28 February 2006

Outsourcing, Middle East Style

The discussion at this post got me to thinking.

If external funding for the Palestinian Authority become significantly less because of the refusal of Hamas to honor existing obligations of the PA, then it’s likely to create chaos in Gaza and the West Bank (although one wag asked, “how would we know?”). The question is, would such chaos be dangerous to Israel, dangerous enough for Israel to fund Hamas rather than reap the whirlwind?

I tend to agree with the claim that the security wall makes the situation very different than it has been before. In addition, Israel has been cutting back on how many Palestinians work in Israel making a complete cut off far less economically damaging. The scenario in which Israel simply closes the border while the Palestinians massacre each other seems quite plausible.

The counter claim was the the borders elsewhere were not sealable. But that’s irrelevant, since the other Arab nations are not going to let the Palestinians in their territory. In fact (and this was my thought), is that perhaps the Israeli plan? The fact is that Egypt, Jordan, the Saudi Entity, et. all., could massacre Palestinians at the border and bulldoze the bodies in to the sea without any political cost. Who would care? Could the Israelis have been smart enough to see that through when they started the wall? Of course, any such massacre would be blamed on the Israelis, somehow, but that seems to be wearing thin as well. Far more likely such events would be dropped down the memory hole, lest it make the Israelis not seem like monsters in comparison.

25 February 2006

Some things are intrinsically cool

This is cool display technology. Commonly referred to as “SED”. It’s the digital version of cathode ray tube technology. Basically, instead of having a single electron gun for the screen phosphors, this technology has an emitter for every phosphor. This enables it to be very flat compared to a normal CRT.

That’s sort of cool. What makes this truly cool is that the emitter circutry is being laid down by ink jet printers, with the matrix wiring done via screen-printing. Uber-geek-cool, that is. It brings to mind visions of buying the grandkids the “Junior Circut Builder Print Kit” with which kids can lay out circuts via a CAD program and then print working versions of them.

This is what real nanotech is going to look like. Not the sudden appearance of miraculous technology, but the grinding away of “preconfigured matter”. For instance, instead of buying resistors and transistors pre-built, one will just create them as needed. As noted earlier, rather than some sudden utopia it will simply be that design will be done at an ever higher level with materials that themselves are ever more generic. Whether this will result in family level autarky depends on how fast the complexity of the most intricate constructs grows compared to the abstractness and genericity of local scale materials. More divergence means more centralization, more trade, while less divergence means more distribution, less trade. My personal view is that the differences will decrease for a while, then remain roughly the same. Thisis because of the trickle down effect, where the ability to create more complex objects spreads out from the center, either through the ability to build more complex end users devices or application of the same techniques, or (as is happening now) both.

It depends on who is asking

I heard Norman Geras on the BBC this evening, debating some ponce from the Church of England about divestiture from companies doing business with Israel. Personally, I think Geras ripped him apart.

What struck me was one statement, when Geras touched on the issue of suicide bombers with regard to how the Church like to talk of the evils perpetrated by Israel but never those by Palestinians. The other guy responded with the standard “but what else can they do?” line. At that point I wondered, isn’t it odd that a Church that in all other ways is so pacifist can still hold the view that the only way to respond to “Israeli oppression” is by violence? That the only question is how can this violence be done? What happened to the “talk-talk” lines so prevalent in the run up to the invasion of Iraq? What of all the “war is not the answer” catechisms? It seems that in this case, in the view of the Church of England, war is the only answer. For one side, at least.

24 February 2006

Stupid is as stupid does

According to James S. Robbins from NRO,

Despite panicky headlines to the contrary, it is not in any group’s interest to wage full scale civil war in Iraq. The Shiites have power without it; the Sunnis could not win it; and the Kurds will sit it out either way and keep patiently building their homeland.

This paragraph contradicts its thesis statement. While everyone else might be worse off, the Kurds would probably win a civil war in Iraq. They are clearly capable of sealing the borders sufficiently well if need be. A civil war would provide an excellent pretext for discarding the rest of Iraq, and since the Kurds would have very limited territorial ambitions with respect to territory they don’t already control, they wouldn’t get dragged in to the fighting. Unlike the rest of Iraq, which is mostly lukewarm at best, the Kurds really like the USA and could easily become our second best friend (after Israel) in the region. The Kurds, unlike most of the rest of the planet, know who is going to be the hyperpower for most of this century and it’s not the EU or OIC. Put a few USA military bases in (which never hurt the local economy) and they’d be set. Frankly, it’s hard to see what the downside for the Kurds is. It is much to their credit that no one suspects them of bombing the Golden Mosque, which is where a pure cui bono viewpoint would lead. The Kurds are also too cagey and smart to pull something so risky.

More than that, however, the past history of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the utter stupidity of their strategy makes this lastest action a perfect match, despite the fact that it has no upside for the Caliphascists. If no sectarian / civil war breaks out, they look ineffectual. If one does, the Sunni will be cleansed, the USA will increase its influence (because the Iraqi Sunnis like the USA much less than the Iraqi Shi’a) and Al Qaeda will likey be flushed right of Iraq along with the Sunni (note how well Al Qaeda does in Kurdistan — that’s how hospitable a post-civil war Shi’a Iraq would be to Al Qaeda). How Al Qaeda could profit from this I simply can’t fathom. But then, they never have, so why change now?

They never mentioned any of that "supporting evidence" in J-school

Old Media bias in action.

Here’s the headline:

Fear of informants has stoked climate of fear in Baghdad

At least the headline writer wasn’t completely off the mark, as the lead sentence of the article is

Fear of informants turning in neighbors to police or militia groups has deeply undermined community trust in many parts of Baghdad.

From this you would naturally think the people were supporting the Caliphascists and didn’t want to be turned in to the police. Because that’s what they feared.

Well, no:

Ahmed Ali, a 34-year-old barber in the ethnically mixed and violent Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, walked away from his business last month because he worried that his chitchat with customers would lead neighbors to suspect that he was informing on them to police - or militias, or whoever - and that he’d be marked for a retaliatory killing.

So, in fact, the people are afraid of being killed, not of being turned in to the police. Nobody is actually afraid of informants or being turned in to the police. They are afraid of some one thinking they had done so and being killed for it. A subtle and apparenty irrelevant distinction to Nancy Youssef, the writer listed in the by-line (this being Knight Ridder, who knows who really wrote this, Youssef, some editor, or some other random person).

I guess it is really just too much to ask for Old Media to even sum up their own stories unbiased.

There's nothing special about being special

I ran in to a comment today somewhere about one of the better lines in The Incredibles:

If everybody is special, nobody is special

Apparently this is considered a bad idea for some reason, but to me this one of the most sympathetic aspects of the villian. He, unlike the people who originally caused the supers to go underground, wasn’t going to eliminated being special by maknig the supers un-super, but instead by making everyone super. I suppose it’s a matter of whether you think special people are good because they’re better or because they’re talented. I tend to utilitarianism, so I go with the latter and would not mind uniformity a bit, if it can be achieved by raising everyone up rather than dragging some down.

22 February 2006

More on interstellar autarky

Get sick for a couple of days and you miss all the fun.

Natalie Solent has a couple of posts (here and here) one of which has a link to this interesting rebuttal of Drexlerian nano-technology1.

I will say that in the main, I agree with that critique but it doesn’t constitute a counter-argument to my view on stellar autarky. I agree that very fine scale (i.e. individual family) autarky is unstable. The real question is, at what scale is autarky possible? As one of Natalie’s correspondents noted, we currenty have planetary scale autarky. I expect that as nanotech and robotics mature, the scale at which autarky is possible will shrink, not grow, and all my thesis requires is for the scale to not grow. Regardless of how one feels the possibility of a Drexlerian nanotech utopia, it is difficult to see how such technology will make autarky more difficult2.

My ulterior complaint was with science fiction authors who vastly underestimated the level of diversity possible in a technologically advanced planetary society. They treat entire planets as, effectively, small nations writ large and that just seems terribly unrealistic to me.

1 The rebuttal has some flaws, however. The main one is that it fails to account for the increasing “meta-ness” of the interfaces. One need only look at the evolution of weblog technology to see how increasing complex things can be expressed with the same level of effort. It does not strike me as inconceivable that at some point, one could (for instance) design your own car via a “wizard” interface where various parameters are provided by the end user. It will not be that we can dispense with design, but that only the first instance of a new device will take significant design effort. Variants will be cheap and easy for everyone else to design.

2 In fact, one of the real concerns for international relations is the increasing ability for sub-planetary autarky, where large chunks of the planet (such as Africa) are “written off” because they are no longer economically necessary to the rest of the planet. To relate back to Natalie’s posts, one reason the genocide in Darfur attracts such little attention is that, should Darfur disappear tomorrow, it would not matter a bit to the economies and lives of the West. Such things should matter anyway, but that’s frequently not how the world works.

20 February 2006

About what I expected

Apparently the local university newspaper is now getting national press. I disagree that the editorial staff of the Daily Illini have flipped out — this kind of behavior is nothing new. In fact, reading the DI was my first introduction to what I now know as the mendacity and self-absorbtion of Old Media. My associates and I would not infrequently amuse ourselves by pointing out obvious errors and internal contradictions in stories.

I used to think that was an effect of being a small newspaper staffed by what were (mostly) underachievers even for a big university. Now I realize that it was, in fact, a representative of Old Media and that the staffers I knew then are the Old Media journalists of today, basically unchanged. They were straws in the wind of whatever politically correct fad was “in” then, and remain so to this day.

The idea that the DI is a dieing institution because it is clueless and not grasping the Internet, though, is silly. As noted, the DI did things just as clueless twenty years ago when I was a student. The staff then had not the slightest grasp of technology and so their lack of clue about the Internet is unsurprising and unlikely to have any real effect.

The only surprising bit in this story is that someone like Gorton got on the editorial board.

19 February 2006

Beating the right Drum

As long as Winds of Change and Kevin Drum are talking about the Olympics, I figure I can fire off a rant myself, even if I don’t actually like sports.

Kevin Drum apparently thinks snowboard cross is a “faux sport”. As some one who thinks much of the Olympic Games doesn’t qualify as sports, I completely disagree about snowboard cross. It is, in fact, what I would consider a real, class 1 sport. It has more than one competitor on the “field” at a time, they can interact (I am told that direct combat is prohibited, but body checks are legal), and winning is determined objectively, by who crosses the finish line first, not the opinions of some putative “experts”. I’d trade out something like “ice dancing” or “free style skiing” for snowboard cross without hesitation. Oh, and the biathlon? That rocks.

Interstellar protectionism

My recent post on the ChiComs dilemma of accepting destabilizing technology made me think more about autarky and interstellar trade (two things I am sure sprang in to your mind as well).

As nano-tech advances and we become ever more a society which manufactures information while our robots deal with the physical world, the need for actual trade will decrease. At some point, probably within the next century, robotics and nanotech will be even cheaper than overseas sweatshops. This is bad enough for planetary trade (what happens to that when autarky becomes economically feasible?), but one wonders what exactly would be traded between star systems. One might say information, but if progress remains possible, I expect that a local star system would generate it about as fast it the society could handle it, the the limits would be the ability of the society to consume information, not acquire it.

In this vein, many science fictions stories are informed by the view that we would be “lonely” without aliens to make the universe more diverse and interesting. I have never been able to figure out why. Humans seem to have plenty of variance, and once we acquire the ability to build new, independent societies across the solar system and possibly the galaxy, I suspect that we will see socieites as odd as any aliens could be. The standard model seems to treat planets as effectively unitary societies, with little variance, which I find highly unlikely.

This is particularly true if one accepts the “End of History” thesis as well, as aliens would be driven to (roughly) the same sort of societal organization or remain a primitive, non-space traveling society. If variance is possible, there’s no reason to believe that multiple star systems are required to cover most of it. I am not sure that even faster than light speed technology changes the overall picture. e news for us sedentary types.

In too deep

As I read calls on the non-Left region of the blogosphere, I realize that the best argument for pressing the issue is the exact same one touted by many of the same writers for staying the course in Iraq. Regardless of the original merits, at this point, the cartoons have been published and republished, and the radicals have objected to them with violence, riots and threats of murder. Just as with the invasion of Iraq, those are now facts on the ground, not debatable hypotheticals. To pull out now would be to declare victory for the radicals / Caliphascists. If one believes that there is, in fact, a moderate majority, it would seem that it would be a very bad thing to prove to them that the radicals are right, that violence and murder are the way to respond successfully to Western “provocation”. Would it not, at this juncture, be better to provide the lesson that such as response just guarantees more, not less?

There is the argument against of collateral damage. But it seems a bit of an odd place to be to advocate retreat over offended sensibiities (much of which is in doubt) vs. staying the course in the face of killing innocent civilians, which always occurs in military operations. In the same way, if you have a open society, tastless people will write tasteless things. These are unavoidable collateral damage. Yet it seems there are people with those opposing points of view.

18 February 2006

If we can't do it, nobody gets to do it

A political party in Iraq associated with Muqtada Al-Sadr has threatened to break from the UIA coalition if that coalition didn’t reach out to Sunnis, restrain Shia paramilitary groups, and rule in a more “collaborative” style. David Price considers this odd.

I, however, do not find it a bit odd. It’s standard practice. The key point is that the Sadrites tried armed rebellion to grab their own piece of policitcal power and were crushed. It seems plausible to me that the leaders realize that, should they try again, they would get crushed even worse. Yet there is always the concern that some other similar group could get the armed rebellion thing right. What to do? Why, make sure no group can do that. Hence the call to restrain paramilitary groups.

It is a near perfect analogy for why many corporations call for regulation. What they want regulated falls in to two categories:

  • Regulations that create a higher barrier to entry, to protect existing corporations from start ups.
  • Regulations that prevent competitors from doing something the corporation is no good at.

Both of these are rational responses and the action cited above is a good fit for the second category. If your group can’t win via arms, the best response is to do whatever it takes to see that no other group can win that way either. It’s a good sign for Iraq that even the Sadrites are starting to act in a rational manner.

17 February 2006

Isn't that against the Geneva Convention?

So I got roped in to watching some Olymics today, and what is going on except the world class biff by Lindsey Jacobellis. I’m not going to go in to more detail because you’ve almost certainly already heard it and all I could think while I was watching the coverage was “OK, she biffed, thanks for the replay, move on”. I left when the coverage went to the second or third interview right after the event. Have they no decency, at last?

Is my error the presumption of thought?

Via Brothers Judd we have this story:

The lawyer shot by Vice President Dick Cheney during a hunting trip was discharged from a hospital Friday and told reporters he was deeply sorry for all the trouble Cheney had faced over the past week.

One wonders what the Old Media types who were in such a frenzy expected at this point. Wasn’t this the almost certain result, unless Whittington had died? What is left of the story when the person who got shot feels compelled to apologize to the shooter for the ill-behavior of Old Media? Were they just so consumed with partisanship and wounded egos that they were simply unable to envision this? I suspect that even this won’t change anything in the baying crowd, but the audience will no doubt take notice.

16 February 2006

Surrendering bit by bit to the tide

The recent flap about Google in China highlights the problem confronting dictatorships in the 21st Century. To me, the interesting question isn’t why Google caved to the ChiComs, or whether web surfers in China can bypass the restrictions by using other search engines. Instead, I wonder why China allows search engines at all. Why not just ban them?

While there are a number of search engines, there aren’t so many that they couldn’t be enumerated and banned. Yet the ChiComs feel compelled to allow this kind of information technology in, despite its risks. Quite the change from regimes that used to require registration for mimeograph machines.

Flame wars and sarcasm impairment

Via Brothers Judd we have this little quote:

According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I’ve only a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. The study also shows that people think they’ve correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time.

I suspect this varies quite a bit depending on the depth of relationship between people. E.g., people who know me presume that anything I write or say is sarcastic and cynical, which is 90% accurate. On the other hand, interpreting random the writings of unknown people is undoubtedly much more difficult.

I suspect, though, that another fact affecting this is the loss of shared world view. Sarcasm and other non-literal meanings / moods require a shared world view so that statements can be viewed as outside of it (which is presumably why children understand irony before sarcasm, because irony depends only on its own internal structure, not reference to externalities).

Not only are there far more people interacting directly via text, but they are from a much wider variety of societies. Even in Anglospheric society, the loss of canonical texts makes a shared understanding more difficult. As icing on the cake, we have the standard Internet epigram “There is no belief so bizarre that you can’t find adherents somewhere on the Internet”. Nothing is guaranteed to be sufficiently out of bounds to be interpreted non-literally by everyone.

One is left wondering, however, why recovery from such errors is so uncommon. One of the things I find most congenial about the Brothers Judd is not that people don’t misinterpret, nor that they never write mean or nasty things, but that when such things do occur, there is an effort to recover and explain rather than (like a bad sitcom) compound the error with ever more intemperate language or demands of conformity1. So there must be more than simply lack of understanding fueling the flame wars. Perhaps it is the asynchronous nature, where a person has time to work himself in to a highly charged state, undistracted by cues that would be present in physical interaction. Or it could just be that people send off flame e-mail for the same reason they yell at their television when it doesn’t do what they want.

1 Because one solution to the shared world view problem is to require a very specific and fixed world view, ostracizing any who have a different one. While this is much more prevalent on the left than the right blogosphere, it is hardly unknown in the latter. On the other hand, one might argue that even the Brothers Judd is highly conformist, but at a more abstract level of requring politeness, logic and facts than than specific viewpoints based on those.

No longer living in the loop

Jacob Weisberg is in high dudgeon about the White House’s PR strategy on the shooting incident by Vice President Cheney. Of course, a closer reading shows that Weisberg is really upset that the details of the incident weren’t sent instantly to the White House Press Corps. He rambles on and on about the “public’s right to know” but the only real complaint seems to be the speed of response and who was informed first. I suppose I fail to see the point because I don’t watch network news nor read any major daily newspapers. The blogosphere does a far better job of filtering for me, is usually more accurate, and indisputably far more knowledgable. Weisberg, rather than scoring any points against Cheney, comes off as a furious nobleman who has noticed that the peasants no longer bow and scrape appropriately before him. Unfortunately for him, I expect more people will end up laughing at him rather than snarling with him.

15 February 2006

Gunsmoke screen

With all of the brouhaha about the shooting incident by Vice President Cheney, wouldn’t this be a perfect time for President Bush to do something that the MAL would hate but wouldn’t be able to effectively oppose because they are spending all their effort on that shooting incident? While it’s always true that if you have an accident, you should have been more careful, ultimately there is nothing substantive to this incident so why not let Old Media and the MAL run with it while doing something useful under the screen of the gunsmoke?

UPDATE: Instapundit faults the Bush Adminstration for not reporting and responding more quickly. But, why should they? In the straightforward view, the proper authorities were notified which is the important thing. In the completely cynical view, by going to the press the way it happened, Old Media is drawn out in to another hysterical reaction to not much. Here’s the new rule of the Wired Age: “If the facts are on your side, let the other side pound on the table”.

It's just a tool

I was reading one of Orrin Judd’s screeds on Darwinism. While OJ is, as usual, a bit over the top, he does identify something that I would agree is a problem in evolutionary theory, the very definition of a species.

While Brothers Judd readers have been treated to a series of articles about the crossing of species boundaries, one cannot simply discard the concept because there are clearly boundaries somewhere — e.g. you can’t interbreed plankton and marmosets. Certainly these are different species. The problem seems to be that, unlike the standardly presented theory, species boundaries can be very fuzzy.

As one might expect, there is quite a bit of difference between the public version of the theory and what real practitioners do. It doesn’t take much research to discover that biologists themselves are keenly aware of this problem and the real definition of species is a matter of some debate. Ultimately, “species” is a conceptual tool and not something that describes a fundamental property of living creatures.

In this way it is much like labeling people with political parties or ideologies. While this is frequently problematic when dealing with specific individuals, in the large it is a useful tool for analysis.

Notes on the end of history

I was listening to some World-BBC report on China defending its internet policies. It was a “to quoque” defense, that other nations ban various websites so why shouldn’t China? The interesting bit is that China considers this a good defense. It is an admission of a de facto international law under which a common set of “proper” behaviors overrules China’s soveriegnity. What ever happened to the “it’s our nation, we’ll rule as we want to” line? Or the slightly weaker version (which was all the rage a decade or two ago), “Asian values”? We are in a different era when even Communist dictatorships are forced to justify their internal policies with reference to how the rest of the world behaves.

12 February 2006

The Lair

I am sure that every one has wondered what I look like, but really I am just a cog in a larger machine, so I thought I would show you that.

This is my lair. I work at home these days, so this is the place where I work and cruise the Internet, frequently at the same time.

Over at the far left is my Shuttle computer. You can just see the corner of the CPU unit, which is just a bit larger than a breadbox, despite being a 3000Mhz machine with 2G of ram. I got a cute 17” LCD with it which has a handy carrying handle on top (which you can see in the picture). The stand for it folds back to the panel so you can carry it very easily. Great for LAN parties (I even got a case for the LCD).

Next is my Fujitsu tablet (5020D). I am not so happy with it, but that’s my fault. The machine itself is sweet, it just doesn’t fit my needs as well I had hoped. I have an electroluminescent keyboard hooked up to it via the docking station.

Over to the right of that is my Fujitsu Lifebook P7120D. It’s just like the one She Who Is Perfect In All Ways has, but a bit nicer because I got it after she got hers. Hahaha! It is a very nice piece of hardware. Not for everybody, but it suits me well.

Next over is my main system, where I am typing this post. It’s a Dell box (under the table) with 2 1200×1600 Samsung 213T LCD displays. The only problem is that the video drivers for the flipped mode have a serious performance impact. Luckily the system is fast enough that it’s still OK for normal use, but gaming is impossible. I like the 213T, it’s a nice piece of glass. I buy keyboards like other people buy beer mugs but the keyboard I have as my main one is a cheapo $20 one I bought just to see what it looked like. It is so off-brand that, as far as I can tell, it does not even have the manufactures name on it.

On the far right, is my Dell 2000FP 1600×1200 LCD. That is also a very nice piece of glass, within a smidgeon of being as nice as the Samsung but it was a lot less money. That monitor gets hooked to various boxes. Right now it’s hooked up to a loaner box from my last contracting job. I used to switch it between that and another Shuttle box, but SWIPIAW took the Shuttle away from me for her own nefarious purposes.

On the right in the foreground, near the middle of the table, is my index card bleachers filled with note cards on which are scribbled topic sentences for posts I want to but will never get around to writing. Sigh.

The door is over on the right, so that my screens can’t be seen unless the intruder walks all the way around the table in the foreground or leans over obnoxiously. It doesn’t have quite the prestige of a real basement warren, but I like it anyway.

P.S. The office furniture and lighting is a custom layout I had done by an associate, who does great work if you’re in central Illinois, even if she’s a tad bit on the chatty side at times. You have to watch out for those drawers on the wall. I left it open one time and then stood up too quickly, leading to this. I still have a scar from that.

11 February 2006

Providing the consequences for ideas

Orrin Judd comments

Interesting that the Islamicists and the Islamophobes share the same delusion, that Muslims want a Talibanistan.

The primary error here is the statement “Muslims want”. You can stop at that point and disregard whatever follows because it presumes a homogenity that doesn’t exist. Even glossing over the normal range of opinion in any society, one need only look at the Kurds vs. the Palestinians to see that there are distinct cultures even within Islam.

The problem is, as has become more clear to me, that what the majority of Muslims want may be of no consequence. In most societies the direction of that society is set far more by a dominant minority than by the lukewarm opinions of the majority, who primarily want to just get along. This is the reason I try to use the term Caliphascist instead of Muslim, because the former designates precisely that kind of minority within the Islamic world. The term EUlite is similar with regard to Europe. Over time, of course, a dominant minority will imprint its views on the majority, although we need to be careful to not descend to the “sheeple” view so prevalent these days on the Left. Ideas have consequences and in the long term it is unusual for the majority to not react to those consequences, regardless of how strongy a minority pushes against them (as the Left is finding out).

This leads to two other points. One is that even if the majority of Muslims are the kind of decent people who could do well in a liberal democracy, that is of secondary importance if the dominant minority is the Caliphascist faction. Absent other voices in the Islamic community, such a minority will eventually get its way, even if the majority disagrees. This was proven by the USSR, which fell only when the Communist minority lost its will to power. And as in that case, the fact that the majority of Russians were weak believers at best and cynical copers in the main didn’t prevent the rule of the Communists. Those who laud the basic decency of Muslims would do well to remember that much the same could have been said of the Russians under the USSR.

The other point is that one thing that can defeat such a minority is the consequences of their beliefs. The corrollary is that success will prolong their dominance. This is the real price of appeasement. It is my view that if one truly believes that there is no fundamental conflict between liberal democracy and Islam, the worst thing to do is to appease or ignore the Caliphascists and save the Islamic world from the consequences of their current dominance.

06 February 2006

You have to fight with the issue you have

I’ve been ragging on Random Jottings in the comments about the crush world wide brush fire involving the cartoons of Muhammed. While I strongly disagree with his position, he does make one excellent point, which is that if we are going to contest this issue, we need to have the will to follow through and pay the butcher’s bill. It is certainly far from assured that the USA will and even less assured that Europe will.

This is a powerful point, but ultimately I don’t think it matters. If we don’t have the will now, when will we? And if we don’t have that will, we are going to lose anyway which makes tactics a moot issue. I too, would rather have this contest involve something of higher quaity, such as the writing of Salman Rushdie, but that didn’t happen. It is, moreover, clear that the barbarians fomenting this brush fire do not distinguish between literature and caricatures, which means that if we are to contest the ability of the Isamic world to dictate what is allowed in the West, it doesn’t really matter what the content in question is.

And, although I would think it didnt need to be said, but apparently it does, this is not a matter of requiring the Islamic world to endorse these images, or even be indifferent. The key issue is that barbaric behavior is not tolerated in the West and pointless elsewhere, that the West will not change its law or culture because of threats of violence. This is at the root of the entire WWIV project and so I don’t see it as something that can be put off. It is, in fact, the very point of the effort.

P.S. I want to call attention again to the actual statement by the State Department, which (IMHO) achieves a very good balance on this issue. This statement was badly misreported by Old Media, so unless you’ve read the original, you almost certainly don’t know what was really said.

04 February 2006

Software Release

I finally have my new version of AutoBan ready (as I mentioned earlier I was working on). This version requires Movable Type 3.2 to work, but it works much better than previous versions. I am now running it on all of my weblogs and it is running well and being somewhat helpful. I think it’s worthwhile because it is really zero maintenance and has a noticeable effect (after a start up period) on the incoming spam floods. You still need good filters but it magnifies the effects of such fiters, plus automatically bans any IP address for which you mark comments as spam manually.

P.S. This post was a big help in getting the configuration panel working.

It's tough to disown your leaders

Dean Esmay has gone off on another rant about how wrong it is to think bad things about Islam and Muslims. My response is basically “compare T-shirt sales for Timothy McVeigh vs. Osama bin Laden”. Just try to imagine selling a McVeigh T-shirt anywhere in Christiandom. Then think about how many bin Laden T-shirts are sold every month. What more do you need to know?

It also occurs to me to wonder why I can’t take the word of the clerics running the Islamic Republic of Iran about Islam. Surely they, being scholars and inheritors of centuries of scholarship, know something about Islam. Or the clerics of the Saudi Entity, in charge of the holiest and most prestigious shrines of Islam.

That argument seemed familiar and then I realized that it’s the same probem the Democratic Party has, as purveyors of a failed ideology. There are the efforts to claim that they’re normal, but the moonbat voices always overwhelm that message. The problem is that the extremists are not fringe, but in fact occupy much of the commanding heights. It’s very difficult to claim that the chairman of the DNC or the imam of Mecca are isolated voices out of the mainstream of the party / religion.

Overall, this leads me to believe that Islam is going to be roughy akin to Zoroastrism in 50 years or so. I suppose, though, one could make the equivalent argument of “I don’t know what the operating system of the 21st Century will be, but I know it will be called ‘Windows’”. If there is an Islam at the end of this Century as a major faith, it will be radically different from what Islam is today.

The rewards of extremism

This post about the increasing polarization is worth reading, but in my view leaves out one key factor, the increasing incumbency rates for Congress.

This is driven by several factors, including campaign finance “reform”, lower voter turnout, and more sophisticated gerrymandering. The latter two are of particular interest because they not only increase the advantages of the incumbent but contribute directly to polarization as well in a manner that is very similar to how competition in the blogosphere is turning out.

Decreasing voter turnout has an effect similar to the competition for readers and links by making the attention of other people a limited resource. And how do you attract those people? By standing out from the crowd, by being further from the center. It’s the same process that drives (most) weblogs to be come ever more shrill and uncompromising.

In a similar way, gerrymandering allows politicians to select their voters, the same way that weblogs and their readers self select for specific ideologies (luckily, I have so few readers that I have no incentive to get shrill). The more vocal and polarizing, the easier this selecting process is, thereby providing another re-enforcement.

In the long run this kind of thing runs in cycles, at least in the political sphere (the blogosphere is far too new to draw any conclusions). The losing ideology becomes increasing shrill and isolated, until it fades in to irrelevance, leaving the dominant ideology to split over small differences, thereby creating a new, less polarized concensus.

03 February 2006

Sadly, it made sense after all

I have read quite a bit of the Xeelee Sequence. Overall I liked it, but one thing that did bother me was the war between humanity and the Xeelee. The root of this war was that the Xeelee were the hyper power of the Universe and humanity simply could not abide that. The humans attacked the Xeelee over and over, even while the Xeelee fought against a greater enemy that threatened humanity even more than it threatened the Xeelee. I wondered, could Baxter (the author) really think that humans would be so petty and self destructive?

But now I think he modeled the whole thing on the anti-Americanism. It just struck me today as I was reading various lefty moonbat comments how such rage against the leading world power is simply part of human nature. It certainly makes the undying emnity between humanity and the Xeelee seem much more plausible.

01 February 2006

Nibbled to death by ducks

According to Instapundit, a French newspaper has re-published the cartoons that have caused such a furor in the Islamic world. For all my joy in France bashing, I must give credit where credit is due.

It seems to me that the solution to this kind of hysterical overreaction on the part the Ummah is to nibble it to death rather than directly oppose. There is only such much hysteria, so much boycotting and marching in the streets a people can do. An endless series of small efforts is far more likely to wear out such reactions than one big fight. In fact, one big fight (e.g., Salman Rushdie) is more likely to energize the Ummah than to exhaust. It is an endless series of big reactions to small slights that will be exhausting.

Moreover, it’s very much a tipping point phenomenon, where once enough people “get away” with it, ever more will flood in to grab a slice of bravado when one is likely to be lost in the crowd. In the not so long term, there is much grumbling but only occasional burst of actual outrage.

For those who hope for some kind of reformation in Islam, to make it compatible with liberal democracy, the ability to tolerate dissent and mockery is a key step, because that opens the door for other, legitimate criticism.