31 May 2003

Posted by aog at 13:41 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Redistribution and self ordered societies

Armed Liberal says that, as a liberal, he still believes in the redistributive process. I think he's completely wrong but he does state his beliefs forthrightly and make an actual argument in contrast to many others who use euphemisms and ranting instead. There are a number of good comments as well so it's worth reading the entire string.

I agree with A.L.'s concerns about a persistent aristocracy. It is the potential for mobility that helps bind American society, that makes us equal in a meta-sense rather than a direct literal one (the latter being, as A.L. notes, a utopian delusion). However his choice of mechanism to avoid this is flawed. If we look at history and ask how elites have maintained their dominance what we see is that they used the power of the state to do so. It is through law and regulation that persistent aristocracies are created and maintained, not economics and business. In the old days the laws were explicit – serfs were tied to the land, only aristocrats could own weapons, only special interests could import specific goods, etc. In modern times it is much harder to be so clear and get away with it so other mechanisms have evolved. Every time a new business regulation is created it becomes that much harder for new comers to bootstrap themselves in to wealth. This is one reason why big business is often not hostile to or actually supports regulation. It may cost them something but it costs their current competition the same and imposes a much larger burden on any startup thereby reducing future competition. This tends to consolidate the power of the current elite at the expense of turnover. As more and more power is controlled by government rather than the free decisions of the citizenry being a member of the New Class becomes more important, again helping to consolidate the power of the existing elites.

Campaign finance "reform" is part of this as well. If one faces possible criminal prosecution for printing up signs for a candidate (which is in fact the law of the land) then individuals are frozen out of the process and must subordinate themselves to the members of the New Class who can navigate the thickets of campaign law. These people become the new priesthood who control the levers of power.

Because of this it strikes me as counter-productive for someone who objects to such an aristocracy to advocate strengthening their source of power (the state) in order to oppose them. One need only look at what the elites of both government and business support to see the futility of this. People frequently think that it's a contradiction for business elites to support things like the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty, but it's completely consistent with their class interests. Such powerful regulation of economic activity tends to freeze existing arrangements, arrangements in which those elites are on top.

Ultimately, who cares if there are fantastically wealthy people about? The only thing that makes them a problem is the ability to pass laws to control other people. Keep that from them via a minimalist government and they're not really a threat. Put the power to control people and their propery in their hands and you've contributed strongly to creating an aristocracy. The Founding Fathers knew this which is precisely why the created a strong but minimalist federal government. Let me close by quoting the same passage A.L. does with a bit of emphasis added:

These rogues set out with stealing the people's good opinion, and then steal from them the right of withdrawing it, by contriving laws and associations against the power of the people themselves
Posted by aog at 11:54 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Gun control politics in Iraq and Washington

Chatterbox (aka Timothy Noah) is going after the NRA for failing to comment substantively on the new weapon ownership regulations issued by the Coalition in Iraq. Then Best of the Web fired back, comparing Chatterbox to a crank caller like
a woman distraught over the pounding Dan Quayle, Vice President Bush's running mate, was receiving in the media. We [BotW] listened patiently and commiserated, but then the conversation took a really strange turn, as the woman explained to us how concerned she was that Jews were buying up all the real estate in Northern Virginia.

I think that BotW overstates the case. Surely it would be easy for the NRA to put out a bland response of the form suggested, to wit : “The NRA is concerned with the Constitutional right to bear arms in the United States. It has no position on gun control policy in an occupied country”. Further, as far as I know the NRA has never advocated private posession of the weapons now outlawed in Iraq which is essential heavy arms (roughly weapons that require a crew or a mount and automatic weapons). Why Chatterbox thinks that accepting those kind of restrictions in a foreign, occupied country would cost the NRA points with its political base is unclear to me.

I was actually originally concerned about the ban (which in initial reports was far stricter). A strong ban would leave guns only in the hands of those opposed to the US and/or allied with the Ba'ath. The hard core gunnies (like former Ba'ath enforcers or Caliphascists imported from Iran) would benefit greatly from a strong ban as it would have little effect on them while disarming the average citizen. I think that the ban is just right. It restricts weapons that the gunnie would need to actually oppose US forces or inflict heavy casualties while leaving the general citizenry the means to protect themselves from intimidation by the gunnies. I hope that in the longer term the Iraqis adopt a provision in their Constitution that is modeled directly on our Second Admendment.

29 May 2003

Posted by aog at 18:38 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Market fragmentation

I wonder sometimes if the NY Times is suffering in a sense from the same forces that drove Playboy magazine into effect obscurity.

Playboy had pornography in a soft-focus way, along with a goodly number of real, interesting articles. The magazine was done in by market fragmentation. The dedicated porn readers were taken by the true hard-core porn magazines (of which Penthouse was a precursor). The soft-core people moved upscale a bit to the "Guy" magazines (FHM being a leader there). Political junkies moved on to hard-core political magazines which have become much more numerous and well written over the last few decades.

What the NY Times peddled was soft-focus liberalism along with "hard" news. We seem the same sort of defection. The hard-core liberals have shifted to media that's as hard-core as they are. Non-liberals have migrated to media that was more right wing and did as good a job (and nowadays better) at being authoritative. It seems to me that the NY Times has tried a different approach in shifting to be much more hard-core liberal while trying to maintain the image of objectivity. That's just not possible in the more media savy modern America and we are seeing the inevitable crash from trying.

I think that Americans today want their media more raw and unfiltered so that one can do the mixing oneself, rather than accepting what some effete snob in New York City thinks is the right mix. Of course, the rise of modern irony is a big factor in this and the NY Times was part of the cultural shift that made that more widespread. Is that ironic or is it fitting that an organization that aided and abetted the challengers of authority should itself be destroyed by the forces that unleashed? I'm not sure, but I do know that I am having far too much schadenfruede watching it all happen.

28 May 2003

Posted by aog at 21:28 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Iran out of ideas

Is the next transatlantic rift going to be over Iran? I'm not sure this counts as a new rift since the underlying causes are the same. The US is willing to destabilize oppressive governments to attempt to improve the state of the planet while the EUlite are willing to accomodate any evil as long as it means inertia.

The EU is pursuing a policy of "dialog". What have they to show for it?

EU officials acknowledge they have little progress to show for six months of talks, other than an agreement to admit U.N. human rights monitors and a suspension of the public stoning to death of convicted adulteresses.

"When we raise our concerns about human rights, weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorist groups opposed to the Middle East peace process, they talk softly but they have made few concessions," one EU official said.

The essential problem of the EUlite is that by accepting the tenets of transnational progressivism they have lost the ability (or perhaps even the desire) to prefer Western civilization over others and te capability of acting even if they did have preference. But we see the cynicism even here as even Reuters reports
Unlike over Iraq, Britain and France are on the same side for the moment in backing cautious engagement with Iran. Both also have oil investments in the country of 65 million people. Germany, Tehran's biggest Western trade partner, backs the dialogue policy more enthusiastically, as does Italy.
What was that about money obsessed Americans?
Posted by aog at 20:49 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

You were gone?

I'm back! Apparently there was a fault in the UPS (uninterruptible power supply) in the server room of the hosting company for this weblog. This caused the fire alarm to go off and all the power to be shut off. The fire department evacuated everyone and it took a while to get back in and things turned back on. Of course, what everyone noticed was that Instantman was down. But no matter. What's important is that I am back on line once again. You can surf easy now.

27 May 2003

Posted by aog at 17:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Touch and go on the reality landing strip

Best of the Web has a link to a lefty lamenting France selling out on the recent UN vote to lift sanctions. I will give credit for opposing the legal recognition of the invasion. That's wrong, but constistent and not on its face morally repulsive. What gets me is the idea of being shocked at France selling out.
On Thursday morning they [the French] rolled over to support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483 that to a large extent legalizes the invasion and occupation of Iraq – previously denounced by most of the council as illegal. It is almost as if a jury returned a verdict of justified homicide for a lynch mob.
France, the nation of unilateralism and violations of EU regulations. France, a nation that entertains Robert Mugabe at a state dinner. As for the jury, maybe it's more like 12 Angry Men where one juror slowly persuades the rest of them to a very different opinion than they had at the start.
The resolution leaves "The Authority," as the occupying powers euphemistically call themselves, in full control of Iraq. Am I alone in being reminded of "The Organization" that used to rule the roost in Pol Pot's Cambodia?
Yes, it's just you and other people with limited vocabularies. You could at least selected "Palestinian Authority" instead which is another brutal, genocidal dictatorshiop that actually has the same word in the title so it must be very similar. Oh, wait, the PA is a good brutal, genocidal dictatorship (like Pol Pot used to be before he went out of fashion).
The other cosmetic concession was that the Security Council would review the resolution in six months. But typically, the U.S. could veto any attempt to change it. The Russians were insisting that the U.N. weapons inspectors declare Iraq disarmed before sanctions were lifted.
Tha's right, we should keep the Iraqis poor and starving until Hans Blix decides he's had enough of a well paying cushy job. That's real concern.
The by-play over the inspectors is highly revealing about the motivations and the powers involved. The British would very much like to see the U.N. inspectors back in Iraq, since they realize that the refusal to admit them makes nonsense of their entire legal case for the war. And, in the increasingly unlikely case that anyone other than Judith Miller of The New York Times finds any weapons, no one will believe weapons are there unless the U.N. is involved.
This is revealing. Note that the important part to justifying the war isn't finding WMD in Iraq but letting in the UN inspectors. I've just never seen it stated so baldly. And frankly, I would begin to doubt the presence of WMD if they were found by the UN. I suspect that even if the UN did find WMD, those who won't believe the Coalition won't believe the UN either based on the same logic as the start of this editorial, that the UN has sold out to appease the US.
So is there any upside? Well, up to a point. The U.S. was forced to come back to the U.N. because it could not legally sell Iraq's oil without a Security Council resolution and because even alleged coalition countries wanted a U.N. resolution before they would join in the occupation. The U.S. had to admit that it was, in fact, an Occupying power.
The idea that the US was forced back to the UN shows a deep misunderstanding of the situation. The vote in the UNSC was a favor to the other UNSC members to show that if they are cooperative, we won't squash them like the insects they are. Iraq couldn't legally sell oil before invasion and that never stopped the Ba'ath. Note the implication that the US would be bound by "international law" in the case of Iraqi oil despite the fact that no other nation seems to have been. I also don't remember the US denying it was an occupying power.

The real problem that the Left has with recent US actions is that the US is starting to act like other nations - doing what it wants and then getting the UN to post-facto approve of it. The peaceniks and do-gooders have rendered the UN incapable of actually doing anything, so who are they to complain when it does nothing against the US? Isn't that what they wanted?

Posted by aog at 16:36 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Free speech for me but not for thee.

I've recently gotten some comments on an old post about the Dixie Chicks. For that reason I found an article from ESPN about tennis in France that She Who Is Perfect In All Ways found interesting.

The money graf is

after she won the NASDAQ-100 Open in April, Serena Williams -- the reigning French Open champion -- smiled mischievously, mustered a cartoonish French accent and said, "We want to make clothes. We don't want the war."
In response,
A number of Paris boutiques removed clothing endorsed by Williams and a French firm canceled plans to design blouses with her.
As Best of the Web asks, where is the outrage over the suppression of Williams' free speech rights? Oh, wait, she was in France which doesn't have any such thing. After all, they even have language police.
Posted by aog at 11:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Hacking and sociology - not so different?

Excuse me while I vent. A code fix came across my desk this morning that made me literally physically ill. We're porting the code to another operating system. Because of this certain things don't work the same way. In the code are pre-existing mechanisms to handle that but it turns out that the mechanisms weren't used correctly in some places. We didn't notice because it turned out ok on the current operating system. Now that there's a real difference there are problems.

So programmer H ran in to an example of this. Some code was calling an operating system conversion in a low level library (used extensively through out the code). Now, what would you do?

Let's recast it as a socio-political problem. You're running some outreach program in society A that was originally designed in society B. It turns out that because of differences in culture, people are getting confused by the way the program is run. Your potential solutions are to

  1. Changes the way the program is run to accomodate the culture in society A
  2. Fundamentally change the culture in society A so that your program no longer has this particular problem.
As you can guess by the fact that I'm writing this, the solution selected was to modify the low level library, heedless of the damage this might inflict throughout the rest of the project. Programmer H viewed it as a bug in the library that the correct results did not obtain when used in the idiosyncratic manner of the code he was working on. Other parts of the project that might depend on the original behaviour of the library? Not something H concerned himself about.

This seems very similar to me to the manner in which the New Class will attempt to modify basic structures in society at the drop of hat because it's convenient for whatever local problem is currently vexing them. The collateral damage is not just ignored but generally not something that even springs to mind. This to a large extent accounts for the trail of destruction left by the social engineers. I have the good fortune (because I did the basic design) to be working on a code base that is reasonably modular so we can have some idea of how changes will propagate. Even then, we are not infrequently surprised at the dependencies. Societies, however, are structured far more like the worst spaghetti code. This makes the cross dependencies far more numerous and harder to predict. One needs to have a high degree of non-awareness to blithely mess with something like that.

This is part of why I lean heavily to conservatism as a libertarian. Things may be bad but it's easy to make them much worse and hard to make them better. Slowly and carefully are the only ways to succeed in improving. Otherwise things go well until they go very, very badly. That's not the way I run my development and it's certainly not the way I want my society modified.

Posted by aog at 07:26 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Evaluating vouchers

As I listent to various news reports and stories about vouchers, the biggest thing that bugs me is the double standard applied to government vs. privately run schools. In order for private management to be considered a "success" it must be the case that every private school is individually a success. If there are twenty private schools in a city and one is screwed up, then private management is declared a failure. The fact that the other 19 have improved the education of their children isn't relevant. On the other hand, if a city has twenty government schools then it is considered a success as long as one school is doing well. The fact that children in the other 19 are being handicapped by the lack of education is irrelevant.

Of course, the promotion of this double standard is done with specific intent. Someone who cared about the children and their education would ask whether more children were getting a better education. However, if one's goal is to preserve government control of the schools then perfection is a good choice for a criteria since, involving humans and all, it is not obtainable. What's interesting to me is how this standard has been established for private schools while not being established for government schools. That's the clever bit.

This is all an outgrowth of the "bucket of crabs" theory of improving society. For those comfortable with the status quo, requiring that any reform help everybody or nobody is an excellent way to appear morally pure while preventing change. We've seen the same thing with welfare reform – if the reform wouldn't make the lives of every single welfare recipient better then it was wrong to do. It's the ultimate rational of socialism, the equal sharing of misery – at least among the proles. Those who perform the noble duties of doling out the misery deserve some compensation for their selfless efforts, right?

26 May 2003

Posted by aog at 11:49 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Hollow victory

“The publication Monday of the first draft of a European constitution suggests that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has won three crucial battles”. And what would those three battles be about? The dropping of three provisions in the EU constitution:
  • The word ‘federal’ is no longer in the introduction
  • The EU will not be renamed “The United States of Europe”
  • The explicit mention of tax harmonization was dropped
Forgive me for being less than impressed. Two of these are cosmetic. In fact, the UK would be lucky to be as independent in the new EU as a state is in the United States of America. The final one may sound nice, but the economic provisions elsewhere in the document make it a moot point. Elsewhere is the statement “The Union shall coordinate the economic policies of the member states, in particular by establishing broad guidelines for these policies”. If that doesn't leave a loophole big enough for EUcrats to drive higher taxes through then ENA needs to revise its cirriculum.

Of course, striking the tax harmonization provision still leaves over 250 articles. The odds of that much text in multiple languages being internally consistent is roughly nil. But I suppose that, like the constitution of the USSR, it's more of a propaganda device than an actual governing document.

25 May 2003

Posted by aog at 11:22 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Future tribalism

One of the things that's bugged me for a long time about a lot of science fiction is the presupposition of racialism. This is manifested primarily by treating races / species as the fundamental basis of polities. Consider Babylon 5 which is (especially for TV) well written SF. There is not a single government that doesn't control exert it's control on a race basis. Even in the Centauri / Narn conflict, the Centauri control either all of the Narn or none. And of course there is a single government that rules all Centauri.

SPOILER WARNING
If you haven't seen all five seasons of Babylon 5, do not read further

Even the rebellion of Babylon 5 itself temporarily creates two human polities but by the end of the run there's only one again. It is apparently inconceivable to both the rebels, the shadow backed human government and the writers that there could be two independent human governments. The civil war among the Minbari follows the same pattern.

More problematic for me were the Shadows and the Vorlons. Clearly for dramatic purposes one wants to have two strong opponents with different philosophies. However, what is the need to make these two distinct species? Then there is the Shadows and Vorlons leaving the galaxy. What, all of them? Every single one? Regardless of how attractive exploration of such a new environment would be, it's extremely difficult for me to believe that every individual of entire races would as one pack up and move.

I don't want to pick on Babylon 5 in particular. I liked it very much (at least seasons 1-4). This kind of tribalism is endemic to space oriented science fiction. Just consider the Star Trek universe (the Star Wars universe doesn't because only humans matter there). I suppose it's easier in terms of dramatic structure and story telling because then the racial designation becomes a convenient short hand. But I wonder if it doesn't demonstrate something avatistic in all of us, that even forward thinkers still postulate an essentialist and tribalist future once we get off this planet.

UPDATE: Orrin Judd has a post that is very apropos to this one. The key part is his review of John Gray talking about the European Union project. This is a very Babylon 5 view of the future - an organization that is democratic among the tribes with the presumption that each tribe/nation/culture/race/species is unitary and that all that is required is to adjudicate among them.

Posted by aog at 08:30 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It's never worked before, so let's try it

On NPR this morning there was a discussion of President Bush's recent push on Palestinian violence in the Middle East. It was pointed out that previous US presidents had been personally involved in the effort, particularly Bill Clinton. The commentators even noted that Clinton had invested a huge amount of effort and prestige to get the two sides to Camp David and got nothing for it.

It apparently didn't occur to these two that the reason Bush hadn't done what many of his predecssors did is that every single previous effort failed. Isn't doing something that fails over and over and expecting it to work the definition of insanity? But perhaps Bush is being extremely subtle and by adopting the much more direct style of his failed predecessors is deliberately arranging for another failure. It could be that Bush thinks that he needs to do something dramatic to the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authoriy like he did to the Iraqis and Ba'ath and the current state, while too violent to be called peace, is not violent enough to provide a casus belli for a strong intervention. Or perhaps Bush needs another humiliating failure to drive a cleanup of the State Department.

Nah. Not even Bush is that subtle. I just don't understand what he thinks makes sense in this effort.

24 May 2003

Posted by aog at 20:00 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Solving problems in France

Friday's Wall Street Journal has an article about a counter protestor in France. Benoite Taffin is fed up with the frequent, crippling strikes in France and particularly Paris and has been organizing protests against the strikers. She's bucking the current because according to recent polls, a slim majority (54%) back the strikers against the government. The strikers are protesting making public sector workers have the same pensions as private sector workers which would represent a reduction in their current pension plans. But apparently the French people believe that having to work with Enarchs is sufficiently unpleasant to justify better pensions.

To illustrate the battle facing Taffin, she organized a call in to French radio stations the day of the transport workers strike. It was successful enough that the radio station "Europe 1" responded with the threat of a lawsuit against Taffin's organization on the basis that the organization interferred with the work at Europe 1. The WSJ claims irony, but I suspect that, being public sector, the radio station employees don't need to depend on public transport and so weren't much affected by it.

There doesn't seem to be all that much hope for a turn around if, despite all of the disruption and the mildness of the demands, people like Taffin are an ignorable minority. (Taffin, by the way, is a big fan of the Iron Lady, Lady Margaret Thatcher). When Reagan crushed the air traffic controllers and Thatcher broke British unions there wasn't that much public support for their targets. But French unions still enjoy broad public support which means that if the current French leadership's brains could contain the thought of real reform they would still be unable to act. These strikes simply underscore that point. At least we'll get to skim off most of the redeemables before the country goes completely under.

Posted by aog at 13:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Looking from a far place

I had to put this picture up because it's a real milestone in our exploration of space. The picture is a view of the Earth and Moon from Mars. The camera was on the Mars Global Surveyor space craft which is in orbit around Mars and was 139 million kilometers from Earth when the picture was taken. The image of the Moon was digitally processed to make it brighter because of the disparity of the brightness of the Earth and Moon. Although the Moon looks bright to us, the Earth reflects far more light both because it's more reflective and because it's bigger.

The image is hailed as the "first of its kind" which translates to "first image from a spacecraft at another planet". The Voyager spacecraft also took pictures of Earth but those were from so far away that the Earth was just a dot, not a disk. And, of course, Voyager was free flying and never stayed "at" another planet. It visited briefly during some gravitional slingshots but it didn't take pictures of Earth at that time.

The picture was actually not of Earth but of the conjuction of Earth and Jupiter. A conjuction is when one planets gets in front of another (they become "conjoined"). There is a diagram below showing the geometry of the orbiter, Earth and Jupiter.

Posted by aog at 13:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Troop movements in Korea

According to Friday's Wall Street Journal the US is continuing to press forward on redeploying and drawing down our forces in South Korea. “ ‘Yes, there will be a drawdown’ said a senior U.S. defense official”. The South Korean government and military is not enthusiatic about the change.

In some sense this is probably payback for both the anti-American protests (in the street and from the Roh administration) and the coddling of North Korea (such as paying $200M to have talks). On the other hand, paybacks are a form of tough love, demonstrating that actions have consequences. Moreover, the situation has changed since US troops were stationed there. South Korea is no longer an impovershed ally on the front lines of the Cold War but a relatively wealthy nation with a strong military and a reasonable government. So it's reasonable for the US to expect South Korea to contribute more.

Most of all I would say that this is a wakeup call for South Korea to start behaving more responsibly with regard to North Korea. Raising a generation that sees no difference between the Koreas is not the mark of a serious nation. It's been easy for politicians in South Korea to posture against the US by minimizing the North Korean threat because of the free security provided by the US. Reducing that support a a time when the US is itself facing threats elsewhere on the globe is good for the US and I think good for South Korea in the long term as well because it will encourage them to deal with North Korea more realistically. The prospect of handling a North Korean attack mostly by themselves may serve to wonderfully concentrate the minds of the South Korean government.

23 May 2003

Posted by aog at 23:12 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Matrices

Orrin Judd still wonders about my view of a "good" Matrix vs. the one in the movie:
Before Neo was found by the rebels did he not think he was using the machines, rather than vice versa?

For a post-modern, probably nothing. After all, one of the tenets of post modern thought is that there is no objective reality therefore there's no good reason to consider the rebels view of reality instead of Neo's.

But I think I'll take objective reality as a given. In that case the difference is how aware Neo is of reality. In the Matrix Neo isn't doing anything real, he's performing meaningless actions like rats in a laboratory maze. His activities are purely arbitrary and effectively decided by others. However, there's no fundamental reason that Neo's actions in the Matrix couldn't correspond to real world activity. Many tasks (and more as time goes on) could be done as well in the Matrix as in "real life". Almost all engineers, for instance, could do all of their work in the Matrix and in a far safer manner. Molecular biologists could "shrink" and manipulate cells and biologically active molecules "by hand" in a Matrix (the latter is something that's actually being worked on today).

So the essence is, are the people in the Matrix aware of their state? Do they know what they are doing? Neo doesn't, but those in my scenario do. In addition, in my view people chose when and how to be in the Matrix, they are not fooled / coerced in to doing so.

This is really quite analogous to the state of the rebels. Are they enslaved by the Matrix? Yet they enter it in order to affect change in the real world (if nothing else, to pop Neo out of his pod). So if one believes that being in the Matrix is instrinsically enslavement then even the rebels fighting against the artificial intelligences is enslaved. I don't see it that way. The rebels are not enslaved, even when they are in the Matrix because they are aware and they have made a real choice based on that awareness.

22 May 2003

Posted by aog at 08:36 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Enabling terrorism

There as an attempt to hijack a plane in the Saudi Entity. The presumption is that this was intended to duplicate the airplane attacks in the US against Israel. If some Caliphascists actually siezed control of such an airplane and flew it into (say) the Knesset, they would have achieved a major coup as soon as they got control of the airplane. What could Israel do? If they shoot down the plane it would be treated by Arab and world opinion as the moral equivalent of a completely unprovoked attack, as if Israel had just decided to shoot it down for no reason at all. On the other hand, if it's not shot down and does major damage to something is Israel, that would be ignored by world opinion and cheered in Arabia. Heck, they could fly the airplane in to the Church of the Nativity and get Israel blamed for destroying that historic building, killing Christian pilgrims and a plane full of Muslims. I suppose that automatically blaming Israel is the kind of sophisticated view that I as a simplismé American just can't understand.
Posted by aog at 02:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Good and Evil

The film The Matrix has inspired a lot of commentary on the moral implications of virtual reality. The problem is that the Matrix (to use the film's terminology) is treated as an alternative to reality. In contrast, the real world equivalent of the Matrix is far more likely to have a strong correspondence to reality. In other words, people will go to work in the (or a) Matrix. As our civilization becomes increasingly information driven a lot of work will involve purely informational operations with nothing physical required. So why not do them in a Matrix?

Consider a future columnist (or weblogger, who may well be the same thing by then). Instead of trying to absorb information by staring at a flickering screen and hoping the good stuff happened to be on when he was watching, he would connect in to the Lexus-Matrix which would contain all of the raw data feeds of blogosphere. The columnist could wander the virtual reality of the latest Lunar Conservation Society protest, the Senate hearings on Orrin Judd nomination to the Supreme Court or devastation of the latest terror attacks in Israel. Or one could be a hazardous waste disposal worker who slips in to the Matrix to drive his vehicle in the waste site rather than exposing himself. While the physical vehicle might be strictly functional the worker could enhance it's Matrix avatar with all sorts of comforts. Rather than being oppposed to reality, a Matrix could well enhance it. And rather than being a prison or a delusional playground, it could be a real tool for productive activities. What it's almost certainly not going to be is pure Good nor pure Evil. Yet much of the commentary on film seems to presuppose either an estatic embrace of or violent rebellion against such technology. I believe that instead of being a clarifying moral event, it will be just another workplace in which most people are consumed by the quotidian concerns and not ethical quandries. The same old reality, even in the Matrix.

20 May 2003

Posted by aog at 21:11 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Laser like imprecision

I think that Oliver Willis missed his calling. He should have been a Marine with his “charge the sound of the guns strategy”. Mr. Willis apparently thinks that the invasion of Iraq was too distracting in the war against the Caliphascists because Al Qaeda is extensive in the Saudi Entity. This can hardly be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. What's different is that Al Qaeda is fouling its own nest now. That's a change of strategy and probably not caused by a surge in recruits or capabilities. It's hardly a return to their old tricks. Willis is quite correct that the Saudi Entity is the central wellspring of the Caliphascists but even Marines have learned attacking the enemy strongpoint is not the best way to victory. Instead one encircles, feints and takes out targets of opportunity first until the strongpoint is isloated and easier to defeat.

The analogy here is the while Iraq and the Saudi Entity are hardly allies, they were both in effect bases for the Caliphascists and the removal of Iraq is a serious defeat for them. Clearly the Saudis thought so and expended great effort to avoid this outcome. Further, as one of the commentors mentioned, access to Iraqi oil will go a long way in making it easier to pressure the Saudis.

I suppose its the standard liberal mindset with its short term vision and blithe disregard for the real world consequences and costs of actions. Do the obvious thing, the thing that sounds like it should work, don't worry about whether it's really going to be successful.

P.S. As for the comment that the US will “only attack countries with weak armies or without running water” – who exactly could we attack that doesn't have weak army? France?

Posted by aog at 17:23 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Unto the next generation

I play a lot of computer strategy games (or used to BC [Before Children]). Part of what such a game usually delivers is some sort of computer opponent, normally called an "AI / Artificial Intelligence" although game AI's are far from what normal people think of as an AI. A standard characteristic is that the AI is either hard to impossible to beat or easy, depending on the player. Is is commonly the case that a given player at first is routinely crushed by the AI but eventually "cracks" the AI and after that has to fight multiple AI's simultaneously in order to feel challenged. There's very little middle ground. Why is this?

Although an AI has a number of advantages over a human - tactical speed and memory being the primary ones - the AI generally has fixed patterns of behaviour. Once the human learns these patterns then he can crack the AI and will be able to set up situations where the AI does strategically stupid things which over time give the player such a strategic advantage that the AI's tactical advantages are insufficient for victory. What is observed is that the AI tends to be brittle. If the player does standard things then the AI does well but it fails if attacked in the “wrong” way and once broken it collapses rapidly. So the battle is generally a struggle until the tipping point after which the AI's battle plan comes apart in short order.

Against humans it's very different because humans adapt and do some crazy, innovative things. With an AI, there's a good chance your plan will survive meeting the enemy. That's not the case against a human. Well, I should say some humans. The Ba'ath defense in Iraq reminded me very much of a classic AI defense. In many cases tactically well done, strategically there didn't seem to be any actual plan. And when the Ba'ath collapsed it was very rapid. The conquest of Baghdad was just like so many endgames where, after some hard fighting to get in to position, I would set up for a siege while sending in units for recon in force only to discover that the enemy resistance had effectively collapsed. At that point I would abandon the careful siege and charge forward to finish before the enemy could recover. I suspect that the causes are similar – a rigid set of rules that are applied long after they're clearly useless.

Our recreational games are now accurate enough to give the proper overall feel of real military campaigns. Our children are learning this as they play. Some are learning squad level tactics, others keys lessons about logistics and inniative. And note that most current strategy games are real time. There are no turns, all units move and fire continuously. Players don't have the luxury of previous games to sit and think as long as they like before moving. This leads to intense games because if you're not doing something productive every single second you're going to lose. So one accepts that it's better to make a not-bad decision now instead of a good one later.

Many strategy games have certain units or sets of units that, if acquired, effectively guarantee a victory. A good game makes such units very expensive. The standard newbie question is "how do I survive if attacked by force V?". The answer is almost always "You can't. But what the #$%& were you doing while your opponent was building V?". So one learns logistics – since there's little to no hope of defeating such a force one must prevent the opponent from having the time and resources to build it. As in the game, so as in real life. You don't win by smashing the units your opponent sends at you. Heck, that's a standard thing you try to get the AI to do! If those units weren't expendable they wouldn't have been sent. Instead you go for the resources, the infrastructure.

Our next generation will understand military operations like none other before it. If the rest of the world is concerned about us now, just think of the children...

Posted by aog at 07:40 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Sharpton leads Democrats on to the Bush ranch

At a recent Democratic presidential candidates debate in Iowa, Al Sharpton lodged a bizarre complaint about President Bush – that Bush was shifting taxes and not cutting taxes. The essence was that state and local governments would simply tax away whatever Bush cut in order to pay for various services. Regardless of whether Sharpton's claim has merit, consider the meta-context: the complaint makes no sense unless cutting taxes is a good thing. If one attacks an incumbent because he promised to do thing A and didn't, the presumption is that A is a good thing and the incumbent is a bad person for not doing A. Sharpton's complaint is that Bush didn't really cut taxes. Is Sharpton's claim then that he will, in fact, really cut taxes? How can he follow that up with “Well, I won't be cutting them either”? Apparently Sharpton's complaint was picked up and echoed by the most of the rest of the candidates which is a sign that Bush is winning the effort to shape the debate.

19 May 2003

Posted by aog at 22:54 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Personal politics

Thinking back on Bill Clinton I realized that he truly personifies the personal is poiltical concept althought not in the way its proponents believe. The original concept was derivative of the Marxist view that everyone should participate in politics, that political policies influenced personal choices. However, Bill Clinton embody the converse of this, that his personal choices were political policies. This makes him the first feminist president (along with his being the first black president). What we see from this is that this view of intrusive politics doesn't lead to enlightened governmen but something far closer to banana republic where the rulers make no distinction between their public and private actions.

18 May 2003

Posted by aog at 22:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

All the pieces but not the puzzle

Junkyard Blog has dredged up a column by Susan Estrich which basically is a screed asking Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and their crew to shut up and let the Democratic Party move on from the 1990's.

What's fascinating is that Estrich touches on all of the key points that made Bill Clinton such a lousy president but never puts it all together. What was Clinton's primary failing as president? His banana-republic view that it was all about him, that once he was president the power of the office was his personal toy. Because of this Clinton disregarded the interests of any thing other than himself – Monica Lewinsky, his cabinet, the rule of law. Clinton almost certainly could have defused the entire issue by just issuing a statement that “Yes, I did it, I'm sorry, please forgive me”. He chose not to for purely selfish reasons. And what's the problem now? Clinton is ignoring any interest other than himself – other Democratic presidential candidates, their supporters, the Democratic Party. Blumenthal and the Clintons are pushing this book for purely selfish reasons. Is there, perhaps, some pattern here?

Given how much effort Estrich personally put in to preventing Clinton from suffering for his selfish behaviour it seems rather hypocritical to complain about the Clinton Crew continuing to behave the same way they always have. But Estrich just can't see the pattern.

Posted by aog at 19:18 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Paving a road with good intentions

Tom Segev writes that the current roadmap for the Middle East isn't likely to lead anyone anywhere. It seems to me more likely to lead anyone following it in to another dream castle. Segev himself says, in remarkably nuetral terms, “in the final days of 2000, it [the Oslo peace process] exploded in our faces”. Apparently everyone was just sitting down, riding along the road to peace when it just suddenly exploded. The months of planning by the Palestinian Authority to start the second Intifadah are simply ignored.

Segev then goes on to talk about some of the bad things that Israel has done:

[…] during the Six Day War of 1967, the former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion urged Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, to expel Arabs who had been living there in houses formerly inhabited by Jews. Kollek replied that, according to the law, he could not do that. Ben-Gurion's reaction is recorded in his diary: ''No need for any law. Occupation is the best law!'' Those particular Arabs were, in fact, eventually forced out.
No mention of anything less than polite things the Arabs may have done in the same time frame (such as the mass ethnic cleansing of Jews in the Middle East). Ultimately, of course, the acts of terror are because “Israel constantly violates their [Palestinians] most basic human rights and imposes various forms of collective punishment”. If this were true, why are the Palestinians conducting terror against the Palestinian Authority which does worse to them than the Israelis? Why not the Kuwaitis who ethnically cleansed them from Kuwait after the first Gulf War? Or Jordan and Lebanon which refuse to allow them to become citizens?

But Segev's biggest delusions is the following:

Painful as it may be, the Israelis must recognize that terrorist attacks cannot be stopped entirely-and efforts to reduce the tension must nevertheless continue.
That's simply not true. I can think of several measures that would end the terror, most of which revolve around the concept that “no Palestinians means no Palestinian terror”. What's bizarre is that Segev touches on this with his quote above. One might argue that today, it is unacceptable to ethnically cleanse Israel and the West Bank of Palestinians or to commit genocide against them. However, that seems to be a double standard as the open embrace of exactly those measures against the Israelis draws no serious condemnation. As others have noted, should not the Palestinians and their appeasers like Segev consider that at some point, Israel may be willing to fight to the last Palestinian as well?
Posted by aog at 09:48 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Soft targeting

It looks like Al Qaeda is showing some belated strategic sense in their latest attacks in Morrocco and the Saudi Entity. The record of American response to foreign terror is weak at best and particularly in recent times has been less than anemic. In contrast, the historic record of what happened to those who attack Americans on American soil has been quite sanguinary. Had Al Qaeda spent its efforts in attacks like this from the start they may well have avoided losses inflicted by the US while still advancing their goal of driving Americans out of Arabia, damaging the Western economy and acquiring more power in Arabia, i.e. closer to the goal of reviving the Caliphate with themselves as the ruling class.

But it's really too late. Now that the US is in Iraq, the ability to maintain our presence in other nations of Arabia is much less important. It's telling that Al Qaeda waited until after the US had announced the transfer of its military out of the Saudi Entity to strike there. It's a clear admission that Al Qaeda itself believes that it cannot stand against the US military and can only go against US civilians. What would it mean if it was the presence of the US military that kept away Al Qaeda?

Posted by aog at 01:45 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The right of whose return?

A primary excuse for continued violence by terrorist groups in the Middle East against Israel is the “right of return”. This is a demand that Arabs who became refugees during the 1948 Arab/Israeli war should be allowed to return and claim their property. Of course, this only seems to apply to Arabs who fled from, not to Jews who fled in to Israel. But skipping over that, and the fact that such a demand is historically unprecedented (millions were moved around after WWII in Europe but any of them claiming a “right of return” at this point in time would just be laughed at).

The key question is, who exactly would have this “right”? Someone who bought land in 1947? If someone had only lived in a house for a few months before the war, it hardly seems like a crippling loss of patrimony to not get the house back. What about 1946? What if it was land siezed from Jewish owners during the pogroms of the 1920's and 1930's?

This is where one gets in to some fun issues. If it was legit for the local government to sieze and re-sell such land, why can't Israel? If instead there is some higher principle that forbids such things, then any Arabs that bought such land aren't the rightful owners. But that's a real can of worms to open because then one can start tracing back through a succession of siezures during pogroms, purges, factional strife and conquest. Is it all a matter of who kept good records? I don't think I have to go in to the joys of deciding about which records are considered legitimate to illuminate the economy sized can of worms involved there.

So clearly the thing to do here is get a UN commission working on it, making sure that the committee members have large staffs and generous travel budgets. That'd put any determination out at least 10-20 years. Meanwhile the negotiations could proceed about other issues since the negotiators wouldn't want to challenge the primacy of the United Nations.

Posted by aog at 01:07 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Final stage?

The topic of evolution is a recurring theme over at the Brothers Judd. I try to avoid getting directly involved because I've said my piece and it's not really a major issue for me. But I got to thinking that, except for the truly hard core, there is a general acceptance of the rough time scale of the history of the Earth and the species on it. For the non-evolutionist this requires proposing some mechanism for the creation of new species (since we know that, for instance, flowering plants didn't exist until about 150 million years ago (MYA)). Generally this is held to be some form of divine intervention. If we accept that, then how are we to know that there won't be any more? Perhaps we're not the final stage of the Divine Plan.

One might argue that we have souls and therefore can't be discarded. But there are different orders of angels, why not different orders of souls as well? One of arguments against true artificial intelligence is the lack of a divine spark. But who can say that such a spark won't be made available at some point in the future? Either there have been souls of creatures back to the origins of life on this planet, or souls were added to certain creatures at some point in time. The first case leads to the different orders and the second to the addition of souls to the previously non-souled. Both of these are consistent with a further stage of intelligence.

Silicon based intelligences would certainly be far better able to appreciate the wonders of creation because they could travel and live in so much more of the Universe than fragile, carbon and water based creatures. It would seem such a waste to have this big, wide Universe and have intelligence restricted to just the surface of a few tiny planets.

17 May 2003

Posted by aog at 23:38 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Bizarre anti-invasion arguments

Lots of interesting comments over at Samizdata. The comments evolved into a long discussion on various sides about whether the invasion of Iraq was justified. While some of the anti-invasion arguments are reasonable, there are several bizarre ones that I can't resist ripping.

The war wasn't constitutional
The most bizarre variant of this claims that only wars for the "safety" of the American citizenry are constitutional. I've checked my copy of the US Constitution and I just don't see that clause. As far as I can tell, Congressional approval is all that is required and there is simply no discussion or limitation on why Congress might do that. The more rational argument is that there was no "declaration of war". However, that's just playing syntax games. The act passed by both houses of Congress authorizing President Bush to use military means to force the Ba'ath to comply is completely sufficient to satisfy Constitutional requirements and this was clearly understood at the time.
Nobody care about Iraq before the 11 Sep attacks
Then where did all of those sanctions come from? The UN resolutions explicitly mention Ba'ath oppression and required its cessation. So somebody care from at least 1991 onward. I've also located statements by Richard Perle on behalf of then Governor Bush concerning saying the Bush had "a view to bringing down Saddam's regime". This was in the context of the Iraq Liberation Act(which was passed in 1998, a time that as far as I can tell was before 11 Sep 2001). But this is a reasonably clear statement that Bush was on record as gunning for Saddam Hussein even before he was elected President.
Why Iraq and not [Cuba/North Korea/Zimbabwe]?
This strikes me as odd. I don't recall seeing any protests arguing for war, all of them were against war in general and so this argument is clearly a hollow one. But it made me think – suppose it was just the custom that every presidential term, the President would pick just one oppressive dictatorship and take it out. At random. Not only would the world be rid of that dictatorship, but it would likely have a salutary effect on all the others. I have lost the link but one of the best posts on this subject laid out 5 or 6 reasons for invading Iraq and noted that none was a good enough reason, but all of them together were. It's really not that hard to come up with a short list of reasonabl criteria that puts Iraq at the top of the list. The bottom line is that in terms of advancing US interests in the world, invading Iraq was the most bang for the buck choice.

15 May 2003

Posted by aog at 10:13 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Painting yourself into a corner

Damian Penny wonders why the Democratic Party doesn't make an issue of the ties between the Bush administration and the Saudi Entity. According to Mr. Penny, the FBI mission to the Saudi Entity to investigate the lastest set of bombings has been scaled back due to Saudi “sensitivity”.

The problem for the Democrats is that to attack President Bush on this issue would be to lose on the meta-issue which is a general attack on the “bellicosity” of Bush's foreign policy. If we need to lean on the Saudis to deal with this issue, that of itself is an admission of several things the Democratic Party doesn't want to admit:

  • That there is in fact a war on terrorism and not just Al Qaeda. This leads directly to the concept that Bush's grander vision is the correct path.
  • That the correct foreign policy is to be tough, not accomodating.
  • That there are violent sects of Islam. This one in particular is a hard one to let go. It is of course non-PC and against the grain of multiculturalism, which is to blame America first. Only judgements against the US are valid – any criticism of other cultures or religions is Evil Western Hegemony.
The bottom line is that for all of the tactical benefit of hitting Bush over the Saudi Entity, the strategic implications make it unacceptable. This is an excellent example of the cost of not having a valid opposition party.

14 May 2003

Posted by aog at 20:03 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Tim Blair Secrets Revealed!

I managed to have lunch with an Aussie former co-worker of Tim Blair from the days when Blair worked for Time magazine (yeah, Tim, you thought you'd burned all the files but you forgot the power of the Internet!). I had to con one of my field agents into marrying him but hey, that's the kind of sacrifice I am prepared to make to bring you this kind of news. There were a lot of stories told of being a journalist in Iraq during the invasion but I will spare you that (I mean, who wants to hear that kind of thing?). Once I managed to bring the conversation around to Blair, his former colleague just layed it out for me – “Tim Blair is a bit of a wild right wing guy”. Score! With a scoop like that and a few fabricated quotes I'm ready for the NY Times!
Posted by aog at 16:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Go for the source

Best of the Web claims that US Senator Bob Graham is “defying reality”. The article quotes the Washington Times that Graham said
the bombing "could have been avoided if you had actually crushed the basic infrastructure of al Qaeda" and that "al Qaeda has regenerated" because America has paid too much attention to Iraq.
. Best of the Web claims that this is inconsistent with Graham's earlier objection to authorizing the invasion of Iraq because he wanted a wider war (against, for instance, Hezbollah). I don't see the inconsistency. Graham clearly believes that if we had pursued a larger war we would be enough further along in crushing the terrorist infrastructure than we are now. Best of the Web missed the mark on this one.

I think that Graham is correct, but I think that a wider war would have less successful in the long term. Graham is thinking too tactically – remember, amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics. It is, in my infallible opinion, more important to prevent the regrowth of terrorist infrastructure in the future than the smash it now. I think that concentrating on Iraq now, while allowing more terrorism to continue than would be the case with a wider war, will do more to “drain the swamps” in which terrorism grows. Better to cut the flow of support, even if it causes a temporary surge.

12 May 2003

Posted by aog at 22:25 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Shared trust isn't a government mandate

Orrin Judd quotes William Greider from The Nation on the subject of the VRWC's plans for rolling back the 20th Century. I think OJ was much to kind.

The first thought that comes to mind is, given the death toll of the wars of the 20th Century, the rise and fall of Communism and its heinous legacy which still enslaves billions, Naziism and many others, is why rolling all that back is such a horrid idea. Apparently another century like that is Greider's preferred outcome.

Greider asks

Many opponents and critics (myself included) have found the right's historic vision so improbable that we tend to guffaw and misjudge the political potency of what it has put together. We might ask ourselves: If these ideas are so self-evidently cockeyed and reactionary, why do they keep advancing?
Has Greider already rolled back the century in his head? Could the massive failure of the Left across that span of years, destroying entire countries and leaving a trail of hundreds of millions of corpses, possibly, just maybe, have something to do with the advance of conservatism? Those ideas certainly have their problems but history has shown that one is far more likely to survive those problems than the problems of the big political ideas of the 20th century, the ideas that Greider is afraid are retreating.

Greider actually has a number of good insights in modern politics but he has a curious blind side to specific details. For instance, he writes

Free-market right-wingers fall silent when Bush and Congress intrude to bail out airlines, insurance companies, banks--whatever sector finds itself in desperate need.
I don't remember that silence. One need only look up the reaction to the steel tarrifs. All of the free-market types I know and read have stated forcefully their disgust with any airline industry bailout. But the most bizarre claim was
The "school choice" movement seeks not smaller government but a vast expansion of taxpayer obligations
Why exactly would a vast expansion of taxpayer obligations be something that Greider objects to? Moreover, as one of the commentors at the Brothers Judd points out those vouchers wouldn't cost any more than is currently being spent on education. There's no reason to expect a vast expansion of taxpayer burdens. Vouchers would certainly lead to a smaller government - no more Department of Education, no vast federally funded "education" establishment.

Greider is correct that the government should get out of the way and let "every man fend for himself". What we find is that people aren't stupid and they realize that

For most Americans, there is no redress without common action, collective efforts based on mutual trust and shared responsibilities
So when left to fend for themselves, Americans will form communities, organizations and fellowships that allow common action, collective efforts along with mutual trust and shared responsibility. Greider speaks as if the era before the New Deal was a barren, Hobbesian wasteland in America rather than (as Tocqueville saw) a stew of non-governmental organizations that allowed people to work together and support each other. What we see now, after a century of Greiders views ascendent, is books like Bowling Alone decrying the atomization of American social life. Greider should ask himself why this is if it is conservative policies that atomize society.
Posted by aog at 19:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Warriors vs. multiculturalists

The word on the blogosphere is that Pfc. Lori Piestewa went down fighting [source]. What's interesting to me that this is still held up as heroic. The only thing that would be considered more heroic is if we knew for sure that she'd fragged some of the Ba'ath troops. I'm sure that this response seems completely unremarkable to both of my readers, but consider that it is truly the opposite of the prevailing mindset of the chattering classes. Consider her sins from the point of view of modern multiculturalism:
  • Piestewa didn't try to understand what drove the Ba'ath to shoot at her
  • She made no attempt try to engage them in dialog or resolve their differences
  • She asserted (violently) that her life was more valuable than those of the other side
  • She did not seek concensus with the others in her group that violence was an appropriate response or that she could perform violence on their behalf.
  • She used a gun
Yet, if you had to argue with some multi-culturalist about this in front of a crowd anywhere but Berkely or the NY Times editorial room, would it even be a contest? What does it say about the multi-culturalist that their ideas are such anathema to the general population? What does it say about us that they've accomplished so much despite that?

11 May 2003

Posted by aog at 09:28 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Communist persecution of homosexuals

Why do the Communists hate homosexuals? It seems to be a common theme in totalitarian regimes that homosexuals are persecuted. For ‘right’ totalitarians, I can understand the basis for this. Such persecution is in line with the basic principles of the regime, particular its religious and social policies. The right tends to favor families and breeding so opposition to homosexuality is what one would expect. I don't agree politically but I can understand the motivation.

But why would a Communist regime care? In fact, one might logically argue that such a regime would benefit from wide spread homosexuality especially if it led to state run child rearing. Joe Haldeman alluded to this in The Forever War. Moreoever all of the rhetoric of Communism is against such persecution. I find it quite puzzling not only because such persecution is against the putative values of Communism but because there doesn't seem to be any benefit from it for such regimes. Yet it has been a hallmark of totalitarianism that homeosexuals are actually worse off than the average population under Communism, persecuted specifically for being homosexual.

It's even more puzzling that the fact that so many of the fellow travelers of the Communists and now the Caliphascists are homosexual. But that at least isn't much different than writers and artists hobnobbing with Castro while he imprisons the local ones.

10 May 2003

Posted by aog at 23:11 | Comments (4) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Clinton and Hussein - parallel defense

I realize that the blogosphere has done this to death, but I just have to vent about the obsession with finding WMD in Iraq because it came up in conversation this evening. Let's assume that, contrary to an enormous amount of evidence, that the Ba'ath neither had such weapons nor were trying to build them. So what? If that turns out to be true, does that mean we have to give back Iraq to the Ba'ath so they can continue their reign of terror?

Suppose President Bush just flat out lied about the WMD, that it was all just a cover for invading Iraq. This would be completely different from FDR's cirumlocutions to cover his gettting us involved in the European theater of WWII.

But I do see a parallel with the defense of Clinton (not too strangely since it's to a large extent the same people). In both cases the focus is on the basic act (bonking the intern or trying to build WMD) while completely ignoring the open defiance of law and comity. I just heard part of an interview with Senator Bumpers and he still maintains that the issue was the physical deed with Lewinsky, not the lieing, the perjury or the abuse of power (such as using the Cabinet as a propaganda tool in what was effectively a private legal matter). In the same way the focus on WMD is the same kind of narrow focus with the same purpose — to excuse and disregard the other crimes committed in conjunction with the basic infraction. If one just asks “were WMD found in Iraq” one can evade the question of whether the Ba'ath had any obligation to cooperate with the UN and the US in looking for WMD or to comply with the terms of the ceasefire. The logic is that if no WMD are found then any crime committed with regard to WMD is irrelevant. It's all about political battles in the US.

It's the new isolationism, not ignorance of foreign affairs but their complete subordination to domestic political agendas and perforce a complete lack of concern about what is going on in the world outside of the US. Is that not the essence of isolationism?

Posted by aog at 22:54 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Book review - Forever Free

I recently read Forever Free by Joe Haldeman, which is a sequel to the classic The Forever War. Three words are all I need to describe it: “don't read it”. It was one of the worst reading experiences I have had in a long time. The writing quality wasn't nearly as good as the original but I could have over looked that. The problem was that the plot was excrutiatingly slow to get started and then went all over the place and never resolved.

The blurb on the back says “William Mandela lives on the snow covered planet of set aside for his kind […] The crew is forced to abandon ship and return home […]”. That summary gets you to end of page 166 (of 274) so well over halfway through the book. Just to get things set up! Several interesting plot lines are set up, none are resolved really. To actually wrap things up Haldeman pulls out not just one but two Deus Ex Machina plot twists with no foreshadowing (unless you count random plot lines that need to be resolved).

The characterization and what plotting there is are done badly as well. I will cite two examples, both of which were typical. First, when the gang leaves on the starship they take a Tauran along. This is potentially interesting because much of the crew are veterans of the Forever War against the Taurans. Part way through the mission the Tauran kills one of the crew, claiming self defense. Is this true? Or is the Tauran homocidal? Or perhaps it's acting on some long range plot for or against the human group mind. How is this actually resolved? The crew decides that nobody much liked the dead guy so it's not worth worrying about. It's never brought up again.

SPOILER WARNING!

Just kidding, there's nothing so spoil. At the end of the book, after the first Deus Ex Machina (there is a magically shapeshifting race living on Earth and the Tauran home world that has been manipulating the races. How, exactly, they did this before there was contact between Humans and Taurans isn't, like most of the things in the book, explained or ever wondered about) the gang are wandering about on Earth where everyone has disappeared. As far as they can tell, every single human and tauran disappeared at the same time (except for those on their starship). Then the remaining crew start exploding. It turns out that some effectively omnipotent being was running and experiment and is now cleaning up. This being can cause tens of billions of sentients to disappear simultaneously across a big chunk of the galaxy but to clean up the remaining few people has to make them explode. There is clearly no point to this except to allow the author to engage in cheap pathos as people watch their friends and lovers explode. They don't just disappear like everyone else so that the gory after math of each explosion can be described. I pushed through thinking “surely it can't really be this bad – the author must have something in mind”. Nope. He didn't. You shouldn't have anything about this book in mind either, especially purchasing it.

Posted by aog at 08:31 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Hiring piano tuners to fix the plumbing

I need to stop listening to NPR. There's another interview now and the interviewer (Linda Wurthheimer I think) is shocked that large corporations are being hired to do some of the reconstruction work in Iraq. Oh yes, we should be hiring little Mom&Pop shops to fly over to Iraq and build things. Just because large corporations have the staff and capital to engage in large operations overseas is no reason to look to them for doing large operations overseas.

There is something of an issue with using the local Iraqis. The problem with that is two-fold. First, the lack of capital (money and equipment). There are more complaints in Iraq about the lack of services than the lack of use of the local population. So we need to prioritize getting things working again over other considerations. The second is many of the local Iraqis are compromised by association with the Ba'ath regime. For instance, one example on NPR was running the Um Qasr port. I wouldn't trust the previous operators to be either non-corrupt or to work against any Caliphascists trying to smuggle things through port.

That said, I do have to agree that there should be a strong effort made to get the locals involved where possible. While running a port is too risky, running the water or electrical supplies is far less sensitive to security. Getting things working should be the highest priority but not the only one.

Posted by aog at 08:22 | Comments (4) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Daniel Shorr, narrow minded Idiotarian

On NPR this morning Daniel Shorr was going on about some new Bush administration effort in the Middle East. The claim was that if the initiative could just get Prime Minister Sharon to sit and talk with his Palestinian counter part, that would count as a great success. I was nonplussed (although of course I shouldn't have been) : a success at what? Would it still be a success if people exploded while they were talking? If some little child was shot at point blank range while they were talking? Shorr mentioned that there hadn't been any talks between Sharon and a Palestinian leader for over year. Gosh, I wonder why? It's the triumph of parochialism where someone like Shorr simply cannot imagine people who have a different world view.

09 May 2003

Posted by aog at 06:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Some animals are more equal than others.

Apparently there is a large market in Europe for animal skins from dogs and cats. Some in the blogosphere have gotten upset about this. I don't really see the problem. If one accepts skinning, say, minks for clothing why not other animals? Certainly if the reports of animals being skinned alive are true, that's horrendous but I would think that regardless of what particular animal was subject to such cruelty. I also find it a bit implausible – one would think that it would just make the operation more difficult without no benefit.

This reminds of the flap over eating dogs in Korea or the brouhaha about horses being shipped from California to other states for to be slaughtered for meat. Maybe it's because I don't own pets but I just don't see the difference between a horse, dog, cat, cow or pig in this regard. I have yet to see an argument against the kinds of things mentioned here that wouldn't apply equally well to any of these animals. Clearly that's a feature from the PETA point of view but it seems to escape otherwise rational people.

08 May 2003

Posted by aog at 20:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Petard watch - German edition

So the Germans are stressed out because some of their troops may have to obey orders from Polish officers. Do they look back at the Katyn forest with fondness? But what I like best about this is that is a classic move by President Bush where his political opponents are punished by their own flaws. What can the Germans say? Their objection has no real basis except jingoism, that venal sin which is used to curse Americans. It rubs Old Europe's impotence in its face in way that's hard to object to publically without making things worse. There is already quite a bit of rancor left over from Chiraq's remarks about how Eastern Europe should have “remained silent” about the invasion of Iraq. Reading some of the comments by the Poles I suspect that they are willfully playing the naivé naif in the whole thing because that just makes Germany look worse. This seems like another diplomatic coup by the Bush team.
Posted by aog at 20:25 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Sanctions aren't always bad

I was thinking about the recent rumours that the US might unilaterally lift sanctions [source] against Iraq. Of course, maintaining the sanctions is ludicrious but the Axis of Weasel has never been reticent to sacrifice Iraqis on the alter of anti-Americanism. I think it would terribly amusing if this came to pass and Iraq explained to the AoW that well, we'd like to discuss trade but there are those darn sanctions so sorry, maybe later. Meanwhile the US grants Most Favored Nation status to Iraq (or even free trade).

07 May 2003

Posted by aog at 22:10 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The right to pollute

I wanted to mention this but it didn't fit in the previous post. One thing that is just bizarre to me, although it's a tenet of the Green movement and widely accepted, is that polluting is of itself evil and wrong. I don't like pollution any more than a Green myself, but it is a sad fact of reality that to exist is to pollute. To say "one should not pollute" is to say "one should not be alive". I suppose that for many Greens this is the preferred state for people but I think that that rest of us might find that a bit fanatical. Like freedom, polluting is not an absolutely right but something that is constrained by the shape of the reality we live in. One must accept that other people are going to pollute and see how we can minimize that, just as we have to accept certain infringements on our liberty in order to have a maximally liberal society.
Posted by aog at 22:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Conservative Ecology

Orrin Judd asks about the confluence of conservatism and ecology. I think all of his points are good ones that the conservative movement would do well (both politically and morally) to explicitly adopt. However, I want go off on a tangent to his points 4 (Conservation must be compatible with private property rights and human freedoms) and 5 (Distrust of large public works projects and commercial developments).

I've thought for a long time that the current Green movement, like the liberalism of which they are an offshoot, is in fact profoundly opposed to nature and the ecology. Just as liberals claim to be protecting liberty but all of their solutions reduce it, so do Greens claim to want to protect the environment but all of their policies leads to greater destruction.

One case in point, which is mentioned by OJ in his post, is the view that the conservative reaction to a spotted owl is to kill it. There is some truth to this but it is a direct result of Green policy, in particularly the Endangered Species Act. It is not that the owls themselves are bad, but because they have been given greater property rights than the legal owners of land in dispute there is a powerful incentive to ldquo;bury the problem”

In the large scheme, Green call for ever greater government control of property and society. Yet what we see is that it is free societies that are the best stewards of the planet and socialist / communist countries that are the worst. Nothing that's been done by the rapacious private corporations of America can hold a sooty candle to the devastation wrought by Communism in Eastern Europe, Russia and China. One might note that the only country in Africa that has a growing elephant population is the one that permits trade in ivory. Even the US it has been the government, not private interests, who have done the most ecological damage (think Rocky Flats). Even when it is private interests (such as overgrazing in the West or the water problems in California) one finds the hidden hand of government pushing (via laws or subsidies). As with most things, it is not that private interests are perfect custodians, just much better ones.

To a large extent this is because people acting in a private capacity are far more likely to look decades ahead (for their retirement or their children) than a politician is to look past the next election. Moreover, people don't foul their own nest whereas for government nothing is ever really the property of the person making the decision so there's no ties that bind the hands that act.

Now, I'm a minarchist, so I admit that there is a role for government and that's basically to internalize externalities. For instance, car pollution. This is an externality where your car polluting in effect robs me of my property (clean air in my yard). It's just not feasible to deal with this on a person to person basis (that's why it's called an externality). The government can serve here not by command and control (like CAFE) but by turning the externality into something internal to private actors. A classic example is pollution credits. If cars that pollute more cost more then people will work it out on their own. The government could determine the total carrying capacity for such pollution and then auction off the rights to generate that pollution. People who didn't like it could buy up the rights and just bury them. People who wanted big smoke spewing land cruisers would have to fork out, thereby supressing the demand for such things.

Finally, people like nature. Given the resources and the ability to act, people (in general, overall) will act to preserve the ecology (not, as OJ says, every blade of grass, but a good portion). If spotted owls didn't threaten land owners with expropriation there would probably be a lot less hostility.

06 May 2003

Posted by aog at 18:32 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Was it all a giant hoax?

Is it possible that the Ba'ath never really successfully built WMD? On the one hand, we know that the Ba'ath had and used poison gas so in some sense this is a WMD. But while such chemical attacks are nasty they're not what people normally think of as “real” weapons of mass destruction (even in Halabja the attack didn't kill as many people as a heavy artillery barage. The standard question is, if the Ba'ath didn't have WMD then why didn't they just demonstrate this to the UN inspectors? That depends on how clever you think the Ba'ath leadership was. Suppose that the Ba'ath had not yet successfully produced any WMD. What benefits would there be to opposing the UN?
  1. Set the precedent. While the Ba'ath might not have yet succeeded, perhaps they expected to in the future. It would look even worse to be open and then to suddenly clamp down. Better to be intransigent from the start. Not to mention all the practice in avoiding detection should one of the projects pan out and the wearing down of the will to inspect.
  2. Impress the neighbors. The Iraqi Ba'ath didn't live in a friendly neighborhood. If we couldn't tell if they really had WMD, perhaps their neighbors / enemies (is there a difference?) couldn't either. If one is looking for a deterrent, belief is actually more important than the weapons.
  3. Save face. Saddam Hussein may have judged that coming clean wasn't a good career plan. His popularity in the Arab world was derived primarily from his opposition to the West in general and the US in particular. To allow the UN to verify his compliance would likely have destroyed that popularity and influence.
  4. Blame the sanctions. Castro has demonstrated the efficacy of this technique. It provides a ready made excuse for any problems in Iraq. It's almost as good as Israel in that regard.
  5. Use the sanctions. For example, the oil for food program provided a scope for bribing huge swaths of the UN bureacracy. It's hard to see how any purely clandestine system could have moved that kind of money around so easily.
Looking at it the other way, what exactly was the downside to his defiance? The sanctions never bothered him or the Ba'ath. It keep the people poor and struggling and therefore less likely to revolt. It ended up degrading his military but quite frankly, who cares? It's not like the Army was going to save him if the US actually invaded.

I think that Saddam Hussein had the weapons or was close to having them. However, thinking about it I don't see that defying the UN even if he didn't was prima facie a stupid policy. But we have to weigh that against the plausibility that Saddam Hussein could actually be that clever.

Posted by aog at 18:07 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Alternative medicine strikes

One of the standard New Age / holistic medical devices are various forms of magnets that are clamped to the body. These were disregarded by standard medicine because there was no known way for the magnets to interact with the body. Now, however, recent research shows that magnetic fields can dilate and constrict blood vessels. It's still not clear that this effect is actually present in normal situations (the tests involved thin layers of skin tissue not affixed to an actual animal). It is quite weird, though, that a basically steady magnetic field can actually modify biological behaviour. But I'm still not going out to by magnets to cure my aches.

05 May 2003

Posted by aog at 09:47 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Who is Tariq Aziz?

The story is now going out that Tariq Aziz, former deputy prime minister of Iraq, is not cooperating during his interrogation following his capture. This may or not be true, but consider the previous rumour that Aziz tipped off the Coalition about Saddam Hussein's location during the war. If that's true, perhaps these latest tales of being uncooperative are designed to cover for that. Consider:
“Tariq was still terrified of what the remnants of Saddam's regime would do to his family if he surrendered to us,” said a Western security officer.
Might it be that this spin is part of a deal struck with Aziz, that we claim he's not cooperating when he is?

Alternatively, it could be that we got some very good information from him and we don't want to tip off those who would be in danger from such information in our hands. That would indicate some actual forethought.

Posted by aog at 09:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Pay now or pay later

There are reports that the US is starting to put in place local governments in Iraq. Unfortunately this is marred by a power sharing scheme which is based on ethnicity and religion. The article claims that
the numbers of seats for each group will be fixed in advance in an effort to reduce ethnic tensions
Bzzzt! Wrong answer. This is a pallitive, not a solution. Rather than fostering any sort of cross group interaction, it will isolate and disenfranchise anyone who thinks of themself as an Iraqi first. It re-enforces the idea which is already far to prevalent that the way to power is to climb to the top of the local tribe / sect and then use the government to get stuff for your tribe / sect. This has been the historical experience of every single place that has tried this kind of thing (including the US). This is just sweeping a problem under the rug like we did for 12 years about the Ba'ath. Not an auspicious sign.

03 May 2003

Posted by aog at 18:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

When is it time to go?

There's a lot of discussion about how long the US should occupy Iraq. It all seems to hinge on how long Iraqi gratitude will last or when a functional local government can be constituted. However, there doesn't seem to be much discussion of how much the search for WMD figures in to this. It's really not clear how long it would take the US, even with Iraqi cooperation, to complete the search. I, for one, want to know that we've done a reasonably thorough search before we greatly reduce our military presence. While the destruction of WMD wasn't the only reason for the invasion, it was as important as any of the others so we should see that through as well.