30 September 2003

Posted by aog at 19:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Messing with complex systems

Thinking about some cognitive dissonance, I was pondering global warming, transhuman genetic engineering and the welfare state. The common theme in all of these is deliberate manipulation of complex systems we don’t understand (and which may not be understandable at all non-statistically). I tend to be more concerned about this kind of thing because as a systems engineer I tend to be the guy who cleans up other people’s messes when they fiddle with things they don’t understand. It’s frequently quite astonishing how software systems one has designed and built from the ground up still behave in surprising ways. And as clever as I am, my systems are still orders of magnitude simpler than planetary weather, the human genome or modern society.

The cognitive dissonance comes in when various factions freak out over one of these issues but are gung ho on a different one. For instance, most of the people who are deeply concerned about global warming and how we must do nothing to disturb planetary weather because we don’t understand it support massive changes in the structure of society despite the fact that our knowledge of cause and effect in the latter is slightly better than the ancient Egyptians grasp of atomic theory. Or how the people who believe in the harmony and diversity of nature are gung ho for a mechanistic monocultural economy, the latter being far more similar to an ecosystem than a factory.

To hit the other side as well I’m not impressed with those who are aghast at societal engineering but blasé about human genetic engineering. Recent work is indicating that the human genome is the result of three billion years of random hacking, a stunningly complex self-modifying spaghetti code on a not always reliable executor. The practical effect of this is similar to very complex software systems. While it is frequently easy to fix a wrong behavior, it’s much harder to create new behaviour. To a large extent it’s because bugs generally require just a small change to do something that is “normal” in some sense. Shifting the pattern of action is a lot trickier. It now seems unlikely that there’s a “intelligence” gene that can be tweaked independently. Kind of like the complexity of society… While I don’t have the visceral concern about genetic manipulation that some do I do think of it the same why I think of social engineering - something to be done cautiously, carefully and with the expectation of unintended consquences. Fixing little things (especially if we have working models to copy) is far less worrisome than large “improvements”. I can only hope we start colonizing multiple planets before we engage in significant genome modifications.

Posted by aog at 16:46 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Anti-americanism or reality dysfunction?

One (in my opinion strong) contentation that much of the protesting of the US invasion of Iraq is based on anti-Americanism (or tyranophilia) is the amount of complaint about actions of the USA and not other nations who do similar or worse things. For instance, invading another nation without UN approval. The standard reply to this (at least for American citizens) is that one’s duty is to police one’s own nation, not the behaviour of other nations. (A weaker form is to state that such protests are far more likely to have an effect on the USA than, say, Cuba, but as this demonstrates one reason the USA is a morally superior nation it’s kind of counter-productive).

However, it occurs to me that this counter-argument runs aground on the rock of holding up these other nations as examplars, whose moral judgements are critical to justifying international actions. For instance, it’s one thing to say “It doesn’t matter if France armed the genocidal faction in Rwanda, I’m talking about the USA” and another to follow that with “The USA is wrong because it didn’t get France’s permission to invade” (i.e., UN Security Council approval).

I suppose the response to this is that the UN isn’t France, or Russia, or any of its members. This is another aspect of the perfectability issue. The view seems to be that somehow, magically, gathering together the representatives of morally suspect nations can, with the proper structure, produce a near-angelic good that is the UN, giving it the unquestionable right to judge others regardless of the actual behavior of its constituent nations. Unfortunately for the Tranzis, the more the American citizenry is exposed to this concept, the less they believe it.

Posted by aog at 10:51 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Uncaring design

One of the problems with Intelligent Design is that it works very hard to prove not much. The strongest result is that some being(s) existed with the power to modify the laws of physics in a new cosmos. It’s not even required that this was able to be done in a directed fashion. Such a being could be capable of only random pertubing the laws and simply trying again and again until he got lucky created our cosmos. It’s not clear that our descendants can’t achieve that level of capability, which while far beyond our current technology is still very far from omnipotence.

Beyond that, however, while one can make the argument that such a being is interested in intelligent life, there’s no reason to suppose that he is interested in particular intelligences. If scientist builds a petri dish and seed it with a bacterial culture, that scientist may be obsessively interested in the progress of the culture but have not a particle of concern for any particular bacteria.

On the other hand, there’s always the problem that maybe we’re not the actual result, but just another intermediate form on the way. Perhaps the true purpose is the creation of electronic intelligences, capable of living in the cosmos itself and not tied to some tiny fraction of solar systems and planetary bodies or of intelligence limited by biology.

It seems quite a weak reed to me, either unnecessary or insufficient depending on the totality of your belief system.

29 September 2003

Posted by aog at 08:42 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Ancient brain drain

Once upon a time, Greece was an intellectual hotbed. Greeks created philosophies that are still part of our civilization millenia later. Greeks also laid the basis for a number of key intellectual disciplines that are still vibrant and critical to our technology today. Yet modern Greece is basically a third world nation that’s lucky to be in Europe so they can leech off the EU.

Could it be that it was the rise of Hellenistic civilization that doomed Greece? Before that, great thinkers had to, for the most part, stay in Greece. Afterward the spread of Hellenistic culture over the Mediterranean basin, an upwardly mobile Greek could prosper in a large geographic region as well (or potentially more) as they could in Greece. It seems that this would lead to a large “brain drain” as we term it in the current era. The population of Greece during that era wasn’t all that large so it wouldn’t take a particularly massive population movement to have a big effect. Moreover, the era in question lasted for centuries, starting with Alexander the Great and lasting until at least the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. After this last event, no more is heard of Greece with regard to intellectual developments (one source refers to Proclus, who lived around 450 AD, as “the last major Greek philosopher”). Was Greece done in by the mass emigration of leading lights? Or do other cultural shifts explain the demise of world class thought in Greece? I favor the former but I’m sure it could be argued strongly both ways. And one must keep in mind that there are positive and negative feeback loops between nature and nuture, especially for entire populations. (An alternative is the Silicon Valley hypothesis, which is that a critical mass of thinkers is required to produce significant achievements and the exodus of thinkers during Hellenistic times dropped Greece below the threshold).

Still, it does seems a cautionary tale about sustained emmigration.

Posted by aog at 07:28 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It can only be class warfare

This morning NPR had a discussion on the California recall race. They discussed the high numbers in favor of recalling Gray Davis and then moved on to Cruz Bustamante who apparently (according to the polls) would lose not only to Schwarzenegger but to McClintock as well. This despite the fact that all of the heaviest hitters from the Democratic Party had been campaigning on behalf of Davis and Bustamante. The only explanation NPR had for this was a general animosity toward Democrats. At least NPR has a consistent ideological view that it’s like other criminals it’s never the fault of the perpetrators like Davis and Bustamante.

27 September 2003

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What do they get if they win?

I exchanged some comments over at the Spoons Experience about the subject of the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. Veshman, the commentor, recommended that I read two tracts on the conflict, here and here. Both are boilerplate histories of the last 80 years or so (taking a pass on the previous 3,000 because that doesn’t suit their political purposes). I presume that the assumption was that I wasn’t aware of this backstory but there’s nothing I haven’t seen before. Veshman points out the root go back before WWI. Try back to the founding Islam at a minimum, possibly even further.

The articles contain the standard selective history. Some of the events omitted include:

  • Anti-jewish pogroms as early as 1920.
  • The flow of jewish refugees from Arab nations in to Israel after the 1948 war.
  • Terror attacks on Israel that lead to the invasion of Lebanon in 1982
  • The closing of the straits of Tiran, an act of war leading to the Six Day War in 1967.
  • The failure of any Arab nation to absorb Palestinian refugees.
The most amusing bit was
In all this time then, the Palestinian people have been without any nation, and have had limited rights, while suffering from poverty at the same time. Israel continued to increase and expand their settlements giving up less and less land compared to what was promised. Many Palestinians (that are not Israeli Arabs since 1948) do not have the right to vote, or have limited rights, while paying full taxes. For over 3 decades, the Palestinian people have been living under a military occupation.
One might wonder, if delaying the resolution of the conflict means less and less for the Palestinians, wouldn’t they do better to settle as soon as possible? Or that the PLO / PA has voided the Palestinians right to vote and severely limited their rights (not to mention what’s done to Palestinians in other Arab countries). One might also note that Arabs who are citizens of Israel are treated better by Israel than Palestinians are treated by the PA or any other Arab nation. This leads one to wonder why it would be of benefit to the Palestinians to be fully ruled by an Arafat dictatorship or a Hamas theocracy. Where else do Arabs or Palestinians get to vote? Not one of the things mentioned here as being denied the Palestinians would be theirs even if Israel surrendered. So it’s specious to suggest that obtaining things like liberty and voting rights is the goal of the conflict. I think it’s reasonable to ask what the real goal is.

The final point in the above list, above the perpetuation of Palestinains as refugees, is the most relevant to the initial exchange, in which I questioned why Palestinian refugees conduct terror bombings while German refugees from about the same time (1946) don’t. The cited articles don’t address this either. It’s certainly not the case that the population shifts in Europe after WWII were any more fair to the refugees than what happened in the Middle East in 1948. Sometimes bad things happen and the best option is to get over it and move on. That’s what every other refugee group has done. Why the rest of the world should support the Palestinians being the only exception is a never discussed. One might also consider discussing why it is of benefit to the Palestinians to continue the struggle. My view is that the Palestinians don’t care about helping themselves, so why should I?

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

Assuming the result

Over at Hit & Run there’s a contrarian reading of some of Edward Said. The point at issue is Said’s shift from a two-state resolution to the Israeli / Palestinian conflict (supported by Said until the Oslo accords) and a unified binational state. Jesse Walker takes this seriously but even in the comments fails to address the single most important issue with such a state: what to do if the Palestinian authorities continue to permit or even encourage anti-Jewish pogroms. The history of the region makes that a very likely outcome (one notes that there were such pogroms back in the 1920’s and 1930’s so such things don’t require the existence of the state of Israel).

What would be done in such a case? When the question is asked, the reply is something like:
The idea that the Palestinians would, under a liberal system of democracy and economic opportunity, support “driving the Jews into the sea” is your vision of them, not Said’s.
As if Arafat or Hamas would permit democracy or economic liberalism! But even if the problem is imaginary, is it so unreasonable to address that concern? The key failure of the Oslo accords was exactly that there was no fall back plan or accounting for non-compliance. Everyone was just assumed to follow along out of good will. We don’t need to specialize in Middle Eastern history to realize what a poor plan that is.

25 September 2003

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

Creating the vanguard

Over in The Corner there is a mention about how modern day politics have changed because of the conversion of parties from broad based organizations staffed mostly by citizens to narrow, single issue organizations controlled by professionals.
This has to do with the rise of a huge class of educated professionals, they fraying of local communities, and even with the movement of women into the workforce. (Women used to supply much of the drive to grass roots volunteer organizations.) It also has to do with the fact that many traditional grass roots associations were organized along sexual or religious lines that many now see as discriminatory.
To this should be added the not small effect of campaign “finance” reform and other election laws. If it takes a professional to stay out of jail while being involved in politics, naturally politically active groups will tend to be controlled and run by only the hard core political junkies. An average group of citizens who tried to get involved in an election would almost certainly end up broke from fines or in jail. It seems to me that this might be an influence as well.

One wonders if this isn’t part of the reasons the Left is supportive of election law. I frequently get the idea that the Left, despite its “activist citizen” rhetoric, considers politics too important to leave to the unenlightened masses. The state to which political parties are evolving is completely consistent with this world view - a mass of contributors and bodies directed by a small, elite vanguard of the enlightened, just like a government should be. That doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.

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

Toward a self ordered Iraq

In discussing the future of Iraq and the best US policy over at the Brothers Judd I stated that I thought creating a truly self-ordered society in Iraq as unlikely but worth the risk.

I try not to use “democratic” because I’m not a big fan of democracy per se. I prefer “self-ordered” because it’s closer to what I believe is the true virtue of the USA, that people are as free as possible to run their own lives. That’s of course something that’s very difficult to inculcate. Contrary to the general concensus, I don’t think that societies emerging from totalitarianism are necessarily hard to move in that direction. Like a former drunk the citizenry of such places can be quite fervent. On the other hand, they’re also the most likely to go back to the bottle. In both cases a well done intervention can help tip the balance.

But the real point I want to address is OJ’s comment:
I find it implausible that democratic tendencies are so hardy they’ll stick if we stay 9 months, but so fragile they’ll wilt if we only stay.
As stated this is clearly true but I think this frames the issue in the wrong way because it is too deterministic. For a variety of reasons, one of which I mentioned above, I consider the situation highly contingent. We just don’t know or have any good way of predicting how it will turn out. What we can do is shift the odds in our favor. An extra 3 months won’t be the difference between success and failure, but it might mean an extra 10% chance of success.

My view is that long term success is unlikely. But I’m not sure how important that really is. Were we long term successful with Germany? But if we get 50 years of a relatively self ordered society in Iraq, then that will be a great victory. There are no final answers because the human condition remains. But there are many outcomes between Hell and Heaven and our actions can shift us closer to one or the other.

Posted by aog at 09:31 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Rocketry news

I’ve not been keeping up well with my rocketry, but I had to share this article:
A joint academic / industry team conducted the first known flight test of a powered liquid-propellant aerospike engine this past Saturday, 20 September 2003. […]

After a smooth countdown and nominal engine ignition, the thirteen-foot long P-2 quickly accelerated up a 60-ft launch rail and entered stable flight. Several seconds later it abruptly pitched ninety degrees and demonstrated unstable operation until finally transitioning into a ballistic terminal descent. [emphasis added]

I have got to remember to use that phrase next time I have a launch. Not that such a thing would ever happen to me. When it happens to other people (not me!) there’s always first denial (“deploy! deploy!”) and then acceptance (a group “ugh!”) as the ballistic terminal descent is halted abruptly by a terrain interface event.

24 September 2003

Posted by aog at 09:34 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Colliding Paradigms

Via Orrin Judd we have the text of President Bush’s recent speech to the UN. I strongly recommend reading it. It’s well written and develops the themes that have so frequently gotten lost in the rancor over the prosecution of WWIV. I found it quite stirring. I compliment Bush on getting up and saying it to the UN and the world.

What strikes me as interesting is some of the invective hurled at Bush about the speech. Judd cites Fred Kaplan in Slate:
Has an American president ever delivered such a bafflingly impertinent speech before the General Assembly as the one George W. Bush gave this morning? […]

Otherwise, Bush’s message can be summarized as follows: The U.S.-led occupation authority is doing good work in Iraq; you should come help us; if you don’t, you’re on the side of the terrorists.

I think that Kaplan has written a very perceptive critique. I presume that it was intended as criticism but I read it as praise. If there is some group of self-important egotistcal tyranophiles which is more in need of some impertinence thrown in its face than the UN General Assembly, I am unaware of it. Kaplan’s summary of Bush’s speech is quite correct as well. Kaplan obviously sees this as a bad message but I think it’s a message that needs to be said, over and over. There is a global war going on, WWIV, between the forces of self-ordered societies and despotism. There can be no compromise, no middle ground and nations will have to choose sides. Right now the primary battle is in Iraq. The creation of a self ordered, civilized state there will greatly advance what I consider the side of good, while a defeat wil lbe a victory for the forces of chaos and oppression. The Coalition of the Willing has shown what side it fights for. Now it’s time for other nations to show what they favor. But I think it’s clear what’s really important to the General Assembly. Kaplan lays it out:
Here were the world’s foreign ministers and heads of state, anxiously awaiting some sign of an American concession to realism — even the sketchiest outline of a plan to share not just the burden but the power of postwar occupation in Iraq. And Bush gave them nothing, in some ways less than nothing.
What was important to the General Assembly? The course of the war, the price of liberty or the fate of the Iraqi people? No, none of those things, only power. Their power. Their slice of the action. If you want to grasp the moral bankruptcy of the UN, there it is, laid out in a single paragraph.

23 September 2003

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Who are we to claim that they mean what they say?

Apologists for the Caliphascists often ask why supporters of Israel aren’t concerned about Israel being a nuclear power but freak out when a nuclear armed Iran is brought up. Little Green Footballs brings us the answer:
Iran yesterday defiantly showed off six of its new ballistic missiles […] At the climax of a military parade marking the outbreak of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the enormous Shehab-3 missiles were rolled out painted with the messages, “We will crush America under our feet” and “Israel must be wiped off the map.”
I suppose it’s just my Western judgementalism that causes me to worry less about self ordered democracies with nuclear weapons than about brutal, oppressive regimes espousing genocide with nuclear weapons. Of course, this isn’t the first time Iran has stated that committing genocide against Israel is a policy of the ruling mullahocracy. But when it’s a chance to bash non-totalitarian governments anything can be overlooked.
Posted by aog at 10:04 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

California Reeling

California just can’t catch a break. I think that M[c]Clintock would be a far better governor for California than any of Davis, Bustamante or Schwarzenegger but he’s not going to be elected due to the apparent death wish of the California citizenry. And even if he was, he wouldn’t be able to break through or hold to account the California legislature which is even loonier, more cynical and less responsibility than Governor Davis [I stand by that - note that all of the crazy things Davis has done sailed through the legislature and Davis had actually vetoed some of them previously].

There was some hope that Ahnuld, while like McClintock he will be unable to implement real reforms, would be able to take on the legislature in the media battle. But it looks now like Ahnuld is proactively surrendering. His latest policy plan is to push for fuel cell cars and “stations for hydrogen-powered cars every 20 miles on major Interstate highways by 2010”. Yeah, that’ll clear up the budget problems right quick. And of course it’s a policy that hostage to the vagaries of technology development. Not exactly a low risk, conservative plan for fixing the state government. I’m waiting for someone to ask him where the money to pay for all of these stations will come from. I’ll skip over the fact that the overall environmental benefit is disputable (hydrogen doesn’t magically appear in the storage tanks) and wonder why should California pay for all of this to “inspire Detroit to build vehicles powered by fuel cells”. That’s exactly the kind of looniness that’s brought California to its current situation.

Of course, it’s for a good cause — Ahnuld said “By the end of this decade we will have hundreds of thousands of cars driving with hydrogen fuel rather than fossil fuel”. Yeah, the power plants to make the hydrogen will be running on fossil fuels but hey, not in California! Or maybe this is Ahnuld’s back door support for nuclear power? Maybe he’s smarter than I think.

22 September 2003

Posted by aog at 22:46 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Spoon fed

Perhaps Spoons is correct - the Republican Party is the Stupid Party. I got in a bit of an argument with him about the redistricting effort in Texas and the fines imposed on the absconding legislators. The bone of contention was whether the Republicans would actually go ahead with redistricting. Spoons was dubious but I hadn’t seen any hint that it would not go through (and several articles claiming that it was all over but the shouting).

Now I read that the redistricting effort might fall through because the Republican caucus “can’t agree on the map to use”http://www.dfw.com/mld/startelegram/news/state/6835273.htm. The Texas House and Senate Republicans are fighting over the district borders in West Texas and if they can’t agree, then nothing will happen. It would be competely typical of the Republican Party to get this far and then implode due to internecine conflict. It seems to be driven by two power brokers:
The Senate plan remains far different from the one adopted three times since June by the House, chiefly because it does not include a West Texas district dominated by Midland.

Craddick [Speaker of the House, from Midland], has insisted that he will not accept any plan that does not have a Midland district. Duncan [from Lubbock], who chairs the Senate’s redistricting committee, wants Lubbock to be the key city in that district.

That’s so Republican. P.S. The fines for skipping town are getting serious:
the Senate Administration Committee recommended that any future quorum-busting senators be fined $1,000 a day and lose their seniority
Fines are just out of campaign funds but seniority is for real.
Posted by aog at 22:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Golden rule - he who pays the gold makes the rules

A nationwide group of law schools, law professors and law students has sued the Department of Defense, alleging its requirement that law schools allow military recruiters on campus violates the First Amendment.
Newsday
This seems like a losing proposition. You’d think that a bunch of lawyers would be smarter than that. Oh, it’s only me who would think that? You can see the trouble right from the start. An astute observer would guess that it is not in fact that case that the Department of Defense is flat out requiring schools to permit military recruitment and that observer would be correct. Later in the article we get the true situation, that military recruitment is quid pro quo for federal funding. Then we have this funny quote:
Kent Greenfield, a Boston College law professor leading the suit, said the government is forcing schools to agree with its policies to get benefits, and that’s “not the American way.”
So, this is the first time that the federal government has forced schools to change their policies or forfeit federal funds? Well fine then - let’s remove all requirements on school policies tied to federal funds, such as affirmative action or Title IX. I think that would be excellent (even better would be the complete elimination of federal funds, but that’s even less likely).
Posted by aog at 22:28 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Grasping at crops

Paul Bremer is claiming that Iraq could diversify into agriculture in order to reduce its relative economic dependence on oil. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t some trade talks just collapse because of disagreements on this very subject?

The point is that there are a large number of nations trying to work their way out of poverty via agriculture who are failing largely beacuse of trade barriers in the West. How exactly those trade barriers won’t be a problem for Iraq is unclear, although it would certainly be delicious schadenfruede to hear the EU try to explain why a de facto embargo on Iraqi agriculture products as a good idea.

Posted by aog at 21:54 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Too strong of a cure

In an editorial in one of last week’s Wall Street Journal Robert Bartley had an editorial that made a good point, that the Left had to demonize the very use of American military power in order to protest the Vietnam war. He, however, doesn’t really pursue that which I find the most interesting concept in the editorial.

The first implication is that opposing the Vietnam war came first and then reasons were found to oppose it. This leads to the second in that the anti-war crew didn’t think they could win on the specific merits of that particular war and so needed to discredit American war-making in general. It would hardly have succeeded to use as a basis of opposition “we think it would be great to hand over South Vietnam to an oppressive Communist dictatorship”. The government in the South wasn’t good but as with Batista and Castro there are very different shades of “bad” involved. There was also the problem (as Bartlett points out) that the Vietnam war was a war started by Democratic Presidents. Again, there was no profit in allowing any deep consideration of the issues, only the broadest brush would serve to paint over that little problem.

And so now the anti-war crew is painted in to a corner. It’s not feasible to allow any cracks in the delegitimization of American use of American power because any examination of the causes and results won’t shine favorably on the hard Left. This may also be part of the big split of the Democratic Party, where some supported military action in Yugoslavia on the theory that as long as it didn’t benefit America it was OK. But I don’t think that the anti-war crew ever accepted that. If the Democratic Party falls apart I predict that this will be one way to describe the fault line.

21 September 2003

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Holding when you have the cards

It looks like President Bush’s firm stance in international affairs is once again bending others to his will. Germany is starting to cave on the issues surrounding Iraq.
The German chancellor said in an article published Friday in the New York Times that Germany is ready to help rebuild the war-torn nation. “Germany is willing to provide humanitarian aid, to assist in the civilian and economic reconstruction of Iraq and to train Iraqi security forces,” Schröder said. However, he stipulated that the United Nations must play “a central role” in the process.
Ok, fine, weasel a bit on that. But the fact that he’s put it up for discussion is in effect a climb down for Germany (in the same sense that Bush going to the UN again for “help” in Iraq was a backing off for the US, regardless of what happens later). Since Powell’s apparently been put back on the reservation it’s probably the Germans who will buckle first. Recent German election results will just add to the pressure (via Instantman).
Posted by aog at 22:30 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

What are they angry at?

Orrin Judd cites a couple of articles and then brings up the incandescent anger than many atheists have toward religion and the religious. This anger has always been a puzzle to me. I hung out with mostly non-believers and a few Christians and there simply wasn’t any hostility, even though the Christians made no secret of their belief. They also didn’t “broadcast” it either, they (and one girl in particular) simply lived it. She “walked in faith” and even at the time I admired her for it. That experience was probably the cause of my subsequent high comfort level with believers even though I myself am not one.

Later in the comments Jeff Guinn talks about “Dunno-ism”, the belief system of those who don’t believe we can ever really know whether there is God or which religion (if any) is accurate. In contrast to atheists, who have a positive believe about the existence of higher powers (there aren’t any). A Dunno-ist in contrast says “my observations are unrealiable and my thoughts imperfect so while I can be confident I can’t be sure”. This is basically where I am. I find religion interesting and I’d like to believe but I just can’t.

Which brings me back to the original point. I suspect that the angry atheists are victims of envy. I will admit that I’d probably be happier as a believer and it can be a bit depressing to see some one who walks in faith living well — “there but for the Grace of God go I”. As we all know, people are for more frequently hated for what’s good about them than what’s bad. The angry atheists go on about the fraudulent televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart because they’d prefer all believers to be like that — it would validate their belief system. Unfortunately for them, over all religious belief seems to be a winning strategy. Surely the atheists would come to this conclusion if they had the real courage of their convictions. Given the almost universality of religion, a strict Darwinist would have to conclude that it’s beneficial, at least at the demic level and probably individually as well, or it would not be so ubiquitious. So the angry atheists are betrayed by their own beliefs, which is enough to piss any one off.

Finally, why do the angry atheists care? If you really don’t believe it’s possible for there to be a God then why does it matter if people delude themselves about it? It’s all going down in the heat death anyway. Why get worked up in to a lather about it? It’s just not rational …

20 September 2003

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A Year and a Day

I’ve had some slow bits but I’ve still got 3 or 4 readers, which is more than will listen to me in Real Life™. Like many, I started out as a commentor on other people’s weblogs, primarily the Brothers Judd, which remains my favorite weblog (although I’ll confess, it’s not my first stop because I need to get the neurons fully operational before dealing with the content there). Of course, I used to rant and rave to my associates and co-workers, frequently clipping things and mailing them out. I think that thy’re happier now that I direct that energy here instead of at them.

I may need to cut back a bit in the future (“yeah, like you post too much now”) but there’s a number of weblog technology related activities I need to push through on. Several of them have reached the obsession stage where I will simply never be happy until I have CRUSHED THE DEMONS OF MURPHY WHO OPPOSE ME! DIE DIE DIE!. It’s personal, now.

Thank you for your support.

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

Demanding what you deny exists

I was listening to NPR this morning and they had an interview two putative experts, both of whom are in the US and not in Iraq. This being NPR the picture they painted was uniformly dismal and a litany of American failures. The interviewer asked objective questions like “Have Army and Marine uniforms becomes symbols of incompetence and failure?”.

What an extraordinary thing it is that our country, after a successful war, has its media spends its time complaining that the invasion and occupation were not perfect and did not provide an immediate positive and uplifting experience for the defeated. How far we have come from the “total war” concepts that dominated warfare just a half century ago. It used to be that the local populace would worry about the victorious army raping, looting and burning. Now there is the sense that if the winners don’t instantly correct the effects of decades of misrule and neglect then the defeated have the right to feel aggreived. The very thought that the feelings of the citizens of the losing nation much matters is a concept of quite recent vintage.

But this isn’t really a sea change in international relationships, but something unilaterally imposed on the USA. No other nation (except perhaps Israel) is expected to be so scrupulous in their warmaking. This is truly American exceptionalism, a level of morality not matched elsewhere on the planet, created by the same people who view the USA as the ultimate font of badness in the world (not “evil” - that’s an obsolete concept). One is left wondering how those who think the latter can be so righteously demanding of the former.

19 September 2003

Posted by aog at 13:00 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

UN-adulterated advice

Fred Kaplan argues that we should accomodate various Western European nations in our actions in Iraq and share political power with them via the UN in Iraq. The past history of UN political activity should make this laughable on its face, but beyond that Kaplan is suffering from a couple of other delusions.

Kaplan writes
But if the potentially big war before us, the war on terrorism, is a war of civilizations, then it would be good to remain friends with nations, such as France and Germany, that share our traditions and concepts of liberty — and possess the requisite guns and hard currency for the fight.
Two major errors in one paragraph! What Kaplan misses is that those who are unconcerned about Western European allies believe that those nations do not share the Anglosphere traditions and concepts of liberty nor do they posses the requisite guns and hard currency for the fight (except for what France looted from the Iraqi oil money). Except for the UK (which is with us) the rest of Western Europe has been eviscerating its military and having financial problems that make ours look trivial. For this collection of hostile has-beens we should sacrifice our sovereignity? Next we have
The cause of this latest Euro-American fissure is a debate—not just a hissy fit but a legitimate, substantive debate—over who will shape the future of Iraq.
Maybe, if you assume that an organization with the likes of Libya chairing a human rights commission with Cuba and Syria as members is a legitimate overseer of a new government in Iraq. I certainly don’t and so in turn I don’t accept this debate as anything other than spiteful whining. Kaplan also claims that
However, it is becoming increasingly clear, even to President Bush, that the United States cannot go it alone in securing the peace and stability that Iraq needs to take its next steps toward independence and democracy
I don’t agree with that either. Kaplan is probably reading too much mainstream press without a Tet filter. My reading of the situation in Iraq is that by the time we could get the UN to move and other troops there, most of the problems will have already been solved, leaving us with the cost but little of the benefit. Kaplan does hit one point correct (he’s no Michael Moore who can get everything wrong):
Second, the U.S. occupation authority is clearly in over its head. Its officials and staff are prisoners in their headquarters, confined behind sandbags and armed guards for their own security. They have limited contact with “the street” and still less exposure to the country’s daily life, its problems, or its potential problem-solvers.
It does certainly seem that the civilian side of the occupation is just not up to the job. I agree that we would do better with beefing up that side rather than sending more troops. Here the history of the UN strongly argues against using any UN personel for that task.
Posted by aog at 09:24 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Starving Leviathan

Andrew Sullivan comments that building up deficits today simply delays tax hikes. I don’t intend to defend President Bush’s massive spending spree (which is very ill-advised) but I think Sullivan is wrong to object to the tax cuts. Sullivan claims that “the logic is hard to refute”:
All government spending eventually must be funded with taxes, and budget deficits only delay the inevitable taxes (with interest).
While locally true, this ignores the bigger picture, which is all of the spending that didnt’ happen because of the deficits. In my view the only reason we saw any progress in the 1990s was because of the massive deficits from the 1980s. Experience shows that if there’s no deficit then government will spend everything it can and more. The only way to reduce the growth of government in the long term is to starve it for revenue, which means cutting taxes. Milton Friedman is absolutely correct, “tax cuts are always a good idea”. As Sullivan does get right,
But if we don’t cut spending drastically and reform entitlements, we’re going to be crushed by taxation in the not-so-distant future.
What Sullivan fails to see is that tax cutting is a means to that end.

18 September 2003

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Counting down to Armageddon

Orrin Judd cites an article that discusses Al Qaeda turning on its patrons, Pakistan and the Saudi Entity. In Pakistan, Al Qaeda views Pakistan President Musharraf as the lynchpin of opposition to the Caliphascists - if he were removed, Al Qaeda could once again depend on strong support from Pakistan. Observing the geo-strategic situation, however, Judd comments
Memo to Osamaists: if you’re preparing for the final glorious apocalyptic battle against the infidel, you may not want to choose terrain where you’re surrounded by three different hostile nuclear powers.
I’m not sure this is a good analysis. If your real goal is to immanetize the eschaton, setting up a situation where only divine intervention can carry the day would seem to be the best strategy. On the other side, if your cause has lost divine favor, maybe you’re better off dead. While the rulers of the Saudi Entity have used religion in a cynical way from the founding of the Entity, Osama bin Laden and his associates seem to take their religion at face value (this is of course one of the primary reasons for the hostility between bin Laden and the House of Saud).

On the other hand, one could make the argument that trying to force Armageddon before its originally scheduled time is as hubristic an act as can be contemplated, something that is profoundly impious. That would make a last stand in Pakistan a desperate “drive up the middle” bid for secular power. The strategic assumption is that the West, and particularly America, would not be willing to engage in genocidal conflict with a nuclear armed Al Qaeda. In a way, our victories in Afghanistan and Iraq would re-enforce this view. Despite the cries in the West at the wanton destruction of those wars, both conflicts were almost bloodless compared to other conflicts there since WWII. The Coalition took casualties and military setbacks rather than conduct a total war style campaign, a bit of reticence that would never occur to Al Qaeda. Would that same reticence save them in Pakistan? After all, they defeated Russia in Afghanistan before, the Americans are weak and the UN will stop India.

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

Part of the mob

It’s a bit of a curiosity why some many nations look to the UN for approval and moral guidance, given the sorry state of the UN. But I suspect that it’s not moral guidance that the UN provides, but the cover of the mob. Because the UN is the most inclusive international organization, its imprimatur means that the participation of any nation is in many senses buried as part of the mob. If the UN doesn’t approve, then it’s a convenient excuse to do nothing. That means that using the UN as a gatekeeper is a win / win option for nations that are not Great Powers (and even for some that are). It helps me understand the UN and its realationship with the nations of the world to think of the UN as the leaders of a mob (Israel is then the geeky kid who’s bloodied a couple of the bullies who are now looking for a bigger gang to take care of him). It puts a different spin on what the moral authority of the UN is based.

17 September 2003

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Rest easy - no nukes in Iran

I’ve just realized that Iran doesn’t have any nuclear weapons or even a nuclear weapons program, as some people seem to think. The evidence is unarguable. Iran’s behaviour, flouting international law, obstructing international inspectors, claiming innocence, is exactly what the Ba’ath in Iraq did. And we now know, because some people spent some time looking in some places, that Iraq never had any weapons of mass destruction (which, contrary to any other definition you might read, means only nuclear weapons). Iran’s behaviour can only mean that they’re just compensating for not having any WMD by being belligerent and trying to fake us out. Besides, why would Iran nuke anyone?

Posted by aog at 09:39 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

One sided in the Middle East

The US recently vetoed a UN resolution (via Brothers Judd) that would have told Israel not to mess with Arafat. I completely agree with the veto, but I found a comment in the article interesting:
The US move will nonetheless undermine efforts to improve its image in the Middle East, where it has long been seen as one-sided
Frankly, I think the US should be one sided, on the side of self-ordered societies. While Israel is somewhat socialist (and therefore not as self-ordered as possible), the other nations in the region aren’t even in the game. The entire attitude here, that the US shouldn’t favor Israel over the Palestinian Authority regardless of the actual behaviour of the two entities is classic moral relativism. It’s the culmination of the train of thought now lead by the transnational progressives which completely divorces thought and effect.
Posted by aog at 08:13 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Brave new digitial world

So Intel has decided to not include its Lagrande security / DRM hardware in all Intel processors. Details on what exactly Lagrande does are sketchy (a search at Intel yields no real information), but apparently it creates security barriers in the hardware itself so that (for instance) the average applicatoin can’t monitor the keyboard to record keystrokes. The goal is apparently to prevent spyware from capturing passwords and passing them back to a hacker.

It’s not clear to me why one would need more hardware support for this than already exists. A modern operating system provides this level of protection or could be extended to do so. For example,
“LaGrande delivers a hardware-based foundation for security,” [Intel president] Otellini said. “It includes protected execution, protected memory and protected storage.”
Every Intel processor since the 386 includes protected execution and protected memory, so what’s new here? Intel processors are going to protect my hard disk? I find that implausible.

The other thing to consider is that if Intel gets it wrong, if there’s a bug that makes the “protection” easy to crack, then

  • Intel can’t just issue a patch, they’ll have to physically replace millions of processor (sell stock now?)
  • It will be worse than doing nothing since the worst possible security situation is to think you’re safe when you’re not (if you’re not safe, it’s much better to be aware of that fact).

Moreover, the operating system would have to be extended to take advantage of the new hardware features in any event so it’s not clear there work to be saved. Now, some people think that this is the first wave of corporate control over digital information, but I tend to doubt it. While consumers in general don’t care very much about these issues, the first time Dad can’t move a home digital movie from his computer to his wife’s, there’ll be some seriously pissed off customers. More and more consumers are going to being ripping CDs and manipulating digital content and they’re going to expect it to be easy, particularly for their own stuff. If it’s not, then Bad Things are going to happen to the purveyors of computer hardware and software. The holes that will be put in to allow this will be enough for everyone else to slip through.

Finally, consider the software and hardware itself. Suppose it’s buggy on the first release - the bad taste from that would probably delay full adoptio for years all by itself. However, the longer it takes to build the DRM infrastructure the harder it will be to get adoption for the reasons mentioned above. So it might well be that we’re saved from DRM by its proponents and their over eagerness to deploy it.

16 September 2003

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Curve of decline

In a post on how the Caliphascists are playing with fire there is the observation that in the Middle East, the gangs that win are the ones that get recruits. I agree with the over comments in the post that while the actual suicide attackers may be insane, those who support, organize and fund them are not. It is those people who are maleable with the right incentive structure.

Of various incentives, the first one mentioned above is probably the most significant for our current enemies, the prospect of victory. Al Qaeda wasn’t founded because of victory but it was able to grow and recruit because of where perceived as victories for itself and its ideology. What will be interesting to watch now is when the curve of decay hits Al Qaeda and its philosophical allies. I expect that the recruitment curve will be initially be up because Iraq will be viewed as a temporary setback and an opportunity to bleed the Americans as the Soviets were bled in Afghanistan. But not so eventually it will become clear that it’s not the Americans who are being washed away by the tides of conflict. What happens then? The Al Qaeda core could last for decades but without external support and recruits they will be become irrelevant. How fast this occurs will indicate a lot about the future path of the Middle East.

15 September 2003

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Too clever by half?

Orrin Judd posted on how the Israeli declaration that they wanted to “remove” Arafat has boosted his fortunes. Originally I wondered how the Israeli government could be so stupid as to say this more than 30 minutes before Arafat was “accidentally” shot while being rounded up for deportation. It may be that removing Arafat would be a bad idea — I don’t agree, but it’s a plausible case to argue — but even if true, why say it? Why bring it up? It just seemed stupid.

Then I wondered - maybe it’s more subtle than it appears. Think about this — what could be worse for the Palestinians than another few years following Arafat? Has he not ruined more lives, destroyed more wealth and squandered more moral capital than any other Palestinian? Reviving his fortunes could just be the Israelis being cruel.

There’s another possible explanation. If the assumption (quite reasonable) is that however replaces Arafat will be the same sort of dishonest murdering scum, what’s the advantage of replacing him with someone who’s likely to be smarter or have better strategic sense? If the enemy is going to attack regardless, it pays to have the worst general in charge. This would make particular sense if the Israelis were actually change their strategy. What are the odds that Arafat could change his strategy in response?

Naaaaah. The Israelis have once again completely misunderstood the situation. They insanely keep expecting some kind of rational reaction from the Palestinians.

Posted by aog at 09:07 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Jam the spammers

I have a meme that I’d like to spread. Everyone should sign up for free e-mail accounts at Hotmail and other similar services, then put the addresses on the front of their websites. There’s no need to actually read the mail on the account, just get it out on the web. Some spam address trawler will pick it up soon enough and get it on the spam lists. This will serve two purposes:

  1. Injecting noise in the system. Every address that’s valid but unread will make the value of mailing lists less. Every little bit helps.
  2. Encouraging the big players to make more anti-spam efforts. Every spam-trap account adds to the burden of the provider without any benefit and makes every reduction in spam traffic more valuable.

If you don’t to confuse readers, you can just plot the address in the same color as the background - the trawlers will still see it but humans won’t. It’s time for a little grass roots cyber monkey wrenching.

Posted by aog at 09:00 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Faking it in Big Media

Here is the epitome of biased, manufactured news as noted by Little Green Footballs and Instapundit.

As Instapundit notes, these photographers are manufacturing fake news out of a staged event. How is this any different than staging a fake car fire that was such an incident a few years back? I wouldn’t mind this much if these media sources were viewed in the same way as World Weekly News - it’s a free market in a country with free speech. It’s the relentless sanctimony by what are effectively con men that really grates. It’s fraudulent, which is something that gets libertarians excised.

I think of all of the “fancy” people I know, who look down on professional wrestling but respect Big Media (particularly print media). But modern Big Media doesn’t seem any more real to me and at least the professional wrestlers don’t pretend to be moral paragons and aren’t faking things that really matter. Professional wrestling is a bunch of show men, not con men. If I still watched TV I’d definitely take Stone Cold Steve Austin over Peter Jennings anyday.

14 September 2003

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Flypaper strategies

Whether or not the idea of fighting with the Caliphascists in Iraq after the invasion was planned or not, it is a good idea. Any competent wargamer will tell you that you win by going out and messing with the other guy’s stuff, not by “turtling” in your own territory. Turtling is more cost efficient but what’s lost is that it means the other guy will have more resources so that his losses may well be proportionately less and even if not he wins when he breaks the turtle. The strategically agressive player, in addition to superiour resources, gets the pick the time, place and manner of the attack which is also an advantage.

This is an excellent example of the difference between strategy and tactics. Being on defense is excellent tactics. Generally it is considered necessary for the attacker to have 3-1 advantage to successful press an assault against a defending enemy. But strategically one wants to be agressive and on the offense. The best blend is exactly what we’ve done in Iraq, taking a key location and then letting the enemy come at us. The very fact that we’re fighting over Iraq instead of New York City means we’re winning.

The game of go has a term for this, “sente”. It translates roughly as “advantage” or “initiative” but what it means is that the player with sente is the one driving the flow of the game, the one who acts. The other player, without sente, reacts. Most of the strategy of go is how to acquire and maintain sente, so conflicts can be played where one has the advantage. It’s important enough that one should sometimes accept tactical losses to regain it. Judging how much of a loss and when it’s worth it what separates the masters from the novices. In go terms, attacking Iraq was a standard kind of move, to force the main flow elsewhere and thereby acquire sente. Of course, the target must be worthwhile or the other side will simply ignore it. Iraq seems like an excellent choice in this regard, relatively easily taken but not really possible for the Caliphascists to ignore.

Posted by aog at 22:01 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Niche academic markets

Joanne Jacobs has a post that discusses the relationship of student evaluations and professors (via Tyler Cowen). Ms. Jacobs comments
However, student evaluations can be raised significantly by lenient grading and flashy presentation; a professor who challenges students’ beliefs will lose rating points.
Perhaps. It reminds me of the distant past when I was at university. I took some classes from a particular math professor who always had over subscribed classes. This was despite the fact that he just as well known for having no sympathy at all for students who couldn’t keep up with what he considered a reasonable pace. The homework was massive and tough, the grading strict and ruthless. In the end, though, he’d hand out almost entirely A’s and B’s because students not capable of that level of work didn’t last long. 60% attrition in the first few weeks wasn’t uncommon. Despite this, he got excellent recommendations (of course, the only students filling out the forms were the survivors).

I suppose I should note that he didn’t “challenge students beliefs”, except the one where the student thought he was better at math than he really was.

12 September 2003

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Talk to the masses

There’s been a recent flurry of news stories about Howard Dean’s lack of appeal to African-Americans. While this kind of race baiting analysis is generally bogus, there is the unfortunate fact that for a Democratic Party candidate for President, mobilizing black voters is a requirement of winning the election. Because of the standard unity of voting and population size, this is a feature that to some extent is unique. Flipping this to “Bush” and “whites” doesn’t have anywhere the same punch. President Bush will get between 40% and 60% of the white vote. Moreover, getting whites to the polls may or may not help Bush win. But getting blacks to the polls is essential for Dean (presuming he gets the nomination). Additionally, based on the last few decades of presidential voting, getting blacks per se to vote will overwhelmingly favor the Democratic Party candidate.

But it’s a bit worrisome to hear Dean talk about his approach to this issue:
“You’ve got to go to the leadership in those communities. You can’t just do the grass roots without the blessing of the leaders,” Dean said last week.
Why is that? Why not talk to the actual black voters, like one would do for any other ethnic group? I think this type of thinking among modern liberals is a strong contributing factor to problems in the black community, who have to a large extent been betrayed by their “leaders” like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. If Democratic candidates don’t want to have an explicit “Sistah Souljah” moment they’d do well to do an endrun around the racial parasites that infest the current set of alledged community leaders.
Posted by aog at 21:38 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Unintended consequences

While the current world war was touched off by the Al Qaeda attack on the US, they are not the cause of it, anymore than Gavrilo Princip was the cause of World War I. The tensions have been building up really since oil was discovered in the Persian Gulf area. While there were issue before then, it wasn’t until that point in time that there was any realistic chance that the Caliphascists would be able to act out their brutal fantasies on the world stage.

But oil did other things. It enabled the Saudi Entity to fund the spread of their particularly reactionary sect of Islam across the Umma. Moreover, had there not been oil in that region of the globe, the response of the West would have been a bit more to the point then it has been up till opening event of WWIV in New York City and Washington DC on 11 Sep 2001.

Oil, having put the Arab Middle East on the world stage, has in some sense funded its downfall as well. One might think of it as a challenge which modern Islamic society has failed. The wealth brought by oil is no longer enough to sustain the dysfunctional regimes while at the same time providing enough wealth to fund attacks that have brought down the wrath of the Anglosphere. We can see the shrinking circle of their stage, first the world, then the Islamic world, then the Middle East and now mostly just Iraq, where even now their tide is ebbing.

Al Qaeda wanted to have a revolution, to make the world anew. At that they succeeded, although they seem to have gained little from their triumph.

11 September 2003

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Remembering the past, building the future

As I’m sure you are keenly aware, it’s the second anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks on the US. I’m not big on commemorative events. While it’s important to remember, I don’t see it as important to remember on just one day. For me, every time a Marine slags some jihadi in Iraq I feel that the events of 11 Sep 2001 have been properly commemorated. As for monuments, a transformed Middle East seems far mroe appropriate than any work of metal or stone.
It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who died here have bequeathed us. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that there shall be a new birth of freedom in the world.

10 September 2003

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Pay now or pay later

Oliver Willis illustrates in a post and a comment — “Who gives a crap about how we feel about the UN? I want their money” — one of the silly memes that’s going around, that we it was realistic to enlist more of the second and third rate powers to offset the costs of the Gulf War.

The most basic objection is that these “allies”, such as France or the Saudi Entity, would have cooperated in any case. One might also note that the UN is a parasite on the US and is not going to be a source of money. Just look at how the “oil for food” program worked out. That’s the kind of financing we can expect from the UN. Why Willis thinks it’s fine to have France loot the Iraqis of their oil but objects to even the hint of the US doing so is incomprehensible to me.

But on a more strategic level, Willis claims that’s were $55 billion short because we didn’t get other nations to kick in. One notes that in exchange for this money, we didn’t finish the war, we left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to die in horrible ways and had to go in again 11 years later. What did all of that cost? More than $55 billion. The primary reason we didn’t take out the Ba’ath in 1991 was because of the concerns of our “allies”. That reticence is what they bought with their money. This means that Willis is arguing that not taking out the Ba’ath in 1991 was not a bad idea and worth the extra cash. I, personally, don’t favor selling out our national security for what is at this level relatively modest sums. It’s penny wise and pound foolish, but then that’s standard Democratic economics.

09 September 2003

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If you would have peace,restrain America

On NPR this morning was a segment about a Japanese composer who has recently done some music to commemorate the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. While the music plays, people read from diaries of survivors of the attack. The composer referred to the music as a “call to peace”, apparently by the message that the people in Hiroshima were ordinary people struck by a man made disaster.

The first thought I had was “why not intersperse those readings with readings from the diaries of people who survived Nanking?” Is it possible that what happened there contributed to what happened later in Hiroshima?

But then it occurred to me that real peace activists (as opposed to tyranophilic apologists) should celebrate Hiroshima. It should be held up as an example of what can happen to nations that invade, loot and brutalize other nations. Or what happens if the people allow a militaristic authortarian government to be in power.

Instead, by treating Hiroshima in isolation, the message is that peace means preventing American attacks on other nations and in turn that peace means “The USA is not at war”. This certainly seems to be the viewpoint of the anti-war protestors so this is not just one loony composer. It’s unlikely to result in a better world, first because the USA is overall a strong force for peace and liberty, and second because just like as for “international law”, the American street is likely to become pyschologically isolationist in reaction. It won’t be that the citizenry won’t support intervention overseas, but that it will demand that any such action serves only American interests regardless of the cost to the rest of the world. That doesn’t seem like a good thing to strive to achieve.

08 September 2003

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It's not a real occupation

A bit of good news for Iraq — the NGOs are fleeing the country on the pretext that people crazy enough to blow up a UN building are dangerous to those pure of heart (as opposed to Evil Americans and Collaborationist Iraqis). I suspect it’s more because there’s no longer a dictator to suck up to. Besides, the NGOs are still active in Liberia, which has a number of blood thirsty tyrants to chose from (not to mention the difference in security and order between Liberia and Iraq).

06 September 2003

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Nothing's worse than a boring, public conspiracy

I’ve been following the conspiracy mongering about the Project for a New American Century’s policy paper on maintaining American world supremacy. I just chuckled to myself about the loonies who on about a “secret plot” that’s posted on the internet. (Hint to conspirazoids - if you read about it on the Internet, it’s not a secret)

But I realized that there’s actually a thread running there that’s in tune with common academic lunacy, which is the big build up and massive research to discover something that is already common wisdom, like that men like to look at pictures of naked women.

Here we have this alledged cabal of evil Jewish neocons, formulating their dark and sinister plans, which turn out to be keeping their country number one. This is a surprise? That the most powerful nation on the planet is planning on staying the most powerful nation on the planet? And it’s not like the mechanisms proposed are interesting. Genetically mutating squirrels into suicidal killer rodents with nano-technological mind control saliva, now that would be cool.

But noooo — it’s the same old boring strong economy, strong military, step on rivals before they get big, team up with second stringers who prefer that to being fourth stringers, etc. Yawn. What, exactly, do the conspirazoids think strategic planners working for the US government would be planning? How to surrender to Burma?

The one thing worse than a stupid conspiracy theory is one that is stupid and boring.

05 September 2003

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Tuning in to reality

Finally someone in the mainstream media is starting to figure out this UN thing. MSNBC notes that
the U.N.’s record in military operations is not encouraging […]

A decade ago, the United States was able to recruit a U.N. force to take over in Haiti —- but the Pentagon found itself having to equip the U.N. soldiers with weapons, radios, uniforms and in some cases even socks and underpants. “Most of these people come in their skivvies, and that’s it,” a senior Pentagon official said at the time.

The UN is to millitary competence as Italy was during the first half of the century.

I used to argue with some of the “black helicopter” crowd on this subject. They would express concern that the UN was going to invade and take over the US via some Illuminati style plot. I would point out that, based on the actual level of success achieved by the baby-blue helmets, any random gang of survivalists were probably better equipped, trained and motivated than UN troops. The UN troops probably couldn’t even take the inner city gang-bangers. Why the nativists were so scared of them was something I never understood.

Posted by aog at 16:23 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

UN ignore-ance

I have to agree with Armed Liberal about being unhappy with President Bush’s decision to go back to the UN on Iraq. Despite the view of some boosters, I think that we should stand alone, if necessary, and not go whining to the UN. Despite the media reports things don’t seem to be complete anarchy in Iraq and if we can hold out for another few months it seems that we can start transferring responsibility to the natives. Certainly there is some real pressure in Iraq for exactly that. Such a transition will be far better for us and them in the long run than letting the UN spread its poison. I believe strongly that greater UN involvement will make things worse and decrease the chances for a successful and prosperous Iraq. That result is in our interests but counter to the interests of the UN.

Beyond this, however, the action itself damaging even if it falls through (as seems likely). That won’t be remembered, the fact that Bush went back to the UN will be. The idea that this will decrease the credibility of the UN outside of the US is implausible. I’m not sure it will have that effect inside the US either. And even if it did, what’s the point? The only real goal that discrediting the UN could serve would be to make it ignorable. Why do that if you’re not going to actually ignore it?

03 September 2003

Posted by aog at 15:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Palestinian selflessness

The article cited in the previous post has some other interesting implications. Here’s a key paragraph:
The problem with the Jerusalem attack, from Hamas’s viewpoint, is that it was too successful. The large number of people killed, and the large number of children among them, aroused American and European anger at the organization […] and provided a rare moment of international legitimacy for Israel’s forceful response.
Note that - only if large numbers of people or children are killed does the international community accept any response by Israel (this is what prevents Israel from dealing with this properly). The article then asks
question is, what will happen if Hamas’s retaliation is similarly “successful” - and if, once again, the gain proves to be not worth the cost?
When has the gain ever been worth the cost? What gain has there ever been from these attacks? The gain from the last 3 years of violence has been hundreds of dead, civil unrest, the end of the closest agreement on peace and the destruction of the Palestinian economy. Until now, achieving that was worth all of the deaths on both sides? That’s so twisted that it’s difficult to even grasp the concept.

This has been a common theme running through the conflict and something that’s long since erased any trace of sympathy I had for the Palestinians. Whenever they are given a choice between helping themselves and hurting others, they chose to hurt others. It is the ultimate in spite, completely devoid of any self-interest. And if the Palestinians don’t matter to the Palestinians, why should they matter to me?

Posted by aog at 15:31 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Who's afraid of the IDF?

After a long discussion over at Junkyard Blog about what the Palestinians really want, I saw this article over at Little Green Footballs. It describes the fact that the Hamas leadership is running scared now that Israel has the capability and the will to frag them without large numbers of civilian casualties.

This ties back in to my final comment in that thread, which is that Israel hasn’t just built a wall and hunkered down behind it. The problem with that is that it would require declaring a Palestinian state and then retaliating against that state for attacks. In order to actually discourage attacks the retaliation would have to be WWII class bombings, something I don’t think Israel is capable of doing because of internal politics and world opinion. This article demonstrates that point. Note that, up to now, despite the fact that there is a low level war going on, the Hamas leadership had no fear of Israeli retaliation. It is only now that there is fear. What other revolutionary / rebellious / partisan group has ever been able to operate for decades, killings civilians, without the leadership being in fear of its life? Something to think about.