31 July 2003

Posted by aog at 08:16 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Help from the helpless

I heard more reports of the detoriating situation in Liberia on the radio this morning, along with calls from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for intervention. But this sets up the big quesiton - if the UN is so helpless in the face of the situation in Liberia, what help exactly would they be in Iraq? The normal path of assistance is from those who can to those who need. It terms of intervening in other countries, it seems to be the US that can and the UN that needs help. Why there is some miraculous inversion of that in the case of Iraq is far from clear.

The idea that the US would benefit from UN help becomes laughable when one reads reports like this of the “Permanent Party” atmosphere of UN funded efforts in Afghanistan. What benefit would these despised by the locals parasites do for us in Iraq?

30 July 2003

Posted by aog at 09:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Looking at the wrong threat

The warning has gone out - Al Qaeda may try to hijack more airplanes to use as weapons. This actually doesn’t worry me very much. The only real hope of making this a success would be to sieze the plane when it was near the target because the hijackers won’t retain control of the plane for long. It may be that we’ll see many fewer hijackings for any reason because the passengers will view acting against the hijackers as less risky than letting them do as they will.

29 July 2003

Posted by aog at 22:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Dumb and Dumber, revisited

Senator “Election law doesn’t apply to me” Lautenberg (D - NJ) and Senator Schumer (D - NY) have joined stupidities to help shut down model rocketry. Their press release is chock full of flat out non-factual statements. I might have some shred of understanding if this wasn’t clearly something they care about only for grandstanding purposes.

The legislation in question has been sponsored by Senator Enzi (R - WY). It would raise the limits on the amount of black powder and composite propellant that can be purchased without a license. The black powder limit (used for getting the parachute out of the rocket) is fine but the propellant limit is still quite low but the opinion of the rocketry community is better half a loaf than none.

But Schumer and Lautenberg have no interest in the actual facts or merits of the legislation. Let’s run through a few of these.

a Republican sponsored bill that would exempt the purchase of certain explosives used to launch ‘high-powered hobby rockets’ from federal license, permit and background check requirements currently in place

Not true. The only background checks are for storing large motors. There is actually no limit on the total amount of propellant that can be stored without a license if you buy small motors. I can have 50 kilos of propellant if I buy a lot of small motors but I can’t store a single 70 gram motor without an explosives storage permit from the ATF. One of the changes Enzi’s legislaton makes is to regulate storage based on the total amount of propellant and not what units it happens to be in.

The legislation (S.724) […] would allow terrorists and criminals to acquire large amounts of explosive rocket propellant without law enforcement’s knowledge

I guess this depends on what one means by “large”. And, as noted above, this is quite possible now.

“Allowing anybody to walk into a store and buy huge amounts of rocket fuel is crazy.” said Lautenberg.”

Again with the “huge”. I’ve seen the Enzi legislation and I don’t think the amounts there can be described as “huge”. The rocketry community sees them as small. I fly motors with 250g of propellant and I do not fly what are considered “large” rockets. A 400g (.9 pound) limit doesn’t go very far at that rate. But the way Lautenberg is talking you’d think that terrorists will be pulling in to Walmart with Ryder trucks to load up.

“Why anyone in the post-9/11 world would think that making it easier to get bomb-making materials is a good idea is beyond me” Schumer said.

Bomb making material? You can’t make bombs out of composite propellant. As for black powder, just get an antique firearm and you can have 50 pounds of it without a license. Schumer also seems to think that the Unabomber used APCP to build his bombs, which is once agan completely false.

The Homeland Security Act law requires purchasers of the explosives most commonly used in high-power hobby rockets – ammonium perchlorate composite propellant (APCP) and black powder – to undergo background checks and get permits from the ATF

Just not true. A complete and utter fabrication. I buy both of these, legally, and have never had a background check or gotten a permit from the ATF. Again, the laws on the books today deal only with storage. Finally, just to inject a bit of science, APCP is not an explosive.

“Passing legislation to loosen rules on buying explosive rocket fuel is not just irresponsible, it’s crazy,” said Lautenberg

Fine. Just let me buy my APCP, a non-explosive rocket fuel.

See also the NAR response.

Posted by aog at 08:31 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Crossing gender lines

One of the toys being heavily advertised these days is ello™ which seems to be Lego™ for girls. It’s a modular construction system made out of plastic with which one can build a wide variety of things. All of the pictures show things like doll houses and tea parties but the pre-built shapes are fairly basic so these constructs are not implicit in the kits. This is what distinguishes something like Lego or Ello from a doll house kit. The marketing blurb is
ello™ is designed for the open-ended, creative way girls play. … Girls can build it, change it and rearrange it!
This seems very similar to the way dolls are sold to boys as “action figures”. It will be interesting to see if Ello does well.

28 July 2003

Posted by aog at 10:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Fashion: dumb and dumber

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article about “low rise” jeans, where the waist band is moved as far down as is physically possible. Because of the physical shape of women’s hips this change has the effect of making retention of the jeans in the correct position very difficult. The slightest wrong move and the wearer has an advanced case of “plumber’s butt”. The article (no online version) is full of tips for low rise jeans wearers, such as “don’t sit down”. Apparently the only way to pick something up is to maintain a straight back while bending at the knee and not tilting your head forward. Alternatively, one can always make sure to have one’s back against a wall before reaching down to help out her child in the stroller (actual example). Others resort to tailoring tricks

Normally this wouldn’t rise to the level worthy of ranting about here. People make their own choices and if someone thinks it’s worth all this for the style, that’s their problem, not mine. However, what I find objectively silly is some of the new fashion designs to cope with this problem, which consist essentially of covering up the low rise, such as extra long tank tops. Now, I can at least see the point if a woman thinks she looks enough better with a low rise to make it worth the hassle (I disagree, but that’s clearly subjective). But what’s the point of enduring the hassle and then concealing it anyway? Where’s the payoff? It seems dumb even for a fashion trend.

Posted by aog at 08:45 | Comments (9) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Libertarian vs. Libertine

In California, a home owner took down his American flag and replaced it with a UN flag. The local home owners association told him to take it down citing its rules. The home owner, in the same misguided state that makes him think the UN is a organization worth supporting, cited the U.S. Constitution against the association. Of course, the Constitution is about the federal government, not home owners associations, but this kind of confusion seems to be common.

This incident illustrates a key difference between libertarianism and libertinism. The former is about choices and the latter about avoiding consquences. The home owner in this case is a libertine, believing that he should be able to do what ever he wants without consquences. He knew about the association when he chose to buy his house, but now that it’s inconvenient he wants to ignore the consequences of that choice. Libertarians want people to be able to chose, but also believe that every choice has consquences, good and bad, that can’t be separated from the ability to make choices.

Posted by aog at 08:09 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Modern girls say “show me the money”

A singer named Avril Lavigne has had a hit recently titled ‘Sk8ter Boi’ (pronounced “skater boy”). I know this because it’s the first song on the current KidzBop commercial which I hear 4 or 5 times an hour while the Boys watch Nickelodeon (that’s about the extent of my exposure to modern youth culture).

In this song, a young boy who skates tries to put the moves on a high class girl, who brushes him off. Another girl (the singer) picks him up and eventually enjoys a humiliating revenge on the first girl because the boy turns out to be extremely desirable.

What makes the boy such a hot property? He’s attractive? Well-mannered? Loyal? Considerate? Loving? None of those - he becomes a rich rock star. Note that this isn’t some obscure song on a vanity record, but one popular enough to be made in to a movie so it’s likely to be striking a chord with today’s youth. And what message resonates? Don’t discard a kid because he’s scruffy today, he might be rich and famous tomorrow. Not only is that a classic view of women’s mating motives, but it’s so American. Where else is it plausible for some poor skater dude to become wealthy? It’s also ultimately a rather old school sentiment, that financial success is the key in looking for a male significant other. The kids really are turning conservative.

27 July 2003

Posted by aog at 13:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Educational scars

E.J. Dione says that he’s willing to consider vouchers, even though “the notion that vouchers would create a large supply of new schools is nonsense”. Orrin Judd points out that this illustrates that “Democrats, despite Bill Clinton’s best efforts, don’t really believe in free markets”. Judd also mentions “Republicans’ fear of black kids invading the white suburban schools”, which is the point I want to briefly comment on.

While I would agree that there is a residual bias against poor, minority children among the affulent suburbanites, I think that could have been far more easily overcome it wasn’t for the bitter scars of forced bussing. For instance, the existence of vouchers wouldn’t of itself make any difference in how many non-residents would get in to existing public schools. In fact, the existence of vouchers would likely drain much of the support that proponents of bussing currently enjoy, as why ship your kid across town for an hour when you can get into a good private school nearby?

This combines toxically with the current PC orientation of the public school monopoly. The suburban parents observed that discpline became much harder once minority children were admitted to the schools. This was, in my view, primarily because the advocates of bussing saw any imposition on the bussed children as oppression. Kids are pretty quick to pick up that kind of thing. Anecdotally, I have an associate who does volunteer teaching at a local school. She’s been told that if a minority child gets up and leaves the class at any time, it’s just that minority children need “special break time”. This has, of course, destroyed discpline in the class because whenever a minority child gets bored or just doesn’t want to pay attention, he just walks off. It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations once again which has now contributed to prevent real educational opportunity for poor urban children.

Posted by aog at 13:21 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Saved by your enemies

In discussing the gubernatorial recall in California I’ve mentioned that trying to replace Governor Gray Davis seems like a politial death wish. Orrin Judd disagrees on the basis that Bill Clinton did well for himself by coming in at the tail end of a economic downturn. I think this misses the point that Clinton wouldn’t have been at the tail end of the downturn if it hadn’t been for Newt Gingrich. The first two years didn’t go particularly well for Clinton. What makes Clinton look good economically was the Republican Congress. That’s not going to happen in California for the Davis replacement, which is why I recommend waiting for 2006.

One could argue that it’s better to get in now, try and fail for a couple of years and ask for a non-Democratic state assembly to fix the state. However, my opinion is that the reforms required are going to be very unpopular with the state populace, who seem to be suffering from a mild case of the European disease. Even suggesting the reforms will likely be cement shoes for who ever does so. I expect that it will take an even worse crisis than the current one to make an noticeable dent in this view.

Paul Jaminet comments that my plan sounded plausible until the “hit hard in 2006 and win control of the legislature”. Jaminet says that things don’t turn around like that. On the other hand, they’d turn around like that if a Republican wins the recall election? I realize that my strategy is fraught with risk, but I think that winning the recall will be even worse, since the Republicans will be blamed for the failures and for suggesting the reforms. Referring back to OJ, note that the economy started tanking while Clinton was still in office but he’s skated out of that and left President Bush to be the fall guy. I think Davis (over the couple of years till ‘06) has a good chance of doing the same (especially if he can blame Bush for the tech sector collapse and Enron for the energy fiasco).

Posted by aog at 09:27 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Covering all the bases

Abu Mazen, putative Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, fires them out like a professional (which he is, his doctoral thesis being a denial of the holocaust). Among the big ones (left unchallenged by the interviewer) are

  • Release of prisoners in the road map.
  • The PA accepts the existence of Israel.
  • The Intifada was a spontaneous uprising that “no one could stop”.
  • That the PA has been fufilling its road map obligations but that Israel “didn’t start”
Mazen’s statement
think [the Palestinians] should be compensated by the international community [for the cessation of fund from Iraq] because Iraq sent the money for social aims, for social affairs. So we need the money for social affairs, for the victims and for the martyrs.
certainly doesn’t qualify as a lie, but it’s an amazingly brazen admission that the international community should pick up the slack in the suicide bombers budget left by the fall of Iraq. Of course, the interational community (especially the European Union) is already funding “the matyrs” so it’s the public statement, not the expectation that amazes.

On the other hand, Mazen made a few interesting comments that I didn’t expect.

Responding to a question on the “Right of Return”, Mazen said “I said we should find a just and agreed-upon solution”. That’s quite a weasel for someone willing to explicitly demand interational aid to fund suicide bombers. The interviewer, after making a pro forma objection to Mazen’s claim of prisoner release being in the roadmap, persued this issue much more strongly but Mazen refused to be pinned down to explicitly claiming the “Right of Return”.

Mazen also said, in responsed a question about Hamas and Islamdic Jihad being dedicated to the destruction of Israel
I believe that if we reach the state within the ‘67 borders, they [Hamas, Islamic Jihad] will live with it and will accept it. It’s only 22 percent of the historical Palestine.
Skipping over the demand for the ‘49 borders (misleading called the “1967 borders”), note that Mazen admits that Israel proper is only 22% of Palestine. That’s a stunning admission. Of course, this is for Western consumption but it’s rare indeed for the Palestinian side to make that kind of factual admission. The normal mode is to lie about intentions or deny unpleasant Palestinian activities (hate literature, summary justice, weapon smuggling, etc.). To state this kind of fact on the ground is almost unprecedented, leaving the overall interview quite the mixed bag.

(via LGF and Daimnation!)

26 July 2003

Posted by aog at 20:49 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Matchmaking and the google village

I’ve written before about how the Internet is recreating a small town on a global scale. One of the features of small towns is matchmaking, either through an actual matchmaker or having everyone within a couple of friend links. One of the laments of modern society seems to be the problem of making such connections without the support of a wide network of local friends and neighbors. It appears that the Internet is filling the gap with the rising popularity and acceptance of online dating / matchmaking services. It would be interesting to ask what other feature of small towns is not currently available on line and see if anyone is working on that.

25 July 2003

Posted by aog at 18:08 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Victims of the scroll

In the previous post I mentioned how the headline gave a very different impression than the actual story. There seems to be a lot of that going around these days (although actually faking bylines is still somewhat aberrant). The question is, do the headline writers assume that most people won’t read the actually story and so it’s not very important to write an appropriate headline?

I blame the scroll, personally. It trains people to view each news story as single, compressed sentence without context. You all thought it was just annoying but it’s actually insidious. I’m immune because I stopped watching news on TV years ago, before the scroll became ubiquitious and degraded. Back in my TV watching days, if you got a scroll it generally signaled “Twister’s acomin!” or “It’s hailing golfballs”. No context needed to be spelled out. We get real weather out here in the heartland, not your effete coastal breezes, so everyone knew what the scroll meant. Now the scroll apparently keeps people up to date on J. Lo’s meal progress - “J LO USES TWO FINGERS FOR POST LUNCH PURGE”. I admit, in that case either you know the context or you don’t want to know, but it still encourages bad habits.

What can you do? If you can’t bear to just give up on TV news, then turn to the fiber of technological civilization, duct tape, and just tape over the scroll area. You’ll be better for it.

Posted by aog at 17:48 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Japan goes unilateral

Japan has now approved the use of Japanese troops in occupied Iraq. This headline makes it sound like Japan is once again starting to walk on the Great Power stage, but a closer reading dispells that idea. The measure actually authorizes only non-combat troops for use in Iraq under US leadership. The Japanese government is now also authorized to send troops abroad “to offer medical assistance, repatriate refugees, reconstruct buildings and roads and give administrative advice”. That’s not quite the spectre of revanchist Japanese militarism that would be of concern. But there is one daring, out of interational bounds radicalism in the legislation - Japan could send these not-allowed-to-actually-fight troops to places without UN approval. Clearly Prime Minister Koizumi is out of control, sponsoring that kind of unilateralism. The Chicoms must be quaking with fear now…

Posted by aog at 09:03 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Trolling for traffic

I thought I’d make a comment on the Kobe Bryant case despite the risks. Before this, I kind of knew in a vague way that Bryant played basketball. I first heard about the case from She Who Is Perfect In All Ways because she’s much more of a sports fan than I am. Rather than discuss the case directly, since I don’t know much about it and really no one else does either except Bryant and the accuser. [What do you mean, you’re not going to comment because you don’t know anything? Aren’t you running a weblog here?]

What’s surprised some other bloggers is the mindless denail and / or acceptance of anything Bryant does. It’s described as if it were a bizarre, unprecendented aspect of modern sports, but in fact it has a long history. Just think of Jim Jones or David Koresh or Bill Clinton. This is in partial answer to Andrew X’s question about why the good things all of these socialist paradises like Cuba depend on the absolute power of a single man. The only modern twist on this is that these kind of priviledges, where any evil is denied or accepted as necessary, are now applied to media celebrities instead of those with political power. The masses baying for the blood of the accuser on the weblogs are just the masses in the street in electronic form.

Posted by aog at 07:47 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Newspeak at NPR

This morning on NPR there was a story about the child tax credits. It was the standard “what can we find wrong and dwell on?” peice where teh big problem was that not every single family with children would get the refund. But the most interesting bit is that the commentator (Daniel Schorr, I think) referred to refund as President Bush’s “tax-spending plan”. It seems to have finally penetrated the depths of NPR that “spending” is now a bad word when referring to government. Their natural response, of course, is to label things they don’t like as “spending” (just as all out of favor governments are “conservative” or “right”).

It’s not so much the corruption of language I find annoying (although that is disturbing) but the narcissism. Every word is turned not to expression some abstract concept but personal feelings. I guess that’s one advantage of living in a socially constructed world.

24 July 2003

Posted by aog at 19:30 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Trade credits

The Washington Post reports that free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore are cleared for a vote in the House. Democrats in the House were attempting to prevent any such agreements from proceeding by loading them down with much stricter requirements (such as collective bargaining rights laws). Bloomberg is reporting that the measures have passed the House, 277-155 for Singapore and 270-156 for Chile.

These are very important agreements and President Bush should certainly be commended for getting them signed and through the House by such large margins. The word from the White House is that these will be used as templates for other agreements once they’ve been passed by Congress and signed.

Representative John Conyers didn’t like the agreements, saying “At a time of record trade deficits and massive unemployment, we need to pay more attention than ever to the labor implications of these treaties”. Massive unemployment? For recent history, the jobless rate is quite low, below what used to be consider the absolute minimum without inflation, and they’ve fallen again this month. Of course, Conyers is also wrong that free trade is bad for the economy but facts are pesky things.

P.S. Can anyone explain why the House of Representatives is involved? Aren’t these agreements really treaties, which are approved by the Senate?

P.P.S. I think I beat Orrin Judd to this news!

Posted by aog at 08:37 | Comments (4) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Verdict first, trial afterwards!

Something that (unlike the Iraq looking for yellowcake in Africa issue) that might be a real problem for the Bush administration is the outing of a covert operative who is the wife of Joseph Wilson. Wilson is a former US ambassdor who went to Niger to investigate the Niger / Iraq connection. Although he’s touted as “disproving” the line in the State of the Union address, at best he confirmed that Iraq had not purchased any yellowcake (which no one had ever claimed to be true). Wilson also relied on just the word of various Niger officials, which doesn’t seem like the most thorough type of investigation that might have been done.

However, I think we can all agree that

  1. Outing Wilson’s wife was a Bad Thing.
  2. Whoever was responsible for (1) should be hung out to dry.
  3. It is important to national security to determine (2).
  4. If that turns out to be a President Bush political appointee, then Bush is tainted by the act.

While I hate to make suggestions to the Left, it seems that they’d be better off with this sequence rather than going directly to the “Bush is Evil™” tagline. Getting conservatives to argue against (1..3) would be quite a coup for the other side. On the other hand, once (1..3) are agreed on, then going for (4) looks far less partisan.

The problem for the Left here is two part.

One is that the guilty party might be a career bureaocrat, in which case it would be hard to tag Bush with the issue. I’d be more impressed with the Left if they went after a real issue like this in the hope that it would damage Bush rather than going for verdict first, investigation afterwards.

The second is just taking national security seriously. That’s going to be quite a hurdle.

Posted by aog at 07:38 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Taking a Ba'ath with the UN

Someone on NPR this morning was gloating over the idea that the US would need to go to the UN, hat in hand, to beg for assistance in Iraq. The specific claim was that the US didn’t have the resources or the capability to build democracy in Iraq with the implied claim that the UN does. I find that just a completely bizarre point of view.

First off, what part of the UN besides those nations already in Iraq have any significant resources available? Europe? The UK is already doing what it can, while I doubt France and Russia could mount enough forces without US assistance to make a real difference.

Secondly, and more importantly, the UN a force for democracy? That haven of dictators, thugs and degenerates? The organization that has Libya and Cuba on the Human Rights Commission? That organization that, in the Middle East, treats the single democratic and open society in the region as the Spawn of Evil? The organization that can’t even keep their own personel from engaging in child prostitution and enslavement? Beyond all of this, there is the point that the UN acted as an open ally of the Ba’ath. What are the Iraqis going to think if we invite Saddam’s buddies back in to help run the country?

23 July 2003

Posted by aog at 21:45 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Lift the Cuban embargo

I support lifting the trade embargo on Cuba. It certainly hasn’t done much good for the decades it’s been in place. In the meantime it has provided Castro and his useful idiots in the West with a convenient excuse for his devastation of Cuba. Castro can ban computer sales and there may be a brief mention that Castro did the banning but in a year it will be blamed on the embargo. To think that Castro isn’t aware of that is laughable. I agree with Dean Esmay that lifting the embargo won’t do much to directly help the Cuban people. They’ll be miserable and Castro and his thugs will live well, just like they do now. Anything Cuba wants to import from the US can easily be imported via Canada or some other weak livered fellow traveling nation. Since the embargo has no real effect except as a PR coup for Castro, let’s drop it and at least take that away from him.

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

Well, they could hardly do less…

Secretary of State Colin Powell is once again urging both sides in the Israeli / Arab conflict to do more to “advance the road map”. Powell saids that both sides have taken steps but more must be done. I’d be very interested to hear what steps the Palestinians have taken because following the news, I can’t think of a single thing. And what specific suggestion by Powell for advancing the road map is mentioned? Nothing on the Palestinian side but for Israel, releasing more Palestinian murderers. Of course, there is no mention of any such release anywhere in the road map, so how doing that would advance that road map is unclear. Perhaps Powell should consider asking the Palestinians to stop comitting almost daily terror attacks. I thought I heard something somewhere from Powell’s boss about a “war on terror”. I think Powell should look in to that.

Posted by aog at 21:18 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Writing about guns make my head go funny

MSNBC is reporting that a New York City councilman has been shot dead during a City Council meeting. The later parts of the article are filled with quotes like this:
“A friend of Davis’, Rafael Collazo, former president of the New York chapter of the National Latino Officers Association, said he was shocked by the killing and demanded to know how an armed man could enter City Hall, which is less than a mile from the site of the World Trade Center”

“Davis’ brother, Geoffrey Davis, said as he emerged from the hospital about 4:45 p.m.: ‘The system killed my brother. They knew that he would fight.’ ”

“[City Councilman] Fidler and others questioned how a gunman could have gotten past the building’s metal detectors with a firearm”

One might think that’s a good question, but earlier in the same article we have the quote
a security tape showed [the victim, City Councilman] Davis escorting [the shooter] Askew into City Hall, bypassing metal detectors

There are two things to think about here. First, the immediate recourse to conspiracy theories and Evil Government Plots. The second is why is MSNBC publishing all of these quotes after they’ve been mooted? Davis made a tragic mistake, trusting a former political opponent who apparently was willing to sacrifice his life for revenge. I don’t think it’s best for his death to be remembered more for conspiracy mongering than who Davis was.

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

Robotic squad combat

I’ve been thinking a bit about combat in the future. I think that what we’ll see is the evolution of soldiers from grunts to squad commanders. I expect this to happen in arial combat first. Rather than a purely robotic air force, a human fighter pilot will fly with a squad of specialized robots. Some will be recon drones, others will be missile or gun platforms. Orders will be given at a fairly high level. Rather than doing any sort of direct targeting, a missile platform would be told “engage target #3” or a scout “watch the north”. The robots would have preferred stand off ranges based on their current weapon mix so gunships would get in close and missile platforms would hang back. Why risk valuable personel on dangerous attacks (like going after SAM sites) when he call tell robo-buddy to make the run?

Modern combat games have been moving in this direction as well. As one commentor who actually works at a game company mentioned, there is a lot of activity in those companies at building more powerful artificial intelligences. This is because it makes the game much more interesting for the solo player when it’s harder to “crack” the game’s AI. One thing that comes out of this is that it doesn’t take all that much coordination to do reasonably well, especially against unskilled players. I still remember back in ‘92 playing Netrek, which is a simple space war game. There was a robot called SFOP that would take on groups of human players and occasionally win. This was a project just done in some student’s spare time on what would be now laughably primitive hardware. There is also an effort to support human control of multiple ships in the game. In the next ten years or so I think this will start coming together and we’ll see a very different environment for physical combat.

22 July 2003

Posted by aog at 19:17 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Spam for brains

The print version of the Wall Street Journal had an article on anti-spam efforts. Overall it was reasonable as it discussed that the current anti-spam bills are supported by major league spammers and opposed by consumer and “public-interest” groups. However, there was a funny in a sad way part:
The most popular piece of [anti-]spam legislation […] would ban deceptive subject lines and require valid return addresses.
Assuming that became law, what would that do in the real world? Nothing, as the bottom feeding spammers would simply ignore it and the “legitimate” spammers already do that.

Certainly if mail relays checked for valid return addresses, quite a lot of spam would be stopped. But legislation like this does nothing at all to promote that. It’s competely pointless. What’s lacking is the will to devote the effort on the part of the major ISPs. While there are advantages to be the first mover (by providing customers with less spam) that company may well end up with a firestorm of protests when its address checker fails to let valid mail through. It’s not clear in a technical sense how a mail relay would validate an email address. New protocols would be required and millions of mail relays upgraded. That’s a big job and again, the legislation doesn’t even address that problem.

Just to give you an idea of where some of the problem lies, I work for a major technology firm which is very concerned about the amount of spam received by employees and has various spam filters on its mail gateways. Yet this company cannot manage the simple task of noticing that e-mail with a return address that is a corporate address (e.g. “aog@techfirm.com”) coming from outside is spam. Corporate e-mail is always sent from mail servers inside the corporate network. That’s a simple fix that would block some of the most insidious spam (rumour is that some spammer forged the return address of a senior executive - imagine getting an e-mail apparently from the CEO which when opened turns out to be about a reproductive organ enlarger). I get spam once or twice a week that appears to be from myself. I check the mail headers and it’s clear that it came from outside of the corporate net yet was not marked as spam. No legislation is going to fix that kind of problem.

Posted by aog at 08:40 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Acceptable losses

I was reading a discussion on Winds of Change about the war against the Caliphascists. I was trying to understand the viewpoint of those who are not driven by hatred for the West yet still do not see much of a threat from the Caliphascists.

I think that the bottom line is that this is driven by the underlying socialist view of the world. I would agree that the threat from the Caliphascists is unlikely to be an existential threat to the West (there are such threats but the Caliphascists are more like an opportunistic disease than the real threat). Part of that is that it’s merely a tradeoff of the expected losses from foreign adventures vs. doing nothing. If one has a real world oriented socialist view then there’s no difference between 3,000 US casualties in New York City vs. 3,000 Ba’athists in Baghdad. This is why there was so much emphasis on making the deaths in Afghanistan numerically equial to the 9/11 attacks. On top of that, if one seriously believes that actions like the invasion of Iraq would lead to half a million deaths or more, then it’s not worth it even to prevent the nuking of an American city.

Additionally, if one tends to think of “masses” then the real impact of deaths from terror is just the societal impact from the deaths. This point of view makes it difficult to see the difference between the 9/11 attacks and the equivalent number of highway deaths. We do fine even with those kind of annual losses, so what’s the big deal from terror attacks?

The difference here between my point of view and this one is not so much the objective facts but the weighting of the utility function used to judge different courses of action. Of course, I’m right and they’re wrong but it helps to see how exactly they’re wrong.

21 July 2003

Posted by aog at 18:03 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Useful idiots: an inexhaustible resource

The Palestinian Authority is once again trying to use the US to extort concessions out of Israel by simply asserting demands in the name of the “peace process”. The latest one is the demand for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. There is of course no mention of anything such thing in the “Road Map” but that doesn’t stop the claims which are then mindlessly repeated by Big Media. For instance, the story cited above says
Talks between Abbas and his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon broke up on Sunday local time without any commitment from Israel to release more Palestinian prisoners from its jails while demands for troop withdrawals from the West Bank also shelved.
Note the uncritical acceptance of the prisoner issue as legitimate and no mention of anything that the Palestinians are supposed to do (like, stop killing Israelis) but aren’t. The only mention of actual violence is this:
However, unrest has not completely disappeared, highlighted by the fatal shooting of a Palestinian in an exchange of fire with the Israeli army east of the West Bank town on Jenin overnight.
None of the suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis are any sign of continuing unrest.

I don’t wonder at the Palestinians trying to get away with such outrageous demands and fabrications. It’s why so much of the West is willing to cooperate in anyway to help them succeed. Given that, the Palestinians would be fools not to take advantage of the massed ranks of useful idiots.

Posted by aog at 08:33 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Consolidation in the fake ID industry

What occurs to me in thinking about a national identity card is that it will lead to consolidation in the fake ID industry. With a national database for the identifiers, it will be much harder to do just a physical fake and get away with it. This will make life difficult for the low end fake ID manufacturers. On the other hand, a national database means that suborning a single low paid government employee means that one can create fake IDs far more reliable than any available today. Once people become used to the national database being the definitive voice, if a query to it returns “valid” people won’t examine the actual physical ID very closely. This favors larger, more organized concerns that can create an ongoing relationship with clerks in the national ID service or even insert one of their own. However, this will require a higher level of capital expenditure so a larger market will be required for adequate return on investment. So if a national ID comes about, expect to see the rise of fewer but larger fake ID consortiums. Actual security against terrorism seems unlikely, though.

20 July 2003

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Supporting the UN

I just realized that the invasion of Iraq is a good thing for the UN. Think about it - Iraq was in flagrant violation of a large number of UN Security Council resolutions dating back to before the first Gulf War. The no-fly zones, the continuous, low level air attacks, the sanctions, none of that caused Iraq to obey the UN. But now all of those resolutions will be followed! That means that as a direct result of the invasion the number of countries obeying UN resolutiosn had become infinitely larger, from zero to one.

Posted by aog at 21:42 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

By any means necessary

Orrin Judd cites an article by Jacob Sullum on the enforcement of the so-called “Rave Law” pushed by Senator Joe Biden. The key paragraphs is
Biden referred to an incident in Billings, Montana, on May 30, when a DEA agent brought a copy of the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act to the local Eagles Lodge. The agent warned the lodge’s manager that a fund-raising concert sponsored by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy might violate the law if anyone attending the event lit up a joint.

The law, which Biden sponsored, makes it a federal crime to “knowingly and intentionally” make a place available “for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance.”

Mr. Judd cites this action approvingly:
The agent visited and explained precisely what actions might run afoul of the law; in what sense is that not adequate notice? And how hard is it to figure out that you can’t have a gathering for the purpose of making, using or dealing drugs?
This misses the real problem.

The first thing to note is that the agent didn’t explain the law, certainly not as written. It wasn’t a matter of the organizers “knowingly” or “intentionally” making a place available for drug use. The clear implication of the agent’s statement was undeniable that any use of illegal drugs would be prima facie evidence for the sponsors having knowingly and intentionally made the location available. That of course makes a complete mockery of the original language. I don’t think that having law enforcement able to blatantly disregard language in legal statutes is a good idea.

In the comments Judd claims that
The nature of the gathering suggests lighting up is its purpose.
I consider this specious because by this logic, any gathering that opposes a law is considered to be a knowingly effort to violate the law at that place and time. If the same logic had been applied during Prohibition then any anti-temperance gathering would have been judged a speak easy where the organizers could be arrested and bankrupted by fines. How is this not real censorship and suppression of free speech? The gathering in question was clearly targeted because of the political views of the participants. The sponsors were made legally responsible for any illegal behaviour by the attendees regardless of efforts to prevent that. I’d like to see an explanation of how, based on this, any gathering to protest or organize against Drug Prohibition would not be an unacceptable risk for the sponsors.

Note further that just the risk of arrest (not even conviction) was enough to prevent the gathering. Since the agents would suffer no penalty from false arrests, this in effect gives the DEA veto power over any public gathering. It’s bogus to argue whether that’s what the law intended - since the DEA will be making the arrests the view of the DEA is de facto regardless of anything de jure. This is a standard police state tactics, where a law may sound plausible but is enforced in a way that makes it completely arbitrary and at the discretion of the enforcing authorities (like “anti-state activities”). It’s disgusting that it’s being done in this country. I just wonder what ever happened to that phrase, “Congress shall pass no law […] abridging […] the right of the people to peaceably assemble”?

I think the key difference between Judd’s view and mine is that I view this kind of thing not as an aberration but as the inevitable result of trying to prohibit concensual activity. Since nobody involved has any interest in involving the authorities, the authorities must involve themselves through what ever means are necessary. And that last phrase explains it all.

Posted by aog at 20:47 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Political death wish

As the recall in California starts staring the California Democratic Party in the face, some might wonder about the Democratic strategy of trying to save Governor Davis from the recall by not fielding an alternate Democratic candidate. But I have to agree with Tom Gryn who asks “I still remain a little unclear why anyone would want the job”. Perhaps there’s a method to the Democratic strategy. It’s not an unreasonable assumption that whoever is the next governor will end up ending their political career due to the measures necessary to restore fiscal sanity to California. There’s a good case to be made that the next governor, even if he proposes appropriate measures, while find them killed in the legislature, thereby gaining censure for the measures while leaving California a financial disaster area. Maybe it will be better to lose this election than win it.

Posted by aog at 09:20 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Promoting racial tension at Cal Poly

In all the fuss about the student at California Polytechnic who is being disciplined for posting a flier and its implication of the supression of speech on campus, one might ask what the effect is on the minority students in the school? The public perception is probably not enhanced by this kind of over protective hyper sensitive treatment.

A reasonable subtext is that Cal Poly doesn’t consider its minority students capable of handling any sort of political activity by white students. That can’t be a good message for anybody, either non-students, white students or minority students.

Since this isn’t good for most of the students, who does benefit? The professional race-baiters and PRB in training. Cal Poly has demonstrated that it is willing to pay this class off at the expense of the rest of its students either because they haven’t the fortitude to oppose them or their own ranks have been thoroughly infiltrated. The latter is suggested by the statements of Cornel Morton, vice president for student affairs
You are a young white male member of CPCR. To students of color, this may be a collision of experience […] The chemistry has racial implications, and you are naïve not to acknowledge those.
There you have the subtext effectively spelled out, the soft bigotry of low expectations.

17 July 2003

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Free markets and the google village

I was thinking about one of the standard issues with regulations raised by libertarians. This theory is that detailed regulation of business is generally unncessary because businesses that harm their customers tend to go out of business and that, more over, general laws against force and fraud can handle the cases of real criminality.

I subscribe to this in general, but one problem has always been the ability to discard a previous reputation by moving. A scamming business can simply fleece the locals and then move on to another location and repeat.

However, that may be far less possible in a Google-ized world. People talk of a “global village” but I’m not sure they really think through what they’re talking about. In this case, one aspect of the village is that people can find out things about you rather easily. In a pre-Information Age society where physical movement is easy but information movement is difficult it’s much easier to abuse customers. However, once information technology catches up, it gets difficult. Nowadays, if a business regular abuses it customers, it’s pretty much a given that at least one of customers will create or use a website to spell it out to the world. And soon enough Google will locate it and make it available to any one who searches for it.

We already have a relatively mainstream idea of doing this to potential romantic partners. I expect that even more people do it to prospective business partners, it’s just not sufficiently outré to become a meme.

This will not, of course, put a complete stop to scams, it will simply raise the bar as a lock on a door does. Only the competent, inventive and thorough scammers will survive - the stupid and the lazy will get tripped up. Think of it as evolution in action.

16 July 2003

Posted by aog at 15:52 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Headline bias

The top headline at CNN is “Iraq death toll mounts”. Well, what else could it do? Decrease due to resurrections? Hard to say whether this is due to actual bias or just general cluelessness by the headline writer.

Posted by aog at 09:26 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Acceptable losses

A Canadian journalist in Iran was arrested and beaten to death by Iranian security forces. Canadian TV is now reporting that this has been confirmed by Iranian officials.

Not so strangely, though, this hasn’t gotten much, if any, Big Media play in the US. As many have mentioned, the perpetrators work for a government opposed to the US which makes it an acceptable loss. As the Iranian spokeman said, “The incident has no outcome other than tarnishing our international image at a time when we are in deep crisis at home and abroad”. The Iranian government sees the whole “dead person” thing as just an unimportant detail, with which the US media agrees. As long the latter doesn’t spread the story and taint the Iranian government, everything’s OK.

15 July 2003

Posted by aog at 08:16 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Energy crisis

There will probably be few to no posts this week. All of my creative energy is going in to the JunkYardBlog move. There’s a lot of final formatting and configuration tweaks that are taking all of my on-line time and I’m just worn out from the effort leading up to this.

It’s pretty cool. My scripts are reading the original JunkYardBlog over on Blogger and copying the content over to the new MT site. It’s all automated so there’s no further effort for me. It even re-writes internal links so that links on the old site that refer to previous posts on the old site are changed to refer to the new site. You can see the effect here vs here. The comments are copied over too.

Well, I think it’s cool.

P.S. I’m not quite done yet. Now that I’ve disposed of some of the easier challenges, the final target of my campaign is within sight. Bwahahahaha!

13 July 2003

Posted by aog at 20:07 | Comments (5) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

No technological solution

The boys were were watching Ring of Fire which got me to thinking about robotic factories and wondering if the latter might be an escape from the demographic problem facing Japan and Europe.

I think that’s clearly out for Europe. A large part of its problem is over regulation of the labor market and excessively strong unions. These are precisely the factors that would prevent a sufficiently wide spread adoption of robotics. The 35 hour work week is emblematic of this — France should be working as hard as possible now because every day a smaller percentage of adults is non-retired.

Japan has a better shot because despite its over regulation it has embraced robotics from the early days (and indeed competed with the US for leadership in the area). However, I suspect that even there that while robotics are likely to be widely adopted and boost productivity this boost will do more to increase expectations than provide a cushion for the graying of the nation. It’s also difficult to see where the will to invest massively enough to make a difference will come from in a deflating economy.

Given that technology probably wouldn’t solve the problem and that there’s little chance of suffcient reform it looks like it’s going to be a bad few decades for Europe and Japan. But in one’s schadenfruede over dismal futures it’s important to keep in mind the aphorism “if it can’t go on forever, it won’t”. Those nations will eventually do something, it’s just going to be quite drastic because it will happen so late in the process.

Posted by aog at 09:22 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Hearing things

I must have been hearing things, but it sounded like that during some human interest story, NPR mentioned a book that explained the initial attraction of Castro’s revolution. The initial attraction. That certainly implies that it was different than the current attraction. That alone would be a big change from the standard NPR viewpoint.

Although, of course, it’s easy to see why the revolution was attractive to so many people at the time. Although the peace crimes of the Communists were known, Big Media had done a good job of covering them up and Castro himself played the public statement game well. However, after forty years and the Cold War one might think that people would be a little more aware of just what a Communist government does to a country. Perhaps this knowledge is becoming known even to the hard core lefties of NPR.

11 July 2003

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Earth first! We'll strip mine the other planets later

Via Instantman I found this article on space exploration.

The basic thesis is that the future of space exploration belongs to private ventures. However, this would be in the spirit of the recent around the world balloon trip - technically challenging but ultimately pointless. The idea of any economic development is simply not considered. However, if there is to be significant human exploration of the solar system (and certainly any colonization) then economic opportunities will be required. One can contrast North and South America in this regard. The most successufl colonies were those where the colonists came to build and live, not loot and exploit. There’s no reason not to assume the same pattern in space.

But this is just a difference of opinion. The lunacy doesn’t show up until the final paragraph:
Still, while I am optimistic about the ability of private enterprise to colonize the moon and lead us to Mars, I am less sanguine about what space pioneers will do once they establish a presence there. Will they be as scrupulous in preserving the natural environment as, say, the governments involved in the Antarctic project have been? Or will they simply exploit the planets they conquer, much as was done to the American West? Ultimately, how we get there is less important than what we do when we arrive.
Such as what? This is just silly. At least the modern day eco-freaks have a valid basis to their view - significant destruction of parts of Earth’s biosphere is likely to have unanticiapted and not particularly salutary effects on humans. But what environment is there in space? In all serious, what’s wrong with nuclear strip mining on the Moon? Or Mercury? These are sterile dead worlds. This sounds simply anti-human, not pro-anything except inanimate matter.

10 July 2003

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Burning assets

This story claiming that President Bush was wrong about the attempt by the Ba’ath to purchase uranium in Africa made the rounds of the blogosphere. It has since been retracted [source].

What I found interesting about this is that the author of the original article was taken in by someone who’d been setting him up for 20 years. And during this time the author had been given a lot of significant and accurate information. That’s a whole lot of effort. The primary reason to do that is to put in place an asset that can deliver a devastating blow at a critical time. And apparently that time is now, on this story. The author has now purged all of the stories and information he can find from this now discredited source. The asset is burned and will never be able to plant stories again. Note that the source disappeared as soon as the story was planted, not when it unraveled. Clearly the source knew that story was false and that the falsehood would be quickly discovered.

Why burn that kind of bridge over this, over a story that was expected to become discredited quickly? It just strikes me a a bit bizarre. Did the source decide to do this on his own, to destroy his access for the chance to make a political hit on Bush? Was it crazed anger or desperation? The scenario as a whole doesn’t fit together.

Posted by aog at 19:31 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Ann Coulter and McCarthy

Andrew Sullivan and Dorothy Rabinowitz are both slamming Ann Coulter’s new book. The basic criticism is that Coulter treats McCarthy as a hero. Now, it’s certainly the case that some of McCarthy’s targets were Communists (which in my view is worse than being a National Socialist) and that there was in fact Communist infiltration of the US government and various large organizations. However, one can argue that McCarthy did more to aid that infiltration than any other single person through his tactics and self-aggrandization. I don’t think McCarthy was a real anti-Communist, but just an opportunistic leech who turned a valid security concern into a watchword for hysterical paranoia. The real anti-Communists were largely discredited through guilt by association for decades afterwards. If one can say that the “anti-war” protestors were objectively aiding the Ba’ath through their actions, the exact same logic applies to Joe McCarthy and the Communists. He massively damaged the immune system of the country, damage from which it is still in many ways recovering. I normally like Coulter but I think she’s fallen in to the “overpowering trap”. If one is successively more over the top, eventually you drift in to the ozone.

Posted by aog at 18:51 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Maureen Dowd, misogynist

Certainly it’s no big thing to admit that one doesn’t understand the point of a Maureen Dowd column but the Brothers Judd seems to have missed a key point in Dowd’s latest tired rehash of reproduction in the insect world and its (inapparent to me) relevance to human relationships:
The darlings [men in general?] have been fretting for some years now that they may be rendered unnecessary if women get financial and biological independence, learning how to reproduce and refinance without them

The money quote is “[M]y jittery male friends are not paranoid […]”. If Dowd thinks that then she’s gone fringe even for her. Even supposing some advance that permits human parthenogenisis, that would mean little for males currently alive. Unless, of course, once women no longer needed men the latter would be oppressed, stripped of rights or outright killed. And if Dowd’s friends aren’t paranoid (i.e., their fears are valid), then what is Dowd saying about the nature of women? The only logical conclusion is that Dowd believes women, if given the opportunity, would act in a way that justifies these fears (which are graphically described in the article). I had thought that women were supposed to be more nuturing, caring and generally nicer. But apparently Dowd thinks that they’d institute a reign of terror against an entire gender the instant it’s possible. What a typically misogynist thing for a bastion of male power like the New York Times to say!

09 July 2003

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Liberty in Iran

Today is the big day for anti-mullahocracy efforts in Iran. Winds of Change has a good set of posts on the subject and Pejman Yousefzadeh has been covering the story for a long time. It is time for Iran to claim a place among the adult nations by creating a self ordered society of liberty and law and I support the people of Iran in their efforts to do this.

08 July 2003

Posted by aog at 21:25 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Don't quit your day job

While cruising the web looking for a food contamination regulation link, I happened on this aptly titled bit of idiocy. The author is clearly trying to mock food producers and capitalists but makes a poor satirist because of his complete lack of understanding. To truly mock something you must understand it deeply.

The conceit is that the author should manufacturer “food contaminators”:
[…] Any food maker whose contamination levels are under those of its competitors is at a clear economic disadvantage. After all, if the legal amount of freely produced mouse poo is not in the peanut butter you’re selling, the missing portion must be - valuable peanut butter. Meanwhile, your competitors are padding their product with the legal mouse poo maximum.

My idea is to introduce a manufacturing process which would measure the food’s contamination level, then add as many rat hairs, weevils, or what have you, as are needed. […]

I singled this out because it struck me as archetypical. There is no consideration of how one would do the detection or what the costs involved would be. The author is sadly mistaken in the first place in the idea that the contents of most food products constitutes most of the value. You’d think that Sam Walton’s success would have announced the benefits of logistics over material but that would require believing that Walton produced value for society rather than being a rampaging Force of Evil™.

But the deeper mistake that this ignorance of real costs (such as building and maintaing the monitoring equipment that detects the level of contamination — heck, if you could build that cheaply you’d make plenty of money just selling that) leads is “magical thinking” whereby the only reason that the Evil Capitalists™ don’t do things like prevent all food contamination is because they just don’t care, not because it might be hard or too expensive for the consumers (since ultimately all business costs are borne by those who buy the products). I mean, he was able to design this clever system so why can’t the Evil Capitalists™ design one that does the opposite?

Posted by aog at 21:13 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Extra-solar colonies and food contamination

I was reading a book recently, Chasm City. One of the plot points was that on particular planet the native animal life had a sufficiently different set of proteins that ingestion in either direction resulted in rapid and painful death. I’m not enough of a biologist to know if that’s possible but it seems plausible due to allergic reactions.

The problem, though, is that there was a viable human colony on the planet which was relatively low tech (not much beyond present day Earth for various reasons). This colony lived “outdoors”, i.e. not in hermetically sealed habitats. So the problem arises, how would you keep those native proteins out of the food supply? You would probably be quite surprised at how much food contamination is allowed. It’s permitted because it’s considered impossible to completely eliminate. This includes both animal and plant contaminants. It would seem likely to be even more difficult on a struggling colony world. It’s difficult to see how waves of food poisonings wouldn’t be the norm.

Just a minor nit but these things really bug me. Otherwise (i.e., for normal people), it was a good book.

Posted by aog at 20:06 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Are we omniscient yet?

There is an article on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal about the medical plight of a child and her parents. The child was diagnosed at 8 months with a very rare genetic disorder which is usually fatal by the age of 10. The parents then started researching to see what they could do. The article portrayed as a shock and surprise that there wasn’t an established medical procedure for this disease, despite the fact that it is extremely. The article made quite a lot of the fact that there were contradictory recommendations, either of which was a likely to kill the child immediately as cure. While it is certainly heart rending to hear of this, can it really be that shocking that modern medical science is not all knowing? The whole thing struck me as a cautionary tale that your child might well be struck by a poorly understood disease. What one could do to prepare for or ameloriate that isn’t clear. So I’ll be a bad person and just go on blithely not worrying about unknown diseases for which there is no known prevention or cure.

06 July 2003

Posted by aog at 21:53 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The modern one drop rule

A number of leaders of American advocacy groups concerned with Africa signed a letter [source] condemning Robert Mugabe for his misrule, oppression and tyranny in Zimbabwe. Of course, these people were immediately castigated by the racialist black Left in America:
But the decision to condemn Mr. Mugabe publicly - which was hailed as long overdue in some quarters - has also touched off an outcry among some black intellectuals, activists and Africa watchers. […]

“Whatever black Africans in Zimbabwe decide to do,” said a caller who identified herself as Missy from Queens, “I think black Africans here, we should join them.”

Note the fundamentalist tribalism in the final quote. The obvious element is that if black Africans do something, then people with similar genetics in the US should support them solely because of such DNA matching. But there’s a deeper part, that black Africans in Zimbabwe “decide to do” something. Last I checked, there was a spot of disagreement among black Zimbabweans. But the tribal view can’t accept that – there’s the tribe and the tribe decides what to do.

On the other hand, it is the case that the groups opposing Mugabe’s butchery do have some members who are not black. I suppose that discredits those groups and makes them not part of the tribe. It must be a variant of the “one drop” rule – one white member and the group is discredited. How will guilty white liberals cope with that?

Posted by aog at 20:23 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Be careful what you pretend to be …

M Ali Choudhury writes of the free spending ways of the Bush Administration. He points out that it's not just in political hot button issues (like Medicare) but across the board, even in such epitomies of waste as Energy (up 19% in 3 years) and Community and Regional Development (up 37%). Orrin Judd responds with another post that quotes ALbert Jay Nock:
[I]t is probably enough to observe here that in the nature of things the exercise of personal government, the control of a huge and growing bureaucracy, and the management of an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power, are as agreeable to one stripe of politician as they are to another. Presumably they interest a Republican or a Progressive as much as they do a Democrat, Communist, Farmer-Labourite, Socialist, or whatever a politician may, for electioneering purposes, see fit to call himself.
Unfortunately, this is quite true. Once it's politically acceptable to openly bribe voters with other people's money than there's a lot of incentive to do so.

However, I would argue that in the long term this is self defeating for Conservatism. It plays to the strength of the Left, on their natural territory and so is doomed to failure.

We've seen over the last couple of decades that the Left's reliance on the language of human dignity and freedom has turned from an propaganda asset to a trap as the true nature of the socialist ideology has become searingly clear in the fires of National Socialism and Communism. The Left still makes claims to freedom but must increasingly rely verbal tricks and outright falsehoods. This is because socialism is fundamentally incompatible with human freedom and dignity and so those who truly champion those will eventually triumph over those for whom such concepts are simple propaganda terms. Bill Clinton used this to get in to office but while it worked out very well for him, he left a Democratic party in crisis precisely because of this contradiction.

In the same way, any attempt by Conservatives to achieve political success by promoting government spending and Big Government can achieve only transitory games. These are the natural techniques and habitat of the Left and if the battle is on those terms the Left will eventually win. Will the free spending George Bush be the Bill Clinton of the Republicans, achieving political victory for himself but leaving a toxic legacy for his party?

05 July 2003

Posted by aog at 15:33 | Comments (7) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Why worry? They'll never catch up.

I recently got a new corporate laptop running Windows 2000 and it had even more cruft in the menu system than normal. Now I find out that it's not even the fault of the Dark Empire. According to the Guardian the presence of the "Set Program Access and Defaults" someone else's fault:
In response to concerns raised by its rivals, Microsoft has changed the way PC makers and computer users can access a tool - known as set program access and default or SPA&D
Great. I spend way too much time removing cruft and here's even more.

I also noted this bit:

This [licensing change] was seen at the time as playing a key role in loosening Microsoft's grip on the computer market. It was designed to ensure that rival's software would work on computer systems running Microsoft's operating system.
Why is loosening the Dark Empire's market power an instrinsic good? Is that a priori pure evil, no further explanation required? Should there be more concern about actual harm? Oh wait, that would discredit pretty much the entire Leftist mindscape. Forget that!

What really sets me off is that I'm in the middle of porting some Win32 based code to a UNIX™ variant. I last used that variant over 12 years ago. When I started using it again, nothing had changed! It was as if the entire Internet boom and the rapid advance of programming tools had simply not happened. Back in those days, UNIX™ based programming support was generally better than anything on Windows. Windows was better in a few places but overall UNIX™ was clearly superior. Not any more. I am painfully shocked at how primitive it all seems now. One notes that this is exactly what the Dark Empire has done in so many areas, built up incremental improvements over the years while competitors sit tight.

P.S. I'm sure someone will say "you're an idiot, what about package X?". Fire away! I'd be happy to hear about anything that compares to Visual Studio. I work for a large technology firm that does most of its development on that particular UNIX™ variant and no one here seems to know of anything like that.

03 July 2003

Posted by aog at 22:19 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The American Way

The RAND Corporation is raising concerns about using nuclear weapons to attack satellites [source]. This wouldn't be a direct military threat but more in the way of a blackmail weapon, like the North Korean army.

It seems to me that there are other forms of anti-satellite attack that would be roughly as effective and not have the stigma of using a nuclear weapon. While attempting to achieve space supremacy and prevent the advent of nuclear weapons in other countries is a laudable goal, by itself it's unlikely to be successful. The technology for anti-satellite attacks will continue to be come cheaper and easier which will makes the costs of having enough supremacy to prevent such attacks rise every more steeply.

While we shouldn't just give up on prevention, one doesn't have to go very far along that road before the ability to recover from such an attack is a more profitable endeavor. The very basis of a broad anti-satellite attack as described in the original article is the presumed difficulty of replacing the satellites. The nuclear attack mentioned would take weeks or even months to kill most of its targets. If we could simply replace the satellites while punishing the perpetrator that would greatly the reduce the incentive to conduct such an attack. And all we really need to for that is cheap launch capability.

The primary impediment today to cheap launch services is NASA, which is effectively a government monopoly on space flight, not a research organization. It's a socialist organization, which like all such simply doesn't deliver effective results. NASA needs to be prohibited from launching anything and required to purchase all of its launch needs on the open market. This is the model that will deliver the best and cheapest launch services, which in turn will improve our national security. Our military is powerful not only because of the sums we spend on it but also because it can draw from a vibrant and technologically sophisticated economy. It's time to put space flight in to that economy and out of the Soviet model run by NASA.

Posted by aog at 17:56 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Ageism in Europe

Peter Briffa comments on the furor over Prime Minister Berlusoni's remarks comparing a German MEP to a death camp commandant. As many others have noted, this is considered a scandal while comparing President Bush to Hitler is something only Americans get upset about.

But those are the obvious points. Briffa cites another article on the events of the week that reads in part

No sooner have we digested the Government's welcome announcement of gay civil partnerships than we find Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, declaring war on ageism.
Ageism. Would that involve saying that people who are 55 no longer have to work, as opposed to those who are younger? That seems quite discriminatory to me. Why should the government forbid private concerns from discriminating based on age when Europe is facing a financial catastrophe from government discrimination based on age? It seems to me that European governments could strike a blow for financial reform and against ageism at the same time by dumping their pension plans. Surely the EUlite will see the beauty of this plan.

02 July 2003

Posted by aog at 10:18 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

UN-charitable thoughts

The UN is feeling hurt by anti-UN feelings in the US. The Atlantic Monthly has an interesting article on it that I just have to play with.

Secretary General Kofi Annan recently told a group of scholars that U.S. President George W. Bush wanted to end the searing attacks by administration officials that have deeply wounded the United Nations since the Iraq war began. That was a surprise. But the question that lingers at a demoralized United Nations is whether, without some public show of support for Annan from the White House, the organization can ever recover from this low point in U.S.-U.N. relations. Too much damage may have already been done and another anti-U.N. campaign is out of control across the United States.
Listen to the dog that didn't bark - any connection between this and what the UN actually does. The entire article treats this rift as purely a public relations issue, disconnected from the real world. Here, why should there be a show of public support for Annan from the US? The only rational offered is to help the UN. Given that that the basic problem is that the US citizenry doesn't like the UN, that hardly seems a strong motivation.
Ironically, it may be Iraq, the focus of the problem with Washington, that will ultimately temper the ugly mood, since the United Nations, with experienced officials back on the ground, may soon be bailing a beleaguered U.S. occupation out of at least some of its morass. […]
UN officials helping out the US? After the massive failures of the UN in the Middle East? Perhaps the UN could do for the Ba'ath what they've done for the Palestinians.

The article describes how hurt UN staff members are by anger from the US. A number of them apparently feel

that the Americans seem to hate the United Nations for not supporting the war, while a lot of the rest of the world hates the organization for not preventing it.
Note the subtle shift here, from "support" to "prevent". Normally, the antonym of "support" would be "oppose". This trick of language cleverly elides over the fact that the UN opposed the US in an ineffectual manner.

But even in the throes of despair, there's no way to avoid bashing President Bush.

supporters such as William Luers, president of the U.N. Association of the United States of America, say they are stunned by the level of ill-informed contempt for the organization and even for the secretary general displayed by otherwise fair-minded Americans who took their cue on this issue from the Bush administration.
Oh yes, there's no reason to despise a child sex slave procuring organization like the UN. The article then cites polls showing that respect for the UN in the US has dropped like a rock after the Iraq war. After some more whining about Richard Perle's comments, we have this classic:
The United Nations, largely founded by Americans or under American encouragement in 1945, has since taken a lot of hits from the United States. Gamely, it has often tried to find ways to counter bad publicity.
Yes, that's right, it's purely a PR problem. It's certainly the case that the UN has been willing to go to great lengths to counter bad publicity as long as that didn't involve any changes in behaviour [except for UNESCO, which while still a problem, has made real, significant improvements].

But the article ends on an unexpected note.

there is in this mix more than a little European visceral dislike for a Republican like Bush. […] Coupled with official French disdain for cultures outside Europe, recently displayed again at the European Union summit in Greece, [Edward B. Burling professor of international law and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins, Ruth] Wedgwood said, French willingness to cripple the Security Council bodes ill for the future of the U.N. vision for the world.
You mean it's not all Bush's fault? Now that will be news to a lot of people.
Posted by aog at 09:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Blowback

Microsft is now using its lobbying muscle for "rent seeking" - using regulations to benefit itself at the expense of others. This isn't surprising to those who pay attention to anti-trust. Microsoft didn't have any real presence in Washington, D.C. before the anti-trust action. The company acquired its phalanx of lobbyists in direct response to that. That fight is now largely over but the toxic waste from the battle is still around, causing further trouble. A big part of the strength of Microsoft is that it learns and the anti-trust action promoted by publicity hungry bureaocrats and short sighted competitors certainly taught Microsoft a lesson.

01 July 2003

Posted by aog at 10:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Progress to Peace in the Middle East

There's been another strike against the peace process Israel. The horror inflicted this time is that Jews can visit the Temple Mount!

The Israelis have demolished the foundations of an unbuilt and illegal mosque in Nazareth. Local Christians and even Pope Paul II had objected to the mosque because it was being built right next to the Basilica of the Annunciation. But just as upsetting is allowing Jews to visit the Temple Mount:

They're [the mosque builders] also upset about letting Jewish and Christian groups to once again visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, charging that President Bush's administration and Sharon had conspired together for a "war on Islam."

"The new crusade of the Bush-Sharon axis of evil in the world is against Islam. It's no wonder that on the same day, they demolish the foundations of the mosque in Nazareth, and announce visits on the Noble Sanctuary [the Temple Mount]," [Israeli Arab Knesset Member Abdel Malik] Dahamshe was quoted as saying.

Imagine the psychic damage done by knowing that non-Muslims might worship at their holy sites in the same place as Muslims. Surely some rioting, mayhem and murder of little children can only be expected from the religion of peace after that kind of provocation.
Posted by aog at 09:26 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Monopolies and profit

There are frequent complaints about monopolies and how they "extort" money from consumers. This is a misuse of that word, however. Absent government coercion to purchase the product (ala the BBC and the television tax) it is simply not possible for a monopoly to be a bad deal for consumers. If it were, then people wouldn't buy. Monopolies always have the competitor of "nothing", so unless one assumes that people are fundamentally stupid or incapable of understanding what a product is worth, then at worst a monopoly is a neutral value. But in general even a monopoly must provide some value to its customers.

The problem of monopoly then it not one is bad in an absolute sense (because everyone is better off for the existence of it), but that monopolies are generally sub-optimal, i.e. the total utility could be higher. This means that it's quite possible for government intervention against monopolies may well make everyone worse off and destroy what value the monopoly was delivering.

The point is that it is far from a tautology that breaking a monopoly is a good idea, as is often presumed in discussions on this topic. The freer the market the less likely that government intervention will yield a net improvement. We'd all be better off if the government concentrated on removing monopolies created by the government and not market forces. Like, for instance, primary education.

Posted by aog at 09:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Climatology

I was looking at at gardening book the other day and it had the standard "hardiness chart". This is primarily a chart of the average minimum temperature. While most other factors can be compensated for with outside plants, it's hard to avoid the effects of cold. Looking at the chart gives a rough idea of what plant species will survive the winter for a region.

I've seen this chart many a time but what I hadn't seen was the same chart for Europe. What was amazing to me was that the UK, except for a little bit of the Scottish Highlands, has the hardiness rating of southern Georgia. The west coast of Norway is the same zone. You have to go all the way to Finland to get regions that are as cold as the coldest of the continental US. Germany is roughly similar to Kentucky.

Of course, all of this climate moderation is thanks to the US. It's the Gulf Stream, carefully warmed off the east coast of the US, that keeps Western and Northern Europe so warm. Yet what thanks do we hear for that? Ingrates!