30 March 2005

Open source politics

One trend in political advertising that will only grow for the forseeable future is that of independent political commentary. Some political operators are wondering how to capture the kind of mind share that many of these irreverent efforts did. But that seems quite a forlorn hope. It’s not that the independents are intrinsically smarter, more creative or more original than the standard political operators. It is simply an effect of the Long Tail and the filtering effects of the Internet / blogosphere leading to a very strong selection effect. If hundred thousand little clips are produced, of which one is really excellent, that’s the one that will rapidly filter to the top of the Internet “buzz”. The other 99,999 clips will be effectively invisible and people will say “wow, how did those two guys in a garage know how to do something that cool?”. It is this long tail and massive experimentation that produces the hits and is far too resource intensive to be reproduced by the main stream political establishment.

The question therefore is how will the political establishment react to losing much of its control of political debate? We can see how Old Media is reacting and I don’t expect the political reaction to be much better. It certainly doesn’t seem paranoid to wonder if the backing of efforts to regulate political speech on the Internet is being pushed by people who’ve seen this future and not liked it much. I suspect, though, that networked political discussions will be too widespread to be effectively surpressed during the next election cycle. Like IBM adapting to Open Source, the successful political establishments will switch from determining the state of the industry to riding the waves generated from the Long Tail. That sounds easy, but it entails giving up one’s place of primacy and control, which is never an easy thing, especially for people who until recently saw themselves as an impervious ruling class.

Success will come from embracing a psycho-historical view of the process, where the tides and currents are generated by processes outside one’s control but by adept tweaking and adaptability one can surf on them and shift them ever so slightly towards more desired ends. I suspect that this will once again favor the GOP because it is more suited to people who want to achieve specific ends rather than acquire personal power. The Modern American Left’s predecessors might well have been like that, but their current descendants have long since reduced themselves to pure power grubbing parasites. That’s not the kind of political life form that’s going to do well in the open source political future.

Doing it right is the best example

With regard to the unexpectedly rapid spread of pro-liberal democracy agitation across the Middle East and Soviet Central Asia, Orrin Judd asks

It would be helpful for the President to back off the Arab world a bity and turn up the pressure on Castro, Chavez, Kim, Mugabe, Burma, etc. Make it clear that this is a universal phenomenon.

I have to disagree. I think it far more important to keep the Middle East and particularly Iraq on the front burner in terms of attention and effort. I’ve seen far too many projects that could have succeeded ruined because the managers decided that since area A was going so well, they should focus on areas B and C, leading to the failure of the effort in all three areas because A, while looking good, had not yet reach self sustaining take off. OJ is making the same mistake here as he did in his review of The Foundation Trilogy. While the broad outline of the End of History may well by psycho-historically determined, the ebb and flow of events in the real world still require active management by either the Second Foundation or the Bush Administration.

Moreover, I have found it very helpful in these sort of situations (where one has a large project with similar problems in different areas) is to really get one thing right. This not only proves the principle that it can be done, but provides a model and inspiration for the other areas. There are always complications, set backs and the brutal correction of mistaken apprehensions between getting on track and pushing the product out the door. A concentration in the Middle East leading to a better outcome will make the eventual “why not us?” question all that more powerful.

22 March 2005

Even weather vanes can show which way the wind is blowing

The Brothers Judd are discussing the political prospets for Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Presidential campaign. While there is quite the scope for debate on her chances, I think the more interesting and deeper point is how far to the right HRC is moving in order to maintain her viability. Say what you like about HRCs moral character, it is simply laughable to suggest that she is not a very smart, very capable politician. And in this view it’s not even particularly important whether HRC herself believes her modified political positions are not — the fact remains that she feels it beneficial to present them as her public face. That alone tells you just how badly a Democratic Party with a revitalized Progressive stance is going to do in the next set of elections.That’s gonna be sweet.

19 March 2005

Ah, that's why I quit doing that

I made the mistake of picking up a physical copy of Newsweek magazine and was reminded by the first two article I read why I have largely abandoned Old Media.

The first was the Stephen Levy diatribe about the lack of “diversity” in the blogosphere. Instapundit’s already ripped it as it deserves but what I found most striking is that one of the key complainers (Halley Suitt) disproves the primary thesis of the article by stating that she broke in the top ranks by applying herself to the task1. So, even if one is a woman, one can still break in to the A-list through one’s own efforts? OK, so the problem is …? Of course, Levy does briefly mention the issue of the decentralized nature of the blogosphere, but misses the larger implication of that, which is that dominance is driven by individual choices. An Insta-lanche is nice, but it doesn’t bring in the consistent traffic unless there’s something worth going back to. Even more blinkeredly, Levy says that A-list bloggers should link to more diverse voices. Doesn’t Instapundit (for instance) do that on a regular basis with the Carnival links? A big, typical pile of Old Media cluelessness and insularity.

The other article was about the incredible shrinking dollar. Of course, as David Cohen cogently notes, “time spent thinking about exchange rates is time wasted”. Beyond that, however, hasn’t the conventional wisdom over the last few decades been that when the economy needs some turbo-boosting, a standard strategy is to talk down the exchange rate of one’s currency to boost exports and restrict imports? But now it’s the sign of a broken economy? When did that change — when the economy started to recover with President Bush still in office?

I should note, though, that the one letter to the editor I have ever had published (in The New Republic no less) was one mocking an article there for the previous conventional wisdom. Back then it was how the dollar falling against the yen would destroy Japan Inc. and rebuild the USA economy. I pointed out that, at the time, the yen had already dropped 40% with no noticeable effect, so just far would it have to drop in the future to make a difference? But now that kind of thing presages a economic collapse instead of a recovery.


1 And of course, being an Old Media column, no link was provided to her website! Here was a wonderful opportunity for Levy and Newsweek to promote a “diverse” voice and they couldn’t be bothered to waste the ink. That tells you how deep their committment really is.

18 March 2005

Let me check the diversity manual on that

In pondering the recent anti-Gannon flap it occurred to me that there is yet another level of double-think going on here. Aren’t there endless tales of “sensitivity training” in which people are told that they are racist, period? That this racism colors their actions and must be constantly fought against at a conscious level (or by turning over decisions to the wise and knowning trainers)? Yet this same crowd would deny any other kind of bias, such as political bias. For one of the most narcisistic groups of people on the planet, Old Media seems to be rather lacking in real introspection.

Local politics

In a vein related to the previous post, I think that many people (for example, Little Green Footballs) are overreacting to the possiblity of some form of Sharia law in Iraq or problems with Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine and Lebanon. It’s certainly not a good thing for the USA nor for the local citizens for this to occur. But unfortunately that’s just part of the disorderly transition one gets when one works on nations populated by humans instead of rational beings.

The key point is that self-ordered societies aren’t perfect, but instead are self-correcting. Just as the US Constitution contained the seeds of the demise of slavery, so too will the apparatus of a liberal democracy contain the seeds of destruction for most of the repressive features of both these societies and various gangs.Liberal democracy introduces accountability to the citizens at large. This naturally has a moderating effect. In addition, however, it allows anger to be directed inward and toward the actual causes rather than manipulated into being vented on an external and irrelevant target (so you get things like this happening). This is also a key benefit of forward deploying liberty to repressive societies. Even if the citizens don’t like the USA, they are far more likely to be more concerned with local government quality than punishing the Great Satan. Everyone praises Tip O’Neils comment that “all politics are local” but few seem to apply to this situation. But it holds true just as well over there as it does here.

So, yes, it might well be a rough few decades. But the security benefits to the USA will be almost immediate and the benefits to the host societies will come in time, even if it’s not as rapid. Sharia simply won’t last in an open society. One must also keep in mind what the plausible alternatives are, such as … well, frankly, I can’t think of any except never-ending repression leading to acting out against the world and the USA. The only thing that is going to straighten out any of these societies is the clue-by-four of reality and that’s only going to hit after a transition to liberal democracy. It’s the end of history because repressive societies can only continue by being poor and irrelevant or because they are supported by liberal democracies. Bush is exactly right to say that the time has come to remove the latter of these cases. We’ll just have to put up with the resulting messes until the tides of history sweep the debris away.

17 March 2005

Welcome to reality – it's a mess

Via the Brothers Judd we have Richard Cohen whining about (among other things) that President Bush’s foreign policy efforts won’t lead to an “orderly transition” from autocracy to something like self-ordered societies.

Of course Bush can’t deliver “orderly” transitions. The very question bespeaks a mindset that values stability far too much to support having the transitions in the first place. Heck, self-ordered societies tend to be disorderly even after they have full transitioned from their previous state. Moreover, the whole point is to allow these societies to become self-ordered, not to coercively convert them in to carbon copies of the USA. Now, of course, some force will have to be used in some situations but that must be considered a regrettable concession to reality rather than any sort of intrinsic good.

I’m not sure if Cohen is an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good or just a severe case of reality dysfunction. Maybe both. I just hope he doesn’t call up his mother and berate her for the messy business of his own birth.

Praise the Senate and pass the donation bucket

So the US Senate voted to allow drilling in the ANWR. I’ve already received a fund raising letter from the NRDC on this very subject. I think this is an example of how the capture of activists organizations isn’t always good for the Progressives. It’s not in the NRDCs interest to actually win. Far better to have an outcome like this, losing but by a very narrow margin. Just the thing to squeeze additional cash out of the marks contributors:

That’s why, in the wake of this most recent setback, I would urge you to convert your outrage and sorrow into action. We’re going to need your redoubled commitment to our cause in the fight ahead.

You may say, “don’t they have to win something at some point?”. My reply is two words: “Chicago Cubs”. Moreover, the entire effort is far more of a psychological passion play than anything else, so this situation may well be more satisfying to the suckers members as well as the staff.

Paypall

For some reason I’ve been getting lots of fake PayPal e-mails over the last week or so. Some of them are quite funny. Cute things that I’ve seen:

  • The use of ‘*’ or ‘!’ in the subject to emphasize the e-mail.
  • A message from “Paypall”, for when you’re tired of paying I suppose (this one also had “tryed to telephonically reach you”)
  • The “suspicious activity on your account” messages. There’ a prediction hoping to come true.

But my favorite is that most of these now include the following text in the message:

NEVER give your password to anyone and ONLY log in at https://www.paypal.com/. When you log in to your PayPal account, check the PayPal URL (https://www.paypal.com/) in your web browser (e.g. Internet Explorer or Netscape) address bar to make sure you are on a secure PayPal page.

Of course, if people actually read and followed those instructions then the fake e-mails wouldn’t work. I guess that indicates just how effective it is.

15 March 2005

Always finding a deeper barrel

As the Ward Churchill saga goes forward and ever more unpleasant facts come to light about him, I just have to wonder at the public relations sense of the Modern American Left.

As others have noted, Churchill himself is just an annoying insect. Far more important is how someone like that got to the position he did with so little oversight. But what I think is also important is how the MAL so consistently hitches its wagon to losers like this. As I’ve noted previously here, here, here, and here, the MAL seems to be pick such unsavory characters as its point people. Of all of the professors in the USA who could exemplify academic freedom, why champion someone who has a long trail of academic fraud and plagarism? Maybe there isn’t a better option and it is no longer possible to be decent and on the Left.

14 March 2005

President Catalyst

One thing that history tells us about repressive regimes is that they are what a code slinger would call brittle. I.e., very strong until the first crack appears, at which point the whole thing is likely to come apart rapidly and completely. The key question in cracking repressive regimes, then, is how much pressure is enough to shatter it? Where does the increment of pressure necessary to start the break down come from?

It with this in mind that I wonder about the relationship between President Bush and the fitful waves of liberalization in the Middle East. Clearly it is the case that almost all of the pressure is from the inhabitants of that benighted region. Yet it’s difficult to see how the situation was really much worse in the last couple of years than in the decades before it. It seems to me that Bush should get credit for that last increment that stressed many of the regime past their breaking point. He served not as a cause but as a catalyst. A catalyst doesn’t cause or power a reaction, it simply helps things that already want to react to get over the last little bit of resistance at which point the reactants proceed without further need of the catalyst. I think that we’re still in the middle of the catalyzation and so we need to keep the pressure on, but it seems very likely that by the time the next USA Presidential election rolls around the reaction will have either fizzled out or become self-sustaining.

I also think that this case is different from that of the USSR. Based on history, it seems that the Middle East cultures have a far greater ability to resist the tides of history than even the Russians. Before Bush, you didn’t see the many signs of internal rot in the Middle East that were evident in the USSR (e.g. birth dearth, decreased longevity, falling productivity). It might be that the USSR by its nature required a technologically advanced society the decay of which would have brought down the system. In contrast, the Middle East was filled with far more primitive regimes that would have worked about as well in the 9th century as they do today. While the end of history might eventually have caught with them, I suspect it would have been many generations before then.

Tides, not waves

Junkyard Blog writes about the recent threats by Al Qaeda to attack targets in the USA. That in combination with Osama Bin Laden’s efforts to provide Islamic justification for his actions indicates that he is starting to suffer from his drop off in popularity. Rather than attempting to forge a new sect of Islam based on his personal beliefs, OBL now seems to think he needs to both buff his reputation for being able to launch successful attacks while trying to fit his actions within current Islamic thought. Previously these were treated as givens by the Al Qaeda leadership. It likely means that, contrary to the frequent claims that our actions are creating more terrorists then are being eliminated, previous powers like Al Qaeda are finding it increasingly hard to restock their fodder (see also the use of mentally incapacitated and physically threatened for attacks in Iraq). Incentives matter, it is just that opinions and habit don’t change over night. Any progress will be slow and halting and can really only be viewed properly over longer spans of time.

Of course, Al Qaeda is simply the currently dominant faction of the Caliphascist movement and destroying it, while desirable on its own, isn’t a final victory. But as each small defeat of a group of terrorists contributes its little bit to wearing down Al Qaeda, smashing such organizations wears down the entire ideology.

I sometimes wonder if it’s not liberal democracies that can’t sustain long efforts, but progressives who can’t because they are discouraged and broken by the continuing failure of their utopias to spring in to being on command.

13 March 2005

FUD you, citizens

I think it’s natural for one to wonder, Concerning the proposed regulation of political speech on weblogs, why, if that is not the intent, the Democratic Party members of the commission aren’t helping to clarify the situation with a simple ruling like “unpaid commentary is unregulated” or “webby’ count as periodical media”.

06 March 2005

It's all in the comparisons

A post at Dean’s World about the recent shooting incident involving an Italian journalist who had recently been released by Caliphascist in Iraq reminded me of just how much of a difference one’s basic world view makes in events like this.

Ignoring the question of why, if the journalist was being targeted, there were pieces big enough to find afterwards, one can wonder about why the USA would think that it could do something like this so openly. Here is where the conspiracy theory mindset comes in to play. For most American citizens, the USA is a good nation that tries to do well even if it screws up sometimes. In contrast, the view among many anti-Americans is that the USA routinely and openly unleashes murder and mayhem across the globe, so this kind of thing is just par for the course. If you think that the USA is actively aiding a genocide against the Palestinians then what’s brazenly shooting someone because you don’t like her? It’s the kind of thing icons of the Left like Yasir Arafat do. There doesn’t seem to be much point in arguing against such views by pointing out the illogic of the scenario.

P.S. My personal view of what happened (based more on my basic worldview than determinative facts because the latter are in short supply) is that the driver presumed that the American checkpoint had been informed of the operation when, in fact it hadn’t. The driver ignored the warnings because it couldn’t be about them or in fact sped up because he thought there was a real bomber behind them. This seems more plausible to me than that an effort was made to generate a shooting incident, counting on American restraint for the survival of the car’s occupants.

04 March 2005

Foreign policy blowback

Matthew Yglesias and Instapundit at some recent poll results that claim President Bush has net negative ratings on several key issues.

they agree that, since the results are basically steady since October, the take away fact is that the electoral difficulties are about the Democratic party, particularly with regard to national defense. I think that Instapundit is closer to the more when he writes

It seems to me that the best hope for the Democrats is for Bush to be so successful at foreign affairs and national security that by 2008 nobody cares anymore.

the problem for the Democratic Party is that their weakness on national defense is directly related to their Trans National ideology. While the basic sympathy for foreign enemies of the USA is there (because those enemies oppose the same distinctive features of the USA as the Modern American left), I think it goes deeper. To assert the right for The USA to defend itself instead of feeding that to the UN calls in to question the same at the individual level, i.e. creates doubt about the expanding nanny state. A foreign policy stance of American exceptionalism strikes directly at the MALs domestic policies and therefore can not be tolerated.

03 March 2005

Back to the future

I’ve moved on to the next cute technology, tablet computing. This means that I’ve literally written out this post longhand, using the hand writing recognition in the tablet. It’s not too bad. The characters area bit tricky sometimes (‘1’ and ‘l’ for instance) but it uses a dictionary so if I get close it guesses quite well. It means I have fewer misspellings at least. of course, that’s how humans do it as well. Single character recognition by computer is almost as good as human, it’s just that the next level of word analysis was missing. Now, if it can do this with my lousy hard writing, it’s definitely ready for the masses. The price, however, is a bit of an issue still.

Anyway, I wanted to see how feasible this was. I’ve made some comments over at Brothers Judd with this but not a full post. It’s not too bad. I definitely prefer a keyboard but this will do in places that a keyboard isn’t convenient.

Original Sin

Via normblog is this story about the “hotel-journalists” in Iraq which has been going around the blogosphere. It brought to mind a conversation a few months back with my journalist friend about Iraq. I didn’t pick up on it at the time, but in retrospect it’s clear that she was also very incensed about President Bush “lieing” to the country in the run up to the invasion. I didn’t think that much of it at the time as it the standard boiler plate but it did seem to be, by far, te thing she was most passionate about with regard to Iraq (second would wasteful and badly organized use of contractors, but I have some sympathy for that point of view). It reminds me a lot of how I felt about President Clinton, but I like to think that my views on him ended up being a lot more accurate than the current despite of Bush will.

Why won't they be silent in the presence of their betters?

The Brothers Judd point out the continuing churlishness of left leaning commentators in old Media (which is not completely redundant). One they element is that most of the people who live there give President Bush a lot of credit for the recent push toward liberal societies, in contrast to old Media pundits. But that’s’ hardly surprising. The Modern American Left has never had much use for the actual people or opinions of the third world (on issues such as “sweat shops” or the invasion of Iraq). The big difference now is once again the declining ability of old Media to filter those voices.

01 March 2005

Taking the slow road instead of going off a cliff

Having had to accept the moderately successful elections in Iraq, the fellow travelers of the Caliphascist are now spinning the line about “what if we [the USA] don’t like the elected government of Iraq”?

Well, what if we don’t? Many of us don’t like the elected governments of France or Germany, but somehow we manage to get by without threats of war, civilian massacres, and invading neighboring countries. Most of the commentors are missing the point I raised in New Model Empire, that while desirable it is hardly critical to the success of American foreign policy and security concerns to have literally friendly governments elected. It is, rather, the very existence of a self-ordered nation that provides the contraints on behaviour that benefit the security interests of the USA.

What this brings to mind is also the typical immediate gratification that seems so abundant in the Modern American Left these days (so far from the days of the five year plans, eh?). The problem with self-ordered societies from the point of view of the utopians is that it is not only messy but slow. Of course, the Founding Fathers considered this a feature, not a bug, because it is most frequently the momentary passions of the mob that lead to trouble. Moreover, that kind of society and government is a lot of work. How much easier to simply decree the desired end without the muck of intermediate means!1

As an example of this are some legitimate concerns about the imposition of more legal restrictions women in Iraq that were not present under the Ba’ath regime. While I would find the success of this effor very disappointing, there are several problems with this complain.

  • The success of this effort is far from obvious. For all we know, it’s just Old Media propaganda.
  • It’s not clear that it’s worth the cost of a regime like the Ba’ath to overcome it. It’s another example of wanting the end without the hard work of the means, which is truly changing the opinions of society.
  • If a more sexual equal society were possible by fiat (which is what complaints of this nature require as the solution) then why would there be a problem now after all those decades of Ba’athist rule? Why would a far more weakly imposed American set of laws be different? What level of violence would Mr. Spencer be willing to commit to prevent this? One notes from the article that the USA already tried to prevent it by the mandate of ⅓ women in the National Assembly. If the restrictions come to pass, what more could be done?
  • Finally, the Ba’ath regime was not well known for its respect of its own laws. Regardless of what was on the books, to what extent were women really equal?

I have little doubt that in the long run, true Shari’a will be impossible to maintain, for much the same reason that Jim Crow was. Unfortunately, there aren’t any shortcuts that work out better than the slow hard road.


1 Quite like the “self-esteem” movement. Better to hand out self-esteem than to try and get the kids and teachers to go through the hard work of earning it.