31 January 2005

Building statues out of sand

Junkyard Blog reports on evidence that the North Korean regime is starting to come apart. What I find interesting is the box that the regime has gotten itself in to, which nicely illustrates the issue of static strength vs. dynamic strength.

The North Korean regime has a lot of static strength. There is not only juche but also the cult of personality around the Kim family. But this strength is also a trap. It is far from clear that Kim Jong-Il can be deposed without bringing down the entire regime. The same propaganda that helped Kim stay in power as infallible makes admitting he’s not very deadly to the regime. This is not accidental. Static strength requires using ephemera as eternal verities. Once those ephemera change or the world changes around them, what used to be a wall turns in to an cement overshoes.

In contrast, dynamic strength, the ability to adapt locally while maintaining global principles, tends to look weak day to day. It flexes under even small strains and seems to bend in any wind. Yet over time, by adjusting to the flows of history rather than trying to stand immutable, dynamically strong cultures continue to flourish while static cultures eventually get clubbed under by the clue by four of reality.

This is just another variant of the “degree of meta-ness” I’ve brought up before. If you’re going to pick eternal verities on which to base your government, it helps if they’re sufficiently high level to actually be eternal.

Buy your own ticket

As predicted, NPR was spinning the low turnout for Sunni areas as hard as it could. The lead segment on the Iraqi election was the very low turn out in Ramadi, a city dominated by the caliphascists. If I thought the NPR staff wasn’t basically on the other side, I’d wonder if they really understand an important corollary of their harping on this point, which is that it basically gives the caliphascists a veto over elections as long as they’re willing to kill people. It’s amazing how anti-Americanism will give a group a carte blanche with so much of the Old Media. They may be thugs, but they’re the Modern American Left’s thugs.

Personally, I’m fine with the low turnout in caliphascist dominated areas. I think it helps make clear what the caliphascists are really achieving, which is basically to disenfranchise the Sunni. They need to get on the train or they’ll be under it. The one thing that must not be done is reward the caliphascists and their fellow travelers in any way. Only when the Al-Anbar street turns decisively against the caliphascists will they be defeated.

30 January 2005

What reality-based means

Someone else said that the Modern American Left really was a “reality-based community” with the same relationship to reality as “reality programming” on TV has. That is, it looks like reality but in fact is a highly scripted with an externally imposed narrative structure. Certainly the MAL starts with reality but adds all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theory while stripping down or rewriting details that make up the story to fit the pre-determined story line. The script requires that the USA have been the primary weapons supplier for Iraq? Just tweak that in to place. Fake turkey? You got it! And it’s all so much clearer and less nuanced than reality.

It certainly does seem to be in the same vein as trying to revive the Democratic Party through better marketing. All they need is some better script writers to have a more compelling reality-based message and power will once again flow through their veins.

We're addicted to digging

One of Instapundit’s readers writes

And as you noted, the Right does do a better job of quieting its ‘idiotarians’. The only problem is, they essentially do it with the “bribes and promises” approach. Jerry Falwell, even when muzzled, knows that to some degree he and the people he represents will get a hearing from the White House and congress, the American seats of power.

On the left, we are a minority in all branches of government. How can we cast off the extremists if we have nothing to offer to placate them, nothing to drive them away with? It makes it harder to easily dismiss them, and as we get drawn into a serious debate with them (which we’d handily win), the Republicans will simply say, “Look, the Democrats can’t even stop their circular firing squad, how can they run the country?” and we’ll lose more seats in Congress.

Yet the Republicans managed this while they were a minority party, without control of either House of Congress or the Presidency. If this is a standard attitude in the non-idiotarian Democratic Party, they’ve already fallen over the edge, it’s just a matter of waiting for the final impact. However, there are some other factors at work here.

I do think, however, that the Democratic Party has a much tougher road back to relevancy than the Republicans did. The Republicans were able to maintain most of their core principles while adapting to the times. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, consists primarily of self-interested rent-seeking groups and what ideology they remains simply doesn’t work in the real world.

In addition is the limited time horizon that seems to pervade the rank and file of the modern Left. It took decades of work and sacrifice for the Republicans to recover, time in which their fortunes sank lower in exchange for success later. This is something that seems inconceivable to the modern Left. I suspect that this is direct result of their utopianism, the belief that there exists a solution and any delay in implementing can only be caused by ignorance and sloth. The whining about Iraq comes from this same viewpoint. The conservative view that life is hard, constant struggle makes it easier for them to accept hard work today for a reward tomorrow1.

Finall is the idea that only bribes can work. It says quite a bit that good argument and logical reasoning is simply not going to have any effect. Moreover, the effects of simply shunning and mockery don’t appear to even be considered. Much of the idiotarianism on the Right was driven out in that fashion. Was Trent Lott placated by bribes and promised access?

In this same vein, because Jerry Falwell was brought up, is the action of turning problems in to solutions, ala “Sister Souljah moments”. The Falwell crowd wasn’t marginalized so much by direct action but by a re-action to the televangelist scandals. When that happens (as it inevitably does for an idiotarian), the Right didn’t rush to embrace and cover for such people but actively helped push them off in to irrelevancy. Yet when someone like Michael Moore produces a tenditious, error filled conspiracy theory movie, what happens? The Left / Democratic Party embraces him. Forth right mockery and pointing out what a bogus movie it was would have done much to marginalize Moore and those like him. Instead he was made one of the faces of the Democratic Party2. As Instapundit points out, that kind of thing is actually worse than Moore himself.

1 Did the Left used to be capable of such long term effort? Was the gradually rising dominance of leftist thought in Old Media and academia a result of such a long term effort? Perhaps. A key point there is that there wasn’t much sacrificing on a personal or ideological level. They had nothing to start with so it was a downhill effort. Now, reform would require real sacrifice and effort and we see a break down in the modern left in the face of that. Because of modernity or being Left? It’s an open question.

2 Of course, a big part of that is the dependence of the Democratic Party on fat cat donors who eagerly indulge in that kind of puerile politics. That makes clear which party is really in the hands of self selected rich elite.

28 January 2005

Not seeing the meaning for the words

Over at Harry’s Place is a post about poets and judenhass. I just want to nitpick one point, which is a complaint about the poem Fuzzy Wuzzy by Rudyard Kipling:

Kipling was a product of an imperial age which was intellectually predicated on the belief that the British were, effectively, the chosen people. His childhood influences and experiences inside and outside India pretty much made it impossible that he could have turned out anything other than racist. Society and specious science as he knew it fostered the myth of the omnipotent and omniscient white man, which meant he had little trouble getting his work published even when it referred to “Fuzzy Wuzzies” in the Sudan.

I can’t believe that some who’s actually read the poem could write this. The basic element of the poem is grudging respect for an enemy who did very well in battle against the British and lost only because of the British having better weapons. It is effectively an homage to the fighting prowess and bravery of the Sudanese. But, of course, since it uses a politically incorrect word it’s part of the ‘myth of the omnipotent and omniscient white man’. The poem remarks that

We took our chanst among the Khyber ‘ills,
The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,
The Burman give us Irriwaddy chills,
An’ a Zulu impi dished us up in style:
But all we ever got from such as they
Was pop to what the Fuzzy made us swaller;
We ‘eld our bloomin’ own, the papers say,
But man for man the Fuzzy knocked us ‘oller.

Yeah, that sounds like just like something intended to demonstrate the inherint superiority of the white man. But I suppose it’s part and parcel nowadays to judge things by the connotations of the words used and not the ideas the words are used to express.

Anything that can happen already has

Via Brothers Judd we have a report that the Australian desert is now though to have been created by humans burning off the existing forests and tipping the region over to desert.

I’ve noted elsewhere the irony of the Australian aboriginals being responsible for such an ecological catastrophe (will there be another epidemic of Reality Concussion Syndrome?). But in this post I want to concentrate on the important topic that comes to mind: why I hate a certain class of plots in science fiction and fantasy novels.

One of the commentors asks about the desertification of Australia and why it couldn’t have been caused by lightning. While a good reply is provided, there’s a much deeper reason: if something can easily happen, it will already have done so. If it there were any significant chance a lightning strike could happen often enough and be big enough to permanently burn down entire forests, it would have happened a very long time ago.

It is this basic fact that nags at me when I read some novel in which the main characters have to perform some incredible feats of derring-do involving hard to find irreplaceable objects to prevent the fabric of reality from unraveling. Or some villian has some device that can do the same. If reality were that fragile, it would have been broken long ago, voiding the whole story. It’s partly a symptom of over powering where the Bad Thing isn’t just the loss of a kingdom or civilization (which is fine - that happens) but some kind of universal physical destruction. I realize that it’s just fiction, but the nagging lack of internal consistency makes such stories much less interesting for me.

Reality Concussion Syndrome

Think of all of those leftist mindsets suffering from impacts by the Clue by Four of Reality. Many like to view this as heads exploding but I like to be kindler and gentler in my open mockery of a different ideology. So I do believe that I will refer to the cognitive dislocation caused by the current era of reality breaking through ideological cocoons as ‘Reality Concussion Syndrome’. In some ways it’s a hopeful sign, as there are many who are completely immune to the Clue By Four of Reality, many of then apparently writing columns for The Nation.

26 January 2005

Rat off a ship or a subtle game?

Via Instapundit, Rich Lowry is reporting that the New York Times has had a positive story on Iraq and the elections for two days in a row.

I wonder if this is because the New York Times has decided that things are looking up for the elections and wants to start rewriting history early, so that they can claim that they were always on board when things are obviously looking better, in a manner similar to the depictions of bi-partisanship and respect for Ronald Reagan when he was president are done.

On the other hand it could be more subtle. Perhaps it is a way to promote the cause of the Sunni against real democracy. At least the second story is about the Sunni’s getting influence despite supporting the caliphascists and boycotting the elections. Then after the elections, when the Sunni are mostly shut out, the New York Times can come back with how fraudulent and exclusionary the elections were, an obvious failure.

24 January 2005

Show me the money

Is it really the conservatives who are obessed with money and wealth? This comes up in the context of many on the Left complaining that the lumpenproletariat voted against their own interests. What is meant here, of course, is voting against their economic interests. Others have handled the argument about whether this is true better than I could so I leave that to them when voting for President Bush.

Yet consider what it would mean if the Left were correct. Doesn’t that presuppose a world view in which economic matters (i.e., money and wealth) are the pre-eminent concerns, so important that they outweigh all other concerns put together? Could it not be possible that some set of non-economic concerns about the candidates policies would outweigh direct, personal economic benefit? Apparently not in the view of the Left, which expects voters to vote purely on the basis of the latter. It’s too bad for them that they’re wrong on that as well.

P.S. Mickey Kaus was well ahead of the game on this issue. Quite a few years ago he wrote an excellent book about this money obsession of so many liberals which made quite an impression on me.

23 January 2005

Substituting grandiosity for accuracy

One similarity I noticed between my discussion partner and other members of the thin and decaying leadership of the Democratic Party is the use of rhetorical grandiosity in actual arguments. It’s one thing to make sweeping claims and generalizations in a speech, but quite different to do so in an argumentative framework.For instance, Senator Boxer, when questioning Condoleeza Rice during the confirmation hearings, didn’t just bring out the WMD trope but claimed that it was the only reason for the resolution. A moments check shows that, of course, it wasn’t. Why use such a weak and clumsy lie?

In my other discussion I was accused of not admitting mistakes and insisting that I was right. Of course, that’s not an accident. I do two things that I suspect my opponent doesn’t

  • I am careful with the specific claims that I make, making them either specific or negative (“it’s not always the case that …”)
  • Doing some research before posting to gather evidence. Sometimes my research indicates that my claim is wrong or overbroad and so I modify it before I post it. And if I turn out to be right or at least plausible, I’ve got links to back up my claims.

In contrast, what I noted was, as with Boxer vs. Rice, an apparently unresistable urge to make the starkest, most sweeping claims. I suspect yet another manifestation of Logo-Realism. If words are determinitive, then big sweeping claims are more “powerful”. If one is used to a cocooned world of people with a similar viewpoint and similiar opinions, it’s an effective technique. In a fact based argument, however, it’s a classic way to overextend yourself and get cut off at the knees. No wonder the Left hates facts.

Life among the tax eaters

City Journal, the house journal of the Manhattan Institute (not Manhattan, KS), publishes this fine article on Blue and Red in its newest issue. The article focuses largely on the influence within Blue metro regions of public-sector employees, and the unions to which they belong. Strikingly, this power is no longer concentrated within the unions; many former public employees have now become elected offficials, Steven Malanga writes: “In New York, for instance, more than two-thirds of city council members are former government employees or ex-workers in health care or social services.”

In the Agora

It’s a good article about how big city governments have been captured by those self-interested in extracting ever more money from the citizenry. It’s obviously a parasitism that will eventually kill the host, the question is how far will it spread and what will it take with it when it finally does bring about the collapse of its host? Will a nation dominated at the federal level by the GOP be able to starve this parasistic class enough that it can be pruned back?

The situation is exhibiting the standard Socialist tendency of building walls to keep people in rather than improving the local situation. New Jersey is on the front lines of that effort with its combat against “sprawl”. The clear point of such efforts is to force people to live in cities where they can be hosts to the parasitic class. Passing laws restricting other people’s choices is far easier and more personally rewarding than fixing broken policies, especially when those policies are what bring in the cash from the taxpayers.

One wonders why the voters continue to re-elect these people, but I suppose it’s far easier to move to the suburbs than waste time with political organizing. Still, the tax payers must still greatly outnumber the tax eaters, even in the city, or the cities would have already collapsed. Their voting habits are likely the ‘bucket of crabs’ syndrome.

Where is everybody?

Spoons writes about the potential presidential candidates for the GOP in 2008 and I wonder — is this really the best they can do? Is the GOP suffering from a parallel Clintonism, where the energy and power is concentrated in and around a single family? Perhaps the Democratic Party’s woes have been magnified by the way the Clinton family has handled this vs. the Bush family. That, of course, should be very worrying to anyone concerned about the longer term success of a party that has such a short bench that it has to draw its leading candidates from one family. Like any dynasty, fate will throw up a major loser at some point and then things go rapidly down hill. Although I like Jeb Bush, I can’t support him for this reason. The GOP must broaden its candidate base if it’s going to keep the Democratic Party from messing up the nation again.

22 January 2005

Polluting the talent pool

On the BBC last night was a report on Mafia violence in Naples, Italy. Apparently the centralized control structure has broken down and there are now a number of smaller gangs shooting it out for control of the money from the illegal drug trade.

This got me thinking about organized crime and cultural tipping points. In the USA, retail crime like this is generally the province of losers, people who can’t make it in legal economy. For competent and super-competent people, the legal economy provides a much better place in which to exercise their talents for their own benefit. There are always exceptions, of course, but clearly in the USA almost all of the human capital goes in to legal enterprises. This helps keep crime from becoming a serious threat to civilized society because the latter is supported by far more of the competent citizens.

However, in a society that’s outside of the Core it is quite possible that for many of the talented, criminal activity provides a better scope for one’s talents. This will tend to weaken civil society, making crime even more attractive (or equivalently legal activity less). It seems that there could well be a tipping point where a government becomes literally incapable of maintaining control because the other side has the better talent pool. The more I see of government collapses the more it seems that it’s not because underlings refuse to obey orders, but that they can’t understand the orders or how to implement them.

While this kind of thing can be the result of general poverty, it is just as commonly the result of over-regulation (something Hernando de Soto has explored very well). I think it’s one reason socialism inevitably veers in to repression if it doesn’t collapse first. It’s about relative attraction, so if the government can make illegal activity sufficiently dangerous then it can keep it under control, sort of (the USSR is a classic case of this). It’s also why putting a patina of democracy on top of a stifling legal system doesn’t work for long (e.g., Haiti).

I wonder now if perhaps this is becoming clearer in general and is one reason that the Left is now opposed to spreading liberal democracy, as it’s clear that to be successful such expansion must also entail relatively greater economic freedom as well.

21 January 2005

An alternate history Iraq parallel

I got in to another long and pointless argument recently, but it did bring up some interesting points that didn’t fit in that conversation.

One is that the caliphascists in Iraq are now focusing on killing and intimdating election workers and candidates, a technique that was used in this country by the Ku Klux Klan. Among the chattering classes, the KKK is considered an archetypical evil, yet the caliphascists have managed to avoid anything like the same taint even tough the KKK never did anything as brutal as the things the caliphascists are doing in Iraq. The suggestion that the human shields go back and protect polling places is a wonderful one, as it perfectly illuminates this point.

On a relate theme, I was asked whether I would join a resistance against a successful Chinese invasion of the USA. I responded that if the USA had been under a brutal Communist regime and China was a rich, liberal democracy, then I’d be a collaborator (presuming I hadn’t escaped to China already). It’s an odd sort of patriotism to fight, kill and die for whatever government last happend to rule your country even when it’s clear that that government was a terrible disaster and much worse than the occupation. Yet that’s what many seem to expect of Iraqis. In fact, as an intelligent observer would expect, those fighting are either members of the former ruling class trying to re-instate their privileged position or people who expect to become the ruling class if they win.

An excellent analogy for the Lefties would be a South Africa where apartheid was toppled by an invasion instead of a willing transfer of power. The question answers itself of whether the Left and Old Media would be so sympathetic to armed members of the apartheid government conducting civilian reprisals to bring themselves back to power. Would such people be called “insurgents”? Would their violence be blamed on the presence of American troops?

But here, I suppose, we seen the essential racialism of the modern Left. It has a very “blood and soil” feel to it, where people are expected to fight against their own interests, and that of their nation, to maintain the racial / ethnic purity of their government. I don’t understand that, but then again I’m an American, a citizen of a nation of ideas, not bloodlines.

Attacking the enemy from a secure area

I have to agree with Junkyard Blog that the low play the Seymour Hersh story that reveals claimed covert operations in Iran is depressing. One wonders what Hersh and his editors were thinking. Either it’s just made up stuff, in which case why are they publishing it, or it’s true and it’s treasonous. It would seem to be far worse than the Plame affair, but there’s no hint of the same kind of furor that surrounded that non-event. However, since Hersh got away with it I think we can expect ever more of that in the future. Since it’s clear that there is no will at the federal level for punishing this kind of thing, we can only hope that it contributes to the ongoing collapse of Old Media.

20 January 2005

The march of technology

I’ve upgraded to Movable Type 3.121. It went mostly smoothly (and pj gets credit for the first comment to push up the displayed version number). For some reason, comments are requiring approval, even though I’ve tried to disable that. I also found a bug in my comments template, but that’s fixed now.

I’m working on a few Movable Type plugins, which along with the new job are taking a lot of my time these days.

I’m also spending time hassling people at BagNewsNotes. It’s really a different world over there, filled with contra-factual histories and inconsistent worldviews that I can’t resist the target rich environment.

Students learn all sorts of things

Catching up on the flap concerning Maureen Dowd’s plaintive whine about how men prefer less accomplished women, one thing stood out for me. That is that apparently this study conducted as follows:

the male college students in the study were shown a photo of a woman and asked to estimate her desirability as a marriage partner on a 1-to-9 scale. When the woman was described as their hypothetical assistant, she got an average rating of 6.4; a co-worker got 4.9 and a supervisor 4.2.

If I’m reading this right, the negative rating for accomplished women was based on male college students not finding their boss desirable. One wonders just how much the current climate of sexual harassment fears contributes to that. It would hardly be an unreasonable reaction for college age men to automatically suppress any urges with regard to a female supervisor, particularly one that is their supervisor.

18 January 2005

And they're still backing the Bolsheviks

I realized that my Russian analogy for Iraq explains more than I thought, in that the chattering classes in the West are still backing the Bolshevik equivalent. Many conservatives have thought that even given the history of the 20th Century, the intelligentsia would still back the Bolsheviks, as they did in that time. Sadly, it seems that was right on the money.

17 January 2005

Who's really indifferent to Iraqi suffering?

I continue to be non-plussed at the vitrolic faux-concern of people about Abu Ghraib. The USA is, in fact, prosecuting soldiers who seriously abused prisoners. While that abuse was going on, the caliphascists were lobbing mortar rounds in to the prison, killing and wounding prisoners by the score. But that, apparently, is not any sort of outrage. It’s the Bush administration that’s indifferent to Iraqis, not indiscriminate killers oppposing them.

What wonders whether these whiners have any idea what a popular Iraq government is likely to do to similar prisoners in the future, presuming such people are not just shot out of hand? Perhaps that’s why some Westerners are objecting to the elections, although it would be nice if they’d come clean about it. Then the American public could make an informed decision about the issue, rather than deciding based on context-less anti-Bush diatribes.

Just one more source of noise

Ah, dragged in to another blogosphere fight. This post is one of the better ones, but I think there are two key points that are being missed which it doesn’t quite hit.

The first is my wonderment at why opinion for cash is worse than opinion for ideology, bias, pers0nal power, fame, etc. Suppose a weblogger is writing not because he believes in what he’s writing, but because he thinks it might shift public opinion in a way that will allow himself or his cronies to get elected to office after which they’ll loot it in the standard graft way. This, apparently, is OK but if the weblogger takes a bit of cash up front, suddenly it’s some horrible evil.

There’s also all the webloggers trying to get paying jobs. Is it so inconceivable that such people might shade their writing a bit to make that more likely? The result is that spinning one’s writing for remuneration tomorrow is accepted but cash on the barrel today is wrong. Again, I fail to see the fundamental distinction.

The other main thread is strongly related to the first. Since cash in hand is but one of a myriad of reasons for webloggers to spin their output, even if it were eliminated readers would still need to apply a lot of filtering. Moreover, arguments should stand on their own. To discredit them because of bias or cash payments is simply an ad hominem attack that fails to address the substantive point (or lack thereof).

Now, one could argue that cash payments may not create powerful arguments but can shift the amount of bandwidth devoted to different issues. Perhaps. But blogosphere triumphalism says that the blogosphere filters and routes around such distortions that are done for other reasons, why not ones done for cash in hand? And if one is not a triumphalist, why get worked up over it?

16 January 2005

The spiteful philosophy of John Rawls

Over at the Brothers Judd they’re ripping on the philosophy of John Rawls. There are so many flaws in the work it’s hard to understand why it’s been so influential, although of course given the state of modern academia it might well be popular because of the flaws.

I was introduced to it years and years ago and it never made sense to me. What struck me was the presumption of Rawls that egalitarian societies were better for the unfortunate. One can see this in Rawls’ second principle, that

social and economic inequalities are permissible only if they are to the greatest benefit of the “least advantaged” or “worst off”

Why “greatest”? If I were behind the veil of ignorance and accepting of Rawls’ basic “sense of justice”, I’d still go for societal features that had the greatest absolute benefit to the unfortunate, not the greatest relative benefit. In the Rawlsian view, the unfortunate should forgoe benefits if those benefits would be greater for the more fortunate. That’s pure spite. What rational person would refuse the offer “I’ll give you $1000 if I can give your neighbor $2000”? Yet that’s precisely what Rawls’ second principle states. It seems just a bit bogus to me to basis what is putatively a theory of justice on pure spite.

15 January 2005

Some monsters are too monstrous

I didn’t find the flap about Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform very interesting, but a post at Dean’s World emphasized the point that Harry isn’t advocating a Nazi viewpoint, he just wore a costume. That lead to several other thoughts:

  • Does this mean that wearing a vampire costume means one is advocating violent removal of other people’s blood?
  • Isn’t dressing up as a monster a rather common thing? For what reason are certain monsters out of bounds?
  • If Harry had dressed up as a Alexander the Great, would Persians be able to take offense the same way?
  • What about a Belgian colonial officer?
  • Or, as others have pointed out, what about a representative of a ideology that killed a hundred million people and devasted much of the planet?

It says something not very good that this entire incident wasn’t two sentences in some society blurb. As Melanie Phillips points out, it’s sad how people get so worked up over a costume but not about modern atrocities against Jews.

Everlasting gob-stoppers

Boy One was watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory last night (he recently read the book) and I was struck by the thought that everlasting gobstoppers might actually be possible.

The sensation of taste is caused by molecular interactions between food and taste buds in the tongue. It might well be possible, using nano-technology, to build surfaces that taste sweet but are not consumed by the process (if energy input is needed, it could be obtained by tapping in to the rotary motion of the gobstopper being swished around inside the mouth). You’d even get lickable wall paper out of the same technology. Sweet!

13 January 2005

What the American Left dreams of

Yes, I’m entire weeks behind. Now that I’m once again doing actual work, I find I have less time and energy for weblogging.

Anyway, I was thinking about what Joe Gandelman said concerning a possible referendum in the Basque region of Spain. It’s worth reading but the essential point (quoted from Barcepundit) is

you cannot call free an election about an issue whose opponents must have bodyguards 24/7 because they can be gunned down any minute as it has happened is several hundred times (and I mean all opponents with even minor political roles; for example, a councilwoman for the Socialist party who is a janitor in the night shift must work accompanied by armed bodyguards!)

I certainly agree and I think this is a point that’s very often missed in discussion of elections for the Palestinians. Arafat and now Abbas have never had to rig the actual elections because they’ve taken care of the opposition beforehand. So I expected the voting itself to turn to have been reasonably open and fair. However, it’s a very small step when most of the politicians have no hesitation to send out goon squads to eliminate potential opposition candidates.

Looking under the streetlight again

Apparently Human Rights Watch is whining about

Violations of human rights by the US are undermining international law and eroding its role on the world stage


It cites coercive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib jail as particularly damaging.

Given the reaction to the USA whether it’s on or off the world stage, it’s difficult to see how its role is being eroded. I guess the tsunami victims will be burning the emergency supplies marked with “USA” in protest of these human rights abuses. Perhaps that’s why Kofi Annan wanted them painted blue. A helpful guy, that Annan.

I also have to wonder about how the USA is managing to erode “international law” more than, say, Sudan sitting on the UN Human Rights Council while conducting a near-genocidal ethnic cleansing in Darfur. I’ve heard rumors that the Khartoum regime has in fact used some “coervice techniques”, but I suppose there wasn’t any interrogation involved so maybe that makes it OK.

A little closer to home, one might be forgiven for wondering how the caliphascist insurgency is advancing human rights and international law and how the kind of full scale investigation that HRW is asking for will impact that insurgency. But it’s never really been about the Iraqis, has it?

Evidence vs. proof

The BBC was on the radio last night and I heard a discussion about the invasion of Iraq and the closing of the search for WMD in Iraq. The BBC interviewer was very determined to state that because no WMD were found, the entire invasion was wrong and pointless. Amazingly, the counter point was given by someone who was quite knowledgeable and articulate and, in my humble opinion, crushed the interviewer.

What struck me though, was the interviewer’s insistence on the inference that if no WMD were found then there was no evidence for them existing. Of course, there was plenty of evidence (which the counter-point guy brought up twice). But the existence of evidence for something doesn’t automatically mean the existence of that something. Otherwise, there’d be no point in criminal trials, would there? It’s a rare case where there isn’t some evidence in favor of both sides which means some evidence is going to fail to pan out. I’d like to think that this was just a desperate effort to find fault with President Bush and the USA, but I suspect that the interviewer really doesn’t understand the difference.

11 January 2005

Earth in balance


LIKE two bookends of calamity, earthquakes at Bam in Iran and off Sumatra in Indonesia have delineated a year of unusual seismic ferocity - a year, one might say, of living dangerously.


This year just ending - which the all-too-seismically-aware Chinese will remind us has been that of the Monkey, and so generally much prone to terrestrial mischief - has seen killer earthquakes in Morocco in February and Japan’s main island of Honshu in October. [emphasis added]


In recent decades, thanks largely to the controversial Gaia Theory developed by the British scientists James Lovelock, it has become ever more respectable to consider the planet as one immense and eternally interacting living system - the living planet, floating in space, every part of its great engine affecting every other, for good or for ill.

Mr. Lovelock’s notion, which he named after the earth goddess of the Ancient Greeks, makes much of the delicacy of the balance that mankind’s environmental carelessness increasingly threatens. But his theory also acknowledges the somber necessity of natural happenings, many of which seem in human terms so tragically unjust, as part of a vast system of checks and balances. The events that this week destroyed the shores of the Indian Ocean, and which leveled the city of Bam a year ago, were of unmitigated horror: but they may also serve some deeper planetary purpose, one quite hidden to our own beliefs.

This isn’t quite as silly as some make out, although it does skirt the edge of claiming “bad spirits make earth move!”. The reference to Chinese folk tales as if they were informative on the subject isn’t a sign of a well grounded opinion.

The main problem is that Gaia theory doesn’t postulate the Earth as an intelligent or purposeful agent, merely as one with significant homeostasis. It’s on par with how mammals keep their internal body temperature constant despite large changes in the external temperature. Earth does the same thing or it would long since have become lifeless. In fact, living organisms are part of the negative feedback cycles that keep the Earth in balance. That’s reasonable. However, that doesn’t imply any necessity to natural happenings, such as Ice Ages or earthquakes. Maybe they are, maybe not, but Gaia theory doesn’t say.

More interestingly, Gaia theory is actually about the stability of the planetary state, not its delicacy. Because there are negative feedback loops that provide a certain level of homeostasis, perturbations that are small don’t matter. Like a ball in a bowl, unless it’s pushed far enough it will just return to someplace close the original position.

08 January 2005

Moral inversion

I was reading yet another knee-jerk whine about Alberto Gonzales when I realized a key difference in the occupation of Iraq vs. other occupations in military history.

The normal state of affairs is that partisans are constrained by the occupiers via civilian reprisals. I.e., if the partisans strike then the occupier detains, tortures or kills civilians.

Yet what is the situation in Iraq? It is the partisans who constrain the occupiers via civilian reprisals. It is the occupiers who strive desperately to protect the occupied citizens, sometimes stepping over the line as in Abu Ghraib, but with the purpose of preventing civilian atrocities. On the other hand, the caliphascists deliberately commit massacres on their own fellow citizens to punish the occupiers (aid and abetted by Old Media).

If that doesn’t make clear which is really disdainful and uncaring about the Iraqi people, then you’re obviously not part of any reality based community.

07 January 2005

It's a battery!

Orrin Judd has posted yet another fuel cell article. I lost it on this when one when it got to this:

At $400 per kilowatt – nearly one-tenth the cost of power-generating fuel cells currently sold on the market – fuel cells would compete with traditional gas turbine and diesel electricity generators and become viable power suppliers for the transportation sector.

In how many ways is this wrong?

  1. A standard car battery can deliver ten kilowatts(electricity) and it’s a lot less than $4000 dollars.
  2. “Kilowatt” is a measure of power, not energy. This means that it doesn’t matter if that kilowatt is for 1 hour or 1 microsecond. It’s still a kilowatt (that’s why your electric bill is measured in kilowatt-hours).
  3. A fuel cell is a battery, not a generator. It should be compared against other batteries, such as lead-acid batteries, not generators. There are two reasons for this.
    • Fuel cells, as batteries, need to get their charge from somewhere else.
    • There is a big difference in the ease of charging between a generator and a battery.

There are three major errors in just that one paragraph. But, it gets worse.

Fuel cells are one of the most attractive future power generating technologies because they produce virtually none of the air pollutants associated with conventional power plants.

Uh, where do the fuel cells get their charge? Most likely from conventional power plants.

When powered by fossil fuels such as natural gas

Other fossils fuels? As far as I know, natural gas is the only option for direct powering. Other fossil fuels require processing which requires power from … conventional power plants!

fuel cells operate at such high fuel-to-power efficiencies that they also dramatically reduce the release of greenhouse carbon gases.

Only if you don’t count any other energy cycle costs, as exemplified by the next item:

Ultimately fuel cells powered by pure hydrogen will produce electricity and heat with only water as a byproduct.

And that hydrogen will come from…where, exactly? Are there big hydrogen reserves just waiting to be tapped? Maybe they’ll sink a bit into the Sun — it’s got plenty of free hydrogen.

05 January 2005

Raising the piper's rates

Powerline reports on an attack a week ago on an American output in Mosul. The final tally was one American killed, at least 25 jihadis killed. This makes future such attacks less likely.

What is disturbing to me is that we’re not seeing similar tallies for attacks on Iraqi held positions. It’s hard to know whether Old Media is eliding mention of jihadi casualties in such situations or whether there are few to none. Perhaps it’s because I’m not on the ground there, but there seems to be an unconcern about attacks that is bizarre in such a violent environment, as exemplified in the attack on Iraqi National Guard recruits who were being transported without arms or guards. We’ll know that the security situation is getting better when we start reading stories like the one above, except involving Iraqi security forces.

04 January 2005

Sic transit gloria mundi

I was checking out the Movable Type Wiki and noticed that they had disable the Wiki style open page editing. It seems that the spammers are now discovering that Wikis are a great place to put their links now that MT Blacklist usage is growing on MovableType installations. I’ve been unpopular and only had to install MT Blacklist recently. I found it particularly effective because I’m well versed in regular expressions.

But it’s kind of sad that spammers are destroying open, collaborative environments one by one on the Internet. It seems that with Wikis, the registration process is sufficiently automated that spambots can create users and then scribble their links on pages with that user.

I wonder how long it will be before the spambots can reply to the next level of difficulty, which is replying to registration e-mails to get registered. Given that the spammers seem to switch domain names at a rapid pace, it would be easy to automate setting up an e-mail account, registering at all of the target locations, deleting the e-mail account and then scribbling. I expect that within the year.

03 January 2005

God scale

Over at the Brothers Judd is another clipping from an endless series of questioning how God could allow the tsunami disaster to happen. As a weak atheist I find this kind of athiest arguments from disaster as beyond weak, silly in fact.

If God is truly an infinite being, then any suffering we can imagine would be but momentary from that point of view. A second or a million years would be as similar to God as a nanosecond and a femtosecond are to us. Even in Christian theology, if one considers the scale of it, it’s difficult to see why something like the tsunami, as terrible and massive as it seems to us, would be a significant event to a being for Whom all of human history that’s passed and is to come is but a moment. Moreover, the same is true for any human souls, which will eventually be as timeless as God. The end point of the complaint from disaster is to ask why God didn’t just create people in heaven to start with, if He thought a life without pain or suffering was important1. I don’t think it’s necessary to argue that God, for some reason, favors pain and or suffering, but simply that, given the infinitesmal time we will exist on Earth, He doesn’t view it as a big deal.

1 One might well hold to the view that God tried exactly that but Adam and Eve rejected it.

02 January 2005

Enough little fish can beat a big fish

Via Instapundit, Pubblog writes

Everyone is still expecting Walmart to eat Amazon’s lunch, but it isn’t gonna happen. The Walmart corporate culture is: lots of stuff, low prices. The Amazon corporate culture is: the user experience is all. On the web, the user experience is all.”

Instapundit adds

I like Amazon very much, but I hope that there’s more competition in the online market than this suggests. On the other hand, I can’t think of the last time I bought from Overstock.com, I forgot that Buy.com was even still in business until a reader mentioned it recently

Hmmm. I hardly ever buy anything at Amazon and I do almost all of my non-essential shopping on line. I suppose my shopping habits (techno-geek gadgets, computers and rocketry) isn’t the standard profile of an Amazon shopper.

It’s certainly true that on the web, user experience can overcome noticeable price differences. Amazon is definitely one of the better websites in that regard. I tend to prefer speciality shops myself (such as Oriental Trading Company for cheap trinkets and CyberGuys for techno-gadgets). These are generally small enough to send catalogs of items, which are still easier to browse than the online equivalents. I think Instapundit is in fact underestimating the on-line competition for Amazon. I can see Amazon becoming the WalMart of the online world, but WalMart’s existence hasn’t eliminated strong competition from places like Target and Amazon’s dominance won’t eliminate more specialized shops on-line either. I expect that nimble niche competitors will be enough to keep Amazon in line even without a major competitor.

There's still some credit for being on the right side

I’m still thinking about my talk with my journalist friend, in particular about her anger at how President Bush “mislead” the American public in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. Even granting the misleading (which I disagree is what happened), I would still favor those who lie in pursuit of victory for the USA over those who, like Old Media, lie in favor of defeating the USA.