28 February 2004

Posted by aog at 23:50 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Defending the Dark Empire

I’ve noticed that much bashing of Microsoft is very similar to the bashing of President Bush. In both cases the bashers are supporting what they view as an obviously superior alternative which, for no rational reason, is being defeated. It must be the case that there is a conspiracy, massive criminal behaviour, a deluded populace or all of the above. The fact that neither Bush nor Microsoft are saints helps in pointing out alledgedly examples of this massive criminal conspiracy that deluding the people.

Another parallel is that not agreeing that Microsoft is the Most Evil Corporation In History generally leads to abuse, usually of the form of the accusation that one is a shill or blind partisan. The primary difference between the corporate practices of Microsoft and its competitors is that the competitors lost, so no one cares what they did.

In both cases, long term success has been due in roughly equal measures to skill, luck and the incompetence of opponents. In the latter category there is a good parallel between Apple and Microsoft vs. American and Japanese car manufacturers. Microsoft has never been good at innovation, but it has been very good at long term, incremental improvement. In an industry rife with “Not Invented Here” syndrome, that’s been a killer strategy.

As for Microsoft holding back technological innovation, nothing drives innovation like mass markets. Without Microsoft, it’s not clear that computer use would have penetrated as rapidly as it did which helped drive down hardware costs which has been a major economic boon. It’s fine to speculate about some perfect world where a massive corporation earns billions of dollars is a paragon of virtue, but here in the real world one generally gets a selection of greater and lesser villians.

27 February 2004

Posted by aog at 21:47 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Oh, I do that - you can't regulate it!

Although I’m an opponent of drug prohibition, I come to that conclusion from a libertarian perspective. What I was wondering about today is those that come to that conclusion from a leftist perspective. That side of the political spectrum favors massive regulation and subsidization of pharmaceuticals consumed for medicinal purposes. Would a left leaning anti-prohibitionist favor a truly open market in recreational pharmaceuticals? Suppose it is claimed that some recreational pharmaceutical has medicinal properties - will it then become regulated? Or regulated only if taken for medical reasons and not recreational ones? Will users be able to sue the manufacturers for bad quality, insufficient potency or becoming an addict? Will we have “public interest” groups going after Big Tobacco and ignoring Big Marijauna? It just seems odd to have the same people advocating massive regulation of almost every aspect of modern life but supporting open use of recreational pharmaceuticals.

This isn’t an issue for me, as I openly support changing the FDA to be purely advisory (i.e., one can take non-FDA approved pharmaceuticals as long as one is informed that they are not approved).

25 February 2004

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Vote differently

One of the oddities about the debate on gerrymandering is the presumption of the static nature of voters.

I personally favor strong rules on voting district shapes1. But that’s an administrative issue and not something I consider vital. The real issue is why complex districting plans work. It presumes a high level of stability in party voting. It makes no sense unless a 60% vote for the Democratic Party candidate in one election basically means a 60% vote the next time as well.

It seems clear that this is fact a reasonable assumption. But that means the problem is really with the voters who vote without much apparent regard to external changes. As long as that property exists, politicians will exploit it, because the ones that don’t will be preferentially removed from office (evolution in action). Voters aren’t forced to vote and they’re not forced to vote a particular way. This makes claims that gerrymandering disenfranchizes voters somewhat implausible. The real problem is yellow dog voters and no districting scheme will solve that problem.

1 I would have just two rules.

  1. The ratio of voters between the largest and smallest district can’t be more than 1.2.
  2. The plan with the smallest total boundary length wins.

23 February 2004

Posted by aog at 17:49 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Not convicted means legally innocent

Do you have a right to lie about committing a crime? That subject came up over at The Brothers Judd with regard to the Martha Stewart case.

The essence of the prosecution’s case is that Stewart lied about committing insider trading by claiming she hadn’t. Further, this was done to prop up the stock price in her own company and therefore constitutes stock fraud.

I think this case is completely bogus, because it presumes Stewart guilty of a crime that not only wasn’t she convicted of, but the government declined to even attempt a prosecution in the matter. If it’s “innocent until proven guilty”, then Stewart is not (legally) guilty of lieing and therefore can’t be legally guilty of crimes based on that fact.

However, let’s suppose that Stewart did, in fact, inside trade. Being who she is, it would be impossible for her to remain silent on the issue as such silence would be taken as an admission of guilt. So she claimed she hadn’t. It’s one thing for citizens to disbelieve her, but if the government then prosecutes her for that statement, it is in effect forcing her to choose between committing another crime or testifying against herself. That seems to me to be classic violation of the Fifth Admendment.

In the general case, if it’s illegal to lie about being innocent, then law enforcement can do this to anyone accused of a crime. Just ask her if she did it and create this legal dilemma.

Moreover, if the legal theory behind the prosecution of Stewart were widely held, then why aren’t people who plead “not guilty” prosecuted for perjury? There would be just as much of a legal case against any of them as against Stewart, not to mention that it would be under oath (as the statements for which Stewart is being prosecuted are not). And if they were convicted, the legal case would be even stronger. Yet we don’t see that - I suspect that in any other circumstance it would be laughed out of court. But for some reason that rationality doesn’t apply here.

Posted by aog at 17:12 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Democracy or Power - choose one

Concerning the recent elections in Iran, Orrin Judd notes that

The way they [the Iranian mullahocracy] mishandled the election cost the hard-liners much legitimacy. If they now try to reform slightly in order to win it back, they are likely to go the way of Gorbachev, having aided forces whose strength they don’t understand.

I think that actually, they do understand those forces and that’s why they handled the elections as they did. I noted in an earlier comment that if you use democratic legitimacy as the basis for your rule, you’ve already surrendered to the forces of liberal democracy, it’s simply a matter of when you’ll surrender. It seems the mullahs have figured this out and gave up democractic legitimacy in favor of retaining power. Sadly, if they’re willing to use open oppression, they may last for quite some time. What did in Gorbachev was not only his initiating of reform but his not using serious methods to retain power once things got out of hand. One need only look at Mao’s “Hundred Flowers” program to see what can be done in such a situation.

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

Distorting the marketplace of ideas

Here’s another example of the “it’s not about the rule of law, it’s about how I feel” school of political thought. In this case, the poster is supporting the illegal granting of marriage licenses in San Francisco. The biggest flaw here is that while civil disobedience is a long honored tradition in America, this episode hardly counts.

In the first place, government officials should enforce the law. If such enforcement becomes subject to the political whims of the officials then we don’t have the rule of law anymore, but the rule of personal opinion. If the official thinks the law is unjust, he should resign, not simply choose his own law.

That leads to the second point, which is that civil disobedience carries a price, which in this case at minimum should involve firing the official. But of course, in modern society, no one should ever suffer for their own actions. That’s a bad idea.

It seems to me that cost-free protest is simply another form of socialism. The essence is making something seem free by the expedient of pushing the cost off to other people.There’s no such thing as free lunch. Civil disobedience is costly - pretending that bucking law and society is without cost is delusional, a delusion supported by transferring the cost from the protestors to the rest of society. This doesn’t mean that civil disobenience can’t be worthwhile, only that it should be used for things with a benefit large enough to outweigh the costs. Artificially subsidizing it is a distortion in the market place of ideas.

22 February 2004

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The passion and the judenhass

I saw my first TV commercial for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The standard claim is that this movie will inspire rampages of judenhass. What occurred to me to wonder about is, if it’s the message of the Christian Gospels that’s the problem, why is it that Jews are far safer in the USA than Europe even though Americans are far more religious and Christian than Europeans? Not to mention the state of judenhass in the Middle East, which has very few (and fewer all the time) Christians. You’d expect exactly the opposite based on the complaints about Gibson’s movie.

21 February 2004

Posted by aog at 23:43 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It's finally coming around

There are few things more enjoyable than seeing some one slowly hoisted by his own petard. I’ve written about the Democratic Party death spiral before but I’ve left off that for a while. It was actually a bit sad to see one of the major parties self destructing (not least because it leaves the other major party without a corrective).

But the Kerry meltdown is fine entertainment. The intern thing - it’s not gripping for me. First off, it doesn’t, unlike Clinton’s little adventure, involve perjury and the erosion of the rule of law. Second, again unlke Clinton, it doesn’t involve someone being screwed over by the very laws he promoted. And finally, Kerry’s other activities are so awful that even if the intern story is true, it doesn’t register.

The anti-Americanism, the vicious smears of our military forces - these are grand villianies.And wonder of wonders, it’s not a smear or getting splashed by someone else’s problems. Kerry wasn’t peripherally involved, he was front and center. Kerry is being hit by the coincedence of two forces - the rightward shift of the American public (as the failures of modern liberalism become evident to all) and the rise of information technologies that allow ordinary people to dig up and disseminate Kerry’s past. I think I’m going to enjoy the next few months.

Posted by aog at 20:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Don't over specify

The Wall Street Journal had a review of digital cameras recently (not only, unfortunately). The reviewer liked the cameras but complained about the small memory cards that were included. However, that’s a feature not a bug.

There is general problem with including an item with a product that is essential, replaceable and affects performance. In such a situation, there will always be an after-market for other versions of the item. It’s basically impossible for the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to have “the best” version of the item, not least because people will disagree on not only on the specifics of any version but on the very criteria on which to judge. The more competive the after market, the more it makes sense for the OEM to include an adequate but cheap version of the item. It will make most customers happy and those who don’t like would have bought after market versions anyway. At the same time, it lowers the list price of the entire product, making it more competitive.

For the digital cameras, whatever size of memory card was included would be wrong for most customers. The larger the included card, however, the more ever buyer has to pay for something that doesn’t work for them. The best option for almost everyone is to put the cheapest card that’s still usable (so there’s a good “out of box experience) and let those who care buy the card they want. Mossberg should have been able to figure this out on his own.

20 February 2004

Posted by aog at 19:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Free money making idea!

I came up with a great money making idea, for anyone out there looking to score some cash.

In corporate America today, there are plenty of “diversity” programs that attempt to hire more minorities of various types. The key question is, what makes some one a member of these minorities? It seems to be the case that it’s primarily self-identification: if you tell the corporate recruiter that you’re [ethnic], then you are as far as the corporation is concerned. I’ve looked for years and never found any legal basis for determining or disputing such a claim. However, the problem is that the recruiter can’t ask you and it seems a bit awkward to blurt it out. The standard technique is to have a key award on your resume that indicates your ethnicity.

Here’s the idea - sell those awards! You set up a website as an institute or foundation, make up some blather (or copyright infringe it from some other website). Once you’ve got that set up, you charge people an “entrance fee” for participating in a contest for an ethnic award. Oddly, it turns out that every one who applies wins! Then the participant can honestly put on their resume “won Best [ethnic] Rising Star Award, 2004”. Of course, you’d need a set of stock phrases for the award, with a few web pages for each. Charge $20 or $50 for the entrance fee and go. Your target market is people around college age. High school students looking for an edge, college students looking for scholarships or internships, and recent graduates looking for a job. You could sell value packages for a range of ethnicities, so that an applicant could easily tune their resume.

P.S. What I expect is that I’m not cynical enough, and someone is already doing this. Or, that so many people flat out lie on their resume that no one would pay for coorborating evidence.

Posted by aog at 18:52 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The demographic crunch

In thinking about China’s demographic problems, it occurred to me that much of the talk of the pension problem misses the point. Just like government funding of education benefits everyone (not just the parents of the educated children), the pension problems are simply a symptom of the fact that somehow, the working population will have to support the non-working population. Money is simply a record keeping mechanism, it’s not the actual goods and services that will be required. Even if current pension funds were fully funded, it’s not clear that it would make much of a difference. Shortages in goods and services would lead to inflation which would (in effect) wipe out the pension funds. You can’t cheat physical reality with accounting gimmicks. Just a thought to cheer you up for the weekend.

19 February 2004

Posted by aog at 22:20 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Selling dairy products in the land of milk and honey

Buzz Machine discusses yet another clueless economist who claims that the information industry is suffering from market failure. His definition of this is reasonable - “the inability to reach a self-sustaining equilibrium”. However, he’s picked his sector of the economy on very narrow ground in order to get this result. This sector consists of large corporation who push packaged information to mass consumer markets, where prices are collapsing in slow motion. The failure there isn’t of the market, but the of the business model.

As Scott Adams said “Why would you pay people to speak? You can’t pay them to shut up”. The business model of Big Media depended on high fixed costs (which is how the economist defines the market) to create a barrier to entry for competitors. Modern information technology is lowering those fixed costs across the board - production, reproduction, distribution. There are simply too many people willing to produce content for little or nothing for high cost producers to compete. And even there, it’s not clear that the real producers are worse off economically. Many musicians, for instance, are likely to make more money in the new information economy than they did in the old with Big Media.

Finally, big information oriented companies are not going away. The particular ones we have today might well do so, but I would expect the power law to stay in operation, meaning that we’ll have very few big companies, some more middle sized ones, lots of small ones and vast hordes of tiny ones. I expect a separation of information production and delivery. We might even see bandwidth companies charging producers for product placement (the way many of the gadget catalogs charge the gadget makers for space in the catalog). The scarce resource of the future will be the attention span of consumers. The companies that can capture some of that on a regular basis will be the big companies that replace the current ones.

16 February 2004

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

It's buckets of crabs all the way down

The Brothers Judd have a post about the “creative population” theory of economics that made me think of a previous post of mine about self destructive tendencies.

The theory in question claims that the key determinant of economic success is how attractive a region is to the “creative class”. This means that local government aiming to promote economic growth shouldn’t consider gimmicks like low regulations, low taxes, or effecient government but instead coffee shops and theater groups. Sadly for the theory, it turns out that the places most attractive to the “creative class” have had lousy economies over the last few decades compared to boring, straight laced places that are family and business friendly that have done well.

I don’t find this very surprising. The cultural elements that (according the the theory) attract the right people also tend to destroy the local cultural environment. The problem for the theory is while the “creative class” many be better at conceiving and starting businesses, long term economic success requires sustaining businesses. That tends to be done better by the same type of people who have families and a more staid outlook on life. It’s the tortoise and the hare again, where the slow plodding of the staid eventually overwhelms the fast footwork of the “creative class”.

The implication of that is if the cultural features required to attract the leading edge types prevents the solid types from moving there as well, all of the new businesses and ideas will wither on the vine. Moreover, you just don’t need all that many creative types to keep things moving. It’s far more important to not get in the way of those already there than to try and attract more of them (at least in the USA). And the final problem is that the “creative class” described by the theory aren’t innovators in business nor business related activities, but culturally “creative” (I’ve kept “creative” in quotes because frankly, my observations is that most modern cultural innovations, such as showing breasts at the Superbowl half-time, take very little actual creativity).

With the rise of the connected society, it gets worse. It becomes quite feasible to virtually import what creativity is needed, a kind of “virtual brain drain”. Interestingly, this would lead to a stronger class structure in the “creative” areas, as those who can export their symbolic efforts are well remunerated while the rest of the population has to cater to the whims of the exporters. We’ve seen some hints of this already during the dot com boom where local types complained about the invading dot com millionares. But I suppose the theory backers are correct in the strategic sense - if they can ruin everyone’s environment as they ruined theirs, it will wipe out any comparative advantage. Hey, if you can’t cure your pathology, export it! The motto of the modern day New Class.

15 February 2004

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

English as the official language

Kris Murray has posted on English as the official language of the USA. As some of the commentors point out, that declaration of itself would be completely pointless. It would have to entail some legal changes as well. The question is, what would those changes be?

While I support English as the official language of the USA, I certainly reject forcing citizens to learn the language. What I would do is make it an affirmative legal defense that one presumed another citizen understood English. What would this mean? Let’s consider ballots.

No municipality would be forbidden from printing ballots in other languages than English. However, no municpality would be forced to print in any other language than English. The muncipality could presume that all of the voting citizens spoke English and that therefore ballots solely in English would be sufficient. Basically government and private entities would be imdemnified against claims based on not providing services in languages other than English.

It’s a big advantage for a culture and a nation to have a single language that works everywhere. I think it’s quite reasonable and beneficial to pick a single language as the “lingua franca” for a nation. The fact is that some languages are privileged over others, just in an informal and ad hoc way (there are no ballots printed in Klingon, after all).

Sadly, I think we’d probably need a Constitutional Admendment, as trivializing of the Constitution as that is, because most of the push for multi-lingual requirements are driven by court cases.

14 February 2004

Posted by aog at 11:41 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Hey, we don't all have the intellectual capacity of the people at Harvard

According to Best of the Web, Harvard is now reconsidering it’s decision to have a porn magazine as an official Harvard magazine. It doesn’t sound like they’re going to change the content much, but will simply not call it pornography. The Harvard Committee now says

The proposal to publish a magazine called H Bomb was approved by the Committee on College Life based on the understanding that it would not include material that would be considered pornographic

Really? Here’s a quote from the earlier story

After flipping through the pages of Squirm, a Vassar College erotica magazine, the Committee on College Life (CCL) voted to approve a student-run magazine that will feature nude pictures of Harvard undergraduates and articles about sexual issues at its meeting yesterday. […]

Hrdy [a founding editor] said that “initially there was some concern about the nudity aspect,” but that CCL members eventually “got past the fear of porn.”

I suppose we should be tolerant. For one, Vassar has Squirm which does the same thing and we wouldn’t want Harvard to be behind the curve. More over, this committee normally deals only with Harvard faculty and students. It’s hard to stay in intellectual shape in that kind of environment - heck, it must seem very odd to them to be questioned or even (gasp) mocked. They’re probably not ready for the big league of the blogosphere. But someday, with some help and practice at rigor, they may be able to participate as equals.

Posted by aog at 10:23 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Consistency is important too

Winds of Change has a post about a Ralph Peters article on former President Clinton’s recent speech. The upshot is that since Clinton gave a very good speech (an assessment I agree with), he should be America’s ambassador to the world.

Certainly it’s true that Clinton is particularly gifted at this kind of thing, and that he doesn’t suck up to dictators nearly as much as Jimmy Carter. But Clinton is still a loose cannon, as likely to “feel the pain” of his audience as he is to communicate a pro-American message. Certainly some of the speeches he gave in the UK a year or two ago were basically anti-American. When Clinton is on message, he’s wonderful. But I just don’t trust him to stay the course.

Posted by aog at 10:22 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It's OK but not really OK

I’ve not been following the spectacle of Harvard approving a porn magazine. I haven’t had much respect for the “intellectual tradition” at Harvard for several decades. But I thought a point in Friday’s Wall Street Journal was a good one:

Judith H. Kidd, an associate dean at Harvard […] told the Washington Times that “[…] to deny recognition would deny free speech”. Somehow I doubt that such a defense would carry much weight from a student accused of making an untoward sexual advance […].

The real question is, what if one student shows a copy of the magazine to another student? Would that be sexual harassment? Could the second student then sue the first student and Harvard for approving the magazine? Would the Harvard approved porn magazine not count, but other magazines with the same content be considered offensive? There’s just a whole lot of interesting legal issues that could be tried out by a conservative legal group at Harvard’s expense.

13 February 2004

Posted by aog at 16:44 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

And that was bad because ...?

As some have noted, communication doesn’t always mean understanding. Some times I run across comments that imply a world view that is simply incomprehensible to me. Not one I disgree with, but one I can’t even imagine how it is constructed.

I ran in to one today over at Harry’s Place where a commentor stated, as evidence against the Left siding with the USA against the Caliphascists in Iraq:

There is a real danger that the pro-war left will repeat the mistakes of a section of the intellectual left in the fifties, which lined up behind the US in the Cold War on the indisputable premise that liberal democracy is preferable to Stalinism. We’ve already seen where that trajectory led.

Uh, to freedom and better lives for hundreds of millions of people? Countries that didn’t suffer South Vietnam’s or Cambodia’s fate? A trend to toward economic freedom in formerly repressed states? Overall, it seems like a big win, even though there were a number of shameful episodes, although most of them involved not siding with the USA against the Stalinsts. Or maybe he means that those intellectuals ended up as neo-cons. At least he’s admitting that liberal democracy is better than Stalinism, so there’s a bit of common ground.

Posted by aog at 16:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Solving the details, not the problem

Harry’s Place reports that

The Iraqi Federation of Workers’ Trade Unions has received official recognition from the Iraqi Governing Council, according to the federation’s web site.

Clearly, it was a problem that under the Ba’ath regime, the government ran its own unions, the point of which was to further the regime’s control of the citizenry (in this case, the laborers). It’s certainly a good thing that those Ba’ath run unions are kaput. But why repeat the error by having the current government “recognize” a single union as “legitimate and legal representatives of the labour movement in Iraq”? Wasn’t that the real problem with the Ba’ath unions?

So what’s happening is that the solution is to change some little detail (such as the particular union that’s the official government recognized one) rather than solving the problem, which is having government recognition of “the union”.

P.S. I was going to rant here about the Left and it’s inability to tolerate actual diveristy (such as a diverse set of unions), but ChrisB, who is definitely on the Left, agreed with me (which is, I think, a first) on this issue. So, in honor of that, the rant is cancelled.

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

You can't always save people from themselves

Porphyrogenitus notes that the Washington Post is concerned that the USA is not intervening in Haiti. There is currently a low level civil war going on, between armed gangs and the Aristide regime.

It is of course legitimate to wonder what this means for a rapid hand over of government in Iraq. Is it likely to devolve the same way as Haiti? I’m not overly concerned - one of the problems with our last intervention in Haiti was that we supported Aristide in particular, rather than a process in general. There was already strong evidence even then that Aristide wasn’t particularly interested in actual democracy, except as a mechanism for him to take power. Certainly the history of Haiti since then hasn’t been that of an open society. It’s not clear how Aristide is much better than those who preceeded him.

I’m surprised that Orrin Judd hasn’t commented on this as an anti-parallel to Chile. In both cases, a (somewhat) democratically elected leader was taking the nation on the path to one person rule when they were overthrown by the military. In Chile’s case the USA made no effort to re-install the deposed leader or his political associates. In Haiti, we did. Which nation has done better?

The lesson for Iraq seems to be twofold:

First, avoid a parlimentary system where a simple majority can basically change the rules of government, and instead require such changes to involve a large super-majority.

Second, don’t select the ruler, and in particular don’t select him based on his appeal to the intellectual class in the West.

As for Haiti, the Washington Post’s solution (an internationally brokered resolution) seems like putting a bandaid on a sucking chest wound. Aristide has shown himself to be untrustworthy in that regard and it sounds like the leading elements of the insurrection are unlikely to be any better. I think the only hope is probably a long term colonial style occupation (like Puerto Rico), but I doubt we’ll see that recommended any time soon.

Posted by aog at 10:31 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

If only you were smart enough to understand that you're stupid

Over at Critical Mass is a discussion about the quote from the Duke philosophy chair about intelligence and conservatism:

“We try to hire the best, smartest people available,” Brandon said of his philosophy hires. “If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.”

“Mill’s analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too.”

Others have commented on the fact that Mill himself noted that “stupid people tend to be conservative” is not the same as “conservative people tend to be stupid”, or that “conservative” meant something quite different to Mill.

But what I haven’t seen noted is that Brandon is also effectively claimimg that the general public is stupid as well. Brandon notes that Mills’ (misinterpreted) statement “may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society”. Now why would that be? The most plausible reason I can think of would be the presumption that most people are stupid, therefore the public at large tends to be conservative and therefore in general agreement with the Republican party.

Alternatively, though, Brandon could have meant that intellectuals are incapable of dealing with the world outside of academia. But how likely do you think it is that he’d admit that fact?

12 February 2004

Posted by aog at 20:11 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Still a few bugs in the system

I’ve been out of the loop so I missed the big todo about the deaths during this year’s Islamic Haj. Some have viewed this as evidence of a “death cult”, although I think that’s be a bit too strong.

There’s an instrinsic problem with belief systems that postulate a life after death that’s superior to the current one. There is a strong tendency to prefer the after-life. Consider what would happen if, through some act, a young child could suddenly become an adult. We can see the results of children trying to be adults. The Christian and Islamic versions of after-life can reasonably be considered a “post-adult” form of existence. Why wait?

Christianity has a number of mechanisms to discourage such premature self-promotion. While matyrs are praised, it’s really the act of faith rather than dieing per se that’s honored. They are honored because they held faith despite death, not because they achieved it.

One problem that persists, though, is an indifference to death. This hasn’t been a problem for Christianity for a while, but I think we are seeing it in Islam with respect to the level of effort made by the Saudi Entity to handle the crowds during the Haj. Because the deaths are not viewed as a problem, no effort is made to prevent the cause of the deaths. I don’t believe that the officials plan on getting pilgrims killed, but simply don’t see the point of spending much effort to avoid it, as the dead are better off anyway.

It seems like a bug in the design to me, one that’s going to cost Islam a high price.

10 February 2004

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Truly, he has sinned

I finally realized something while I was reading this article by James Lileks. The article digs up some old quotes by former President Clinton about Iraq, Saddam Hussein and WMD. These quotes, of course, sound just like President Bush on the same subject before the invasion. Yet most of the anti-Bush factions that castigate him for his statements are big fans of Bill Clinton. Now, one could put this down to the split between the DNC faction and the “Democratic wing” of the Democratic Party (as the DNC side is not nearly as vicious in their anti-Bush fervor).

But I think it’s more that Bush means what he says. That’s the really unforgivable sin in modern politics. That’s a big reason Reagan was hated as well - he had the audacity to call the Soviet Union what it was, an “evil empire”. The problem with a politician being straight forwardis that it puts pressure on other politicians to do the same. It also bugs the punditocracy because what’s the point of spin and “analysis” if one can understand the plain meaning in a politicians speech? Of course, Bush fudges on the details and secondary issues like any other politician, but what the public tends to care far more about is the “big picture” and there, Bush has to a much larger extent than most basically said what he meant and did what he said. And that is his real crime.

09 February 2004

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Not accepting the consquences is not good strategy

My last post made me think of one reason North Korea will be a tougher problem than the Middle East. It’s also the reason I find the EUlite so annoying. It’s a matter of making tradeoffs.

After it’s little misadventure in the 1950’s with military adventurism, North Korea became a true “Hermit Kingdom”. Their army is not set up to actually conquer the South, but to trash it. They have huge numbers of artillery pieces, but most of these are in fixed positions suitable only for blowing up things in Seoul. It would be a logistical nightmare to try and move them som place else if there wasn’t fighting in that one area. The fact that North Korea has given up on any larger territorial ambitions renders it far more resistant to outside influence. The focus is now on hostages, not invasion.

This is in strong contrast to Saddam Hussein, who peristed in military adventures even after the Iran-Iraq war. One notes that it was Saddam’s ambition to be the Arab Leader™ and his attacks on neighboring countries that provided both the means and the motive for his downfall. Saddam’s neighbors were all afraid of him and therefore willing to help (or at least look the other way) while someone else took him out. In contrast, North Koreas restraint has lead to the state where South Koreans are more afraid of the US than North Korea. Not a bad result for a psychopathic dictatorship.

Ultimately, this difference stems from the NK regime that it wasn’t going to win a war, so it should play with the cards it had. Saddam never got the message that he just wasn’t up to conquering Arabia.

This shows up many places. Take Europe, for example. The claim is frequently made that European Socialism is much better, much more humane, than the rough and tumble capitalism of the USA. That may be true, but it’s undeniably true that such Socialism has a high economic cost. If the EUlite simply accepted this basic fact and admitted “we’ll never be as materially well off as the Americans, but we will have a better society” I wouldn’t mind. What makes the situation annoying is the non-acceptance of inferior economic performance, with the constant blathering about the EU beating the USA economically, or the pathetic attempts paper over the economic strains (such as France and Germany blowing off the EU debt limits). No reasonable person gets upset at the Amish for living a technically backward lifestyle, because they accept the price in material goods they pay for their beliefs

Of course, the Amish believe that the spiritual rewards of their choice is better than the material rewards of ours, but such are the differences that spice up life in the USA. I may not agree with that view, but I can respect it. But the idea that holding back on a free economy isn’t costly is just silly.

That leads me to my final example, Islam. We wouldn’t be at war now if Islam were move like the Amish in their acceptance that their religion, as currently practiced (and particularly in the Wahabbia version) is simply incapable of developing or maintaining a technological society. Apparently their economic failure is resented as a mark of failure by Allah, but since when is an omnipotent deity impressed by the works of Man? The agony of modern Islam is that it doesn’t work in a technological society yet can’t let go of the material rewards of such a society. One solution to this is to erase the technological societies so that the issue disappears, but that seems a path fraught with the dange that the technoids will be the ones doing the erasing. It’s a hard choice but not one that can really be avoided. That’s the structure of reality for you.

08 February 2004

Posted by aog at 22:34 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

World peace through communication? Not quite yet...

I was reading this post by an Iraqi making mock of the stories coming out of Iraq via Big Media (it’s hilarious and worth reading).

What struck me, though, is that part of the dream of the all-heart, no-head liberals is that part of their dream of “if we could just talk, there’d be no more war” is starting to come true. The rise of the Internet and weblogs in particular means that personal exchanges between warring countries doesn’t become a dangerous, possibly treasonous exercise but something as simple as posting comments on someone else’s weblog. It’s hard to see support for a war surviving a real exchange of views and opinions, leavened by facts.

However, people being people, this will hardly be a panacea. There will always be many who are so locked in to a world view that they can’t effectively exchange views.

More significantly, any real benefits will happen primarily between two open societies. If one side is closed (as Iraq was before the invasion) then there isn’t going to be much real exchange of viewpoints and there were will be far more difficulty for those in the non-free society to participate. The net effect will probably be twofold:

  • Even more discentive for democracies to war with each other.
  • An erosion of popular support for some repressive regimes in war time.

The latter will be strongly influenced by the fact that the truly oppressed never revolt, only those who are either starting to do well or have had their repression rolled back a bit. A thoroughly repressive regime like North Korea isn’t going to have a revolution - it will simply collapse when its time comes.

This is yet another advantage of the civilized world over the barbarians. Every little bit helps.

05 February 2004

Posted by aog at 22:11 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Fork you

I still see now and then the claim that the invasion of Iraq represents a distraction or substitute for the effort against Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. I’ve commented earlier on the point that demonizing a single person as the Source of Evil is not a good policy, even in the case of Osama bin Laden, so I don’t worry too much about him in particular.

But even if bin Laden were the real focus, that doesn’t mean we should spend all of our time going after him directly. To do so (or to support doing so) is to miss one of the most basic strategies in competive games, “the fork”. A fork is a multi-axis threat to an opponent, where he can block some of the threats but not all of them. Even in tic-tac-toe, creating a fork is the primary strategy goal.

It works the same at the strategic level. By invading Iraq and using that to force other changes in the Islamic world, we create a threat to bin Laden (and the rest of the Caliphascists). In response to the normal bluster from the USA, the Caliphascists could just lay low for a few years and regroup. But now, every year they wait means more wearing away of their recruitment base. But if they respond, they have to come out where we can find them. It’s a classic fork - laying low means we roll up their support bases while responding means we roll up them. And we’ve actually been making progress on both fronts.

So when you hear someone go on about not concentrating on Al Qaeda, just smile and nod and realize how lucky we are that they’re not in charge of our strategy in this war.

Posted by aog at 08:23 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It's not about improving the poor but bashing the rich

I’ve been meaning to rip on this post by Oliver Willis on a recent Heritage Foundation study on the state of those in poverty in the USA. The study notes that being poor is not as bad as many have thought. Willis takes this as a statement that it’s good to be poor. It’s certainly a typical response from the Left to any improvement in any social condition - it’s not yet perfect therefore it’s the same as it ever was. It is apparently pure evil to ever note any improvement short of perfection. In order to make even that exaggeration stick, Willis had to rewrite the actual statement from the study that he quotes.

But I found some of the comments more interesting. My favorite was the one that labeled “fair and equitable taxation” as a basic need. I used to think it was things like food and clothes, but clearly I’m still stuck in old school thought. One wonders what that actually means. Truely equitable would be every one pays the same amount of tax, but I somehow doubt that’s what was meant.

On the other hand, there was the complaint that it wasn’t reasonable to look at material possessions like DVD players because those had gotten much cheaper over the last few years. How did they get better and cheaper? Apparently that “just happens” - certainly it couldn’t be an effect of our economic system! It’s a clever (or oblivious) way of discounting the primary benefit of capitalism, that the goods of life get cheaper and better over time, thereby improving the lives of the poor.

There was also the standard lauding of Cuba, where even the middle class lives in conditions far worse than our poor (as if anyone not in the political elite in Cuba can afford a DVD player, assuming it was legal to own one). I suppose that’s why we see waves of American poor casting off the Florida coast to get to the worker’s paradise of Cuba.

I’d suggest they read The End of Equality by Mickey Kaus, which is a discussion of the moral bankruptcy of looking only at income (‘money equality’) for the poor rather than the quality of their lives.

04 February 2004

Posted by aog at 16:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Everyone agrees it's just a pretext

Orrin Judd asks

Implicit in the kerfuffle over WMD is the quest for some kind of magic formula: if we can be 100% certain that Enemy A has WMD then it’s legitimate to strike first—otherwise we have to wait for them to attack. So here’s a question: if they’re our enemy—as Saddam made clear he was—why is it illegitimate to just attack regardless of WMD?

The answer, for the tranzis at least, is that violence by the West and the USA in particular is inherently illegitimate (violence against the West is OK, because it’s always in reaction to previous illegitimate actions by the West). Therefore it’s illegitimate for the West to attack other nations, regardless of WMD. In the same way that the Bush administration seized on WMD out of a constellation of reasons for invading Iraq, the other side has seized on WMD as an issue to pillory the supporters of the invasion. In neither case is WMD really the determinative factor, it simply plays well to the masses.

03 February 2004

Posted by aog at 23:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

You say they're your friends, you deal with them

I’ve been meaning to slam on this article in Slate about the situation in Korea, as it’s an example of the reality dysfunction present in many who object to US policy. The thrust of the article is that tensions in Korea are due to clumsy US diplomacy, rather than the belligerent actions of the psychotic regime in the North. Let’s look.

First up we have this comment:

South Korea, which has the most leverage over Pyongyang

Reality check. China has the most leverage over Pyongyang, since it’s direct Chinese material aid that keeps the regime from collapsing. China could bring it down in weeks any time it wanted. South Korea could … what? Start a war? Ooh, ooh, I know - South Korea could back off on it’s placating of the North!

The Bush administration can barely countenance the totalitarian regime and has taken a hard-line approach, while South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun believes rapprochement will open up the garrison state.

Imagine that, President Bush doesn’t like totalitarian regimes that starve their own citizens in to cannibalism. But apparently Roh Moo-Hyun is OK with that kind of thing. And certainly the efforts in this direction in the 1990’s have paid off handsomely - for the North. But the reality dysfunction goes deeper than that:

Although South Korea has urged the Bush administration to negotiate with North Korea, the United States has said repeatedly that it does not want to reward bad behavior and has stood tough (too tough in the view of some commentators, including Slate’s Fred Kaplan) with the North. But anyone who knew anything about North Korea would have predicted that it would come right back and restart its atomic program.

If we knew that, why did the US and South Korea pay off the North to not do that? What was the point?

Pyongyang has cleverly portrayed the United States as an imperial aggressor while the North is a brother to South Korea. And it’s working. Sook-Jong Lee, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, worried that this nuclear crisis threatens to dismantle the valuable 50-year-old U.S.-South Korea alliance, citing a South Korean poll that showed citizens of the south believed the United States poses a greater threat than North Korea.

All of those South Koreans civilians and prisoners, murdered during the war - that’s brotherhood? The mass starvation of Koreans in the North - that’s brotherhood? The tens of thousands of US troops protecting the South from a massive, devasting invasion from the North - that’s imperialist aggression? Hey, if it’s the US that’s the threat, we can just pull those troops out and say “good luck with the starving refugees following the artillery!”.

any final settlement will require a huge financial commitment, because North Korea will never give up its nuclear program unless it receives both a security guarantee and massive economic aid. […] This is where South Korea comes in, picking up a big chunk of the tab.

There we go again - didn’t this same author write just a bit earlier that anyone should realize the North will just restart its nuclear program? And if that would work, why doesn’t South Korea just do it?

What’s really amazing is that not once in the entire article is the nature of the North Korean regime mentioned, as if that is completely irrelevant to the problem in Korea. The end of the article states that

The Bush administration should contemplate a grand bargain in which Pyongyang not only dismantles all nuclear weapons but also reduces the massive stores of conventional weapons aimed at the demilitarized zone. In return, the United States and its allies would offer economic aid, a non-aggression pact, and a peace treaty, finally ending the Korean War (currently only a truce is in force). Then Pyongyang could open up an office on Washington’s Embassy Row, and U.S. diplomats could drive their Fords in North Korea.

Oh yeah, of course North Korea would enthusiastically follow through on its treaty committments, unlike every other treaty it’s ever signed. I wonder if the agreement would include not kidnapping South Koreans and Japanese. Or would those people be considered part of the foreign aid?

Posted by aog at 14:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The cost of pride

[Via Transterrestrial Musings]

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald discusses the Hutton inquiry in the UK. What I learned from this is that the original misreporting by Andrew Gilligan

was made in an unscripted interview with another journalist live to air early one morning, and that he did not thereafter repeat it.

That makes it look even worse for the BBC leadership, who backed a sensational and off-hand remark by one of their reporters without investigating it further. Once again, the coverup turned out to cost far more than the original error. Had Gilligan just said “woops, I overstated my case” or the BBC itself just said “that’s the reporter’s opinion, not an official news report” I doubt that anyone would remember it today. The situation certainly resonates with the problem of the sanctimoniousness of the press, who simply cannot conceive of being wrong.

02 February 2004

Posted by aog at 22:06 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Smutting edge graphics

Slate has an article about the potential impact of HDTV on pornography. The summary is that, unlike previous communication technologies, HDTV is unlikely to be of much benefit to the porn industry. For “high class” porn, HDTV is likely to reveal too many physical flaws, which will ruin the image of perfection required in that market. On the other hand, the “low class” market caters to customers who don’t care much about production quality and are therefore unlike to see the point of porn on HDTV.

I wonder what this will do for the hentai industry, especially any computer graphics versions. Computer generated characters look much better on HDTV than regular TV - there are no flaws to magnify. Current simulations are getting quite realistic, so perhaps more of the high end market will migrate there instead of relying on higher tech make up and video editing for live action pornography.

It’s been a question for a while when computer graphics would start to compete directly with live action. Perhaps that’s the place that porn will once again lead the media revolution.

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

Walling off the propaganda

In thinking about the fence, I realized that one of its biggest effects will be to allow the IDF to exit Palestinian areas. That will rob the Caliphascist fellow travelers in the West of one of their best propaganda weapons. On who will the misery and oppression in the West Bank and Gaza be blamed once the IDF leaves? If, as expected, the lack of the IDF will lead to a lot more Palestinian deaths, that will force major media to stop covering those areas (because clearly they’re not going to report anything that goes wrong that can’t be blamed on Israel). What I expect, as I noted in my previous post, is that Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah will become desperate to provoke the Israelis in to retaliation. It will be a violent clash, however it will be much more favorable to Israel than the current situation.

Posted by aog at 20:35 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Don't make your enemy's mistakes

USS Clueless has a post about the security wall being constructed by Israel and how it’s a symptom of things going wrong for the Palestinians and their associated Caliphascists. It’s a cautiously optimistic post, but there’s one problem with it. At one point he writes

The Palestinians […] decided that the Barak proposal proved that Israel was nearly broken and could be defeated outright, so instead of accepting the sweetened deal and actually living by its terms, they went to war.

Fair enough. The concilatory attitude of the Israelis was interpreted as weakness and exhaustion. One notes that had the Palestinians at that point resorted to non-violent protest the Israelis would have, in fact, collapsed and the Palestinians might well have been able to achieve concessions that would have doomed Israel in the long run. But the Palestinians preferred a violence and ripped defeat from the jaws of victory.

However, USS Clueless writes later on in the same post about how various Palestinian factions and Arab governments are now making offers to Israel which make concessions never before seen, such as this Arab League proposal that gives up on the right of return. Isn’t that the same theory that the Palestinians had, that such concessions are a sign of failing will? Couldn’t it be just a change in tactics, since Arab agreements with Israel have never been binding on the Arab side? Although I agree that the facts on the ground are detoriating for the Caliphascists, even the Israelis aren’t immune to missing opportunities.

A case in point is the recent prisoner swap with Hezbollah. If the Palestinian factions can “recycle” their agents by kidnapping Israelis (as they’ve already announced they will do), it makes the effort a lot cheaper to run, which may go a long way to compensating for the effects of the fence.

In addition, there’s the question of what will Israel do when Hezbollah or Hamas starts lobbing Katyushas over the fence. If I were in charge, the response would be carpet bombings of the area where the weapons were fired, but I just can’t see Israel doing that. But if they don’t, why wouldn’t it continue? Heck, why wouldn’t one of those groups just set off a chemical weapon upwind of Israel, even if that means setting it off in their own territory? There are still a lot of options available to the Palestinians even with the fence, to which I don’t see a response that Israel can (or more commonly is willing) to do.