28 November 2003

Posted by aog at 18:07 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Doing the thankful things

Sorry for the lack of posts. I’ve flown to Texas to visit with the parents and brothers for Thanksgiving. I thought I would get a little weblogging in but I fogot my laptop’s power supply (doh!).

What I am thankful for this Thanksgiving is the work, sacrifice, blood and tears of all of those who have gone before and left me in a situation where my big problem is that Frye’s doesn’t stock the correct type of power supply. That kind of wealth, that kind of ease, wasn’t and isn’t bought cheap. For all who have helped build this shining city on a hill, my deepest thanks.

P.S. I should be back on line on Wednesday.

25 November 2003

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The precautionary principle

I’ve been pondering the “gay marriage” issue, which conflicts me greatly, but I’m not yet ready to pontificate on it in public. However, it did put another issue in mind, which I was reminded of by another post at the Judd’s.

One of the techniques used by modern day Luddites and enemies of technological civilization is the precautionary principle. This basically states that the burden of proof is on the promoter of a new technology, that the technology must be proven safe before it should be allowed in general use. Of course, no technology actually is safe and even if it were, there seems little possibility that it could be proven to be so. This principle is simply a mechanism for shutting down technology1.

What strikes me, though, is that many of the political factions that promote the precautionary principle for technology do not seem to even consider it in the social realm. Surely if the precautionary principle is a good idea for new technologies, it’s just as good an idea for social innovation and change? Perhaps we should think deeply about modifying basic social structures and only do so if it can be proven that no harm will come from the change2. Try it out on a Left Green and let me know how it goes3.


1 This isn’t to say that we should blithely adopt whatever techno-wizardry that comes along, but we have to accept that we are fallible people living in a poorly understood universe and there are many things we can’t know at any moment in time. Beyond that, it’s not a matter of whether a technology is safe but whether it’s likely to be safer. Surely we can say that we prefer technology A, even though it kills a thousand people a year, to technology B which kills 10,000 / year or no technology at all, which kills 100,000 / year, even though technology A is obviously not “safe”.

2 Note that the precautionary principle in this context would be even more reactionary than mainstream conversatism.

3 Gosh, I love these footnotes. But is having a post that uses footnotes indicative of a deeper, psychological problem? Probably, but in my case worrying about it would be like noticing chipping paint on the Titanic.

24 November 2003

Posted by aog at 16:56 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The hard 2x4 of reality on the Korean Peninsula

Ponder for a moment what it would be like should the North Korean regime suddenly collapsed and Korea was unified. Even without a war, this would be a devestating blow to the South’s economy. The hit on West Germany from the East will be a pale shadow of what unification will cost South Korea. As Twn notes, the younger generation in South Korea has very little idea of what life is really like in the North (primarily a result of propaganda efforts by the South Korean government). While we, too, can have little idea we at least realize that it is horrible beyond our ability to imagine. The East German state, for all of its oppression, was an oasis of bounty and freedom compared to North Korea.

How would the South Koreans react when their taxes become a deep and heavy burden as the Korean government spends money like water to feed, clothe and house the wretched of the North? I would expect the expense of running the North will be even more than Iraq, and we are a far wealthier country.

What of the tales that will be told in the South? Will the Southerners even believe them? With the South believe that the poverty of North Korea was caused not by Juche but by the hostility of the West in general and the US in particular? Perhaps China will use its well honed propaganda arm to spread this meme in the Korean population (the North Koreans may already be brainwashed in this regard, but it’s very difficult to tell how effective such brainwashing really is under such an oppressive regime).

Sadly, my prediction is that Korean unification will end up badly for the USA (again, the re-unification of Germany is a milder case in point). One might think that the shock treatment of the South Koreans seeing what life in the North was like will shatter their blinders, but my reading of history is that it’s more likely to make people grip their blinders tighter.

23 November 2003

Posted by aog at 14:42 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Better to bumble than efficiently screw up

I can understand those who inveigh against the missteps of the Bush Administration in running post-invasion Iraq. I can see that they have some points, that there are many things President Bush or the Pentagon could have done better. I begin to think that maybe there was a better way. Then I see something out of the State Department that’s such flourescent idiocy that I think “better a year of unplanned bumbling than something thought out like this” —

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has asked Palestinian leaders to show support for a transitional Iraqi government that is to be installed by June, the Palestinian foreign minister said.

Palestinian backing could boost the legitimacy of such a government in the eyes of the Arab world, at a time when U.S. policy in Iraq is under sharp attack. Palestinian-Iraqi ties have traditionally been close, and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had styled himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause [emphasis added].

Did anyone at the State department ever stop to ponder the concept that maybe the Iraqi people don’t like Saddam Hussein or his buddies? That maybe, just maybe, the Iraqis would by and large view the support of former Ba’ath allies unfavorably? Or possibly that biggest area of concern for the legitimacy of the new Iraqi government would be the Iraqi people and not that collection of brutal, backwards, oppressive and anti-American regimes called “the Arab World”? Wouldn’t it be better for Powell to be wasting his time trying to convince the Palestinians not to murder children instead of actively undermining the effort in Iraq?

[via Little Green Footballs]

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

I'm grumpy so I'll rant about the Patriot Act

I was doing a bit of cleaning in my home office (we just moved in August so I’m still unpacking). Among the forgotten objects I found were some magazines with articles about the Patriot Act and its threat to our civil liberties.

I find the “don’t worry, be happy” and the “Ashcroft is setting up a Gestapo” arguments to a bit over the top. I understand that so far, there haven’t been any real abuses but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be in the future (if, for instance, a Democratic President is elected). In my view, the Patriot Act and other similar legislation on the horizon represents a risk to civil liberties.

But for what purpose are we taking this risk? What continues to bug me about the Patriot Act is that it presumes that the root causes of the intelligence failures leading up to the 11 Sep attacks were lack of powers for our intelligence organizations. The more I read and learn about it, the more specious that seems. As far as I can tell, we can chalk up the failure to basically three things:

  1. Lack of political will at the top
  2. Political correctness in the intelligence organizations
  3. Bureaucratic butt covering

The Patriot Act addresses exactly none of these. It’s bugging me more lately because at work there are some preformance problems with the product. The management and other engineers are running around fiddling with things like the compiler version when there are structural issues that are impeding performance. I use the terms “first order”, “second order”, etc. to talk about this kind of issue, where “first order” are the most important issues, seconder order the next most important, etc. If one were building a fast car, the engine selection would be a first order issue, tire selection second order and the aerodynamics of the side mirror third order. There’s not much point in getting better tires if you’ve got a 100 HP engine in a muscle car. Similarly, there’s little profit in tweaking the compiler when you’ve got an n2 algorithm instead of a linear one.

And finally, it just burns me up to risk civil liberties for the equivalent of getting sleeker mirrors on a muscle car when the engine timing is shot. And of all people, President Bush, the opponent of the causes of the first order failures listed above, is the one willing to take that risk rather than deal with those failures. Why should we accept that risk so that the FBI can repeatedly bungle investigations because incompetence and politically correct concerns? I understand the concerns that lead to granting additional powers to law enforcements agencies but can’t we fix the big problems first and then see if more is needed?

22 November 2003

Posted by aog at 17:38 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Another beautiful theory ruined by ugly facts

I’ve been thinking about some comments made by George Monbiot, who is normally a moonbat of the first order. But apparently he had a bit of an epiphany:

While I was speaking, the words died in my mouth, as it struck me with horrible clarity that as long as incentives to cheat exist (and they always will) none of our alternatives could be applied universally without totalitarianism.

Exactly so. The problem for the Left is that capitalism isn’t some horrible meme concocted in the psychological research labs of the ruling class and sent out to enslave the masses. It is, in fact, what you get when the government doesn’t exert totalitarian control. Anywhere the write of government doesn’t run, you get a form of capitalism, which is simply another way of saying “markets”. People trade. When the (roughly) same set of people trade regularly, you get markets and some variant of capitalism. Hernando de Soto wrote a whole book on this subject. This is something that seems to elude most Leftists, even though it’s a rock that’s foundered many a socialist ship.

Posted by aog at 15:38 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Friedman on health care

Gene at Harry’s Place cites Milton Friedman on government involvement in health care.

A more radical reform would, first, end both Medicare and Medicaid, at least for new entrants, and replace them by providing every family in the United States with catastrophic insurance - i.e., a major medical policy with a high deductible. Second, it would end tax exemption of employer-provided medical care. And third, it would remove the restrictive regulations that are now imposed on medical insurance - hard to justify with universal catastrophic insurance.

Gene comments that

I don’t think Friedman’s idea goes far enough, but I like that last sentence. And I’m pleased that even he recognizes government can sometimes actually play a role in reducing bureaucracy and holding down costs.

Although I don’t think we should have any form of government funded health care, if we did this would be a far better choice than Canadian style single-payer or the dog’s breakfast system we have now.

However, I think Gene is drawing quite the wrong conclusion. Note that if we did implement Friedman’s plan, it would actually create less government involvement in health care in the US than we have now. So Friedman is not arguing that government can play a role in reducing bureaucracy and holding down costs - he’s arguing that less government involvement would do so. Friedman’s plan simplifies and reduces the government involvement and regulation of health care, which naturally leads to reduced costs and less bureaucracy.

Among other things, the distortion caused by the tax deductible status of employer health care costs is an abmonination. Without that, there’d be no link between jobs and health insurance and the entire issue of tranferability and insurance between jobs would simply disappear.

It’s also seemed very silly to me to run expected payments through insurance - that’s guaranteed to be ineffecient. The insurance company has to charge enough to cover the cost, so one is paying the insurance company to fill out forms and annoy your doctor. It would be a lot simpler and cheaper for everyone to just pay the doctor directly (this is of course the idea behind medical savings accounts).

Finally, if we accept that as a society we want to have a medical “safety net”, then it should really be for catastrophic situations, not common and every day expenses.

Posted by aog at 11:55 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Thoughts on syntax for Textile formatting

My views on how to do definition lists in Textile.

§ My Format

’:.’ is used to mark a definition. The rest of the line is the term that is being defined. The rest of the paragraph is the definition.

’:..’ is used to represent a multi-paragraph definition. The rest of the first line is again the term, but all subsequent unmarked paragraphs are part of the definition.

The overall enclosing DL element is extended to cover the definitions until a non-definition paragraph markup is found. This would allow the inclusion of lists in to the definition.

§ Brad Choate’s Format

‘dl.’ starts a definition list. Each term and definition is marked by ‘term:definition’ on a line. There must be no space next to the colon. Each subsequent line can continue the current definition or start a new one. All of the definitions must be in the same paragraph.

‘dl..’ can be used to start a multi-paragraph definition.

Some of the issues I don’t understand are

  • Can I mix multi-paragraph definitions? In particular, can I have a couple of one line definitions and then a multi-paragraph one?
  • Are sequential ‘dl.’ elements put under the same DL element?

§ Style Issues

Of course, I like my style better.Error: WikiVar “grin” not defined I considered a number of styles as I was working on this issue and here are some of the points that I considered in the design.

  • It is strongly preferable to not have to mark the actual DL element itself. It should be implied by the definitions.
  • A key element of Textile is that it should read well even when not formatted. While some compromises need to be made, this should always be a consideration. For this reason, I would like the style to
    • Evoke the connation of a definition list (which is why both Choate and I used colons in our formats).
    • Look like the output. In my format, one could easily put leading space on the definition to get something very close the HTML rendered form.

I also think that my format handles multi-line and multi-paragraph definitions better. Whether that’s a feature depends on how much one expects that to happen. My usage is such that it’s a common occurence.

21 November 2003

Posted by aog at 09:53 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Distributed information and frame shifts

Orrin Judd cites an article about the value of habit and custom in human affairs. This is something that Hayek noted as well. The acquired structure of society is a repository of a vast amount of information. It contains the results of lessons learned at great expense over thousands of years.

But I’m not going to write about that directly. Instead, I’ll ask, if custom and habit represent stores of information, the results of lessons learned — what, exactly learned those lessons? Not any particular person. Few of our social institutions were designed in any meaningful way. Instead they were selected by trial and error as better than the alternatives. Moreover, there was never a single person in which all this information resided - instead it was distributed across all members of the society in varying amounts.

One could think of this set of social structures as something in itself by shifting the frame of reference from individual humans to groups of humans with a common culture. Such entities compete against each other, both directly (conflict between groups) and indirectly (“subversion” of humans in another culture to a new one).

There are many direct, observable effects of these information structures. Does that make them real? It’s an interesting question as to much such things can be said to exist. I ascribe them at least some level of reality since there are observable effects1.

The summing point is that these social structures are a good example of “emergent” structures, ones that can’t be expressed directly in terms of constituents elements yet arise when there is sufficient complexity in those elements. Put a bunch of humans together and you’ll get some sort of social structure. It’s similar to how a capitalist economy emerges from the individual acts of trade. It’s also the basis for some artificial intelligence theories, that intelligence can emerge from a collection of complex yet unintelligent components. I’m not going to argue that my discoursion above proves that. I offer it only as an illustration of what AI researches mean by “emergent structures”.


1 This is one of the key insights and pitfalls of post-modernism. It recognizes these structures but then confuses them with physical reality. They lose track of the fact that all of these layers exist simultaneously, just like chemistry is really a higher level reality on top of particle physics, and biology in turn is a higher level reality on top of chemistry. The higher layers don’t invalidate or make irrelevant the lower layers just as the existence of higher layers of social reality don’t invalidate the fact that such layers depend on the lower layers. It’s very similar to the relationship between software and hardware in a computer. The physical world and the humans that inhabit are the hardware on which our social “software” runs. And while software is very flexible, the hardware platform does affect it and what programs are possible. The nature of physical reality and human reality limits the range of workable social structures in the same way. This is the fact that the post-modernists have forgotten.

Posted by aog at 09:00 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Theater of the mind

There seems to be a lot of whiny dissenters in America today, who carry on at the slightest criticism as if they were being hunted like witches. Orrin Judd asks “As long as they feel a need to be persecuted, couldn’t we oblige?”.

Of course, Judd is slightly mistaking the actual need here. The whiners don’t want to be persecuted, as their cries of “help! help! I’m being oppressed!” when ever anyone points out fundamental errors in their positions demonstrates. Instead, what they want is the appearance of being persecuted. Most of the vocal leftists have long since lost contact with any reality except their own. The real goal is a “theater of the mind” where everything else is simply a set of props for a personal psychodrama. This is one aspect of logo-realism, where words substitute for reality and presentation for substance. The actual effects of a position are irrelevant, as long as it sustains the script. So we have the spectacle of Michael Moore simultaneously complaining of oppression and the silencing of dissent and that his book in on the best seller list. Or world famous movie stars on national television stating that they have been silenced.

There’s really not much hope for those afflicted, but we can probably do something for those who puzzled to distraction by the bizarreness of it all. Just remember, for them all the world is in fact a stage.

Posted by aog at 08:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

No sense in waiting for a worse time to act

In other news, there is a reminder that the world doesn’t stop for anything. Wang Zaixi, vice minister of the Chine Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, has stated

If the Taiwan authorities collude with all splittist forces to openly engage in pro-independence activities and challenge the mainland and the one-China principle, the use of force may become unavoidable.

In my view, this kind of rhetoric means that Taiwan should push for independence as fast as possible. The balance of forces is likely to become more unfavorable to Taiwan as time goes on, so if there is to be a clash it would be best to have it sooner. If the balance is sufficiently unfavorable to China then there might not be a clash at all.

The article notes that this statement “could also be directed at persuading the United States – Taiwan’s chief, though unofficial, ally – to head off the island’s increasingly maverick leader”. It seems unlikely that President Bush, having just given two major speeches on USA support for “freedom and democracy”http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/008910.html:, could turn around and sell out a free, democratic Taiwan to a repressive communist dictatorship. One might like to think that recent trade restrictions against China are a response, but probably not.

To honor the committments made in his speeches, Bush needs to speak directly in support of Taiwan’s efforts to create a more self-ordered society, exactly the kind of thing Bush claimed the USA would now support instead of coddling repressive regimes like the People’s Republic of China.

20 November 2003

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A court system! If only the Founders had thought of it!

Cherie Blair, wife of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been babbling on a bit about the USA not accepting the International Criminal Court:

It seems inconceivable that a state committed to the rule of law, such as the US, would refuse to investigate and prosecute its nationals should there be reliable evidence that they had been involved in international crimes.

While Right Wing News raps the concept of the USA accepting the ICC, I thought Blair’s statement was even more bizarre than that. Note that she equates the USA participating in the ICC with investigating and prosecuting USA citizens who have been involved in “international crimes”. Taken at face value this states that only the ICC can perform this task. It is apparently impossible for the USA to hold any of its citizens to account without the ICC if the crime is “international”. One wonders if Cherie Blair believes that before the ICC, no nation ever held war crime trials for its own citizens.

Posted by aog at 20:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Necessity is not always the mother of improvement

Via Instapundit, we have Phil Carter who is worried about the evolving structure of Al Qaeda.

I agree with his basic analysis, that Al Quaeda has become even more distributed, although this is more of an emphasis. Al Qaeda has always been somewhat distributed, although previously it was more of a “hub and spoke”“:http://www.informit.com/content/images/1578700973/elementLinks/09fig02.gif model with a number of semi-autonomous groups under the direction of the center (Bin Laden). With the destruction of the Al Qaeda hub in Taliban controlled Afghanistan, by necessity the structure has changed to a more peer-to-peer style.

While Mr. Carter is concerned about the advantages of this to Al Qaeda, he doesn’t consider the downsides. Among these are

  • Factionalism and cross purposes
  • Lack of scale for large attacks
  • Invitation of defeat in detail

The first is probably the most significant. As the anti-Western protestors have learned, one big effort makes a lot more difference than a hundred smaller ones. There is also the strong probability that different groups / factions will operate at cross purposes thereby reducing the overall impact. We can already see hints of this with the claims, counter claims and denials over the bombings in Riyadh. The timing of the recent bombings in Istanbul against primarily British targets during the anti-Bush demonstrations is suboptimal as well. Note only will it steal some of the media spotlight, but it’s likely to make some of the protestors wonder whether it’s a good idea to support the same goals as people who blow up their fellow citizens. The problem what leadership of Al Qaeda is left has is that in the new structure, this kind of thing can not only not be turned off but it probably cannot even be slowed down. In some sense that’s fine for nihilists, but that kind of ideology won’t survive for any extended period.

Secondarily, a distributed structure makes it more difficult to gather resources for truly large scale attacks (like the 11 Sep attacks) and greatly increases the risks from infiltrators and counter-intelligence. In the original structure, central command was as group of hard core jihadis who knew each other intimately. While bozos like Suleyman al-Faris could get physically close to Bin Laden and the rest of the ruling circle, I find it difficult to believe that the latter viewed him as other than fodder. Now, however, with disparate groups the leadership has to take a lot more risks with people they don’t know or who may have changed loyalties since the last meeting.

Finally, an organization that is every can be attacked everywhere. This has been a problem for the USA, but now Al Qaeda will have to contend with the same problem, of supporting far flung operations on a limited budget of money, material and cannon fodder.

This isn’t to say that Al Qaeda won’t remain dangerous, but I view this shift as one of tactical survival, not an improving strategic picture for Al Qaeda.

Posted by aog at 19:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The Lefty technique for dating

I’ve always found it a bit curious that there is a general presumption that if one were male and in college, leftish politics would be a good way of getting women. This seems counter to the view that women are looking for wealth access / production in their choice of mates and right wing attitudes corrolate better with that.

I think the resolution is that Leftism is better for achieving phsysical intimacy with women, because women who respond to that are more likely to have abandoned the standard restrictions of sexual behaviour. Women who are more conservative (or who appreciate more conservative men) are more likely to have a more restrictive view of the proper physical relationship between men and women.

Of course, this is all speculation since I was always a libertarian engineer with a conservative bent, a perfect combination for avoiding the pitfalls of romance.

19 November 2003

Posted by aog at 08:51 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Another legacy of the New Deal

Lawrence Solum (via Instapundit) is unhappy with the spiral politicization of the US federal judiciary. I can’t say I’m all that happy with it either, but the causes are a bit deeper than the last few decades. The trail stretches back to the New Deal and FDR’s court packing scheme. This marks the place where courts were changed from apply law to dispensing “justice”. Once you’ve lost the requirement that the job of the courts is to render legal judgements and instead strive for “social justice”, then you have a politicized court system.

That is why I am a strict Constitutionalist. One can argue that a document written a couple of centuries ago isn’t adequate for our modern society (I don’t believe that, but it can be argued). What doesn’t follow is that therefore we need a “living” Constitution, subjected to the vagaries of ideological fads. This, of course, is one of the leading contributors to the politicized judiciary bemoaned above. The Founders realized this potential problem and left us an Amendment process to deal with that. However, it’s a system that’s very resistant to allowing elites to impose their vision of society on the masses. While I’m profoundly grateful for that, it doesn’t sit well with modern politicians who have increasing politicized the judiciary to work around that restriction. Until we go back to considering the courts fonts of law and not justice, there’s way off the spiral.

18 November 2003

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

Weblog fodder

I used to struggle to get material for writing up on this weblog. Then I noticed that I’d frequently say to myself, “I need to post on that” but later, due to my advancing senility, I’d forget what the point was (“and how is that different from what you actually post?” asks the peanut gallery).

I ended up getting the 3M Electronic PostIt Notes after seeming them mentioned over at Daimnation!. Now I keep a memoboard up and drop PostIts on it when ever I see something that triggers my neural circuts.

As you can guess, I now have stacks and stacks of them, full of ideas for unwritten posts. Some of them I am saved from because they get too old and irrelevant. But others just sit there, mocking me. They’ll get written, someday, then they’ll be sorry…

I’d recommend this to others, but frankly there’s already too much content out there that’s not me and reading it keeps me away from clearing out my slush pile. So if there’s a dearth of posts, it’s not that I’ve run out of things to say but just that either I’m reading too much other stuff or the press of life has flattened me.

I figured out I’d mention this because I checked the webstats for the first time in a few months and apparently there are actual readers out there. At first I thought “well, just because they pull the page doesn’t mean they read it — maybe they use it to cover porn at work”. But surely the eyes must tire and eventually, because the boss is hanging about, the reading starts. Not commenting, but hopefully a little reading. Maybe.

Posted by aog at 21:19 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Long term population trends and the Fermi Paradox

One theme over at the Brothers Judd is the demographic implosion going on in Japan and Europe. What I wondered was, what does this mean for the long term stability of technological civilization?

To be stable in the long run, the human population must stabilize, at least on a stellar scale. While I’m a strong believer that mankind (or its descendants) can populate the galaxy, such colonization will have basically no effect on the population of the origination star system. That population will have to be stabilized by some other means.

The question arises - is that possible? Oh, it’s trivial to think of technological means to do so, or theoretical laws / political systems. But would those actually work? Could they be sustained over the necessary time periods? Could they even be tuned rapidly enough to respond to shifts in the population size? Presently, we don’t even know if it’s possible to turn around a rapidly greying population.

It may turn out that Japan will naturally turn around, once the population has dropped far enough. But at what cost? Will the nation be able to continue funcitoning, or will we see some kind of “Logan’s Run” hysteria where the older segment of the population is disposed of?

Perhaps instead the Japanese will fade from history and Japan will be re-colonized by foreigners of some sort, either gradually or via conquest once there are too few people left to defend it. For a stable star system, that may be what happens and would be strong argument for multiple polities and societies. If one society / polity fades out due to maladaptive social structures, there habitat can be repopulated by those societies that are still growing.

There’s little reason to presume, though, that the net population would be stable, even over long periods, in this model. It could be that this is how even Type II civilizations fall. The precision necessary to maintain a population balance may not be possible to achieve and the effects of a rapidly declining population to hard to reverse. Particularly as technology advances, virtual environments become more common and productivity increases it may be that a civilization can too easily reach the point of no return.

Just something to think about.

Posted by aog at 20:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Saving up for a big disaster

I’ve realized that the problems with the forest fires in the West and opposition to WWIV, the war with the Caliphascists stem from the same source. This is having a distaste for something so strong that any means available used to attempt to avoid it, even if it means more of it in the future. We see this effect out West, where the desire to avoid any harm to the trees leads to massive fires that destroy forests wholesale. For WWIV the opposition to war simply postpones and maginifies the inevitable. WWIII dragged on until Reagan acted like someone crazy enough to fight and dedicated enough to build the weapons to do it. Our opponent, the USSR, was started on an greatly accelerated collapse, thereby saving millions of people from death from Communism.

For WWIV, the longer it goes on, the more likely that the Caliphascists will achieve some terrorist act (or set of acts) so horrific that the President will be forced by political pressure to do whatever it takes (including saturation nuclear strikes) to stop the attacks. Or, alternatively, our will to resist will collapse and the world will be plunged back in to the 11th Century while billions die as technological civilization decays. These are not twisted dreams but what I consider the most likely outcomes if we refuse to confront, politically and where necessary militarily, the forces of Caliphascism. Unlike the Cold War, there is little doubt as to the outcome as long as we exert ourselves. To shrink from that requires the same kind of blindness that allows combustible underbrush to build up and is then surprised when there are massive fires. We’d better clear out some of the underbrush that’s accumulated while we fought the Cold War or we’ll see a fire the like of which has never burned before.

17 November 2003

Posted by aog at 21:50 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Turning the dating tables

I was reading Ann Landers in the local paper this evening while preparing supper. One of the stories was of a teacher who had an affair with her principal, broke it off and accused him of “sexual predation” to cover up her willingness. Now she’s sorry about ruining his career.

What I thought about was, in twenty years will this kind of thing be what mothers warn their children about with regard to the dangers of sex? Except this time around it won’t be mothers warning their daughters but their sons — “Don’t have sex outside of marriage, Johnny, or you may ruin your entire life!” or “don’t be alone in a car with a girl you don’t know!”. Will advances in medicine and changes in the legal system effect a reverse of the age old verities?

Probably not. As they say, “if it can’t go on forever, it won’t”. Even in my darkest dreams I don’t see this kind of thing ever becoming as prevalent as pregnancy or venerial diseases. I expect that in twenty years the current state will be seen as an aberration, just as is happening to the day care sex crimes cases. Hopefully we’ll end up with a more reasonably balanced view than we’ve had in the past.

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

Making war safe

There was a discussion over at Junkyard Blog about Al Qaeda obtaining some uranium. It was unclear just what kind of uranium they got (or even if there as any substance to the story at all). The base article mentioned a dirty bomb, but that’s only possible if the uranium was significantly enriched, as it’s impossible to build a dirty bomb out of U-238. U-238 is also known as “depleted uranium”, which means that the U-235 that naturally occurs in uranium has been removed to make some other batch enriched. U-238 is less radioactive per unit volume than people are, so it’s hard to generate much of a radiological hazard from it. It is, however, a heavy metal and so isn’t exactly safe (it’s roughly comparable to lead, whose toxicity doesn’t prevent us from using it in many applications).

There’s a constant low grade campaign to prevent the use of depleted uranium (DU) in munitions on account of its toxicity. This has never made any sense to me, as DU is hardly the most toxic substance used in modern weapons of war. For instance, the standard solid rocket fuel used generates hydrochloric acid as a by-product. There’s lubricants that are toxic, and that old standby lead which is also used in a lot of munitions. Moreover, far more people will die in the aftermath war from unexploded munitions than from any of these toxins.

Either the people agitating against DU have not the slightest clue what they’re talking about (always possible) or the real purpose is to throw sand in the gears of the Western militaries. I tend to think that the latter is more common, since we didn’t see the equivalent agitation when chemical weapons were being used in the Iran/Iraq war. The focus on DU can only be because

  1. It’s scary because it can called “radioactive”
  2. It’s used only by Western militaries
  3. The agitators are laboring under the delusion that absent DU, war would be safe.

Given the state of the “anti-war” movement, it’s probably all three.

Posted by aog at 08:54 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It' all a matter of timing

What should one make of the recent change in policy in Iraq to speed up the transition to local autonomy? I understand the concern of some that this stinks of fear and irresolution. If these losses, as painful as they are, cause the US to retreat, then they will really have been in vain.

On the other hand, the bottom line is that only the Iraqis can stop the attacks without massive destruction. What we know now is that insurgencies such as this require external support. In the past this has meant a super power patron. But it is more the case now, especially in Arabia, that lots of cash and porous borders suffice. Both of these latter obtain in Iraq and so suppressing the Caliphascists would require a level of response that is simply not politically feasible for Coalition forces.

Native Iraq forces, on the other hand, would be able to strike with much less collateral damage due to their knowledge of local people and conditions and what collateral damage is done will be more politically palatable to the citizens of Iraq. There is no viable long term solution except to depend on native policing. Despite the claims of failure from this approach in Vietnam, as I’ve noted it was internally successful there. After the Tet Offensive, the Viet Cong faded out as a significant factor. South Vietnam was eventually conquered by a conventional military attack without any real help from local insurgents.

While I don’t like the time tables, it’s still an open question about whether this change is in fact a “speed up” or simply putting down a schedule. There have been rumblings in the past about the inability of the Iraqi Governing Council to actually govern, so this change isn’t a complete blindside.

What is more worrisome to me is that the Caliphascists are now starting to target local leaders - judges, police - instead of American troops. With plentiful cash and weapons, that kind of struggle can go on for quite a while in a painful and bloody fashion, as we can see from South America. While better border patrols would help, there doesn’t seem any realistic hope that the borders could be sealed against the level of jihadis and weapons necessary to sustain the Caliphascists.

The best defense against that is private property and rule of law, both of which remove many of the grievances that fuel popular support for the insurgents. In addition, private property and rule of law boost the economy which also tends to rob the insurgents of support (until the country gets wealthy enough that there is a large indolent student population in college, cf. Berkeley). The Coalition should guarantee that the Caliphascists won’t achieve a military victory, but only the Iraqis can achieve a social victory.

UPDATE: Now this is a good sign — Iraqis demonstrating against the forces resisting civilization.

16 November 2003

Posted by aog at 21:06 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Overcoming societal deficits in Arabia

Via Winds of Change, we have this ABC News Report about the nature of the problems in Arabia. The report talks about the

idea that Arab culture and religion are responsible for stifling progress, and tolerance toward “the other”,

but then goes on to say that this year’s Arab Human Development Report specifies a different root cause —

The report, released this week, stresses that the existential crisis facing the Arab world has less to do with religion and culture and more with three key development challenges — deficits in political freedom, empowerment of women, and access to knowledge. These challenges stem from attitudes purveyed by repressive governments and conservative religious groups, but they are not innate to Arab or Muslim thought.

This, in my view, is just some PC speak. It’s understandable why the authors of the report would engage in such, as

  1. they might well endanger themselves by being blunt
  2. their real goal is to spark advancement, a purpose for which that level of bluntness isn’t helpful.

But it’s difficult to see what ABC News’ excuse is. It seems a bit disingenuous to say that a culture / religion combination that has uniformly produced repressive governments throughout its history is unrelated to that result. There’s no evidence that even the early Islamic governments had any interest in the knowledge of civilizations that they didn’t conquer. One might be able to make an argument that separately the two threads (Arab and Islamic culture) might not lead to “deficits in political freedom, empowerment of women, and access to knowledge” but together there doesn’t seem to be much doubt.

The question is whether the confluence of Arab and Islamic culture in Arabia can be modified sufficiently to either adapt to a technological, self-ordered societal structure or whether it will end up discarded on the scrap heap of history. Iraq will certainly be a strong test case for this. Already it seems to be divering from previous Islamic practices with strong (90%+) public support for freedom of speech and religion which are certainly not in the Arab/Islamic tradition.

15 November 2003

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

Evolutionary theory and capitalism

Orrin Judd cites Jason Potts:

Evolutionary economics is a modern recapturing of that primacy. It is not an historical footnote, but an essential insight into the relation between evolutionary theory, economic theory and liberalism. The common ancestry of both evolution and economics stems from the moral philosophers of the 18th century Continental and Scottish Enlightenment, amongst whom were Hume and Smith.

This gets at the essence of evolutionary theory. This is that complex, self sustaining systems can arise without a central authority, i.e. through the local actions of elements in the system. You don’t need a directing deity to explain the biosphere anymore than you need a Central Economic Planning Comittee to explain the US economy. This is very similar to the problem that many of the Soviet leaders have - they simply could not comprehend that the US economy could function without a central, explicitly directing authority.

The fact that the invotations in the economy are the result of intelligent decisions by individual people is just an implementation detail and not an essential feature of the system. It’s key to not conflate the individual decisions, even if intelligently selected, with centralized decisions. The difference is the flow of information, a point elaborated by the cite above.

Now, you could back up a bit and talk about the legal infrastructure the permits capitalism. These are the “rules of the game” and the corresponding laws in the natural world are the laws of physics and chemistry. The legal structure is far more of a designed nature than the actual activity of the economy. However, even there some argue that even the legal structure is evolutionary and created more in response to problems than designed. However, at this point we’ve gone to a designed universe, which is not incompatible with the full evolutionary theory.

Posted by aog at 10:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Just who is it that doesn't have a plan?

The latest bombings by Al Qaeda in Turkey would be strong evidence that Al Qaeda is completely lacking in any strategic sense whatsoever. There’s been a lot of commentary about the slow pace of confronting the real fonts of Caliphascism, Pakistan and the Saudi Entity. One answer, which I agree with, is that a frontal assualt is not always the best option. Flanking maneuvers have a long successful history in military strategy. The goal is not to hit the strongest points but to achieve the highest benefit to cost ratio.

In complete contrast the the US effort of taking out opponents one by one while placating others, Al Qaeda seems determined to be fighting every possible opponent at the same time. Or, more likely in my opinion, they are determined to kill Jews and secondarily other infidels without caring about the larger, strategic effects of attacks like this.

There is also the theory that Al Qaeda is trying to immanetize the eschaton (which USS Clueless has finally picked up on). As noted, I used to think that but I am moving more toward the idea that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have evolved their strategy as the previous ones failed, each step being more delusional.

  1. Intimidate the West through terrorism to cause a retreat and permit the return of the Caliphate (basic Caliphascism).
  2. Immanetize the eschaton.
  3. Kill Jews, infidels and if that’s not possible just kill someone.

I think Al Qaeda is falling apart. This is good news, but defeating Al Qaeda is just one step in the war with Caliphascism. Moreover, these bombings make clear that even in its death throes Al Qaeda can still do horrific damage. Sadly, this is the bill coming due for the years of ignoring the rising fanatism in the failed states of the Middle East.

14 November 2003

Posted by aog at 16:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Asking others to take risks

As the chicken hawk debate goes on and on, I realized that there’s a better analogy than I’ve seen yet. If asking others to fight in war is wrong if you’re not willing to fight yourself, wouldn’t it also be wrong to ask people to enter a burning building to rescue strangers if you’re not willing to do that yourself?

Posted by aog at 09:45 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Following the rules

I expect some apocalyptic reponses from the Left on the homemade automatic weapons ruling. Of course, the essence of the decision is primarily procedural, that the federal can’t use the Commerce Clause to ban objects not used in commerce. The issue is primarily one of making the federal government follow its own rules. There is a good sized segment of the Left that thinks this is a good idea except when it causes results they don’t like.

I will use the ACLU as the archetype of this faction. The ACLU advocates a very rigid interpretation of the rules and procedures by the government in its action. For instance, the Miranda rules and other rules of evidence in criminal cases. Their position is that one can’t achieve good ends through corrupt means (something I actually agree with). Yet I expect the ACLU to go ballistic over this ruling, even though the same basic principle applies. Even if one believes that the ban is a good end, that’s not sufficient to justify achieving through bad means. Yet I expect to see the ACLU, which insists that every police officer dot every i and cross every t, even if this means some criminals will go free, to support the idea that it is ok for Congress to be able to ban possession of automatic weapons on any pretext, however slim. It should be an interesting show.

Posted by aog at 09:19 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Another chink in the New Deal Wall

Via Instantman and Larry Solum is a report that the Ninth Circut Court has held that the federal government can’t ban home made automatic weapons under the Commerce Clause.

In my opinion this is common sensical. The idea that the Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power to regulate basically anything is probably the singles worst legacy of the New Deal. Some apologists may claim that the courts have only applied this holding to economic activity, but that’s a semantic game. There is basically no human activity that cannot (or has not) been commercialized or doesn’t impact economic activity. This is the locus of the libertarian view that personal liberty must encompass economic liberty to be meaningful. A government that can regulate all economic activity is a totalitarian government, that is, one that has the power to regulate the totality of society. While that is what most on the Left want, it’s good to see some retreat from that position.

13 November 2003

Posted by aog at 17:52 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Ted Rall comes from behind

Yes, folks, Ted Rall is on fire, as he rockets in to the lead for Idiotarian of the Year, 2003. He’s written a memo promoting the mindset of the death squads in Iraq. Many others have already posted to lay down the smackie on this subject, both on Rall himself and the crowd who run with him.

I’ll point out that Rall’s idiocy is not just his delusional world view or hatred for the country that shelters him. Even simple facts elude his mental grasp. For instance, he writes

As casualties and expenditures rise, the costs will outweigh the economic and political benefits of occupation. Soon the American public will note that the anticipated five-year price tag of $500 billion, with a probable loss of some 4,000 lives and 10,000 wounded, is not a reasonable price to pay to get our 2.5 million barrels of oil flowing to the West each month. This net increase, of just 0.23 percent of total OPEC production, will not reduce U.S. gasoline prices.

Let’s see. First he messes up and uses “our … oil” instead of “their … oil”. But even more egregious is that he claims that Iraq produces 2.5 million barrels of oil per month. Sorry, dude, it’s already at 2 million barrels per day. The rate was 2.5 million barrels per day before the invasion.

It is little details like this that make Rall such a fierce competitor for this award. After losing last year to Jimmy Carter, Rall seems determined to come out on bottom this year.

12 November 2003

Posted by aog at 13:49 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Amusement is a matter of perspective

Over at Harry’s Place he has a link to what he considers an amusing cartoon by Tom Tomorrow. As one of the comments sums it up with

Mr. Tomorrow was aiming at bloggers who have never experienced war but who seem to think of blogging as a war-like experience.

If we accept that view (which I think is accurate), then Tomorrow isn’t going after webloggers who supported the war but only those who think their writing is the equivalent of combat. That excludes every single pro-war weblogger I have ever read. Who, then, is Tomorrow actually talking about? Can anyone provide a single example of this species? Why target the non-existent?

I think it’s a standard bait and switch, which is well demonstrated in the comments. It starts with Tomorrow’s actual point, “it is ludicrious to compare weblogging with military service”, which is true even if such people don’t exist. It then transmogrifies rapidly in to “it is wrong for those without combat experience to advocate war” which is a completely different point. I find it amusing that the Left is reduced to this, but I suspect that’s not what Harry meant.

Posted by aog at 08:52 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Playing North Korea

President Bush is pursuing a dangerous line with North Korea, but it looks like his plan is starting to come together. As noted, I am hesitant to criticize because North Korea is a truly ugly situation in all respects and I hardly have a better plan.

The latest news is multi-threaded and seems to actually be coordinated. As It was revealed a while ago that the US had, in cooperation with a number of other nations, staged a “prison break” and smuggled out of North Korea a number of key scientists. This has apparently severely damaged the work in North Korea’s nuclear program. At the same time, it appears that the North Korean infrastructure is even more delapidated than had been previously thought.

The essence of the contest between North Korea and the rest of the world is the race between North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its ongoing economic collapse. This combination of events means that the former is pushed off in time and the latter moved forward. There is still a great risk of some sort of suicidal attack by North Korea. I don’t have any suggestions about how to avoid that. The best we can hope for is that a deal can be worked out with some of the military commanders to not attack in exchange for a wealthy exile somewhere else as North Korea collapses.

Whatever happens, there will be a big economic hit as South Korea takes one in the gut, either from an attack or from absorbing the burden of North Korea’s destitution. It’s going to be a rough decade or two with all of the cleanup work from WWIII and WWIV.

11 November 2003

Posted by aog at 12:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Of course he's right! He agrees with me.

Christopher Hitchens finally catches up with my well written analysis of why the last minute offer from the Ba’ath before the Iraqi invasion was laughable. Keep it up, Chris, and maybe I’d be willing to add you as a contributor.

10 November 2003

Posted by aog at 10:04 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Disposing of a no-longer useful faction

Alledgedly the population of the Saudi Entity is upset over the latest suicide bombing in Riyadh (via Brothers Judd).

The standard assumption is that Al Qaeda has once again achieved tactical success and strategic failure as is their wont. On the other hand, I prefer to engage in wild and baseless speculation.

It may have become clear that the Saudi Entity will be able to get away with their duplicity. As the ultimate goal of the Saudi ruling class is to continue to be the ruling class, what can they do? They’re riding the tiger, having funded the Caliphascists for decades. However, it’s not merely a matter of picking the winning side. If the Caliphascists win, the current ruling Saudis are doomed. So it seems that, long term, the ruling Saudis need to side against the Caliphascists. But how to do that? Well, suppose it turned out that Al Qaeda started bombing sites in Riyadh, Medina and Mecca. Might that not provide an excellent pretext for the Saudi Entity to dispose of them? It’s not clear that it would even be necessary to stage the bombings — a Saudi agent inside Al Qaeda could have “suggested” the targets. I would find it hard to believe that the Saudi’s don’t have agents inside Al Qaeda. The only problem is whether the Saudis are really that clever.

09 November 2003

Posted by aog at 21:38 | Comments (5) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Making Yearly Archives in MT using MTWikiVar

This is detailed “how-to” article on how to build a yearly archive as seen on this weblog.

1) Install MTWikiVar (see the instructions).

2) Create another plugin file to setup up WikiVar function variables and put it in the same director as the other plugins (“mt/plugins”). It doesn’t matter what the name is as long as it’s not the same as any other plugin. I call mine “WikiUtil.pl”. It looks like this:


package MT::WikiUtil;
use strict;
use vars qw($VERSION);
$VERSION = "1.0.0";

# Return our version
sub Version { return $VERSION; }
# ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
sub MakeYearArchive {
    require Transfinitum::YearArchive;
    &Transfinitum::YearArchive::Make;
}

1;

What this file does is create a subroutine that can be used in a MTWikiVarDefun. The definition is minimal and just fowards the call to the real code to reduce load times when this function is not used.

3) Install the YearArchive subroutine package. Create a directory called “Transfinitum” under the “extlib” directory. Put the YearArchive.pm file there.

4) Create a new index template for the archives for a particular year. Put in whatever header / banner stuff is appropriate. Note that this the code YearArchive generates the year calendar only.

The actual work is done by putting the following code in the template.


<$MTWikiVarDefun
  name="MakeYearArchive"
  value="MT::WikiUtil::MakeYearArchive"
$>
<MTWikiVarEval>$MakeYearArchive(2002)$</MTWikiVarEval>

This will make the year archive for 2002. You can see this in action.

These don’t have to be together. I put the Defun up in the HEAD element.

5) Rebuild the index template for your yearly archives.

The yearly archive has the following features:

  • Every date is linked to the first post for that date.
  • The month title is linked to the monthly archive if it exists.
  • The hover text on a day is all of the titles of the posts for that day.

If you want to tweak the formatting, the best option is to wrap the MTWikiEval elements inside a DIV and use the “style” attribute on the DIV to adjust things such as font size. Alternatively, use the “class” attribute on the DIV and define the styling in your style sheet.

P.S. Here is the complete text of the template used to generate the yearly archive example.


<!DOCTYPE
  html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
  "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"
>

<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<head>
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" />

<title><$MTBlogName$></title>
<$MTWikiVarDefun name="MakeYearArchive" value="MT::WikiUtil::MakeYearArchive" $>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="<$MTBlogURL$>styles-site.css" type="text/css" />
</head>

<body><MTInclude module="Banner">
<div class="content">
<div style="text-align:center;text-decoration:overline;font-size:200%;font-family:garamond;">
<u><b>The Year In Review — 2002</b></u></div>
<div class="calendar-year-table">
<MTWikiVarEval>$MakeYearArchive(2002)$</MTWikiVarEval>
</div>
</div>
Posted by aog at 20:39 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

If you keep doing that your face will get stuck in that position

I wonder if the problem on the Left with patriotism is that the modern Left seems almost incapable of favoring some position without sneering at those who have a different one. Just consider the entire confederate flag / southern — it’s one thing to believe that kind of condenscension, but how can any modern politician actually say it? It bespeaks a sneer so deep that even a modern politician’s baby kissing instinct can’t overcome it.

If one projects this back, then it would be natural for a hard core Leftist to assume that if someone is patriotic, they must be sneering at foreigners and other nations. Therefore, in the view of the typical Leftie, patriotism and jingoism are, in fact, the same. Any patriot who acts different is suffering from either false consciousness or is using code words.

It’s understandable, however. If you’re a logo-realist then the only way that historical tides can turn against is because the other side has better PR / proganda / terminology. In this case, sneering is the proper response in order to the create the social pressure that will reshape reality. By Jove, I think I’m getting the hang of it!

Posted by aog at 18:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

We feast at a table set by others

Armed Liberal has a post about Veterans day, when we honor those who have fought for our country. He touched on a point I brought up a while ago concerning the difference between patriotism and jingoism. He writes

the weaknesses of patriotism that I criticize above; on one hand, those who embrace it would use it as a basis for blind love of one’s collectivity combined with equally blind contempt for others’.

I’d just say that there’s precisely the fault line I was talking about. I say without irony that the USA is not only the greatest nation in the world, but the greatest nation in history. But it does not follow from this that other countries are worthless or cannot have traits that the USA should strive to emulate. It is in fact the willingness to adopt better ways in specific areas from other cultures that is a key reason that the USA is so great.

Because our nation is about a few core principles, we can change as the world changes and adopt other ways without losing what makes us Americans. Nations founded on blood and soil lack this adaptibility and cannot in the long run compete with the USA.

Our Founding Fathers brought forth something unparalleled in history. It is only fitting to honor on Veteran’s Day those citizens who risked, and too frequently lost, all to maintain this great nation of ours. I acknowledge the price they paid and celebrate the good that they have won.

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

The lesser good vs. the lesser evil

When I unleash a rant about the Democratic Party, the standard response from a member is to point out the bad things done by the Republicans. There are, after stripping the hyperbole, usually some good points in the resulting scream of consciousness. For instance, I think President Bush is badly negligent on cutting spending and controlling the deficit. I don’t like his pandering on steel tarrifs. I think he’s dropped the ball on cleaning house in our sclerotic and dysfunctional intelligence organizations and the State Department. I think he’s made some bad mistakes in the post-war handling of Iraq. All of these are valid criticisms, but they miss the essential point of why I will almost certainly vote for Bush in 2004.

Note that in every case, the problem of Bush is that he’s not doing enough good. He’s imperfect. For instance, on free trade, Bush has given the ball a good kick downfield with bilateral free trade agreements, such as with Chile. The handling of post-war Iraq has been flawed, but we got rid of the Ba’ath and created some hope in a nation that had none while setting the stage for a long term, sustainable improvement in American security.

On the other hand, the things I dislike about the Democratic candidates are actively bad things things, like support for higher taxes, appeasement or abandonment on Iraq, the sacrifice of American sovereignty to failed states and organizations that are openly hostile, etc. So when I hit the voting both, I won’t be picking the lesser of two evils, but between the adequate and the pernicious. That makes the choice a bit easier.

Posted by aog at 09:47 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The heavy price of self gratification

Howard Dean has decided to not accept federal funds for his campaign. Just because that kind of campaign financing is a key plank of his own party and one he personally “expressed suppport for as recently as last spring”, is no reason he should feel obligated to do so. It would be different if Dean at least admitted the failure of such law, but he actually claims that his action was done to support campaign finance reform.

Dean was even too wimpy to make the decision himself, he used an on-line poll to decide. As we all know, on-line polls have a level of accuracy and resistance to fraud all their own.

What has always been strange to me is this desire on the part of the Democratic Party, which is alledgely a proponent of the “common man”, to turn over control of the political process to a permanent elite. The campaign finance laws supported by the Democratic Party would entrust the funding and effective selection of candidates to the existing political class, creating a closed system almost impenetrable by outsiders. Not only would this effectively disenfranchise the average citizen (which current law has already done to a large extent) but it is of course precisely what the Democratic Party accuses the Republicans of having already accomplished.

With the rise of socialism in the US and its colonization of the Democratic Party, the latter has turned to the socialist concept of men, not laws. In this world view, whether a law is good or bad depends not on the law or even its consequences but on who wrote the law. In the same way, campaign funds are good are bad depending on who donates them, not to who they are donated or what policies the candidate supports. This makes funds from the government pure and untainted. The idea that such funds would be used to further the interests of a new ruling class is fine, as long as that class is made of the “correct” people.

Hatred of President Bush is part of this worldview. When he does things like support the overthrow of dictators (something the Left and Democratic Party used to harrangue the Republicans to do) it makes the Left even more furious because the “wrong” people are doing it. This is because the ultimate basis for favoring men over laws in the modern socialist worldiew is the personal aggrandizement of the socialists. All other concerns are secondary or irrelevant. One need only look at the policies supported by the Democratic Party despite the effects of these policies on those putatively helped. Welfare comes to mind as the archetypical example, where the rhetoric of compassion shows that the goal of the program is to make the proponents feel good about themselves. Helping the poor become not-poor is not only secondary but actually contrary to the program goals because poor people who are succeeding on their own have no need of the guidance of the elites.

For this reason, I don’t view the Democratic Party as the “mommy” party, but as the “spoiled child” party. It is a gang of special interests each tolerating the other in order to get their own self-benefiting programs enforced. It’s a sorry spectacle that’s lead the Party into a death spiral. And like the bucket of crabs, when a candidate tries to be a grown up (like Lieberman before 2000, or Dean on the “confederate flag” issue), the rest of the brats drag him back down in to the whirlpool. But that’s what happens when self-gratification is your highest goal.

08 November 2003

Posted by aog at 20:50 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Once again, Bush is the source of all evil

The Washington Monthly has a couple of interesting letters to the editor in the November 2003 issue.

The first concerns an earlier article called “Blue Crush” which blamed increased murder rates on President Bush’s defunding of police departments. The letter writer disagreed with the thesis on the basis that if the (slightly) increased murder rate were related to reductions in police funding, one would expect corresponding increases in other crimes as well. In fact, most other rates decreased.

However, the bigger question ignored by the first article and not mentioned by the letter is, what does President Bush have to do with police funding? It seems that the real problem here is having federal involvement in that area and if Bush has put a stop to it, that’s a good thing. Moreover, it’s an essential feature of fascist states that all control flows from the center, including control of local police forces. In contrast, in a society where local police are locally funded it is far harder to create a centralized, fascist state that can effectively enforce it decrees. Of course, this may seem is a rather kooky point to bring up, but it’s as plausible as the whole “Bushilter” meme where many on the Left believe that Bush is literally a fascist. So that same set should be cheering this separation because it makes their own scenario less likely. Or could it be that the problem with a Bush fascist state is the former and not the latter?

Clearly, however, this kind of detail isn’t particularly relevant, because in the next letter we have an “explanation” for Bush’s policy which is the same “Bush is only for the rich” trope that’s trotted out so frequently. The key point is that Bush’s policies, while hurting the citizens (except the rich) this is covered up by selfless Democratic Party stalwarts taking the hit for Bush like Gray Davis did in California. Yeah, I remember members of the Bush team writing the legislation that set up the crisis and imposing it by federal mandate on California, don’t you?

I’m sure the claim will be that these are fringe views on the Left, but the Washington Monthly isn’t a fringe magazine. In fact, I read it because it’s frequently one of the more intelligently written magazines of the Left (as opposed to say, Mother Jones or The Utne Reader). Yet these are the articles and letters they choose to print.

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

Looking for law in all the wrong places

Naomi Klein has written about the Evil Americans™ and their Evil Plans™ for Iraq. She does get one thing right, which is frequently missed by her fellows on the left — that the primary goal of the invasion is in fact the “colonization” of Iraq by Western memes. The difference, of course, is that Klein views infecting Iraq with free market, minarchist, liberal ideologies as a bad thing.

Reading her article, one definitely gets the impression that Klein views privatizing government assest as a more heinous crime than state organized torture, murder and rape. Her basic claim is that the US is wrong to disregard Iraqi law which prohibits the former but permits the latter. Of course, Klein could argue that she’s just supporting the “good” parts of Iraqi law, but that would be “colonizing” Iraq with her political opinions rather than respecting Iraqi law. That would be as bad as the Evil Americans!

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

The cost of speech

A key question for a self-ordered society is, to what extent should it protect itself from heresy? By heresy I mean ideologies that threaten the society itself. I think that this is fundamental the same as the “Fire!” in a crowded theatre issue, simply writ at a larger scale. If a heresy threatens the lives and safety of the citizens of the society, is it not permitted to act against the heresy?

As is the case in a society of humans, theoretical answers fail on the fact that mistakes will be made, if in nothing else than judging the actual danger from a heresy. For instance, the internment of citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII is a shameful example of judging their culture and attitudes as dangerous when, in fact, there was no real danger at all.

This is not to say that every single person interned was not a danger. I’m sure that at least some were fifth columnists. But I have yet to see any evidence that it was more prevalent among those interned than those not. Moreover, what danger did exist was individualistic and not a property of those interned as a whole. This is a critical difference. To combat heresy, it must be the case that the heresy itself must be a danger, not that some who believe it are. Moreover, the danger must be to the host society as a whole, not just citizens or their property. In both the other cases, an individualistic response is the proper one.

Because of this history and the very nature of a self-ordered society, legal means used to defend the society must be tightly restricted and require a clear and present danger to justify. A self-ordered society is by its nature resistant to low grade threats and the cost of repressing them is generally greater the cost of permitting them.

However, this applies primarily to legal mechanisms. There is no reason why citizens of such a society need to be so contrained. It is, after all, the essence of a self-ordered society that it is driven as much as possible by the individual choices of the citizens. If holding a particular point of view or ideology makes a citizen unpopular with his fellow citizens then that is simply a burden that must be borne. It is important to have as unrestricted a scope for speech as possible, but there’s not reason to make it easy to speak against the norm. This is the common mistake of “dissidents”, who believe that they should be able to take any ideological position without consequences. I am strongly against legal consequences, but to think that other citizens can’t react is to miss the essential point of free speech. It is a way of privileging oneself above everyone else, where one can speak but others can’t respond. I suppose that makes it no surprise that it’s a common tactic of the self-indulgent Left.

It is a good thing for unpopular speech to be unpopular. A healthy society needs a balance between change and stability. New ideas are critical to preventing the sclerosis and decay of a society but too many leads to decay as well. In my view the best balance is to protect the legal right to speak but not the social right. If some idea makes you an anathema, there’s probably a good reason for it. The important thing is for society as a whole to consider different ideas, but that’s not at all the same thing as accepting those ideas.

Posted by aog at 14:15 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Deciding on how long the haul is

Orrin Judd cites Walter Mead on Jacksonian ruthlessness in war:

Bush’s first and perhaps most dangerous problem is that Jacksonians don’t like limited wars. We should fight a war with everything we’ve got, Jacksonians feel. No weapons and no enemy sanctuaries should be off limits.

John Coupal responded with

Bush’s telling the American people early-on that this struggle will be long and hard is understood by the people.

When the safety and security of Americans and out friends are in daily jeopardy, Americans are not of the “cut and run” variety. We are in this struggle for the long haul.

I am not so sure just how long a haul the Jacksonian forces in America are prepared to accept. As Mead himself notes, when faced with the long haul of conquering Japan, we bombed it, starved it and nuked it in to submission in fairly quick order, once that option was available. The problem for those who adovate appeasement or pacifism is that Jacksonian prefer the peace of the dead enemies to losing.

Again, Mead notes that attempts to fight limited wars have brought down American Presidents. If things go badly in Iraq, President Bush will likely be faced with the choice of “going ugly” or losing his office. I certainly wouldn’t rule out a Hama style response to various troubles, either directly by Americans or by subcontracting it out to the Kurds or Shiites. We might well see a policy of “if an American is attacked, then the village/city is turned over to Kurds or Shiite control, to do as they will”. I expect that to be a wedge issue that the Democratic Party will again manage to get on the wrong side of.

We didn’t go this route during the Cold War primarily because the USSR was capable of responding in kind. But the modern day Caliphascists are not yet able to do so. Futher, the presumption is (based on the 11 Sep attacks) that if the Caliphascists can attack, they will, so there’s nothing lost in our using whatever means we can to preempt that.

This is party of why a vigorous but not too haste move toward ‘Iraqification’ is important, so that the Iraqis who have a clue can help prevent what will happen when America finally loses patience with the forces of resistance to civilization in Iraq.

07 November 2003

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

Paying something for nothing

Fareed Zakaria has a recent opinion article in which he makes two major points:

  1. The US is suffering because it didn’t get the sanction of the “world community” before the invasion of Iraq
  2. Turning over local policing to Iraqis is strategy of failure, just like it was in Vietnam.

I’ve dealt with the first one before. I still don’t see how it solves the actual problem, which is breaking the back of Caliphascism. It still seems petty and cheap to me, arguing that the primary goal of American foreig policy is to stick other people with the check. A free rider or obstructionist criticism of Europe works for me, but that doesn’t seem to be Zakaria’s argument here. And after all that, the problem of actually winning the war remains. He reminds me of old Engineer’s saying - “You have a problem and you decide to use write some PERL code to solve it. Now you have two problems.”

The second point, that seems a bad misreading of history. There’s been recent buzz about the Tet Offensive and how it relates to the current situation in Iraq1. However, one thing that is clear from the discussion is that Vietnamization actually worked. The Viet Cong insurgency was effectively destroyed during Tet and had the US continued to supply arms and ammunition to South Vietnam, it wouldn’t have fallen. I do share Zakaria’s concern about rushing training, which does to be a bit of a panicky move, but to dismiss the overall strategy seems a bad misreading of the situation.

Zakaria also misses another key point, which is that Iraqi forces can be far more aggressive without being affected by world opinion. First, how are people who accepted the Ba’ath oppression going to legitimately object the much milder response of local forces? Of course, the anti-American protestors will make objections but this will serve primarily to isolate and discredit them even further in the eyes of the citizenry.

Of course, there the Machiavellian view that the Iraqis (primarily Shiite and Kurdish forces) will conduct purges that will do to the Sunni Triangle what the Civil War did to the South.

1 I’ll note that, as sad as the loss of the Chinook helicopter was, it wouldn’t have even made a back page story during the Tet Offensive. If this is the best the Ba’ath can do then a Tet style propaganda effort is doomed.

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

Leaving the party

A post and comment by Paul Jaminet has made me realize that I do, in fact, know how quite a lot of former members of the Democratic Party feel these days.

I’ve been a libertarian since I was in junior high (sadly for me, I never enjoyed a dalliance with collectivism). I did dabble a bit in Anarchism, but by the time I was in college I had become a minarchist. Over the decades, however, I’ve come to see liberty as less of an end and more of a means. The real end is a self-ordered society, which provides the best ground for civic virtue. Civic virtue in turns yields civil peace, prosperity and the greatest scope for the pursuit of happiness. I’ll quote the same post Jaminet quoted because it expresses much of what I believe so well:

The point I think Justice Brow was trying to make here is that the nanny state is a poor substitute, at best, for the virtue inculcating power of faith and voluntary community. We may fear the faceless bureaucrat, but he does not inspire us to virtue. Conduct that rises above the lowest common moral denominator thus cannot be created by state action. But while the state cannot make its citizens virtuous, it can destroy the intermediary institutions that do inculcate virtue: “Communities can be destroyed from without; but they cannot be created from without; they must be built from within.” Richard A. Epstein, Simple Rules for a Complex World 324 (1995).

Conservatives therefore argue that the rich set of mediating institutions famously praised by Tocqueville is caught, like the Romans at Cannae, between the nanny state on one side and judicial hijacking of the state’s monopoly on the use of coercive force to advance a hyper-legalistic cult of the autonomous individual on the other. We therefore reject both prongs of modern liberalism in favor of achieving communitarian goals through private ordering. Our pessimism about human nature thus does not lead us to statism, but to promoting intermediating institutions that raise up citizens who can regulate themselves from within according to a shared language of good and evil, to paraphrase George Weigel.

Jaminet later comments that he, like me, is a minarchist but has left the Libertarian Party because he thought it had too many people hostile to virtue and religion. Another commentor said that he agreed with the platform but the party itself was a “kook-magnet”. I have known that for a while and learned to live with it. But, like many former Democratic Party members, I’ve drifted away primarily because of the Caliphate War. It’s one thing to be hostile or kooky but I saw too much reality dysfunction to really continue to call myself a member of the party. It’s the inability to see that, for all of the problems with this country, we’d really be in the weeds without it. I can’t imagine even hestitating in choosing between an Orrin Judd theocracy and a Wahhabi one.

One of the Liberatarians I admired, Jacob Hornberger went completely loopy. This is a guy who has been to Cuba multiple times and never drank the kool aid. He never lost sight of what Castro was really about. Yet, when he seemed competely unable to grasp the true intent of the Caliphascists, as if they, unlike the Communists, were only attacking us because of our action. Yet the fundamental fact is that Caliphascism, just like Communism, is a totalizing ideology that simply cannot long co-exist with an outside world that exceeds it in strength or prosperity. I still support the organization because of its good work in other areas, but the fire has gone out.

I think that I view this kind of thing with the same sick fascination that a Democratic Party member watches the debates among the current candidates and thinks “how has something I so admired come to this?”.

06 November 2003

Posted by aog at 14:56 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Enter Stage Right makes a return appearance

Enter Stage Right, an e-journal where liberty, individualism and capitalism aren’t bad words, is back online.

05 November 2003

Posted by aog at 21:46 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Just not serious

One of the biggest claims against the modern Left (as embodied primarily by the Democratic Party) is that on foreign policy they’re just not serious. Oliver Willis has provided a classic example. He cites an article from ABC News about an alledged offer of peace terms just before the invasion of Iraq. Willis takes this offer at face value and treats it as a heavy condemnation of President Bush for leading America to war “because we feel like it”. Here’s the key quote

Hage said Habbush repeated public denials by the regime that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but offered to allow several thousand U.S. agents or scientists free rein in the country to carry out inspections. “Based on my meeting with his man,” said Hage, “I think an effort was there to avert war. They were prepared to meet with high-ranking U.S. officials.”

Hage said Habbush also offered U.N.-supervised free elections, oil concessions to U.S. companies and was prepared to turn over a top al Qaeda terrorist, Abdul Rahman Yasin, who Haboush said had been in Iraqi custody since 1994.

Hage is Imad Hage, the president of the American Underwriters Group insurance company and Habbush is the Iraq Ba’ath Chief of Intelligence. There are a lot of implausibles here, all of which Willis blithely ignores.

The biggest one is, if this offer were legitimate, why didn’t the Ba’ath just do it? Why negotiate? Why not just publically declare that free elections would be held? That would seem to have been a far better plan for preventing the invasion if that was really on the table.

Why did the Ba’ath spend all that time and effort thwarting UN inspectors (and complaining about the presence of US scientists in the group!) if they were willing to allow “thousands of US agents free reign”? And again, why not announce that publically? That would have been devastating politically to Bush. It was, in fact, the Ba’ath intrasegience that made the case for the invasion. Why engage in these secret negotiations when a public announcement would have been far more effective?

Or one could consider how likely it is that the Ba’ath would have honored the agreement. They had never done so in the past, why should this time be any different? Wasn’t the run up to the war about the Ba’ath failure to obey its ceasefire terms and UN resolutions it had agreed to previously? Yet Willis expects to believe, a priori, that this time the Ba’ath meant what they said.

Yet another issue is that the Ba’ath had used promises of agreements and negotiations to stall and delay fufillment of previous obligations for over a decade. What evidence is there that this wasn’t more of the same? Wasn’t twelve years of that enough?

Ultimately, the unserious nature of this kind of thing is that Willis is ready to believe the Chief of Intelligence (and the dictator) of one of the most brutal, oppressive regimes on the planet, who has a long history of agression and duplicity without hesitation if it scores him some minor political points. That’s just not serious and casts some doubt on Willis’ claims that he takes this matter of war seriously at all.

Posted by aog at 16:54 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

But the other kids are doing it!

Joanne Jacobs comments that

To compete with private and charter schools, Phoenix’s school district wants to start small high schools for untroubled, academically successful students. But it will take a tax increase to fund the plan to combat “bright flight.”

Beyond all of the problems outlined by the comments on Jacob’s post, what I don’t understand is how this combats “bright flight”. From the point of view of the main schools, I would expect even more bright flight to these small high schools. What does it matter to the school district when the students go there rather than a private school? In fact, fincancially it’s better to let them go since it’s unlikely to affect the budget so such flight increases the amount of money available per remaining child.

One comment said

I can see that the school system would like to get them back, because it looks bad that students are choosing to pay for private/parochial schools rather than take the free (free! free!) schooling offered at the public schools.

I think this fails as an explanation because the solution doesn’t solve this problem. The students will still be fleeing the main line schools, the only difference being that more of them will leave because it’s cheaper. It seems to be me to be just a copy-cat move by cargo-cult administrators.

Of course, one looks in vain for any sign that the school district might try improving the existing schools. That would require actual work rather than asking for another big chunk of cash.

Posted by aog at 11:45 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Death Spiral Watch

Best of the Web notes that “Vote for the crook” has apparently become the rallying cry for the Democratic Party. I’ve wondered about that myself.

Is it because the Republicans are the “rule of law” party and the Democratic Party is now so consumed with opposition that crooks have a cachet a well behaved member of society doesn’t? The same theme shows up in foreign politics as well, with support from the Left for terrorists, murderers and dictators of all stripes as long as they oppose the US. I suppose that’s at least an organizing principle but it doesn’t seem like a good long term strategy for a major US political party (although, of course, that’s likely to cure itself soon enough).

02 November 2003

Posted by aog at 15:27 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Heading for a clash

I am starting to believe that we are seeing the beginning of the end of Islam as a major religion. As Armed Liberal says, if the Caliphascists get the religious / cultural war they seem to be seeking the end result will be fewer of us and none of them.

The problem is that I don’t any prospect that Islam is capable of accepting a multi-faith society. Despite some precursors in Christianity about this it took a couple of centuries of war in Europe, culminating in the Thirty Years War, to make it a reality. A key difference today is that the sides in the Thirty Years War were basically equally matched so that the final outcome was the everybody lost. Moreover, the warring sides were factions of the same basic religion so that Christianity itself would have continued even if one side had decisively won. Neither of these conditions hold today with respect to Islam and the West.

The question to wonder about is what will happen to the Ummah in the West, particularly the Anglosphere. I think the US citizenry understands loyalty to a faith over patriotism - concientious objectors may not be liked, but they are accepted. What won’t be acceptable is loyalty to other nations or causes because of religion. American citizens of Japanese ancestry were sent to internment camps on the mere suspicion of loyalty to Japan over the US. The US Muslim population has in my view tended to actually demonstrate loyalty to other Muslims over the US. That is likely to cause some serious blowback in the future. It’s probably not a coincidence that the citizenry’s opinion of Islam has dropped percipitously over the last year or so. Part of it may be a greater awareness of Islam in practice (as opposed to in CAIR’s propaganda). But I also believe it’s even more the perception I outline above. As the disorganized and badly trained American Army in WWII shook down into the world’s strongest fighting force during WWII, I believe that the American citizenry is going to gradually discard the political correctness that is crippling our war against the Caliphascists. Meanwhile the Islamic leadership in America has staked the future of the Ummah in this country on that weak reed. It doesn’t seem like the best plan, but then neither does provoking a world war with the West.

Posted by aog at 14:01 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The fat idiot has sung

The Plame affair is officially over. I heard Daniel Schoor bloviating about it on NPR this morning, putting in the same line as the Watergate break in. He was calling for Congressional investigations, as if there weren’t better uses for such investigations (like a thorough house cleaning in the intelligence agencies or the State Department). Schoor is the voice of the past and if it’s his current issue, it’s history for the rest of us.