31 October 2003

Posted by aog at 15:11 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

What is the plan?

There are many complaints about the post-war planning in Iraq, but of course we don’t much commentary on the post-war planning by the Ba’ath and other Caliphascist factions. They don’t seem to have done all that well either, leading one to believe that perhaps things were difficult to predict.

The buzz now is that the forces of resistance to civilization are preparing a large counter attack, in the manner of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968. There are some parallels but some differences as well.

The Tet Offensive was a military debacle for the Viet Cong. Although the US and ARVN forces suffered heavy casualties, the Viet Cong were wiped out. This was the last time the Viet Cong ever managed to field significant field forces. After Tet, the war was run on North Vietnamese regulars, not insurgents. Beyond this, Orrin Judd notes that

The war was effectively won for the South at that point because it was no longer an indigenous guerilla war but a traditional war between the nation of the North and the nation of the South. Over the next couple of years that war too was essentially won for the South. Only Watergate brought an end to the conflict on the North’s terms and even then the South, abandoned by its only ally, acquited itself reasonably well. Mere bombing, which we’d promised, of Northern supply routes might have deferred the South’s collapse indefinitely.

I would add that even continued arms and logistic supplies from the US would probably have preserved the South but that was cut off by Congress in 1975, dooming hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese to imprisonment, torture and death.

On the propaganda front, however, it was a major strategic victory for the Communists. The major ally of the South was pushed into domestic turmoil and eventually withdrew its forces and aid. It removed any prospect of an aggressive defense of the South.

In addition, it eliminated the Viet Cong, which was considered a feature by the North because the Viet Cong might well have resisted what the North later did to the South. As is common in Communist politics, factions that aren’t useful need to be disposed of or expended. In this case, the North expended the Viet Cong to sever the alliance between the US and the South. Overall, I think that it was good strategy, although Judd contests (as quoted above) that it would ahve cost them victory in the war except for accidents of US politics.

With regard to Iraq, what are the parallels with Tet? A strong similarity is that there is a US army in place, along with opposition by a mix of native and foreign forces against a relatively weak local government. While the opposition forces don’t have a super power backin them, they do have access to a lot of weaponry, money and troops so that’s roughly similar as well. It is, as Vietnam was, a proxy fight between two powers, the Anglosphere and the Caliphascists. The Anglosphere is again fighting a restricted war against an unconstrained opponent (for instance, there are reports that US forces don’t return mortar fire, even though they know the location of the enemy mortars, for fear of civilian casualties). In many ways the set up is quite similar.

What does this mean for strategy? In some sense, a Tet style attack would be a good thing, not a bad one. As noted, Tet destroyed the local opposition forces. A similar battle now, even if costly in American and Iraq blood, could be of enormous benefit if it eviscerates the remaining Ba’ath loyalists. A situation where it’s Iraqis vs. foreign forces would be much more tractable for the Coalition.

Would it be a good move from the point of view of the opposition? Probably not for the Ba’ath loyalists or the foreign jihadis, but what about their backers? I think we can take as given that the Caliphascists view the Iraqi Ba’ath as expendable munitions. It’s likely the in-country jihadis are viewed the same way, since they’re easily replaceable1. Achieving significant successes against the Coalition, regardless of how transitory or imbalanced, is a very valuable political goal. It’s hard to see the Caliphascists holding back just because their current forces in Iraq would be decimated if there was a good chance of getting in some hard hits on the US forces. It’s just one big suicide bomb.

However, my view is that because of other changes in US politics that Tet style propaganda will be much less effective. It could be that the constant harping on this by US media will mislead the Caliphascists into overestimating their ability to spin the casualties from a big, coordinated attack. Just like there was an emerging skepticism about the government that drove the success of the Tet propaganda efforts, in my view there is now an equivalent rising skepticism about Big Media which will blunt any such propaganda and may well do for Big Media what the Vietnam war did for government credibility.

1 In fact, one might argue that it’s good for backers like the Saudi Entity to expend them. One of the primary goals of the Saudi Entity is to deflect the jihadis away from themselves. Getting them chewed up in Iraq serves that purpose quite well.

29 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:11 | Comments (5) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Science and authority

Although science is a fundamentally a skeptical endeavor of questioning and testing, in reality the field of knowledge in modern science is so large that almost all of it is taken on faith, primarily through argument by authority. Who, really, has done the experiments necessary to prove Newton’s Laws or the ideal gas equation?

What happens is that different parts of the ideosphere of science operate at different speeds. New ideas are hard tested but as they age and survive many tests, the ideas move to slower time regions of the ideosphere where they gradually settle into the bedrock. Overall, this is probably for the best as we would be hard pressed to make progress if we spent most of our experimenting on well tested ideas.

However, there is a psychological downside to this, especially when a scientist moves out of his own field and most particularly when the scientist moves in to politics. There is scarcely anything like real testing of fine grained hypotheses in that realm. This leaves the scientist vulnerable to whatever fad is sweeping the political ideosphere at the time because it has the same aura of authority as the bedrock knowledge of science.

Orrin Judd has a post on this which discusses it in a sweeping scale. My anecdote is of a micro-scale. I was reading Science News which has a cover story on a geologist who is trying to build a “better” periodic table of the elements. That was interesting and the story mentioned other attempts to improve the table. The kicker at the end was the statement

Getting the entire world to adopt the same, new periodic table will be a challenge, especially because the table will need to garner approval from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

Why, exactly, is that? Couldn’t a group of scientists simply put out a new version which, if seen to be superior, would supplant the old one as people adopted it on their own? No, the only way is appeal to and enforcement by authority. Where is the testing, the questioning, the independence of thought? At least the geologist wasn’t waiting approval from some committee.

28 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

MTWikiVars

What have I been doing instead of fixing Orrin’s comments? Working a number of technology bits. One was a quick MT plugin to automatically close comments on MT posts. But the bigger effort was on my MTWikiVars plugin.

If you’re not a geek, you should probably move on at this point.

I’ve been working with TWiki corporately but the internals were not robust enough for my corporate requirements so, being me, I decided to restructure it. The first thing I worked on was redoing the way TWiki handles its “variable” processing. In TWiki, a variable is set off by ‘%’ characters and can be either a string or a function. However, internally the processing is done in a very ad hoc and scattered way. I wanted a unified piece of code that did all of the basic processing in one place. I built that and then to test it I built an adapter that allowed it to be used in Movable Type. It’s actually kind of cool and I’ve started using for real on some of my weblogs. I even modified Textile to automatically detect and use my WikiVars if the plugin was installed.

Using WikiVars

The basic functionality is to allow the assignment and use of string variables.

To use a WikiVar, one types ‘$var$’ This string is replaced by the value of var. A WikiVar name must consist of letters and the characters ‘-’ and ‘_’.

The standard Wiki format for assignment is ugly so I invented my own with inspiration from PERL and Textile. To assign a value to a WikiVar one types ‘$var=δvalueδ$’ where δ is a delimiter character. This can be any printable character that is not a valid character for a WikiVar name. Therefore $var=”value”$ or $var=%value%$ are equivalent. This avoid the question “but how do I put this character in the string?”. If you need a ” then you can use % as a delimiter instead. As a special case, any of the four characters <,[,{,( is not matched by the same character but by the matching “right” character >,],},) respectively. Therefore another way to do the assignment is $var=<value>$. The assignment itself is completely removed from the output text.

This turns out to be handy for doing repitive things inside a post. For instance, an acronym that you want to use multiple times with the same hover text. One can do

$OJ=”<acronym title=”Orrin Judd”>OJ</acronym>”$
I was reading a post by $OJ$ the other day. This time $OJ$ was going off on …

Each instance of $OJ$ will be replaced with the ACRONYM element to give a text ‘OJ’ with the hover text ‘Orrin Judd’. Astute readers at this point will ask, ‘didn’t you use a ” as a delimiter and in the string itself? Isn’t that a typo?’. No, it isn’t. Because the ” isn’t immediately followed by a $ that’s not the end of the value. This makes putting characters like ” in values even easier.

This is reasonably useful but there are additional features that make it even more so. Among the WikiVar template tags are ones that can perform these assignments. Therefore one can put the assignments in an MT template for use in posts or comments. More commonly, one would put them in an MT template module and then include that module. Another WikiVar tag will read a file, process all of the assignments in the file and then discard the results. By using that in MT templates one can have an external file with WikiVar style defines and comment text to define all of the standard variables. Further, changing WikiVar to use ‘:’ instead of ‘$’ is a one character change in the source by design. One could with very little work do text smileys of the form ‘:grin:’, ‘:smile:’, ‘:sad:’ in an easy to use syntax and easy to edit file.

Function WikiVars

Beyond this, WikiVar also supports function variables. When these are used, a PERL subroutine is called and its return value is used as the value for the WikiVar. The subroutine recieves the MT context object and the argument string and then returns whatever it likes. Such function variables can only be defined in other PERL code or via MT tags - I consider it too dangerous to allow in direct text. Note that these function variables are simply to use in text once defined.

To give an example, I have a function variable named ‘note’ that I can use. If I wrote $note(This is cool stuff, eh?)$ the output would be an icon like this that expands into the note text when clicked (and folds back up when done). This requires some Javascript support in the Template but all of the local HTML hackery is done by the ‘note’ function variable. For work I have another one that looks like $drone(aog, Annoying Old Guy)$ which turns in to a link with the text ‘Annoying Old Guy’ that links to my corporate directory entry (which is keyed by my e-mail address, ‘aog’). Beyond that, I have another one that doesn’t spit out the HTML to do that but defines another WikiVar that contains the appropriate HTML so I can reuse it.

Overall, this provides a relatively clean way to expose PERL subroutines to authors and commentors. An alternative method is to build MT tags to do it, but I like this syntax better. It’s also much cleaner, IMHO than the MTPerl plugin. One can also compare WikiVar to the MTMacro plugin. WikiVar is not as powerful in that the form of the macro is limited and it doesn’t do containers but the syntax is much easier to use and it suffices for my purposes.

Miscellaneous

MTWikiVar provides scoping to prevent assignments in a post or comment from propagating to other posts / comments. This is under template control.

MTWikiVar also provides the ability (in a template) to invoke a WikiVar and then reprocess the output for MT tags. I use this do this things like this year in review. The actual template code that creates the calendar is

<MTWikiVarEval>$YearArchive(2003)$</MTWikiVarEval>

Posted by aog at 10:46 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Smart or stupid depends on the goals

One of the stories going around the blogosphere these days is spying on synagogues in the UK. What I wonder is, what is the point of that? It seems to me this represents the triumph of ideology over strategy. Suppose this effort was successful and the Caliphascists perpetrated an atrocity in the UK. This would be a strategic success in what way? I think it would probably serve to further isolate the Caliphascist supporters in the USA. Given that the USA is the lynchpin of the effort against the Caliphascists, I don’t really see the benefit of that. I suppose such an attack might help energize the Judenhass already present in Europe, but that will again force a starker choice in the West between fighting Caliphascism or accepting a second Jewis Holocaust. Perhaps that’s really the goal, to split the Ummah in the West from the West. The response of the Western Ummah has already been very disappointing for anyone who wants to avoid a world wide religious war but if that is your goal then this might be the right strategy. Why the Caliphascists think an all-out war between the Ummah and the rest of the world is a good thing is still a puzzle, though.

Posted by aog at 10:25 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Time to make a stand

What can one say about the big bang lead off for Ramadan in Iraq?

The first is the standard one, which is the stunning naivité of the Red Cross (or perhaps their cynical disingeniousness) at the surprise that they would be targeted. But the attacks of the Caliphascists have been shifting from hard targets of the US to soft targets of NGOs and local Iraqis. On the other hand, there has been a strong effort in the West to deny the real goal of the Caliphascists, the restoration of the Caliphate and the destruction of all who are in the way of that goal.

There’s also some soft bigotry going on, in that the Iraqi people are treated as pawns on the board by both the Caliphascists and the NGOs. The former abuse them for their own goals while the latter view the conflict as involving just the Caliphascists and the USA / Anglosphere. But the Iraqi people are in fact an actor in this war, not just a resource to be moved around from one side to the other.

Some may call for additional US troops but I’m not sure that’s the best choice. We need to put the Iraqis in the action loop. The Caliphascists can’t operate unless they have some popularity in the population. It was one of my concerns that accept this kind of abuse rather than “betray” their fellow Iraqis / Muslims even as those fellows unleash death and misery on them. Ultimately we can’t protect Iraq from Iraqis. If this kind of thing doesn’t promote at least tactical cooperation then I don’t really see much hope for treating Middle Eastern countries with the kid gloves we’ve used so far and we’ll have to resort the WWII tactics. Those, at least, seemed to have worked in terms of reducing the security threat from the targeted nations.

Posted by aog at 10:00 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Choking off spam

USS Clueless has a post about e-mail filters designed to detect spam. I’m skeptical because I’ve seen this kind of claim before on technology that, for me at least, just doesn’t work very well. But there’s really a different, more fundamental issue with the concept that these kind of filters will hurt the spammers.

The point is, who is going to use this software? If it’s not used by people who buy products from spammers then it’s useless in terms of discouraging spam. If a person just deletes all spam (as I do), then such filters may make his life easier but it will pass unnoticed by the spammers, who can hardly tell if I’ve deleted by hand or via a spam filter. Very few spammers do what they do because they’re spiteful, but because the technique overall works, i.e. is profitable. It’s profitable because enough people out of the milions of recipients actually purchase products from the spammers. So Den Beste’s dream will only become reality if spam product buyers use filters in significant numbers.

This raises the interesting question of what purpose an e-mail filter serves for such a person. It’s kind of like locking the refrigerator to stay on a diet. Will people get spam filters to prevent themselves from buying products from spammers? Why not just not buy? Yet we certainly have many examples of people erecting barriers today to interfere with the actions of their future selves. So perhaps there is some hope.

It’s not the case that e-mail filters are useless - a working one can certainly improve the quality of life for most e-mail users. But I don’t see it making a big change in the total amount of spam that’s floating about. That can only come through a reduced tendency to cooperate with the spammers. If the success rate drops low enough then they’ll stop.

27 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Red vs. Black

Andrew Sullivan and Harry are contending with the implications of the fellow traveling of the Caliphascists and the International Socialists. The primary example of this are the anti-USA protests being organized by the Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP) via its front organization ANSWER.

Sullivan thinks the two will become the same movement, while Harry thinks that the Socialists have turned in to nihilists and will co-opt the Caliphascists. I find Harry’s position a bit doubtful. The problem is that, in previous situations like this where the Socialists and the Fascists were contending to overthrow an existing state that I can recall, the Fascists won. There was Germany of the 20’s and 30’. Or Chile in the 70’s. Or Spain in the 30’s. Now, the Socialists have triumphed against the Fascists but only once the Fascists were already in power. When both groups were insurgents, the Fascists won.

I think that result is even more likely today. The Socialists of previous decades still believed in the Marxist future and the tide of history. That’s somewhat difficult to sustain now. The Caliphascists, on the other hand, have had several decades of progress and have only recently experienced (to them temporary) reverses. In addition, the Caliphascists have the monetary backing of the Saudi Entity which is significant. Finally, I expect that the Socialists of the West simply are not used to playing at the level that the Caliphascists do in terms of real bloody mindedness.

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

You can't support the masses without helping the people

I think it’s worth belaboring a key difference between the geopolitics of progressives and conservatives and their relationship to useful but odius regimes.

For the conservatives, odius regimes, even while helpful, were still distasteful. Such regimes (like Chile or Argetina) weren’t supported because of their innate goodness but because

  • They weren’t all bad
  • The alternatives were worse
  • Their help was necessary in fighting a greater evil, Communism

This was always termed hypocrisy by the progressives, just an exercise in excuse making by tyranophilic conservatives who wanted to institute a similar regime in the US.

While Communism was still a world class threat, this couldn’t be resolved. But now that Communism is being laid on the scrap heap of history, what do we see in conservative foreign policy? Could it be a slow but sure turn away from being friendly with odius regimes? Is this not precisely what conservatives were lambasted for having no interest in doing during the Cold War? One might think that the progressives would put on their smug little smiles and say “ok, so you’ve finally wised up - let’s get to work”.

But what we see instead are progressives flocking to the banner of these odius regimes that were such an albatross around the neck of conservatives a decade or two ago. It is the progressive side that supports odius regimes of all stripes now, from Fidel Castro to Kim Jong Il to Saddam Hussein to Yasser Arafat. Is it just another artifact of the progressive death spiral of picking the worst of the lot as their paladins? Or is it simple anti-Americanism? It’s probably a variety of causes but what shines through is the utter despite modern day progressives have for actual human beings.

Note: Andrew Sullivan does a good job of describing this in the micro form over the course of the invasion of Iraq.

Posted by aog at 09:23 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Modern witch hunting

Are lawsuits the modern form of witch hunting? In primitive societies, if something bad happened that it was presumed to be caused by some sentient agency. Frequently this would be a witch, who would then be accused and persecuted. As the West became more knowledgable about the physical world the awareness grew that witchcraft simply didn’t work and therefore couldn’t be the cause of tragedies.

Yet the desire to find an agency (and not just a cause) for any tragedy is still with us, we just use different terms and means to perform a modern witch hunt.

One aspect of this is conspiracy theories. The essence of any such theory is that all of the evil and suffering in the world isn’t the natural result of the world being full of flawed human beings, but because some evil “witches” are manipulating the state of things to bring about the bad results. Sometimes this is for their own benefit while in other theories the “witches” are just evil. But the basic mindset is the same.

I think the current legal climate in the US is another aspect. If a tragedy occurs, then it is presumed to be caused by some specific agency who must be punished via the legal system. One can see this in that immediately after a tragedy the lawsuits are filed, before any investigation. That’s symptomatic of the presumption of agency. In a less witch hunting atmosphere one would expect that causes to be investigated and the lawsuits filed after it had been established (or at least plausibly claimed) that the cause was human agency. But that kind of deliberation seems infrequent. This isn’t something that bodes well for tort reform, but perhaps the success of this meme is in fact related to the success of the legal strategy. In a sense this kind of witch hunting “works” in that it benefits its practitioners. The first step to making it a superstition again is to eliminate the benefits of suing first, asking questions later.

Posted by aog at 09:12 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Who cares, really?

Another of the standard posts about government healthcare which equates the compassion of a society with how much government funded healthcare there is. There’s always the question of why healthcare is such a dominating issue for the Left (to the extent that national healthcare seems to excuse anything else).

What’s interesting is the title of this post, “Americans still care about one another”. The presumption here, which seems a common one, is that the only way to care about other citizens is by subcontracting that caring to a huge federal bureaocracy. The view seems to be that it is impossible to care about other citizens directly, that it is only possible via government agency. This is in fact a totalitarian viewpoint, where society and government are conflated and nothing interaction between citizens is outside the scope of that government.

Moreover, it’s far from clear that a desire for government funded healthcare is really caring for fellow citizens. It strikes me as far more of a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. Rather than the work of having good relations with family and friends, or joining a private organization, one should just have the government spend someone else’s money for one’s personal benefit. That kind of thinking is the symptom of an atomized, alienated nation, not one that has a lot of mutual respect and caring among the citizens.

When Toqueville wrote of the US, one of the signal strengths he found was the proliferation of private organziations dedicated to the care and help of fellow citizens. I have always strongly agreed with that view. What we see on display here is the exact opposite, a view that such organizations are a sign of weakness and decay from which the only path of recovery is to replace such volunteers with paid government employees. This seems completely backwards to the Leftist insistence on personal activism and sacrifice, but of course Left has always really been about salving their consciences on other people’s dime.

24 October 2003

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

Scraping the bottom of a full barrel

I’ve been following the Schiavo case in Florida, involving a comatose woman and her husband who wants to remove her feeding tube, despite the fact that the wife’s parents would be willing to assume responsibility for her. Some other interesting facts are
Her husband’s motives in seeking the judge’s order are suspect. He won a lawsuit over Terri’s medical care that has $750,000 in escrow to pay for her care, and he stands to inherit the money if Terri dies while they remain married. He is engaged to another woman and has fathered a child by her, but he has refused to divorce Terri. Nurses have testified that he complained to them, “When is that bitch going to die?
There’s plenty of direct discussion on this elsewhere so I want to write about one of my hobby horses – the Left’s penchant for picking scum to defend.

Certainly if one wanted to argue about the right to die, personal dignity and the ability to chose one’s own end, this seems like the worst possible case. Couldn’t the ACLU find someone who was being driven to financial ruin, destroying his children’s chances at an education, to pay for his comatose wife’s care where no one else could or would help him out? Instead we have a guy who seems to view his wife primarily as the lock on a treasure chest.

But this is now standard fare for the Left. I remember a Chicago Tribune story at the start of welfare reform about the plight of those who were having their checks cut back or stopped. The focus of the article was a woman with multiple kids by different men who couldn’t get a job because she wasn’t a morning person! Yeah, that really pegged out my sympathy meter. Or this guy who was presented as a sympathetic victim of homelessness but when you read the details you think “what a whiner!”. On the political side we have the defense of Bill Clinton, Gray Davis and the acceptance of Al Sharpton as a mainstream candidate. There is the effective defense of the Ba’ath regime and the concern about keeping North Korean civilians “out of harm’s way”. The Palestinians as the poster children for national self-determination. Abu-Jamal Mumia as the role model for political prisoners. . It just goes on and on.

Is Orrin Judd right? Does the secularism of the Left lead to this kind of compete inability to even think about values and judgement? I really do not understand this tendency at all.

Posted by aog at 09:01 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It's worth it just for the schadenfruede

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal has an article by Susan Lee about Iraq’s foreign debt in which she argues against repudiating it (not online as far as I can tell). I found the arguments rather weak.

Russia didn’t do this for Soviet debts

So what? Russia could have, but decided that it was in their best interests not to. Is Lee seriously suggesting that Russia accepted the debts because of any moral concern with legality or international law? One also notes that it was Russia that decided to honor the debt, not the debt holders.

Repudiating odius debt is a good/bad idea

I can’t make any sense of Lee’s position here. She says it would be good because
the notion that the mere possibility of repudiation would stop lending to such tyrants in the future has merit
and that it would be bad because the
retroactive application would scare the pants off creditors to China. The effect would likely be to freeze lending to countries with dubious forms of government. At the very least, debt repudiation would cause risk premiums to rise.
Uh, isn’t the second point the enforcement mechanism of the first? Isn’t repudiation of odius debt by definition retroactive? I can’t see how one would repudiate debts that didn’t already exist.

Debt repudiation would not help Iraq regain its place in the global financial system

It wouldn’t help, but I don’t see that it would hurt much. Moreover, Iraq doesn’t really need any loans at this point in time so any loan problems would be put off at least a few years. And beyond that, isn’t this exactly what people said about the Latin American debt crisis of the 1970’s? That prediction doesn’t seem to have panned out. As far as I can tell, money lenders are willing to over look a lot in order to lend money. I’m frequently stunned by how willing, so it’s hard to view this as a real long term problem.

And then, suddenly, she’s done. That’s it, those are essentially the only arguments, not one of which is even mildly persuasive. Is the WSJ deliberately putting up substandard arguments for policy positions they disagree with? If this is the best the non-repudiation side can come up with, I’m more convinced than ever that t’s time to scare off lending to corrupt, dictatorial regimes. Repudiate the Iraqi debt.

Posted by aog at 08:32 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Honey trap for hard core Labor leftists?

The British Labor Party has expelled MP George Galloway. Most people have wondered why it’s taken this long for Labor to get on with it, but the moonbat contingent is up in arms. Could this be part of an effort to have other loons expell themselves from Labor? It would be a great time to do it, as the Tories are no longer an effective party. It would be much simpler than the Powers That Be trying to ferret out the wackos.

23 October 2003

Posted by aog at 10:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Where's the money?

Reuters is reporting that $4 billion is unaccounted for by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the current ruling body in Iraq. What I want to know is, what happened to th Error: WikiVar “10B-” not defined15B that was sitting in French banks for the “oil for food” program under the UN? That’s dropped right off the media radar, hasn’t it?

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

Here ya go, Harry

Harry wonders why no one else has done a hit job on this bit of lunacy in The Guardian. I meant to do that earlier, it was on my list, but I didn’t get around to it.

One can tell that the article is off to a bad start when it labels Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden “bogeymen”, which means in part “imaginary”. Presumably this is based on the idea that the Mossad arranged for the 11 Sep attacks, otherwise it’s hard to understand that at all. But the article briskly moves on:
First, they tried to dismiss Iraqi resistance as the work of “Saddam loyalists”. Then they sought to blame “outside forces”. Now, as it becomes clear that Iraqis of all sects oppose the occupation, a third explanation has arisen. Terrorism, anarchy and criminality are prevalent in Iraq because … er … terrorism, anarchy and criminality are what Iraqis do.
I’d love to see some sources for this. As I remember it, both of the first two explanations have been on the table since the day after the invasion was over. As for the third, isn’t that the Leftist argument about why it’s pointless to try to reform Iraq and also the basis for the “it’s all Israel/America/Bush’s fault” line of argument?
“I read TE Lawrence before I came here,” a British officer was quoted in the Mail on Sunday. “A century ago he recognised dishonesty was inherent in Arab society. Today is the same. They do nothing for love and nothing at all if they can help it.” The attitudes of the officer, shocking though they are, only mirror those of the people who sent him to war. Scratch a neo-con and you find an Arabophobe. Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, has berated Arabs on the “need to change their behaviour”.
Why, yes, when one wants to know what Condoleeze Rice thinks about Arabs, the best approach is to interview some random British officer. How could I not have seen that before?

Yet Clark doesn’t rest on just this kind of inane segue but throws in a couple of logical errors as well.

  • The implication is that Arabs have no need to change their behaviour, that the oppression, squalor and brutality of the Arab world is just fine. Isn’t that the “terrorism, anarchy and criminality are what Iraqis do” we saw before, now committed by Clark?
  • If Rice really believed that Arabs were fundamentally incapable of reform, why would she call for them to change their actions? That presumes that Arabs can change their behavior. Who’s the Arabophobe here, Rice or Clark?
Perhaps I misinterpret Clark, though - he goes on to talk about what behaviors in the Arab world he think Rice wants changed:
For the first time, we have an American administration that talks of “de-Arabising” the Middle East - the ultimate Perleian dream of Arab nations governed by clones of Ahmed Chalabi, their bazaars buried under shopping malls and Arab hospitality (not good for business) replaced by western corporate ethics.
Oh, yeah, the chemical warfare, massive ecological crimes, government sponsored murder, torture and rape, lack of free speech, state run media, religious intolerance, terrorism - those can’t be what Rice is talking about. It must be Arab hospitality that’s her target! President Bush has clearly stated that he’s fine with those other things and only despise traditional Arab hospitality, which stands in the way of WalMart. Clark is also upset about double standards:
Contrast Jeremy Paxman’s handling of Ruth Wedgewood, an American neo-conservative, and Imad Moustapha, Syria’s deputy ambassador to the US, on Newsnight recently. Professor Wedgewood was treated with a deference you would expect Paxman to reserve for his great aunt, Dr Moustapha with a withering contempt and studied condescension (why should we believe you, “old chap”?). But with respect, Jeremy, why should we not believe Dr Moustapha?
Because he’s a tool of a brutal, oppressive regime that kills people who don’t parrot the official line? Oh, wait — that’s just what Arabs do so we be accepting of it, eh, Clark? Or is it just that Leftists like you have always trusted the mouthpieces of blood drenched dicatorships over citizens of a liberal society? We can see the latter in this statement:
The British public had to decide who was telling the truth: Tony Blair, with his claim that Iraq posed “a very real threat to Britain”, or Saddam, with his repeated denials. The neo-cons knew that their case for war was painfully thin. But they banked on Arabophobia - stoked by their allies in the media - to do the rest: Tony, the white, middle-class churchgoer, or Saddam, the swarthy Arab? For many, there was no contest. Of course, Saddam couldn’t possibly be telling the truth about not possessing WMD. He’s an Arab. Arabs lie.
Yes, I remember all the discussion about this with Her Majesty’s Government just responding, “well, Saddam’s an Arab - what more need we say? Not to mention that he’s swarthy!”. You’d think that maybe HMG might have talked about Ba’ath violations of international sanctions, ceasefires, and peace treaties, or the brutal suppression of any dissent in Iraq, or its launching of wars of aggression, but no - Blair could only go on about swarthiness and Arabness.
Critical to the neo-con plan to obtain control of the resources of the Middle East is a need to portray Arabs not just as mendacious, but also as “barely capable” of running their own countries without benign outside interference […] and seek to portray Iraq as a backward and savage land, would rather we forget that up until the imposition of sanctions by Britain and the US, independent Ba’athist Iraq, although a dictatorship, had the most developed infrastructure, the best healthcare and the best universities of any country in the Middle East.
Not savage? I suppose that an apoligist for the USSR might not consider the torture, rape and murder centers of the Ba’ath as not savage. As for well run, Clark here is claiming that the Ba’ath threw away all of that infrastructure and health care (it’s always about health care) in order to not destroy WMD that didnt’ exist. That’s “well run”? What about that little war with Iran? Or the erased villages in Iraq? Oh wait - that’s just what Arabs do, eh Clark, so how can we judge it?
“Iraqis are the world’s best dodgers and thieves - they are descended from a direct line of Ali Babas,” says Corporal Kevin Harnley of the Royal Engineers, bemoaning the black market in British-issue police uniforms. The irony, that he himself has been an accomplice to one of the most audacious smash-and-grab enterprises in the history of thievery, seems to have been lost on him.
OK, now Clark’s reduced to quoting corporals. I await with baited breath what exactly the Coalition has “grabbed” from Iraq. As for smashing, didn’t Clark just blame that on sanctions and not the invasion? We’re so good we smashed everything twice? However, the current conference in Madrid to divide up the spoils from Iraq shows Clark’s point. They’re meeting to take money from Iraq, right? I mean, there’s no way the smash&grabbers would be sending money to Iraq.

21 October 2003

Posted by aog at 20:33 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Peace on another planet

Melanie Phillips rakes Amos Oz over the coals for his bizarre “Geneva Accords”, which result from a process he describes The Guardian
After two years of secret talks, a group of prominent Israeli leftists and Palestinian leaders this week unveiled what they claim is a blueprint for Middle-Eastern peace. Israeli novelist Amos Oz, who was one of them, explains how the negotiators finally tackled the ‘radioactive core’ of the conflict […]
After two years of intense negotiating that leads to a document that doesn’t mention the “right of return”, Oz notices that
As far as I am aware, we have never heard from any representative Palestinian actor the words “the Jewish people,” and we have certainly not heard any word of recognition of the Jewish people’s national right to establish an independent state in the Land of Israel.
Let me see if I have this right. Oz doesn’t seem any fundamental problem with the fact that after two years of negotiating a “peace” plan, the other side not once conceded the most essential item in the plan, the continued existence of Israel? Oz demonstrates just what a different world he lives in when he says
The problem of the 1948 refugees, which is really the heart of our national security predicament, is resolved comprehensively, completely, and absolutely outside the borders of the State of Israel and with broad international assistance
The current Palestinian refugee camps are the most lavishly funded in the history of the world. The result was them still being around over fifty years later. An observer of actual facts might note that funding seems to correlate inversely with the longevity of refugee camps. But we can Oz isn’t real big on the “fact” thing when he claims
we Israelis could have long ago lived in peace and security had we offered the Palestinian people in 1967 what this document offers them now. Had we not been inebriated with victory after the conquests of the Six Day War.
Oz has apparently forgotten that there weren’t any Palestinians in 1967. They were Egyptians, or Jordanians, or Syrians. There was no “Palestinian Authority” to turn the conquests over to. In fact both Egypt and Jordan abandoned the territory rather than negotiate with Israel (or, because they flat out didn’t want the territory if it came with pre-installed Palestinians). One is also left to wonder, if Oz is correct, why was there a war in 1967? If the situation was such that an offer of the 1949 borders was acceptable, what was the war about?

I was originally just going to post this as a clipping but every time I read a bit more of it I saw some other glaring delusion. I didn’t get all of them - see if you can find any more.

Posted by aog at 10:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

More speech, not less

Instapundit has a long post (for him) on the Greg Easterbrook controversy and media concentration. Instapundit’s solution is more government regulation of “media”, as if Congress can even define media.

In my view the solution is to lower the barriers to entry, not raise them. Every additional regulation makes it more difficult for new media (both new types and new entries in existing types) to arise. This may help the concentration issue in the short term but long term it will make it worse by stifling competition. Instead of trying to patch a broken system, Congress should be looking at how to reduce regulation in a way that encourages new companies and technologies. As with other types of destructive speech, the solution is encouraging more speech not more tightly restricting what’s already out there.

20 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:40 | Comments (7) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

You can't trust anything, really

I first saw this article in the WSJ and thought it was a flaw argument, but then there was discussion about it at the Brothers Judd. The quote in question is from Kant:
The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know, and that limit is reality itself

In his “Critique of Pure Reason,” Kant showed that this premise is false. In fact, he argued, there is a much greater limit to what human beings can know. The only way that we apprehend reality is through our five senses. But why should we believe, Kant asked, that our five-mode instrument for apprehending reality is sufficient for capturing all of reality? What makes us think that there is no reality that goes beyond, one that simply cannot be apprehended by our five senses?

The first thing to wonder is, is Kant talking about our five senses unaided by technology? If so, then it’s quite a silly argument. One need only consider such things as an atomic force microscope which, with a suitable attachment, allows one to “feel” and manipulate single atoms. Clearly there is no way to do this with unaided senses, yet people do it anyway. So the basic senses clearly do not create a limit to knowledge.

On the other hand, if Kant is speaking of senses even when aided by technology, his argument makes even less sense. With things like X-Ray telescopes, technology can transmute initially imperceptible things in to some mix of our existing senses. On what basis does Kant claim some limit to this? We can listen to the beating of the sun if we chose. It’s a rather Samuel Johnson response.

It may be that there are limits based on our cognitive limitations, but again it’s hard to say that advancements in technology cannot create post humans capable of more complex information processing (or even that have additional physical senses).

A final objection is that when we use technology we have to take things on faith, if nothing else that our technology is actually “observing” reality rather than just generating noise we interpret as real. However, this objection is just as weak as the others because it contrasts human senses with technology. But what’s the real difference? Who really thinks that human vision is an absolutely accurate perception of the world? One need only consider the blind spot to realize that even our direct senses are inaccurate and provide us with a false perception of reality. So technologically aided senses are not fundamentally less reliable than our built in ones.

All in all, i find Kant’s point a rather a silly one. Perhaps we can excuse him because technology wasn’t as prevelant nor knowledge of innate senses as well developed as they are today, but that’s no excuse for moderns who repeat this discredited idea.

Posted by aog at 09:13 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

However bad it is, we can make it worse

I was reading the Brothers Judd this morning about the killing of three Americans by Palestinian terrorists. I’ve commented on the stupidity of paying the Egyptians while they help smuggle weapons to do this kind of thing, but this post made me think - “just how stupid is it of the Palestinians to openly kill Americans?”

While the Palestinians see the US as biased in favor of Israel (which, of course, the US is because it is on the side of liberty), that’s not the same as the US actively opposing the Palestinians. The US acts as a large brake on Israel actions against the Palestinians - what happens if the US stops restraining Israel or actively joins in? Or shifts that $2 billion / year from Egypt to Israel, where it would do US interests a lot more good? Have the Palestinians bought in to the idea that Israel is simply incapable of doing anything really brutal regardless of whether they’re restrained by the US?

Perhaps that latter is true, perhaps the Israelis are simply not vicious enough to threaten the Palestinians (what could they do that’s worse than what the current Palestinian leadership and other Arab countries do to the Palestinians?). The US, however, has demonstrated in the past that it has a mean streak that sufficient provocation can bring out. As Orrin Judd comments,
Whatever those catastrophes [caused by the US] are, they’re nothing compared to the ones that will be visited on them if they really decide to generalize this conflict
Posted by aog at 08:48 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Collaborative thought

Here’s a quote from Andrew Sullivan:
I should really respond to Leon Wieseltier’s diatribe against blogging […]
the hubris of this whole blogging enterprise. There is no such thing as instant thought, which is why reflection and editing are part of serious writing and thinking
Hubris? I think it would be hubris if one believed that somehow blogging is a superior form of writing to all others, or somehow revealing of the truth in ways that other writing isn’t.
While Sullivan goes on to defend blogging as just “different”, I think would defend the stronger statement and say that blogging does indeed reveal truth in a way other writing doesn’t. Sullivan is still basically correct that “different” and “better” are not synonymns.

The key point of blogging that’s not present in other types of writing is collaboration. Because of the immediacy of blogging and linking, there is a lot of rapid cross commenting on the topics of the day in combination with excellent filtering (not perfect, but generally quite good). Some of the best code I ever wrote was code that was shaped by others in the same kind of back and forth style that good blogging has. I think that blogging is better in this regard than newsgroups because there are cross currents between distinct voices rather than one big cacaphony.

Blogging is of course, like so many things, old wine in a new bottle. It is similar to the days of coffee house discussions or pamphaleteering. The essence is rapid response by different authors to statements by other authors. I think that long term it will add a distinct and useful voice to political discussions in this country, particularly as Big Media ossifies in to strident party line squawking.

Posted by aog at 08:28 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

South Korean troops in Iraq?

South Korea has pledged troops for Iraq but is delaying the decision to actually send them. I think there’s a simply way to deal with this - just use American troops currently stationed in South Korea instead. It’s simple, doesn’t require a lot of international coordination and helps frame the issue for the South Koreans. If they prefer to have the US troops gone, then fine - the US has too many committments to stay where it’s not wanted.

Posted by aog at 08:17 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Paying protection money

Once upon a time, we as a nation refused to pay protection money to pirates. “Millions for defense, not one penny for tribute”. But now we pay Egypt $2 billion a year that is basically protection money for Israel. Alledgely the money was an inducement for the normalization of relationships between Egypt and Israel, but it’s actually illegal in Eqypt to even advocate such normalization. Given the smuggling from Eqypt of weapons for the intifadah, the only thing we can be paying for is for Eqypt to not openly attack Israel. What have we come to that we pay this kind of protection money?

19 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:32 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

In or out - don't keep stretched over the fence.

Jacob Levy has written about donations to Bustamante from Indian casino interests. Levy’s argument boils down to basically
The key point is that Indians are, once again, looking down the barrel of some especially adverse and arbitrary treatment by a political system in which they make up a tiny minority. If I were in their shoes and had some money on hand, I’d probably spend it on political campaigns, too. Wouldn’t you?
Yet not once in an otherwise good article does Levy mention that the donations were illegal. Perhaps there’s just a slight difference between legal and illegal campaign contributions that might account for the furor, as opposed to anti-Indian or anti-gambling biases? Seems a bit odd to miss this in an article on those donations.

Levy does hit on one point that’s a personal fixation, which is that this is a big deal and the Indians are handing out large political payoffs precisely because gambling is so highly regulated (as opposed to unregulated or flat out illegal). Because having a casino is primarly a political exercise it’s kind of difficult to avoid the politicization of the casino business.

A deeper problem is that Indians do benefit from special privileges, one of which is the ability to run casinos in states where it is otherwise illegal. On the other hand, Indian suffer from many special restrictions, such as the BIA. So it’s always possible to highlight one or the other depending on what side one is boosting. Indian reservations should either be shut down and made normal parts of America or made really sovereign. The current bizarre mishmash of privilege and restriction isn’t good for anyone.

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

Surprise! Government recognition of gangs encourages gangs

Over at Harry’s Place there’s a discussion of voters in one area of Britian voting for a racist party, the BNP.

Harry notes that
I’m afraid that in some cases the BNP are gaining from the ill-thought-out approaches of the left. When you have economic and social problems that affect the entire community, the focus on seperate solutions based on race, does create the impression of favouritism - whether that favouritism actually exists or not.
Harry gets close here but misses the bigger picture. It’s not so much the favoritism (although that matters) but the government identification of who is deserving of public largess and who isn’t by race. If money is being handed out to ethnic groups, it’s hardly bizarre for people not in the “official” groups to attempt to form their own group to get a piece of the action. Harry cites what is probably an archetypical case, involving a private effort to restore an old sports club building:
The local left-wing councillor was quoted in the paper as saying this was an opportunity that the council should consider seriously and suggested that the public project could be an Asian community centre.
Why shouldn’t the white voters read this as saying that as long as there is no “white people” community groups they’re not going to get a slice?

The most common counter argument is that whites already have their ethnic organizations and groups, that society itself is structured that way. But if that’s true, why the concern over the BNP? Isn’t exactly what is claimed already exists?

I also suspect that people low on the economic ladder find the idea that they should sacrifice because of their past privileges laughable. They’re likely to (not unreasonable) figure that their interests are being sacrificed so that fancy boys sipping chardonay can feel good about themselves and pride themselves on their progressivism. Against that, slogans like “Don’t vote Nazi” seem a pale respose.

18 October 2003

Posted by aog at 13:08 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Fixing up Iraq

Even though Orrin made me move my clippings to another weblog, I’m going quote this comment by fred in full because it says what I should have said but didn’t.
You guys all miss the point. Why is the government sending cash at all? Why is it building anything? If the US set up and guaranteed modern land titles, contract, movable property, securities and court systems then private business would repair the country quickly and with their own borrowed money. They’d get the money from friends, venture capitalists, joint venturers, banks, locally and internationally. People would lend if the mortgages were enforceable. You are setting up the usual nonsense where only the large participate because only they can sucker governments into guaranteeing the money.

Ahmed Blogs will fix up his house, business, industrial plant, whatever, if credit registration and enforcement is cheap and reasonable. He’ll form a corporation and get that power plant built.

My German relative’s recollection of the Marshall plan was that it kept them from starving but that real reconstruction did not take place until the German institutional and legal infrastructure was back up and then they did it themselves.

Any idiot can do engineering and construction. Only the West can create a working society. The US proposes, once again, to export exactly the wrong thing, money and projects. Give them your legal system, not cash; Maybe hold off on plaintiff’s attorneys for a while. No point in kicking them while they’re down

Posted by aog at 13:05 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Looking out for our own interests

Spoons is confused about why so many people are heaping scorn on the attempt to convert part of the money spent on Iraqi reconstruction into a loan. I think Spoons makes some good points so I thought I’d point out what he’s missing.

A number of good mentions show up in the comments, but I want to paint a slightly larger picture. The ultimate point of all of this is American security interests. Rescuing Iraqis from the Ba’ath and helping them out is good and I don’t want to disparage that effort, but it’s important to keep in mind that the reason we’re doing this for Iraq and not, say, Zimbabwe, is to protect America. Therefore actions in this regard must be judged finally by how they affect American security. In this light, what’s the security pay off of making part of the money a loan? None. What’s the security cost? Well, there are a lot of them, layed out in the comments on Spoon’s post and the linked weblogs. Just like the justification for invading Iraq in the first place, not one of them by itself is sufficient, but all of them together are compelling.

To the biggest issue is keeping the moral coast clear for having the Iraqis repudiate their odius debt. The long term security benefits of that will be almost as much as creating a prosperous, self ordered Iraq.

17 October 2003

Posted by aog at 20:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Journalist ethics

This post by Instapundit caused me to think about why the infamous story of reporters who said that they wouldn’t warn US troops of an ambush by enemy troops. While many consider this despicable, there doesn’t seem to be much distate in the world of journalism.

The primary objection is usually that journalists shouldn’t be jinoistic, that they should put “journalism” above political loyalty. But what such journalists are really elevating over any patriotic concerns is their own careers. It’s stunning to see people who wouldn’t give up a front page story and their moment of fame to preserve the lives of US soldiers going on about chicken-hawks. In my view it’s not so much favoring the enemy as being unwilling to make any personal sacrifice on behalf of their country that leads to accusations of being “unpatriotic”. It’s not about going out “rah! rah!” for the US, but making having at least some concern for the well being of the country and one’s fellow citizens over personal gain.

Isn’t that the real difference between jingoism and patriotism? The former is about running down other countries while boosting your own while the latter is about making sacrifices on behalf of one’s country. Or more simply, jingoist exclude others while patriots join with their fellow citizens. Journalists who’d prefer buffing their public stature rather than helping the country deserve the unpatriotic aspersions cast at them.

Posted by aog at 18:34 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (3)Ping URL

Never be stupid when you can be petty, too

The US Senate has voted to convert $10 billion of the latest spending authorization for the Iraqi reconstruction in to a loan. Others have written a good summary of why this is a bad idea, but I want to dwell on the pettiness of it.

While not to minimize the whole thing, but we’ve now moved from $87 billion to just $10 billion. Are the costs worth what to the federal government a relatively small amount of money? I mean, sticking the Iraqis with a $5 billion wouldn’t be enough but $15 billion was too much? It’s also interesting that while the Senate is using the plight of the citizenry to justify their stupidity, it’s the House, which is far more sensitive to public opinion, that voted against the loan.

Posted by aog at 08:32 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Kinsley kookiness

I used to like reading and listening to Michael Kinsley but over the last few years he’s drifted off the plane of reality in his own private balloon of delusion. This makes his latest article, in which he accuses President Bush of living in a filtered world, particularly sad.
When he [Bush] is trying to send a message to the public, Bush prefers to have it go out unfiltered […] So, lately he has been talking to local and regional media, whom he trusts to filter less.

But when he is on the receiving end, Bush prefers his news heavily filtered. “I glance at the headlines, just to get kind of a flavor,” he told Brit Hume of Fox News last month. But, “I rarely read the stories” because “a lot of times there’s opinions mixed in with news.”

Kinsley proceeds to make a lot of fun of Bush for this but never once addresses Bush’s actual complaint, that there is a lot of bias and distortion in major media reports. I have my own bias, because I’ve basically stopped reading and watching Big Media news because it was not only biased and distorted but also had a very low information density.

It’s also interesting that Kinsley considers filtering intrinsically bad. I think a lot of audiophiles might have a different opinion. Filters are used heavily in technical fields to extract signal (useful information) and reject noise (useless / wrong information). You can have bad filters that don’t work well but filtering itself is value neutral.

What’s most amusing, though, is that Kinsley demonstrates in his own article must of the things that Bush is complaining about. Let’s look at a couple.

Bush’s beef about news from Iraq is a variation on the famous complaint that the media never report about all the planes that land safely
No, it’s more like the complaint that annual airplane related deaths decreased (which gets reported) or the opening of a new airport (which gets reported) or changes in regulation (which get reported). The things that aren’t getting reported from Iraq that are the source of complaints are the ongoing activities of daily life but changes in that, i.e. the opening of schools, not the fact that children go to school everyday.

Later on Kinsley descends to the level that we’re assured main stream commentors don’t, comparing Bush to Castro and Saddam Hussein in their desires to control public speech. I thought those kind of dishonest and hyperbolic comparisons were the province of the fringe but that must have been another distortion from Big Media.

16 October 2003

Posted by aog at 15:54 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Sovereign does not mean democratic

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal had a short editorial about UN support for democracy in Iraq. The WSJ took this a hypocritical, in that there wasn’t any support for democracy in Iraq from the UN before the invasion. However, the quotes in the editorial don’t mention democracy but instead state the goal as “returning sovereignty to the Iraqi people”. Note that this statement comes from an organization that accepted the 100% vote for Saddam Hussein as a legitimate expression of the Iraqi people. That makes a return to a Ba’ath dictatorship, even if headed by Saddam Hussein, such a return of sovereignty. I interpret the statement as a completely consistent objective, opposition to American control in Iraq and the protection of dictators who support the UN. That’s also consistent with the UN accomodation of such UN stalwarts as Syria, China and Cuba. The editorial ends with a call to ask the same of those countries as the UN is asking for Iraq. But they’re already there - they’re free from having to do what the Americans say and that’s all the UN wants for Iraq as well.

15 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:40 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Anti-immigrant politics?

Governor-Elect Schwarzenegger is apparently causing a few overwrought individuals to consider repealing the native born requirement for US President. I think that restriction is a fine one, even though I favor immigration.

Among other things, it means selecting for those who are willing to commit to this country enough to raise children here. It increases the focus on family and continuity rather than attracting political adventurers. It’s hard to view as oppresive to immigrants that they can, in their own lifetime, go from an obscure weight lifter to nationally recognized icon and chief executive of a state that’s larger than most countries on the planet.

Moreover, I wouldn’t want any immigrants who came here looking for a political career. I prefer ones that are willing to get real jobs.

Posted by aog at 21:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Forcing people to help themselves.

Apparently there is a debate in Chile over whether to legislate a 20 minute siesta at midday for workers in that country. The claim is that
studies show that it [the siesta] would increase productivity and cut the risk of accidents.
Let’s think that through a bit. The implication is that it requires a law to get businesses to do something that would increase profits. This is a view of businessmen as not even greedy but actively spiteful, willing to forgoe profits in order to be mean to workers.

Any time you see a non-business person arguing that a law should be passed to make businesses do something that benefits business, ask yourself why the business people, having read the article on the proposed law, don’t just go ahead and do it without the law, since it’s better. Then consider who’s likely to know better about what would be good for a business, the person running it or some career activist or politician.

Posted by aog at 21:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Unilateral moral disarmament

The Washington Monthly is trotting out the “chicken-hawk” argument again. This is the theory that politicians who have not themselves been in combat do not have the moral authority to order others in to combat. It’s an easily demolished viewpoint (just start talking about Franklin Roosevelt and his efforts to get the USA involved in WWII).

But I thought about while reading this tale of a Vietnam war protestor was, suppose he had succeeded and prevented the Democratic Party from getting the US involved in the war in Vietnam. Would that mean that since we wouldn’t have any leaders who had been in combat by now, that the US would no longer have any leader with the moral authority to engage in war? Perhaps that was the goal all along.

Posted by aog at 09:50 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Dilbertian politics

From Tim Blair we get this excellent quote: “Liberal TV is dead on arrival. You just can’t do it”. The article is about Al Gore’s proposed new cable network. The target is to reach out to younger, “hipper” audiences rather than liberal ones. There’s another good quote from Aaron Cohen, an executive vice president at Horizon Media - “If you want to talk to young people, that’s where you go. They haven’t grown up to be news viewers yet”. Does this mean that the backers of GoreTV only want viewers who are inexperienced enough to fool? Is that what the Left is reduced to these days?

But I think there’s a deeper symptom of decline, which is running away from the label “liberal” (of course, the Left has inverted the meaning over the last century or so but still, it’s their own label). Conservatives are still conservatives, despite their time in the wilderness after Goldwater.

Part of it is likely the logo-realist mindset of much of the Left’s theoreticians, where the solution to a problem is to change the words used rather than what’s being done. The flip side in this view is that the only reason that “liberal” became a bad word is because of better linguistic efforts by conservatives, making the correct response more sophisticated language games by the Left. Hence GoreTV. People who are grounded in objective reality might consider whether they’ve become anathema because they’re wrong about some things. But in the logo-realist worldview there is only advertising, not a product. It reminds me strongly of a bad Dilbert cartoon where the solution isn’t a better product but dumber customers (Aha! That explains the Left’s fanaticism about public schools!)

14 October 2003

Posted by aog at 22:48 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Decode this!

I decided that I really don’t like the “codewords” concept in modern political discourse. It’s frequently used to either wilfully misinterpret or to put an opponent in a no-win situation. If the opponent doesn’t discuss the issue, he loses and if he does, just claim that he’s using “code words” to mean something entirely different.

It’s also indicative of the actual versus putative goals. If your opponent says something that sounds basically correct, why claim that it’s really something different via deconstruction? Words have power and if your opponent says things that support your goals then despite any short term advantage this cover may give him, in the long term you’re winning. Conversely ripping him on the issue is a short term benefit with a long term cost. One need merely look at Clinton who did so well for himself by triangulating and leaving the rest of the Democratic Party to pay for shifting conservative. This was ultimately to the benefit of conservatism. But clearly the Left has learned nothing from the Clinton experience.

11 October 2003

Posted by aog at 08:24 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Even a pair beats deuce high

It’s great sport to make fun of the California Republican Party for running a movie star for governor and there is some meat to that. But what’s interesting is that the same concern is never expressed about who the Democratic Party ran for governor. Rather than a potentially incompentent movie star, Davis was a proven incompetent who had been a major contributor to the ruination of the state’s finances and legal structure. Yet the Democratic Party rallied around him. How is that better? Or we could talk about Cruz Bustamante, a political hack non-entity with ties to a racist organization, the Democratic Party’s chosen successor to Davis. The critcism of Schwarenegger would have a lot more punch if the other side had serious candidates. Physician, heal thyself.

10 October 2003

Posted by aog at 08:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Property rights and the tragedy of the commons

A recent article over at USS Clueless is quite clueless about libertarians in general and property rights in specific. The article starts off badly with this mistaken quote:
But for the Libertarians, the idea of using government coercion this way is axiomatically bad, since (capitalized) Libertarianism is a political movement built out of a relatively small number of basic axioms, one of which is that government regulation is always a Bad Thing.
There is of course, a large amount of libertarian writing on exactly that subject concerning under what conditions a government should act on “externalities” (costs to others of one’s actions) to convert them to internalities (actions where the actor pays the cost).

I’m not going to go in to gory detail, but Den Beste’s big mistake seems to be his view that if property rights don’t solve all problems with commons then they’re not worthwhile for any problem with commons. This is the classic the perfect as enemy of the good meme. I wouldn’t argue that property rights are a panacea that can solve any commons problem, but I think that solution works for the large majority. It should certainly be the first thing tried, as it is a solution that promotes liberty and rule of law. Only if there is no plausible property rights mechanism should government coercion be considered (and even then, it’s important to ask if the cure is worse than the disease). In the specific case of car pollution, one could consider property rights based on the roads, not the cars. I think Pennsylvania is trying this, where the owner of the roads (the state) requires that any car driving on its roads. Maybe that will work, maybe not, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to dismiss it out of hand as Den Beste does.

Den Beste does hit on one problem with certain strains of libertarian thought, which is the “tragedy of the courts” problem. While in a frictionless world it would be possible to have people file lawsuits over every little infraction of their property rights, the transactional friction of real life means that the costs of resolving small disputes is more than the loss from the infraction. In such cases government regulation could (overall) minimize the loss of liberty by imposing general rules. I think that should be a last resort (instead of a first) but the fact is that in real life sometimes one must choose between least undesirable option because there are no good ones.

P.S. I was actually just as disappointed in Den Beste in his comments on Movable Type where he says that it serves pages dynamically. No, it uses static pages. This isn’t an obscure issue but probably the single most important fact about weblogging software and Den Beste gets it completely wrong in an assertive way.

Posted by aog at 08:07 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Krugman exonerates Bush on Plame affair

I don’t pound on Paul Krugman much because I never read his stuff. But here’s an interesting excerpt of an interview of his, quoted approvingly by Rebecca Blood:
You compare that with the White House travel office in 1993. There were accusations, later found to be false, that the Clintons had intervened improperly to dismiss a couple of employees in the White House travel office.
Let me see if I have this defense straight: the fact that a completely innocent man was hounded from his job, smeared with an FBI criminal investigation and saddled with thousands of dollars in legal fees is irrelevant as long as it can’t be proved that the Clintons personally orchestrated it? Will Krugman apply the same standard to the Plame affair and say that if President Bush didn’t personally organize the leak, then it’s not a real scandal?

09 October 2003

Posted by aog at 19:40 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Ok, I don't get it

This story, from Best of the Web:
In an article on Howard Dean’s fund-raising, The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, offers the interesting revelation that as part of his effort “to maximize his online fundraising punch,” Dean has been “paying ‘bloggers’ or professional Internet surfers to keep the enthusiasm up on his website.”

We’re all for free enterprise, but this does point up an advantage of “old media” over bloggers. Professional journalists may have their biases, but those of us who work for big-media outfits are bound by codes of ethics under which taking money in exchange for favorable coverage would be a huge no-no. Many bloggers, of course, genuinely are independent commentators, but there’s no easy way of knowing which ones are on the take.

has been making the rounds at various weblogs. I must say, I don’t see the problem. If Dean pays enough bloggers who are sufficiently obnoxious that they’re pestiferous, that would be a problem. Short of that I don’t see why I should care. Either the arguments are good or they’re not - whether Dean paid for them isn’t very relevant. Taranto’s jibe here is really in effect an ad hominem attack, attempting to dismiss Dean’s online minions based on their motivations, not their arguments.

Quite frankly, I also don’t get Taranto’s point about the advantages of Big Media in this regard. Those “codes of ethics” don’t seem to have much effect on journalists working for Big Media in the real world. Isn’t Best of the Web itself frequently stocked with tales of malfeascance, dishonesty and biased articles by Big Media journalists? We could talk about CNN and how the Ba’ath paid them for favorable coverage of the regime. Is the counter-argument that the Ba’ath didn’t pay with money but with access (which CNN converted in to money)? Well, OK then! Clearly deliberately concealing the depravity of a brutal, dictatorial regime to imprvoe the corporate bottom line is not something not forbidden by those “codes of ethics”. And if those codes don’t speak to or prevent that kind of thing, what real value do they have?

P.S. As expected, Oliver Willis has a response. I think it’s just a bit overwraught but I agree with the basic point.

Posted by aog at 15:27 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The man really knows how to ruin a party

A while I back I talked about one of the key failings of the modern American Left, it’s inability to let go of failure. In that case I was talking about the Left’s continued dalliance with Communism but of course it applies just as well to Governor Gray Davis. Here’s a failed governor, who led his state into financial disaster during a boom. Even many supporters admit he’s malfeasant scum but still Big Name after Big Name came to California to help him out. Matt Welch brings some of this up as well, with a good quote from Marc Cooper
As the insurgency swelled, the best that liberal activists could do was plug their ears, cover their eyes and rather mindlessly repeat that this all was some sinister plot linked to Florida, Texas, Bush, the Carlyle Group, Enron, and Skull and Bones.

By bunkering down with the discredited and justly scorned Gray Davis, they wound up defending an indefensible status quo against a surging wave of popular disgust.

But that’s the current pattern of behaviour of the Democratic Party and the Left. It’s probably one more legacy you can lay at the altar of Bill Clinton worship.

08 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:30 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

First step: go nuclear

This story from Irish Lass about harrassment while voting in the California election is clearly a tale of the election worker being a major league jerk. What I find just as distrurbing though is the immediate baying for legal action. Is that what we do know? While it was clearly an unpleasant experience, was it really so bad as to get lawyers involved and the expenditure of thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars?

The basis of the poll workers obnoxiousness was the fact that Irish Lass was wearing a political T-shirt. There has been a lot of discussion about whether the poll work was legally correct to object to this, but if a group of people as well read as this (and apparently a number of lawyers and other election workers) find this a contentious issue, how can some volunteer poll worker be expected to know? I don’t think that’s a very useful item to contend with. The very fact of the argument means that he had at least a plausible basis for believing the shirt was inappropriate.

Now some commentors seem to think that if you label the poll worker as not a random psycho then you’re defending him. I’m defending his objection to the T-shirt, while stating clearly that his method for dealing with the problem was completely inappropriate. Personally, I think the best idea was to try to get some public humiliation going and leave it at that. That’s an eye for an eye, isn’t it?

Posted by aog at 21:14 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

California election bad news for Bush

There’s a meme being presented that the recall of California governor Davis is a bad sign for President Bush, because it represents anger at incumbents (see here or the comments here). One of the commentors in the latter asks the best question to put this in perspective:
Had the recall failed, I wonder how many Democrats would be telling us that the vote reflected a general “pro-incumbent” feeling among voters, and should be interpreted as a vote of confidence for George Bush?
So what we see is that for the California recall,
  • A defeat for Davis is bad news for Bush because it’s anger at incumbents
  • A victory for Davis is bad news for Bush because it demonstrates Republican weakness

If only there had been other candidates in the election, preferably from both parties, so we could just the actual strength of the different parties by looking at the vote totals for those candidates. Imagine if there had been a candidate from the Democratic Party so we could see whether it was just Davis or the party in general that the voters didn’t like.

Regardless of the fact that Bush (or Karl Rove) is an Evil MasterMind™, not everything is about them. It’s not a good sign to have to spin everything as beneficial to one’s political Party. I don’t remember this kind of spinning after (now) Senator Landrieu won by the Republicans. But when you’re down you do what you can, I guess.

Posted by aog at 18:46 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

California root causes

Andrew Sullivan makes a snide remark — “not too happy at the LA Times” — about an article by Steve Lopez. While it has the standard sneer
we’ve had our little revolution and the new emperor is Der Gropenfuhrer, which, in Austrian, means:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I actually thought most of it was quite reasonable. The basic thesis is that Davis didn’t ruin the state by himself and Schwarenegger isn’t going to be able to fix it by himself. This is actually a worry that’s been around for a while with various adherents, including me. But Lopez does a good job of expressing the problem:
We know there was growing rage about the way business is done in Sacramento, where lobbyists own every lawmaker.

And we all know Californians believe they’ve been ripped off on everything from electric bills to vehicle license fees, and they’re none too happy about having to shell out for illegals about to flock north for the free driver’s licenses Davis is passing out.

Lopez then goes on to attack the real root cause of the problem, the citizens of California. Davis and all of the looney-tunes in the state legislature were elected by the citizens of the state of California, they weren’t imposed on California by invading Martians. Lopez is absolutely right when he says that the recall of itself isn’t going to fix anything and that if the citizens don’t hold Schwarzenegger and their state legislators accountable it’s not going to get any better.

So, I think Sullivan is might over the top in snarkiness. I realize that it was in the LA Times, which makes the content presumptively bad, but it’s still best to actually read through the whole thing before commenting.

Posted by aog at 11:44 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

California fallout

The big question for me in the aftermath of the California recall election is, what does this mean for all of the big name Democratic Party members who campaigned for Davis? Despite all of their efforts, Davis was soundly recalled. Does this mean that there’s little popular support for those big names, or simply that they have no coattails? Will there be any backlash in California over them supporting someone as odious and despised as Gray Davis? We can only hope.

P.S. I agree with Travelling Shoes that getting rid of Bog Mulholland, he of the “real bullets for Arnold”, would be a good aftershock of the election.

Posted by aog at 11:32 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Intended consequences

Here’s the real result of campaign finance “reform”: “Clark speeches may violate election laws” [via Brothers Judd] The problem is that Clark discussed his candidacy at speeches at which he was paid. This runs afoul of the rule “candidates cannot be paid by corporations, labor unions, individuals or even universities for campaign-related events”. Now Clark, who is himself quite a smooth political operator, can’t keep the rules straight. What hope do actual non-politically obsessed citizens have? I’ve always assumed that this effect was the goal, not an undesirable side effect, of the reformers. The push for reform comes from, to a large extent, the same factions that have such a disdain for ordinary citizens making political decisions. Just count the correspondence between campaign finance law proponents and those claiming the California recall as a “hijacking” of democracy or a Republican coup. I hope Clark gets busted big time for this, not because of my opposition to Clark but because, like special prosecutors, campaign finance law proponents seem incapable of seeing the problem with their laws until it strikes one of their own.

07 October 2003

Posted by aog at 10:57 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Going after the right targets

Instead of complaining about Haliburton in Iraq, the Left would do better for Iraq by attacking agricultural subsidies. This would target

  • Large American corporations, who receive the large majority of the subsidies
  • Politically connected “fat cats” (such as those who benefit from sugar tariffs)
  • Reduce the deficit (Leftists as budget hawks! It may only be because there’s a Republican government but there you are)
  • Help Iraq and many others in the third world.

It’s an almost perfect compendium of current Leftist thinking. Why aren’t they out campaigning on this issue?

Posted by aog at 10:42 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Cultural images and gun control

Am I just going senile in my dotage or did it use to be the case that for gang activity, posession of a gun was a big deal (say in the ‘40s through ‘60s) whereas today it would be expected that everyone in a gang would be armed with a least a pistol if not automatic weapons. At the same time, gun control was increasingly stringent during that period. If my memory is correct, then this is a parallel to what’s happening in the UK from its efforts at gun control. This ties in to the fact that the more gun control there is, the bigger the motivation to acquire a gun.

There are some alternative theories. One is that everyone is wealthier these days so that guns are far more affordable, i.e. that gangs of previous eras would have had guns if they had had the money to buy them. Alternatively it might be because of Drug Prohibition which not only puts more money into the pockets of gangs but also increases the rewards of “owning” territory.

The most likely answer is that it’s a combination of factors because it’s the rare indeed human activity that has a single cause.

Posted by aog at 10:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Chasing a retreating target

One of the things that gun control enthusiasts seem to neglect is that the fewer citizens that have guns, the greater the incentive for a criminal to acquire one. This makes real gun control a Sysiphean task that can only be done thoroughly in a hard line police state (whether the gun control boosters consider that a problem is unclear). As Dale Amon notes, in the UK the strong gun control efforts have lead to the illegal manufacture of guns:
It is not as if gunsmithing were a high technology endeavour. Is there anyone out there who truly believes hand-made items manufactured in 16th century London workshops cannot be built to much higher standards in a 21st Century London garage?
This is an interesting aspect of the growing wealth and technology of society. Things that used to be the province of only highly skilled artisans with (for the time) large capital investment are now within the easy reach of the average citizen. I wonder what will happen in say 20 or 50 years when advanced chemical manufacturing is available and it’s not difficult to synthesize various recreational pharmacueticals.
Posted by aog at 09:09 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Petard watch

It’s kind of amusing that many former (and current) Clinton supporters are up in arms about Arnold Schwarenegger because it is probably to a large extent their efforts that made it possible for Schwarenegger to run. Of all the people in the world, the one person who can’t have been surprised by the groping allegations is Schwarenegger. One suspects that this was a big reason that Schwarenegger hasn’t run before, despite his evident political ambitions. But the Clinton supporters made that kind of thing passé in modern American politics. In addition the whole episode served to discredit feminist organziations so that even if this were a sustainable political issue there isn’t the moral cachet necessary to really push it. An interesting object lesson about the price for discarding principles for expediency.

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

Career moves

The Bush Administration is going to send Condoleeza Rice to Iraq to help out in Iraq. This is a bold move from the point of view of Rice’s career. It seems fraught with risk to me although there is a big upside if things are looking clearly better by late summer 2004. We can only hope that Rice will be able to promote the civilian side of the occupation better than has been done so far. I don’t blame the military for that failure, that responsibility has to rest with President Bush and his administration. I don’t think any permament damage has been done and if Rice can go over to provide some direction and budget that will be good for everyone except that anti-Americans.

06 October 2003

Posted by aog at 16:54 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The Plame Game

While I think that there is in fact a lot of legal doubt in the furor over the “outing” of Victoria Plame, I don’t think that legalistic arguing, regardless of how correct, is going to carry the day. The fine details that make the legal case will simply get lost in the media frenzy.

Part of that is the partisan bias of the press, but probably a bigger factor is the egotism and self-image of the press. What bigger coup is there in journalism today than to bring down a US Presidency? Note that it’s not bringing out the facts or issues, but bringing down (through whatever means) the administration. Here again we see the divide between constructive and destructive criticism. A press corps that didn’t want to let the White House get away with shady activities would be constructive. The press corps that we have now, which longs to destroy the administration, is destructive. While the press partisanship moderated this during the Clinton years, it’s hard to deny that similar feeding frenzies arose over issues that seem trivial now. In some sense the press did well with Clinton because that administration was directly involved in unseemly manners from early on (just ask Billy Dale). The Bush administration, however, hasn’t really had anything stick to it. This issue, however, has the possibility of demonstrating true wrong doing on the part of administration officials, which is the real reason the press is so gung ho on it. If the press were actually concerned about national security then the journalist who actually know what happened would tell the public. Until that happens this is not something I’m going to track closely.

Meanwhile, of course, real stories of great importance, like how the Iraqi reconstruction money is being spent, go begging for investigation and column inches. Again, a press concerned about the nation or even the Iraqis would make that a priority, not a back burner matter. Big Media is covering the wrong issues for the wrong issues. How much longer can the press go on pretending to do so?

Posted by aog at 09:17 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Perfect freedom and frictionless surfaces

Viet Dinh, a former assistant attorney general, says that “distinctions between citizens and foreigners are justified” [via Brothers Judd]. He defends this with a concept that some restrictions of liberty are required in order to promote order which is a prerequisite for liberty. This is of course something I believe as well.

The concept of perfect freedom, unlimited liberty, is a useful one. But it’s useful the same way that frictionless surfaces and massless pulleys are useful in physics. It can serve to illustrate key, underlying principles, to perform simplified thought experiments. One can think about ultimate limits. My favorite is the Carnot Cycle Engine which operates which is made of perfect, frictionless materials. One can’t actually build one but it does demonstrate an upper limit on how well any material device can actually work. If a Carnot Engine can’t do it, then there’s no way a less than perfect physical engine can.

Simiarly, when we use perfect freedom with angelic citizens to think about limits on possible governments and illustrate principles. However, when you switch from conceptual philosophy to the real world, you have to add the friction back in. This is the key step that many of the fringe seem to forget. The restraints on freedom necessary to secure other freedoms is simply the fact that we live in a material world where nothing is perfect and there are always tradeoffs and compromises. Many political theorists seem to have the same disdain for that as programmers do when they’re confronted with the fact that modern computers don’t have infinite memory and customers aren’t willing to wait an arbitrary but fnite amount of time for the computation to finish. It’s a bitter thing indeed to have a beautiful theory slain by an ugly fact.

Posted by aog at 08:15 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Who'd want their approval anyway?

There’s a constant harping on President Bush and his “cowboy” foreign policy, which doesn’t pay enough deference to world opinion. Yet there’s never any thought given to the price paid for that deference. We just look at the situation in Iraq to see the price the US and the Iraqis have paid for the former President Bush’s deference to world opinion during the Gulf War and its aftermath.

It was that deference that left Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath in charge of Iraq, free to brutalize and kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

It was that deference that lead the US to stain its honor by leaving the Iraqi rebels of 1991 to die, along with the ecological catastrophe and near genocide of the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq.

It was that deference that lead to over a decade of sanctions against Iraq.

It was that deference that let the Ba’ath persue their fantasies of weapons of mass destruction while leaving the infrastructure of Iraq to rot.

And now we’re supposed to have the deference again? Not only is that repugnant on its face, but why should any nation that seeks to do good even desire the approval of those who think these kind of results are proper? Evil does not become good because it’s approved by the United Nations.

Posted by aog at 07:15 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Preventing the cycle of violence

The Arab League is apparently concerned that the Israeli airstrike in Syria could lead to a “cycle of violence”. Well, there’s a simple solution, one that the Arab League itself has frequently recommended - don’t strike back! Then there will be no cycle. It’s a good thing the Arab League has already come out with the appropriate response in these situations.

05 October 2003

Posted by aog at 22:58 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Really ending the sanctions on Iraq

This article is getting cited here and there. The reporting is once again a confused mess with key facts omitted or not understood. I’ll just hit the high points.

First we have the lead paragraphs:
Some of Washington’s top Republican lobbyists are counting on ties to the Bush administration, the congressional leadership and the Iraqi provisional government to turn the embattled country into a major new profit center.

“It’s like a huge pot of honey that’s attracting a lot of flies,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Let’s translate to real life: “profit center” means “worth trading with”. Places that aren’t profit centers for business are depressed, poverty stricken wastelands of hopelessness. Being upset that Iraq is seen as a profit center means that one is upset that
  1. Iraqis have things worth buying.
  2. Iraqis can buy things that they want.

Why either of these is evil escapes me. Ending the sanctions against Iraq means allowing Americans to trade with them. I thought that was generally favored.

But the confusion at the root of trading with Iraq begins to show itself in the next bit:
The opportunities — and risks — of doing business in Iraq are far more varied than in traditional Washington lobbying.
Uh, “doing business” and “lobbying” are not the same thing, regardless of how much the Left and tax sucking corporations try to claim it is. The fact that lobbying is involved is a clear sign that what’s going on is corporatism, not capitalism. However, that’s somewhat undermined by the next bit:
New Bridge Strategies, whose interest in Iraq has earned considerable attention because of its close ties to the Bush administration, is gearing up to seek distribution rights for major U.S. companies producing everything from grain to auto parts to shampoo.

“Getting the rights to distribute Procter & Gamble products would be a gold mine,” said one of the partners at New Bridge who did not want to be named. “One well-stocked 7-Eleven could knock out 30 Iraqi stores; a Wal-Mart could take over the country,” he said.

Here’s a critical bit of information that is missing — who is going to give the distribution rights for Proctor & Gamble products, the Bush Administration or Proctor & Gamble? There’s a yawning gulf of difference there, the existence of which seems to have escaped to the writer. Gene complains about this thusly:
I’m not advocating that US and other foreign companies be kept out of Iraq. But I’d like to suggest that the interests of the Iraqi people— for instance, the owners and employees of those 30 stores— may not always coincide with the interests of well-connected American corporations.
This is internally contradictory - you can keep the American companies out or you can keep the Iraqi stores. But it’s not clear that this event, replacing 30 Iraqi stores with a well stocked 7-11, would be a net negative for Iraq. That store would be selling stuff, presumably desired by Iraqis, for much less, thereby improving their quality of life. It’s like the protests against WalMart which are primarily the work of outside agitators, not the locals. The article then switches abrubtly to another topic. Or maybe it doesn’t - since key bits of information are missing from the early section it’s hard to tell what exactly it was talking about. But, based on the 7-11 and Walmart comments, I read it as being about doing business in Iraq with Iraqis. But the article, without a segue, goes on with
Republican members of Congress are highly receptive to arguments that U.S. companies should receive a big share of the business of rebuilding Iraq.
This is a completely different kettle of fish, one that does in fact have some real meat on it. I certainly wish Big Media would spend half as much time investigating how the Iraqi reconstruction money is being spent as they do looking in to what Arnold Schwarenegger did thirty years ago. It would be a chance for some constructive criticism instead of parisan sniping. I do want someone to keep an eye on the Occupation Authority. That’s something that would actually be beneficial to the USA and Iraq, which probably explains why it’s not of much interest to major media.
Posted by aog at 12:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Of course we'll use the money only for the intended purpose

Amygdala cites approvingly Thomas Friedman, who thinks we should have a gasoline tax to pay for reconstructing Iraq. I have to say that I think it’s a dumb idea even for a NY Times editorial (although it’s in the right paradigm). The best argument against it is of course that no longer perennial favorite, the “phone tax from the Spanish-American War”:http://www.cse.org/newsroom/press_template.php/105.htm which only took 102 years to be repealed. I have to suspect that those proposing this are more concerned about generating a long term revenue stream for the federal government than paying for Iraqi reconstruction. So count me a cynical opponent.

Posted by aog at 12:00 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Doing well by doing good

I can’t help beating a dead horse, mainly because it’s still kicking. The issue again is paying for reconstructing Iraq.

I have no objection to helping Iraq, that’s just neighborly. But it is to me always a higher priority to look out for the long term interests of the USA. While there are many strategic advantages to helping reconstruct Iraq, in this post I’m just going to bring up one and that is increasing the fragility of anti-American totalitarian governments.

How does that work? Even now, other nations next to Iraq can see what happens to regimes overturned and conquered by the Americans. The US takes over and then debates on how much money to spend on the conquered. What other nation does that? Isn’t the standard debate on how much money to take out of the occupied country? And of course there is no serious voice (or even unserious) advocating the permanent occupation of Iraq. Some (such as me) talk of keeping bases there for decades to promote American interests. But this isn’t such a big deal because

  1. Plenty of nations have American military bases without being colonized - e.g. France, Germany, UK, Japan.
  2. Nations that kick out American military bases tend to regret it (e.g., the Philipines or the angst of Germany at the thought of a US withdrawal).

The upshot of all this is that populations in countries with dictatorial, anti-American regimes have a much reduced fear of the results of a US invasion. That removes a lot of the national solidarity the regime counts on for preserving itself. The Iraqi civilian population put up effectively no resistance to the Americans and what was their fate? Some disruption and chaos but five years down the road? Much better than still being ruled by the previous regime. Significant civilian resistance is a key linchpin of such a regimes resistance to a US invasion, because their military isn’t going to do much to slow down the Americans. If that’s taken away or strongly reduced it makes the regime’s position much shakier. And that is a worthwhile foreign policy goal.

04 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:39 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

A problem or a solution?

As pointed out at Winds of Change the current Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons is counter productive even from the point of view of Iran. I don’t really believe that “let’s nuke Israel” rhetoric. The Iranian mullahs are far to self centered to sacrifice themselves and their power to get rid of Israel. It’s far more likely designed to rally the populace to the cause1. The only real goal I can see that makes sense is forstalling a US invasion. Such weapons won’t help them overcome internal strife except via propaganda (which sadly seems to be working).

But what I wanted to wonder about here is, why is Russia being so helpful to the mullahocracy in Iran? Russia has had bloody borders with Islam for decades, if not centuries. It was a major internal security concern of the USSR and continues to be an issue for Russia. Why help a power center of the Caliphascists acquire nuclear weapons? Can it be just the cash? Or could it be that Russia views having the Middle East being turned in to a nuclear wasteland a solution instead of a problem? It’d take the heart out of radical Islam, as the Israelis would likely nuke Medina and Mecca (_I_ sure as heck would). This would solve Russia’s insurgency problem. It would also make their oil and gas a lot more valuable. Of all the nations in the world, Russia is one of the few that seems institutionally capable of long range planning and capable of acting on such plans. Are that cynical? Could they really believe that they’d be better off in that scenario? Would they? Something to think about.

[1] That’s not to say we shouldn’t take such a statement seriously, if for no other reason that discouraging that kind of statement for people in power in the future.

03 October 2003

Posted by aog at 18:53 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Late hits from Big Media

I never thought I’d agree with Susan Estrich [via Winds of Change] but she gets to the heart of the LA Times story on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s checkered past:
What this story accomplishes is less an attack on Schwarzenegger than a smear on the press. It reaffirms everything that’s wrong with the political process. Anonymous charges from years ago made in the closing days of a campaign undermine fair politics.
The problem isn’t so much the fact of reporting this story, but the careful timing of it. What official journalistic principle has been upheld by sitting on this story until just before the election? Clearly the point is not to provide voters with relevant information. It’s an unambiguously partisan act against Schwarzenegger.

I want to emphasize that if the LA Times wants to be partisan, well hey, it’s a free country. As it always is on this subject, it’s the sanctimony that is so grating. The LA Times wants the pride and place of being a news outlet while acting like an agitprop group. Sorry, you get one or the other, but not both. Time will tell if the newspaper is right that its readers are too dumb to figure this out.

P.S. Consider this in relationship to campaign finance “reform” laws, which would give outfits like the LA Times enormously greater control over the political process. Kind of a frightening picture for people not favored by the editorial board…

Posted by aog at 18:04 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Facets of modern society: birthday parties

I’m just saddened when I read tales like this one (via The Corner) of parents who feel oppressed by children’s birthday parties. They all start out in a reasonable tone but then transition to a mental place I can’t follow. For instance, this one laments having to drive long distances in an urban area to get to parties (which is a bit strange but comprehensible) and moves on to
Plus, parties cost a fortune. Factoring in all the balloons, moonbounces, pool rentals, ponies, magicians, puppet shows, movie tickets, party hats, noisemakers, pizzas, ice cream, paper plates, hot dogs, neon-frosted cakes, loot bags, loot-bag contents, wrapping paper, tape, Playmobil, Barbie, Lego, craft kits, thank-you notes, stamps, gas, and automotive wear-and-tear — factoring in all of that, as I say, and taking a stab, I’d guess that American parents spend on children’s birthday parties in a year about what it costs to occupy Iraq. The obvious difference being that occupying Mesopotamia does not give your children a sugar high.
Well, lady, just don’t. How hard is that? Moreover there’s a feedback effect. If your parties are simple and inexpensive, soon enough your children won’t be invited to every party of a friend of a friend of a friend who lives 2½ hours travel time away. Only actual friends will generate invitations. I don’t see that as a problem.

Or you could go to Oriental Trading Company from which you can obtain large quantities of child joy inducing items for very little money (I’m often forced, forced, to shop there myself — after all, it’s for the children!). All it takes is a little self discipline, something a putative conservative should already be teaching their children.

Posted by aog at 11:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The shape of the future?

InstaPundit has a post about another potential scandal at the FBI. The basic issue is that FBI agents were moonlighting at companies they owned / founded that had dealings with front companies that were involved in active FBI investigations. Or maybe it’s the agents took over front companies for profit. Or possibly that some internal feuding between FBI agents and private individuals involved in front companies is leading to mudslinging. Quite frankly, even after reading the article it’s not clear what’s really going on.

Part of that is that the article isn’t well written. It’s possible that there is in fact a good explanation of the situation which simple wasn’t written. On the other hand, I currently find it similar to the Plame issue in terms of being very murky about who alledgedly did what and what the problem really is. For instance, in the FBI case, it’s mentioned that agents need special permission to moonlight (which I’d expect). Did those agents have that permission? That’s not discussed. Were the agent’s companies directly involved in the activities in the investigations (as opposed to being just involved with the same country)? Not discussed. What were those companies actually doing? Not discussed. Where these agents involved in both the companies and the investigations? Not discussed.

Is this the shape of the future? Murky events reported incoherently by clueless media? It could well make reputation a key ingredient in political events, where since no one can really figure out what went on, reputation will be used by the citizenry to decide who is the problem. In turn this will probably lead to greater political polarization when objective facts are even harder to obtain and agree on.

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

Evolving generality

Another round of the nature vs. nurture debate over at the Brothers Judd. One point that wasn’t brought out well was the evolution of phenotypic variablity, i.e. the capability of the organism to be influenced by nurture. For instance, many insects have apparently complex behaviour that is competely unaffected by nurture. It’s all hardwired. Varians other clades have evolved the capability of having more variable responses. For instance reptiles have some learning capability, mammals ever more and humans are the most flexible. There are course still biological limits on behavioural variability along with strong tendencies which only intense nurture can overcome.

A good analogy is consumer electronics, where some devices are completely hardwired to perform certain tasks while others (such as personal computers) are extremely flexible. But still, even the most advanced personal computer still has its limits and problems. One can also see the price of flexibility - it’s a lot easier for things to go wrong (in humans the equivalent is maladaptive culture). In real life, there is no free lunch, every “advance” has its negative aspects. You never get a dysfunctional bee hive but on the other hand a beehive is a beehive, there’s no chance for any local innovation. The ability to have “culture” for humans is an experiment in evolution the long term success of which is still debatable. It’s hardly a “hole below the water line” for evolutionary theory.

02 October 2003

Posted by aog at 11:13 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Embargos and sanctions

I have to take issue with a comment by Andrew Ian Dodge, who claims that wanting to end the Cuban embargo indicates that one has a soft spot for Fidel Castro. I don’t agree with that view at all, as I oppose the embargo and am fervent in my anti-Communism.

I’ve argued in the past that the embargo is not in fact a blow against Castro, but a prop he uses to distract the useful idiots of the West. It doesn’t really restrict trade to Cuba, as anything can just be transhipped through Mexico or Canada (this is especially so after NAFTA). Yet Castro and his apologists can trot it out as a convenient excuse for the economic misery in Cuba created by Communism.

In some sense its idealistic vs. practical politics. I conceed the point that a plausible argument can be made that it’s morally wrong to trade with a slave plantation like Cuba. But what’s the real goal here? Our moral purity or contributing to freeing the Cuban people? If that’s not the choice to be made, then I’d like to see embargo supporters validate the implicit claim that the embargo hurts Castro and his nomenklatura instead of providing him with cover for his oppression. We’ve seen how effective the sanctions against Iraq were in causing the Ba’ath difficulty. Why is it any different for Castro?

Posted by aog at 08:19 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Constructive vs. destructive criticism

I realized this morning that the standard claim of “constructive criticism” used by journalists to defend their statements in interviews like this [via Instantman] is fundamentally flawed. The interview cited is the infamous one where big name journalists admit that they wouldn’t warn a platoon of US troops about an ambush because that wouldn’t be good journalism.

Yet when called on that kind of perfidity, the response is frequently “someone has to look out for the bad things”. That’s true, but misses the meta-point of why does someone need to do that? The constructive criticism answer is, that by pointing out problems we can start to work on solutions. But this in turn presumes a favorable bias, where there exists a concensus between the doers and the watchers that the doers should succeed. The watchers point out problems so that the doers can do better.

Yet the sense that comes through in these cases is that American victory is completely irrelevant to these American journalists. The harping on mistakes is the end in itself, not a helpful corrective to improve the chance of American victory. The problem for the journalists, as pointed out by the Marine Colonel in the interview, is that they want to have no loyalty to their country while maintaning loyalty to themselves from the country (i.e., that the Marines would rescue them on the battlefield). Americans don’t like people to arrogate such priviledges so it must be disguised. The question to ask in that case is “qui bono?” which will distinguish constructive from destructive criticism.

01 October 2003

Posted by aog at 21:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

No on Howard Dean

It’s amazing how two people can read the same text and come to radically different conclusions. I read Oliver Willis’ post on why he support Howard Dean and came away convinced I wouldn’t ever vote for the guy.

216 years ago this September, our founders laid out their vision and purpose for America in the Preamble to our Constitution. But at every turn, the Bush Administration has turned our Constitution on its head.

When? I’d be interested in hearing about a single instance where a law passed during the Bush administration has been overturned. The only things I think that Bush has done that are unConstitutional are the warp and weft of the Democratic Party platform (like welfare, or farm subsidies).

The Constitution seeks to form a perfect union-but this administration has divided us by race, gender, income, religion, and sexual orientation.

No, that would be the Democrats, who have an obsessive fetish with those features. The Republican Party has been much improved over the last few decades while the Democratic Party has retreated into tribalism. It was Clinton, after all, who thought a cabinet that “looked like America” should consist of high priced lawyers in various decorator colors. It is the Democratic Party that supports the laws that require businesses and governments to classify and record citizens by race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.

The Constitution seeks to establish Justice-but this administration has appointed radical ideologues to the courts.

One party’s commonsense is the other party’s radical ideology. I haven’t seen any radical ideologs, just jurist who to a large extent believe that the Constitution means what it says, not what the current fashion dictates.

The Constitution seeks to insure Domestic tranquility-but this administration has capitalized on domestic fears of terrorism for political gain.

Yeah, there’s no real reason to have any domestic fear of terrorism. That’s all a Bush plot.

The Constitution seeks to provide for the Common Defense-but this administration has underfunded homeland security and done nothing to protect our ports and harbors.

Underfunded homeland security? The things a massive boondoggle. We’d probably be safer with zero funding for it. I’ve argued all along that we didn’t need any such things, but instead needed the President and Congress to do the heavy lifting of actually fixing our existing law enforcement organizations. I certainly fault Bush on this but Dean’s plan of pouring money into the black hole of a new bureauocracy seems even worse.

The Constitution seeks to promote the general welfare-but this administration has cut funding for child care and education.

Yes, by clearly delimited and limited means. For someone who in this speech claims to revere the Constitution he doesn’t seem to have spent much time actually reading it. Neither of those two activities are proper functions of the federal government and we’d all be better off if the feds stop funding them at all.

The Constitution seeks secure the blessings of liberty for posterity-but this administration has shackled our children and grand children with the largest deficit in the history of our nation through reckless tax cuts.

No, through massive spending. The tax cuts are leafs in the wind compared to the crushing debt of Social Security, Medicare and the welfare state. Let’s hear Dean talk about that.

Americans who today aren’t even old enough to vote will be the ones who will bear the full cost.

Fine. Stop spending their money. Oh, you mean you just want their parents to fork out now and the children later as well.

The ideal of democracy is more powerful than money; yet today our democracy is threatened by a flood of special interest money pouring into our nation’s capital.

Yes, because those special interests can buy legislation, a situation brought about by the overgrowth of the federal government. For instance, get rid of farm subsidies and you’d see the end of the agricultural special interest money.

Our founders understood that threat. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson spoke of the fear that economic power would one day seize political power.

That fear has been realized with the Bush administration.

No, it looks like the Bush Administration has sold out to the non-economic power that spends other people’s money. A tradition you seem ready to embrace.

The only difference here is that Bush as least is willing to confront our enemies overseas, whereas Dean would rather pay the Danegeld. I’m not sure if I’ll vote for Bush, but if I don’t it will be for reasons that apply even more strongly to Dean.

Posted by aog at 09:15 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Picking up the check

One of the big stories going around is the effort in the Senate to bill the Iraqis for part of the cost of the occupation and reconstruction. I understand the motivation but I can’t agree with it. We’re just going to have to deal with the fact that while it is probably morally reasonable to have the Iraqis chip in, it’s not politically feasible.

It’s kind of amusing in a way that some of the people who have castigated President Bush for alledgedly being so insensitive to world opinion are pushing this plan, which is at least as impertinent as anything Bush has done. As has been pointed out, it would instantly buy more credibility for the “it’s all about OOOIIILLL!” crowd and would additionally burden Iraq which is already laboring under heavy debt.

The debt burden point is a key one. While one may ask why US taxpayers should be burdened and not Iraqi oil revenue, the bottom line is that we can afford it and they can’t. It’s not good to lose sight of the forest for the trees - why is there a reconstruction at all? It can only be to create a propserous, not dangerous to the US Iraq. Based on that, it simply doesn’t make sense to make the economic success of Iraq harder if we can avoid it.

What we really need to do is get moving on the odious debt front. Perhaps, though, the Bush Administration is pushing on that under the covers. While we can’t say publically “France, get in line or it’s the odious debt pile for Iraq’s debts” we could mention this privately to the right people. Personally, I’d rather have the debt canceled and take the diplomatic hit than see that blood soaked money make its way into France or Russia’s coffers. It would also send a clear message - “Get on board early or pay later”.

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

Was I tuned to the right channel?

I was stunned this morning to hear on NPR an economist who was saying that while the $87 billion for occupying Iraq was a lot of money there, it wasn’t all that much here, basically the income of a Fortune 100 company or a moderately sized metropolitan area. NPR, defending the bill for the occupation? The interviewer actually asked leading questions to let the economist go on about how it wasn’t a major budget buster for the US.