30 January 2006


Instapundit comments on an error in a column in the Economist magazine, where the columnists writes

The rumor-mongers interpret Mr. Cheney’s recent ubiquity as more proof that he is desperately trying to save his job.

There’s no shame in a Brit not knowing that President Bush can’t fire Cheney, but there is in not knowing while writing columns about American politics.

But this got me to thinking about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her political prospects. There are many who think that Cheney is going to be pushed out of his office, not because of his own performance but because Bush will want to groom someone else as a successor and the VP’s office is fine place to do that. Rice boosters naturally think Cheney should be replaced with Rice.

That is no longer so clear to me. Presuming that Rice wants to push for President, it might not be for the best for her to finish out Cheney’s term. The bottom line is that Rice has never been elected to office and that’s no small handicap. Being the VP is a good way to overcome that if one is elected to that position. Rice might well serve herself better by running as the VP of the next Repubican candidate. The Republican Party tends to be more hierarchial and Rice may need to pay some dues in a real election before she’s considered.

Just another tech addict

I sent one of my D70 bodies in for service again (I finally got hit by the green blinking light of death). That makes 4 repairs on 2 bodies in roughly 20 months. Not exactly the best reliability record.

When it works, though, it’s a wonderful camera. I passed 10,000 images on one body last month (I’m up to about 6,000 on the other). I doubt I took even 500 pictures in my entire life on film, despite having own several film cameras. On the other hand, I am bad at taking pictures and need all of the automation modern electronics provide in order to get good results.

29 January 2006

Ordering back the tide

Over the last couple of weeks I have been running a live fire exercise for some of my anti weblog spam software. This is a “new and improved” version of my auto banning plugin. This version uses the Movable Type 3.2 junk feature to track the set of addresses to ban. It is configured with a count such that when an address is in the junk list that many times, it gets banned via an .htaccess file.

It took two weeks and 4934 addresses before the spam stream slowed to a trickle. It actually slowed down a couple of days ago, but I had set the junk expiration date low enough that junked objects were getting culled (which also removes those addresses from the ban list). The expire date was 30 days, so apparently even after 30 days of continual “access denied”, the spam bots keep on pounding.

The important result is that I now have a rough bound for the number of addresses required to reduce spam attacks to a tolerable level and it is small enough that maintenance is not a performance bottleneck. Now I just need to package it up so normal mortals can use it.

28 January 2006

Baby, baby it's a wired world

Instapundit comments on finding a book about blogging and how that indicates a certain level of mainstreaming. I had noticed that blogging was going mainstream last week when I saw an advertisement on the side of a bus with the primary text reading just “blogging delivered”. It was an adverterisement for an internet service provider, who apparently thinks that providing weblog support for customers is the big draw. Sigh. I do so hate to be part of a trend.

25 January 2006

It's all about the Benjamins

I wrote a little while ago about how the Republican Party had an advantage because it was more willing to replace its leadership. It ocurred to me today that this may be because the Republican Party still has a core set of principles, however unhonored in the breach they may be. This provides a standard against which to judge the leadership and justify the removal of the non-performers.

The Democratic Party, on the other, has lots its core principles to a changing world, those having become either outdated (e.g. civil rights) or proven wrong (e.g., welfare state). That leaves only money and power as the keys to the leadership and naturally long timers will have a massive advantage on those points. Is the ossification of the Democratic Party leadership simply a side effect of their loss of ideology?

One also notes that the only serious challenge to the leadership is the hard left Internet faction and that their challenge is not based on a superior ideology but purely on the ability to organize and raise money. It shows that in the long run, it is ideas that have consequences.

20 January 2006

Bringing out the truth always hurts the liars

John Hawkins at Right Wing News still doesn’t get it concerning the incipient Palestinian state.

His post cites an article about a public relations effort by Hamas to not appear like a blood thirsty, jew hating gang of mass murdering thugs. (Good luck with that!). Two key quotes:

the majority of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian government support terrorism against Israel. However, people who support the Palestinians have, up until this point, been engaging in a bit of polite fiction and pretending that this isn’t the case.


Moreover, after Hamas becomes part of the government, wouldn’t that mean that if the Palestinians got a state, it would officially be a terrorist state? How can anyone expect Israel to make peace with a government that includes large numbers of people who’re part of a group that are openly calling for genocide and the destruction of their nation?

Well, exactly! That’s the point.

What is the situation now? The chatterati argument is that Israel is expected to “play nice” because it is an occupying power. Once there is a Palestinian state, that will no longer be true, will it? Instead there will be an openly repressive, mostly theocratic terrorist state. When Israel lays down some smackie, it will be war between two states. The most morbidly funny part will be that it will be the losing side (Palestine) whose leaders will insist on the existence of a state of war. Israeli supporters in the USA will be able to use the “terrorist state” argument against the PA / PLO / Hamas / etc. in way that is not currently possible. The Palestinian cause will be greatly weakened when Palestine is a state.

Moreover, Israel is moving ahead with setting the border where Israel wants it. Once the Palestinian state is created with those borders it will become enormously harder to move them later. The facts on the ground will be established in Israel’s favor instead of being a dangling issue to use as a whip against Israel. The closure of any issue works against the grievance lords of Palestine.

And of course, don’t trust me on this — just observe how much effort the PLO and Hamas are putting in to derailing the path to a Palestinian state.

Hoisting a petard

In the run up to possible military action against Iran, the White House should create a set of advertisements supporting military action using quotes from leaders of the Democratic Party. There are plenty of those around. Rather than waiting till after the fact to show this, it seems that it would be far better to start with that before hand. Let the Democratic Partiers spend their time arguing against taking action by repudiating their own statements. It will make the after the fact carping trivial to dismiss.

The savings of sin

I went to a technical talk by the CTO of RiverGlass, a local start up company. While there I ran in to some former co-workers who had migrated over to that company and we got to talking about the tech industry (imagine that!).

The talk itself was about “context” and how context-aware applications were going to be the next big thing in information technology. By “context” the speaker meant everything from “who you are” to “where you are” and “what have you been doing?”. It tied in to something I’ve thought about for years, enhanced reality where rather than living in a virtual world, one lives in the real world with additional layers of virtual data layered on top, basically a heads up display for normal life.

Anyway, we shifted to the topic of the music industry and its imminent demise. We agreed that the root of the problem is that the current system generates so much money that the companies just can’t let go, like a sailor who sinks to the bottom of the sea because he won’t drop a bag of gold.

That got me to thinking — what if that behavior wasn’t so irrational? Could it be that the profits from just a few more years of the current system would have a larger forward-discounted value than switching over earlier? The choice would be, convert to the new system with much lower intermediary profits now or play legal games to delay the conversion as long as possible. If the profit difference were large enough, the latter plan could actually be more profitable long term, if the ROI of the additional profits was larger than the profits under the new system.

Let’s say that Sony makes roughly $5B / year profit from the current music industry model (the accounting is so irregular that it’s hard to be precise). I think it’s not unreasonable to figure that Sony would make 10% or so of the same profits under the new, emerging model, or $500M / year. That’s $4500M for every year Sony prevents the emergence of the new model. At say a 5% yield, that’s $225M / year in ROI. So just three year delay would mean Sony would profit more from the re-invested profits of the old model than it would from converting even if Sony is completely cut out of the emerging market. One is left wondering if Sony, normally a smart company, has done a similar calculation and decided to be dragged kicking and screaming in to the new model as a result.

17 January 2006

But all my syncophants promised it would work!

This post about the Iranian / Venezuelan axis brought up the parallel with Cuba and the USSR, to wit the stationing of nuclear armed missiles in a proxy with the range to reach the USA. That in turn got me to thinking about the level of competence required to build a working nuclear missile, i.e. one that launches, gets to the target and then detonates. The theory is simple but the details are very nasty. It takes a very high level of technical skill to build such things, skills that might well be beyond the ability of the mullahocracy. And wouldn’t it just be about the worst thing in the world to launch a failed nuclear attack on the USA? Saddam Hussein already proved how bad it was to just have fictional nuclear weapons, perhaps Chavez will be the poster boy for how stupid it is to brandish duds.


The comments on this post lead to the question of the difference between groups that would want nuclear armed missiles vs. groups who would want a nuclear bomb in a truck. For groups like the mullahocracy or the Chavez crew, the truck bomb isn’t useful. Like the doomsday bomb in Dr. Strangelove, the purpose of nuclear weapons for these groups is not the use but the deterrence. Such weapons are useful if they are not “obvious” in some sense. Despite the apparent superiority of the nuclear truck bomb as a weapon, no one has built one, have they? Any discussion on this topic needs to explain that outcome.

My theory is that the people who can afford to acquire nuclear weapons (which, as we’ve noted, are expensive because they are difficult to build correctly) are more interested in the possession of such weapons far more than the use. Nuclear missiles, in this regard, are the “ultimate weapon” in terms of the psychological impact both domestic and foreign.

On the other hand, groups like Al Qaeda would probably prefer the nuclear truck bomb. The question is, will nuclear devices become cheap enough that even small NGOs like Al Qaeda can acquire, transport and operate them. I suspect, though, that biological / nanotech weapons are more likely to be the top threat in this century. If some NGO does manage to use a nuclear weapon, then the American Street is not going to blink at whatever mass destruction is used by the USA to shut off the supply systems for nuclear weapons. This will be feasible precisely becaue of the large scale technical sophistication to build a nuclear device. Bio/nano tech will require much smaller setups that have far more civilian applications. This makes choking off the root supply impossible. Fortunately, it seems likely that at least moderately effective defenses against such attacks can be constructed. But like the current computer virus wars, I suspect that there will be much grief and destruction before this occurs.

15 January 2006

No takebacks.

This post brings up the issue of DNA testing and how it recently demonstrated that a executed prisoner was in fact guilty despite his protestations of innoncence.

Orrin Judd asks in the comments “wouldn’t most conservatives support a standard requiring some forensic evidence for death penalty cases?”. Yes, I can see that. Conservatives need to treat the death penalty the way the MAL claims it wants to treat abortion, legal but rare. I support creating the legal right for a defendent to demand DNA testing but with the proviso that if such testing is requested, the results will be entered in the trial evidence. No asking for testing and then changing one’s mind when the test comes back “guilty!” as is case more often than not.

Don't let the Sunni go down on me

This post at the Brothers Judd quotes a NY Times article about the Senate hearings for USSC nominee Sam Alito. The essence is that the Democratic Party can’t understand why they can’t portray someone opposed to their ideology as out of the mainstream. The Democratic Party stalwarts naturally blame this on the massive and deceitful propaganda of the Bush Regime along with Republican control of all of the media in the USA. People in the real world, however, note that Alito (and Roberts before him) are closer to the mainstream than the modern Democratic Party.

As always, two thoughts occur. The first is the resemblance between the Sunni in Iraq and the Democratic Party in the USA. Both are living on the illusion that they represent the majority when in fact they have been left behind by the tides of history.

The other is that, as incomprehensible as this failure to recognize plain facts is, it’s understandable. To accept this reality is to give up a one’s entire world view. It takes a lot of strength of character to do that and such strength has not been a notable characteristic of either group.

Senatorial re-runs

This is a funny post which demonstrates with hard numbers that Senator Joe Biden is, in fact, the biggest gasbag on the Senate Judiciary Committee, although he’s got some strong competition.

I have to agree that clearly the purpose of the hearings are to generate free media coverage for the Senators. If the goal were to determine the fitness of the nominee, that would be far better done in a non-public, informal setting, more like the way one would conduct a job interview. Imagine trying to determine whether a prospective employee was a good choice if you had to interview him in front of the rest of the company. But of course, not only have the Senators made their decisions long before the hearings, but doing it the right way would be doing work instead of hamming for the cameras.

One reform, which would have at least a slight chance of adoption, would be for the Senators to submit their questions in writing before hand and let the nominee have the entire half hour to respond. Then we, the public, would have the chance to see the nominee in action instead of re-runs of “The Thirty Years Gas”.

12 January 2006

End of the volume

Via “Brothers Judd”:http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/2006/01/how_many_divisi_1.html, we have this lovely quote from the NY Times

If threatened, Iran could wreak havoc in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

Two thoughts leap in to mind at this, beyond the obvious “does no one at the NY Times have a clue?”.

First is, isn’t Iran already doing this? As far as I can tell, the mullahocracy is already exerting every effort to wreak havoc in those locations. What more could they do that wouldn’t be counter productive (e.g., politically justify air strikes on Iranian military assets)? Are the writers at the Times really that unaware of what’s going on in the world?

The other thought is, this is what happens when you have no restraint. You rapidly reach a point at which further threats are meaningless because you’ve already cranked your volume to 11. The Palestinians have been there for years and now Iran is as well. If only the West had the intelligence and backbone to deal with them on that basis.

Table pounding time

I can’t believe it. The Chicago Tribune has a front page, above the fold story on what various Presidents have done during war time. Interesting, the big picture set up makes President Bush’s activities seem petty (e.g., compared to the internment of citizens of Japanese descent). The story, however, makes up for it by asserting without evidence that “President Bush is claiming war powers like few before him”. It’s really a hilarious statement coming in the third paragraph, after the list in the second paragraph of what previous Presidents have done. The complaint about indenfinite internment being “unprecedented in our lifetime” is also laughable — just what do these “critics” think FDR’s internment camps did? Last I checked, many people who were alive during WWII are still alive today, a fact which I admit may have escaped the thorough investigation that proceeded that pronouncement.

Still, it does seem a good sign that Old Media is being forced to acknowledge just how precedented Bush’s actions are.

11 January 2006

Getting what you ask for, good and hard

There’s been much uproar about the Florida Supreme Court striking down vouchers in the state. With out a doubt, this is a serious blow to those poor and black (and most especially to those who are both).

Yet, could the FSC have decided the case differently? Obviously people who care about the children would prefer a differnent outcome, but it seems apropos that this is an attack currently being used against USSC nominee Sam Alito, that he decides case based on law instead of (desired) result. While I agree that the FSC decision isn’t so cut and dried as to be unassailable, but the objections I have seen are all about the bad results of the decision, not bad law. Unlike the FSC’s bogus decision in the 2000 US Presidential election, this seems well grounded in explicit state law (as opposed to the other decision which expressly violated state law).

This is a classic example of how “feel-good” law ends up yielding “feel bad” results when idealistic language meets harsh reality. The uniformity requirement is, of course, the essence of socialism and we’ve seen how well that works in the real world. If the people of Florida find this decision unacceptable, it seems to me that they should repeal the requirement in the state constitution that lead to it. To whine that the FSC saving the state from the voters is just that, whining. Conservatives should be using this as a teaching example instead of trying to get the FSC to perform yet another cover up of bad policy.

08 January 2006

Higher voltage than Social Security

I ended up spending way too much time reading the comments to this post about how the MAL now defines “lie” as “something that fooled me” rather than “a statement the speaker knows to be false”. It’s interesting in itself, but it did attract a couple of the talking point ranters I mentioned in an earlier post.

Among the standard tropes, no matter how dubious, is the “we invaded Iraq to secure reliable access to cheap oil for big business”. I just laughed out loud at that one. Even supposing that claim was true, it presumes that cheap oil is of no benefit or concern to the citizenry. Yes, clearly you’d never see widespread anger or unrest if, say, lack of reliable access to cheap oil caused gasoline prices to increase rapidly. No, no, only Big Business cares about such things. Just how bad a case of Reality Dysfunction do you need to spout such nonsense? Of course, as with other cargo cults, the claim is not meant to be examined or pondered, simply used as a magical incantation. Yet another sign of the hollowing out of other ideologies at the End of History.

07 January 2006

Because their bench is deep

This post at Transterrestrial Musings about yet another stupid thing Senator Ted Kennedy said brought to mind the question, “why is this guy still a top leader of the MAL? But it seems to me that perhaps he is still a leader because he can’t be replaced.

Back in the 30s and 40s, there were many leaders of the MAL who were in fact quite intelligent, good rhetoriticians and strong debaters. But the collapse of the MAL ideology has all but destroyed its ability to recruit that type of person any more. All that’s left is a generation of parrotting ranters, who know the phrase but none of the meaning, who (unlke their predecessors) must be almost completely disconnected from reality in order to stay with the program. There isn’t a new generation coming along to replace the old, as there is on the conservative side. Even old, worn out, second and third raters like Kennedy are still dominating that faction. Who would replace him, Markos Zuniga? Say what you want about Kennedy, at least he’s won some elections, where as Kos is 0 for 13.

Some note that a strength of the Republican Party is its willingness to dispose of leaders who are no longer useful. I think that it’s more that it is only the Republicans who can dispose of their leaders.

06 January 2006

Technological advances aren't always bad

I got a Cantenna as a Christmas present for She Who Is Perfect In All Ways. Before I get angry comments, I should note that this was specifically mentioned as a possible present. SWIPIAW was interested in trying it out for war-driving as part of her network security teaching / research. However, what she discovered is that such things are harder than they used to be because of technological advances. In particular, laptop network cards no longer have external attennas. These are now built in to the cards. That makes upgrading the attenna for greater range (definitely a feature for the war driver) somewhat more difficult.

Not a big thing, but somewhat amusing. It does look there are still a few 802.11 cards with external antenna jacks, but they’re no longer something you can pick up at your standard computer retail store.

The Online Coffee House

I was reading about the latest kerfluffle about the bias and shoddy reporting at the LA Times when I saw a comment concerning the resemblance between weblogs and the coffee houses prevalent in the earlier Industrial Revolution. This is a common comparison, but one I now understand more deeply.

In any such discussion, it’s importnat to keep Sturgeon’s Revalation‘s_law in mind, which is that 90% of anything is crud. So it is with weblogs and far more than 90% are sterile1, irrelevant or stupid. The goods ones, though, more than make up for the rest in terms of providing a net contribution to society. In the new model coffee house context, this means weblogs where not only is the basic content good but the commentors and their contributions as well, because the canonical coffee house had plenty of strong discussion in addition to reading material, speakers and other “broadcast” information sources.

THe thing that’s become clearer to me is the source for remarks about how fast information could propagate. I see this happening on the good weblogs as well. If there is a good set of regulars, then if just one has hot news that’s relevant, he shares it with the others via one of his comments. Because few people (particuarly good regulars) rarely contribute at just one weblog, the news leaps tacks back and forth from comment to person and back, spreading rapidly across the blogosphere.

There are (at least) two big implications from this. One is that the supposed “isolationism” of reading a select group of weblogs is not as big a problem as is frequently supposed. Information still propagates at a good clip, unless the weblog community is strongly resistant to outside information (as I’ve encountered myself)2. I’ve noticed that if I get busy and cut back on my weblog reading, I don’t get much less awareness of the state of the world, just less detail. The bottom line is that only those who try to be cocooned will be and there’s not much you can do about such people anyway.

The other big implication is scaling issues. As Raoul Ortega observered, weblogs where the number of comments on posts regularly hits triple digits just don’t communicate as effectively as weblogs where most post gets comments but only a few generate that kind of response. This suggests another manifestation of Dunbar’s limit where a coffee house weblog can sustain a limited number of active participants. Beyond that the cohesion necessary for proper discussion is lost and the weblog degenerates in to the equivalent of shouting. One notes that this may well be why coffee houses in particular (as opposed to many of the other types of social locations) became the archetype. The semi-transient nature of the pariticipants along with a strong limit on the number of people who could be present at a time may have been a natural fit for the various constraints.

This point may be of some hope for aspiring writers such as myself, because if true it makes the “winner take all” model impossible. If there is a large online community, then there will have to be a large number of active weblogs to serve the communities. This doesn’t rule out the equivalent of broadsheets such as Instapundit, but as noted these don’t have a sense of community the way, say, the Brothers Judd does. Instapundit is far more akin to the pamphleteers, which are useful in their own way, but can’t substitute for a community.

Overall, I think this turn back towards a more human scale set of interlocking communities is one of the things that makes me more hopeful.

1 Like this weblog, which doesn’t have enough commentors or readers to form a community.

2 What’s the difference between an open community beset by trolls and an isolationist one? In my biased opinion, is whether the interloper is rebuffed with facts or invective.

03 January 2006

The quality of his enemies

What I continue to find amazing is the ability of those who oppose President Bush to never examine the qualities of those this causes them to side with. Brutal, sadistic, lieing savages like Saddam Hussein, the Syrian Ba’ath, Fidel Castro, Hamas, Caliphascists of various forms, etc. A normal person might well begin to wonder if the qualities of Bush’s enemies might indicate something about quality of his policies. But that never seems to happen. Instead a wall of denial is thrown up, including claims such as “slandering Bashir Assad” with regard to Syrian activities in Lebanon, or that the USA armed the Iraqi Ba’ath, or funded Al Qaeda. This is not to say that no one of good moral stature opposes Bush, but I do think it is quite telling that the public face, the exemplars of such opposition are so uniformly degenerate.

And there’s not even some even more degenerate enemy to contrast with such thugs. It’s certainly the case that during the Cold War, the Conservatives / Right supported some nasty people. Perhaps my memory is faulty but I don’t remember the open embrace of such types that we see of scum such as Castro, but more of an acceptance of an unpleasant necessity. Moreover, the alternative enemy was the USSR and the ChiComs, regimes responsible for the greatest mass murders in history. In contrast, the alternative enemy for the opponents of Bush are people like the democracy babes in Lebanon. Is that the kind of alternate that justifies the support of the terror bombers in Iraq? What is the even worse horror that requires siding with such savages, somewhat greater income inequality in the USA? More poverty reducing welfare reform? Globalization? European levels of state security powers?

One is left pondering Chile and Cuba. The brutal dictator supported by the Right left Chile as one of the stablest and richest countries in Latin America, one that has a healthy present and a bright future. The brutal dictator supported by the Left remains in power, oppressing a country that’s changed from one of the wealthiest in Latin America to a desparately poor pesthole that survives by selling the labor and bodies on the inmates to morally preening Westerners whose vacations are subsidized by the sweat and suffering of the Cuban people. Could anyone except such a tourist honestly wish Cuba’s fate on another nation instead of Chile’s?