31 August 2005

Iraq'd my brain

A couple of thoughts on the Iraqi Constitution:

I continue to be stunned by the Sunni resistance to the document. The belief that, for the Sunnia, a strong central government is desirable is bizarre. The idea that the Sunni would recapture it is delusional and the most likely effect would be to enable the rest of Iraq to abuse the Sunni legally. There’s also the possibility of civil war which would be an even worse disaster for the Sunni, who would almost certainly end up dead or exiled en mass. I suspect that the rank and file are going to be a lot smarter about this than their leadership.

And speaking of leadership, I think the claims of Iraq descending in to a theocracy are just a bit overblown. I see lots of hints that the citizenry is much more liberal about such things than the leadership. This shouldn’t be surprising since a theocracy is always much better for the leadership than for the masses. That’s why real voting with real consequences is so critical.

That's just the tip of the iceberg

Chris Durnell writes

There are so many open questions about the extent and effect of man-made global climate change, it’s impossible to blame any one specific event on it. What’s needed is a lot more study, and in the meantime to take prudent -small cost - measures just in case.

There are plenty of serious skeptics; people who would accept that’s it happening provided they see more data that answers their doubts. Unfortunately, I think the politicos are opposed to accepting it regardless of any data compiled. They oppose it not because it couldn’t be happening, but because their vested interests oppose the consequences of any such change. The extreme environmentalists are also to blame because too often they refuse to support small, prudent measures because they think it’s a sell-out if they don’t get all their demands.

I agree with this somewhat. However, I don’t see the hard core resistance that Durnell does, except among American politicians. For them, I don’t think it’s the politicians vested interests, as the standard “solutions” to global warming involve massive increases in government (and hence the politicians’) power. Instead, I think it’s the constituents whose vested interests are at risk from the proposed solutions and American politicians are far more sensitive to that than in, say, Europe. If there is global warming (and this report, which reports that new information about satellite orbits indicates that the lower troposphere has warmed, not cooled, if true is strong evidence for some global warming), I would put far more blame on the environmentalists who have done far worse than what Durnell brings up.

  • As noted, there is a strong element of the perfect being the enemy of the good among the environmentalist movement.
  • In an amazing display of intellectual incoherence, however, the standard “solution”, the Kyoto Protocol, is openly known to do very little to ameloriate the problem even if fully implemented.
  • The environmentalists presume that any climate change in anthropogenic, requiring changes in human behavior. Given the climatic history of the planet (such as, say, Ice Ages), the claim of anthropogenic causes is rather weak at best.
  • The environmentalists are far more against industrialization than global warming. The latter is simply an excuse to attack the former. This results in a refusal to even consider any ameloriation that doesn’t restrict human industrial activity. For instance, one possibility is sun shades at the Earth-Sun L1. Hideously expensive to be sure, and reliant on new technology, but it is not only a cost bargain compared to the costs of complying with the Kyoto Protocol but it would actually solve the problem, unlike the KP. And of course, full implementation of the KP would also require new technology, quite possibly more than the sun shades. Moreover, sun shades (if feasible) would work regardless of the cause of global warming, anthropogenic or not anthropogenic. It may be that the sunshades won’t work, but to refuse to even consider such technological solutions isn’t the reaction of someone truly concerned about global warming.

Of course, using an environmental problem for political or ideological purposes and making the situation worse would be par for the course for environmentalists (such as boosting CAFE standards which lead to the SUV fad). But it’s never really been about the environment for most of the leadership anyway.

30 August 2005

Updating the Philosophy cirriculum

There’s a discussion about free will over at the Brothers Judd in which one commentor brings up the old canard that since we are strongly influenced by various things, some of which we are unaware of, we can’t really have free will. It just makes me think that in the future, one of the qualifications for being a philosopher should be doing high level computer systems1 design and implementation.

Why should that be required? Because working on computer systems teachs one many things about how complex systems work. In the past, philosophers had to just pontificate about complex systems but today, we can actually design, build and test them so lack of capability is no longer an excuse to be arm chair theorists. And if the philospher wanna-be can’t do system design, how could he possibly do useful work on the vastly more complex systems of objective reality and human society?

In this particular case, if the commentor had ever worked with a computer language or gaming software, he’d know just how little leeway people need to seriously abuse the system far beyond any capabilities the designers imagined. It doesn’t take much experience to know that f you want the user to not have the “free will” to do as he pleases with your system, but only to do as you want him to you need to lock down everything. Partial restrictions are really no restrictions at all, they simply make it require a bit more effort and / or luck. That’s the kind of empircal background any serious philospher should have. Nothing like putting in a cute little feature at 3 AM and seeing the whole system go down from user abuse by 11 AM to teach you about the law of unintended consequences. Beyond that, however, I think philosophy PhDs would have a much easier time finding a job, which might well eliminate most of the homeless.


1 By “system I don’t mean how to assemble the box of computation that sits on your desk, but what computer scientists mean by systems — complex assemblies of components designed to accomplish (or assist humans in accomplishing) a particular task. For example, internet traffic routers. Such designs encompass not only the hardware and software on any particular router but how that router will interact with other routers to actually move packets around rapidly and efficiently.

They shouldn't even be contenders

I found this post at Random Jottings interesting because of what it says about the peacenik point of view. The essence of the post is about the peaceniks increasing desperation as their “we’re against violence except for …” argument gets ever more twisted by the Caliphascist propensity for atrocity. The most frequent claim is that the Caliphascist factions are “forced” to “respond” with violence in order to “protect” the Iraqi people. Protect from what is generally left unstated, because to talk about it is to make a mockery of the base argument. The Caliphascist viewpoint is, by contrast, open and clear — they are protecting Iraqis from the evils of liberal democracy. That, however, is a viewpoint that the peaceniks are not yet ready to advance in public.

This brings home just how poor a propagandist President Bush is. Contrary to the endless MAL claims of how the VWRC under the leadership of Rove/Cheney is brainwashing the sheeple of the USA, Bush seems to be losing or at least just holding his own against people supporting a murderous gang of wanna be rulers of the world who openly declare liberal democracy evil while mass murdering men, women and children. Like Al Gore vs. Bush in 2000, what’s stunning is that it’s even a contest. Now, it is certainly not the sole responsibility of the President to counter act this enemy propaganda, but it’s not unreasonable to expect him to take a leadership position on it. It may be that only the tides of history will be strong enough, that the grip of the MAL on Old Media is simply too strong for words to break through, but even if so it really does put paid to the idea of the White House being the masters of public brain washing.

29 August 2005

Movable Type 3.2

I’ve now upgraded to Movable Type 3.2. I regretted upgrading to 3.15 because the anti-spam capabilities were lacking compared to 2.64, but it looks like SixApart has finally recovered the capabilities lost after 2.64.

I’ve managed to bring along my ancillary plugins with just a moderate amount of tweaking. I’ve also changed the file extension to PHP to enable future technological marvels. As a result, I finally got around to writing an old URL forwarder so that references to the old URLs for posts will now forward them to the correct URL for the new layout.

24 August 2005

Moral inversion

Winds of Change has a post about artistic propaganda in the USA during WWI. The author notes that such a campaign would not be possible today, if not outright counter-productive. He attributes this to cynicism but I think there’s a much worse reason, which is the Blame America First syndrome. I read this post shortly after I had been perusing the comments over here. Here you have people looking at the aftermath of suicide bombing attacks on civilians in Iraq. This seems to me to be very similar to that of the last few posters in the WoC post, the price paid by civilians from the enemies’ attrocities. Back then, the citizenry blamed the perpetrators. Now the blame America. I don’t grasp how one can be “sickened” and “haunted” by such images and then oppose the enemies of the people who did it, ask “why are we [America] doing this?”, or propose that we turn the Iraqi people over to such people. I did chuckle, though, at the one suggestion that if the American people weren’t so shielded from this horror, that they’d turn away from war and destruction. The Caliphascists doing this are hardly shielded from the horror yet it doesn’t seem to have had much effect. But I suppose if you think that Caliphascist suicide bombers are instruments of American terror against Iraqis that makes sense. What has happened to us that this kind of morally inverted reaction has such a grip on the citizenry? I suspect that it’s the cognitive pain of having to deal with a world where one is frequently tasked with performing the last bad task. Far better to pretend that it’s all our fault, because then we can stop it and not have to think about it anymore.

When spite is all

I caught a bit of an NPR story the other day that was about the terrible economic plight of the Palestinians. It struck me then just how bizarre that particular conflict is. In any other war, if one side had lost territory and was suffering the kind of economic collapse that the Palestinians are, that side would revolt or surrender. Even the Hirohito government in Japan feared revolt in the last months of WWII. Yet the Palestinians fight on, eagerly as far as I can tell. That would be seem to support the view that it’s the destruction of war more than the economic consequences that drive internal unrest on the losing side. That, or the Palestinians are literally crazed with hatred of Jews.

It seems to me that Israeli PM Sharon may be setting up to show the Palestinians what war is really like. I’d consider him a brilliant strategist if, as the result of the re-settlement, Israel can literally declare war on Hamas. That is, treat Hamas as a belligerent is treated in a war, where any property controlled by that belligerent is a legitimate target. Certainly Hamas treats Israel that way. Israel could answer complaints by pointing that out and putting a “peace treaty” on the table which would involve Hamas explicitly accepting the existance of the state of Israel. Hopefully this would drive a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian populace and even if not, at least Hamas would be spending more time recovering from Israeli attacks than planning their own.

20 August 2005

Technology update

I’m playing with the 3.2 beta of Movable Type as well. It’s definitely looking better, as SixApart finally brought back bulk spam filtering for comments and trackbacks (originally lost with the upgrade to 3.0). I’ve found that absolutely crucial for keeping my filters properly tuned.

It also looks like I’ll have an easier time putting in some of my other spam checks which would be a big help (rather than trying to modify the filtering software directly). I’m running Beta 4 on another test website. I’m not sure it’s quite up to production quality but it looks very close so I expect a full release in a matter of weeks.

What I do instead of writing posts

Needing billions and billions of clue

Via Pejmanesque is this quote by Carl Sagan

There is something stunningly narrow about how the Anthropic Principal is phrased. Yes, only certain laws and constants of nature are consistent with our kind of life. But essentially the same laws and constants are required to make a rock. So why not talk about a Universe designed so rocks could one day come to be, and strong and weak Lithic Principals? If stones could philosophize, I imagine Lithic Principals would be at the intellectual frontiers.

Just another reason for my slowly ebbing respect for Sagan. He doesn’t appear to have a clear grasp of the Anthrop” Principle which really isn’t that complex.

First is the “our kind of life. Since we don’t know of any other kind, this is really “all known life forms” Stated so as to look more restrictive than it is. Moreover, the AP is only about intelligent life. I think one can presumethat evolution of any intelligent lite form would fake roughly as long as it took for us, which is one of the key points of the AP (i.e. physical laws in an observed universe that stars exist for billions of years).

Sagan also neglects to look at whether the existence of rocks is extremely sensitive to precise valves of physical constants and initial conditions as it is for carbon/ water based intelligent life. There are intelligent, reasoned arguments against the Anthropic Principle. Too bad Sagan didn’t make the effort to find ore.

19 August 2005

Taking advantage of equivalence

Backspin is upset over some editorial cartoons equating the eviction of the Israelis in Gaza and the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. I understand the complaint about the false moral equivalency, but I wonder if a better message isn’t being lost. If one presumes equivalence, then consider what the cartoon says is happening to the Israelis in Gaza: they are being forcibly removed and having their claim to the land revoked in order to further the peace process. If 1948 refugees’ situation is morally equivalent, should be we then be able to ask them to do exactly the same thing, accept the revocation of their claim to the land in order to further the peace process?

Signals in the noise

While I understand the potential importance of the Able Danger memos, I think we need to be careful to not fall in to the Pearl Harbor mistake. This is the fact that there is really nothing that’s completely secret. You can also go back, post facto, and pick out bits of intelligence that pointed at how the future would be. The problem which gets ignored, is the haystack of other signs pointing at completely different outcomes. That’s not to say Able Danger is a case of that, or that it wasn’t a strong and clear signal lost because of dysfunctional cultures and procedures in our intelligence agencies, but that we need to be careful about placing it in the context of the time.

In fact, one could structure this to point out the difficulty President Bush had in his choice of actions against Iraq. There was plenty of noise and it wasn’t possible at the time to clearly distinguish what was really going on. One person’s cherry picking is another man’s attempt to create a pattern out of static. One literally can’t accept all of the data because it’s contradictory. It will always be a judgement call on which bits of data one uses to construct one’s model of reality. I think getting that understanding out is the most important thing we could get out of this issue.

18 August 2005

Drought or flood

I found a bug today in my Blogger mirroring software (you can see it in operation here). It turns out that it broke (due to aliasing) if there was exactly one post on an archive page. After almost two years of operation, this was the first time it had encountered that condition. I guess it means that if you’re a blogger, you can’t post just one.

Historical necessity?

The building fight over the John Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court has prompted another round of commentary on how lucky President Bush is in his set of enemies. While the future is not yet set, the prospects for Roberts not getting approved look extremely bad, which makes it a rather good fight for Bush to have with his political enemies.

But is it really luck? I was thinking about President Clinton and how he matched his time the other day, it struck me that it was probably no accident. The tenor of the times made the success of someone like Clinton very likely and there’s no shortage of his type wandering around. In the same way, who is going to be left holding the torch of Leftism? When an ideology is tried and found wanting in the court of reality, the ones who stick with it are either the clueless or the fanatical, neither of which is known for making judicious choices about strategy. Is this not what we have been observing, that the more centrist layers of the MAL are melting away leaving only the hard core, who now set the agenda? While the particular players and specific issues are of course very historically dependent, I wonder if the general shape is far more determined.

17 August 2005

The decline of satire and the future of education

I caught a bit of The Amanda Show last night and it had a fake commerical for ‘Homework Hut’. This was an outfit that delivered finished homework in thirty minutes or less. What struck me was that it’s just not funny anymore because it’s no longer satire. I’m sure that the writers thought it sufficiently over the top at the time, but now (less than 10 years later) it could be a real commercial.

In some sense it’s homework isn’t that important, it’s the learning that matters. Homework is a means, not an end. Since they’re not adults, it’s not reasonable to just say “they’re only cheating themselves”. In a perfect world the teacher would use homework to prepare the students for Socratic dialogs in class and grade the student on their ability to retain and use the knowledge from the homework. I don’t see that happening in the real world. I think this is going to be one of the big challenges of education in the 21st century.

16 August 2005

Let's not judge the chickens before they hatch

Junkyard Blog has posted about a spate of Hollywood produced movies that concern WWIV. While I would agree that most of the list sounds just like the talking points of the moonbat left, I have to disagree about V for Vendetta, which is based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore from the 1980s. That is because it’s really an anti-Thatcher diatribe that has little to nothing to do with the USA (although it does partake heavily of the CND / moral equivalence nonsense of the time). It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopia in England, which makes it just a bit of a stretch as an anti-Bush polemic. I would be easily persuaded, however, that the producers may not be aware of that or incapable of understanding it.

SPOILER WARNING

The quoted write up:

From Warner Brothers and the creators of “The Matrix” comes this film about a futuristic Great Britain that’s become a ‘fascist state.’ A masked ‘freedom fighter’ named V uses terror tactics (including bombing the London Underground) to undermine the government - leading to a climax in which the British Parliament is blown up. Natalie Portman stars as a skinhead who turns to ‘the revolution’ after doing time as a Guantanamo-style prisoner.

gets a number of major plot points completely wrong.

  • The Parliment building is blown up at the start of the book, not at the end. Moreover, it’s just an empty building, Parliment itself having long since been disbanded. There is in fact a major building blown up at the climax, but that isn’t done by V, the main character, but his assistant. Moreover, while the bomb goes off in the London Underground, it is an Underground that, like Parliment, has long since stopped having people in it.
  • The prison in which V spends time isn’t modeled on Guantanamo (how could it be, since the book was written in the 80s?). It’s obviously modeled directly on the Nazi death camps, including medical experiments on the prisoners.
  • Portman’s character (presumably “Evey”) is never really in a camp, but in a simulation created by V, modeled on his experience (which in turn is straight out of a Nazi death camp, not Guantanamo).
  • I would argue that V is, in fact, a freedom fighter and not a terrorist.
    • V attacks the Norsefire leadership and its assets directly.
    • V not only doesn’t attack civilians, he rescues them from the clutches of the fascists multiple times.
    • V never engages in random or senseless violence. He kills members of the leadership in very … apropos ways that parallel how those leaders have dealt with others. The story goes to some lengths to demonstrate just how deserving V’s victims are of their fates, which makes V seem much more like the instrument of an angry God than a terrorist. In fact, V lets himself get killed rather than kill the one member of the leadership who isn’t complete scum, although it is also partly because V sees himself as tainted by his actions and not deserving of entering the “promised land” he has worked to bring about.

Now, it’s quite possible that Hollywood has discarded all these keys plot points and rewritten the story as described above (the notion of Evey as a skinhead is certainly radically different from the book1). I think we should wait to see what the movie’s actually like before judging it as the base story is a whole lot better than the standard Hollywood dreck.

P.S. The funniest part of the whole book is the intro, in which Moore writes about how he is considering leaving Britian because Thatcher has been in power too long, busily turning Britian in to a fascist state. I wonder if he did and is now caught in the nightmare of the Chimpy McHitler police state. Where could he go, the Britian of the nu-fascist Blair or the prison camp of Australia under Howard and his Right Wing Death Beasts? Oh, the tortures visited on the sensitive souls of artists!


1 That could just be from the fact that Evey gets her head shaved while in the “camp”, making her look like a skinhead. A Hollywood type mistaking appearance for reality wouldn’t be news.

Sometimes you can only answer rocks with rocks

Over in another thread on the polarized political situation in this country, one Winds of Change commentor said that we on the side of fighting back against the Caliphascists should keep trying to reach out to those in the middle, even if we’ll never touch the minds of the hard core useful idiots. I suppose that is true, no matter how tiring it gets. It helps keep one in shape when encountering a mind willing to look at the world as it is. It also reminds me of my days as a teaching assistant, when we ended up writing a numbered chart of standard errors so we could simply say “that’s a number 2”, which was a big time saver for everyone.

The problem, though, is that there is little common ground even about facts. My time at BAGNewsNotes taught me that (and BNN, despite its issues, is still less loony and hostile than major websites of the MAL such as “Democratic Underground” or “Daily Kos”).

I tend to agree with those who castigate the Bush administration for its lack of outreach in this area. However, I have acquired some sympathy for the point of view that Old Media is simply going to misquote, misinterpret and outright make things up regardless of what is said. Bush has made strong speeches on this issue that never make it out of the choir. Perhaps the White House thinks that, given the current derangement of the MAL, the only realistic course is to keep on plodding, as the general public has no where else sane to go and only the tides of time and fact will bend public opinion properly.

15 August 2005

Barn door politics

The recent flap over the Able Danger lets me get back to one of my favorite dead hobby horses, the terrible state of our intelligence agencies. As I’ve noted before, the USA has as terrible problem in its dysfuntional intelligence agencies. This is a bi-partisan problem and there has been a bi-partisan effort to avoid doing anything about it. In the comment thread above, I think both sides make good points but it does seem to be more about exonerating one side or the other rather than achieving a good understanding of what the problem is. I side more with Preston and Regan in that the idea that the Clinton era was more of a contributor to the problem than any other post-WWII administration. However, apparently one can’t say that without be taken as blaming the Clinton administration for every single problem in our intelligence agencies, which is a view point I completely disagree with — there is an almost endless source of contributors.

Moreover, while I don’t want to exonerate former President Clinton, one must acknowledge that of all his gifts, his best was reading and being part of the zeitgeist of the moment. Clinton was much more of a symptom than a problem. What he did, particularly with regard to screwing up intelligence gathering and processing, was in tune with the times and the culmination of decades of build up (in the same way President Bush’s push to invade Iraq wasn’t some scheme he cooked up with the his buddies at Halliburton but the culmination of decades of American foreign policy). Gorelick built a bigger and higher wall, but the foundation was laid by Senator Church many years before. Porphyrogenitus has a good post that examines this in more depth.

But I want to pursue a different issue. Suppose the Able Danger story is true and this information existed — would it have made any difference? Could Atta have been arrested or stopped, realistically? Consider all of the efforts by the ACLU and other Progressive organizations to spring the captives in Guantanomo. What would have been the political fallout from arresting Atta or even just trailing him? “Paranoid” is a comment epithet thrown around now, after nearly a decade of increasingly deadly Caliphascist attacks and the 11 Sep attacks. Unfortunately, I think that an attack on the scale of 11 Sep was de facto unpreventable because we, as a society, could simply not be serious about the Caliphascist threat. We still aren’t really serious, as demonstrated by the popularity of people like Michael Moore and most of the Democratic Party leadership. The political price that’s being paid is a very slow thing and easily rationalized away, both internally and to what remains of Democratic Party support. What I am left wondering is if some truely massive, WMD attack is as inevitable now as 11 Sep was back then.

11 August 2005

No need to lead them in to temptation, they can find it themselves

From Winds of Change

Binyamin Netanyahu warned that a whole new dimension of arms smuggling will ensue if the Gaza Port is allowed to be built under PA auspices. Once Gaza is turned over to the PA, some wonder if al Qaeda will make Gaza a new base of operations. Remember al Qaeda’s announcment of their new-found interest and presence in Gaza. al Qaeda with a port and common border with fragile Egypt, Zawahiri’s home country?

One has to wonder if that isn’t the plan. I’ve been wondering why more hasn’t been made of this issue and how to respond. Could it be that Israel is following “it’s got to get worse before it gets better” theory and hoping that Al Qaeda sets up shop in Gaza? Strong evidence of that and the direct corollary of a deep collaboration between Al Qaeda and Hamas / Palestinian Authority would provide a lot of lee-way in any reaction by Israel to attacks. The propaganda results would probably be a psychological wind all as well, considering what happened to the IRA’s reputation when it was discovered training FARC terrorists. One would normally think that it’s such a stupid move on the part of the Palestinians to let Al Qaeda set up shop that it won’t happen. Yet if there’s one group of people who have constistently managed to do that kind of self-destructive thing, it’s the Palestinian leadership. Perhaps the silence is because despite that, there’s still concern that other, cooler headed actors might intervene to prevent it?

Calling the parents

As my own children start school, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about current issues in education and the state of the public schools. What’s struck me most over the years as a clear indicator of the sea change in public education is the issue of “calling the parents”. Back in my day, this was considered to be a more severe punishment for the child. It was a threat by the school authorities toward the child to obtain better cooperation. Certainly I’d be willing to be more cooperative in order to avoid such notification.

Now, however, calling the parents is a threat by the child to limit the actions of the school authorities. Somehow we as a society have taken one of the better tools of school authorities for keeping children under control and turned it in to a device for children to escape discipline. I suspect that the increasing level of violence and abuse in children’s sports is part of this same effect. Ultimately, as expected, it comes down to parents. At some point, rather than trying to shape society directly, all that can be done is to provide parents with enough control that the majority who care can escape the ones who don’t.

10 August 2005

Bagging it

Well, I’ve finally been worn down and given up on BAGNewsNotes. Originally it seemed just semi-loony and not nearly as bilious and hateful as say the Democratic Underground or Daily Kos. But lately the imperviousness to facts, spite and loonieness have been too much for me. Even the proprietor, who didn’t seem as wacky as his commentors, is now making statements like

In the meantime, the slow news period and the focus on Crawford has helped draw attention to Mrs. Sheehan, who would probably have been disappeared under a provision of the Patriot Act if her son Casey hadn’t been killed in Baghdad last April.

Yeah, entire camps of people have been “disappeared” by the double secret provisions of the Patriot Act.

Then there was the deep reading of SCOTUS nominee John Roberts’ psyche from a family portrait. Has anyone, ever, had a family portrait done where it wasn’ the photographer who arranged every little thing? My memory of such events is being told “sit here. Stand there. Put your hand here. Move your leg there.”. How that provides deep insight in to the views of the people being treated like meat puppets escapes me.

But what really got to me was the orgy of how horrid the USA and President Bush in particular in response to a post about the London bombings. Not a bit of concern or dislike for the actual bombers, only for those trying to stop the bombers.

In the end, I think that what’s really going on there is that it is a large, psychological experiment (the proprietor is in fact a trained psychologist). The standard format isn’t to comment on the images themselves, but comment one one’s own point of view as projected on to the image, just like an ink blot test. It is all about the mental state of the commentors, not the images themselves or the real world. I’m sure that lots of fascinating psychological data is being generated but I think I’ll wait for the book to come out.

Building a rhetorical ark

Via Dhimmi Watch we have Daniel Pipes commenting on the probably results of the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip.

While I agree with most of Pipes’ points, that still doesn’t make a continued Jewish presence in the Gaza Strip tenable. While it’s diffciult to accept that world opinion generally accepts the desirablity of ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip, nonetheless it is right for Israel to act in its own best interests and that if means cooperatign with the ethnic cleansers, so be it.

The real question is whether the pull out from the Gaza Strip will, in fact, benefit Israel. Pipes makes a strong case that it won’t but I think he misses a point I made a few weeks ago on this subject, which is that whether this is a good move or bad move depends very strongly on how Israel responds to the inevitable rocket / mortar / infiltration attacks from Gaza. My claim is that whatever Israel discusses on this subject, now, will serve as a strong upper bound on the level of response acceptable to world opinion. While suggesting a particular response won’t necessarily make it internationally palatable, I have no doubt that that a failure to discuss it will make it unacceptable to world opinion. Yet still, I have seen nothing about what could or should be done in response to the attacks that everyone with a clue must know are going to come. Because of this, I suspect that Pipes is right, that Israel will pull out, the Palestinians will press the attack against Israel and Israel, having failed to highlight this scenario beforehand, will be unable to respond in any significant way without releasing another storm of internation condemnation. I have to say that I just don’t understand Israel psy-war strategy of letting the Palestinians in effect set the terms of the conflict on the Gaza / Israel border. Does the Sharon government beleive that, with the rising tempo of WWIV and increasing unwillingness of the West to appease the Caliphascist that Israel will be able to respond appropriately? Or is that nothing that is said is going to make a difference?

09 August 2005

Selective reality

I found this comment over at Crooked Timber to be an archetypical example of “reality-based” thinking of modern day Progressives:

This subject of rationality still fascinates me. The idea that there is a fight between rationality and irrationality for instance. In this case which position represents ‘rationality’ (inside the Middle East itself, unless of course they’re all completely deranged). The other idea linked to this raises tough questions about what is called ‘terrorism’. On the ‘irrationality’ analyses there is an equivilance between the ‘irrationality’ of the man who just murdered a number of people on a bus influenced by the ka’hanist ideology, and the irrationality of a man who blows up a bus influenced by the ideology of Hamas. Its a two tribes kind of thing with, thankfully, there being less irrationality on one side then the other.

There are several sleights of mind going on here. We have, as the two tribes, the ka’hanists and Hamas. Who, exactly, is claiming that one is less irrational than the other isn’t made clear here nor in any of the preceding comments. The trick here is the attempt to indirectly conflate the ka’hanists with Isrealis, as if they enjoyed the broad support and civil influence in Israel that Hamas does in Gaza and the West Bank. Related to this is the ellision of the universal condemnation of the bus attacker vs. the response to the suicide bomber. The viewpoint is clearly reality based, it just is very selective about which particular bits of reality are considered.

I don’t buy this really. The guy who shoots people in a bus already has a state of which he has full citizenship and if he chose to could live a life with all the benifits anyone living in a capitalist democracy can expect. The guy carrying out a suicide bombing has no state and suffers resulting diminishment of life whatever choices he makes. There is no equivilance in terms of irrationality here.

Note what’s completely missing from this analysis — any notion of the results of the actions described. The fact that the suicide bomber is acting to perpetuate that very things that (alledgedly) drive him to his actions is what makes him irrational. Why doesn’t the bomber have a state or the other benefits of liberal, capitalistic democracy? Because of violence just like his committed by his predecessors. The concept that perhaps a people upset by bad conditions should act to change those conditions rather than lashing out in a futile yet self-destructive way is apparently not even worth considering.

On the other hand, there is the refusal to follow through the view that the bomber is, in fact, being rational. If so, then one can presume he is acting in a way so as to bring about his goals. Certainly not a state in which one “could live life with all of the benefits anyone living in a capitalist democracy can expect”. The annihilation and ethnic cleansing of Israel, on the other hand, is consistent with such actions. The commentor implies the former will avoiding the obviousness of the latter. What I am left wondering is if this is deliberate and clever, a willful ignorance to rationalize a pre-conceived view, or true lack of consideration.

08 August 2005

Historical contradictions

Someone recently wrote (sorry, lost the link) that what President Bush does that most infuriates the Progressives is to “force the contradiction”, i.e. make the double think of some Progressive shibboleth obvious. Sometimes this is the internal contradictions (such being for helping the poor in the third world and while being against free trade and globalization) and sometimes it’s the difference between the Progressives public position and their internal ones (such as a public stance in favor of public education while actually being a teacher’s union front organization).

I think this is a strong contributor to the current deranged state of Progressives in the USA these days. It used to be that polite company wouldn’t call them on the use of catch phrases that papered over these contradictions. This is of course the EUlite style, where one agrees to all sorts of politically correct stances (such as the Kyoto Protocol, or EU budget deficit limits) without any intention of taking them seriously. Then along comes Bush, a dumb cowboy, who takes all of this at face value. I am beginning to suspect that this is at the root of the perception that Bush is dumb (he doesn’t get that it’s all just talk) and rude (he takes things seriously instead of in a get-along, cynical way). The high irony here is that because Bush takes politics seriously and as about something more than himself, he gets in trouble because he has less ego and more gravitas then his critics who nonetheless harp on those particular points.

For an illustrative example, consider the Kyoto Protocol. Bush looked at that and its legislative history in the USA and realized that the USA was simply not going to adhere to it. Taking that and the K.P. seriously instead of as a matter of personal public relations and ego boosting, he killed it. Yet the reaction to this was that Bush was frivilously throwing away the treaty because Bush, personally, didn’t like it.

While one should certainly give Bush a lot of credit for having the tenacity to push on these issues, to some extent he is sailing on a historical tide that’s pushing against the Progressive agdenda. As we enter the 21st century, the accumulated weight of failures for Progressive programs and politics is what creates the contradictions that Bush is forcing. Gone are the heady days of the early 20th century when people could still proclaim the promise of Progressive programs, when the failures were still theoretical and not the cold facts of history. Have we truly reached the end of history, where all of the alternatives to liberal, democratic capitalism are destoyed by their internal contradictions?

03 August 2005

Conversational volume

Dean Esmay is following the “what is wrong with profanity” thread and comes out in favor of “nothing wrong”. because it’s all about social class posturing. While that may be true to some extent, I think there are more fundamental points that lead to the use of profanity being a class marker.

One standard charge against profanity is that it marks the user as inarticulate. I think that’s a mistake, as the counter argument is to point to people who use profanity and are articulate. The more correct formulation is that their speech is inarticulate. With particular regard to Esmay’s praise of the flexibility of one bit of profanity, if a word can mean anything it means nothing and isn’t meaning nothing the very definition of inarticulate?

But I think the primary object to profanity is more asthetic than that. To me it’s primarily a matter of conversational volume. One frequently sees objections to people who type ALL IN CAPS or use bold all the time or repeat endlessly certain stock phrases. Profanity is effectively all of these things rolled in to one. Profanity is a very psychologically loud conversational spice, which can be useful if used appropriately and sparingly. But if used frequently, it’s the same as running at volume 10 all the time. Who finds it pleasant to be on the receiving end of that? I think it’s also indicative of laziness and ill-consideration for others in the conversation, like throwing more hot sauce on a dish instead of preparing it properly, which is what is interpreted as inarticulateness.

One of Esmay’s commentors points out that most profanity is based on basic, everyday activities. That is, of course, completely irrelevant. All language is pure convention and by convention those particular words are psychologically loud. If the set of words were different or had no relation to normal human activities, we’d still be arguing about them. Unless one is making the argument that there should be no such loud words at all, which seems to me to be rather dull. One can see something of this by considering where does someone who uses profanity heavily go to express true outrage or anger? They’re already at volume 10 so they need to turn it up to 11. Since that’s not possible the result is a reptiive stream of profanity where word count substitutes for good word choice (which contributes to the perception of inarticulateness). Deracinating profanity would be the same as requiring all music to be played at the same moderate volume. Frequently use of profanity does just that, except that then everything is at the maximum volume all the time. In either case something important is lost.

In contrast, what is lost by using profanity rarely? If your only thoughts are ones that require maximum volume to express then I’d rather not listen to you. Like poetry, linguistic constraints don’t restrict creativity, they enhance it and highlight it. I have no more respect for people who use profanity instead of a good turn of phrase than I do for people who slap words on a page and call it a poem. “What do I need structure for?”, they say. Well, you don’t but your audience might appreciate it. If you don’t care what your audience thinks than I don’t care to be your audience.