30 June 2003

Posted by aog at 17:49 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Kausian Economics

Mickey Kaus, who among other problems doesn't have perma-links, wonders about the following two critiques of a partially privatized prescription drug plan, as promoted by the Bush administration. These are
  1. drug companies need to make big profits on successful drugs if they are going to finance the risky research to discover new drugs, which involves following a lot of false leads [and] if there's a drug benefit within a government-run Medicare system the government might use its massive buying power to demand low "dictated prices that don't cover" the costs of discovering those new and better drugs.
  2. new entitlements always wind up costing far, far more than initial estimates

Kaus doesn't understand how both of these can be true at the same time, arguing that if it costs a lot of money that must go to the drug companies, or alternatively if the drug companies aren't making big profits then the program can't be costing that much. I must say that Kaus should have more faith in the governments ability to get the worst of both worlds in all situations. In this case, Kaus is overlooking two factors, margins and volume.

The primary reason that government programs end up costing far more than projected is that once you give stuff away to people, they tend to treat it as if it were, well, given away. Therefore they tend to use a lot more of whatever it is. Any long as there's any net benefit to a drug, why not prescribe it? It's free! This is the real cost factor, not the amount of profits. I think it's quite reasonable to expect a surge in demand once a government subsidy is in place.

On the other side there are the "margins". This is business speak for the difference in revenue, the cash that flows from consumer to company, and profits which is the cash the company actually keeps. Push the margins low enough and even with vastly increased volume, the drug companies won't make enough to pursue risky research. I expect that profits would actually increase at first because of the additional volume. However, hitting drug company profits (which are now in effect determined by government fiat) will become a standard, yearly budget action which will erode profits in the long term. How low? Until margins just cover operating costs. In fact, you could get into a death spiral where the companies cut research to boost margins, leading to another round of government mandated price cuts leading to further research cuts to keep margins up …

Overall a prescription drug benefit will make the pharmaceutical companies far more like regulated utilities, which isn't too bad for providing an undifferentiated commodity, but perhaps not the best model for an industry that requires inovation. A partially private mechanism wouldn't be good but at least it would help some on the demand side.

Posted by aog at 09:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Who is really a minority?

Orrin Judd touches on something that's puzzled me for years. Judd asks
Here's what we'd like to know: do college admissions departments do geneaologies and blood tests? Why don't white kids just start saying they're African-American or Native-American or whatever ethnicity is stylish these days? Who's going to check up on them?
Exactly. What is the legal basis for claiming to be African-American? Or Latino? I think of all the "official" minorities (isn't that phrase itself redolent of apartheid?) only Amerinds (Native Americans) have any real legal status. There are a set of officially recognized tribes (which makes sense unlike other minorities because such tribes are legal entities) and you're legally Amerind if one of the tribes recognizes you as a member. For other minorities, however, what's the legal definition? One drop of blood? An ancestor – how many generations back?

I think there was a case back about 10 or 15 years where two brothers applied for positions as firefighters but failed the test. They then came back later, listed their race as African-American, took the test again and passed with the racial bonus. They were busted for this but only because they listed different races on the two applications. The brothers claimed that they had "discovered" an ancestor who was black. But there didn't seem to be any other legal basis for making the determination.

As a final question, why don't businesses do this? If you need to satisfy some quota, just label your employees with whatever racial characteristics are useful. "But", you say, "what if the employee claimed a different race?". No problem - as an employer you aren't allowed to ask! Just be a bad guesser. I'd love to see a court case on this with the government arguing about how to determine the race of an employee. The logical solution is of course for the government to issue race cards. I wouldn't be surprised at this point at liberal groups openly advocating that.

Posted by aog at 09:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Threats to civil liberties

One thread of thought that's been worrying at me is how much of a threat to civil liberties the current war against the Caliphascists is. As I've noted, the current state of things is relatively benign as wars go, but it's the trends that concern me. Again, the failure to hold any of the agencies responsible for guarding against threats like Al Qaeda is nexus of most of what worries me. Beyond just reacting the wrong way to such threats (i.e., expanding powers rather than making sure we actually use what is already available) is the institutional incentives that are created. The people who ran the FBI and the CIA while clear threats were ignored or suppressed have now not only escaped any punishment or even castigation but have been richly rewarded (in bureaocratic terms) for their incompetence. From a public choice point of view, why should they make any real effort to protect from the next attack? Letting the last one happen has been pretty good for them. It would be a completely different situation if a real investigation had been done rather than, as far as I can tell, not even deigning to consider such questions. Even more worrying is the attitude that doesn't see this as a problem. Where is President Bush's vaunted business sense now? That kind of management is a ticket to bankruptcy.

29 June 2003

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No more eternal verities?

Here's an interesting comment in The Corner. First we have the statement of a flack for the Saudi Entity, dismissing the possibility of democracy there, because such governments can make anything legal or illegal. Against that we have that
In Islam what God specified as Haram (illegal), or Halal (legal), cannot be changed by any parliament, or even by the whole population. These imperatives of right and wrong in Islam are unchangeable.
Andrew Stuttaford's reply is
in that one word ‘unchangeable’ you have the essence of totalitarian rule – “a boot,” as Orwell once put it, “stamping on a human face – forever".
What is a conservative doing objecting to an unchangeable morality? I thought that was a key principle of conservatism, that there were Eternal Verities that were the result of a basically unchangeable human nature. Has National Review given up on that?
Posted by aog at 13:11 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Oppression under cover of war

Orrin Judd has a post on the possibly changing relationship between the US and China. The essense is that
The Chinese leadership has used its "partner" status in the world war on terrorism to crack down even further on religious, political and social movements. According to Al Santoli, editor of the American Foreign Policy Council's China Reform Monitor, "Beijing is using the war on terror as an excuse to imprison and execute political opponents and religious leaders," including underground Roman Catholic clergy, democracy activists and the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement.
While a realistic re-assessment of US foreign policy toward the PRC is well overdue, what's interesting here is the complaints of the Left about President Bush (and his demon on a leash, John Ashcroft) using the war against the Caliphascists as a cover for turning America into a police state. Yet real oppression in China based on this excuse is blithely ignored. Is it that the ChiComs have wisely never provided their citizens any rights so that China cannot become a police state? Certainly there's precious little the ChiComs could do to the citizenry that would be worse than past and present government policy. Does the basic Leftist belief in Bush's stupidity stem from this, because the Left would never be so stupid as to tolerate the same kind of dissent from the Right?

28 June 2003

Posted by aog at 20:13 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Not so Bright

I've not been fully on the net lately so I'm catching this "Bright" thing late. The basic concept is that the anti-religious would be grouped under a new name, "Bright". The con is that this is labeled a "new" word because it's used as a noun instead of an adjective. It is, in fact, what Ayn Rand would call a "package deal" where a reasonable concept (labeling the anti-religous as a group) is packaged with undesirable and generally false ones (that, by connotation, the anti-religious are smarter and/or happier than everyone else). It reeks of the entire political correctness movement where things were relabeled for political purposes. I can't believe that Dean Esmay, who normally seems a reasonable and intelligent fellow, could be taken in by this transparent attempt at NewSpeak. I've read through an FAQ promoted by Esmay which purports to address criticism, but it mainly succeeds in being smug and clumsily disingenious. I'd provide a link but it's been taken down. Perhaps it revealed a bit too much.

P.S. Natalie Solent comments.

Posted by aog at 14:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The cooperation of enemies

One question that comes up when considering whether it's plausible that religious groups like Al Qaeda and secularists like the Ba'ath would cooperate. People who deny the possibility on first principle have clearly failed to look at history at all. We can always go to Germany where the Nazis and Communists cooperated to bring down the Weimar Republic. Once the Nazis gained ascendancy, they shot as many Communists as they could get their hands on. Iran is an even better example. The secual Communists cooperated in bringing down the Shah and were persecuted afterwards for their troubles. We can look at other nations like Nicaragua or Cuba where more democratic forces joined with the Communists to overthrow a government and suffered greatly afterwards.

Now, it's not a surpise to any of these groups (except perhaps the democratic forces) that this would happen after the revolution. The only surprising part is who, exactly, ends up against the wall. All of the groups plan on it being the other groups who are disposed of. I have no problem believing that the Ba'ath and Al Qaeda would form a common Caliphascist axis, cooperating while planning the swift and painful demise of the other as soon as they had smashed the current world power (the USA).

In fact,the religious factions of the Caliphascists may not consider the fall of Iraq to be all that much of a loss. It got rid of Saddam Hussein for them and if it ends up bogging down the US then that's all to the good. The bad outcome for the Caliphascists is a well ordered, properous Iraq. Leaving Saddam Hussein to the Coalition while preparing for guerilla war afterwards may well be their best strategy.

25 June 2003

Posted by aog at 15:23 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The price of globalization

I'm off on a business trip this week and I need t o get some gifts for the boys to bring back. I can think of a number of things to get but because the shops I can find here are the same as the ones back home, the question is – what is the purpose of the gifts? When I was a wee lad, it was frequently the case that gifts brought back from trips were things that were difficult or impossible to get locally. This was particularly true I lived in a relatively small town (basically the same town, actually – my current house is less than 15 kilometers from my childhood home). But the set of things for which that is true has greatly shrunk over the last few decades. It's not just the increasing ease of transport but also the rise of large chains. The gain of course is that people in smaller towns now have every day access to things that formerly were the province of large towns (or even just specific large towns). Moreover, for any particular type of thing it is generally the best of the variants across the country (or even planet) that is now available everywhere. It's a humbling thought that we have advanced to this stage, but it still doesn't solve my gift buying problem.
Posted by aog at 11:30 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Individual statistics

Michael Kinsley attacks the recent Supreme Court decision on racial preferences because of its logical incoherence. While I agree with his main point Kinsley doesn't do much better in terms of coherence. Kinsley writes
Admission to a prestige institution like the University of Michigan or its law school is what computer types call a "binary" decision. It's yes or no. You're in, or you're out. There is no partial or halfway admission. The effect of any factor in that decision is also binary. It either changes the result or it doesn't. It makes all the difference, or it makes none at all. Those are the only possibilities.
His statement about getting in to school is correct. But not the statement about the "effect of any factor". It's the equivalent of discussing which vital organ keeps you alive. Remove any one and you're dead (that's what makes them "vital"). More precisely, if one is accepted by scoring one point over the minimum, then every single factor is vital – remove any of them and no acceptance. But it makes no sense to say that multiple different factors each made "all the difference". A truly determinative factor would be one that had a 100% correlation with acceptance. In other words, if every member of an "officially recognized minority" (to quote the Michigan Law School) who applied was accepted, then one could argue that race was a determinative factor. But that's clearly not true.

Kinsley goes on to write

The law-school dean testified that "the extent to which race is considered in admissions … varies from one applicant to another." It "may play no role" or it "may be a determinative factor." O'Connor cites this approvingly, but it is nonsense on several levels. First, "no role" and "determinative factor" are in fact the only possible options: There cannot be an infinite variety of effects on a yes-or-no question.
Actually, there can, because in the statistical scheme of things there are an infinite number of amounts by which the statistical outcome can be changed. Kinsley does a number of switches between statistics and individuals to confuse the issue. But consider this scenario: an applicant needs 100 points to be accepted. He gets as 20 point minority bonus but still only scores 97 points. But the next day, it's discovered that his ACT scores were reported incorrectly and he gets another 5 points for his high scores. Now he has 102 points and gets accepted. What was the determinative factor? If, as Kinsley claims, the answer is race, then that's arguing that the ACT scores played no role. That's as incoherent as the Supreme Court decision.

23 June 2003

Posted by aog at 17:32 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Cultural evolution

A discussion at the Brothers Judd that touched on evolution with respect to beliefs and cultures. The base observation is that cultures derived from the Anglosphere have done much better over the last couple of centuries than those that were not.

This to me is a case of evolution, but we need to be clear on what is evolving. Evolution works at both the individual and the "deme", which is defined as population that breeds only within itself. These two forms are frequently in conflict as changes that favor an individual may well decrease the overall viability of the deme (this is an example of the Prisoner's Dilemma).

The evolution of intelligence creates a new dimension for evolution. Evolution for non-intelligent species consists basically of modifying the hardware, the physical construction and development of the organism. This is roughly equivalent to the early days of computer where "programming" consisted of physically changing the connections in the computer. Intelligence, however, allows the development of culture which is the equivalent of software so that behaviour can be modified without any genetic or physiological change. This means that behaviour can radically changed within a generation or two, enormously faster than any previous type of evolution. As long as the underlying individuals are sufficiently intelligent the exact level or distribution is not particularly relevant to the culture.

The key point is that the benefits of a "good" cultural can be propagated without any genetic continuity. This is one of the key wonders of the United States, that it acknowledges this at a basic level. This is part of the superiority of American culture because it can maintain itself by "colonizing" new hosts (immigrants) far easier than other competing cultures. We need only make sure that the rate of assimilation is greater than the rate of immigration. This can be done either by restricting the inflow or increasing the rate of assimilation. That's something to keep in mind.

Posted by aog at 16:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It's good to be the doctor

I mentioned in a comment the other day that I didn’t see Caliphascism in Europe as the cause or catalyst of their decline, but simply an opportunistic infection of an unhealthy society. If it weren’t Caliphascism, it would be something else. There are always degenerate memes such as that around, just like other diseases. A healthy society can successuflly resist them, a weak one will succumb to one or more of them.

What is interesting is that it is the transnational progressive view that has so weakened European society. I sometimes wonder if this is deliberate. It is of a piece with the efforts of the same viewpoint to declare most people “mentally ill” so that psychiatric “adjustment” by the authorities is required. The advent of welfare that weakens the societal structures among the poor. The proliferation of zero-responsibility lawsuits and a proliferating regime of regulation for safety. All of these serve to weaken society and its members.

What a weakened society needs most is guidance and care, of which the tranzis plan to be the providers. It’s as if doctors released minor plagues upon the land in order to have everyone as a patient. It’s fun as long as you can still nurse the patients back to a semblance of health (but not full health, because then they don’t need you anymore). It gets a little more serious if the patients start catching real diseases, ones that you can’t easily cure. I think that this is the current state of Europe, that the tranzis have to a large extent delierately weakened the society, to make it more tractable, but have failed to consider what would happen if a real disease like Caliphascism should take the opportunity to infect the society they’ve weakened. The very mechanisms used to present themselves as false saviour prevents them from being real ones.

Posted by aog at 16:13 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Self ordered society vs. the State

As noted in the previous post, in my opinion it is far more important to get a self ordered society running in Iraq than to end the occupation or even reconstitute the federal government. However, much of the Left seems to think that creating national government is more important. This is not terribly surprising since the progressive project has from the beginning been opposed to civil society. The problem with a self ordered society is precisely that it is self ordered. A civil society based on private associations and local government tends to be very resistant to direction by social elites. The leftist view is that all good things flow only from a strong central government (particularly for those in that government).

The fact that Iraq has suffered for decades from too much central government and that the Kurds, once freed from that government, have done much better seems a lost lesson. I believe that the continued insistence on reconstituting the Iraqi federal government as the first step (rather than as the end point of the reconstruction and occupation) is also abetted by two other memes that infect the transnational progressive mindset.

The first is the tribal view of mankind, where the units of will are tribes, not people. It's hard to justify the imposition of multi-culturalism and "cultural preservation" if people can freely choose how to live rather than having it predetermined by their tribe. So despite the fact that Iraq is a construct of the Great Game that was imposed on the area, it still constitutes a "tribe" that must be preserved even against the wishes of the inhabitants. And to do that, it's necessary to have the tribal leadership (incarnated as the central government) around.

The second is soft bigotry of the tranzis, where the ignorant Iraqis are simply incapable of ruling themselves without the enlightened guidance of their betters. Why, the Iraqis are so incapable that they might well choose to adopt American customs rather than preserving their existing culture in toto.

Finally, I wonder just how much of this is all due to the unglamorous nature of reconstructing a self ordered society. There's not much scope for grand gestures, lavish conferences and dramatic statements. The reality is far more quotidian demands of the bourgesios. It is the same as the difference between an affair and a marriage and we know the tranzis view of those.

Posted by aog at 16:12 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Civility in society

The current sabotage problems in Iraq are a demonstration of just how civil our society really is. It has long been a source of amazement to me that the disgruntled don't resort to serious sabotage. There are facilities across the entire country that would be very vulnerable to a determined saboteur (particularly one who was willing to die in the act), yet attacks on such facilities are rare if not non-existent. The attack in Oklahoma City is major news years later because it is so far out of the ordinary. What accounts for this?

I'm not sure, but it's interesting that the Caliphascists have been able to mount just one really terrorist attack in the US (the DC sniper) since the 11 Sep. attacks. Given the almost constant attacks on Israel, why haven't the Caliphascists been able to mount at least some in the US?

I think that this shows that it's harder than it looks from an armchair to actually conduct terrorist attacks, in terms of men and material. Israel is deeply entangled with an area which is adjacent to their nation and over which the Israelis are unable to exert real control. Moreover, the local government, the other neighboring governments and the UN (a pseudo-local government in much of the West Bank) are all complicit to varying degrees in not only overlooking the terrorist networks but aiding them.

The moral here is that restoration of civil society has to be a top priority for the occupation of Iraq. In many ways this occupation will parallel that of the West Bank. Creating local, accountable government and ensuring liberty is far more important that reconstituting the Iraqi federal government. This would be the historical pattern that gave rise to the US itself, where the federal government was built from the numerous elements of local government. That kind of evolution is what makes the citizens stake holders in the government, rather than separate, passive objects of governance.

21 June 2003

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

Productivity drop

We just moved to a new house and we don't have broadband there yet. It's amazing how dependent I've become on that over the last couple of years. Hopefully, in another couple of weeks the cable people will deign to show up and put the house back on the network.

Meanwhile, I've been spending more time playing with weblog software than actually writing. This is phase two of the project. It's a mirror of Natalie Solent's weblog, copied from her BlogSpot weblog to a Movable Type weblog. I had to modify the Movable Type RPC code but I can now incremementally update an MT weblog from a BlogSpot weblog. I can now set up a script to copy over posts at regular intervals. The benefit is that the archives are always there and one can search them. There are three more phases before I'm actually done (adding comment access to the MT RPC, incremental comment updating, and setting up automatic scripts) but I'm making some progress. But it should be worth it once the actual goal of the project is operational.

17 June 2003

Posted by aog at 07:59 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

A glimmer of understanding

I think I'm finally beginning to understand (not agree with, just understand) the isolationist position of many of my fellow libertarians. The key question for all of us is, how can we best preserve and improve the self ordered society in the US?

What are the real threats? I agree with the isolationist libertarians that many (if not most) of the security measures imposed by the current government are hostile to our self order society. But I think they are making errors in several key respects.

First, the measures of themselves are not particularly onerous, especially because we are in a quasi-war situtation. What concerns me is primarily is that the domestic security apparatus is asking for additional powers when existing ones have not yet been tried and found wanting. It is the natural pattern of a bureaocracy to attempt to solve previous failures with an expanded budget / powers / mission. In this sense I object to these security measures not so much because of their infringement per se, but because they are ineffective infringements. On the other hand, many libertarians seem to view this as some kind of vast and intricate fascist plot, which is not a helpful analysis of the situation.

If the first mistake is taking the domestic front too seriously, the other is not taking the foreign one seriously enough. As current and proposed domestic security measures can only be part of a totalitarian plot, foreign countries (such as Iraq) can only be a threat if they're gearing up for a full scale amphibious invasion of the continental US. Apparently not even unprovoked attacks on our allies counts as a threat. For me, the best way to discredit the domestic security issues is to finish off the external enemies. This is a big difference because for many isolationist libertarians our current military operations are an excuse, not a solution. I think that is a big mistake, a mistake in the vein of the socialist / pomo school where there wouldn't be any conflict if everyone would just play nice (shades of Orrin Judd's utopian fallacy!).

The final mistake of the isolationist liberatarians is that, even if their analysis is correct, we're still deep in a hole and deciding to stop digging is helpful but not really a solution. We as a nation have duties and obligations. While I favor a more isolationist foreign policy long term, that's not currently a viable option. If there's a mess in the neighborhood, sometimes you just have to clean it up even if you weren't the major contributor. Welcome to reality.

15 June 2003

Posted by aog at 19:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Never surrender

What always amazes me about the defenders of Hillary Clinton is that she's reviled not because of what she does but because she is a woman who does them. A case in point is Anna Quindlen (admittedly, not the sharpest billiard ball in the rack). Her column in the 16 June issue of Newsweek lays this canard on in a big way. What interesting is that HRC is married to an excellent counter-example. Apparently the Bill Clinton haters feel that way because of his policies, but the Hillary Clinton haters feel that way because she's a woman. To quote:
she [HRC] couldn't hide the fact that she was smarter and more ambitious than most people. If she were male, both those qualities might have been seen as commonplace.
I guess that's why people are so filled with venom about Condaleeza Rice. But the logical implications of Quindlen's statement are more interesting.

Quindlen seems to think that it's common place for a man to be “smarter … than most people”. But being anything more than most can't be common place by definition. It's just a milder form of the Lake Woebegone “all the children are above average”. There's only one way for Quindlen's quote to be accurate – if men are in general smarter than women. Kind of an odd axiom for an alledgedly feminist to be basing her world view on.

Quindlen of course only manages to defend Hillary by eliding key facts, just as Hillary did in her book (Travelgate, what's that?). For instance, Quindlen asked what Quindlen considered a tough question:

I asked her [HRC] skeptically about a much publicized trip she'd made to Safeway. [… HRC] asked what I had done that morning. […] wasn't that domestic behavior merely a cover up for the liberal feminist columnist lurking beneath?
Well, yeah. But note the key difference that doesn't occur to Quindlen: “well publicized”. If Quindlen made her domestic chores in to media events then there'd be a legitimate comparison.

Then there's the issue of Monica Lewinsky. Quindlen excuses HRC by claiming that it was a no-win situation – discussing would be consider tacky and political and not discussing it would be consider dishonest and cynical. But that's a false dichotomy. What HRC did was discuss it in a transparently bogus way. No relation to previous adventures by Bill Clinton contaminates HRC's view of the situation. Both Quindlen and HRC simply erase those pesky facts to present the issue in a false light. I consider that highly cynical on the part of HRC because, as Quindlen notes, HRC is far too smart to drop that context unknowingly.

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

You mean it's not real?

I received a bit of a shock this morning. I was reading Parade magazine, that thin supplement that comes with Sunday comics. In it was a story that a woman who had played the wife of a pro wrestler for two years was going to actually marry the wrestler. I just couldn't get over that – had played his wife for two years. I haven't been following pro wrestling all that closely the last few years but this would seem to mean that pro wrestling has completely given up the earnest pretense of reality that was so endearing. I guess I'm just revealing my age here but I still remember when people would actually argue about whether pro-wrestling was real. Another icon of my long lost youth destroyed by the relentless po-mo forces.
Posted by aog at 07:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Death and consequences

I was listening to the latest blather about the “Quartet Roadmap” and the “cycle of violence” on NPR this morning. The commentator went on about whether Hamas would accept a cease fire, whether the PA Prime Minister could enforce no attacks on Israel from Gaze, etc. What I found distinctily missing was any concept of consequences. The key question for Israel is, to me, obvious: if Israel accepts a cease fire in Gaza, what are the consequences if it is broken by Hamas? It seems to be a key problem in this process that when such an agreement is broken, there are no consequences, the negotiations just start over. One actually wonders why Hamas doesn't agree to a cease fire and then ignore it. Is it because Hamas feels no need to even bother with such petty subterfuge?

It reminds me most of the Tarantula Wasp. To reproduce this wasp stings a tarantula, paralyzing it, then the wasp drags the tarantula to just outside the tarantula's burrow, pops inside to check out the burrow, then goes back and drags the tarantula in so that it can serve as a food source for larva. What's similar here is that if, while the wasp is in the burrow, you move that tarantula back a ways, the wasp will reset to the “drag the tarantula near the burrow” step in the process. The wasp will drag the tarantula over to just outside the burrow and check out the burrow again. One can repeat this process indefinitely. Moreover, the wasp will never sting you for doing this. This is because it's not smart enough to make the connection between you moving the tarantula and its endless labors. What does this say about the Middle East peace negotiators?

14 June 2003

Posted by aog at 11:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Marketing painful experiences

In response to a post by Paul Jaminent, one commentor says
How big an idiot does this guy have to be to say that his music is so bad that playing it is torture. This guy hates America so much he's willing to savage his own work to take a shot at them. How screwed up is that?
That's an interesting question. However, it presupposes something that is not obviously true: that labeling one's product as "torture" is a bad marketing idea. Witness the rise of "extreme sports". Or the TV show Jackass. In the latter, of course, it's primarily watching someone else get tortured but think of all the imitators among the viewers. Can even they be dumb enough to not realize that these activities are unpleasant? On a recent trip to the Big City I say several bill boards advertising a new edible product. It consisted of three images. The first was of a mouth with a tongue sticking out. In the second a magnifying glass is burning the tongue. In the third some sort of acid or caustic chemical is being applied (or perhaps lit charcoal briquettes). The tag is that these images represent the effects of using the product which is some derivative of mouth strips that have replaced the breath fresheners with capsaicin (the chemical that makes chili peppers spicy).

In these cases the product is marketed as painful or unpleasant yet they sell. It's likely an echo of masculinity rituals where the ability to endure unpleasant situations. And like gourmet food, after enduring a sufficient number one may actually learn to enjoy the unpleasantness and be left with an "acquired taste". So Ulrich's comments on his own music are necessarily dumb from marketing perspective.

Posted by aog at 10:47 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Cuban meltdown?

Castro and the EUlite are having a little spat. Apparently the EU, for reasons unknown, has been supporting the US in efforts to create more democracy and freedom in Cuba. This, of course, infuriated Castro who is now organizing marches against European embassies in Cuba. Castro's theory is that President Bush has intimidated the EUlite into slavishly following Bush's foreign policy.
"He [Bush] just realized that Europe exists, and that it exists to obey," said Castro. "He does not understand any other concept of Europe."
Now that's funny.

The EU supplies 80% of Cuba's imports and half of its tourists. Castro must really be feeling some heat if he's willing to play the "with me or against me" card on the EU. Quite a hopeful sign and I must acknowledge that the EU is in fact doing something right by pressing Cuba in this case. The putative sore point was the recent trial and sentencing of Cuba dissidents. Castro may finally have overplayed his hand by doing that at the same time the Left was crying "oppression!". Making the leftists look small and petty, that's just not done. Castro has always survived on style and if he loses that, he's got nothing.

UPDATE: Orrin Judd has a good clipping:

In a three-hour speech, which was followed a day later by a government-ordered protest march in front of European embassies in the Cuban capital, Mr. Castro said the EU's policy "must have been written in a drunken state, if not with alcohol, in a state of Euro-centric drunkenness." He also called the Spanish and Italian prime ministers, Jose Maria Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi "fascists" and "bandits."

13 June 2003

Posted by aog at 22:24 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Project size trends

I"ve been kind of wondering about the trend to larger units of content. One aspect of this that's happened over the years is the growth of muli-book works. It seems that a few decades ago trilogies were rare. Now it seems that trilogies are quaint compared to the multi-volume works that fill the shelves. In fact, it's generally assumed that if a book does well there will be follow on volumes which will continue until sales drop sufficiently. Consider that it's now a mark of note that such a series has an overall "arc" of a story, that the final end was planned early on. The best example of this I know is Battle Angel Alita which spans 9 books yet the final resolution is intimately tied to the beginning and there is a finality to it. [Note: my fiction tastes are exclusively science fiction / fantasy / comics so my view may be skewed]

The same things seems to be happening with movies as well. A key but subtle point is that sequels these days are far more often planned from the beginning, rather than being set in motion after a film does well. It's changed from "if the movie very well, maybe we'll do a sequel" to "we'll do a sequel unless the movie tanks".

I wonder if it is because of a demand for more richly imagined worlds. The more detailed the world, the more effort to create it and the more incentive to use it again. Of course, the Lord of the Rings is an early example, although the re-use was rather limited.

If that's true, there a similarity to the world of software where nowadays everything is a sequel. This is because a good application is the equivalent of a fictional world (I like to call this the "conceptual space" of the application). The shape and structure of this world generates the "feel" of the application in the same way a fictional world generates the "feel" of a movie or book. In the early days of computers there wasn't much to these worlds so it wasn't a big deal to create a brand new one. Now, however, there are clear genres of software and common conventions that are expected. These must be provided or the application is doomed, but each of these adds additoinal cost and effort to shippping something. So it's a lot easier to make sequels because you've already done most of that work.

Is there something else driving this, that we're seeing it in multiple fields? For software it may just be a maturation process, but for movies and books? On the other hand, the completely imagined world is a relatively recent invention and so it may be finally maturing as well (on book time, not Internet time). Perhaps it lowers the transaction costs for both producers and consumers. Finding good books or movies or software is becoming ever more difficult because of the ever widening array of choices. Branding serves to provide a good but not optimal result where the benefit of a truly optimal choice is less than the costs of determing that choice.

As a final observation, this is part of the growth of the "super-star" economy, where the best crowd out the good (evolving toward the 80/20 rule). This has its good and bad aspects, where it raises the overall qualiy but tends to stifle innovation. It seems to be an inevitable result of an open, technological society so we'll just have to learn to adapt.

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

Buying insurance

Amnesty International is upset with Uganda because it is set to sign an agreement with the US to turn over any targets of the International Criminal Court to the US instead of the ICC. Amnesty International (AmIn) says that this violates the ICC treaty that Uganda has ratified. Presumably the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, has considered this and decided that Uganda isn't in much danger from rampaging war criminals from the US. That conclusion seems to have displeased AmIn. But as far as I can tell, all of the other major powers and all dictatorships have de facto immunity so it doesn't seem tob e a big deal for the US to get de jure immunity.

12 June 2003

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Patriotism vs. Jingoism

A recurring question is whether it's patriotic to question one's own country. I'm not sure about other nations but certainly in the US there is no fundamental reason why questioning is upatriotic. Like any human institution, our nation is a flawed one and it's part of the greatness of the US that we, the citizens, can criticize it. Patriotism shades in to jingoism when that questioning ceases, when the country is no longer viewed as doing things because they're right but that things are right because the country does them. This can sometimes be hard to separate because the US, far more than other nations, lives up to its principles. The other side of the coin is when criticism shades in to anti-patriotism. A key criteria on which to judge this is whether, given a choice between the US and another country, the critic chooses the other country _when it is worse on that criteria_. Consider, for instance, the question of whether the invasion of Iraq was about oil. That's clearly not the case for the US but oil (or equivalently the money from the oil) was a large factor in the foreign policy of nations like France and Russia. Anti-patriotism is criticizing the US for its oil policy while embracing the positions of France and Russia which were far more guilty on that point than the US. If someone spoke only ill of his spouse, running her down constantly and comparing her unfavorably to every other woman, even when the other woman was more guilty of the fault in question, and made up lies to make her look even worse, would we say that such a man loves his wife? Can we not say that such a man is abusing his wife without condemning all criticism? Real patriots admit fault, but do not judge their country on a different scale than others and defend their country when in doubt.

11 June 2003

Posted by aog at 21:58 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

UN encounters reality

The Miami Herald reports that two UN observers will killed and apparently partially eaten in the Congo last month near the cite of Mongbwalu.
Their decomposed corpses had been tossed into a canal and covered with dirt, according to those who saw the bodies. They were shot in the eyes. Their stomachs were split open and their hearts and livers were missing. One man's brain was gone.
In response the UN has pulled out all of its other observers making the entire operation effectively pointless. But that's what the UN does best.

The list of stupidities would be beyond belief for any organization except the UN:

We'll get back to you on that
For six days, two terrified United Nations military observers phoned their superiors - as many as four times a day - begging to be evacuated from their remote outpost in northeastern Congo. […] A U.N. helicopter from the town of Bunia could have retrieved them in 35 minutes.


Flying in a war zone is dangerous
Vollot [Col. Daniel Vollot, the MONUC sector commander in Bunia] said his command's Russian-made Mi-26 helicopters were piloted by civilians. The Russian and Ukrainian pilots were afraid to fly there, and the United Nations didn't want to put their lives at risk, Vollot said.


We respect local customs
Neither Oran nor Banda spoke French, Swahili or any local language.


We respect the local authorities
under U.N. rules, the ruling Lendu [described elsewhere in the article as “cannibalistic Lendu tribal militias”] militia had to give permission to land a helicopter in Mongbwalu.


We respect the bureaucracy
only MONUC headquarters in Kinshasa, the capital, could authorize a rescue operation.


We know what we're doing
But it was unclear who was responsible for the observers. For the next four days, phone calls were exchanged among Kisangani, Bunia and Kinshasa about getting clearance to evacuate Oran and Banda [the victims] .

"There was a lot of confusion," said the U.N. military observer.


No guns means no violence
There were no armed U.N. peacekeepers in the area, and the observers were sent with no weapons.


There is no past, only the glorious future
For years, Mongbwalu was a volatile, violent place in the most volatile, violent province [Ituri] of Congo. Six Red Cross workers were brutally murdered in Ituri in 2001.


But hey, at least we don't feel bad
"We can't feel guilty," said Vollot. "Certainly, if we had arrived two or three days before, they would be alive. It's difficult, but I don't feel guilty about that."

This is the paragon of virtue and effectiveness to which the US should bow and scrape? This is the pillar of moral rectitude that defines international law? It's not just the moral obtuseness, it's the extreme case of reality dysfunction that leaves me stunned.

UPDATE:
Apparently because the UN couldn't look stupid enough on its own, the EU has become involved [source]. The Guardian has an article on the fiasco. The best quotes:

Their [French troops] mandate did not permit them to venture outside Bunia, their commander said, nor to intervene in battles between armed groups.

[…]

As a UN convoy passed along the main street under heavy French guard a mob of militiamen and civilians ran behind, waving submachine guns in the air and shouting: "The white men will run, we have the city"

Posted by aog at 21:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Picking the right problems

The current issue of the Lutheran has on its front cover an image of arms through a fence, symbolizing the plight of a severely downtrodden set of people. Their plight? They are Iraqis who do not have running water. I don't want to minimize the problems inherent in that, but it seems that if one were looking about the planet for terrible things to mobilize the laity to ameloriate, it would seem that there are many better candidates. For instance, the prospect of mass starvation in Zimbabwe. Cannibalism in the Congo and North Korea. The bloody civil war in Liberia. In all those places things are bad and getting worse at a rapid pace, in contrast to Iraq where things are getting better at a good clip and it's easy to see that in the not distant future the infrastructure problems will be overcome. Unfortunately, none of those other problems can be blamed on the US and President Bush and one must have one's priorities straight.

10 June 2003

Posted by aog at 17:44 | Comments (4) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Spam and e-mail payments

Unsolicited e-mail and what to do about it is the meme du jour and I always like to be part of a crowd. Through some link chain I ended up at a post at the Gweilo Diaries about this subject. There is some argument for legislation but I don't see that having any real effect. It's mostly foreign or boiler room type stuff so there'll never be anyone you can actually catch for it. I've always liked the idea of postage, but one of the commentors claims that this just won't without massive federal regulation that would be worse than the current problem. I find that argument very unpersuasive. The error seems to be the assumption that the government would issue and collect the postage. Clearly that's not going to work. But there are many alternative scenarios that don't involve any government action.

The first one would be that AOL announces the following:

  1. AOL is adopting a postage system involving BigBankCorp.
  2. AOL users can declare that any delivered mail must have postage, which is collected by AOL for the user (minus some small vigorish, say 10%). Mail without postage is silently discarded.
  3. AOL users can exempt AOL in general or particular e-mail addresses in specific from postage requirements.
AOL would make a little profit and provide a real service differentiator. People who didn't like it wouldn't be inconvenienced. Your friends don't have to pay. Wouldn't you be tempted to sign up?
Posted by aog at 17:33 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Road map from another planet, part 2

Like a bad tooth I can't help picking at this article. Shehata lists five points that he thinks would form the basis of a viable Middle East peace plan.

First up is "security" which depends on “completely nonmilitarized Palestinian state”. And who, exactly, would demilitarize it and keep it that way? The UN? What would be done when bomb and missile factories were discovered? There is of course no mention of any answers to these questions, the ability to achieve this miraculous state is simply assumed.

Then there are settlements and refugees. Shehata claims that a $25 billion fund administered by the UN would suffice. The UN, which looted the Iraqi Oil-For-Food program, that has been a corrupt pit of malfaescance, that currently lets Arafat loot the aid going to the Palestinians? That UN? Some of the money would be used to relocate Israel settlers and the rest to compmensate Palestinians who claim to have lived in whatis now Israel before 1948. I'll skip over the lack of any discussion of how to persuade Hamas to give up the "right of return" and look at the fact that the Palestinians have been willing to accept their own impovershment in exchange for just attacking Israel. That would seem to indicate that they won't be bought off with money to give up.

Related to this, Shehata states

At the same time, Israel must acknowledge the grave injustice that has been done to Palestinian refugees. Recognizing the symbolic right of return would take the form of allowing a small number of Palestinians to return to Israel.
Well, bummer. Things happen in war. When people like Shehata demand compensation for the Jews who fled to Israel at the same time then I'll consider this kind of thing something other than moral equivalency and appeasement.

Then we get to economics, which basically consists of free trade. Of what? What does Palestine produce except refugees and death cults? I was looking at a satellite photo of the area which was used to illustrate where the proposed wall would go. The border was obvious - on one side civilization, on the other desolation.

Finally we have borders. Despite the emphasis on security and the Palestinians, Shehata requires the return of the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms. Of the latter, even Shehata's revered UN agrees that the land is not part of Lebanon. But hey, once you're appeasing why not go all the way?

09 June 2003

Posted by aog at 09:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Road map from another planet

Samer Shehata has written what I consider a seriously delusion article on the Middle East for Slate. I can't hit all of the low points but just a few will give the flavor of it.

The introduction starts off with the concern the US, by putting off the hard decisions until the end, risks losing the good will and "momentum" of the actors in the Middle East. What good will? The good will from the people who cheered in the streets for Saddam Hussein?

Then we go to the nub of the matter:

But to achieve it [peace], the United States and the international community must be willing, from the start, to commit both troops and money to the region. […] Polling data strongly suggests that such a proposal would be deemed acceptable by the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis
The money part, that I understand. I don't agree, but I understand. For the polling data, perhaps the author might want to look at this other polling data which says that vast majorities of Arabia do not believe in any peace that involves the continued existence of the state of Israel. Given that the proposal here assumes such continued existence, its acceptance by the majority of non-Israelis seems implausible.

What I never see mentioned in any claim like this is what exactly the troops will do. In the case of the international community, will they sit around like the troops currently in Congo? UN troops would be no different than simply removing any border controls. This makes it an odd suggestion in an article that allegdely considers Israeli security a primary issue.

Even for US troops, what could they do that the IDF couldn't? Is this a coded request for some unleashing some serious whup-ass on the Palestinians that the IDF can't bring itself to do? Let's assume for the moment, however, that US troops occupy some sort of DMZ between Israel and Palestine. How, exactly, is this different from the Israeli Wall that so many object to? Will Israel still be required to allow Palestinians in to Israel? What would US troops do? Fire on the Palestinians? Arrest them? Turn them back to try again the next night? None of these issues are new, they've been discussed at great length for years, a discussion Shetata seems unaware of as he addresses none of these issues which make or break the idea in practice.

08 June 2003

Posted by aog at 09:25 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Who keeps changing the thermostat?

I missed the discussion on climate change over at the Brothers Judd. Despite the efforts of the Evil Canadians it's starting to warm up around here. However, it should be noted that while it's been unseasonably cold in the US there's been a heat wave in India that has killed hundreds of people. The entire issue is clouded by the fact that we've only had records of any sort for 300 years (which is a short time in climate change) and that the planet is still recovering from the Little Ice Age. The latter should cause us to expect warming even absent human activity.

The only good prediction I've seen was one from the late 70's. It claimed that the early part of the century, particularly the 40's through 60's, were a period of unusually benign weather and that we should expect far more variable weather in the future. That certainly seems to have panned out, with record hot years followed by record cold years.

P.S. I love the bit at the end of the Little Ice Age article where it is stated, with no supporting evidence, that

"The period of low solar activity in the middle ages led to atmospheric changes that seem to have brought on the Little Ice Age. However, we need to keep in mind that variations in solar output have had far less impact on the Earth's recent climate than human actions," Shindell said. "The biggest catalyst for climate change today are greenhouse gases," he added.
That's ideology, not science.
Posted by aog at 08:10 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

The Sixth Republic?

There are a number of frightening reports out of France about the level of violence and disruption from current strikes putatively over pension reform. Claire Berlinski reports from Paris that the leading element of the strikes, the Transportation Union, would not in fact be affected by the reforms. USS Clueless has a collection of reports from France and suggests that this might be the start of a revolution.

There are two interesting issues here. One, as noted by USS Cluess and Instapundit, is why there is so little news about this in big media. The former suggests that

What the news is full of is the fact that the Poles are voting today on whether to join the EU. Hmmm... maybe someone's afraid of scaring the Poles away with inopportunely-timed news of just what they might be getting themselves into?
Like stories of the VRWC the idea that there exists some cabal that could make and enforce that kind of tradeoff. I would believe that in modern journalistic culture there is a strong bias to not report that kind of news. Perhaps it's because the Transportation Union is a Communist organization and the basic "no enemies on the Left" is kicking in.

As for the other interesting bit, that this might be the start of a revolution — maybe. But I don't see much chance for the revolutionaries to succeed. The majority of the French citizenry seems to be on the side of the government. Further unlike the first French Revolution the revolutionaries aren't even claiming to fight for "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality" but for extracting more money from the populace. It's as if the French Revolution had been lead by a faction of nobles on the basis that they weren't getting enough revenue from the peasants. While I can't imagine the protestors winning, I can imagine them bringing down the government. If there were a significant change in government (as opposed to the Chiraq administration falling followed by new elections, my bet for the most likely outcome) then I would bet on a move toward a strong man form, more Gaullist or in the vein of Napolean, although unlikely to be so overtly despotic. Hugo Chavez would probably be the best model of what would result in that case. I suspect that while the French citizenry isn't fond of the particular proponents of socialism in the street, they have not yet repudiated the underlying beliefs that drive those proponents. If these riots truly get out of hand it's going go be a rough few years in France at best.

06 June 2003

Posted by aog at 15:52 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Arrest vs. conviction

As the buzz about finding WMD in Iraq goes on, I think about a comment left here where the author states that invading Iraq without absolute proof of WMD implies that
detaining people without evidence beyond a reasonable doubt is morally correct, which is a clear contradiction to what is perceived as being "morally right" in our culture.
Last I checked, it's ok to detain or arrest people on fairly weak evidence and certainly without "evidence beyond a reasonable doubt". I thought the latter was the reason we have trials after arrests. It is also the case that if the police arrest someone for crime A and in the process find that, while the evidence for crime A is weak there's overwhelming evidence for crimes B, C and D who would object to trying the detainee for the latter? As The New Republic notes, along with many others, the one thing we do know is that there was little argument about the claim that Iraq had WMD, the question was how much and how dangerous. The invasion was a good bust because there was a reasonable likelihood of a crime and the target was already in clear violation of other warrants (UNSEC resolutions). The defense of the Ba'ath is an extreme example of the worst of the rules lawyers who are willing to use any technicality to free someone who is guilty far beyond a reasonable doubt.
Posted by aog at 10:30 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Religion in public spaces

A discussion at the Brothers Judd hit on the subject of religion in public spaces. I believe in state nuetrality toward religion but that's not the same thing as the abscence of religion in public spaces. To me the difference is the source of the religion. I am fine with a religion of men, not laws. As the Constitution says, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion". However, the explicit forbiding of religion in public spaces is in effect a law about religion so I don't support that either. What is acceptable is that religion is associated with a specific individual who can be held democratically accountable for it, just like any other body of thought (such as Marxism, Socialism or Libertarianism). This will of course disadvantage those with minority religious beliefs, but no more so than those of us with ideological minority views. It is by limiting the powers of the government that we prevent the ravages of religion we've seen in the past, not by striking at religion directly.

05 June 2003

Posted by aog at 22:24 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The web vs. organized religion

Could the internet do to organized religion what the printing press did to the Catholic Church? There seems to be an increasing disconnect between Church leaders and the laity. One has to ask what function an organized religion actually servers in an web enabled world.

Previously, a large organziation was needed to coordinate the activities of the laity, distribute doctrine and perform other organized activities. But in a web based world, you really don't need much in the way of infrastructure to do anything of those things. It's now much easiser (and getting easier all the time) to organize without much of a organization. In terms of the needs of an individual church, one advantage of the Eternal Verities is that they are, well, Eternal. Not a whole lot of new "content" is really required.

In the pre-printing press days, access to the key content of Christianity was highly restricted and so the Catholic Church served to preserve and disseminate that content. The rise of the printing press put that content with in reach of the laity and much of the power of the priest hood was lost. But still, there was commentary and relating the eternal to the here and now.

But like organized journalism is losing power to the blogosphere, might we not expect organized religion to feel the same effect? Particularly one where the leadership is either non-believing or simply out of touch with the laity? Why listen to the local pro-Castro anti-freedom pastor when better stuff is easily available elsewhere? There must already be internet churches out there, using audio streams to reach out to other faithful. It would be interesting to see if that grows like the blogosphere is.

Posted by aog at 22:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Self destructive tendencies

Some interesting comments over at the Brothers Judd. Harry Eager, a regular, quotes some bishops from 1930's Germany:
Here's the nut graph of the program of the "German Christians," published in 1933. The German Christians was a large and influential consortium of pastors and theologians of the Lutheran, Reformed and Pietist protestants.
God has created me a German: Germanism is a gift of God. God wills that I fight for Germany, and for a German the Church is a community of believers which is under the obligation to fight for a Christian Germany. Adolf Hitler's State calls to the Chruch, the Church has heard her call.
We know from the historical record that Hitler considered the Christian Church an ally in the same way later Communist fronts would consider their fellow travelers — useful for now, to be disposed of when no longer of benefit. Not the best company to keep. But this same week I saw a report from the Middle East about complaints from local Christian leaders about the proposed constitution for a Palestinian state. Oddly enough it enshrines Islam as the state religion. Even more oddly, the Christian leaders were apparently surprised by this outcome. The Midwest Conservative Journal does an excellent job of ripping up this muddle headedness, but the deeper question of why these leaders would actively aid other groups whose ultimate goals are the oppression or eradication of Christians remains. (There's the infatuation of church leaders with the UN, which is a relentlessly secular organzation that would put them all under its thumb if it could). It's not a good sign for an organziation when its leaders willfully engage in such self destructive actions.
Posted by aog at 15:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

We've got plenty of JDAMs

For any one who follows the Middle East, a big question is why is Arafat still alive? He's a murderous dishonest brutal thug who is the single largest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. While the new Palestinian Authority head thug is pretending to be working toward a peaceful resolution, Arafat is out making speeches:
The great imperialistic Zionist conspiracy against our Arab nation and our homeland Palestine, which began with the Zionist Congress in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, reached its accursed peak on May 15, 1948. On this accursed day, the state of Israel was established by force of arms, as [the result of] imperialistic conspiracy, on the ruins of our homeland Palestine.
The standard response is that someone worse would replace him. That I find doubtful on its face – it's hard to imagine someone more corrupt or violent but the successor would likely be more open about it. Arafat's most dangerous ability is the one that enables him to look like a statesman to the gullible of the West. It's not clear a successor would do as well at that. But putting that aside, if the next one is worse why not frag him as well? It's not like that's the difficult part. I suppose it's a point for giving the Palestinians a state unilaterally so that fragging Arafat and his successors would be an act of war, not an assassination.

04 June 2003

Posted by aog at 07:59 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Google and the Fermi Paradox

The Fermi Paradox consists of the observation that our civilization is within a few hundred years of having the technology to colonize the entire galaxy. No new fundamental breakthroughs are required, simple refinements of existing technologies. Based on known laws of physics colonizing the galaxy would take about 10-20 million years. So, if we could do it, why hasn't someone else already done it? 10 megayears is a short span in the history of the galaxy. Fermi believed that this was strong evidence that we are alone in our galaxy.

Of course, this was a hard result to accept for most people and there have been numerous theories to try to explain how there could be multiple technic societies in the galaxy. The most interesting to me, especially in light of the rise of the web, is the "electronic mind barrier" theory. This one postulates that something like the web is an inevitable product of technological civilization. Such societies will always strive to organize their knowledge and create increasingly powerful ways to access it, giving members of the society mental prosthetics that increase their effective mental capabilities. However, such technology runs in to some fundamental physical problems, primarily light speed. The web can't really stretch much more than a few light minutes which makes it effectively planetary in scale. Leaving the web would be the equivalent of a lobotomy since any portable system could take just the tiniest sliver of the information on the web. That might discourage emigration.

This theory has another nice property. One facet of the Fermi Paradox has to do with the cost of colonization. At this time, colonizing another star system is I think possible, but would bankrupt the entire planet so it's not really feasible. However, as the world gets richer the relative cost of such an expedition will drop. This would parallel the development of sea travel in Europe in the 1400-1900 range. Initially it took crown jewels to mount an expedition across the Atlantic. Later more modest government expenditures sufficed. Still later small groups of individuals (e.g. the Pilgrims) could afford it and once that happened the colonization of the Americas was inevitable. The basis of the Fermi Paradox is that there is no reason to doubt (and many to believe) that space travel and even interstellar travel will follow the same path.

What the web inibition theory does, though, is keep the relative cost of such an expedition growing as the wealth of the society does because the acceptable amount of information to carry long grows as well. So it may stay so marginal that colonization doesn't occur or it occurs so slowly that there's no real paradox. If it takes 1,000 megayears for galactic colonization then it wouldn't be very surprising to have multiple colonization waves at the same time. There are some other issues involving Deep Time but I'll save those for another post.

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

Write in quizzes

On the radio the other day was a write in contest. You had to supply the other two names by which St. Petersburg, Russia, has been known this century (Petrograd and Leningrad). I happened to know those of the top of my head but in the era of Altavista and Google who doesn't know those of the top of their keyboard? Even for puzzles (such as an CarTalk) are made difficult since so many of them are recycled. One would expect such things to turn in effectively lotteries rather than contests of any sort.

On the other hand, perhaps it doesn't matter. The question on St. Petersburg would at least cause people to look up web pages on the city and perhaps some small number of them would read more. Or one could ask for ever more obscure information where one has to troll the web to gather the information (I think this has already been done on in some psuedo-reality games).

I had just been thinking about this and then Instantman commented on how hard it would be to get the people of ten years ago to believe that the web and its resources would exist in just ten years. Of course, Vannevar Bush predicted it all back in 1947.

03 June 2003

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School choice → madrassas in the US?

I'm beginning to understand what Orrin Judd means about anti-religous left. I was reading a weblog by some one who otherwise seems rational. But when school choice was mentioned, she went off on this tangent:
No public schools, just like Pakistan. That sounds like a very efficient way to turn the US into a third world country.

No public schools – gee, we can all set up our little versions of madrassas, indoctrinate our children with our own personal 'values.' In a democracy, who needs to know or care about what the rest of society thinks? Who needs to know about literature, science and math - you know, facts?

That's nothing like what private schools are now, but apparently that's just a facade and as soon as the public schools are gone the private ones will all convert over to madrassas.The fact that Pakistani madrassas are funded by the Saudi Entity and not local funds seems somewhat relevant here as well. As far as I can tell, her view is that only religious fanatics like the Caliphascists would set up such schools (clearly no set of parents like her would set up any sort of competing, non-fundamentalist school). Therefore, of course, any values taught at such schools would be intolerantly isolationist. And certainly nothing like literature, science or math would be taught. She argues simultaneously that the vast majority of the citizenry supports public schools and that public schools yet it's dangerous to allow parents to choose because that's what they do in Pakistan. The basis for this is her knowledge of Catholic schools:
I’ve read about Christian schools where the kids sit at a desk all day, read from a book, and then take multiple choice tests. We’ve all read about the madrassas, where kids learn a lot about religion, infidels, anti-Semitism and little else.
Clearly the same thing. The school proponent eventually gave up because how can you argue with that kind of equivalence?
Posted by aog at 08:06 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Intelligence failures

A hue and cry is arising about the failure to find WMD in Iraq. One of the actually relevant issues there is whether the failure to find WMD indicates a massive failure of our intelligence apparatus. However, what I'm going to write about is the contrast between the demand to investigate these failures with the lesser complaints about clearer failures concerning the 9/11 attacks. Of course, those failures would reflect badly on Bill Clinton. The failure in the Iraq WMD case reflect poorly on President Bush. Could that be the difference?
Posted by aog at 07:47 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Evil Canadians

Here in the MidWest of the United States, it's June. This morning when I got up I had to put on a jacket because we left the windows open overnight. In June. Tell me again about this "global warming" thing and why it means that my kid's expensive all-summer swim passes are burnt money. I blame the Canadians. The only reason it's ever cold here is because Canada sends huge cold air masses south. That's fine during the winter (I presume there's some old treaty about it). But it's June. Stop flinging that stuff down here! I wonder if it's part of their efforts to disrupt our World Destroying War Machine™ or just that their heavily socialized economy mistakenly made too much cold air over the winter and they have to do something with all of it or the cold air workers will be out of a job this coming winter. Oh. Year round hockey. That's their cunning plan! The fiends!
Posted by aog at 07:35 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Good vs. Perfect

Carrying on from the previous post, Armed Liberal brought up anti-trust efforts as an example of good intervention by the government. I, however, disagree with that. I've never liked anti-trust law and I think we, as a country, would be better off if it had never existed. What would really have been good is if the anti-trust fervor had been applied to government monopolies, like, say, education.

One specific example brought up was the anti-trust action against Microsoft. If one thinks about the big picture, then the basis of the action was that Microsoft didn't benefit its customers enough. Part of the claim is that OEMs were harmed by Microsoft's purchasing agreemens. Yes, people like Michael Dell who became a billionare are the tragic victims of Microsoft's strategy. As for the citizenry, unless one takes the point of view that they're all completely stupid and / or delusional, the fact that they continue to buy Microsoft products indicates that they think the software makes them better off (I will admit that many liberals (not A.L.) believe exactly this).

Now, it's probably true that with hindsight we might have been able to change Microsoft's behaviour to create perfection, instead of Microsoft being simply good overall. But that suffers from two flaws. One, it's the past and says little about what could be done now. Second, it attacks the good in pursuit of the best, which is not a strategy that works in the real world. What is missing is not the bad things done by Microsoft, but an accounting of the costs of stopping those things. One need merely tote up the hit to pension funds from the drop in stock value to get one cost that probably outweighs everything else. To me the biggest cost was teaching the high tech industry that it has to pay off K street in order to function. Why smart people like A.L. aid and abet that kind of extortion is incomprehensible to me.