27 May 2005

Fighting rhetorical spam

As I was formulating a response for this post at BAGnews, I was struck by the collision between two presumptions held by the Modern American Left:

  • Iraqis are automatically upset and disgusted by harsh actions taken by American security forces in Iraq against presumed Caliphascists
  • Americans are willing to endorse any amount of harsh actions taken by American security forces against presumed Caliphascists

I’d say “isn’t that a bit odd?” but I’ve long since learned that double think is very common among the MAL. Still, it does suggest a nice counter attack to a standard rhetorical attack. So, I tried it out.

Overall, I’d judge it a success. The result was to be accused of being “intimidating” and told that my future posts would be ignored.

It’s nice to have a good collection of standard counter attacks like this. It’s kind of like tuning one’s spam filters to block out the spammers, although the spammers seem much better at coming up with new stuff than the MAL.

26 May 2005

It's like worrying about the Cubs taking the pennant

The Brothers Judd quote the Daily Telegraph

The German government yesterday threatened to use all means short of warfare to stop France gaining control over Europe’s £2billion Galileo satellite venture, the EU’s grandest industrial project to date. A rival to America’s GPS Global Positioning System, Galileo is designed to break strategic dependence on the United States and propel Europe into the lead in space technology.

Launching 30 satellites into orbit by 2008, the network offers pinpoint accuracy for mobile telephones, air traffic control, maritime navigation, and a host of different uses - ultimately including EU defence.

But the scheme has been hamstrung by infighting between the French and Germans, the latest case of corporate friction that belies the cosy political rhetoric of the two countries’ leaders.

I don’t see why the USA should have a problem with the project, except for the people running it (which is more of a problem for the project than the USA). At $3B, it’s a cheap way to get some redundancy for a service that is becoming increasingly necessary. The concept that it’s a rival to GPS is clearly ludicrous. Rival for what? Would the owner of either system get a penny of revenue from it? Moreover, within 3 months of Galileo becoming operational, dual system receivers will be available in the consumer market. Within 2 years everyone will have receivers that run on both systems and do cross checks for greater reliability and accuracy.

I supopse there are arguments about the USA being able to turn off GPS in war zones, but

  • Given the dependence of the USA military on many civilian GPS units, that may not be an option in the first place
  • Somebody’s going to put up a second system so we’d better get used to the idea.
  • The most likely uses for GPS based weapons to be used against the USA involve sneak attacks (when GPS would be operational) or attacks on USA soil, in which case our economic dependence on the system would preclude disabling it.
Let a thousand wild flowers bloom

This post at the Brothers Judd reminded me of some of the silly things that have been said about nanotechnology (like this) with regards to funding and research. As noted in the Juddian post, these kind of technology gaps come and go without much real impact, presuming the gap exists in the first place. The best defense is a vibrant private technology sector, which if it doesn’t develop the technology first provides an excellent base for doing a crash project if that turns out to be necessary (which it rarely does, the Manhattan Project being the only historical example that I am aware of).

There are two problems with government directed research in to emerging fields for strategic purposes. The first is that it tends to not work. It’s one thing if, as in the Manhattan Project, the goal is to produce a single, well specified device. It’s a recipe for failure if the goal is a broad “technology”. One need only look at the Japanese fifth generation computer project for a modern example of that kind of failure (the Euro-Fighter is an example of how such projects can fail even with a specific target object).

The other problem is that emerging technologies don’t spring forth from a lab fully developed. Everyone else has years to get in to the game and play catchup, which is easier than being the pioneer. One need only look at biotechnology, computers, or airplanes for relevant historical examples. Nanotech is going to be much like computers and biotech, with a gradual emergence of the technology such that it will be difficult to pinpoint a specific time when it arrived.

If some other country, potentially a hostile one, gets the technology first, it won’t make much difference. This is because as above, it won’t be a very powerful technology at the beginning. We can both catch up and compensate for it with more of the old stuff. If high tech nano-fabrics protect the enemies soldiers, it just means we have to fire more ammo. Note that this gets back to the wealth of nations being a better geo-strategic plan than any specific technology or government development project. I think we’d be better to cancel most government funding and reduce taxes.

19 May 2005

Caught in their own web of lies

Instapundit has an original and interesting post today. The subject is how the defense of the NEWSWEEK flap is shaping up to be “bad journalism doesn’t kill people, rioters kill people”.

While this of course offered primarily as an excuse, it is also a case of throwing someone else to the wolves. In particular, the excuse that the “Arab Street” convulses in violence because of evil done by the USA. Now that it’s something done by Old Media, suddenly the fact that Arabs human beings responsible for their own actions and not just puppets on an American stage is a useful fact. As Instapundit notes, it will be very hard for Old Media to get this spilled ink back in the bottle the next time they want to blame Chimpy Bushitler for upsetting the crazies in the Middle East.

To me what’s interesting is two fold. There is of course the hoisted by their own petard aspect, where the root cause of the problem is the combination of Bush hatred and disdain for the USA military. That set up the false story so that not even Old Media could blame the Forces of Evil (i.e, the Bush Administration and the Pentagon) for the subsequent events. That leads to the second interesting part which is that, since Old Media itself can never be to blame, the only other available target are the rioters and their exhorters. So one has a fake story forcing Old Media to finally break down the filters they’ve used to fake other stories about the state of the Middle East.

18 May 2005

Even the obvious is no longer obvious to the chatterati

Arma Virumque has a good post about the implications of the recent NEWSWEEK bad journalism flap. The post quotes Rudyard Kipling, which is always worth repeating:

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ’ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ’eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ’eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

It just makes me think of how far the intellegentsia has fallen. At least in Kipling’s time, they would recognize the value of a strong military during a war. Not so our modern version, which continues makin’ mock ‘o uniforms even while the owners fight.

Why follow the loser?

As we watch the slow motion train wreck that is modern Europe, the EU and its proposed constitution, my admiration for the founding fathers of the USA continues to grow. A question that frequently arises among those with a clue is “why doesn’t anyone imitate the founding of the USA, given its remarkable success?”. Instead, the founders of new governments seem to prefer to follow the lead of failed and failing states, such as the USSR or Old Europe. Why? The American Founding Fathers, to their immense credit, managed to do a very good job without an example or prior validation of their view on government. Now, centuries later, when their vision has been proven right so dramatically, why is the style and structure of the USA Constitution still almost unique?

I think that that answer is simple. The USA Constitution, while it has been very good for the USA, wasn’t particularly good for the Founding Fathers. Except for Washington, they had to fight for public office afterwards. They fought vigorously over important policy issues (see the history of the First National Bank for an example). In contrast, the non-American style constitutions tend to be very good for the authors, either directly, politically or ideologically. The EU Constitution is an archetype, 500+ pages of detailed policy prescription to satisfy the political and ideological desires of its authors. Perhaps this is a reflection of the uniqueness of American society, that undergirds its respect for law and fairness. Is it that the USA Constitution is about providing rules for everyone to have an opportunity to shape the nation’s policies, while the EU Constitution is about deciding the “best” set of policies and forcing their implementation? Both are considered by their authors to promote “fairness” but in America “fair” means “equal opporunity” rather than “equal result”.

If the avoidance of a structural (i.e. American style) constitution contiues, it may be a very long end of history. On the other hand, perhaps it was the diversity of thought reflected in the post-Constitutional political battles that enabled the Founders to think beyond quotidian political concerns. The EUlite, for instance, has a remarkably consistent set of views and opions, making possible the convergence on a single, massive policy document. Perhaps newer nations with a greated amount of intellectual diversity, may do better.

11 May 2005

Now shape up or I'll poke the other one

I was thinking about the reaction to President Bush’s ‘Yalta’ speech and how that contrasts to the constant calls that he’s a sellout, someone who pretends to support liberty while coddling dictators. Is it not the same people who do the latter that are now complaining about the former?

Which is incoherent but not surprising. Bush’s speech, it seems to me, was a well calibrated poke Putin’s eye, exactly the kind of thing the naysayers claimed Bush would never do. I suspect that it was payback for Putin not living up to his early boosting by Bush.

The best part is, of course, that because it’s also a jab at Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it puts the Modern American Left in the position of once again defending Soviet tyranny in order to either defend FDR or castigate Bush for being impolitic.

On top of that is the fact that castigating Bush requires treating him as pushing seriously to avoid the compromises of the past, such as accepting the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe as a reasonable trade off (as opposed to the desperate war-time measure it was). I think Yalta was a bad decision not for what it ratified (which was not going to be changed given the realities of the day) but for the moral imprimature it put on the Soviet occupation. It enabled Soviet sympathizers in the West to treat the occupation as a natural and proper thing, rather than what it was.

However, that was a different time when we faced more serious threats. In the same way it was at one time valid foreign policy to coddle dictators as long as they were our dictators but now it’s not. As history begins the process of ending, the threshold of what we can overlook in order to properly pursue our national interests is decreasing. History ends when we can no longer tolerate despotism anywhere by anyone.

10 May 2005

It's just another Berlin Wall

Orrin Judd is going on about the evils of cars and the wonders of mass transit again with an article about the increasingly long commute times in the USA. Presumably this shows what a mistake cars are, but as other commentors pointed out the usual case is that one spends far more wasted time when using public transportation compared to driving.

I try to see OJ’s point, but it seems to me that he’s (and other public transport supporters) are looking at the wrong problem. Rather than raising gas taxes and heavily subsidizing public transportation, why not try to fix cities so that people are willing to live in them? Cars are increasingly a necessity because of the spread of suburbs and exurbs. And why is that happening? Because cities are becoming increasingly unlivable. I doubt that there’s a single major city that couldn’t do more to get people on public transport by cleaning up the school system than anything they could do directly with subsidies and taxes. But of course, that can’t happen because the destructive socialism of our decaying cities is strongly correlated with support for public transport (perhaps there’s a lesson in that?). When public transport boosters start to address the underlying issues that push people away from public transport instead of punitive social engineering, then I’ll believe that public transport is a goal and not just an excuse on their part.

09 May 2005

Patching a sinking ship

According to Instapundit the New York Times is trying to heal its credibility. Reading over the recommendations, I don’t find it a very compelling program for actual results.

My favorite recommendation was “reduce factual errors”. Doesn’t that just encapsulate the liberal mindset? Factual errors are a problem, so reduce them. What could be simpler than that? How to do it, well that’s just an implementation detail we’re work out later.

Related to this are the continuing cries from that same liberal media about how uneducated and ignorant Americans are. But I think that Americans are in generally becoming more informed because of the ease of information access on the Internet and that is precisely why both Old Media is suffering and why the liberal elite thinks Americans are ignorant. Americans no longer meekly believe in whatever “truths” are held by the chatterati, which makes them uneducated in the liberal viewpoint.

We all know that it’s a common experience to read a newspaper article about a subject in which one is an expert and realize just how little understanding the journalist had of the subject. Now the blogosphere has created two trends that make this problem much worse for Old Media. The first is weblogs, which allow other people to experience the dismay of the experts. While no weblogger is an expert in everything, most are expert in something and can demonstrate the massive failure of Old Media in that area, while other webloggers pass on the experience. The second is online search engines, where if some one wonders about some claim in an article, it is now far easier to look it up, which frequently demonstrates how biased the article is. Note that both of these trends are ones of increasing access to information, not burgeoning theocratic ignorance.

What can Old Media do? Not much. The essential problems are parochialism and lack of expertise. I don’t see what Old Media can do to fix either one. While theoretically they could encourage intellectual diversity on the staff (to ameloriate parochialism) or learn how to use a search engine, this is simply not in the ideological interests of the people who run Old Media, not to mention being a lot of work. I don’t believe it will happen.

I think it’s more likely that what are now large scale media companies will decay in to small, niche companies, like The Nation. It will simply not be possible for a single company to have sufficient expertise and points of view to dominate news the way Old Media has for the last few decades.

03 May 2005

Even magic isn't really a magic wand

I might as well drop another hit on Instapundit where he brings up the absence of scarcity in a nanotech world. This is, of course, techno-utopianism at its finest and not much more plausible than the Marxist kind, once one spends even a moderate amount of time thinking about it.

Let’s grant the technical feasibility of Drexler style nanotech (which, personally, I think is true). Given that, we can arbitrarily re-arrange the molecular structure of objects at will and by design. Therefore we can effecively have unlimited material goods without scarcity? That seems to be Instapundit’s thesis. However, there are several things wrong with this view.

First is one Instapundit himself mentions, that human time will continue to be scarce. Nanotech will create far more leisure time and boost productivity, but it seems unlikely that it will actually make people run faster and therefore put more than 24 hours in a day.

Another hurdle is that nanotech can’t change atoms, so if certain types of atoms are necessary for desirable material goods, those atoms may well be scarce. Most of our goods are made of common atoms like carbon, silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc. But there’s no good reason to presume that this will always be the case, especially not once we can manipulate things at the atomic layer. Perhaps transuranics will be required for the hot new products. We just don’t know.

But the biggest hurdle will be the one I rarely see mentioned by nanotech dilletantes1 and that is energy. Rearranging the atoms in your clothes to change them from yesterday’s fashion to today’s will take energy. Where is this energy to come from? The phrase frequently used is “sunlight” but sunlight on the ground is a rather weak and unreliable one, especially for something that’s likely to consume as much energy as nanotech. Energy generation and distribution will likely be the key limiting elements to a nanotech civilization2 so I don’t see the age of scarcity ending in the forseeable future despite the claims of the nanotechnoids.

1 One of the few that do is John Ringo. In his future utopia, which is permeated by nanotech, one’s “salary” consists of an allocation of the planetary energy production. This seems like the most likely outcome of pervasive nanotech.

2 This is of course not a new concept. It was the driving concept behind Dyson Spheres. Dyson realized that material science would continue to advance, making physical goods ever cheaper so that in the long run, the limiting factor would be energy. Most people think of Dyson spheres and other mega-structures as being for living space but in fact the original motivation was to capture the maximal amount of solar energy.

You can always not join the club

Instapundit has weighed in on the proposed changes by Congress to the requirements for state issued drivers licenses. While I think his analysis is accurate based on the information presented in his source, I’ve heard different claims about the content of the actual measure. I tried doing some research via web searches but as far as I can tell, there’s really only one article out there and everything I found was basically a rewrite of that same article. At least in the blogosphere when things can passed around like that it’s noted and webloggers tend to add something of value.

In any event, as far as I know the requirements are only necessary if the state wants the federal government to accept the drivers license as a valid ID. It seems to me that this avoids all of the Constitutional issues Instapundit raises, as Congress is simply regulating the requirements for federal IDs which surely is in its purview. It actually makes some sense, as opposed to the normal “federal highway funds” gambit (which I’ve never liked). I wouldn’t support this as yet another unfunded mandate, but I think it’s fine as a standard for what constitutes a valid ID for the purposes of federal law.