27 November 2005

Moving time

Apparently there is some lamentation about the state of chess playing in the USA.

But Nakamura - who at 15 became the youngest American grandmaster, breaking Bobby Fischer’s record - says that he might give up pro chess because there is so little money in it. Losing Nakamura would be devastating for American chess.

OK, so American chess is devastated and then … what? I understand how afficinados might find this a sad day, but I suspect that society in the USA will continue to operate pretty much as it has.

The key point seems to be that chess is intellectually stimulating and this would be lost. Oddly, the other sport chosen for comparison is poker, which while it has some intellectual aspects, is usually more about psychology than probability. Yet the real problem isn’t that poker is over shadowing chess but that in our technological society, there are an enormously wider variety of choices for intellectual activity than hundreds of years ago. In those days, one could argue that chess was in fact an important source of intellectual effort with a paucity of other choices. But that no longer holds. I, personally, might have gotten in to chess if I hadn’t been exposed to computers. A hundred years ago, intellectual activities that required a lot of infrastructure (such as computer programming) were, of course, restricted to the wealthy. Chess sets could be constructed easily from crude materials and so provided a stimulating past time for the less fortunate. But now, resources beyond the dreams of kings of old are available to all of the middle class and much of the lower economic classes as well. This means that chess is but one choice from an enormous variety of activities, even if one considers only intellectually stimulating ones.

Moreover, one might argue that activities that are more cooperative than competitive might better suit the times. War and military conflict, which is what chess is a simulation of, are no longer profitable. Cooperative pursuits are where the real money is these days. Perhaps it’s time to regulate the exclusive winning paradigm to physical sports.

I have nothing against chess per se, and it would be fine with me if people kept playing. But to consider its descent to obscurity seems just a tad overwrought.

Parallel communities

I was watching people use cell phones on my trip back from California, because it’s such a hot topic over at the Brothers Judd. It’s still amazing to me how different things are in that regard from ten or twenty years ago, when arranging to meet someone at an airport was fraught with scheduling issues with the attendant detailed planning. Now, people are far more adaptive because the costs of being that are less than trying to pre-organize things in detail.

For me, it meant not standing out in the Chicago wind with just a light jacket on while waiting for She Who Is Perfect In All Ways to find me outside the baggage claim. Rather than looking, I just called and asked her where she was stuck in traffic and then jogged down to meet her. So much nicer.

It does seem to me, though, that cell phones are one more technology that is re-enabling the modern equivalent of village life. While there are those who complain about the atomizing effect of cell phones, I think they re-enforce locality. With cell phones, your “village” is always there with you. Especially with the de facto elimination of long distance charges in North America, physical distance becomes almost irrelevant. So we can glide along in our parallel universes of community, interacting with a consistent set of people even as we travel vast distances. I suspect that this is in fact a reaction against the type of atomization that modern society tends to produce, that people use cell phones to stay in their village in no small part as a buffer against it.

The difference between "necessary" and "sufficient"

NPR was on again this morning and the story I partially overheard was about female movie directors in Hollywood. What struck me was on of them saying that “women have to get it right the first time. Men get second, third, fourth chances”. Well, some men do, no doubt. But hardly all of them. All fields of endeavor, even male dominated ones, are littered with failed hopes and dreams of countless men for each successful one. I suppose it’s wrong of me to expect anything other than facile analysis from Hollywood types, but if you don’t get basics like this right, you are unlikely to have a good grasp of the actual problem (not to mention that you’re also unlikely to engender much sympathy from the far greater number of men who’ve been discarded also).

16 November 2005

He who has the gold makes the rules

Apparently the set of nations hoping to get the USA to enforce their preferred internet content restrictions have decided to save face rather than impact an unmovable object. It is strongly to President Bush’s credit that the USA took such a firm stand against letting oppressive governments decide what was “legal” content for the internet.

Of course, the point was always to control content elsewhere for those countries, such as China. There is absolutely nothing stopping China from dropping off the American controlled internet. The only reason servers in China ask the root servers in America about addresses is because the servers in China have been configured to do so. That configuration is trivial to change any time the ChiComs want to do so. Yet that doesn’t happen, because even now the economic impact on China would be immense (among other things, what Western companies are going to invest in a nation that doesn’t have internet access back to the West?).

The standard complaint about the current situation is American hegemony. But if one looks at, say, the UK, the USA says “here’s the top level domain ‘.uk’. Do whatever you like under that.”. It’s hard to see how much more control the UK would really want.

From this we can see that the only purpose of the UN conference would be to be able to apply Chinese restrictions on content to servers in the USA. Yet that never really worried me, because even the most craven of our elected officials would not want to be on the receiving end of complaints about why Joe Citizen needs the permission of the UN to set up a website about his favorite hunting dog. Moreover, the USA can simply ignore the UN as I noted above China could do. And other nations, when faced with the prospect of hooking up to the American internet or the UN one, will make the right choice.

Traveling man

I am once again in California, hacking away at my former employer’s as a contractor (yes indeed, shutting down the office that contained all of the technical expertise on a mission critical product was a wonderful cost saving measure!). Because of this, posting may be less or more than normal, whatever normal is. One thing I did notice, though, is the really large amount of trash caught in the weeds along the road. It just looks sloppy to me.

There's really only one source of tax revenue

I see all these stories about gas prices dropping rapidly (and I’ve seen it mysefl as well). One is left wondering whether this is simply a result of additional supply and / or reduced demand, or whether it has been helped along by the extortionist threat of “windfall profits” taxes.

Of course, the Big LIe of “windfall profit taxes” is that it’s not a tax on the oil companies, but a tax on drivers. Where, really, would all the money that would have been siezed by the federal government come from, except the wallets of people buying gasoline? Congress critters who are claiming such a tax would take hit the Evil Oil Cartel are either lieing or stupid (or both, more likely).

11 November 2005

Storing up the credit for the next guy

One of a series of posts at the Brothers Judd on the USA economy notes that the real economy is doing well, despite the gloom and doom from Old Media and the MAL. The particular issue in that post is why there is such a divergence between the rhetorical economy and the real one. My theory is that this is typical for politics in this country and it means that the Democratic Party is going to recapture the White House in 2008. Why? Because that’s about when it will become undeniable even to Old Media that the economy has recovered and strengthened and as usual someone from the party that de facto opposes a robust economy (preferring something along the lines of the French model) will arrive to take credit. That’s just the way it goes.

10 November 2005

And then the pigs flew by...

Last night Radio Nation was on and I was trying to not pay attention, but I did hear part of the interview with Richard Stratton (listen) about his book Altered States of America: Outlaws and Icons, Hitmakers and Hitmen. I can’t say much about the book, but during the interview he expressed amazement over the media coverage of Abu Ghraib. In Stratton’s view (one I concur with), worse happens on a regular basis in American prisons without any Old Media circus. He also stated that Abu Ghraib was a result of how America runs its prisons (i.e., the guards just did there what they would have done here), rather than some evil neo-con or military plot. Marc Cooper, the interviewer, didn’t disagree. Wow.

04 November 2005

Looks the same to me

I normally enjoy Best of the Web but today’s snipe at Andrew Sullivan is the kind of bogus analogy I find grating no matter who does it.

The basic claim is that former FEMA directory Michael Brown wrote some inappropriate e-mail during the hurricane Katrina crisis and Sullivan mocked him for it. BotW then mocks Sullivan for typical Sullivan posts during the same time period and then notes that while Brown was fired, Sullivan is still blogging.

What’s wrong with this picture? The difference between someone who’s job it was to deal with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and some blogger. To treat this situations as equivalent in terms of responsible behavior is silly at best. Rather than BotW’s observation, one might note than neither person is now in charge of FEMA, and both can blog as much as they want. So what exactly is the differential treatment BotW is whining about?

03 November 2005

Peace or war, the checks must go through

As I read more stories about the rioting in France and Denmark, one thought occurs to me: how long can this go on before either country stops sending in welfare checks? And if those stop, will the UN step in to provide “humanitarian” assistance to the “insurgents”?

02 November 2005

No introspection on the Left

Via Brothers Judd is this news story on the rioting in Paris, now in its seventh day. One of the things that lept out at me was this bit:

The current clashes have profited one group however: The far-right, anti-immigration National Front party. Appealing to the same populist fears of ethnic violence, the Front’s leader Jean-Marie Le Pen placed second in the 2002 elections.

Some experts such as Jacqueline Costa Lascoux speculate the Front’s law-and-order platform may go down even better in the next election.

“You’ll notice that the extreme right is saying nothing, is doing nothing right now,” said Costa-Lascoux, who heads the Observatory on Immigration and Integration, an independent body based in Paris. “They don’t have to do anything but wait.”

I think Le Pen’s a nutcase, but one is still left wondering at the obtuseness of people like Costa-Lascoux and others of Le Pen’s political and ideological opponents. Wouldn’t a normal, aware person, when observing that reality is breaking his opponents way so strongly the opponent need to do nothing to benefit from it, at least have the fleeting thought that perhaps there was something to that opponent’s ideology? And perhaps something wrong with one’s own?

One of the few places where something is whatever the locals say it is

I was reading some rant about with a bit more investigation it would be shown how the invasion of Iraq was “illegal” and how this could form the basis for an impeachment of President Bush and immediately was struck by the thought of how overly legalistic and ignorant of the American system of government the writer was. Of course that would be grounds for impeachment. Anything is grounds for impeachment if the House of Representatives says it is. Impeachment is fundamentally a political, not legal, action. It’s a mark of respect for the law that it is couched in legal terms, but that’s not ultimately what determines the legitimacy of it. Of course, this confusion isn’t surprising since it extends to the concept of the invasion of Iraq as “illegal”. This is almost always based on “international law” of some sort but of course that’s completely irrelevant. What makes war by the USA “legal” is the approval of Congress and the President. All else, including any rationals, arguments, debates, or opinions of foreign governments or agencies is completely and utterly irrelevant. There is a weak argument about treaties, but it is Congress (Senate) and the President that approve treaties and the same who can break them, so if a declaration of war is passed (as it was for the invasion of Iraq) then that obviates any treaty restraints. This is obviously a fact that greatly distresses the transnationalists which simply encourages me to point it out as often as possible.

01 November 2005

Loyal criticism

Random Jottings writes, with regard to the Harriet Miers nomination,

Loyalty to the Republican Party is very important. As William Rusher said, it is the bottle that holds the conservative wine. Neither the bottle nor the wine is much use without the other.

I agree. But I don’t think loyalty to the party is the highest virtue, just like loyalty to the Catholic Church or the Pope isn’t the highest virtue for a Catholic. If conservatism isn’t about principles transcending the actors who happen to strut about the stage in this act, it’s not really about much at all. Moreover, one of the key advantages the Right holds over the Left these days is the ability to criticize the party line and party leaders, rather than following in rigid conformity to whatever spin is today’s effort. I simply can’t go along with “It’s for the best, if the President says so” as a basic Republican or conservative principle.

That said, of course one must strive (as in all things) to achieve a balance of support and criticism. Although I thougt Miers was a bad choice for the SCOTUS, I didn’t think she was so bad it was a threat to the Republic. There was little I actively disliked about her, but in these times of Republican ascendancy and for an office as influential as the SCOTUS, “not bad” is damning with faint praise. As the Alito nomination shows, President Bush did have other, better choices, and it was this that was at the heart of the valid criticism, rather than some flaw in Miers herself.

That said, I have to agree that the effort put forth in favor of Alito, who looks to be everything the anti-Miers factions said they wanted instead of Miers, will be a good measure of how principled that opposition was.

Majority means and ends

In the aftermath of the Harriet Miers nomination, I have to say that I find the argument that opposition to her on the part of conservatives was because that faction can’t get over being a minority party to be bizarre. I think exactly the opposite, that the nomination of someone like Miers, a cypher who can be protectively colored as the situation warrants, is the mark of minority party thinking. Certainly the Democratic Party never had to do that sort of thing when it controlled the Presidency and both Houses of Congress. I would argue that a majority party should be unapologetic about its ideology and push the appointment of people who openly agree with that ideology. That doesn’t mean nominating only fanatics, but certainly nominating people who can plausibly deny their basic viewpoint isn’t the mark of a party that is running the government.

I would go even furtherr than this and state that at the current time, it is the MAL and its front organizations (like the Democratic Party) that dare not speak openly of their ideology, while that of the conservatives is reasonably congruent with the American Street. The Republican Party and President Bush should be straightforwardly advancing conservativism, not trying to hide it. I would agree that Bush is, in fact, doing this in other areas. Why he felt the need to go with someone like Miers is baffling and no small part of the reason there was such opposition to her.

UPDATE: I’d like to dispose of one of the pro-Miers arguments that a first rate legal mind is of secondary importance because law clerks do most of the writing on the opinions. While the latter is true, I don’t find the overall argument persuasive. Like actors in a badly written movie, there are limits to how much law clerks can do with a badly started opinion. No amount of clever word smithing can save a badly flawed premise.

This matters because a related argument to this was that those whining about Miers just wanted a denounement in the Senate during the confirmation. Certainly that would be a delicious come-uppance, but it is really a side show. One of the primary goals and means of judicial conservatism must be to “show up” the highly dubious and incoherent legal reasoning that informed so much of liberal judicial activism. It’s not enough to just say “it reeks”, because that leaves little basis to distinguish the conservative effort to modify the current legal environment from the liberal effort that went before. It is also necessary to provide clear, well reasoned legal arguments to contrast with the shoddy work of past and present liberal judges. If conservatives are truly right, then this should be possible. This is the real reason to push for a nominee with ability to set the stage for his clearks to write those kinds of opinions.