31 August 2003

Posted by aog at 10:40 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Inappropriate law

Orrin Judd posts about a recent decision by the Department of Justice concerning a law that forbids blocking access to abortion clinics. The law was overturned by a federal judge in Houston on the grounds that is is un-Constitutional, exceeding the bounds of the Commerce Clause. I will pass over the issue of Attorney General Ashcroft’s political and personal views, as those are well covered elsewhere.

The judge is probably correct. While the law can be viewed as a defense of property rights, that’s not the function of the federal government, but of the State and local goverments. One might argue that its valid under the Fifth Admendment (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” where public protests are considered public use) but that’s somewhat weak. [That’s an interesting can of worms - what private property rights can Congress legislate? Interstate ones, clearly, but intrastate? Hmmm] I think the basic thrust of the law is correct, that private third parties should not be permitted to interfere with the legal use of other people’s property. But that doesn’t make it a legimate exersise of federal power.

But what I find really bizarre is the particular aspect that Mr. Judd objects to:
The decision freed a man who had rammed a van through the front door of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston in a protest over abortion.
Since when is the only law against deliberately driving a van through someone else’s door the “Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act”? If someone gets upset at my weblog and drives a van through my door, am I without recourse because that law doesn’t apply to my house?

This one of the defects of having these kind of highly specialized, “political” laws. There have been other cases that puzzled me in a similar way involving workplace “sexual harrasment”, where the offenses were things like trapping a female co-worker in bathroom and feeling her up. That’s not “workplace harassment”, that’s sexual assault. The fact that the guy was a co-worker seems completely irrelevant to me. Or hate crime laws, such as in the case of Matthew Shepard. This is used as an example of the need for hate crime laws, but given that the death penalty was handed down without them, what’s the point? What was done was handled just fine by existing, standard law. In the same vein, charging the van driver under the clinic access law rather than vandalism, trespassing and reckless endangerment seems pointless. The former kind of law seems to pre-empt the latter, more “boring” kind of law. It’s a kind of attractive legal nuisance.

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

Our enemy, the State Department

[source]
Compounding the impact of the US’ military overstretch on security has been the State Department’s crippling bureaucratic mindset. Rather than recognising the exceptional nature of the Iraqi situation, officials have insisted at every point in applying the full rigour of US health and safety requirements, licensing procedures and other sundry impediments to progress. Take the mobile phone network. The sensible solution would have been to pick the most able and cost-effective operator and let them get on with it. But instead, the decision was taken to go through a full competitive tendering process, which takes an inordinate amount of time. One day, however, people suddenly found their mobiles working; a network had decided, to immense acclaim, to ignore the process and, indeed, get on with it. They were swiftly shut down, encapsulating just why things have been moving so slowly in Iraq: beauraucracy ahead of common sense.
While I don’t think that most State Department employees are actively attempting to sabotage the Iraqi reconstruction, I doubt that many of them (if any) have the slighest interest in its success. One of the commentors on the thread makes a good point that there’s a tradeoff between corruption and effeciency when the State is involved (for libertarians, that’s generally one of the arguments used to justify having as few things as possible done by the State). However, desparate times call for desparate measures and in this case it’s clear that that State Department simply doesn’t see anything particularly important or different about the situation in Iraq vs. normal operations.

Ultimately President Bush has to take responsibility for this. He’s the chief executive. He’s not going to succeed if he doesn’t do some serious re-prioritizing at the State Department, a nest of bureaucracy fundamentally opposed to his policies and the best interests of this nation.

30 August 2003

Posted by aog at 11:59 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Punishing misuse

Bill Janklow, D-SD, had been charged with second degree manslaughter [source]. Despite the sadness in the events, there is one positive sign. There was some consideration of charging Janklow with vehicular homicide, which is a stronger charge but this was reduced when there was no evidence of drug or alcohol use. I’ve always thought it pecular that being drunk or stoned was considered a mitigating factor. Particularly as an advocate of ending drug prohibition I think that use of psychoactive substances should increase the penalties for an illegal act, as it would have done in this case. When drug use actively harms others, it must be punished, not rewarded with reduced charges or sentences.

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

Secure software and Microsoft

I’ve seen a lot of commentary on the recent virus attacks that targeted Microsoft software, some of it truly bizarre. One commentor accused Microsoft of deliberating putting in the security flaws. I open chuckled at the thought - that person has clearly never been involved in actual software development. As if one could achieve that level of control of the process! It reminds me of the supervillians in comic books. I enjoyed those when I was young but eventually I started wondering - if Orrinator, super-villian, can build a giant laser capable of destryoing entire mountains, why doesn’t he just contract out to the mining / construction industry? Or heck, considering what it must take to power the thing, he should start a eletrical power generating company. Why is Magneto wasting his time with those idiots he calls his acolytes instead of ruling the large building construction industry? In the same way, if Bill Gates had kind of fine grained control that would allow the implementation of the paranoid fantasy described above, there wouldn’t be any competing software firms.

No, the real life of large scale software development is a frequently losing race against entropy and stupidity. The mutability of software is what we in the trade call a “sharp knife”. This has two key meanings. One is that it is something that, properly, used can do marvelous, wonderful things but will take your finger off in a heartbeat. The other is that these two properties are inextricably linked. Making the knife dull will protect your finger but then it’s not very useful, is it?

Unlike building a building, where one can construct the first floor and the work on the second, confident in the first floor, in a large software project any component can rot out from underneath you. Imagine building a 50 story building where any of the structural supports might turn to sand one day because someone decided to fix the elevator.

That said, there is much more that could be done but the problem is that, up till at least now, the market has rewarded fancy new features far more than structural soundness. Companies that did the “right” thing went bankrupt. Companies that slammed out new versions with new features without worrying too much about code quality prospered. Perhaps we’re starting to see a maturation of the industry where the broad consumers (businesses and individuals) will make buying decisions based on quality and not just feature count. But until that happens, don’t expect better software.

29 August 2003

Posted by aog at 19:10 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

But their thoughts were pure!

Commie Watch has a post about the release on parole of Kathy Boudin,who was involved in a armored car heist that killed a guard and two police officers. The key quote is
the transcript of Boudin’s parole hearing strongly suggests that they believed her sob story, and agreed that Boudin’s white guilt and desire to help black people absolved her of her crimes.
This is another example of the disturbing tendency of the Left to read moral purity in to politically correct thoughts. This is the corollary the same view that makes conservatives evil for thinking wrong thoughts. There’s a correlation with post-modernism in that if reality is subjective then it really is the thought that counts and therefore you are what you think, regardless of the “effects” in the “real world” that result from your thoughts. This comes up for me in relationship to a post about a book that tries to humanize paedophiles. The money quote is
In the 108-page book, which has sold 150,000 copies, Mr Riegel describes paedophiles as “sincere, concerned, loving human beings” who have probably been born with “a sexual orientation neither understood nor accepted by most others”.
My reaction to this, as I commented on there, was puzzlement that this really had anything to do with whether it was wrong to be a paedophile. But it’s the same thinking - if the key elements of thought are inside, then everything is really ok. It’s a package deal with the standard reaction is against paedophilia but if the basic “good thoughts mean a good person” meme is slipped in then you’re fighting a losing battle.
Posted by aog at 15:53 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Friends of the Bali Bomber

I was reading a discussion about the Bali Bomber thanking the anti-war activists for their support. While most of the crowd were anti-American idiotarians, there were a few who weren’t. Reading through some of their comments I was struck by howmuch they make of President Bush’s weak efforts at justifying the invasion of Iraq. I think he hit very few of the good reasons for going in, although I understand that there was a decision made for management reasons to concentrate on the WMD issue. It is, of course, interesting that despite that few disputed the idea of Iraqi WMDs, including many of the foreign nations that opposed the invasion, it’s still considered a Bush only point of view now. But beyond that, we have quotes like “There were a lot of good arguments to be made in favor of the war; many of them are getting made retrospectively (my favorite is the “flypaper theory”). I suppose they just weren’t paying attention - I haven’t heard any argument made in favor of the war post facto that wasn’t made ante facto. I frankly didn’t pay much attention to Bush’s rhetoric on the subject - all politicians spin and it’s always better to do your own legwork, especially on issues this important. This seems to be an artifact of the anti-war side’s focus on Bush instead of on the actual foreign policy situation.

28 August 2003

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

The real problem with the Patriot Act

The Wall Street Journal had an editorial this week about some IRS shenanigens involving the last ordinary California gubernatorial election. It seems that the IRS was having a dispute with the KPMG accounting firm over some tax shelter scheme and in order to put pressure on them released the names of some people who had called KPMG for information (note, not people who had participated in the tax shelter but had only asked about them). Of course, the release of that information is illegal. One of the people whose name showed up was Bill Simon. This was during the campaign and it had a real impact on the election. It was investigate by the Department of Justice under John Ashcroft and the result - nothing. According to the WSJ this wasn’t even consider to rise to the level of poor judgement. So there will be no punishment, not discentive from doing this kind of thing again. And that’s for an act that hurt a political ally of President Bush.

The WSJ editorial makes exactly the point I would - what does this say about how well any abuses of the Patriot Act will be reigned in? If Ashcroft and Bush wants us to believe that the DoJ can be trusted with these kind of additional powers, they need to take seriously their responsibility to be trustworthy with the powers they already have.

My opposition to the Patriot Act has not been that it’s instrinsically flawed, but that such things can’t be trusted to a federal government that is this cavalier about egregious violations of law by its own, the consequent violations of the rights of innocents (such as Simon) and one that chose to not use powers it already has. Proponents frequently argue about how we shouldn’t worry about abusing the guilty, but that’s never worried me - it’s the trashing of the not-guilty that is a concern. It’s also the use of powers granted for fighting terror on side shows like pornography and internet head shops. A DoJ with the spare time to do that kind of thing is one that doesn’t need additional powers to do better against terrorism.

27 August 2003

Posted by aog at 21:45 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Arthur Miller joins run for Idiotarian on the Year

Via Pejman and Give War a Chance we have some commentary by playwright Arthur Miller. In it he compares his play The Crucible to Senator McCarthy.
Miller himself commented […]

“They would say to me, ‘this is all fraudulent - there never were any witches, but there are Communists’,” he said.

“I could only say that in 1692, if you had stood on the main street of Salem, Massachusetts, and said ‘there are no witches’, I wouldn’t want to be your insurance man.”

I know that cultural / literary figures today are expected to be almost completely disconnected from reality, but this is delusional even for the glitterati. If someone had said “there are no witches” back in 1692 (and I suspect that some did) it would have been true but politically incorrect. The analogy for McCarthy would have been for someone to announce in 1950 that there were no Communists and had it have been true and politically incorrect. Miller seems to think that the only thing stopping people from admitting that Communists didn’t exist was fear of the political consquences, not the billions of people oppressed by Communists. Just who Miller thinks was running the USSR, Eastern Europe and China at the time isn’t clear. I’ve heard plenty of apologists for Communism but never before one who denied the very existence of it. And even if Miller was talking about Communist espionage in the US, he’d still be delusional because we know now that it did in fact occur. It’s not mentioned in the article in anycase, only “sympathies” for the USSR. The record speaks for itself - paraphrasing Give War A Chance,
Deaths from witchcraft since 1692: 0
Deaths from Communism since 1900: 100,000,000 and counting

P.S. It should be noted that the play premiered before the McCarthy trials started. From this the BBC claims that “the subtext [of the play] was a comment on the McCarthy anti-Communism trials of the 1950s”. But causality has never been a strong point with the BBC.

Posted by aog at 19:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Science and thought experiments

There is a question of how much science one can do without observation. For instance, what place do experiments that cannot actually be performed have in science? This includes not only experiments that we can’t do today but ones that could never be done. I read of a interesting one recently in Science News magazine.

The experiment was, suppose you had a submarine moving at relativistic velocity near a sea bed. Of course, if you tried this not only wouldn’t you have a planet large enough but the submarine would be instantly shredded by the water. But ignoring those minor issues, the question is would the sub rise or sink? According to relativity theory, although events may happen in different orders for different observers, they all see the same set of events. From the point of view of the submarine, the water is moving and so it should become denser and therefore the submarine should rise. For fish in the ocean, the submarine is moving and therefore denser so the submarine should sink.

What we see here is that such non-physical experiments can be part of science because they can be used to falsify theories. If relativity is valid, then it must have a single, consistent answer to what happens in this experiment. Most people think of testing science as having it agree with the real world, but even before that a theory must agree with itself. Thought experiments such as this can test the latter even if they can’t test the former. That means you can’t prove a theory with a thought experiment, but then again you can’t do prove a theory with a physical experiment either, you can only disprove.

P.S. The answer is, the submarine sinks. Because E=mc~2~ the gravitational field gets “denser” as well, creating a net negative force on the submarine (or alternatively, the spatial curvature created by the mass of the water and the seabed shrinks in the direction of motion like everything else, thereby increasing the curvature which is the same as making the gravity stronger). You can read this brief article for more information or the actual paper if you want all the details.

Posted by aog at 15:44 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Litmus tests structure

Nick Schulz asks whether there are any GOP Litmus Tests. His view is that the Democratic Party is crippled to a large extent because of the numerous factions with various not necessarily compatible litmus tests.

In order to address this question, I have to point out that there isn’t really such a thing as a litmus test. For every such tests, it is not the case that an entire faction switches on and off in complete unity based on the position for that issue. In addition, there is positional shading for every issue, including abortion. So what happens in the real world is that there is an S-curve of “won’t vote percent” vs. “issue position”. This has a long, almost flat tail in front where the truly hard core will not accept any deviation and another tail where the power seekers will accept almost anything. In between is a steeply rising portion where the mainstream switches over (we simplify by assuming that the shape is independent of other positions, which of course is not realistic).

This shape is reasonably accurate in general. A “litmus” test is one where the the main slope is very steep so that small changes in position near the main slope yields large changes in the voting percentages and where the maximum “won’t vote” is large. So the answer to Schulz’s question is that in general the Democratic Party factions tend to have much steeper slopes with larger maximums so the cost of “stepping over the line” is much higher. With shallower slopes it’s easier to fudge on particular issues.

Additionally, if one looks at the issues that motivate the Left and Right the issues are “broader” on the right (which translates to more locations on the “position” axis). Abortion is a rather narrow issue - there are not that many positions. But “spending” and “taxes” are very broad - there is a massive spectrum of possible positions. This effect contributes to making Leftist issues have steeper slopes.

The bottom line is that in general for issues that matter to potential supporters of President Bush, the drop off in voters is much weaker as he moves to the “wrong” side. For Democratic Party candidates, there are a number of very steep drop offs that make political manuevering much more difficult.

Posted by aog at 10:39 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Restoring the power grid

There’s been a lot of talk about dealing with infrastructure issues in the power grid, where the problem (like for California) was much more of a transmission problem than a generation problem. One of the standard suggestions is that private investors be provided with a guaranteed rate of return for building a transmission line. While a purely private market would be preferable, that’s unlikely in the next decade or two. Instead we need to start with using private investment and build from there.

The problem with a guaranteed return is that it encourages cost overruns. If the promised ROI is larger than is generally available for funds (which must be the case or there won’t be investors) then it makes sense for the builder to spend as much as possible. That’s not an optimal solution. What would seem to make more sense is to guarantee the return based on the original cost estimate. If the builder brings it in lower, then he wins. If, as is far more commonly the case, there are cost overruns, then the private investors eat the cost through lower effective returns (e.g. if the project costs double the original estimate then the effective rate of return is half that originally promised).

The downside of this plan is twofold:

  • Investors would strongly encouraged to make accurate estimates of the real cost of the project. This would spell the end of the standard strategem of low balling a project cost, getting it started and then allowing “cost overruns” to adjust the total cost to something more realistic. Because doing this would be money out of the pocket of the private investors one would expect a lot less of it. But then voters would start to see what things really cost in time to punish politicians for promising to spend the money. Some may consider to be a feature, not a bug.
  • Cost conscious builders would be punished by the anti-business forces. A builder that brought the project in under the original cost element would be called a “profiteer” or “looter” who was stealing the taxpayer’s money. This is an inextricable property of fixed price contracts, which I favor (because it off loads risk from taxpayers to private investors).

Overall, though, I think that this would be a definite improvement.

26 August 2003

Posted by aog at 16:59 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Time is money

The previous post reminds me of what I consider the stupidest concept in all of Robert Heinlein’s work (which is quite a strong statement). In Glory Road the female accoutrement of the main character expresses amazement that humans on Earth have prostitution. “Why”, she wonders, “would a woman charge for what she has in infinite supply?”. Even when I was young and read that I thought - “Jeebus, Heinlein, you have writing in infinite supply, why should I pay to read it?”.

Of course, the fundamentally fallacy is that no one has anything in infinite supply because we all have a finite life span. So any time spent doing one thing is time spent not doing anything else. That puts value on it. The RAH view here is a mirror image of the traditional view. Instead of sex being precious and special, it doesn’t even rate as high as flipping burgers, being singularly unworthy of remuneration. Given that the consequences of sex are potentially much larger than burger flipping, the traditional view made more sense to me, even as a libertarian.

Sorry, that’s been bottled up for a long time and is part of why I eventually just couldn’t read any more Heinlein. The Number of the Beast was the last straw. It was just such dreck that it cured me of ever picking up a Heinlein book again.

Posted by aog at 16:57 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The taint of money

Junkyard Blog and Blogospherics have some posts concerning a semi-recent article on teen prostitution. I’m not going to address the under age aspects of this, as the posts cited above do a fine job.

What intrigues me is the portrait of “Stacy”, who is a 17 year old prostitute doing tricks at the mall:
“Potentially good sex is a small price to pay for the freedom to spend money on what I want,” says 17-year-old Stacey [not her real name], who liked to hang out after school at the Mall of America, Minnesota’s vast shopping megaplex
I think it’s clear that this kind of attitude is part and parcel of the sexual revolution. At least in my state, 17 is the age of consent so legally Stacy could have sex with anyone she chooses. In terms of the cultural zeitgeist there would seem to be little to prohibit it on moral grounds — is it not just assumed that most 17 year girls are sexually active? On what basis, then, in the modern liberal view of the world, can Stacy be faulted for charging for it? If sex is natural and guilt free, why shouldn’t some one be able to do it for pay? I enjoy programming yet I charge money for it. Why is this different? As far as I can tell, there wouldn’t be a problem if she were not receiving cash remuneration. It seems odd how the taint of money makes this big news while without cash it wouldn’t even rate a back page mention.

Now, for those who object to fornication as well, then they can consistently object to prostitution as well. But to say that any sex is ok except when money changes hand strikes me as a very bizarre point of view.

Posted by aog at 16:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Crisis leadership

A post a while back on the Brothers Judd was about complaints concerning President Bush not being in the thick of things during some crisis. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, this bizarre notion that a leader should be personally involved in managing some crisis or natural disaster after it has occurred. If coping with a disaster requires such direct involvement then there’s something seriously wrong with the leader.

A true leader prepares for disaster before it strikes, he doesn’t run around, getting in people’s way afterwards. The leader should put in place the proper people and mechanisms to cope in times of crisis and then when it hits, he should get out of the way and let the professionals do what needs to be done. A leader who has to be “in the action” is has either failed to make adequate preparation or is just an overly egotistical loose cannon.

This doesn’t mean that speeches and photo-ops don’t have a place in boosting moral, but there’s a very small amount of this before it starts doing more harm than good. One of the things I actually like about President Bush is his ability to fade in to the woodwork after setting a response in motion. That’s real leadership.

Posted by aog at 10:54 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Evolution isn't perfect

One of the key points of evolution is that the results are not perfect, they are good enough. If,in a given environment, a species can maintain its population, then that’s good enough. It certainly doesn’t mean that every aspect of the creatures genotype and phenotype are optimal. A case in point is a discussion of a ‘gay gene’ [source]. The quote is
Homosexuals are somewhere between one percent and six percent of the male population in the U.S.—the demographic data isn’t very reliable. Their existence is an embarrassing anomaly for Darwinism. From the standpoint of Darwinian fitness—i.e., the propagation of descendents—male homosexuality represents a huge loss in reproductive capacity. Genetic mathematics suggests it should go extinct.
This is of course not at all true. The conceptual flaws are numerous:
  1. A rate of 1-6% isn’t a “huge loss in reproductive capacity”.
  2. There’s little evidence that homosexuality is a major loss in reproductive capacity at all. There are plenty of homosexuals who reproduce, even today.
  3. It’s quite possible that there are reproductive benefits to homosexuality. One theory is that a homosexual can aid the reproduction of his siblings. If you brother has two children, that’s as good reproductively as having a child yourself. This would be consistent with (as one commentor claimed) younger brothers in families of many male children are more likely to be homosexual.

But the last point is just interesting speculation. It’s quite possible that homosexuality is just a bug. As long as it doesn’t prevent reproduction at the demic level there’s no real pressure to breed it out. As noted, everyone starts out female and males are converted in the womb. That this process isn’t 100% perfect doesn’t seem implausible. And as long as there aren’t too many errors and the errors aren’t that significant, then there’s not going to be much pressure to change. It might well be that the current rate represents the tip over point where there is no longer enough evolutionary pressure to reduce the error rate. Such a reduction might well be more of a negative (via miscarriages or extra costs on the mother) then allowing this amount of error.

It’s possible, as the original article points out, that due to recent sociological changes homosexuality is much more of a hit on reproductive success than it was in the past. However, even the author admits that this has occurred only within the last century or so. And frankly there are much larger extinction threats (see: “European Birthrates”). It may be that we’re just maladapted to technological society. It’s a bit too early to make pronouncements like this, though.

25 August 2003

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

Blood brothers

Via Instantman I saw an article by Jim Bennett on immigration and the California recall. One of the key points is that even in earlier times, during the peaks of immigration, assimilation was possible but not automatic. The process of assimilation required an explicit effort on the part of native organizations. The article made me think of my own views on immigration, which I realized came down to one thing. I don’t want a bunch of foreigners coming over here, but I’m happy to have Americans move in. Anyone who holds the ideals of America in their heart is already an American, because we are nation of thought, not blood. It is the multi-culturalists, those who have given up on the ideas of the West (or, like Jesse Jackson, find it easier to maintain wealth and power in a tribal society), who prefer to have foreigners.

Just as interesting is this passage:
As a response to these challenges, many reformers and activists of that era expended much effort on integrating immigrant groups, fighting the crime, poverty, and corruption that came with them, and in promoting an assimilationist agenda. This effort was in the end successful, culminating perhaps in the successes of World Wars I and II, where Americans of every immigrant group, including nationals of the states with which America was at war, gave a high degree of support to the war effort [emphasis added], and receiving in return a genuine acceptance from the general population.
Think about that. Even the Japanese, despite the internment, still supported the war effort. Consider what this might mean for the Muslim community, the public face of which is very hostile to the war against the Caliphascists. As support for America abroad from previous generations of immigrants bonded them with the existing population, so this lack of support (real or just percieved) will haunt the Muslim community for a long time.
Posted by aog at 18:50 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Did someone change the rules?

I’ve always found the concept of women wearing shorts with writing on the back side to be a bit strange. The Epsilon Delta Tau sorority was the most amusing example of this. However, on my last trip I saw one young women wearing shorts that had “PHAT” in 4 inch letters across her butt. Last time I read up on The Rules, using the word “fat” and “butt” together in the presence of a human female was a severe health risk. But the younger generation is different I guess.

18 August 2003

Posted by aog at 18:44 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Out of the Mesh

I’m going to shut down for a week or two. I need to recharge, take a short vacation and finally finish some things I’ve been promising to other people for months now. It’s kind of strange that so many people stop doing things in August, but I suppose it’s natural to let things slide during the summer until the fall makes it necessary to get back to work.

16 August 2003

Posted by aog at 10:09 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The iconography of steel tariffs

While President Bush has scored some major successes for free trade, still the steel tariffs loom large. I suspect that this is more because of iconography than the actual tarrifs (although the economic effect of them is clearly negative). The problem is that there simply doesn’t appear to be any political advantage to them for the Bush administration. The tariffs cost jobs while benefitting a very narrow segment of economy that heavily supports the Democrats. The question nags like a bad tooth - why is Bush taking heat in order to benefit the Democratic Party and some of its constituents? It would be a different issue if there was something in it for Bush or the Republicans. You can either assume Bush is stupid, that there is some non-apparent motive or that Bush really thinks that these kind of tariffs are a good idea. We’ll have a better idea in a few weeks when Bush has the opportunity to drop the tariffs under cover of boosting the economy and drops an albatross that has brought him and his party no benefits. It would be an excellent opportunity to use the bully pulpit to show why protectionism is a loser for the American economy.

Posted by aog at 09:38 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Bush, the cause of all problems

It didn’t take long for President Bush to be blamed (via Oliver Willis) for the big power outage. Of course, the article also lauds California Governor Gray Davis and attributes the recall to evil energy producers from Texas. No mention of the fact that “deregulation” of the California energy market consisted of additional regulation and two more regulatory agencies. Nor that it was the Davis administration that decided to buy power on the spot market instead of long term contracts which was one of the two causes of the California power crisis (the other being the extremely restrictive environmental regulations which prevented the construction of additional power plants and grid interconnects).

As a side note, one see that the original article discusses endless court cases dealing with fraud in the power industry. Presuming that there was actually fraud (given the strong element of delusion in the rest of the article), note that when Enron gamed the system, word got out and they went bankrupt. No endless court cases, no trying to persuade twelve random people or some inert government regulator. Nope, bad accounting and Enron is gone. Can some one explain the advantage of heavy regulation to me again?

UPDATE: The NY Post provides a good summary of the real root causes. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

14 August 2003

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

Cut the arteries first

Best of the Web quotes Terri Phifer of Empower America wonder “what can they be thinking” about this report:
“The Pentagon wants to cut the pay of its 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports. It seems the servicemen in Iraq, as well as their 9,000 counterparts in Afghanistan, have been receiving a pair of bonuses—”$75 a month in ‘imminent danger pay’ and $150 a month in ‘family separation allowances’ “—which expire Sept. 30 unless Congress renews the appropriation before then. The Defense Department wants to drop the extra pay, “saying its budget can’t sustain the higher payments amid a host of other priorities.”
What can Phifer be thinking asking such a question? When ever there is a budget problem of any sort, the first thing a bureaurocracy does is cut services that are either vital or politically charged. For instance, a struggling county that’s blown its money on construction contracts to friends of the council needs to cut back, it doesn’t stop handing out those contracts, it cuts the fire service. Or when the New Hampshire judicial system had some budget woes did it try to economize? No, it canceled jury trials. It’s kind of sad to see the Pentagon pulling this kind of stuff with the pay of our troops who are already sacrificing so much for the rest of us, but it’s precisely that fact that makes this cut attractive.

12 August 2003

Posted by aog at 18:48 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Pentagon wises up

Among other things (like creating a link button that’s the right width and getting my blogger mirror software running) I need to get a job at the Pentagon. The Department of Defense ‘Alpha Project’ has released a report (via Gizmodo via Instantman) about robots in combat, something I’ve thought about as well. The report discusses what might be available by 2025 and what the overall goal should be:
“We call them tactical autonomous combatants because they’ll operate largely autonomously with some limited human supervision,” explained Johnson. “We’re talking about, where we can and where we have the capability of replacing humans. We’re not talking about the operational level or strategic level, but at the tactical level, still using humans where we need to. Using adjustable autonomy or supervised autonomy, humans will still have to interact with the machines and help guide them.”
Good to know that the bright boys at the Pentagon are following my lead.

11 August 2003

Posted by aog at 09:29 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The fog of war

Oliver Willis is still trying to push the “President Bush lied” meme. Willis writes
But what President Bush has done makes Richard Nixon and his dirty tricks look like amateur hour. It’s a missed opportunity, because the liberation of Iraq could have stood as an example of a forthright American that would acknowledge that we would no longer tolerate tyranny. Instead, the case that was made to the American people and to the world at large was just a pile of lies on top of lies. Again, the Nixon comparison rings true because the Watergate break-in was not necessary to help Nixon get re-elected and these deceptions were not needed to make the case for regime change in Iraq. […]When the president stands in front of his country and tells us our way of life is under attack, we believe him. Republican or Democrat or Independent, you understand that that sort of information should transcend party lines and naked ambition. That line has now been erased.
Willis’ partisan shading of the facts is clear in his choice of Nixon as an example. There are several other choices far more appropriate as they all involve American involvement in military actions in a foreign country that had not attacked the US, all of them within the last 60 years.
  • Franklin Roosevelt, who connived and manipulated to support the UK during the early years of WWII. There was the illegal transfer of 50 destroyers from the US to the UK, violating US neutrality.
  • John Kennedy, whose entire life as President was a lie. He made all sorts of false statements about our involvement in another foreign country in order to ramp up military action.
  • Lyndon Johnson who manufactured the Gulf of Tonkin incident and got the US involved in what is considered by the Democrats and the Left as the most horrible example of unjustified US military action in history.

But of course there’s a severe problem with all of these far more apropos analogies — they’re all Democrats. The last two are especially dangerous to bring up, because of the “another Vietnam” rhetoric. The last thing one would want to remind the voters of after labeling the war in Vietnam the ultimate American debacle is that it was the project of two Democratic presidents, one of whom manufactured an excuse at the cost of the lives of US troops.

Willis fails to persuade on another front as well. Even accepting for the moment that Willis’ claims of exagerations and lies in the run up to the war are accurate, one might consider the fact that most of that was due to having to please our “allies” in NATO and the UN. Had we not kowtowed to a morally bankrupt entity like the UN, Bush would have been able to emphasize the more worthy parts of the logic for invading Iraq. A key problem with the Democratic position on this issue is that the UN actively dislikes American security while the American people view as the highest priority. This means that you can be with the UN or with the American people but not both and the citizenry is waking up to this fact.

One more little detail that Willis glosses over is that the UN and its member states accepted the evidence. Many of these states (such as the UK, France and Russia) have their own very extensive intelligence organizations but they didnt’ dispute the factual basis of the US claims. The only thing in dispute was the proper response. If the evidence provided by the US is so bogus, why didn’t that come up earlier? Because of the rapid 14 month run up to the invasion? There’s even some evidence that the bogus reports of attempted uranium purchases in Niger were manufactured in order to discredit other evidence. Why do that if that other evidence is bogus to start with?

At the end, Willis’ claims of where Bush “lied” are weak at best. Of the two major disputations, one requires a severely out of context quote and the other is still supported by its original source. Not exactly compelling counter-evidence.

10 August 2003

Posted by aog at 21:22 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Making progress

Suppose one wants to advance a particular ideological agenda in a democratic republic. What is the best strategy? Is it to get allies elected, regardless of how tenuous their commitment to one’s ideology? Or is it to remain ideologically pure and not compromise?

As in most things, the answer is a balance. Pure ideology yields the kind of factional pathologies that plague the hard core left and lead to the term “politically correct”. On the other hand, there’s the problem that election of people under cover of an ideology who then govern differently not only failing to advance the agenda but actually setting it back by discrediting it. One need only think of the “privitization” efforts in Russia to see an example of that effect in action (or “free-market” types in South America). Closer to home, the Democratic support for Clinton and Davis long after they’ve become major liablities shows some of the downside of judging progress only by the number of elected offices held.

On the flip side, the Socialists have implemented most of their original platform in the US without much electoral success at all. This was done by a combination of seeking electoral victory with the party more closely aligned ideologicall while still agitating for purity so as to exert pressure on the main stream party. The key insight is that there is a feedback loop between mainstream parties and mainstream opinion, that is not the case that one is determinant of the other. In the same vein, those who wish to advance conservative ideology (which I am, to a large extent), need to strike a balance between obtaining the levers of power and actually advancing ideologically. Like most balancing act, it’s much easier to call on the margins than in the typically muddled cases. For the latter, the context matters.

For instance, in the case of the California gubernatorial recall race, winning is more important than ideological purity because the latter was tried in the actual election and failed. That means that the scope of the possible is small and one needs to settle for the not bad (i.e., Schwarzenegger, the not-Davis).

In other cases, it might be better to push the envelope a bit. One case might be Specter vs. Toomey in Pennsylvania. I, personally, think that Specter is a mediocre at best Republican and far too frequently signs on to bad policy, especially for a Senator from a state where the Republicans have an almost lock on his office. This is a judgement call and that’s my judgement.

One can object, of course, that such intramural competition is damaging and that is true. However, in the long run not having such intramural challenges is more damaging, witness the Democrats these days. But dangerous factionalism is achieved by traveling the same road, so as mentioned at the start, a balance is required. It’s not perfect, but that’s politics.

Posted by aog at 12:42 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Evolutionary dead ends

A common refrain in arguments against evolution is when a species as a whole does something contra-survival, such as (for instance) Europe breeding itself out of existence. But this doesn’t constitute a counter-evolutionary argument at all. Almost all species become extinct. Species like sharks or horseshoe crabs that persist for tens of millions of years are exceptionally rare. The fact that almost all species become extinct implies that these species encounter environments for which their behaviour is inappropriate. The story of evolution is the story of individuals and species that react inappropriately to a changed environment and disappear.

Given that evolution is not teleogical but random, this is the kind of result one would expect. Random charateristics are unlikely to be completely adapted to an environment, so almost all species should fail the ultimate test. And they do. Occasionally one “wins the lottery” but for almost every other species, the end result is failure and extinction.

We have yet to see if the evolution of intelligence is in fact a good idea in the long term.

08 August 2003

Posted by aog at 08:48 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Allowing pollution

A recent court ruling has been rendered against First Energy over electrical power plant renovations. The essence is that old power plants were grandfathered in to the Clean Air Act of 1970, unless the plants were “improved” as opposed to “maintained”. The enforcement and ruling of this clause have been spotty at best over the intervening years.

I originally heard this on NPR and their reporting of it made me sympathetic to the power company. NPR reported that the Clean Air Act forbade modifying the plant in such a way as to increase pollution, but that the energy company had been cited to not decreasing pollution. Having done a few minutes of research (apparently more than NPR did) I can see the judge’s point. I’m not sure I agree but the ruling is not prima facie bogus as NPR led me to believe.

This issue is a classic case of why I support pollution vouchers / credits / trading. When the goverment gets in to the minutia of how to reduce pollution at specific power plants, then we have a scheme guaranteed to be less effective and more expensive than possible alternatives. Pollution credits, on the other hand, would encourage companies to do the most reduction at the cheapest price, which is good for everyone except professional environmentalists. It would avoid having the legal system decided between “maintenance” and “improvement” and save those costs as well, although at the cost of reducing the legal fees and ability to whip up hysteria by the greens. That’s a price I’m wiling to pay.

Posted by aog at 07:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Picking the right analogy

There was much outcry about the invasion of Iraq being “another Vietnam”. Of course, this was silly to start with because the one dream of the hawks during the Vietnam war was to use the kind of forces deployed against Iraq and to invade and conquer the enemy capital. But apparently the Leftist view of such things is guided by politics rather than actual military facts.

If one wanted a closer analogy, it would seem to be the action in Liberia. We’re now sending in “advisors” who will be limited in number while local forces are supposed to provide most of the muscle. There’s an ugly government in charge that’s fighting other ugly governments. There’s no exit strategy and it’s difficult to see what kind of acceptable end game is possible. But of course we won’t hear any calls of “another Vietnam” from the Left on this even though the chance of a succesful intervention in Liberia is much lower than in Iraq. Because there’s nothing in it to benefit the US, the Left considers it a good intervention. Here we see the apotheosis of the moral preening that so defines the modern Left.

06 August 2003

Posted by aog at 22:03 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Private association rights vs. personal choice

I thought that my comment on the UN flag issue was just a convenient illustration, almost a throw away post. However, it seems to have generated more response than almost any other post. Despite claims to the contrary, I wasn’t “greatly pleased” or “piqued” about the flag itself, although it’s hard to have any respect for someone supporting an immoral, anti-human organization like the UN. Getting beyond that, the immediate recourse to the First Admendment strikes me as someone doesn’t respect his own agreements very much (although that’s consistent with backing the UN).

First up we have Hector, who is so digusted by my weblog that he refuses to put in a direct link, even though he’s willing to quote the entire post. Hector’s primary misapprehension is contained in this quote:
While the Constitution—in this case, the First Amendment—may not apply here, whether homeowners’ associations do in fact or should in principle have such rights as to prohibit what flags people fly on their property remains unresolved
Home owners’ assocations don’t have any rights. I consider the concept nonsensical. The question is, do the private individuals involved has the right to make binding agreements among themselves? The argument that rules like “no flags” are unacceptable is really saying that individuals can’t make such agreements. Why shouldn’t individuals have the right to make such agreements? Hector doesn’t say, because he’s avoid the issue and elided the people by redefining the issue in terms of the abstract entity of a home owners’ association. On a more interesting plane was a response by Charles Dodgson at Looking Glass.
What’s interesting here is that if the homeowner’s association were a formally constituted government body — say, a zoning board — the homeowner would face pretty much the same set of choices that he does against a private body: fight in court, petition the board to change its policies, or run for a seat on the board and start to work from the inside. And the argument that “he know about the association when he chose to buy his house” applies just as well to a zoning board. The main difference is that, as our libertarian commentators are quick to point out, there are restraints on government, like the first amendment, which do not apply to private bodies and cannot be used to defend against them.
I reply at more length in the comments, but I’ll summarize here.
  • This is one reason libertarians support a minimal federal government with different layers of government handling distinct tasks so that there is as much choice of law as feasible.
  • All local governments have all local government powers, while private associations can be far more specifically bound.
  • Private organizations don’t have the power of eminent domain. That’s not a small difference.

The fundamental question is, as mentioned in the reply to Hector, can individuals make binding agreements that are more strict than law? I argue that without such an ability, there will be nothing but individuals and the State. However, that may be the goal.

All of that said, of course the individuals who make up the home owners’ assocaition have to bear the consequences of going after this guy, even though he’s just being annoying. It’s not clear that such pettiness will improve property values or the comraderie of the neighborhood. These things tend to balance out far more with private associations (because they can’t dragoon members with eminent domain) and so such infringements are far less worrisome.

05 August 2003

Posted by aog at 10:09 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

That ain't working, that's legislating

Via Instantman, Jim Bennett reminds me of what I dislike most about the Patriot Act, which is that it has a cost in civil liberties without, as far as I can see, actually benefiting national security. One can argue about how much trade off is a good idea, but I can’t see arguing that something for nothing is a good idea.

Bennett says
More frightening than the demise of the program, however, was the manner of its demise. Not only have we been deprived of the information the program would have given us, but we have sent a powerful message to those on the front lines of defense against terror. That message is “Don’t think. Don’t Innovate. Don’t take risks.” It’s not as if these characteristics have been so predominant in the civil service that we can afford to suppress them gratuitously.
This is thematically the same as my objection to the Patriot Act. It’s just more of the same old not particularly successful policies. Have a problem? Just pass some more law. It’s a lot easier than doing anything that would be an actual improvement. It’s just a cover to make it look like things are getting better without the heavy lifting of fixing problems. This is one of the strongest complaints about the tranzi view of the world, that they consider law effective of itself. I don’t like seeing the conservatives fall in to the same trap.

04 August 2003

Posted by aog at 09:11 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Castro vs. Batista - no contest

One of the canards that used by Castro-philes to excuse his destruction of the Cuban nation is that at least he replaced Batista, the Spawn Of Evil™. However, a recent article details just how much worse Castro is compared to Batista.
But if Batista bested Castro in virtually every broad socio-economic indicator, he paled in comparison when it came to controlling either the electoral process or the populace. Castro executed thousands of political opponents after he came to power, imprisoned tens of thousands and caused hundreds of thousands to flee to exile. Where Batista won a disputed election, a Castro election leaves no room for dispute: Castro allows no opponents, no opposing viewpoints to appear in the press

Of course, the political problem here is that the Left presumes that making such a comparison means validating at least one of the people in it. The Left certainly uses Batista vs. Castro comparisons to validate Castro’s regime so the presumption exists that any comparison that is favorable to Batista is upholding Batista as an exmemplary ruler. This provides a nice rhetorical trap where one doesn’t want to praise Batista but the only alternative is to accept Castro. I certainly don’t want to do either, but I will say that if i had to live under one or the other, it’s difficult to see a single advantage to the Castro regime. Given the efforts to which refugees will go to escape Cuba today, it seems that many Cubans feel the same way.

P.S. I wonder, is the first thing a Leftist says to a Cuban refugee who makes it to the US, “You must not have realized it but there’s no universal health care here?”

Orrin Judd comments.

[Via Daimnation!]

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

Self destructive tendencies

I’ve realized that California Governor Gray Davis is going to beat the recall. I remember during the last election, many Californians claimed that Davis had been exposed, that he was just too sleazy and incompetent to get elected. I countered that California seems to have a political death wish and that the loonies were running the asylum. Davis won the election.

When the recall came up, my first reaction was the same. Davis has beaten things like this his whole career. But what really brought it home was a column by Matt Welch in which he strings together things I’d already noticed but hadn’t mentally assembled.

The central theme of all of them is how, when faced with the horror that is a Republican, the Left and Democrats (in California, there’s actually a difference) pulled together to defend Davis. It’s a repeat of the Clinton defense, where the merit of the case against the incumbent was irrelevant. The key point was and is to hold on to power with whoever is there now. What’s amusing in a dark way here is that Davis is an equal opportunity scum who’s supports the concept of caning (ala Singapore) and been a major booster of the California prison system and the death penalty. But it’s really about power, not specific policies. And Davis has delivered over the years on letting the loonies have their way with the state government. One notes that despite the state budget crisis, this year’s spending (the 2003-2004 budget) is the same as the previous year (2002-2003) [Note: technically it’s smaller, but to the three digits provided by the state itself, both are $98.9 billion]. So even a $38 billion (almost 40%) budget shortfall still can’t convince the political class to cut state spending. That’s a political class and set of voters Davis can work with.

UPDATE: Best of the Web provides some quotes that are too good to pass up:

  • California “is degenerating into a banana republic,” writes former Enron adviser Paul Krugman in his New York Times column
  • California is undergoing a “breakdown in [the] trust that is essential to governing in a democracy” writes Californian Leon Panetta
  • The recall is “a coup attempt by the Taliban element” warns California political activist Bob Mulholland

03 August 2003

Posted by aog at 09:24 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The Arab street - real danger or convenient rationale?

It’s kind of amusing to see the same factions that are so concerned about the reaction of the Arab street to the invasion of Iraq go after the Saudi Entity. A US military action that takes control of Meccah and Medina is one thing that might actually set off the Arab street in a dangerous way (unlike the way the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq did). What happened to multicultural sensitivity?

Of course, it may be that the anti-Saudi left does’t advocate military action. But it’s not clear what else could be done about the support of terror by the Saudi Entity. One would need a long term strategy that would secure allied oil supplies and reliable basing for our troops in the Middle East. This would lets us threaten without the political hit of having troops in the Saudi Entity itself. It might also be good to disrupt Caliphascist bases and other financial support as much as possible so that the Saudi Entity is forced to accept more of the burden. This would not only make their complicity more obvious but the Saudi Entity is not doing very well financially these days. Burdening them further, especially with something that they can’t publically object to, would be helpful. Gosh, if only we had a President pursuing a policy like this.

02 August 2003

Posted by aog at 21:22 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Bad judge or biased media?

There’s been some heat at Little Green Footballs about a recent ruling in San Diego that abrogated a lease by the Boy Scouts on some land in a local park. It looks to me more like bad journalism.

The headline reads “Judge says use violates separation of church and state”, yet there isn’t much support for that. Here’s the key paragraph on that point:
Jones ruled that the city failed to follow its usual procedures in leasing property and instead engaged in “private, exclusive negotiations culminating in another long-term lease of the Balboa Park property.”
This would seem to make the establishment problem the fact that the city council gave preferential treatment to the Boy Scouts, not that the use itself was problematic. This is reenforced by another point,
judge upheld another city lease to the Boy Scouts of an aquatics center on city-owned property on Fiesta Island, ruling there was no evidence that the city showed bias toward the Scouts in awarding that lease.
Hmmm, the judge doesn’t seem to think that the use in this lease violates “seperation of church and state”. Could it be that the judge is actually holding for true neutrality and objecting only to the way in which a particular lease was let? That wouldn’t make a good headline, though. Here’s a funny set of quotes from the article:
The decision is a victory for those trying to get the Scouts to liberalize their policies toward agnostics and homosexuals.

“Now it’s up to the Boy Scouts to respond and stop discriminating,” said City Councilwoman Toni Atkins, herself a lesbian.

The 36-page decision released by Jones contained very little discussion of sexual preference, however.

I’m not sure how forbidding the city council from engaging in exclusive, private negotiations with specific renters is a victory for the busy-bodies trying to get the Boy Scouts to “liberalize”. It looks like this was too much even for the author of the article, though - that’s a nice shot at the end.

In the end, this looks like a judge make a not unreasonable decision which the paper (not necessarily the author, as he didn’t pick the headline) is trying to spin as a victory for its policitcal view. But I guess that’s just how the objective, unbiased media works.

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

It's supposed to hurt

Orrin Judd rips into Christoper Hitchens for his essay on Bob Hope. Hitchens’ basic claim is that Bob Hope wasn’t actually funny, the prime evidence being that people can’t remember a classic Hope line. Personally, I remember the “I just flew in from [city] … and boy are my arms tired!” line as my iconic image of Hope. I lost the thread of Hitchens’ argument at that point.

iHowever, In one sense I understand Hitchens’ point - reading a transcript of a Bob Hope performance leaves one wondering why he was considered a premier comedian. What he had wasn’t so much great material (most of it was borderline, in my view), but a great delivery and sense of timing. As Judd points out, it was far more that Hope himself was funny, not his material.

The problem that Bob Hope’s humor has in the modern era is that it was pleasant. It wasn’t memorable, or inspiring or shocking - it was enjoyable. That seems to be passing out of favor. Now things have to be unpleasant in some way to be considered “good”. Art that makes one think unpleasant thoughts, that offends, the mocks its audience, or is just flat out painful to look at (think modern art) is held up as the standard. A similar theme runs in food, where spiciness to the point of physical pain is considered a virtue, or “extreme” sports where the sport doesn’t demonstrate any greater athleticism than the Tour de France, but has a lot of gratuitous risk or pain.

In this modern sense, then, Hope was not funny. I suspect that Hope would have considered that a feature, not a bug.

01 August 2003

Posted by aog at 21:45 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It's a swinging door

There are now lots of stories that are far more sympathetic to the terror event market lately. I even heard on NPR a story lead that was sympathetic to the concept.

I wonder if the Senators got a little ahead of the curve here. It’s been suggested that the primary opposition was because it was a pet project of Admiral Poindexter rather than any realistic criticism (although, of course, real criticism would involve having basic understanding of the concepts involved). Will the now apparently neutral to positive portrayal in the media end up gobsmacking the objecting Senators when some one nails them with the question, “Since this seems like a reasonable idea that could benefit national security, why did you attack it?”.

One can’t really know, but perhaps the blogosphere has something to do with this. The weblogs were all over the story when it first came out and provided much good discussion of the basic idea and why it was something to seriously consider. I, personally, am still not convinced it would have worked (I’ve seen some good criticisms) but it’s certainly a plausible project. It’s more likely to produce useful data than a lot of other things I’ve seen. It would be sweet indeed to see some of the hysterical Senators get some smackie from the swinging door.

UPDATE: Here’s a thematically related article about the Senate sitting on the nomination of Daniel Pipes to the U.S. Institute for Peace (I favor the nomination, although I’d favor disbanding the organization more).
It may be not be harmonic convergence exactly, but the coincidence is still worth flagging: Last week, just about the time a Senate committee was failing to muster the quorum necessary to vote on Islamic terrorism expert Daniel Pipes’ nomination to the U.S. Institute of Peace —thrilling the Islamic groups that apologize for such terrorism — the Pew Research Center was releasing a new poll finding that 44 percent of Americans now believe that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. This number is up sharply from the 22 percent who in March 2002 had begun to notice jihadis in Sudan and Nigeria and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and the Philippines and the Palestinian Authority and Malaysia (and Italy, France and Lackawanna) poking out from behind the smoother ranks of the “Islam is peace” PR professionals.
Is the Senate setting itself up for a double tap for being way behind the curve?
Posted by aog at 08:13 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Perils of demonization

One of the stronger arguments about the 12 year run up to the invasion of Iraq was the demonization of Saddam Hussein. While it’s difficult to overstate his personal malignancy, an individual, no matter how pathological, simply cannot do the kind of damage Saddam did without a lot of help. Saddam’s helpers consisted primarily of the Ba’ath Party (an Arab offshoot of the National Socialists - change “Aryan” to “Arab” and you’re there). The Ba’ath are themselves just a faction of the over “Caliphascist” movement in the Arab / Muslim world.

The goal of the Caliphascists is basically the reinstatement of the Caliphate, with themselves as the ruling class. Some might argue that secularists wouldn’t want that but that’s equivalent to saying only the truly religious ever schemed to become Pope. Saddam himself was never hesitant to use religious imagery when it suited him (e.g., the Koran written in his blood). People and techniques flowed easily among the different factions. The jihadis are pouring in to Iraq to fight on behalf of the Ba’ath - that’s an indication that there’s no relationship? Beyond that it is certainly the case that techniques were copied between different groups so the funding of terror group A is likely to make terror group B more effective, even if A and B aren’t allies. This effect becomes more pronounced the more similar the underlying ideologies of A and B. As noted above, there is a strong ideological relationship between all of the various Caliphascist factions.

It is because of this that fantasies of some special forces operation to frag Saddam are pointless. If not Saddam then it would have been one of Saddam’s spawn or some other Ba’ath thug. Back in the day (presumably part of its early fellow traveling), the Left objected to the demonization of Saddam, of potraying him as another Hitler. I agreed with this argument but not in order to defend the Ba’ath or oppose US foreign policy. The problem is as noted above, that if you make Saddam the enemy, you don’t take proper precautions against others nor persue correct policy.

What’s interesting here is that the American Left is doing the same thing with Al Qaeda, demonizing that particular organization and using that as an excuse to ignore other, just as dangerous (and ideologically allied) groups. I wonder, if Al Qaeda declared bankruptcy and re-organized under a new name, would the Left declare victory? There wouldn’t be any more Al Qaeda, after all.