latest diplomatic manueverings lead to the effective end of the United Nations, what then? Some have bandied about the idea of a "United Free Nations" where only free nations would be allowed. I would prefer, at least for a decade or two, a more anarchic structure where coalitions are assembled in an ad hoc fashion from bilateral agreements.

What we've seen in three different supra-national organizatios is that ignorance and greed win in the long term. While one cannot eliminate these properties of human nature, there is no requirement to give them aid and comfort which is what large supra-national organizations seem to do. The League of Nations actually turned out better in some ways than the modern UN. THe LoN at at least just ineffectual against tyranny and oppression, while the UN is frequently an active partner. We also have the spectacle of the European Union which has transformed from a free trade area to an all consuming grey ooze of Franco-German bureaucracy. This last case is particularly instructive because what of those nations wouldn't qualify for a League of Free Nations?

Instead, if coalitions for world tasks (such as exterminating Ba'ath vermin) are required then assembling them as needed has several advantages. First, those who would ally with the US need to prove their mettle over time in order to be part of the coalition. Conversely, the US would need to demonstrate actual leadership in order to convince other nations to join up. Lastly, there would be much less growth in the courtier population, the legions of parasites that gravitate to organizations like the UN like barnacles on a ship.

So let it go – we won't need any such organization for a while. The push for creating one comes mainly from habit, one it's time to break.

25 February 2003

International Law Watch 12
An article over at National Review discusses Dutch euthanasia laws and the Dutch attitude toward them. I won't discuss the specifics here, one should check out the source post for that. What's I want to mention is the issue of normative vs. descriptive laws. One might interpret this in an anarchist way, that the laws are purely symbolic in nature and not taken seriously. On the other hand, it could be elitism - that doctors, because of who they are, can violate the laws with impunity even though the laws are binding on the hoi polloi. I suspect the latter because it's consistent with the theme I developed in this series, that the European view is that obediance to the law is conditional based on social status or position and that in particular, the US should agree to or obey laws that do not bind other nations.

UPDATE: Moira Breen comments. I would note that it is contention societies that actually have more consent, because if you're not allowed to say "no" to the consensus, it's not really consent. There's also the issue of fraud – in the Dutch case here, what have those against really consented to? Ineffective laws? There's no real consensus, just a facade to make it appear as if there were.

Caliphascist

Joe Katzman, who due to an unfortunate TrackBack was guilted into reading this blog, has suggested that I use the term “Caliphascists” instead of “Calipharians” because the latter sounds like a bunch of dope smoking posers (e.g., like most of the anti-war protestors) instead of what they actually are, dangerous fanatics. I think I’ll try it out for a while and see how it goes.

This got me thinking about the Al Qaeda vs. Saddam Hussein issue. A frequent claim is that there is no way these two would work together because one is secular and the other theocratic. But one look at the recent history of Iran shows that secular groups trying to establish a new order are willing to work hand in hand with theocrats. This is in fact a common phenomenon. The most frequently used term is “common front” and was perfected by the Communists (although the basic idea has existed for as long as there have been political factions). All you need is a single thing that needs to be destroyed for any of the factions to succeed. The factions will naturally band together to destroy the shared blockage, each planning to betray the others once the common problem is eliminated. To me it is the height of naivite to think that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, master schemers, are unaware of this common technique or that either would find it ethically problematic (yeah, murdering thousands of innocent people is one thing, but dishonest politically maneuvering - that’s beyond the pale).

UPDATE: Jihad and Jew-Hatred;, a book about (via) the deliberate import of Fascism in to Islamic culture in the WWI through WWII era. The thesis is that while Islam has been hostile to Jews since its origin, the conspiracy mongering and vision of the ZOG, or Jews secretly running the world, is a relatively recent import.

One on one debates
Apparently Saddam Hussein has challenged President Bush to a live one on one debate. I think that Bush should go for it. Based on Saddam's previous television appearances in the West it seems very likely to me that this would be a boost for Bush on the American street. It certainly appears that Saddam is so disconnected from reality that he's bound to make multiple statements that will be perceived as gaffes in the US, e.g. "Bush is attacking because ZOG told him to". Of course, my co-worker BBB was concerned about setting a precedent, but that doesn't worry me very much. If we believe that we're right, more discussion favors us, not our enemies.
Oppression in America
I tried to discuss Andrea Harris' betrayal of the VRWC with my co-worker BBB but the concept of suppression of dissenting voices in the US was difficult for him to grasp – "What suppression? Who says that and why?". Of course, the answer is that the worst oppression these "artists" have ever seen is harsh words in some blog. But by making claims of a Bush Junta® they can make themselves look brave and morally upright instead of spoiled pampered idiots with exceptionally thin skin. Just remember, self delusion isn't easy, it takes constant effort.
Klansmen in the closet
Much has been made in the blogosphere about the Klan history of Senator Robert Byrd. I've commented myself on the soft bigotry of much of the Left. What I didn't realize is how far back that goes, even to an icon of modern Left, Woodrow Wilson. Charles Paul Freund has an article on page 16 of the Feb 2003 issue of Reason magazine about Wilson with some stunning facts. Among the acts of the Wilson administration were
  • Strongly supporting "home rule" for southern states, i.e. permitting segragation
  • Implementing Jim Crow laws in Washington DC by allowing and in some cases actively re-segrating federal offices by removing black supervisors who had white underlings
  • having the local police force stop hiring blacks
  • explaining to black delegations protesting his policies that "segragation is not a humiliation but a benefit"
  • providing Presidential support for the film Birth of a Nation
In essence, Senator Strom Thurmond's run as a Dixiecrat in 1948 (support for which cost Senator Lott his leadership position) was just a weak reprise of an actual previous President's platform, a President who is held in admiration on the Left. But I suppose that if one is willing to embrace Stalin, Mao and Saddam Hussein, Wilson is probably a step up.

24 February 2003

Always go for the soft targets
So Attorney General Ashcroft is proud of his massive law enforcement effort to bust drug related paraphenalia dealers. Not actual drug dealers, but vendors of things "mainly intended for the use of illegal drugs". This is the conservative equivalent of "assault rifles". It's not a good precedent to have, that the government is entitled to make something illegal because it might be used for an illegal purpose. It's one of those things that can come back to haunt you later when the other party is in charge.

Statments like this

"Quite simply, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge," Ashcroft said in a statement. "This illegal, billion-dollar industry will no longer be ignored by law enforcement."
also make me nervous. "Invaded the homes without their knowledge"? You mean that the head shop proprietors are sneaking into to homes without anyone there knowing about it? Somehow I find that implausible. My guess is that at least one person is aware of it. I thought it was a conservative position that parents should be aware of this and not depend on the government to be a nanny for their children. The "no longer ignored" sounds like the start of a big effort. Can that really be a good use of federal law enforcement resources while we're at war? Unlike the invasion of Iraq, this kind of effort uses the same resources as anti-terror enforcement. Those guys trolling the head shop web sites could be trolling Caliphascist websites instead. So this makes me wonder whether Ashcroft has his priorities straight. I simply cannot make myself care as much about all 55 of these guys put together as one person like Professor Sami Al-Arian [source].

Unfortunately for my ability to work myself into a high dudgeon, the FBI did in fact make an arrest so I can't complain of Ashcroft totally ignoring the really dangerous people. But this story seems more like a PR ploy than a serious effort at protecting the country.

No blood for oil
I'm starting to see "No Iraq War" signs popping up in various lawns around here. It's all I can do to resist the temptation to sneak out and night and attach a "Gas Kurds, Not SUV's" addendum to them. But that got me thinking about the "No Blood For Oil" mantra. What it really means is "No Western blood for oil". The protestors don't seem to be concerned about how much Iraqi blood is spilled by Saddam to keep control of the oil fields. Soft bigotry or abyssmal ignorance? It's hard to tell.

23 February 2003

Sport based revenue
The local paper has an article on the impact of having a professional sports team play at the local college stadium while their normal stadium is repaired. Unlike many regions the overall economic impact has been positive. The reason is probably that the local governments didn't spend any money on factilities – everything that's been used was already built. As long as the fans spend more than it costs for the extra city services the local area is ahead of the game. One small fly in the ointment is that the cash wasn't spread evenly. The headline highlights the astonishing fact that hotels and restaurants received most of the economic benefit. Imagine that!
Bent political compass
Oliver Willis posted about a political compass that rates the quiz taker on a Left/Right axis and Authoritarian/Libertarian axis. The format is that a proposition is stated and one selects from "Strongly Disagree", "Disagree", "Agree", "Strongly Agree". I tried to take it but for a number of questions there was no answer I agreed with because the statement was of the form
You should beat your wife with your hand instead of a stick
  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree
The FAQ for the quiz mentions claims that the questions are slanted, but dismisses that complaint by claiming that these are propositions with which one can agree or not. However, as any rhetorician can tell you, you can still package deal even with propositions.

Right off the bat we have

If globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.
Some of us believe that this isn't an either-or choice. While these interests are not identical they are not so antithetical that we can't have both. So that package deal here the assumption of the opposition of these interests. Moreover, the word "should" can be used in a normative or descriptive sense. I agree with this descriptively but the normal usage here is normative, i.e. taking positive action to ensure this outcome, which I do not agree with. The next question is similar:
Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment.
Again, it's not clear that we have to chose. I believe that controlling inflation helps create a better economic environment which in turns leads to less unemployment so that controlling inflation reduces unemployment.

Some of the package deals are more explicit, as in

Those with the ability to pay should have the right to higher standards of medical care and education
If you have to pay for something, it's not a right. I believe that if person A wants to sell higher than average medical care to person B, they have the right to do that, but B has no "right" to the care itself. Or we have
The only social responsibility of a company should be to deliver a profit to its shareholders
Since when is delivering profit to shareholders a social responsibility? This is the first place I've seen that assumption. Does a company have any responsibilities that are not social?

In contrast to the package deal questions, we have the inscrutable ones, such as

Restrictions are sometimes necessary in trade
What does this mean? Legal restrictions? Contract terms? Regulations? Is a prohibition on fraud a "restriction" on trade? I think I know what is meant, but that's based on my opinion of the political leanings of the quiz authors, which doesn't seem the best way to decode the meaning.

This quiz may work well for those of Left/Authoritarian leanings but it doesn't work for someone of my political beliefs. I also note that this site gives no credit to the libertarian version of this quiz which has been around since the 1970's.

22 February 2003

It's not the initial cost, it's the upkeep
I strongly oppose any direct government involvement in the economy. I think that providing rule of law and contract enforcement is basicaly the limits of what government both should do and can do that is overall beneficial. It's become obvious over the last century that planned economies fail. But does that mean all government intervention is counter productive? One argument is that intervention to foster new industries is a proper and beneficial role for government. This seems reasonable on the surface but it suffers from the "benevolent dictator" problem which is that it is negatively stable. As long as the right person is the dictator, everything is wonderful. But once the dictator is not quite so right things start going downhill and more importantly the odds of getting a even worse dictator as a successor go up. It's a positive feedback cycle that ends in disaster and which can be started very easily. The primary advantage of democracy is that while it functions much more poorly than a benevolent dictator it is far more robust and far more likely to recover from bad leaders. It is positively stable. That doesn't mean that it can never fail, just that it is far more likely to recover from a disturbance.

Government support for industries (even nascent ones) suffers the same problem. It can start out well and do a lot of good because the officials don't have vested interests over time the funding and regulatory structure will be captured by specific business interests. Once some fraction of the staff is captured, they will tend to bring in others of the same attitude with much more vigor than the non-captured, yielding negative stability. This is a key point - the objection to such programs is far more about what those programs will be in 10 or 20 years rather than their original form.

It could be that I'm misinterpreting the original post, but I just can't see what form beyond standard rule of law support that government intervention to create a "fertile breeding ground" for businesses could take. Clear, simple regulations and goverment transparency benefit small businesses more than large ones because large companies can afford the lawyers and institutional knowledge to deal with obscure regulations and smoke filled room politics. Small businesses can't spend the time or money to deal with such things. That's why big businesses frequently support additional regulation, accepting the cost as a reasonable price to pay to stifle any upstart competitors. The best substrate for business formation is a minimalist rule of law government.

21 February 2003

De-personalize the war
There is some worrying news out of the Bush administration from (of course) Sec. of State Colin Powell:
People are hoping that war can be avoided. I hope it can be avoided. But the one who has the power in his hands to decide whether there will be a war or peace is Saddam Hussein. [...] if he complies, or if he leaves the country tomorrow, there will be no war
Excuse me? We're not at war with Saddam Hussein, but with the Ba'ath party (who are one sect of the Calipharians). If Saddam bugs out and is replaced by his son Uday or some other Ba'ath thug, what would be gained? It wouldn't be better for us or the Iraqis, but it would be good for the State Department. This bears on the previous post concerning President Bush's electoral chances in 2004. The plan described by Powell here is a very good recipe for repeating the former President Bush's 1992 election adventure, which isn't surprising because the same Powell gave the same advice back then. It may be disinformation but if so, I fail to see any benefits and the large cost of easily tieing our hands if some alternate thug manages to knock off Hussein. Will we have to go through this entire process again to get that thug to disarm? Will we betray those in the Middle East who could be our friends again? Has Powell learned nothing in the last 12 years?
Grasping at straws
Now the DNC chairman is claiming that President Bush's slowly falling poll numbers means that he is going to go the way of his father. Well, maybe. But it's really out of the hands of the Democratic Party. Bush has set himself up in such a way that he will determine his own fate in 2004. If there is a recovering Iraq and the start of change in the Middle East, Bush will win. If Saddam is still smelling daisies instead of pushing them Bush is toast. Bush's poll numbers are falling because of concern by the hawks over the dithering with the UN and by the doves over the possibility for war. A successful invasion followed by the release of information about what Saddam has been doing there for 10 years will turn the numbers around in time for the 2004 election. Cynical thought: is Bush delaying because he thinks that his father lost due to winning the war too early to ride it through the election? Hopefully not, because I believe it was far more the fact that it wasn't percieved as a real victory.

But clearly the toubles of the Democratic Party are basically technological:

Part of their [Democratic Party operatives'] optimism is due to the high-tech tools McAuliffe has introduced at the DNC to reach new financial donors to overcome limits imposed under McCain-Feingold reforms
Even Oliver Willis doesn't buy the theory that better technology will get the Democrats out of the Death Spiral.

20 February 2003

Powell Pushes Pantywaist Posers
After my latest Colin Powell bashing I must comment on his latest statements are pretty good. I note that he still doesn't "expect the [18th UNSC]resolution itself will contain a deadline". Without a deadline to say that "time is running out" is specious. I'm not sure I understand this part:
But he [Powell] added that Washington did not expect such a resolution to have a "timeline", given that Saddam has refused to fully comply with a dozen years of UN demands to give up chemical, biological and nuclear weapons
Does Powell mean that because previous deadlines were ignored, there's no point in having one now? If so, it's not clear how not having a deadline avoids the underlying problem of the UN being unwilling to enforce its resolutions if it makes the US more powerful. But it is well past time for this kind of tough talk, because just as weak talk from the UN has emboldened Saddam, weak talk to the UN has emboldened the obstructionist and fellow travelers there.
Model rocketry and homeland security
Instantman linked to an article concerning an impact of the Safe Explosives Act on model rocketry (that Act was part of the Homeland Security Act). A problem that model rocketry has suffered from for quite a while is the bogus classification of APCP (Ammonium Perchlorate Composite Propellant) as an "explosive". The legal basis for this is that that BATF put the substance on its lists of explosives, apparently because if you grind it up fine enough it will explode. Of course, that logic would also require listing flour as an explosive as any grain elevator operator will tell you. As a bit of background, smaller rocket motors are made with black powder (gun powder) while larger motors are made with APCP which the basic type of fuel that used in the SRB's for the Space Shuttle. APCP has about three times the energy density of black powder, which is why it is used for bigger motors (plus above a certain size black powder motors become very hard to manufacture because of problems with cavitation). Why not use APCP for all motors? Because it's more expensive and much harder to ignite. For small rockets and causual hobbiest, black powder motors are cheaper and easier to use so it dominates where it's practical to be used.

The NAR has been pursuing a legal action against the BATF for years to have APCP removed from the explosives list on the basis that the BATF put it on the list in an arbitrary way that was not compliant with the law that authorized the creation of the list. One of the most bizarre incongruities arises from the fact that Department of Transportation regulations cover the shipping of APCP. For motors over a specific size, until the package with the rocket motors arrived the only requirement is that it be labeled "HazMat" and not put on an airplane. Once it's on your doorstep, then you have put in an explosives facility with locks and firewalls and at least 75' from any inhabited building or traveled road. I always wondered if I could just rent a large PO box and keep the motors there until I need to fly. Conversely, I can legally have as many black powder motors as I liked stored under my child's bed but one APCP rocket motor - that requires a storage facility. Interestingly there's an exemption for straight black powder for antique guns which allows up storing up to 50 lbs without a permit. Model rocketers wouldn't have any problems with regulation if we could store 50 lbs of APCP without a permit (it would certainly be less dangerous because it would just burn hot, not explode).

Now, thanks to the Safe Explosives Act and the original BATF listing, the USPS and UPS are apparently going to stop shipping rocket motors. Not because of any safety concerns, but because of the burden of complying with the regulations. This will effectively kill model rocketry because the market for motors is so thin that if distributors can't ship the motors they'll go out of business. The security benefits? None. Model rocketry is a remarkably safe activity (no fatalities in over thirty years, which is better than any sport I know of). For the larger rocket motors, you can't just order them, you have to get certified by the NAR or Tripoli Rocketry Association. It's also not that hard to build your own rocket motors as viewers of October Sky know (the rocketry in the movie is technically accurate). Hopefully there will be some regulatory relief so we don't have one more hobby pointlessly crushed out of existence. But realistically, there just aren't that many rocketeers so I am not confident that it will show up on Congressional radar.

P.S. I wrote this if Instantman is going to comment on it, I as a practioner should as well. Here's one of my rockets taking off. It's boosting on a APCP motor. For scale, the rocket is roughly 30" tall so that's a good sized chunk 'o flame. This rocket is about 5'4", a roughly 1/4 scale of an AMRAAM missile (with a slightly different paint scheme). This is another APCP motor but with less flame and more smoke.

19 February 2003

Googler
Shaun Bourke posted a comment concerning a BBC story about the Google buyout of Pyra (the BlogSpot company) which was intriguing:
I believe Google is positioning itself to become the pre-eminent news service.....with Reuters, amongst others, in decline coupled with a general decline in broadsheet readership, I believe in the future most of our news and views will be [disseminated] via the web
This is very interesting, because of my view that mainstream penetration of the blogosphere into the mainstream will required some form of personal customized aggregation of blog content. This is not some startling insight so it would hardly be a surprise if someone at Google has also figured it out. Think of a combination of BlogSpot for generating content with a Google News layer on top. In addition it would be a simple matter of setting up individual accounts at Google that allowed you to add / exclude blogs from your blogosphere view along with the ability to aggregate blogs. Suppose you could set up your own categories (ala "Science", "World", "US") and aggregate your favorites blogs on a page like Google News. You'd be close to something that would be easily usable by the average Internet user and useful for advanced users with a lot of good content. Currently BlogSpot doesn't support RSS but that would be simple for Google to add (BlogSpot Premium has it already). Google could also get revenue from its bloggers by selling (for instance) comment support.

I don't think that this is a plan for becoming the next world dominating media organization, but it does seem like one could carve out a reasonably profitable business in this space. I think that this area will also have a strong "first mover" effect where who ever gets there first will be able to set standards that will endure because of network effects. Google could easily say "use this standard if you want to get scanned for GooglerNews". As long as the standard isn't odious it would be widely adopted and any new entrant would have to be compliant. And note that Google doesn't have to do any original reporting - all of the content is generated for free (from Google's point of view). With BlogSpot, if someone moves over to a personal website then that's a lost customer for BlogSpot. But for Googler, as long as the blog follows the standard Google still gets the content to drive other products.

There are other possibilities as well. Trackback technology would be very interesting here as well. It would be simple for Googler to rank blogs by the number of Trackbacks recieved by the author. (Would Googler need that? It already tracks that to some extent ... could Googler automatically provide links from a blog post to all other scanned blogs that reference it? Could it then filter that list using a personal blog list?). Ultimately, though, the driving force must be provide access for the non-digerati. Technical features must take a back seat to ease of use and comprehensiblity and that's something Google has managed to do well.

18 February 2003

No leap is too far
The latest threat from North Korea makes one wonder what the anti-war types will do if it is N. Korea that pulls out of the armistice and creates a state of war, not the US. But one doesn't wonder long. Clearly it will just be blamed on US aggression, even though the Bush administration keeps saying "we want a diplomatic solution". It will be interesting to see, given how the US has been blamed for a "rush to war" against Iraq how the framing will be done to assign blame when the US has gone slow and insisted on multi-lateral diplomacy.
You touched it last!
While I'm not too worried about our ability to remove Saddam as an obstacle to a self ordered society in Iraq, I wonder if President Bush has a plan to defeat the US State Department. If Colin Powell wants to contribute to something other than war in Iraq he ought to spend some time cleaning out the appeasers and tyrant coddlers in the State Department. Even now his support for an invasion seems based more on his anger at the Axis of Weasel not playing fair than the actual danger from Iraq. He needs to be building a case for what we do after the invasion, something to which State should be contributing heavily.

We're also seeing multiple plans "leaked" (military occupation vs. in-and-out vs. a coup with some other thug left in charge). I thought that that was fine concerning planning for the actual invasion (it's not the place of the citizenry to debate military tactics) but it's a bad idea to do that for post-invasion nation restoration. I understand that perhaps President Bush wants to keep his options open so that he can play the alliance game better, but in this case I do not think that such concerns outweigh the benefits of a real discussion on what to do with Iraq after we conquer it. That's one of the major failings of the Left these days - instead of spouting appeasement in the streets they should be out there demanding actual planning for post-invasion Iraq.

UPDATE: The Chicago Boyz weigh in with an excellent post that draws from Powell's own writings on the subject. As a bonus they also discuss the systemic problem with the State Department.

Democracy in Iraq
Kanan Makiya of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan writes that post-invasion planning for Iraq is being done by the same forces in the CIA and State Department that have always favored compliant dictators over the mess of self ordered societies (e.g. bureaucrats who think the Saudi Entity is a good friend of the US). (Andrew Sullivan has the same concerns based on this article)

Makiya is of course not a disinterested party in all of this and one of his primary objections is to something I support, a real occupation of Iraq with a US military governor and American troops. Makiya goes into the ether a bit with

Its [the plan for US occupation of Iraq] driving force is appeasement of the existing bankrupt Arab order, and ultimately the retention under a different guise of the repressive institutions of the Baath and the army. Hence its point of departure is, and has got to be, use of direct military rule to deny Iraqis their legitimate right to self-determine their future.
I agree completely with Makiya that eradicating Ba'ath power in Iraq is necessary, but exactly how is it to be done with such an occupation? Makiya actually comments
a US-assisted democratic transformation of Iraq, a transformation that necessarily includes such radical departures for the region as the de-Ba'athification of Iraq (along the lines of the de-Nazification of post-war Germany), and the redesign of the Iraqi state as a non-ethnically based federal and democratic entity
Uh, how exactly did we de-Nazify Germany? We occupied it and the country was de-facto run by the Big Three for years after the war. The standard plan from the troglodytes in State has been the opposite of this kind of occupation - finding some new boss just like the old boss except US friendly. That's just not going to work this time and without the Cold War there is no longer even a facade of a moral justification for it.

17 February 2003

Differing perspectives
My friend the Intrepid Girl Reporter sent me the following from her travels in the Middle East:
Jaffah [son of a Jordanian politician] spent much of the flight from Doha trying to explain to me how Arabs feel about this threatened war with Iraq. He, an educated and reasonable person, is absolutely convinced that Bush is launching a religions crusade to eliminate Islam. I told him that I didn't believe that had anything to do with it, though oil and a family vendetta certainly play a role. He was not persuaded, pointing out Bush's conservative Christian beliefs and roots. He was genuinely puzzled that I couldn't see it; I couldn't persuade him, no matter how I tried, that it wasn't true. With those kind of beliefs in the region, the U.S. faces hard times ahead, a lot harder than just confronting Iraq.
My thought was that Jaffah doesn't really believe this, but is simply mouthing the official line (he is a politician's son, after all, talking to a journalist). On the other hand perhaps this belief is real and common. After all, I believe that such a crusade is exactly what they would do if they had President Bush's power and beliefs. Here we see something that's unique in the West, a general acceptance of the "turnabout is fair play" world view. Everything I've read indicates that most Muslims see nothing strange at all about it being OK for Islam to wage global jihad to eliminate or enslave all other reliions while at the same time being completely offended at the idea that any other religion would do the same thing. It's difficult to see how societies in which this meme isn't prevelant among the population can ever successfully adapt to technologically advance multi-cultural living. That's not to say that everyone in a society must always rigorously apply this "rule of law" but it is necessary for most people to be at least familiar with the concept. As far as I can tell, the Arab culture would consider the idea both unfamiliar and bizarre, and the intersection of Arab and Muslim culture is even worse. So, yes, the conquest of Iraq will be the easy part for the US.
Supporting Democracy in Iraq
I meant to take care of this weekend, really, but futzing with the design of my blog is psychologically exhausting for me. My problem is that I have to solve the general case, I can't just hack something in. Like the scorpion, it's my nature. Now that I have support for images in the banner, I put the "Support Democracy in Iraq" up, moved the Iranian Student one up there and added a "Friend of Israel" logo for good measure. My asthetic sense is as underdeveloped as an Old European's moral sense so any comments on the design are welcome. They will hurt me like having to agree with Kofi Anan, but it'll be a good pain. The primary issue is whether they look better lined up in the banner or stacked in the side bar.

16 February 2003

Stupidity or contempt?
Sometimes it seems like the Iraqi regime is a master of propaganda, able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of fellow travelers in a world wide set of protests. Then one reads other things which make those fellow travelers seem like people who convince themselves that their spouse isn't cheating despite having a frequent stayer discount at the local motel. In this case, Instantman mentions that Saddam could only gin up 3000 protestors against the invasion of Iraq. That's just astonishing. First, how could a totalitarian state not get more people than that in coordination with their fellow travelers in the West? Beyond that, why not just lie about the numbers? Who's going to contradict such a claim, the independent media in Iraq?

But there is more interesting stuff afoot. I hadn't realized that the Axis of Weasel plan for strengthened inspecitions planned for only 1,000 blue helmeted targets peacekeepers. Jeebus, they might not even have to rent more than one hotel in Baghdad. Yet the Iraqis have stated flat out that the plan is unacceptable. Again, that's so ham-handed. Couldn't Saddam's spielmeister Foreign Minister at least have said "we're studying it" until after the next UNSC vote? And this claim on the Iraqi Foreign Minister's part that any plan that didn't have the backing of the US is just bizarre. As Instantman noted, this is a case of a diplomat speaking the truth. But why? Undercutting the AoW seems like a bad move by the Iraqi regime at this point in time. Are they stupid or just that contemptuous? If the latter, perhaps they're not so wrong...

P.S. Isn't it interesting that both North Korea and Iraq say that if the US isn't on board, there's not point in talking? Even th0se Old Europe is desparately siding with think those Europeans are irrelevant. That's gotta hurt.

Planning ahead
Perhaps President Bush is in fact a deep planning schemer. The New Republic is in a lather over Bush's plans for "Lifetime Savings Accounts". To quote
The beauty of the plan is that it would likely cost little or nothing over the first five years [...] But the budget would start hemorrhaging revenue soon after that
Strangely, TNR views this as a problem. However, it's become clear over the last few decades that the only effective mechanism for reigning in Big Government is to starve it of revenue. No spending plans, budget agreements or admendments are going to be very effective over the long term. But turn off the revenue spigot and eventually growth will slow or stop. On top of that, as others have noted such accounts move the tax code in the direction of a flat tax and consumption taxes, both of which are good ideas. Looks like a trifecta of an idea.
Crimes vs. sins
Orin Judd cites an article by Susan Lee that was originally on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. This article lays out Lee's view of libertarianism, which I don't find very persuasive. Contrary to her assertion, many libertarians are in fact very interested in "normative" or "best" behaviours. What concerns in this issue is not so much "what is best" but "how can we know what is best?". In a society that maximizes the scope of personal choice, the best ideas will flourish and bad ones will suffer. Even religion is an unsure guide here as societies organized on a directly religious basis have not fared well, even by the terms of their religions. Moreover, I do not think it a coincidence that of the Western countries, the one that doesn't have direct government support for religion is the one where religion is most vigorous. In the same way, a minimalist government and set of laws is the best environment for the promotion of best behaviour. To legislate too strongly is to act out of the hubris that conservatives rightly mock in modern day liberals.

15 February 2003

Petard Watch
A widow has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the federal government based on the claim that lax security at a Maryland facility allowed anthrax attacks to kill her husband. As others have commented, the case for the anthrax originating at the Maryland lab is pretty thin and the leaks concerning seem to have been more about the government PR than substance. Now those same leaks are coming back to haunt the Bush Administration because they will form the factual basis (such as it is) of the lawsuit. The feds are between a rock and a hard place because if they admit that there's no real evidence linking the lab to the anthrax attacks as a defense then there's someone else who will be able to file a lawsuit based on that admission.
Five Questions, Part 5
Question 5
The Bush Administration has issued numerous allegations about the threat represented by Iraq, many of which have been criticized in some quarters as hearsay, speculation or misstatements. Which of the Administration's allegations do you feel stand up best to those criticisms?
I will try to answer this, although frankly I haven't paid much attention to the Bush Administration's claims in this area, preferring to access original sources. Further, as I've discussed, those allegations do not form the primary basis for my views on this matter.

Of the allegations, I think the claim that Iraq is a sponsor of terrorism holds up best. The payments to Palestinian terrorists is well documented proof of that. The claim that Al Qaeda wouldn't cooperate with Iraq because it is a secular government has always struck me as laughably naive. The claims that Iraq would supply an anti-American terrorist group with a weapon of mass destruction I find very plausible. There is strong if not conclusive evidence that Iraq provided support for the 1993 WTC attack and quite possible to the Oklahoma City bombing. Iraq has conducted terror operations itself, in its SCUD attacks on a non-combatant nation (Israel) during the Gulf War and its use of poison gas against the Kurds during and after the Iran-Iraq war.

The claim that Iraq is creating biological and chemical weapons is, in my opinion, indisputable so that those allegations are correct. The evidence for work on nuclear weapons is a bit thinner but in my opinion conclusive. While I don't believe that Iraq would use any of those on American targets itself, Saddam might well provide them to terrorists or threaten to use them to achieve its thwarted aggression in the Middle East. We went to war in 1991 to defend our interest there against Iraq - why shouldn't we do the same now? It will be too late once Saddam actually has nuclear weapons (as the situation in Korea demonstrates).

Five Questions, Part 4
Question 4
As a basis for war, the Bush Administration accuses Iraq of trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear), supporting terrorism, and brutalizing their own people. Since Iraq is not the only country engaged in these actions, under what circumstances should the US go to war with other such nations, in addition to going to war with Iraq?
I have always thought that that was a poor basis for the invasion of Iraq. I think that our primary case for this action that it is simply an operation in a war that started over a decade ago and has never ended. I think that President Bush should have been much more forth coming on this point. This question falls in to the same trap by making the assumption that the US would be "going to war" with Iraq, rather than continuing an existing state of war. This means that for many on the pro-liberation side, we do not see ourselves as advocating going to war with Iraq over its WMD program, but rather advocating a forceful finish to an existing one.

As far as I can tell, there are three nations that fufill the requirements in this question: Iraq, Iran and North Korea (gosh, where have I heard that list before...?). What the US should do about these nations is defeat them and neutralize their threat to the US. The specific actions should not be judged by standards of "fairness" or "consistency" but how likely the actions are to yield a successful outcome (I note that embedded in this question is the assumption that advocating military action is so unjustified that people who do it in one situation will automatically do so in others, regardless of merit). The US should use military action when that approach is most likely to achieve success with minimum loss of life. In the case of Iraq, the US military should be able to conquer the country rapidly with at most a few tens of thousands of casualties (and probably many fewer). This is less than the number of Iraqis who have died since the Gulf War because we left Saddam in power. Leaving him in power another decade will probably cost even more, so a war now is the course most likely to kill the fewest Iraqis. Moreover, an invasion will achieve success in terminating the threat from Saddam.

As for Iran, unlike Iraq the US invasion would not be as popular. Moreover, Iran already is in a state of unrest and is far more likely than Iraq to topple from within. Even further, a US victory in Iraq would make that even more likely because in that case the Iranians would have little fear of forces in Iraq striking against Iran during civil unrest. So, in my view, an invasion of Iraq is a strike against the WMD, terror sponsorship and oppression in Iran.

As for North Korea, I have made several posts on the subject and I believe that at this time, military action is not a good idea because of the large (hundreds of thousands ) of casualties likely to result and the immense damage to the world economy that would result (which in itself would likely causes tens of thousands of deaths). North Korea can threaten a densely populated and economically vital ally (South Korea) in a way that Iraq and Iran cannot. Therefore different methods are called for.

Five Questions, Part 3
Question 3
How successful do you think the military operations and "regime change" in Afghanistan have been in achieving their stated objectives? Does this example affect your feelings about war in Iraq in any way?
I think that those operations have been very successful. It is common now to claim that the goal was to create a rule of law democracy in Afghanistan, but the stated goals of the time were to smash Al Qaeda and destroy their ability to use Afghanistan as a base. The paucity of attacks since then shows that Al Qaeda has been badly hurt. This result reenforces my view that the invasion and occupation of Iraq will do even more to hurt the Calipharians in three ways.
  • The blow to morale of seeing the most prominent opponent of the US crushed like a bug
  • The disruption of the material supply and haven provided by Iraq to the Calipharians
  • The removal of claims that the US is oppressing Iraqis via economic sanctions

14 February 2003

Five Questions, Part 2
Question Two
What do you feel are the prospects that an invasion of Iraq will succeed in
  1. maintaining it as a stable entity
  2. in turning it into a democracy?
Are there any precedents in the past 50 years that influence your answer?
I think that prospects for creating a stable entity or entities in the territory of Iraq are quite high, if for no other reason than making an example of a nation can have a salutory effect on it and its neighbors. It's not clear, however, that stability is a good thing. The stability of the North Korean regime hasn't been good for anyone except a tiny clique of rulers. Millions have died there and elsewhere on the alter of stability.

I am less optimistic about the prospects of a democracy. However, as I have argued, I think that democracy of itself is overrated. What to me is far more important is rule of law and a self ordered society (I really need to do an entire post on what I mean by that). Such a society can then use some form of democracy to preserve itself. But democracy without the infrastructure of habit is fragile and frequently worse in the long term than a authortarian (because it can poison the well).

In terms of other examples, a fifty year horizon excludes any results from WWII, which provide the best examples. However, one can look at South Korea. While there were certainly dirty deeds done in the name of the US and the rulers it sponsored in that country, what can one say when the alternative is the modern day Mordor of North Korea? I credit a large part of this progress to the presence of US troops in S. Korea - this inhibits both aggression by the state and the worst excesses of repressive governments. The troops provide the natives with direct contact with citizens of a self-ordered society. US troops also bring in trade with the US which also serves to provide direct experience with the actions of free citizens.

Despite the risks and expense, I don't see how the US has any option but to try. The current structure of Arabia is spawning hate and death while acquiring access to city-killing weapons. They've already come for us and collected thousands. Waiting until the death toll is hundreds of thousands doesn't seem like a good plan. Those against the invsaion would do well to consider this, which has gone around the blogosphere: if we do wait and some Calipharian manages to succeed in such a strike, what do you think that will mean for their fellow citizens? Do you think that we will not strike back, or that we will be more measured in our response? If you really believe that President Bush is a blood thirsty aggressor, what do you think he'll do after such an act?

Five Questions
I'll go ahead and give my answers to the Five Questions, writing for the pro-liberation side. I will be placing each answer in a separate post because of the length and if I try to write them all at once I'll never get done. Oops, I need to link to the other sponsoring blog.

UPDATE: All the answers - two, three, four, five.

Question One

Attacking Iraq has been publicly called a "pre-emption" of a threat from Saddam Hussein's regime, whose sins include launching regional wars of aggression. Do you think there is a clear and reliable difference between pre-emptive and aggressive warfare, and if so, what is it?
First, let me make a context objection in that I don't agree that our prospective invasion of Iraq is "pre-emption" at all. It is a direct response and continuation of the first Gulf War. That war ended with a cease-fire where by the Iraqi government agreed to specific terms. That government has honored none of those terms, rendering the cease-fire (not peace treaty!) null and void, returning the US and Iraq to a state of war. In such a state, an invasion of the enemy nation can hardly be considered "pre-emptive".

However, I will answer the original question anyway. The difference between pre-emptive and agressive war depends more on the behaviour of the target and not the invader. Like many things in life, there is no bright line but just shades of "more" and "less". The key questions to address are

  • Has the target been violent or agressive in the recent past? This speaks to whether it is reasonable to be concerned about the target committing future acts of agression. Continuity of government is a factor here, in that if the target has done such things and the same government is still in charge, then such concerns are more reasonable.
  • How open and free is the target society? Closed, totalitarian societies are more likely to engage in agressive acts. Open, liberal societies are less likely and just as importantly far less likely to do so unexpectedly.
  • The previous points leads to this one, which is how predictable are the actions of the target and how much warning time can be expected? If the target is given to volatile and unpredictable behaviour then pre-emption is more justifiable. This is one of the reasons that officially declaring war was considered a good thing.
  • On the invader side, does the invader have a history of unprovoked attacks? How has the invader treated conquered territory in past wars - kept (agression) or returned (pre-emptive)? What kind of relationship does the invader have with former enemy combatants? Hostile, dominating, friendly? If the invader tends to have friendly, non-dominating relationships then it's a sign of pre-emption. If the invader tends to have hostile, dominating relationships then it's a sign of agression.
I will note that all of these counts argue that an invasion of Iraq by the US is pre-emptive and not agressive.
Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling
Inspired by Orin Judd, I have looked up some articles concerning Canada's experience with large tax hikes on cigarettes and the resulting smuggling problems.

This is the best article I could find which describes the involvement of a Native American tribe, specifically the Mohawks of the Akwesasne Reserve which stradles the border of New York with Ontario and Quebec. Although it's not clear when the article was written (probably 1995, certainly 1994 or later) it also mentions that

Another important aspect of this dispute is the increasing violence accompanying the trade. Over the past five years, 75 members of the Mohawk nation have been killed in connection to the trade, an astounding number for a population of 7,000 people

This collection of newpaper clippings details various efforts to get around a 39¢ per pack increase (which is much smaller than the $2 that was proposed). The primary thrust appears to be Native Americans setting up kiosks from which consumers can order cigarettes over the Internet. The Native American tribes can legally avoid paying taxes because of their sovereign status. A related article mentions that the New York taxes have lead to increased smuggling and internet orders but because of state overspending the tax would not be repealed.

This report from the World Bank discusses the Canadian episode in §16.4.1.

For example, cigarettes exported from Canada to the United States would end up on the Akwesasne reservation, parts of which were located in New York and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, facilitating the ‘round-tripping’ of the cigarettes back into Canada, where the cigarettes would then be distributed throughout Canada for resale at significantly lower prices than cigarettes sold legitimately
This article mentions that overall revenue dropped while the higher taxes were in place, which makes one wonder why a state desperate for revenues like New York would keep such a tax.

There is a mention of the problem here

The Canadian Experience. In 1991, Canada introduced a $5 per pack ($3.72 in U.S. dollars) tax on cigarettes. What did Canadian smokers do? A great number of them avoided paying the new cigarette tax and instead purchased their cigarettes from smugglers. According to a 1994 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
  • An estimated 30 percent of cigarettes smoked in Canada were smuggled in and sold for about half the price of legal cigarettes.
  • About 80 percent of those illegal cigarettes were manufactured in Canada, legally exported to the United States and then returned illegally.
In addition, cigarette smuggling became attractive to organized crime and increased the danger to law enforcement officials. It also created a hardship for the owners of small stores who relied on cigarette revenue. As a result, Canada eventually was forced to cut its cigarette tax in order to collect revenues

13 February 2003

The Iraqi Occupation
I hate to agree with Al Hunt, but his latest editorial speaks to something that has been concerning me, which is the US plans for Iraq during the occupation. Reports such as this one which claims that the US will high tail it out of town after a decent interval make me wonder what we're really fighting for. The long term goal must be to increase the security of the US and its citizens. Although it is a mammoth undertaking, I don't see any prospect of long term security without significant changes in Arabia and Iran. There is a democracy fetish in the West which I must admit I used to have a touch of myself. I've since come to believe that rule of law and the every day structures of life for the citizens matters much more than the particular form of government. Democracy is one of the best choices for preserving the good society but it does not itself create it. As we have seen time and again without the underlying support structure democracy collapses or goes off track (e.g. Venezuela). If we really want to win the war and not just conquer Iraq, we must take the time to inculcate what we can of the habits of good society and the rule of law.
Unclear on the concept
Orin Judd has a note concerning accusations from the Democratic Party that the CIA sabotaged the UN inspections in Iraq. Do they mean that the CIA had agents in the inspection teams, or leaked information to Saddam? Why no, the complaint is that the CIA didn't provide enough information to the inspection teams. This is flourescent idiocy because not only was the CIA under no obligation to do so, but the entire process was supposed to rely on information supplied by Iraq. I am simply flummoxed by the ability of US Senator Carl Levin to blame the CIA for Saddam's failure to come clean. George Tenet, who I otherwise have little respect for, gets it exactly right:
Unless [President Saddam] provides the data to build on, provides the access, provides the unfettered access that he's supposed to, provides us with surveillance capability, there is little chance you're going to find weapons of mass destruction under the rubric he's created inside the country ... The inspectors have been put in a very difficult position by his behaviour
Of course, Levin is also the Senator who believes that "unilateral" means "without UN approval". I'd love to ask the Senator what the word meant before the UN was founded.

12 February 2003

Logo-Realism
I was reading a good fisking of the draft of the EU Constituion and I was struck by the fundamental difference between the American Founders and the EU "founders". The Founders put some high language in their government documents, as do the founders, but the former explicitly segregate such language to the non-binding parts of those documents. The Declaration of Independence, for all of its significance, has no actual direct effect on the governance of the USA. The language of "promote the general welfare" while inspiring is placed in the preamble and has no actual legal effect. The US Constitution is instead filled with highly specific descriptions of the mechanisms of government. In contrast, the EU Constitution is filled with the vague generalities of goodness that our Founders eschewed for the actual description of government. There are two sides to this difference.

First, it is of course much easier to say things like

These objectives shall be pursued by appropriate means, depending on the extent to which the relevant competences are attributed to the Union by this Constitution [§3.5]
than to write out what bodies of government have what powers to achieve this result. Why one can even write self contradictory things like
balanced economic growth and social justice, with a free single market [§3.2]
and not sweat the details. In my field we call this marketecture, not something you could actually use to build a working system but some dreamers' vision of "good stuff".

The second is something I've touched on before which is "logo-realism". This is the belief that words are primary and that physical reality can be shaped by using the right words. We see this a lot on the Left these days, where many peaceniks believe that talking about liberating the Iraqi people is better than actually fighting for it. The EU Constitution seems to be a severe victim of this, with declarations like

Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general principles of the Union's law.
where saying that the EU will preserve existing rights among multiple nations which may conflict with each other or other sections of the EU Constitution is apparently sufficient to deal with these issues. (this is classic marketeture - "oh yeah, of course it will work on Windows, Solaris, Linux and MacOS Xsimultaneously in a distributive fashion!"). The words are there, the right people read them and approved of them - how could it not work?
Zionizing the war with Iraq
Apparently Maureen Dowd in commenting on the latest "Bin Laden" tape claims that Bin Laden wants to "zionize" the war with Iraq. Not to disagree too much with Orin Judd but I think that's the one accurate thing Dowd says in the entire article. It has been the goal of Saddam and his fellow travelers to bring Israel into the conflict, generally politically but in Saddam's case literally as well. It's clear that if it's just protecting Saddam the rest of the Arab world is kind of on board, but lack enthusiasam. But if Saddam can make supporting him also mean attacking the Zionists then he can expect a lot more active support. More over then one can make the specious claim that the Palestinian issue must be settled first. Assuming that it was a Calipharian who created this latest tape, it means that they too fear the coming war and its effects.

11 February 2003

Affirmative action and the American polity
One of the most pernicious effects of affirmative action is to introduce in the American polity a racial spoils system. As mentioned of the sucessful traits of America is its lack of necessity for ethnic groups to acquire political power in order to live well. Affirmative action changes that, because now much economic benefit comes from controlling the definitions and requirements of this tribal spoils system. What is one to make of the hubbub surrounding the census data that hispanics might outnumber blacks? The former definition is laughably vague to start with, and "black" isn't far behind on that score. But more importantly, why should any one care? The answer is because of affirmative action. The various "leaders" believe that those with the largest tribe will be first at the trough to define the scope, benefits and recipients of the system. I cannot view that as a good thing for the long term health of our polity.
Ethnic states and minarchy
There was a post on the Brothers Judd which I have lost track in which Harry, one of the regulars, questioned the idea of Iraq as a real nation and that the Kurds would wish to be part of it even in a parlimentary system because they would be irrevelant.

Part of my response was, "irrelevant like minors parties in the Knesset?". In fact, given a reasonable balance in a parlimentary system, small splinter parties often have far too much influence, rather than being marginalized. It's difficult to see why the Kurds would a priori be irrelevant.

The deeper question is whether the US is unique in its ability to provide a stable government for multidinous ethnic groups. While separatists show up now and then, it's never taken very seriously and they fade away in short order. Yet elsewhere we see long lived separatists movements from the benign (Wales) to the hard core vicious (Sri Lanka). I think that centralizing states contribute greatly to this in way touched on by Harry's comment. In a central state, success translates to being part of the group that controls the machinery of the state. Without that, one is economically and politically marginalized. In contrast, in the US control of the federal government is nice for those who have a real ideology or lack other means of employment, but for real power and economic success there are other and better paths. Therefore one can be part of a minority that has no government representation and do quite well indeed, without real limits on how high up the economic ladder one can climb. But one access to the central government controls whether you have schools, or roads, or clean water, what choice is there but to fight for control?

Note that centralization is a key factor. While a small town can exclude a particular minority that is unrepresented, that minority can move or set up their own township and have control of that. For a centralized state, there is no such escape.

A good example is the situation of blacks in America. In other societies the standard practice seems tobe to simply cut the ethnic group in for a slice of the government if they have the power, or ignore them if not. America instead worked to reduce the power of the government (by, for instance, removing Jim Crow laws) to divide power or spoils by ethnicity. This means that other, smaller ethnic groups need not fight for their slice, but can cooperate to create opportunity for everyone. In terms of the Prisoner's Dilemma, the American system creates strong incentives for the Cooperate choice, where as centralizing states make the Betray option more attractive. The long term results are clear.

Screeching Slate
Fred Kaplan writes in Slate that it is the US, not the Axis of Weasel, that is sabotaging NATO over the defense of Turkey. In some sense he's right, in that a strict reading of the NATO treaty (or at least the part he excerpts) means that there is no requirement to defend a NATO ally before it is attacked. But that this kind of legalistic hair splitting is considered a valid viewpoint simply proves the point the dysfunctionality of NATO. One can hardly consider an alliance where members use legalistic means to dispute obligations. More over, one can just think of the reaction should Soviet armor have massed across from the Fulda Gap and the US relied, "well, you haven't been attacked yet so why should the US send troops or additional ammunition?". That would have torn the alliance apart, despite it being technically correct. To fail to come to the defense of Turkey, even if disagreeing with the US, makes a mockery of alliance, and it's the Axis of Weasel playing those legal games, not the US.
Only in Israel
Israeli "activists" are seeking a court order to force the Israeli government to provide gas masks in case of a chemical attack by Iraq. But weren't the Palestinians cheering those attacks? Why would they want gas masks if they're in favor of chemical attacks on Israel? I note that there's no mention of the Palestinians agitating for the masks, only Israelis. We can see how much concern there is on the other side on the basis of people assuming that Saddam will use chemical weapons to attack Israel even if that nation isn't involved in the invasion of Iraq and the strong support for Saddam by the Palestinians. So the Israeli "activists" want gas masks to protect people who support the chemical attacks from which the gas masks would protect them. I don't whether to laugh or cry.

10 February 2003

Overpowering characters
The USS Clueless is lobbing shells at the Star Wars prequel. I'm not going to get in to that since I have only seen epsidoes 4-6. Instead I'm going to go off on one of my pet peeves, something that has ruined too many fictons for me, overpowering.

Den Beste talks about what wusses the Jedi are and how Vegeta could have easily kicked butt agains the Jedi en masse. Well yeah, but so what? Making such comparisons just rewards authors who assign fantastic and implausible powers to their characters. It's like competing on who can name the biggest number. "My character can blow up whole planets!" "Only Earth-sized planets. My character can blow up Jovian sized planets!". I note in passing that one of the most enduring and popular fictons, Middle Earth, doesn't seem to have any characters with this kind of power level. Even Sauron is quite constrained in his ability compared to a DragonBallZ character.

But that's not the real problem. Where these overpowered characters come from is partly from this kind of competition, but it's generally internal. In order to keep reader interest without being really inventive, an author can simply up-power the next villian. First a villian threatens a person, then a village, then a city, then a nation, then a planet ... At some point it becomes clear that there is no "back-story" but simply arbitrary decisions that are purely plot based. Star Trek suffered from this - how exactly did all of these super powered races / beings co-exist? Did the Q ever have problems with the Telosians? Note that the problems arise because of the galaxy spanning powers assigned to opponents to make them "interesting". However, judging by the Klingons and even the Dominion, it's possible to have interesting opponents who are powerful but not implausible. DragonBallZ managed to escape the worst effects because each opponent lasted dozens of episodes. The worst effects are seen in super hero comics where a new opponent can show up every episode. The ultimate extreme is The Authority where the heros cruise around in a reality plane hopping space craft powered by an entire universe (no mere star sized fusion reactor for these folk!). An author can write himself into a vicious circle where a up-powered villian is needed to challenge the new found powers of the hero needed to vanquish the previous up-powered villian...

Of course, one way around these problems is to throw away continuity, as was done for Richie Rich where any amazing invention needed as a plot device was simply ignored in other episodes. You can even get away with that in main stream content for adult viewers, such as The Simpsons, where any damage to Springfield was simply elided for the next episode.

The fact that a Jedi blast is roughly equivalent to a small artillery shell and not a world destroying blast like Vegeta's Ki attack is a meaningless comparison. Are sword fights in movies no longer of interest because of Harrison Ford's scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? The powers of the heros should be part of the warp and weft of the ficton. Comparing them across fictons is meaningless and more is in no way instrinsically better.

09 February 2003

Hierarchies and the evolution of the blogosphere
Someone else has finally done the math [source] to back up my assertion that the blogosphere will naturally evolve into a strongly hierarchial state [Note: it's important to realize that it is the hierarchial structure that is persistent, not the particular blogs or their specific places in the hierarchy]. The article cited notes that same effect that I did (although frankly it's an obvious observation) that blogs that become popular will overwhelm their proprietors until the proprietors are forced to filter their input by relying on a limited set of sources (other blogs, correspondents, etc.). Instapundit now regularly deletes hundreds of e-mail messages and USS Clueless dropped its bulletin board system because there was too much traffic to monitor. In some sense this is like the Big Media structure we have now, but overall the blogosphere structure will be far more dynamic in that "star" blogs will fall from grace far more rapidly if they fail to deliver value.

What I see as the future is the further evolution of RSS like capabilities until it's easy for the average citizen to set up his own "meta-blog" where the postings copies of postings from favorite blogs. Adding or removing blogs will be trivial (I'm sure that it will be become standard to have a button on a blog that says "Add me to your list!"). Right now it's still a bit of a pain to hop around looking for new content but already there are technologies (such as RSS) that are setting the stage for automatic detection and customized aggregation of content. At that point we'll see real penetration of the blogosphere into the mainstream population. It may also benefit writers, in that following a low traffic blog won't be a pain anymore, in fact there may be a preference for blogs that concentrate on quality postings more than volume because one will be able to simply add it to a list and automatically see such posts on one's meta-blog whenever they show up. It will be interesting to watch how such automatic aggregation changes the blogosphere.

08 February 2003

Media without clue
The headline reads "One week after disaster, NASA still unclear what happened". Really? An entire week after a high tech flying machine was destroyed at 200,000 feet and scattered over a large part of Texas and NASA still hasn't discovered the exact cause of the problem? NASA is getting a lot of deserved bashing but this is just silly. I suppose the newspaper feels it has to say something, but even a generic "one week later, NASA is still gathering evidence" would have been better. It makes me wonder what will happen after we invade Iraq - we will see stories of "One week after invasion, victory still elusive for US"?
Poking bee hives
One thing that's bugged me about the debate over Iraq is the use of "poking a bee-hive" analogy. We see it in the comments of this post and in a variant using hornets. This is a very bad analogy for many reasons and shows a reliance on cheap imagery instead of thought. The problems are all caught up in the soft bigotry implicit in the statement, that the Iraqis or the Arab street are basically mindless creatures that only react to outside stimulus. This makes it jingoistic as well, as it presumes that the US is the prime mover in all international situations, that other countries, groups or populations can only react to US actions. A big reason that it's not smart to whack bee hives is that if you don't, you can be sure that the bees won't spontaneously organize to ambush you later.

The analogy also fails for wasps, even if they haven't stung anyone, I still remove the nests from my house and I suspect most people do likewise. I was struck by this while reading "Lou" over at Sand in the Gears when she claimed that it was the US that was the evil force, suddenly attacking Iraq because of greed and rapaciousness. This is just the beehive analogy in another form, that Iraq would just exist quietly by itself if we left it alone. However, if there was a beehive that was sending out flights to sting my friends or neighbors, I'd do far more than just poke the hive in response. Fundamentally the invasion of Iraq is in direct response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but apparently America's crimes are forever while Saddam's crimes disappear like the last fashion craze. It's that soft bigotry again, where only Americans can have moral agency.

07 February 2003

Dropping the hammer on NATO
In the previous scene, the Bush administration had sought to put the AoW on the spot by asking NATO not to participate in the invasion of Iraq but to protect NATO members (particularly Turkey) from any counter-attacks. Surely if NATO has any meaning whatsoever, that would be it. However, doing so would be costly domestically for the AoW. That ticking bomb is about to go off. It has been reported that George Roberts, the Secretary General of NATO, has invoked the "silent procedure" for such a defensive operation. This means that it will go forward unless a NATO member expliticly objects. So the AoW can just hide until it goes away - they must either go along, object or destroy NATO (or at least their membership). The deadline is 9 GMT on Monday. Isn't it nice when a plan comes together?

UPDATE: France really did it.

06 February 2003

Naked protestors
First we had the pro-Saddam naked protestors of Marin county and who were going to reprise their protest on 18 Jan, although I haven't heard any confirmation. Now there is a group in Australia intending to do the same thing. In this case, it's too much for them to get naked in public so they will be doing it in private so that no one can see them. The next step was pointed out by my co-worker BBB, and so I ask everyone reading this, if you support President Bush and the liberation of the Iraqi people, get naked in the shower tonight as a private show of support. If necessary, repeat on a daily basis until the Iraqi people are free. Those against the war can show their opposition by refusing to do this. I can guarantee that your actions will have as much impact as any of these other protests.
Occupation: Iraq vs. the West Bank
Certainly one of the worst things that the Israelis ever did to the Palestinians was to not try, convict and execute Yassir Arafat for torture, murder and a wide selection of war crimes. This brings to mind the pending American task in Iraq. Clearly, it will be of great benefit to the Iraqi people to provide for Saddam and his cronies the treatment that hasn't been provided for the oh so deserving Arafat. It seems natural to wonder about the standard hawk prescription for Iraq (occupation, US military government transitioning to a rule of law democracy) and the West Bank. Should it be done? Could it be done?

Certainly a prime reason for thinking that it couldn't is the expectation of continuing suicide attacks on any occupation force. Would we expect that kind of thing from the Iraqi people? Perhaps we should. It may be that it's much clearer to the Iraqis that Saddam is a source of problems than it is to Palestinians about Arafat. It may be that the quality of life will improve enough for the Iraqis during the occupation that there will be little support for such attacks.

A big difference would be the absence of a territorial conflict. We will probably keep Iraq intact and even if it is broken up there are unlikely to be large population movements. A breakup would probably also be done in a very final manner, rather than the vague and unaccepted by most of the locals way the breakup of the British Mandate was done. Millions of Europeans were moved around after WWII without leaving any serious border disputes.

It may also be that an Intifadah isn't sustainable in a real occupation. In Iraq it will be much harder for other nations to provide arms to the locals. Further, if the US forces suspect that certain buildings or areas of a city are being used for such activities there will be a very hands on reaction. I consider it very unlikely that US forces will behave with the kind of restraint the IDF has. Just by contrast the bomb making centers of Palestinian refugee camps have been active for decades in some cases. And of course, keeping the UN out will aid greatly in avoiding such a result in Iraq.

Finally, the US has an exit strategy. It may be very fuzzy on the timing, but we have historical precedents. It's not clear what the Israeli exit strategy is (I mean one that is morally acceptable - there are several ones that are morally questionable at best).

05 February 2003

North Korean Leaders - not insane after all
As I think about the North Korean situation, I have become more convinced that, contrary to my earlier assertion, the NK leadership is not insane in the mentally unbalanced sense. Instead they are psychopathic, completely and utterly indifferent to the consequences to anyone but themselves. They are much more so than even Stalin or Saddam Hussein. You can see this in the insularity of the NK leadership. Both Stalin and Saddam saw themselves as world players. The opinions of others mattered to them. Stalin wanted to compete and beat the West. Saddam wants to be a modern Caliph. The NK leadership, in contrast, cares nothing for anyone's opinion outside of their leadership cadre. I believe that the personality cult is a completely cynical effort by the NK leadership which is valued purely for its ability to maintain the regime. This insularity makes North Korea a much tougher problem than Iraq or the Soviet Union because there aren't any points of engagement. The NK leadership is ok with running just North Korea so they have no need to justify any of their actions to any one outside of North Korea. The Soviets had to at least make propaganda efforts and Saddam has to try to mollify the other Arab states but Kim Jong Il doesn't need to convince any external group of the rightness of his cause.

The real question is how accurate is the view that North Korea requires outside aid to survive. There's lots of evidence both ways. Even the amount of aid and support provided by China is disputed. It's hard to point to any concrete evidence that North Korea is externally dependent. The regime has survived millions of deaths from starvation and the cutoff of a lot of aid from both the US and China. Except, the NK regime's recent actions are hard to explain without the assumption of a regime that's in deep trouble. How much does the NK leadership understand it's own situation? It's not clear if anyone knows how close the regime is to collapse. I've tried to avoid criticizing the Bush administration's approach because there isn't any policy I can think of that's better without entailing massive risks. I think it's clear that invading Iraq is the much lower risk policy than not doing so. I find no such clarity for North Korea, except that appeasement as practiced by Clinton and Carter is clearly the Wrong Choice.

P.S. What are the other options?

  • Containment, which seems to be the Bush policy
  • Invasion
  • Surgical strikes on nuclear facilities
  • Psyops, such as direct aid to encourage refugees or insertion of solar/hand powered radios
  • The China card, via convert pressure or support for a nuclear armed Japan / South Korea
Pick a hand and take your chances. Millions of lives are the stakes.
International Law Watch 11
I haven't done one of these for a while because the "international law" arguments seemed to have died down. But Samizdata reports that a group of "public interest" lawyers will be attempting to prosecute Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Internation Criminal Court if the UK invades Iraq and "any Iraqi civilians are killed". Of course, Saddam kills Iraqi citizens on a daily basis. Saddam's invasions of Iran and Kuwait killed tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of civilians and in which poison gas was used against civilian targets by both sides. Since this group isn't trying to bring Saddam to trial they must believe that that kind of killing is in accord with international law. It can't be because they are subjects of Saddam, as Milosevich was prosecuted for killing his own citizens. What we see here is the claim that Western nations are not allowed to kill any civilians during a war without any such stricture being placed on non-Western nations. This effectively outlaws war by Western nations and makes them defenseless against aggression by dictators such as Saddam, since any military response to attack by Saddam would almost certainly cause civilian deaths. It is groups like these "public interest" lawyers that are the real enemy of international law, not President Bush.

UPDATE: Big Media reports

04 February 2003

Right thesis, wrong facts
Orin Judd quotes Greg Easterbrook on the Shuttle. Rand Simberg hits the high points of the problems in a more recent article, so I'll just respond to the points in the cited quote.

I agree with Mr. Easterbrook's main thesis but he overstates his case. His iteration of physical conditions is highly misleading. Although Rand Simberg has already taken his shot, allow me to attach Easterbrook's claims that you quoted.

  1. Rockets were built as throw away not because "the forces of space flight twist and sizzle machines into scrap" but because recovery is very hard and expensive. I fly model rockets myself and the recovery systems are far harder than any other part of building and flying. And one notes that in all the flights the SSME's haven't had problems (and in fact the trickiest bit of technology is those is the cryogenic pump which doesn't even notice that it's flying). So Easterbrook's claim that the engine "is impractical to use again even if you can get it back" is clearly false on its face.
  2. The comment that "During ascent, the shuttle must withstand 3 Gs of stress" is laughable. I've got rockets made out of paper and balsa that can handle 10 G's of stress. I've got another model made of somewhat stronger stuff that handle FIFTY (50) G's on takeoff.
  3. As for temperature, it's true that re-entry is tough (notice - the problem is in the recovery of the rocket). However, as we discussed earlier concerning solar power satellites, in Earth orbit the equilibrium temperature from solar radiation is about 270K or roughly the freezing point of water.
  4. Finally, the dead stick landing is a bit sticky, but modern avionics should find that not too difficult. There are other designs that provide powered landings. But Easterbrook is closer here than elsewhere because recovery is in fact a hard problem.
Easterbrook's main point, that the Shuttle has been overhyped, under performing and over budget from day one is dead on. I've heard the $500 million per flight, although some claim it's closer to $800 million. But the point of my tirade is that this that NASA hasn't failed because of the inherent difficulties but for other reasons.
The Fourth Sunday
The fourth Sunday of adult Sunday school on the Middle East was rather uneventful. The handouts, while still biased, were overall far less so. Some of them went so far as to admit that not all of the evil and abuse was done by Israelis. One of them mentioned that AIPAC was just a powerful lobbying group, not a front for the Zionist Occupation Government. At one point the conversation touched on the subject of American bias against Arabs. I offered that perhaps the cheering in the streets on 11 Sep 2001 contributed to this. There was some talk about the new security wall being built by Israel, which was compared to the Berlin wall (although it's far more like the Great Wall). Someone mentioned that it would "surround" the West Bank. Apparently the previous descriptions of the local geography haven't fully sunk in. The Berlin analogy also fails because the wall is meant to keep people out, not in. I didn't get the chance to make Orin Judd's point that the main benefit of the wall is the ability to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state and then carpet bomb it after each suicide bomber attack. Perhaps I'll bring that up next week when we are supposed to discuss possible solutions.
How did we get here?
In a number of articles like this one there is a discussion about whether "we" should continue with manned space flight after the loss of Columbia. What I want to know is, how did we get here? How did America get to the point where some government agency or even Congress decides whether free citizens will go to space? This is what is wrong with NASA and no change of administrator or fancy new project or mission statement is going to fix it.
Fleeing vs. starving in North Korea
Via Winds of Change I found an interesting post concerning the stability of the North Korean regime. I tend toward pessimism on this score as well, but an interesting point is whether a massive wave of refugees could bring down the NK regime. Parker correctly points out that the regime has survived massive deaths from starvation. However, emigration is quite different. For those who remain, it's much easier to envy those who escaped than those who died. The emigrants may well set up external communities that communicate with those who remain, which famine victims seldom do. Uncontrolled information flows are far more dangerous to North Korea than any number of famine related fatalities so it's in the best interests of the NK regime to make sure any flood of refugees doesn't make it to the border even if that means wholesale slaughter. I'm kind of surprise that NK hasn't put land mines on its Chinese border, but that may be because they still have sufficient control of the border to make it not worth the expense. Overall, I have to agree with those that put the probability of internal regime in North Korea as low. Unfortunately there seem to be few superior alternatives. The only thing I've seen that has any realistic hope is sending large numbers of small solar or hand powered radios in to North Korea. Even this runs up against the problem that all of these articles point out - the NK regime learned much from the fall of other Communist regimes and will realize that allowing such things to go unchallenged is a form of surrender. The NK regime isn't going to sit idly by while we undermine them, which makes all of these plans very risky.

P.S. The 3 Feb 2003 issue of The New Republic has an article by Jasper Becker (not online) that claims that the level of cooperation between China and North Korea is vastly overestimated by the West as part of a deliberate disinformation campaign by China. By pretending to be on the "in" with NK, China enhances its leverage with Western nations, particularly the USA. The article points out that overall yearly trade between China and South Korea is $100 billion which make South Korea much more valuable to the PRC than North Korea. China has apparently been slow to fufill its obligations to round up and return refugees.

03 February 2003

Shuttle physics
I was listening to coverage of the loss of Columbia on NPR when they talked about the heat of re-entry in terms of friction with the atmosphere. This is a common misconception. One can see part of the reason if one considers that commerical jetliners, which fly at .8 or .9 mach don't have heating problems but planes that fly less than twice as fast (less than mach 2) do. The actual source of heat is compression. The ideal gas law, pV=NRT, states (among other things) that if you have a constant volume (V) and you increase the pressure (p) the temperature (T) increases. For commerical airliners, the pressure at the leading edge doesn't increase very much because it can dissipate into the general atmosphere. The speed of pressure waves is by definition the speed of sound so above mach 1 the pressure can't dissipate. This means that the air piles up in a layer in front of the leading edges. The size of this layer is roughly constant but it becomes much denser and as a consequence much hotter. It is this compression that generates the plasma of re-entry, not friction. One way to see this is to imagine how friction could heat the air in front of the shuttle.
Preferential treatment
Peter Beinart lobs some shots at the Republicans over affirmative action. I don't think that he makes a very convincing case. His essential point is that Republicans campaign against AA while ignoring other, more pernicious or pervasive preferences. The big examples he gives are (pace Colin Powell) tax code provisions, other college preferences (geographic and parental), racial profiling and President Bush's hiring practices.

In terms of special provisions in the tax code, that really doesn't seem as pernicious to me as racial preferences. Beinart is making the common mistake of presuming that "rich" and "poor" are categories as fundamental as race, where as the set of citizens in these categories shifts rapidly and continually. More over, flat-tax supporters (who are basically all Republican) are in essence railing against these as well since a major point of the flat tax is to eliminate such provisions. It was Reagan who lead the most recent overhaul / simplification of the tax code.

Beinart's most bizarre argument is that no one complains that the University of Michigan has geographic preferences.

In fact, applicants from Michigan's rural, overwhelmingly white Upper Peninsula get almost as large a preference as blacks--although hailing from a certain region says as little about the content of an applicant's character as does her pigmentation. Geographic preferences may not be as constitutionally vulnerable as racial ones, but surely they are just as unfair. And yet I have never seen a speech by a Republican politician or read a column by a conservative journalist denouncing geographic discrimination.
I wonder if Beinart finds our geographically based voting districts as bad as racial segregated voting. That would be the logical implication of this argument. Geographical location is also, in aggregate, a result of choice and not a unchangeable accident of birth. Geography is also likely to be a better proxy for overcoming difficulty than race and far more objective (I've yet to see any AA supporter rigorously define "black"). Perhaps AA supporters should look into that and push for preferences for say inner city inhabitants. But that wouldn't provide any benefits to the children of the minority leadership class which I suspect is why it is not something we'll see anytime soon. The truth is that racial preferences don't benefit actual poor blacks but rather relatively priviledged ones because the latter is far better able to take advantage of them.

As for legacy preferences, I will confess that I just can't get worked up about that. It is to a large extent a fund raising tool. There is some correlation between having a parent who went to college and being a successful college student oneself, but that's a weak reed. If all legacy preferences were eliminated tomorrow I doubt that I would notice.

Racial profiling for crime prevention is something I have more mixed feelings on. The biggest difference here is that preventing crime is a core function of government, where as providing higher education is not. Protecting citizens is a compelling state interest in a way that college education isn't. Therefore I think it's reasonable to allow stronger measures in the former. However, these must always be held to "strict scrutiny" which means that racial profiling is prima facie suspect and must be conclusively demonstrated to be relevant. In the case of Calipharian terrorists I think there's a more than strong enough case to use racial profiling. Note, however, that contra Beinart, the call isn't to profile "Arabs" or "Muslims" but people who are (1) Arab (2) Muslim (3) young (4) male and (5) entering from a terror supporting country (e.g. the Saudi Entity). Not quite the same thing.

Beinart does score some points in my opinion when at the end he hits the Bush administration for fairly blatant racial preferences.

In the wake of Trent Lott's downfall, Republican National Chairman Marc Racicot earlier this month vowed to appoint more blacks to positions in the GOP
I'm not going to defend this, I'll just say that it's the kind of pandering I expect from politicians. I do think that we have been ill served by some of the results (Norman Mineta comes to mind).

Despite these flaws, I find the Republicans overall much better on race issues and much less hypocritical than the race-baiting Democratic Party, the party of Sharpton and Jackson.

02 February 2003

The never ending scandal
One key difference between private sector financial scandals and government ones is that private ones are dealt with with some reasonable rapidity. In contrast, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been embroiled in a single scandal for over one hundred years. So far three Cabinet Secretaries have been held in contempt of court, along with assorted deputies. Records have been lost or never kept in the first place along with multiple suspicious fires and claims of contaminated documents. Yet there is no end in sight and Gale Norton, the current Secretary of the Interior, is spinning and delaying as much as any previous one. I exchange some e-mails about this last year when Big Sky View and Inappropriate Response covered it, before I had a blog.

I've been aware of this for quite a number of years. Why it surfaces every now and then but quickly disappears I don't really understand. This is a huge scandal and a major stain on the federal government. It's an abuse of trust and an abuse of some of the most down trodden members of our society. It's abuse of the environment as well with drillling and grazing rights handed out by federal bureaucrats with no accountability.

As Levy points out, many tribes are afraid to object because the BIA controls many other aspects of their existence, which is another scandal in itself. If President Bush wants to promote the rule of law and property rights he could do worse than to start with the BIA and its heavy hand of socialism.

The problem, of course, is that things have gone on so long that the bill could come to tens of billions of dollars. Since the actual money has long since disappeared without a trace, fixing will require in effect a massive new spending program which is probably the major reason the big players (e.g. Cabinet Secretaries) have been obsfucating and delaying hope to pass the bill on to the next administration.

More links to posts and information from Levy.

The never ending scandal
One key difference between private sector financial scandals and government ones is that private ones are dealt with with some reasonable rapidity. In contrast, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been embroiled in a single scandal for over one hundred years. So far three Cabinet Secretaries have been held in contempt of court, along with assorted deputies. Records have been lost or never kept in the first place along with multiple suspicious fires and claims of contaminated documents. Yet there is no end in sight and Gale Norton, the current Secretary of the Interior, is spinning and delaying as much as any previous one. I exchange some e-mails about this last year when Big Sky View and Inappropriate Response covered it, before I had a blog.

I've been aware of this for quite a number of years. Why it surfaces every now and then but quickly disappears I don't really understand. This is a huge scandal and a major stain on the federal government. It's an abuse of trust and an abuse of some of the most down trodden members of our society. It's abuse of the environment as well with drillling and grazing rights handed out by federal bureaucrats with no accountability.

As Levy points out, many tribes are afraid to object because the BIA controls many other aspects of their existence, which is another scandal in itself. If President Bush wants to promote the rule of law and property rights he could do worse than to start with the BIA and its heavy hand of socialism.

The problem, of course, is that things have gone on so long that the bill could come to tens of billions of dollars. Since the actual money has long since disappeared without a trace, fixing will require in effect a massive new spending program which is probably the major reason the big players (e.g. Cabinet Secretaries) have been obsfucating and delaying hope to pass the bill on to the next administration.

More links to posts and information from Levy.

Whither Iraq?
Instantman pointed me at a post by Oliver Willis. I've engaged with Mr. Willis before when I thought that his arguments were particularly weak, but this essay is much more well reasoned and structured. Ultimately, it fails to persuade however. There are some fundamental axioms that are held in the essay that I find completely implausible. While the comments there are quite good, I have some of my own points to make.

I just don't believe that the UK is a blind lap dog to the US and that PM Blair is cooperating with President Bush only because that's what the UK does. I disagree strongly that this is America's war - the threat is to the entire West, to freedom everywhere. Willis claims that we have no proof that Iraq would give nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to terrorists. I wonder just why kind of proof Willis has in mind that would exist before the event and be believable before the actual attack. Is it also not possible that Iraq could do this while maintaining some level of plausible deniability? However, if you don't believe that this is a viable scenario then the UK's support does make little sense. Note, thought, that one must also believe that Saddam's heirs won't do this either.

Another issue is whether Iraq is part of the Calipharian menance or not. Willis complains simultaneously that

  • Bush is considering our various enemies as if they were separate

  • and
  • Bush is making this unwarranted assumption that Iraq is part of web of Islamic terrorism
Which is it?

In answer to Willis' question "Does anyone feel as if these feelings won’t be inflamed by an American occupation [of Iraq]?" I will answer "yes, me". My view is that the view of the US is as bad as it can be, that the Calipharians are already doing all that they can against us. I am also of the camp that believes that demonstrations of power and the will to use it dampen such protests rather than inflame them. It is the prospect of victory from the such agitation that strengthens them.

Finally, Willis treats our prospective invasion of Iraq as a true war of conquest, where parts of Iraq would be permanently annexed to the US. He provides no evidence for this, while the history of the last roughly hundred years indicates otherwise. Willis asks "is it moral for America to expand via military means?" as if after the invasion we would be conducting some ethnic cleansing for lebensraum. Willis believes that an invasion of Iraq will cost America its morality and soul. Certainly if we were truly on a war of conquest that would be a reasonable case to make. But that's not how America makes war.

On the other side, Willis does make a number of good points. On the domestic side I don't see the Bush administration accomplishing all that much in terms of improving security. The groveling of the US government (which predates Bush) to the Saudi Entity is disgusting. There will be no peace in the Middle East as long as the House of Saud stands. I can only hope that we're just stringing them along until we change the facts on the ground in Iraq. The lack of real follow through in Afghanistan is a worry as well, as the only moral (in my opinion) justification for the invasion of Iraq requires a thorough occupation to transform Iraq into a member of the free nations of the world. I will end by quoting Willis where he makes a powerful statement, something I think we started with in Afghanistan and continue with in Iraq:

In the 21st century, we must end the cycle of supporting the lesser of two evils because it is expedient [...] If our leaders always took the easy way out, the brute and the oaf’s path, we would not be the America we are today or the one we can look forward to tomorrow [...] the United States must take its role as leader and create an order that doesn’t oppress and subjugate (either directly or by proxy), but uplifts and educates from the poorest of the poor all the way up to the gilded gates of the elite
Space Shuttles - a bad idea poorly executed
When the Shuttles were first built I was an enthusiast. That faded as it became clear that the Shuttles were a deadend blocking real progress, which is the standard result of a government program. In fact, the Shuttle program was one of the passages I went through to get where I am today politically. At first one could write off the failures (and I don't mean the loss of Shuttles) to malfeascance or incompence. For instance, NASA has used legal mean to stifle potential private sector competition. That's the equivalent of the early Civil Aviation Board shutting down other aircraft companies. Or they used that crazy tile system instead of a mostly titanium structure. But gradually I came to realize that the problem was systemic, that this kind of thing was the inevitable result of a government agency doing the private sector's job.

The problem is that NASA has got itself into the business of delivering services (payload to orbit) instead of doing and sponsoring research. At the very least, NASA should be buying space for its payloads from private companies, the way the Post Office purchased space on private planes for mail delivery. One of the few things that government can do successfully to get private industry going is to be a guaranteed customer. The international space station would already be operational if NASA had simply put $10 billion (out of the what, $24 billion we've already spent on the ISS?) in a bank account and promised to use it to rent space on an orbital facility that met specific capability requirements. The fact that the Shuttles are decades old without replacements or new models shows what a rut US space flight is in. It will never get out as long as NASA or any government agency is in charge.

I certainly don't want to imply that if private industry were in charge accidents like this wouldn't happen. They would. In fact, even if private space flight were safer we would expect more deaths because the volume would be much larger. But workers die every time a sky scraper is built. We lose tens of thousands of live every year in order to have private transportation. We need to get over the idea that space is uniquely dangerous or daunting. I would say that the emotional reaction to this is another bad artifact of the government imposed monopoly on manned space flight. Certainly in the early days of aviation when barn stormers had short life expectancies such accidents had little effect. Now, a single accident can shut down our entire manned space flight capability for years. Space is far too strategic a place for us to depend on this fragile a link.

Flourescent idiocy at the New York Times
Andrew Sullivan reports that the New York Times has an article out that states
In two days of interviews [in Saddam City], there was no outward suggestion not the subtlest arch of an eyebrow of anything other than complete unanimity in support of Mr. Hussein
As Sullivan notes, this is an ellision of context that is breath taking even for the NY Times. It treats the public statements of people living in a totalitarian police state as honest expressions of opinion. This isn't a minor slant but a major whitewash. Could it be a sign that the NY Times thinks that President Bush is winning, so that those partisans against the war must get ever shriller to have any hope of prevailing?

Fundamentally it is also a profound disparagement of the American people. In his State of the Union speech, Bush presented a reasoned case for his planned actions. In contrast, the NY Times fatuous spin on its bogus interviews is based on the assumption that Americans are either too uninformed to realize that Iraq is a Republic of Fear or too stupid to figure out how people in such a place respond to public interviews. One wonders just who the intended audience was : hard core fascists like the World Workers Party? But they hardly need convincing. Perhaps the editors have become so self-absorbed that this is just a bit of internal psycho-drama, just like one of the more navel-gazing blogs. But at least such blogs don't pretend to define the important stories of the day.

P.S. She Who Is Perfect In All Ways comments: "Doesn't this mean that the NY Times thinks that Bush should treat his political opponents (i.e. the NY Times) the same way Mr. Hussein does?"

01 February 2003

The chickens come home to roost
I made it back from California without getting fired so I still won't be able to blog full time. The trip was just somewhat more hassle than normal, in contrast to the last time I went out when it was in full FUBAR mode. The security line on the way back was only about 10 minutes long (last time it was 90 minutes). The effectiveness isn't clear but then it hasn't ever been. But I guess that's America - things get better.
Colin Powell's turn
So Colin Powell is finally turning his public rhetoric over to the side of the hawks. Orin Judd claims that this was all part of President Bush's master plan, that Powell didn't really believe in negotiations with Iraq, UN inspections and cooperation with the Axis of Weasel and that those of us who railed against Powell should take back our invective.

I don't intend to. I think that Powell has in fact been bad news for American interests during this war. It's not a matter of attacking earlier (although there are costs to waiting, like letting the North Korean regime get set up to take advantage of our other engagements). Instead it's a matter of sacrificing a number of principles to satisfy what I believe was primarily Powell's concern with multi-lateralism. These bribes and concessions to the Axis of Weasel and the UN ultimately did nothing for us. The AoW nations are not going along regardless. In exchange the US set the precedent that we need to ask permission from others before defending ourselves, or pay them massive bribes. It sustained France's delusions of power for no benefit. The idea that we couldn't have delayed without Powell's style of diplomacy is not believable. Moreover, Powell's concerns in this area has prevented Bush from speaking more plainly to the American people about what our real goals are in Iraq and instead he has to peddle weak WMD or Al Qaeda positions. The recent letter from Europe shows that the new Europe is on board for the far more sweeping goals of the US so hiding them has done nothing except embolden other rogue nations and confusion public opinion in the US. Powell, remember, was part of the cirlce that held off on Saddam the first time because they were worried about "stability". I think Powell's shift is that of someone who honestly believed that France would cooperate and was completely blindsided by their betrayal. Bush may be making silk out of a sow's ear but I just don't believe that this was all part of the master plan.