27 July 2005

Penumbral reasoning

One of the issues that has come with the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court is the issue of what “rights of citizens can be found in the “penumbra and emanations” of the Constitution”:http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/025343.html. The answer is, of course, none, because the Constitution is not about the rights of citizens and doesn’t really mention them much. Looking for rights in the Constitution is a complete inversion of the purpose of the document.

Let’s take Roe vs. Wade as an example. It’s clear that there is no “right to privacy” in the penumbra nor a “right to abortion” in the emanations. The problem is that this question (despite its popularity) makes no sense. The Constitution does not describe what citizens may do, it describes what government may and may not do. The question is never “does the Constitution grant a woman have a right to have an abortion?” but “by what enumerated power in the Constitution may the federal government regulate that activity?”.1

It seems to me almost all of the grey penumbral areas fade in to irrelevance if one takes the same view of the Constitution as the Founders, that it is about the government, not the citizens. After all, the Founders clearly stated “All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”. By their Creator, not the federal government. It should the federal government that has to answer the question “by what right do you do that?”, not citizens.

1 I’m sure someone will spout “but what if it’s considered murder?”. Well, what if it is? The federal government has very little to do with laws against any other type of murder. Effectively the only type of murder that’s against federal law is murder of a member / employee of the federal government. Say what you like about when life starts in a fetus, I’m very certain federal employment doesn’t start until after birth.

26 July 2005

Don't these people read their own articles?

This article [via Instapundit] claims that “Hollywood” is in a death spiral because it’s destroying movie theater chains. Because an increasing majority of movie profits are coming from channels other than movie theaters, the big Hollywood studios are reducing the time between theatrical releases and secondary releases, such as to pay-per-view or DVDS. This in turn further reduces theater income, leading to a death spiral.

But a death spiral for whom? According to the article, overall profits are still rising even as theater revenue stagnates. I could see how this would be a death spiral for movie theater companies, but the Hollywood studios? The final paragraph discusses how terrible this has been for the movie theaters but fails to even hint at a connection to the financial fortunes of Hollywood studios after spending most of the article noting how rapidly theaters are becoming irrelevant to those same studios. It’s like complaining that airplane manufacturers are going down because the shift to jet engines is killing the propeller makers while increasing profits for the airplane companies.

The author says that he’ll reveal how Hollywood studios can escape from this spiral of rising profits, something I’m sure the studio executives await with baited breath.

22 July 2005

Self-blind sided

There is a report that, while touring the Caliphascist detention center in Cuba, Senators Kennedy and Akaka were given some very unfavorable feedback about their position with regard to that facility. The feedback came from people who were both citizens of the states of the Senators and guards at the facility. As noted, that can’t be good news for either Senator. Although, as expected, Old Media isn’t covering it and the Senators have no comment. But those soldiers will be coming home and I doubt they’ll keep quiet about their views.

One might wonder how the Democratic Party thought they could avoid this problem, but of course their world view prevents forseeing such problems. In that world view, President Bush is evil in no small part because he sends the troops off to die in irrelevant, nasty foreign countries so his buddies can cash in their Halliburton stock options. Akaka, Kennedy and their ilk are simply incapable of believing that the military really, honestly, is very supportive of Bush and their current missions. Just as they can’t understand why so many Americans “vote against their interests” — i.e., for Republicans.

21 July 2005

Long term rationality

Lots of people have been beating on George Lakoff lately. Lakoff is the guy who thinks that the Modern American Left can win electorally by “re-framing” the issues, i.e. doing better marketing. Having mocked him previously about this, I’ll forbear to beat him again. But a comment by Big Arm Woman got me thinking about Lakoff’s world view, as “stated here”;http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/17/magazine/17DEMOCRATS.html?pagewanted=all

According to Lakoff, Democrats have been wrong to assume that people are rational actors who make their decisions based on facts; in reality, he says, cognitive science has proved that all of us are programmed to respond to the frames that have been embedded deep in our unconscious minds, and if the facts don’t fit the frame, our brains simply reject them.

There are several points here. My first thought was that Lakoff must be one of the few surviving Skinnerians. I just have to wonder how some one like that justifies writing a book, since the book won’t be informative but simply a response to the frames to which he has been exposed. One also wonders how new information about reality is ever acquired if we’re all just executing pre-programmed responses1. Perhaps Lakoff views the human race as the intelligent organism, rather than individuals (which wouldn’t be much of a variant on much of the thought from the MAL).

More significantly, we see that Lakoff is shifting from “people aren’t completely rational actors” to “people are completely irrational actors” which are not quite the same thing. That’s the sleight of mind that lets Lakoff slip out from the bounds of reality. It seems to me that people’s rationality is very similar to that of the stock markets (which wouldn’t be all that surprising, would it?). The smaller, fewer and shorter term the decisions, the less likely it is to be rational. But over time, over many decisions, rationality emerges. Just like in the stock market one day’s trading tells you basically nothing about the state of the economy but a ten year price chart is quite informative. But Lakoff and his supports can’t go there because the long term political trends aren’t very favorable to the MAL. On a deeper level it would also be to admit that culture, which can represent millenia of accumulated experience and decisions, is very important and not easily susceptible to short term improvement and once you go there, you’re a conservative.

1 I’m sure Lakoff and his followers have the special “get out of frame based responses” card that is issued to the special few who’ve risen above the ignorant masses. But how do we know that the card issuers aren’t irrational?

16 July 2005

The nomination can wait, get me another bowl of popcorn

There are those who are wondering if the entire Wilson/Plame affair is a Rove operation. While I find it laughable to think that Rove planned the details, the concept that Rove, presented with the initial “scandal” over Plame, chose to play it tight and just wait for Old Media to push itself off a cliff one way or another, is quite plausible. The key facts that we’re finding out now, about how Plame wasn’t covert, how Rove got the information from the Washington press corps, would of course have been well known to Rove from the start. One notes that Rove never resisted the testimony of any of the reporters involved. Further, what would Old Media have said had Rove come out at the start and claimed that (1) Plame wasn’t covert and (2) he got his information from journalists? Who would have believed him?

What strikes me now is the thought that President Bush is drawing out the SCOTUS nomination in order to keep the Wilson/Plame issue on the front pages. I think it’s definitely past the tipping point where it’s worse for Old Media and the Modern American Left than it is for the Bush administration, so why let it sizzle for a while? Let the fire starters deal with putting on the flames that are now burning them.

14 July 2005

Enough speaking softly, use the big stick

Both Kausfiles and Just One Minute have praised this article for background information on the Wilson/Plame issue. I thought it was reasonably interesting, but this is to me the money quote:

think that the Bush White House would know an essential lesson of presidential survival in Washington: You don’t pick a fight with the CIA. Nixon learned the consequences of doing so; Bush One, a former director of the CIA, could have explained it to his son.

It doesn’t seem to me to take much thinking about that before it becomes very troubling. What President would worry about picking a fight with, say, the Pentagon? Yet the President should worry about getting in to a political fight with the CIA? Who’s really in charge, here? At this point I’d support a purge of the CIA by President Bush for no reason other than to demonstrate that the CIA is an agency of the executive branch that is to obey the President. It might be a good move to put the entire Wilson/Plame issue in the appropriate light, as a matter of civilian control over shadowy federal agencies. We might even see better national security once the CIA is not actively undermining the elected government.

13 July 2005

Burning both ends of the candle

Most of us who support the “freedom forward” geostrategy of reducing the risk of terrorism by fomenting liberal democracies in place of repressive regimes do so because we’d rather not have the current wave of terrorism end the way hostilities with Native Americans were ended.

On the other side are the progressives, who by and large would rather not be bothered. It is widely commented on in the blogosphere about how these naysayers are helping promote the black glass solution by interferring with the effort in Afghanistan and Iraq to spark a reformation of Arab-Islamic culture that will avoid such an eventuality. However, it seems to me that the progressives are making such a end more likely in another way as well.

One of their essential root arguments is that “it’s not worth it”, that helping Iraq isn’t worth any American blood or treasure, that we should be focused purely on helping our own nation’s immediate needs. Closely entwined with this is the concept that those foreigners are unwilling or incapable of running a liberal democracy, so that the whole effort is a fool’s errand. Now, suppose those memes take hold in the American citizenry. Suppose the memes become widely accepted. What, then, would be the objection to solving the problem of Caliphascist terrorism with black glass if we owe no help to the targets and they’re a hopeless case anyway? Of course, if such people could think through to the end results of their policies, they wouldn’t be progressives in the first place.

11 July 2005

Like taking diapers off a baby

Sadly, I have to ding Best of the Web today and defend the New York Times.

Today the Times weighs in against expanding the USA Patriot Act to allow terror investigators to use a procedure called an administrative subpoena to gather information. We gather that conservatives by and large support this proposal while liberals oppose it, which itself would be evidence that Rove was right. But our jaw dropped when we read this paragraph:

The bill’s defenders note that administrative subpoenas are already allowed in other kinds of investigations. But these are generally in highly regulated areas, like Medicaid billing. The administrative subpoena power in the new bill would apply to anything the F.B.I. deemed related to alleged foreign intelligence or terrorism, and could, in practice, give the F.B.I. access to almost any private records it wanted.

So in the Times’ view, it’s worth making some compromises on civil liberties when something really weighty is at stake, like Medicaid funding. But terrorism just doesn’t rise to that level of importance.

That is (IMHO) a willful misreading of the Time’s point, which is that currently it is Congress who decides in what areas the FBI can use subpoenas, whereas with the proposed law it is the FBI who decides that. It’s not a matter of Medicaid vs. terrorism, but in what body the authority to make the determination lies. As someone who objects to most of the regulatory state on this very basis, that Congress should not be delegating de facto law making to federal agencies, I must side with the Times. Personally, I’d say that I’d consider discussing the FBI getting this capability when it fixes its internal information systems to be able to handle the data. It’s just a bad idea to hand new powers to agencies that have demonstrated the lack of ability to handle its current ones.

It's over when the fat lady hands you the bill

I was of course amused by this report about the bill for the Kyoto Protocol coming due —

Opposition parties are calling for New Zealand to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol after a shock report yesterday found that the Government’s calculations of New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions were out by millions of tonnes.

The recalculation of New Zealand’s liabilities means that the Government may have to pay more than $500 million in carbon charges in 2012. Previously, officials believed New Zealand would hold a $500m credit by 2012.

More recent reports put the total at up to $1500M. Just a small miscalculation, I suppose.

Serendipitously, I was reading an old issue of New Scientist which had a small article that mentioned that the EU was considering taxing imports from countries that did not sign on to the Kyoto Protocol (revealing, it was the signing and not the following that mattered). This was to offset the costs of adhering to the Protocol. Despite some people’s claim that following the Protocol would lead to an economic boom from unleashed creativity, that doesn’t seem to be how it is working out in the real world. Of course, that can hardly be unexpected in a world where France isn’t the leading economy in the world and Japan doesn’t own the computer industry.

But how can I strike a dramatic pose with that sort of material?

Via Instapundit we have this story

One of the biggest failures in the war on terror is rarely heard about. This is the inability of the U.S. government to do prompt background investigations for newly hired translators, analysts and investigators. This investigation procedure was always long and cumbersome, and often the target of ridicule and calls for reform. After September 11, 2001, this problem was recognized, but the solution was to move the work from the Department of Defense to the Office of Personnel Management. That just made the situation worse, as the Office of Personnel Management was not prepared to handle the flood of new work. Currently, there is a backlog of 185,000 background investigations.

One couldn’t ask for a better example of why I opposed the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act and its variants. This is precisely the kind of thing those legislative efforts are designed to mask and evade. Can anyone seriously claim that the Patriot Act, Patriot Act II or the repeal of either would do even a tiny fraction of the good for this country solving the problem described above would? Congress and the chatterati act is if they are discussing important and weighty matters, but surely not even they are so delusional that they aren’t aware they’re really just avoiding doing any heavy lifting on improving internal security for the USA?

It’s frankly embarrassing and certainly doesn’t make the Republicans look any better than the Democratic Party. It’s a wonder the Left hasn’t taken this kind of thing up as a club to beat the Congressional majority party with. It seems to me that this is a major vulnerability for the GOP, as it’s an abyssmal failure by the GOP in what is probably the primary politically winning issue for them, national security.

But perhaps not — the Left might well end up stuck with doing real work if it turned out to be a winning issue. Better to stick with meaningless conspiracy theories which don’t have any policy implications. After all, politicians of both parties would rather be in office than in the right.

With just a light touch of fantasy, one might view this as the wedge that splits the Republican party and finally reduces the Democratic Party to an irrelevant fringe. Any such issue has to cross both parties and be one that’s difficult or impossible (for whatever reason) for either party to address. I can see the coots from the GOP and the DLC types from the Democratic Party move for a “smarter, not bigger” government. That’s my dream, and I’m sticking to it.

08 July 2005

Negative endorsement

I was reading an article at Reason on the bombings in London and WWIV in general when it occurred to me that if the attacks are, in fact, retaliation for the invasion of Iraq, that’s a good argument for the invasion. It’s the [CaliPhasist]s telling they are not in favor of the invasion. While not 100%, it’s still a good rule of thumb to favor things the Caliphascists don’t like.

Moreover, if you are fighting an enemy that’s concealed and mobile, the best tactic is to attack or conquer something that one’s enemy cannot permit. That forces them to come to battle and on your terms instead of theirs. Given the fervid rhetoric and bombing efforts, it seems that Iraq is such a thing and therefore, based on the Caliphascist efforts against it, we’d be fools to let it go.

07 July 2005

Comparing atrocities

I have, of course, been following the terror attacks in London. Other weblogs are covering this in depth, so I won’t go in to that. My sympathies for the victims and burning wrath for the perpetrators.

One thing that I found interesting, however, was based on comparisons between this attack and the 11 Sep 2001 attacks in the USA and confusion about the word “casualty”. Quite a lot of webloggers and news reports are using this as a synonymn for “fatality”, which is quite wrong. This leads to comparing the wounded and injured from the London attack to the fatalities from the World Trade Center / Pentagon attacks, which are not at all the same thing.

As a result, I tried to find the number of casualties from the WTC/P attacks, which turned out to be difficult. The only data I could find was this, which claims 2261 casualties (excluding fatalities). It just seems odd that compilations of statistics like this don’t have any information on casualties. Reports on the 1993 WTC attack (like this) commonly make at least a rough estimate of casualties (1,000 is the standard number). That’s not the case for pages about the 11 Sep attacks.

Beyond that, the 11 Sep attacks seem to be a strong outlier in the ratio of dead to injured, roughly 1.3. Current reports from London are 1000 casualties and 72 dead, or a ratio of 0.072. Bus bombings in Israel tend to be in the same ballpark (0.25, 0.22). The Bali attack was closer, with 202 dead and around 3001 injured. Interestingly, Wikipedia reports the injured for this attack and for the Madrid bombings (with a ratio of 0.11), but not for the 11 Sep attacks.

The reason for the difference in the relative deadliness of the 11 Sep attacks is obvious. Is it also the reason that it is reported differently? I have no idea.

1 This number must be considered unreliable, as it is just the concensus figure for numbers that vary greatly between different sources. None that I found had fewer casualties than fatalities, however.

04 July 2005

Happy July Fourth!

Green Rage 4 takes to the sky in celebration of July Fourth. It is a PML Amraam 4 kit on an H180-S motor

01 July 2005

Discuss now or fail later

As the situation in the Middle East grinds slowly towards imposing a state on the Palestinians, I think it would be useful (but unlikely) for Israel and perhaps the blogosphere to wonder about what happens if the Palestinian state is brought in to existence yet continues to attack Israel. I just don’t see any discussion of this at all, yet it seems to be to be by far the most likely outcome.

On the one hand, Orrin Judd argues that the press of running a state will discourage the Palestinian leadership from engaging in attacks on Israel. I can see the merit in the view, if Palestine is at least moderately democratic. Yet given the backing the various armed factions in Palestine have from foreign governments (Iran, the EU, the Saudi Entity) I actually don’t think any votes in Palestine will be more free than that 1996 farce. Moreover, even if the voting is truly free, what does that matter if Hamas or the PA can shoot political opponents as “collaborators” before the election? The recent elections that brought Abbas to “power” illustrate this point. His success was clearly created via back room deals and violent intimidation well before the election was held, making it only slightly more democratic than the recent Iranian elections.

Of course, the single most important enabler for violent attacks from the Palestinian state will be Israel, which is highly unlikely to exact a price the Palestinian leadership and its backers are unwilling to pay. The Palestinian people have consistently demonstrated a willingness to suffer any misery as long as Jews are getting hurt as well. The recent attempt to bomb a hospital is a case in point. The woman was willing to blow a hospital in Israel that treated Palestinians because there were also Jewish citizens and children there, even if it meant no more treatment for Palestinians. Had she succeeded she likely would have been hailed as another hero by the very people now bereft of medical care. Certainly there doesn’t seem to have been any outcry against her for trying it. That would seem to be precisely the attitude that, in contrast to Judd’s view, will permit the Palestinian Authority to ignore local state maintenance as long as they keep up the attacks on Israel, particularly given the complete lack of a free press and politics.

This brings us back to why thinking about this now would be far better than waiting until it happens. A proper response will go against the grain of world and progressive opinion, likely even against public opinion in Israel. If there is any hope of the kind of accountablity of the Palestinian state and government required for a hope of peace, the groundwork would need to be laid now, not after the attacks have already begun and been blamed on Israel.